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Focus on dietary patterns, not specific foods, American Heart Association says

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Dallas — When it comes to heart-healthy eating, balance is key, the American Heart Association says in a scientific statement published Nov. 2.

In its first updated guidance since 2006, the organization encourages broad eating habits in lieu of a narrower focus on single foods. For example, instead of adding one vegetable or vitamin to your diet, focus on the “whole package” of your daily or weekly diet, Alice H. Lichtenstein, leader of the writing committee for the statement, says in an AHA press release.

“The emphasis is on dietary patterns, not specific foods or nutrients," said Lichtenstein, also a Tufts University professor of nutrition science and policy as well as the director of the school’s Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory. “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 lifestyles.”


Along with achieving and maintaining a “healthy body weight,” a heart-healthy dietary pattern includes:

  • Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • Choosing whole grains rather than refined grain products.
  • Choosing healthy sources of proteins, mostly from plant sources (legumes and nuts); regularly eating fish and seafood; substituting nonfat and low-fat dairy products in place of full-fat versions; and for people who eat meat, choosing lean cuts rather than processed forms.
  • Using liquid plant oils instead of tropical oils (coconut, palm and palm kernel) and animal fats (lard and butter) or partially hydrogenated fats.
  • Choosing minimally processed foods over ultra-processed foods.
  • Minimizing foods and beverages with added sugar.
  • Choosing foods with little or no added salt.
  • Limiting alcohol intake.
  • Adhering to the guidance regardless of where food is prepared or consumed, including restaurants.

“It’s not all of one thing and none of another,” Lichtenstein said. “It’s the balance among your choices in terms of diet and, ultimately, lifestyle.”

She adds that, “You can eat what you enjoy,” but choose “a little more carefully, consider frequency and adjust serving sizes.”

The scientific statement was published in the AHA journal Circulation.

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