The American Heart Association has published guidelines aiming to reduce premature death and illness caused by cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, high blood pressure, and strokes.
The guidelines focus on seven factors critical to cardiovascular health:
- blood sugar
- blood pressure
- physical activity
- total cholesterol
- body mass index (BMI)
- ideal diet
Using data from the Atherosclerosis Risk In Communities study (almost two decades’ follow-up), researchers found that those who maintained goals for six or seven of the American Heart Association critical factors had a 51% lower risk of cancer compared with those meeting no goals.
For detailed information about the specific goals, click here.
As you might expect, I was curious about what the American Heart Association considered a heart-healthy diet. I quote the AHA summary:
The recommendation for the definition of the dietary goals and metric, therefore, is as follows: “In the context of a diet that is appropriate in energy balance, pursuing an overall dietary pattern that is consistent with a DASH [Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension]-type eating plan, including but not limited to:
- Fruits and vegetables: ≥ 4.5 cups per day
- Fish: ≥ two 3.5-oz servings per week (preferably oily fish)
- Fiber-rich whole grains (≥ 1.1 g of fiber per 10 g of carbohydrate): ≥ three 1-oz-equivalent servings per day
- Sodium: < 1500 mg per day
- Sugar-sweetened beverages: ≤ 450 kcal (36 oz) per week
Intake goals are expressed for a 2000-kcal diet and should be scaled accordingly for other levels of caloric intake. For example, ≤ 450 calories per week represents only up to one quarter of discretionary calories (as recommended) coming from any types of sugar intake for a 2000-kcal diet.
Diet recommendations are more complicated than that; read the full report for details. Only 5% of study participants ate the “ideal diet.” The Mediterranean diet easily meets four out of five of those diet goals; you’d have to be extremely careful to reach the sodium goal on most any diet.
Cardiovascular diseases and cancer are among the top causes of death in Western societies. Adhering to the guidelines above may kill two birds with one stone.