10 features of a heart-healthy eating pattern


The American Heart Association recently released their ‘2021 dietary guidance to improve cardiovascular health’. 

Within the article, they covered ten features of a heart-healthy eating pattern, that emphasizes the importance of overall dietary pattern rather than individual foods or nutrients and underscores the critical role of nutrition in all stages of life.

Instead of looking at just individual foods or nutrients, the emphasis now is being placed on the individual’s total dietary pattern (which refers to the balance, variety, amounts, and combinations of foods and beverages that are regularly consumed).

The ten features of a heart-healthy eating pattern include:

  1. Balancing food and calorie intake with physical activity to maintain a healthy weight.
  2. Including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to get the full range of nutrients needed.
  3. Chose whole grains and other foods made up of mostly whole grains over foods made from refined grains.
  4. Choose healthy sources of protein, which can include plant-based (nuts and legumes), fish and seafood, low-fat and non-fat dairy products, and lean cuts of meats.
  5. Use liquid plant oils (olive or sunflower), over tropical plant oils.
  6. Choose minimally processed foods rather than ultra-processed foods.
  7. Minimize intake of beverages and foods with added sugars.
  8. Choose or prepare foods with little or no salt.
  9. Limit alcohol consumption; if you don’t drink, don’t start. 
  10. Use the above nine guidelines regardless if one is cooking at home or going out to eat.

These ten features aren’t actually ‘new’, but instead are being discussed in terms of ‘lifestyle’ habits and not ‘diet’ habits.

The authors state that “features can be adapted to accommodate individual food likes and dislikes, cultural traditions, and whether most meals are consumed at home or on the go”.1

Developing both healthy lifestyle and eating behaviors at an early age are key to lower the risk of developing various diseases that can increase the risk of heart disease later in life. 

The key to developing heart-healthy eating patterns and maintaining them throughout life, is access to nutritional education, and safe and nutritious foods.1


Lichtenstein AH; Appel LJ; Vadiveloo M; Hu FB; Kris-Etherton PM; Rebholz CM; Sacks FM; Throndike AN; Van Horn L; and Wylie-Rosett J. (2021) “2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association” Circulation 144:e472-e487; DOI:10.1161/CIR.0000000000001031

Image by silviarita from Pixabay 

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