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DALLAS -- A healthy diet and lifestyle are key weapons in the fight to prevent cardiovascular disease -- the nation's No. 1 killer -- according to new American Heart Association diet and lifestyle recommendations published this week in "Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association."
Intended for healthy Americans age 2 and older, the recommendations which replace guidelines issued in 2000, now recommend:
-- further reducing saturated and trans fatty acids in the diet;
-- minimizing the intake of food and beverages with added sugars;
-- emphasizing physical activity and weight control;
-- eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grain foods;
-- avoiding use of and exposure to tobacco products; and
-- achieving and maintaining healthy cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels.
"The previous recommendations stressed a healthy dietary pattern; the new ones broaden that concept to include the importance of a healthy lifestyle pattern," said Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., chair of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee and Gershoff professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University in Boston. "The two go together -- they should be inseparable."
The association continues to emphasize achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight, but is putting more emphasis on balancing the number of calories consumed with the number of calories burned. More emphasis is put on food preparation methods that avoid adding saturated fat, sugar, or salt, and portion size control.
More than 90 scientific publications were reviewed by a panel of nutrition and cardiovascular disease experts for the new American Heart Association recommendations. Besides the goals and recommendations, the statement has new sections with practical information for consumers, such as knowing your caloric needs, food preparation tips, and some examples of dietary patterns consistent with the new recommendations.
As in the past, the recommendations also address special groups such as children, older adults, individuals with metabolic syndrome or chronic kidney disease, and certain socioeconomic groups at high risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
A new feature of the 2006 American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations is a list of ways that practitioners, restaurants, the food industry, schools, and local governments can help the general public adopt these recommendations. Examples include displaying caloric content prominently on menus, reducing portion size, limiting trans fatty acids, and using low-saturated-fatty-acid oils in food preparation.
Another major change in the dietary recommendations is a lower goal for saturated fat -- from less than 10 percent to less than 7 percent -- and establishing a goal for trans fatty acids of less than 1 percent of total calories.
"The point is not to calculate the amount of saturated and trans fatty acids in the diet, but to choose foods that minimize your intake," said Lichtenstein. "For example, you can choose leaner cuts of meat and lower-fat dairy products, [eat] smaller serving sizes, avoid foods made with hydrogenated fat, and include more fruits, vegetables, vegetarian options, and fish in the diet."
The association urges industry to gradually reduce the salt and sugar content of processed foods and to increase the proportion of whole grains compared with white flour in baked goods, among other recommendations.
For more information visit http://www.americanheart.org or call 1-800-AHA-USA1.