For the first time in 15 years, the American Heart Association has new dietary guidelines. What better time to start putting them into use than this month during American Heart Month?
Brianna Grande, a registered dietitian in our Greenville market, says the changes made to the guidelines should make it easier for people to follow.
“What they’ve changed is the focus – homing in on overall dietary patterns now rather than individual foods – so it’s not just ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods anymore. It’s promoting more of a lifestyle change than a diet, with the goal of creating realistic and sustainable steps that we can all try to work toward,” she explains.
Those steps include eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, choosing whole grains over refined grains, relying more on plants for protein and limiting ultra-processed foods – especially those that contain a lot of salt and sugar.
Brianna shares that the bottom line is stay balanced.
“We don’t have to give up foods we love,” she says. “We can still absolutely incorporate them into our diet. You just have to ask yourself, ‘what am I doing most of the time? Am I getting my recommended nutrients through my diet?’ The goal is to find a healthy overall eating pattern that works for you most of the time.”
Brianna recommends starting slow – for instance, incorporating one meatless meal per week. Or, if you’re only getting fruit and vegetables in two or three times a week, shoot for having one fruit or vegetable every day instead.
She also recommends forming your meals around fruits and vegetables rather than your meat and starch. As for salt, Brianna shares that most of that comes from eating out and ultra-processed foods, so cooking more meals at home can help easily cut out some of the excess sodium.
“The guidelines are a great reference for when you’re looking to assess your current habits or just looking to improve your overall diet quality. For most people, it’s a good place to start, but talk to your doctor or dietitian if you’re thinking about making any drastic changes or trying to address a specific disease you may have.”
A dietitian can create a personalized plan catered to your individual needs to help you determine and implement the best approach to maintaining a healthy diet. Doing this is one of the best ways to prevent or slow the progression of heart disease, as well as many associated risk factors such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes.