American Heart Association healthy diet guidelines

The American Heart Association (AHA) publishes dietary and lifestyle guidelines for general heart health.1 These guidelines are similar to the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet from the U.S. National Cholesterol Education Panel (NCEP).

These guidelines are for healthy adults and children older than age 2 as well as people who already have health problems such as coronary artery disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or heart failure.

The AHA diet and lifestyle guidelines recommend that you:

  • Eat a variety of fruit and vegetable servings every day. Dark green, deep orange, or yellow fruits and vegetables are especially nutritious. Examples include spinach, carrots, peaches, and berries.
  • Eat a variety of grain products every day. Include whole-grain foods that have lots of fiber and nutrients. Examples of whole grains include oats, whole wheat bread, and brown rice.
  • Eat fish at least 2 times each week. Oily fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, are best for your heart. These fish include tuna, salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, and sardines.
  • Stay at a healthy weight by balancing the amount of calories you eat with the activity you do every day. If you want to lose weight, increase your activity level to burn more calories than you eat.
  • Eat foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Try to choose the following foods:
    • Lean meats and meat alternatives like beans or tofu
    • Fish, vegetables, beans, and nuts
    • Nonfat and low-fat dairy products
    • Polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, like canola and olive oils, to replace saturated fats, such as butter
  • Read food labels and limit the amount of trans fat you eat. Trans fat raises the levels of LDL ("bad”) cholesterol and also lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good") cholesterol in the blood. Trans fat is found in many processed foods made with shortening or with partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oils. These foods include cookies, crackers, chips, and many snack foods.
  • Limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (about one teaspoon). Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt.
  • Limit alcohol intake to 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
  • Limit drinks and foods with added sugar.
  • When you are eating away from home, try to follow these heart-healthy guidelines.

Special considerations include the following:

  • Older people. As you age, you do not usually need to eat as many calories. Although the general dietary guidelines remain the same, older people should be careful to choose foods rich in nutrients to meet their nutritional needs without too many calories.
  • Children. Many more children are becoming overweight. Although more research is needed on specific dietary guidelines for children, overweight children have an increased risk for diabetes and coronary artery disease (CAD) later in life. Children over the age of 2 can follow the AHA diet and lifestyle recommendations and maintain normal growth while lowering their risk of heart disease in the future.
  • People with kidney disease. Cardiovascular disease can develop in people who lose normal function of their kidneys. If you have kidney disease, you may need to limit some nutrients including protein and sodium. For more information, see the topic Chronic Kidney Disease.

Citations

  1. American Heart Association (2006). Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006. Circulation, 114(1): 82–96. [Erratum in Circulation, 114(1): e27.]

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