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  • Writer's pictureBreanna Barton


Updated: Nov 23, 2021

The American Heart Association updates their dietary recommendations, AGAIN. Let's take a deeper look.

Here are their recommendations in bold, and my comments below:

1.) Use up at least as many calories as you take in.

Solid recommendation. This just means that your caloric intake should be high enough to support muscle mass and activity, but not so high to cause excess body fat. If you are overweight, you’ll need to dial back your caloric intake a little.

2.) A wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

Good advice. The more variety you get in your food, the more variety of nutrients you get each day. For example if you eat just broccoli you’ll get some great intake of vitamin C, but will still be lacking in vitamin A. Eat a combo of broccoli and kale and you’ll cover both.

3.) Whole grains and products made up mostly of whole grains.

Let’s clarify this one. Whole grain foods like rice, oatmeal, corn, barley, buckwheat, etc. that you could buy in the bulk bins with no lengthy ingredient list are different from whole grain "products". You can take a whole wheat grain and turn it into a highly processed product. Your donut started off as a whole wheat grain too, but we aren’t making recommendations for those.

4.) Healthy sources of protein (mostly plants such as legumes and nuts; fish and seafood; low-fat or nonfat dairy; and, if you eat meat and poultry ensuring it is lean and unprocessed)

Half right. This statement is incredibly misleading. Getting your protein from mostly plants is difficult, and generally requires some sort of processed supplementation such as vegan protein powder or a meat-alternative soy based product. To get enough protein from vegetables alone would require 30 cups of cooked spinach for a 150lb athletic person. There are high protein plant foods out there, but for an ideal ratio of vitamins and minerals are best paired with pastured meats, poultry, eggs or fish and seafood.

Most people are lactose intolerant, plus dairy with fat removed requires extra processing. Why are they going to recommend unprocessed meats but green light processed dairy? Organic or raw dairy (like great-grandma used to have) if tolerated, is a natural source of protein and fat.

Lean meats vs fatty meat. Here’s the deal… Fatty meat gets a bad rap for two reasons. First it contains more calories than lean meat, so if you are overweight this is a way you could cut out some calories without sacrificing portions. This is why you see bodybuilders toting around dry chicken breast and flavorless white fish. Second if you are eating commercial meats (which most of us are), the nasty bits from their feed, antibiotics, etc. are stored in their fat. If you want that fatty ribeye, this is the time to splurge on the organic or pastured option.

Processed meats such as most deli meat, hot dogs, sausages, and cured meats contain preservatives (like nitrates) that are well documented to cause cancer in animals, yet the good ‘ole FDA still allows them in your food. You can find minimally processed versions of these meats by buying organic which legally does not allow nitrates in certified products.

5.) Liquid non-tropical vegetable oils.

This is another vague and useless statement. Liquid plant oils could mean heart healthy fresh pressed olive or avocado oil, or it could mean genetically modified canola oil that is linked to increased inflammation in multiple animal studies.

And why hate on the fuzzy little coconut? “Coconut oil is high in natural saturated fats. Saturated fats not only increase the healthy cholesterol (known as HDL cholesterol) in your body, but also help convert the LDL “bad” cholesterol into good cholesterols. By increasing the HDL in the body, it helps promote heart health and lower the risk of heart disease. Coconut oil also benefits the heart by lowering high triglycerides.” (Axe)

What about the worst fats of all for your heart? Partially hydrogenated oils? The FDA quietly banned these in 2020 so the AHA guidelines were updated accordingly.

6.) Minimally processed foods.

Yes this is good advice. Not even a dietician or nutrition coach is going to eat 100% whole foods 100% of the time. If you do reach for processed foods, pick something with minimal ingredients listed that you can actually pronounce. There is a big health difference between ice cream that lists: milk, cream, sugar, vanilla versus one that sounds like a science project gone rogue. Ingredients are more important than nutrition facts for your long term health.

7.) Minimized intake of added sugars.

Added sugars just increase your risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, and high cholesterol. Fake sugar alternatives aren’t doing you any favors either. Sucralose (Splenda) is in all sorts of low sugar and sugar free foods. Splenda is made in a laboratory by reacting sugar with Chlorine and has been linked to leukemia in animal studies. Mmmmm chlorine, that sounds delicious. All of a sudden those treats don’t sound so appealing. Nutrition coach advice: save the treats for special occasions and truly enjoy yourself. Tuesday isn’t a good reason to eat cake knowing daily added sugars really contribute to chronic diseases and premature death.

8.) Foods prepared with little or no salt.

Science does not agree with this “no salt” recommendation. The body really likes homeostasis (aka normal) so it unconsciously regulates our systems. You sleep more when you are tired, eat more when you exercise hard, drink more water when it is hot out, etc. The body’s salt regulator controls this set point around 3-4 grams per day. “Sodium intake in the body is considered optimal when the amount of sodium ingested matches the amount of sodium excreted in the urine.” For example, it is thought that once you meet your optimal levels of salt, your salt taste receptors move from positive (liking salt) to negative (disliking salt). Taste inversion is one of the bodies clever ways to keep salt levels inside your body at the optimal range. (Razko/DiNicolantonio)

I’d like to think my readers aren’t just sitting on their arses all day. So those of you heavy exercisers need even more. The benefits of consuming salt with exercise include: less thirst, greater exercise capacity, improved performance, improved muscle gains, decreased risk of hyponatremia (low sodium in the blood), and improved kidney function.

The lesson here is that if you are eating mostly whole unprocessed foods, then adding salt (and cooking with salt) is recommended for optimal body hydration. If you are eating a diet of goldfish crackers and frozen pizza pockets you are probably getting more than you need.

9.) If you do not drink alcohol, do not start; if you choose to drink alcohol, limit the intake.

Alcohol is a toxin. I’m sorry it is true. Although alcohol consumption dates back to more than 7000 BC, the health risks of overconsuming outweigh the benefits. While wine (especially red wine) has received more healthy approvals than that Jack and Coke, it really isn’t a reliable source of the antioxidant resveratrol.

The Mayo Clinic says that moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits, such as reducing your risk of developing and dying of heart disease, possibly reducing your risk of ischemic stroke (when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow).

We wont discount the social benefits to drinking, so to keep some life balance it is recommended not to consume more than seven drinks per week for women, or 14 per week for men.

10.) Apply this guidance wherever food is prepared or consumed.

Have you been to a restaurant lately? Do you know what kind of oil they are using to cook your food? It’s all cheap shit anyway. For optimum health and longevity cook most of your foods at home. You don’t know how to cook or don’t want to? We are all making sacrifices with the same 24 hours a day. Perhaps you could give up an hour of Netflix for an hour of Netflix + food prep.


Realize that science is always changing and recommendations come and go. Today the American Heart Association’s website shows their support of Eggland's Best, so apparently they quietly take back the last 50 years of trash talking the egg?

If you eat whole healthy unprocessed foods 95% of the time, then you can indulge in nutritionally empty calories without much impact to your health. I call these treat days "holidays and vacations."

Like usual but apparently has to be repeated, this article is not intended as medical advice.


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