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American Heart Association Healthy Diet Guidelines

Overview

The American Heart Association (AHA) publishes dietary and lifestyle recommendations for general heart health. footnote 1.

These recommendations are for healthy adults at least 18 years old. These guidelines may also be useful for adults who have health problems, children, and teens. But talk to your doctor because some of these recommendations may be different.

The AHA recommends a diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, lean vegetable or animal protein, and fish. This diet also limits processed meat, refined carbohydrates, and sugary drinks.

To follow a heart-healthy diet:

  • 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.
  • Balance the amount of calories you eat with the activity you do every day. This can help you stay at a healthy weight. If you want to lose weight, look for a weight loss program that includes lifestyle counseling to help you increase your physical activity, reduce how many calories you eat, and monitor your weight over time.
  • Eat foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and limit processed meat. Try to choose the following foods:
    • Lean meats, fish, and meat alternatives like beans or tofu
    • Unsaturated fats, like canola oil, olive oil, avocado, and nuts.
  • Limit sodium. Most people get far more sodium than they need. Try to limit how much sodium (salt) you eat. This is especially important for people who are at risk for or already have high blood pressure. The AHA recommends that most people limit their sodium to 1,500 mg a day. And if you can't reach that goal right now, try to eat at least 1,000 mg less sodium a day than you are now eating.
  • Limit alcohol intake to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
  • Limit drinks and foods with added sugar.

Special considerations include the following:

Older adults.

As you age, you do not usually need to eat as many calories. Although the general dietary guidelines remain the same, older adults should be careful to choose foods rich in nutrients to meet their nutritional needs without too many calories.

Children.

The AHA recommends that children and teens have less than 6 teaspoons of added sugars a day and drink no more than 8 ounces of sugary beverages a week.footnote 2

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.

References

Citations

  1. Arnett DK, et al. (2019). 2019 ACC/AHA guideline on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Circulation, published online March 17, 2019: CIR0000000000000678. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000678. Accessed March 26, 2019. [Erratum in Circulation, 140(11): e649–e650. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000725. Accessed September 10, 2019.]
  2. Vos MB, et al. (2017). Added sugars and cardiovascular disease risk in children: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 135(19): e1017–e1034. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000439. Accessed August 30, 2016.

Credits

Current as of: September 8, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Rakesh K. Pai MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Colleen O'Connor PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian
Kathleen M. Fairfield MD, MPH, DrPH - Internal Medicine

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