The American Heart Association released their 2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health. The new scientific statement emphasizes the importance of dietary patterns over individual foods or nutrients; underscores the critical role of initiating heart-healthy dietary habits early in life; and discusses additional benefits of heart-healthy dietary patterns, beyond cardiovascular health.
The committee that developed the guidance (chaired by Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, executive editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter) reviewed the evidence documenting aspects of diet that improve cardiovascular health and reduce cardiovascular risk and determined common features of dietary patterns that promote cardiometabolic health. These include:
- Balancing food and calorie intake with physical activity to maintain a healthy weight
- Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and choosing a wide variety to get a full range of nutrients from food rather than supplements
- Choosing whole grains and other foods made up mostly of whole grains
- Including mainly plant-based sources of protein such nuts and legumes, as well as fish or seafood, low fat or non-fat dairy, and lean cuts of meat and limiting red and processed meats
- Using liquid non-tropical plant oils such as olive or sunflower oils
- Choosing minimally processed foods rather than ultra-processed foods as much as possible
- Minimizing intake of beverages and foods with added sugars
- Choosing or preparing foods with little or no salt
- Limiting alcohol consumption (or not starting if you don’t drink)
Applying this guidance to all foods and beverages, whether consumed at home, at other people’s homes, at restaurants, or when taking out
The guidance stresses there is no one dietary pattern that is right for everyone. Choices can and should accommodate personal preferences, ethnic and religious practices, and life stages.
This outline for a healthy dietary pattern is designed to help individuals get plenty of health-promoting fiber, all the nutrients their bodies need to support heart health and general well-being, and limited saturated fat, trans fat, dietary cholesterol, added sugar, and salt. In addition to supporting cardiovascular health, the authors discuss the benefits such a healthy dietary pattern can have on type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, and kidney function. They also note that a heart-healthy eating pattern is good for the environment.
Additionally, the statement highlights societal conditions that make the adoption of heart-healthy dietary patterns challenging—including widespread dietary misinformation on the internet, structural racism and neighborhood segregation, lack of early food and nutrition education, targeted marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages, and food and nutrition insecurity—and suggests public health measures to address these challenges.