The American Heart Association (AHA) has developed an eating plan to prevent heart attacks and strokes among the American population. Whether you have a personal or family history of heart disease or simply want to live a more heart-healthy lifestyle, this may be the diet for you. Specifically, the plan accomplishes this by reducing three risk factors:
- Elevated blood cholesterol levels
- Elevated blood pressure
- Excess body weight
American Heart Association Dietary Recommendations
Each of the AHA dietary guidelines promotes healthy living with the development of proper eating habits and physical activity. The following is a brief list of the guidelines:
- Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits equaling five servings per day.
- Eat a variety of grains to equal six servings per day.
- Eat fish at least two times each week, preferably fatty fish such as salmon and tuna.
- Choose reduced-fat dairy products, legumes, skinless poultry, and lean meats.
- Select fats with no more than two grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, such as liquid and tub margarine, canola, corn, safflower, and olive oil.
- Balance calories eaten each day with calories burned. To calculate how many calories you use in a day, multiply your current weight by 15 (if you are moderately active). For sedentary persons, multiply weight by 13 instead of 15.
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes each day.
- Limit high-calorie, low-nutrition foods like soft drinks and candy.
- Limit foods high in saturated fat, trans-fat and cholesterol.
- Maintain sodium intake at or below 2,400 mg or 1 1/4 teaspoons per day.
- Limit alcoholic beverages to no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks for men.
Tips to Implement the AHA Diet
Although the overall AHA plan is medically sound and completely safe, it does require specific planning, shopping, and cooking. There are several recommendations, which you'll need to implement for positive results. Visit the American Heart Association's online Nutrition Center. There you will find a variety of information as well as ways to help implement the plan. To get started, begin making the kind of small changes to your diet that can lead up to a big impact.
- Eat the recommended number of servings from each food group each day.
- Trim excess fat off the edges of meats before cooking, and choose cuts of meat that are naturally lower in fat.
- Remove the skin from poultry dishes.
- Substitute two egg whites for an egg white and yolk.
- Substitute other seasonings and flavors for salt in your cooking.
- Use low-fat or fat-free versions of dairy foods as well as condiments like salad dressings.
- Use non-fat cooking sprays whenever possible.
- Swap out oils that are high in saturated fats and cholesterol for other vegetable-based oils like canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, soybean, and sunflower, and use them sparingly.
- Try different cooking methods other than frying to reduce fats and calories, such as stir-frying, baking, poaching, steaming, or broiling.
- Use vinegar and citrus juices instead of salad dressings or fattening condiments.
- Get plenty of physical activity as well.
The AHA has several cookbooks available to assist people with its diet plan. You can view the complete library on the cookbooks page of the organization's online Nutrition Center. Examples of available publications include the following:
- The New American Heart Association Cookbook, 7th Edition
- American Heart Association Quick & Easy Cookbook: More Than 200 Healthful Recipes You Can Make in Minutes
- American Heart Association Low-Salt Cookbook, 3rd Edition
- American Heart Association Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook, 4th edition
Benefits of this Diet
There are many advantages of following the American Heart Association Diet guidelines:
- Positive approach to healthy eating: The plan offers a positive approach to eating a healthier diet. Giving up your favorite foods is not a mandatory part of this diet. Eating a variety of foods in moderate portions and applying the guidelines to your overall eating regimen over the long term is more important.
- Improved cardiac health: Since the primary goal of this diet is the prevention of heart attacks and strokes, any person who follows it, whether seeking to lose weight or maintain his or her current weight, can expect to enjoy improved cardiac health.
- Reduced risk for many health conditions: Besides lowering risk factors for poor heart health, the plan can reduce your risk of acquiring other health conditions as well. Along with a reduction in body weight, other benefits are a decreased risk of diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis. Similarly, many other conditions related to obesity can be improved upon or avoided by following the guidelines.
Ready to Try the AHA Diet?
If you're ready to start making positive changes in your diet that can improve your health, you just might want to try bringing this way of eating into your household. The AHA has made it easy for you to look for heart-healthy food items on supermarket shelves. A red heart with a white check mark on it is the symbol to look for. This logo represents foods approved by the AHA for low saturated fats and cholesterol for healthy people over age two. Furthermore, you can adapt the recommendations to satisfy the nutritional requirements of the entire family.