A full stomach makes a happy heart; But you’ll be more content when you concentrate on maintaining long-term habits.
Your heart-healthy diet starts with your eating habits, in accordance with the American Heart Association’s latest scientific declaration, “2021 Dietary Guidance to Enhance Cardiovascular health.”
This doesn’t mean you have to give up the convenience of take-out or that quick food kit purchased from the supermarket completely. The diet guidelines encourage people to integrate these habits into their lives.
The report identifies 10 aspects of heart-healthy diets -and includes advice on how to combine the right diet with exercise and get the most nutrients from supplements or food and eat whole grains, cut down on sodium as well as alcohol, and added sugar consumption; make use of non-tropical plant oils, and eat foods that are minimally processed in comparison to ultra-processed food items.
“What’s crucial now is that people implement changes that are sustainable in the long-term,” said Alice Lichtenstein, director of Tufts’s Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory and chair of the writing group that wrote the new AHA statement.
The group’s research evaluated the literature and came up with 10 characteristics of heart-healthy eating patterns. The group also expanded the guidelines, acknowledging the importance of sustainability as well as the social issues that can create obstacles to attaining healthy nutrition.
Lichtenstein noted that eating habits have changed since AHA last issued the statement that included dietary guidelines fifteen years back. The primary choices were eating out or dine-in and eat in, however eating habits have not been as regular, given the state of the world’s recovery from a pandemic. There is a growing trend, exacerbated by the pandemic, of increasing convenience food options like delivery, meal kits, and prepared meals.
Make modifications that stand the test of time
The main focus of the AHA’s new guideline, Lichtenstein said, is to follow the path that works best for you, regardless of the restrictions on your diet or cultural adaptations you’d like to implement. Lichtenstein cautions against making radical changes based on trendy diets. Instead, continuous efforts to incorporate these healthy habits could prove more advantageous in the long term.
Lauri Wright who is the chair for the faculty of dietetics and nutrition in the University of North Florida and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics supports this long-term approach. Wright was not part of the AHA’s statement, highlighting the importance of establishing habits of living regardless of age and backgrounds.
“When we’re discussing patterns or lifestyles it’s not just about the diet, but something that is temporary,” Wright said. “This is a way of life that will accommodate your personal preferences.”
A diet that is heart-healthy could also have other advantages as well, the statement stated encouraging more sustainable practices that benefit the environment. This is the first time that the AHA guidelines have included sustainability. Lichtenstein acknowledged that there is space for further research on alternative sources of nutrition, like vegan animal products. These aren’t always the best alternatives. In general, eating greater amounts of whole food and less animal products will benefit your health as well as the environment.
The statement also acknowledges societal problems in the very first instance like food insecurity, diet myths and structural racism that affect people’s eating habits and accessibility to foods. A 2020 Northwestern University study found Black and Hispanic households are more at risk of experiencing food insecurity.
Take care of one adjustment at one time
A more comprehensive education on food from the age of 5 can help instill children with healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives. The focus should be on education and prevention Lichtenstein stated, and not immediate solutions.
Healthful foods are now easier to access, she explained. Fruits and vegetables frozen are often cheaper than fresh and are equally healthy. Dairy products have low-fat as well as nonfat alternatives. Seltzers with flavors are also accessible as an alternative to soda.
Making these changes all in one go could be overwhelming, however Lichtenstein stated that the shift might begin by implementing just one item at a time. Check the label on a snack that you buy each week, like crackers, and choose whole-wheat alternatives. Choose the low-fat and sugar-free options if readily available. Maintaining these habits involves making small adjustments and gradual shifts.
“Think about your entire dietary patterns, not just specific food and nutrients,” Lichtenstein said. “We simply need to make the most of what we didn’t even know was available.”