Nutrition-wise blog

Guidelines point the way to better health

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. February 8, 2014

The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiologists joined forces last year and released comprehensive recommendations for addressing obesity and heart disease. Below is a brief summary of what these guidelines mean for you.

Here are the key messages from the guideline on preventing heart disease:

  • Eat right. Focus on dietary patterns that emphasize vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Include low-fat dairy products, lean protein (fish, poultry, legumes), non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts in your diet. Limit  sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats. Dietary meal plans that meet this criteria include the DASH diet, the American Heart Association Mediterranean-style diet, the Department of Agriculture's My Plate eating plan and the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid.
  • Limit saturated fat. Reduce saturated fat to 5 to 6 percent of calories (down from the previous recommendation of 7 percent). Avoid trans fat.
  • Cut back on salt. Lower your intake of sodium by 1,000 milligrams (mg) daily. You'll reduce your blood pressure more if you lower it to 2,400 mg daily — better yet to 1,500 mg.
  • Keep moving. Work toward a physical activity level that's effective in controlling blood cholesterol and blood pressure levels — regular, moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity, 3 to 4 sessions weekly, lasting an average of 40 minutes each.

Released at the same time, the obesity guideline provides the basis for obesity prevention and management. What should you expect as a result of these guidelines?

  • More focus on BMI. Your doctor and other health care providers will be talking to you about your body mass index (BMI). The higher your BMI, the greater your risk for obesity-related heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and all-cause mortality. If your BMI is ≥ 40 (or ≥ 35 if you have an obesity-related condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease), your doctor may talk to you about weight-loss surgery.
  • More support for weight loss. Studies have shown that weight loss can be bolstered by medically-supervised, individualized lifestyle-change programs that includes calorie reduction, increased physical activity and behavior change strategies. Such programs are not widely available yet — but watch for more of them to spring up. In terms of financial support, Medicare began covering behavior counseling for obesity in 2012 — most private insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act are expected to do the same in 2014.

These guidelines bring focus to what can be done to fight the top causes of disability and death in this country. Have they gotten your attention? Will you make different choices as a result of the guidelines?

- Jennifer

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Feb. 08, 2014