CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Nutrition science professor Dr. Alice Lichtenstein says she’s seen way too many attempts to take advantage of shortcuts to a heart-healthy diet—but she says there really are no shortcuts.
Lichtenstein and other experts in the field worked with the American Heart Association on a new statement on diet and heart health released in the past week.
“The importance is not on an individual food or nutrient but it’s on the whole package,” Lichtenstein told MetroNews. “Almost any dietary pattern can be modified so it can move toward a healthy dietary pattern.”
Lichtenstein said the key is shifting and balance.
“It’s not that people have to give up or make radical changes in their diet, which are usually unsustainable, but they just have to make gradual shifts and take advantage of the new products that are out there.”
The statement details 10 features of a dietary pattern to promote heart health:
1..Balance food and calorie intake with physical activity to maintain a healthy weight.
2..Choose a wide variety and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to get a full range of nutrients from food rather than supplements;
3..Choose whole grains and other foods made up mostly of whole grains;
4..Include healthy sources of lean and/or high-fiber protein such as plant proteins (nuts and legumes), fish or seafood, low fat or non-fat dairy, lean cuts of meat and limit red and processed meats;
5..Use liquid non-tropical plant oils such as olive or sunflower oils;
6..Choose minimally processed foods rather than ultra-processed foods as much as possible;
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, do not start; and
10..Apply this guidance no matter where food is prepared or consumed
Lichtenstein said balance is important.
“It’s not only what you eat but what you don’t eat,” she said. “What we’re trying to encourage individuals to do is to shift dietary patterns towards more of what they should be eating and less towards what they shouldn’t be eating.”
She said in many ways it’s easier today to begin to move toward a healthier diet. She said there are many more options and many of them are becoming less expensive.
It’s important to remember, according to Lichtenstein, a heart healthy diet is a marathon not a sprint.
“We’re talking about the long-term. We’re not talking about the classic diet that you go on for a few weeks or for a few months. But it’s to make changes that you feel comfortable with that are relatively easy,” Lichtenstein said.
Heart disease causes more deaths than anything else in West Virginia. In 2017, nearly 4,900 deaths were attributed to heart disease.