Preliminary Report on Dietary Guidelines Reinforces Need for Healthy Eating, Says American Heart Association

February 19, 2015 Categories: Scientific Statements/Guidelines

DALLAS – February 19, 2015 ― The American Heart Association says new recommendations for the next update of federal Dietary Guidelines will provide effective support for Americans who want to achieve a healthy diet. The report, released today by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will inform the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) as they craft the new guidelines, due out later this year. The advisory committee’s report, written by a panel of nutrition experts, stresses the importance of a healthy dietary pattern limited in saturated and trans fat, added sugars, and sodium.

“It’s clear that Americans need to change their eating habits and make more nutritious choices,” said Elliott Antman, M.D., president of the American Heart Association.  “Although the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee differ on the ultimate target levels for sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars, the Committee’s recommendations are a shift in the right direction, and if accepted by HHS and USDA, will help steer the public toward a more heart healthy path in their daily diets.”

One important point made in the committee’s report is that Americans are still eating way too much sodium – around 3,400 mg/day.  With about 14 percent of kids age 12 to 19 and two-thirds of adults already pre-hypertensive or hypertensive, the report recommends following the AHA/ACC 2013 Lifestyle Guidelines for sodium intake. For the general population, the report recommends less than 2,300 mg/day, the same amount as the current guidelines.

“Reducing excessive salt in our diets is critical to cutting our cardiovascular risk, and the association is pleased that the committee emphasizes this in their recommendations,” Antman said.  “We urge the food industry to give Americans a better chance to achieve this goal, by decreasing sodium in packaged and restaurant foods – the source of nearly 80 percent of the salt we eat daily.”

The report also noted research showing the correlation between decreasing children’s sodium intake and lowering their blood pressure. “More of our kids are suffering from elevated blood pressure, and one third of them are overweight or obese,” added Antman.  “Too much salt in our children’s diets will make this situation worse and put future generations on the road to heart disease and stroke.  There’s no question that we should continue to strive to reduce the sodium in the foods our kids eat.”

Antman also commended the advisory committee’s recommendation to maintain a limit on dietary saturated fat intake in light of its strong relationship to LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk. Saturated fats are found mainly in animal fats, meat and dairy products, and tropical oils, such as coconut and palm. “We are pleased to see that the recommendations call for lowering saturated fats and encourage replacing them with unsaturated fats instead of refined grains and added sugars,” he said.

As anticipated, the panel did not include a recommendation for dietary cholesterol, noting that it is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption in the population. The association’s 2013 joint guideline on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk also concluded that scientific evidence did not support limiting dietary cholesterol to lower artery clogging LDL-cholesterol in the blood.

Added sugars are another key area of interest to the association. The association commends the science committee’s recommendation to reduce consumption of added sugars through policies and programs at local, state, and national levels, particularly from sugar sweetened beverages like regular sodas, fruit drinks, and sports drinks.

“We are working very hard to reduce the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages Americans drink – in schools, at universities and in worksites,” Antman said. “We also are working to create policy changes so people who rely on government support for food can have access to healthier options.”

The guidelines are a good first step to building a culture of health through policy changes, Antman said, but there’s still a long way to go.

“Unless we translate these policies into action we’re not going to be able to really help drive change in the health of Americans,” he said. “We need a complete culture shift so consumers can easily make healthy choices, and that requires all of us working together – government, industry, health and science organizations, and advocates.”

The impact of a widespread, coordinated movement would not only affect people’s health and mortality, but could also rein in health costs.

“One estimate suggests a national effort that reduces population sodium intake by 1,200 mg per day could reduce the health burdens related to heart disease in addition to reducing health care costs by up to $24 billion per year,” Antman said.

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About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit heart.org or call any of our offices around the country.  Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Media Contact: 

Kate Lino, 214.706.1325

kate.lino@heart.org