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American Heart Association Healthy Diet Guidelines

Topic Overview

The American Heart Association (AHA) publishes dietary and lifestyle recommendations for general heart health.1

These recommendations are for healthy adults and children older than age 2 as well as people who already have health problems such as coronary artery disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or heart failure.

The AHA recommends that you:

  • Eat a variety of fruit and vegetable servings every day. Dark green, deep orange, or yellow fruits and vegetables are especially nutritious. Examples include spinach, carrots, peaches, and berries.
  • Eat a variety of grain products every day. Include whole-grain foods that have lots of fiber and nutrients. Examples of whole grains include oats, whole wheat bread, and brown rice.
  • Eat fish at least 2 times each week. Oily fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, are best for your heart. These fish include tuna, salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, and sardines.
  • Stay at a healthy weight by balancing the amount of calories you eat with the activity you do every day. If you want to lose weight, increase your activity level to burn more calories than you eat.
  • Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Try to choose the following foods:
    • Lean meats and meat alternatives like beans or tofu
    • Fish, vegetables, beans, and nuts
    • Nonfat and low-fat dairy products
    • Polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, like canola and olive oils, to replace saturated fats, such as butter
  • Read food labels and limit the amount of trans fat you eat. Trans fat raises the levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and also lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good") cholesterol in the blood. Trans fat is found in many processed foods made with shortening or with partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils. These foods include cookies, crackers, chips, and many snack foods.
  • Limit sodium. Most people get far more sodium than they need. Try to limit how much sodium (salt) you eat. For good health, less is best. This is especially important for people who are at risk for or already have high blood pressure. If you are African-American, have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, or are older than age 50, try to limit the amount of salt you eat to less than 1,500 mg a day. If none of those things describe you, try to limit sodium to 2,300 mg a day.2
  • Limit alcohol intake to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
  • Limit drinks and foods with added sugar.
  • When you are eating away from home, try to follow these heart-healthy guidelines.

Special considerations include the following:

  • Older people. As you age, you do not usually need to eat as many calories. Although the general dietary guidelines remain the same, older people should be careful to choose foods rich in nutrients to meet their nutritional needs without too many calories.
  • Children. Children over the age of 2 can follow the AHA diet and lifestyle recommendations and maintain normal growth while lowering their risk of heart disease in the future.
  • People with kidney disease. Cardiovascular disease can develop in people who lose normal function of their kidneys. If you have kidney disease, you may need to limit some nutrients including protein and sodium. For more information, see the topic Chronic Kidney Disease.

Other heart-healthy diets

These recommendations from the AHA are just one of several eating plans that help keep your heart healthy. Other heart-healthy eating plans are the DASH diet, the TLC diet, and the Mediterranean diet. You may have a hard time knowing which one might be right for you. To help you compare these eating plans, see:

Comparing Heart-Healthy DietsComparing Heart-Healthy Diets(What is a PDF document?).

References

Citations

  1. American Heart Association (2006). Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006. Circulation, 114(1): 82–96. [Erratum in Circulation, 114(1): e27.]
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Also available online: http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines.

Other Works Consulted

  • Expert Panel on Integrated Guidelines for Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents (2011). Expert panel on integrated guidelines for cardiovascular health and risk reduction in children and adolescents: Summary report. Pediatrics, 128(Supplement 5): S213–S256.
  • Johnson RK, et al. (2009). Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 120(11): 1011–1020.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Also available online: http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical Reviewer Colleen Gobert, PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian
Last Revised March 22, 2012

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