The American Heart Association (AHA) has published its latest dietary guidance to improve cardiovascular health.
The AHA guidance lists 10 dietary features that improve cardiometabolic health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, from eating plenty of fruits and vegetables to limiting the intake of alcohol.
Olive oil is one of several examples the statement provides that people can choose as a source of monounsaturated fat.
However, notably absent from the AHA’s dietary guidance is a recommendation to consume extra virgin olive oil instead of tropical oils and plant fats.See Also: Health News
As recently as March 2020, the AHA acknowledged that “olive oil may help lower the risk of heart disease” and is “beneficial as a substitute for butter or mayonnaise,” but did not specifically recommend olive oil consumption in its latest dietary guidance.
Instead, the AHA’s fifth feature of a heart-healthy diet simply recommends using liquid plant oils rather than tropical oils, animal fats and partially hydrogenated fats.
The organization listed olive oil as a plant-based source of monounsaturated fat, along with canola oil, high oleic acid safflower and sunflower oils, peanuts, tree nuts and the butter derived from both. However, the AHA stopped short of explicitly endorsing extra virgin olive oil.
“The 2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health emphasizes the importance of dietary patterns, with less focus on individual foods and more focus on individual choice,” Maggie Francis, an AHA spokeswoman, told Olive Oil Times. “The guidance is intended to support people in making heart-healthy eating decisions that fit various lifestyles, environments and cultures.”
“Robust scientific evidence demonstrates the cardiovascular benefits of dietary unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats), particularly as a replacement for saturated and trans fats,” she added. “Olive oil is one of several examples the statement provides that people can choose as a source of monounsaturated fat.”
While monounsaturated fats are widely considered to promote cardiovascular health, a recent study from Yale University showed that polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil also contributed to heart health.
However, Alice Lichtenstein, the lead author of the guidance, also emphasized selecting the best available food options rather than recommending specific foods.
“The way to make heart-healthy choices every day is to step back, look at the environment in which you eat, whether it be at home, at work, during social interaction, and then identify what the best choices are,” she said. “And if there are no good choices, then think about how you can modify your environment so that there are good choices.”
The AHA’s complete list of dietary recommendations included:
Along with listing the dietary features to promote cardiometabolic health, the AHA also addressed the structural challenges of widespread adherence to heart-healthy dietary patterns in the United States.
“The food environment has a substantial influence on people’s food choices, diet quality and subsequently cardiovascular health at many levels, making it difficult for many Americans to adhere to heart-healthy dietary patterns,” the AHA wrote.
The organization cited socioeconomic factors, such as structural racism and neighborhood segregation, targeted marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages and food and nutrition insecurity as the biggest challenges facing the widespread adoption of their guidelines.
While acknowledging that there are no easy fixes to problems that have been entrenched in the United States’ food environment for decades, the AHA said efforts to combat nutritional misinformation among the public and healthcare professionals and introducing food and nutrition education back into all levels of public education would help.
“Creating an environment that facilitates, rather than impedes, adherence to heart-healthy dietary patterns among all individuals is a public health imperative,” the AHA concluded.