November 17, 2021 - 4:50pm --

Heart Disease is still the number on cause of death in America. Research and development of prevention is a never-ending battle, and the American Heart Association continues to update its recommendations for keeping your heart healthy.

So why do we follow the American Heart Association’s recommendations?  According to the Professional Heart Organization, the AHA bases their guidelines on the review of scientific data collected by healthcare professionals. The data is reviewed and published, and then evaluated on how it is related to cardiovascular disease. Continued research on cardiovascular disease (CVD) means over time those guidelines will continue to change and improve.

What are the guidelines? On November 16th of this year, the AHA released a document summarizing guidelines into ten “features” of healthy dietary patterns that promote cardiometabolic health.

  1. Adjust Energy Intake and Expenditure to Achieve and Maintain a Health Body Weight.  Basically, eat right and exercise. AHA recommends that a healthy diet is paired with at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Of course, as people age, this time decreases. Remember that eating too much healthy food can also cause weight gain.
  2. Eat Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables, Choose a Wide Variety. The deeper the color, the more nutrient dense! Whole fruits and veggies are still the best source of nutrients, but canned or frozen options are still great additions to your diet. Juices are not a recommended substitute for whole fruit, and white potatoes are excluded from this list.
  3. Choose Foods Made Mostly with Whole Grains Rather Than Refined Grains. Whole grain foods not only are a good source of fiber, but contain intact starchy endosperm, germ, and bran, all things helping to prevent coronary heart disease.
  4. Choose Healthy Sources of Protein. This feature is broken down into four sub-features:
    1. Substitute meat proteins with plant-based proteins like soybeans, lentils, split peas, and chickpeas. These have added fiber with their protein, but be warned- many of these are options can have additional processed sugars, fats, salts, and preservatives, so choose your food carefully.
    2. 2-3 servings of fish and seafood brings omega-3 fatty acid to your diet, which combats CVD and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).
    3. Switch from full-fat to low or fat-free dairy products. Switching to plant-based substitutes can also help to lower cholesterol. Benefits of eating yogurt as a source of calcium is still being researched.
    4. Choose lean cuts of meat over fatty or processed options. Unfortunately for us steak lovers, red meat is associated with higher CVD, body mass index, and waist circumference. That doesn’t mean switching to fried chicken is healthier. You still have to make sure how you cook your meat is not adding unnecessary fats and salts to your diet.
  5. Use Liquid Plant Oils Rather Than Tropical Oils (Coconut, Palm, and Palm Kernel), Animal Fats (Butter and Lard), and Partially Hydrogenated Fats). This feature is referring to switching from saturated fats to polyunsaturated fats. Eliminating them as much as possible lowers cholesterol concentrations and CVD.
  6. Choose Minimally Processed Foods Instead of Ultra-Processed Food.  Ultra-processed foods incorporate not only added salt, fat, and sweeteners, but artificial colors, stabilizers, preservatives, and flavors. The adverse effects these products have on health are weight gain, obesity, CVD, and diabetes.
  7. Minimize Intake of Beverages and Foods with Added Sugars. Not just for your chronic soda drinkers, any type of added sugar is included. Look to see if your drink has fruit juice, honey, corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, or glucose. Like feature 6, these add to obesity, CVD, and risk of diabetes.
  8. Choose and Prepare Foods with Little or No Salt.  Salt has a direct relationship with raising blood pressure. Unfortunately, there are some processed foods with an excessive amount of salt.  Use this feature as an excuse to get better acquainted with your spice rack to find some flavorful replacements to salt.  
  9. If You Do Not Drink Alcohol, Do Not Start; If You Choose to Drink Alcohol, Limit Intake.  AHA states that how alcohol effects a person can vary do to differences in age, race, etc. But it does increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke and atrial fibrillation.  AHA recommends that if you do drink, limit your drink to one a day.
  10. Adhere to This Guidance Regardless of Wherever Food is Prepared or Consumed. Be aware of these guidelines whether you are at a restaurant, cooking a meal at your own home, or think you are buying healthy options that may have hidden ingredients.

Why is it sometimes hard to make these changes? The ADA also discusses why it can be hard for some of us to make these changes. Access to healthy fresh food and nutrition education is hindered by many factors including some of our own government policies, food insecurity, and let’s face it, sometimes junk food is cheaper! What you can do to help your heart health is start setting goals for yourself. Start simple, and use SMART goals. These goals set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound parameters.

Remember that a healthy lifestyle is successful when it encompasses all stages of your lifespan. With the increase access to unhealthy food and sedentary lifestyles, it is more important than ever to pass on nutrition education to younger generations. You can take one small step at a time to reach your own health goals. Your success will help to motivate others!

Want to know how you can help facilitate a change in health systems? Visit the CDC for ideas.




American Heart Association (2021, November 17th). Guidelines and Statements. Professional Heart Daily.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, November 17th). A Guide to Facilitating Healthy Systems Change. Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.

Lichtenstein, A., et al. (2021). Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association. AHA Scientific Statements.

Nestle, Marion. (2021, November7). The American Heart Association’s new and groundbreaking dietary guidelines. Fook Politics.

Sykes, Shanna. (2020, January 6th). Make Smart Goals for the New Year. Clemson Cooperative Extension.