When you fill up your belly, your heart is happy, but when you focus on long-term habits, your heart is happier. Dietary guidelines to improve cardiovascular health from 2021 by the American Heart Association emphasizes the importance of improving your eating patterns to eat heart-healthily.
Diet Fads Are Over. Now, It’s About Your Lifestyle Choices
You don’t have to give up takeout or that grocery store five-minute meal kit entirely. The dietary guidelines suggest you make these habits a regular part of your eating habits. In addition to recommending a balanced diet along with exercise, eating whole grains, reducing sodium and added sugar intake, using nontropical plant oils, and avoiding ultra-processed foods, the recommendations list 10 heart-healthy eating characteristics.
The key is modifying behaviors in a way that is sustainable over time, according to Alice Lichtenstein, chair of the AHA’s new statement and director of Tufts University’s Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory. Writing group members examined literature and developed 10 features of heart-healthy diets. Additionally, the group recognized the need for sustainability and societal barriers that can make it difficult to achieve the goal of good nutrition.
15 years ago, the AHA published a statement outlining dietary guidelines. According to Lichtenstein, eating behaviors have changed a lot since then. There were mainly two options at one time: eating out or cooking at home. Recently, eating habits have become less consistent. Several convenience food options have become more prevalent over the past few years fueled by the pandemic such as delivery, meal kits, and ready-made meals.
You can make a difference if you make the right changes
As Lichtenstein explained, the new AHA guidelines emphasize doing what works for you, no matter what your dietary restrictions are or what cultural modifications you want to incorporate. Lichtenstein cautions people against changing their lifestyles drastically through fad diets; rather, he suggests that incorporating healthy habits over time can be more beneficial.
The national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and chair of the department of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida, Laurie Wright, seconded this long-term mindset. Wright, who did not participate in the AHA’s statement, pointed out the importance of developing lifelong habits for every individual, regardless of age and background.
The statement said a heart-healthy diet can also lead to more environmentally friendly practices, such as promoting more sustainable agriculture. Sustainable practices are the first to be included in the AHA guidelines this year. Research about vegan animal products, for example, which aren’t always the healthiest option, is still needed, said Lichtenstein. It is beneficial to health and the environment to consume more whole foods and fewer animal products.
In addition to addressing societal challenges, the statement recognizes first-time challenges such as food insecurity, dietary misinformation, and structural racism, all of which can significantly affect a person’s diet and access to nutrition. An academic study by Northwestern University found that households with black and Hispanic members are at higher risk of food insecurity.
Adjust one thing at a time
The installation of healthy eating habits from an early age can also improve lifelong nutrition. As opposed to short-term solutions, Lichtenstein said prevention is the priority.
According to her, eating healthy has become more convenient. Fresh fruits and vegetables are healthier and more nutritious than frozen ones, which are often cheaper. Many dairy products come in low-fat or nonfat versions. You can also find flavored seltzers as an alternative to soda.
Putting all these changes into place at once can be daunting, but Lichtenstein said they can begin by tackling one item at a time. Choose whole-wheat crackers if you regularly buy one snack a week, such as crackers. Choose a reduced-fat or sugar option if the product is available. The key to maintaining these habits is to make small adjustments.
Lichtenstein said that the key is to think about your diet as a whole, rather than individual foods or nutrients. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of what we hadn’t realized was available, he added.
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