For the first time in 15 years, the American Heart Association
(AHA) has updated its dietary guidelines. As the leading cause of death for Americans,
heart disease is something we should all do our best to prevent, and the new
guidelines make it easier to do so. The new recommendations focus on making a
heart-healthy lifestyle simple, with easy-to-follow steps.
The AHA emphasizes healthy dietary patterns, not specific foods or nutrients, and the recommendations are broad – allowing for smoother lifestyle changes. The Director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University, Alice H. Lichtenstein D. Sc., who led the writing committee for the guidelines said, “And it’s not just about what people shouldn’t be eating, the focus is really on what people should be eating, so they can customize it to their personal preferences and style.”
Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
When it comes to heart health, those who are overweight or obese can make a major impact by working toward weight loss with small dietary changes and exercise. When it comes to losing weight, it’s important to reach out to our healthcare provider to determine what a healthy body weight looks like for us, and to not just focus on being “skinny.” Our ideal body weight is unique to us, and Body Mass Index (BMI) is a good reference but not the end-all, be-all.
Eat plenty and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
This is top of the list. Whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and grains are higher in fiber and plant sterols, which are important for gut health and cholesterol management. The AHA guidelines mirror those of the Mediterranean Diet approach.
Choose whole-grain foods and products.
Choose healthy sources of protein. The guidelines suggest using plant protein sources like beans, nuts, and seeds rather than processed meats. The AHA also recommends adding fish and seafood into our diet regularly, with low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean cuts of meat and poultry occasionally. Animal proteins such as beef and pork tend to have higher levels of saturated fats.
Use liquid plant oils.
The best liquid plant oil is extra virgin olive oil. Avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils.
Choose minimally processed foods.
Instead of reaching for ultra-processed foods, the AHA suggests opting for something fresh. Foods like chips, cookies, and rice cakes are processed carbohydrates that are simply not good for us.
Minimize beverages and foods with added sugars.
This is a small change that can make a huge difference. One can of soda per day is 30 cases per year. Having water or unsweetened tea instead of a sugar sweetened drink can make a major improvement to overall health.
Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt.
Hidden sodium in foods is an issue. It’s very difficult to eat foods without a lot of added salt unless we cook from scratch. Check packaged food labels and fast-food nutrition facts for high sodium levels, and make a habit of enjoying foods that are naturally low-sodium or sodium-free, like fruits and vegetables.
Limit alcohol intake.
New research indicates alcohol can have a negative effect on cardiovascular health. The new guidelines suggest limiting or avoiding alcohol intake. Alcohol is a simple carbohydrate with empty calories, and it’s a stimulant. It can impact weight, blood pressure, and insulin balance.
Along with the new AHA guidelines, there are some heart-smart supplements that should be part of our daily routines. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Omega-3s from fish. The omega-3s EPA and DHA are at the top of the list of supplements that support heart health. The omega-3s help maintain a healthy heart rhythm, healthy blood vessels and circulation, arterial elasticity, and healthy triglyceride levels already within the normal range. It’s easy to test our omega-3 levels at home with an Omega-3 Test Kit – we should aim for an Omega-3 Index of 8 to 12%.
- Vitamin D3. A recent study found that people with normal vitamin D3 levels have
healthier hearts than those who are deficient. Deficiency is defined as levels
below 20 ng / mL and normal ranges from 30 ng / mL to 100 ng / mL. It’s easy to
test our vitamin D levels at home with a Vitamin D Test Kit.
- Vitamin K2. There is a synergy between omega-3s, vitamin D3, and vitamin K2. They work together to support blood vessel health. Vitamin K2 activates proteins such as osteocalcin and Matrix GLA Protein (MGP), which play a significant role in binding calcium to the bone matrix. Without enough vitamin K2 as MK-7 in the body, a significant amount of osteocalcin will remain inactive and unable to bind calcium. It also helps direct calcium into our bones.
- Magnesium has a beneficial effect on heart health. It relaxes smooth muscle, which allows the blood vessels to relax and expand.
- Coenzyme Q10. CoQ10 supports mitochondrial function and the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which fuels the energy-hungry heart. CoQ10 supports a healthy, stable heart rhythm. It’s also a powerful antioxidant. Our CoQ10 levels begin to decline as we reach mid-life, so a supplement can be a great option. We should also be aware that some heart medications may deplete CoQ10. Read your medication inserts to see if any of your medications have this effect.