The American Heart Association Diet is focused on a heart-healthy yet nutrient-rich diet. A diet containing the least amount of cholesterol, salt, and refined carbohydrates makes the basis of the AHA diet.
The American Heart Association is an organization that publishes general dietary guidelines for a healthy heart. These guidelines are recommended on the basis of verified scientific evidence.
The AHA suggests that these recommendations are simple steps towards a healthy heart and a healthy life.
Here, we will discuss general guidelines and the key concepts of the AHA diet.
What is the AHA Diet (The American Heart Association Diet)?
The American Heart Association presents a set of dietary patterns that emphasize mindful eating which ensures a perfectly healthy lifestyle and is connected with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, their risk factors, and associated illness.
The AHA diet focuses on dietary adequacy and energy balance. It encourages the consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, legumes, lean meats, and fish.
The American Heart Association Dietary Recommendations:
The dietary pattern followed in the AHA diet is following:
Balance The Energy Intake with Expenditure:
The first feature of the AHA dietary pattern focuses on energy balance. Energy balance means that the amount of calories/energy intake throughout the day is equal to the amount of energy you use or expand.
In this way, you don’t have any extra energy left to store in the body. This is the basis of weight maintenance. Healthy body weight is associated with a reduced risk of CVD.
The AHA suggests that this energy balance can be achieved by following a healthy dietary pattern and at least 150 minutes of physical activity daily. [Ref]
Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables:
Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables has been shown to have an evident effect on the decreased risk of CVD.
The AHA suggests that dietary patterns that are rich in fruits and vegetables, except for white potatoes have been associated with lower CVD risk. [Ref]
This is mainly due to the high fiber and antioxidant content of fruits and vegetables. Fiber helps to lower blood cholesterol and also maintains satiety while phytochemicals have antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties.
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The AHA suggests all forms of fruits and vegetables (fresh, canned, dried, or frozen) are healthy for heart health. It only recommends avoiding the forms that have a high salt and sugar content.
Choose Whole Grains instead of Refined Grains:
Whole grains are rich in fiber and they also help to maintain gut microbiota. Increased consumption of whole grains is associated with decreased risk of CVD.
Substituting whole grains for refined grains is the best way to switch your diet to a healthy pattern.
Get protein from healthy sources:
Healthy protein sources include plant-based protein, lean meat, and low-fat dairy products.
The AHA diet focuses on regular intake of fish and seafood or recommends fish consumption at least twice a week.
Plant-based protein is a healthy alternative to animal protein as it offers a great deal of fiber, B-vitamins, and little to no fat.
Increased consumption of nuts and beans such as soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, and tofu has been associated with decreased CVD risk.
The AHA suggests consuming lean parts of meat that have a lesser degree of saturated fats.
Use plant oils rather than tropical oils or animal fat:
Plant oils contain unsaturated fatty acids which have cardioprotective effects. Tropical oils such as coconut oil and palm oil contain 50-90% saturated fats, these oils must not be used for cooking.
Instead of these, non-tropical oils such as soybean, sunflower, and corn oils must be preferred. These oils are rich in mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids which lower LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.
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Use of minimally processed foods:
Processed foods are those foods that have been subjected to certain preservatives and food additives to increase shelf life and flavor.
These foods have high sugar, salt, and fat content and have been linked to rapid short-term weight gain.
For a healthy heart, the AHA recommends the consumption of minimally processed foods.
Limit consumption of foods with added salt or sugar:
Foods that have added salt or sugar content for preservation purposes have been linked to an increase in the risk of diabetes and hypertension.
These two are the main causative factors of many other diseases and also CVD. The AHA diet focuses on eliminating all such foods that have extra sugar or salt content.
Drink Alcohol in moderation:
The AHA recommends alcohol consumption to be not more than two glasses per day for men and 1 glass per day for women.
Research suggests that increased alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of stroke and atrial fibrillation and reduced intake decreases this risk.[Ref]
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Health Benefits of the AHA diet:
The American Heart Association diet was originally designed to ensure healthy living for heart patients.
But it improves the overall quality of life and it is a complete set of principles to achieve a healthy lifestyle for all. Some amazing benefits of the AHA diet include:
- The AHA dietary regime is a nutrient-dense and well-balanced diet that provides a complete array of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and energy. It avoids both nutrient overconsumption and nutrient deficiencies.
- It is inherently low in trans and saturated fats. This dietary pattern is known to decrease the risk of obesity and chronic diseases.
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- The low body mass index that is achieved by this dietary pattern not only protects against CVD but also lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- The AHA diet is linked to a slow cognitive decline as it contains essential nutrients that help reduce the decline in cognitive functions.
- The risk of kidney disease which is another risk factor for CVD has been known to be decreased by following the AHA diet.
- The diet focuses on the intake of minimally processed instead of highly processed food products, causing lower consumption of harmful chemicals and thereby decreasing the risk of cancer.