The latest guidance on heart-healthy eating emphasizes overall dietary patterns rather than fixating on specific foods or nutrients. A new report from the American Heart Association encourages a balanced approach tailored to personal preferences instead of rigid one-size-fits-all rules. The focus is on increasing intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plant proteins, fish, and healthy fats while limiting processed foods, added sugar, and salt. Small, gradual shifts can add up, like swapping refined grains for whole grains or choosing leaner proteins. The goal is an eating pattern high in nutrient-dense foods that supports reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. This flexible, personalized approach accounts for different needs and lifestyles. It also acknowledges systemic barriers and the importance of nutrition education starting early. Heart health depends on the totality of dietary choices and lifestyle factors.

The new guidance recognizes that calorie needs differ for each person, explained Lichtenstein. As an example, energy requirements decrease with each passing decade during adulthood. “Those who are physically active have more flexibility in their diet,” she noted.

When balancing food intake, co-author Vadiveloo said the aim is to ensure every calorie counts and comes from nutrient-dense sources.

The food choices available today are more diverse than ever, spanning meal kits, prepared grocery items, fast food, fast casual, and full service restaurants, she said. As a result, eating out has become a regular part of almost everyone’s diet. Regardless of where people choose to eat, they need to be mindful of what they are consuming.

Heart-healthy eating should not feel restrictive, Lichtenstein emphasized. Enjoying food is important. With a little care and moderation in frequency and portion size, you can eat satisfying meals while supporting your health.

She highlighted the importance of incorporating food and nutrition education into school curricula from an early age. Doing so will equip children with a strong nutritional foundation to guide their food choices as independent adults.

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