A healthy diet is the key instrument for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death for adults living in the United States.
Although genetic factors and family history play a major role in a heart diagnosis, changes to everyday lifestyle choices could assist adults looking to avoid the disease.
This February is American Heart Month, a time when millions of Americans promote heart treatment and recovery. A balanced diet can also help those who are at risk for other diseases, such as Type-2 diabetes or cancer.
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The American Heart Association (AHA) outlined 10 key features of a heart-healthy eating pattern in February 2021.
The organization’s scientific statement, titled “2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health” and published in the journal Circulation, emphasized the importance of overall dietary patterns rather than individual foods or nutrients, as well as underscores the critical role of nutrition.
The features listed, the AHA said, can be adapted to accommodate certain factors, including cultural traditions, food likes and dislikes, and whether most meals are consumed at home or “on-the-go.”
The statement indicated that a poor diet is strongly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death, according to the group.
The importance of a total dietary pattern – rather than “good” or “bad” foods or nutrients – is emphasized, as well as the role of nutrition education.
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Eating healthfully early in life and maintaining healthy habits are also underscored.
“We can all benefit from a heart-healthy dietary pattern regardless of stage of life, and it is possible to design one that is consistent with personal preferences, lifestyles and cultural customs,” Alice Lichtenstein, chair of the scientific statement writing group, said in a statement.
“It does not need to be complicated, time-consuming, expensive or unappealing.”
10 steps that can help reduce the risk of heart disease
- Balancing food and calorie intake with physical activity
- Choosing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to eat
- Choosing whole grains
- Including healthy sources of lean and/or high-fiber protein
- Using liquid non-tropical plant oils
- Choosing minimally processed foods and avoiding ultra-processed foods
- Minimizing the intake of added sugars
- Choosing or preparing foods with little or no salt
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Applying the guidance no matter where food is prepared or consumed
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Additionally, for the first time, the AHA summarized evidence that addresses sustainability and enumerates several challenges that make it more difficult to adopt and maintain a heart-healthy eating pattern.
Commonly consumed animal products, like red meat, contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions that warm the Earth’s atmosphere and have the largest environmental impact in terms of water and land usage.
However, the AHA highlights that not all sustainable diets are heart-healthy.
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The association said that public health actions and policy changes are required to address societal challenges and barriers to adopting or maintaining a heart-healthy diet.
Some of those challenges include widespread dietary misinformation, a lack of nutrition education in schools, food and nutrition insecurity, structural racism and neighborhood segregation and targeted marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
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“Creating an environment that promotes and supports adherence to heart-healthy dietary patterns among all individuals is a public health imperative,” the statement said.