By Sherry Liang, CNN
A full belly makes a happy heart, but your heart will be happier if you focus on sustaining long-term habits.
Heart-healthy eating starts with your eating patterns, according to the American Heart Association’s recent scientific statement, “2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health.”
That doesn’t mean giving up takeout or that five-minute meal kit from the grocery store altogether. The dietary guidance encourages people to adapt these habits into their lifestyle.
The statement identifies 10 features of heart-healthy eating patterns — including guidance to combine a balanced diet with exercise; consume most nutrients through food over supplements; eat whole grains; reduce sodium, added sugar and alcohol intake; use non-tropical plant oils; and eat minimally processed, over ultra-processed, foods.
“What’s really important now is that people make modifications that can be sustainable in the long term,” said Alice Lichtenstein, director of Tufts University’s Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory and chair of the writing group for the AHA’s new statement.
The statement’s writing group evaluated literature and devised 10 features of heart-healthy dietary patterns. The group also expanded on the guidance, recognizing the need for sustainability and societal challenges that can be obstacles to achieving proper nutrition.
Lichtenstein said eating behaviors have changed since the AHA last published a statement with dietary guidance 15 years ago. Previously, the main options were to eat out or dine in, but eating habits have been less consistent in recent years. There has been a trend — exacerbated by the pandemic — of more convenience food options, such as delivery, meal kits and premade meals.
Make changes that go the distance
The focus of the AHA’s new guidance, Lichtenstein said, is to do what works for you, whatever dietary restrictions or cultural adaptions you want to make. Lichtenstein discourages people from making drastic changes based on fad diets — instead, sustained efforts in incorporating these healthy habits can be more beneficial in the long run.
Lauri Wright, chair of the department of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, seconds this long-term mindset. Wright, who was not involved with the AHA’s statement, emphasized the focus on building lifestyle habits, regardless of people’s ages and backgrounds.
“When we’re talking pattern or a lifestyle, we’re not just talking about a diet — something temporary,” Wright said. “This is really a lifestyle, and it really can accommodate all of your individualities.”
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