There are no ‘bad’ foods, says new guide to heart-healthy eating

There are no “good” foods and “bad” foods. Rather, it’s your overall diet that matters most when it comes to healthy eating.

This is the main message of the American Heart Association in its latest nutritional guidelines to improve the heart and health of Americans of all ages and circumstances.

The experts who wrote the guidelines recognize that people do not eat individual nutrients or ingredients. They eat food and most people want to enjoy the food they eat on budget and, the association hopes, without harming their bodies.

Rather than urging people to avoid pasta because it is a refined carbohydrate, a better message might be to tell people to eat it the traditional Italian way.

That doesn’t mean you have to avoid Big Macs, Coke, and French fries altogether, but it does mean that you don’t have to indulge in such dishes on a regular basis if you want to stay healthy.

Dr. Robert H Eckel, former president of the American Heart Association and endocrinologist and lipid specialist at the University of Colorado at Denver, tells me he “occasionally” indulges in foods outside of a healthy diet. . The key word here, however, is “occasionally”.

Dr Neil J Stone, a preventive cardiologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who praised the guidelines committee’s thoughtfulness and expertise, said in an interview: unique diet, but there are principles to form the basis of diets that are right for everyone.

He added: “The goal is to make good nutrition possible for everyone. The healthier we can keep everyone in this country, the lower our health costs will be. “

In the 15 years since the Heart Association last issued dietary guidelines aimed at reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, little has changed for the better in the United States. The typical American diet has remained highly transformed. Americans consume too many added sugars, artery-clogging fats and refined starches, along with too much red meat and salt, and don’t eat enough rich vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and whole grains in nutrients that can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

But rather than get discouraged, the association decided to try a different approach. For too long, nutritional advice has focused too much on individual nutrients and ingredients, Alice H Lichtenstein, chief author of the guidelines tells me, and it hasn’t focused enough on the overall eating habits that suit the individual. better for people’s lives and budgets.

So instead of a long list of “you won’t eat,” says Dr. Lichtenstein, the association’s committee on nutrition and cardiovascular disease chose to promote heart-healthy eating habits that might be appropriate for everyone. a wide range of tastes and eating habits. By avoiding “no-no’s” and food revolutions, the new guidelines can foster gradual, evolutionary changes that are meant to last a lifetime.

Choosing plant-based protein not only has health value for consumers, but can help promote a healthier planet.

The committee recognized that in order for people to adopt and stick to a healthy diet, it must take into account personal likes and dislikes, ethnic and cultural practices and life circumstances, and it must determine whether the Most meals are eaten at home or on the go.

For example, rather than urging people to avoid pasta because it’s refined carbohydrates, a more effective message might be to tell people to eat it the traditional Italian way, in small portions as a starter. Or, if pasta is your main course, choose an unrefined carbohydrate-based pasta product like whole wheat, brown rice, or lentils.

“We’re talking about permanent changes that incorporate personal preferences, culinary traditions and what’s available where people shop and eat,” says Dr. Lichtenstein, professor of nutritional science and policy at the Friedman School of the Tufts University. “The advice is evidence-based and applies to everything people eat, regardless of where food is purchased, prepared and eaten. “

The first principle of the guidelines is to adjust one’s “energy intake and expenditure” to “achieve and maintain a healthy body weight,” a recommendation that may be easier to follow with the following two principles: eat lots of fruits and vegetables and choose foods made primarily with whole grains rather than refined grains. If cost or availability is an issue, as is the case in many food deserts in the United States where fresh produce is scarce, Dr. Lichtenstein suggests keeping bags of frozen fruits and vegetables on hand for easy access. reduce waste, add convenience and save money.

Legumes are among the protein choices recommended by the American Heart Association. Photograph: Getty Images

Some healthy protein choices recommended by the committee included fish and seafood (although not breaded and fried), legumes and nuts, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products. If you crave meat, choose lean cuts and avoid processed meats like sausages, hot dogs, and deli meats high in salt and saturated fat.

The Protein Foods Committee’s opinion, released during the recent climate talks in Glasgow, was timely. Choosing plant-based protein over animal protein sources not only has health value for consumers, but can help promote a healthier planet.

Experts have long known that animal products like beef, lamb, pork and veal have a disproportionately negative impact on the environment. Raising animals requires more water and land and generates more greenhouse gases than growing plants rich in protein.

“It’s a win-win solution for people and our environment,” says Dr Lichtenstein. However, she warns, if a plant-based diet is overloaded with refined carbohydrates and sugars, it will increase your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. And she advises against relying on popular plant-based meat substitutes that are ultra-processed and often high in unhealthy sodium, fat and calories, and which “may not be environmentally sound to produce.”

To protect both the environment and human health, the committee advised to abandon the diet of tropical oils – coconut, palm and palm kernel – as well as animal fats (butter and lard) and partially hydrogenated fats. Instead, use liquid vegetable oils like corn, soybeans, safflower, sunflower, canola, walnuts and olive. They have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by about 30 percent, an effect comparable to taking a statin.

A healthy diet should start before conception, not after a heart attack

Regarding beverages, the committee endorsed the current US National Dietary Guideline for avoiding beverages with added sugars (including honey and concentrated fruit juices). If you are not currently drinking alcohol, the committee advised against starting; for those who drink, the advice is to limit consumption to one to two glasses per day.

All in all, the eating habits described by the committee may go far beyond reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes. They may also protect against type 2 diabetes and decline in kidney function, and maybe even help promote better cognitive abilities and a slower rate of age-related cognitive decline.

The earlier in life a healthy diet begins, the better, according to Dr. Lichtenstein. “It should start before conception, not after a heart attack, and [be] reinforced by nutrition education at school. . . “

And during annual checkups, says Dr Eckel, primary care physicians should spend three to five minutes of the visit for a lifestyle interview, asking patients how many servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains they are consuming and if they read nutrition labels. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times


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