American Heart Month: A Guide to Heart-Healthy Nutrition

February marks the beginning of American Heart Month, during which healthcare organizations and providers spotlight the significance of public cardiovascular health and aim to raise awareness of risk factors, interventions, and disease prevalence. Today, cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the leading cause of death in the United States, contributing to nearly 660,000 deaths each year. Although patient and provider education, medical care capabilities, and available therapeutics have expanded and improved over the years, the burden of heart disease persists.

While there are many known risk factors that can contribute to cardiovascular diseases – such as smoking, hypertension, obesity, and alcohol use – certain variables are easily modifiable with preventive measures and minor lifestyle interventions. One such important risk component is nutrition.

Dietary Patterns and Their Impact on Cardiovascular Health 

According to a recent study published in the European Heart Journal – Quality of Care and Clinical Outcomes, over two-thirds of cardiovascular disease-related deaths could have been prevented with appropriate dietary interventions. That accumulates to a total of 6 million preventable deaths.

Furthermore, lifestyle factors have been found to reduce the risk of stroke by up to 80% per data 2019 study published in Nutrients. The findings identified an individual’s dietary patterns as the leading risk factor for stroke incidence.

In general, poor diet quality has been strongly associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality. Diets that have high sodium, saturated and trans fat, and sugar intake and those containing large amounts of ultra-processed foods and alcohol are linked to significant adverse effects on cardiovascular health. By increasing levels of LDL cholesterol, inflammation, and lipids, unhealthy diets can cause plaque buildup in arteries, contribute to hypertension, and elevate triglyceride levels – all of which raise the risk of cardiovascular complications.

Cardiovascular Benefits of Healthy Diet Adherence

On the other hand, adherence to heart-healthy nutritional patterns has been associated with optimal cardiovascular health, among many other health benefits. Following a low-saturated fat, high-fiber, plant-based diet can substantially reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease development and beneficially impact its treatment and management as well.

The Dietary Patterns Methods Project found a 14% to 28% lower CVD mortality rate among adults who adhered to high-quality dietary patterns and a 31% decreased risk of heart disease, 33% lower risk of diabetes, and a 20% decrease in stroke risk.

Nutritional Interventions for Improved Cardiovascular Health

According to the American Heart Association’s (AHA) 2021 Dietary Guidance, heart-healthy diets are primarily based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins – such as plant-based proteins, fish and seafood, low-fat dairy, lean and unprocessed meats or poultry. Such patterns also incorporate minimally processed foods and are low in beverages and foods with added sugars and salt.

As defined by the AHA, heart-healthy diets include the Mediterranean style diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, and plant-based diets. Regardless of the diet style or name, nutritional interventions focused on the consumption of whole, healthy foods and avoidance of processed, high-fat, high-sugar foods have proven to significantly decrease the risk of CVD development while also improving cardiovascular health alongside other lifestyle interventions such as regular exercise and stress management.

A full exploration of the current evidence-based guidance on dietary patterns to promote optimal cardiometabolic health per the AHA statement published in Circulation can be found here. In addition, the Million Hearts Program offers many valuable resources to help maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle, including meal planning guides, educational tools, and a wide-range of healthy recipes, accessible here.

Key Takeaways

With cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality persisting as the leading cause of death in the U.S., the role of healthcare professionals in guiding patients toward improving modifiable risk factors, namely dietary patterns, is of utmost importance. Nutritional interventions have been evidenced to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality significantly and can lead to a reduction in hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths.

To further explore the connections between cardiometabolic risk, nutrition, and the spectrum of evidence-based interventions for addressing disease, we invite you to join us at the Connecting the Dots in Cardiometabolic Medicine: Integrative Approaches to Improve Patient Care event. A4M will be co-hosting the unique 2-day conference with our sister brand, Cardiometabolic Health Congress (CMHC), a leader in comprehensive cardiometabolic health education. Sign up today to join renowned conference co-chairs George Bakris, MD, and Mark Houston, MD, at this can’t-miss meeting!

A Message from ADigital Health

The American Heart Association (AHA) ‘s mission is to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. In an article titled “How to Help Prevent Heart Disease At Any Age,” the AHA states that no matter the age group, “everyone can benefit from a healthy diet and adequate physical activity.”

A heart-healthy eating plan can be described as one low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium with lots of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish, low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives, and limited sugars. This diet is often described as the DASH diet, “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The problem is finding a way to deliver this information to patients efficiently and in a way that’s easy to follow and monitor.

Since 1 in every 4 deaths can be attributed to cardiovascular disease, A4M is committed to offering practitioners tools and solutions to reduce that risk. A4M’s remote care solution at offers providers a library of heart-healthy care plans, including the DASHDietRx and the ModernDASH Diet, to help doctors offer lifestyle recommendations more easily to patients with hypertension and heart disease. You can try this solution for free and start educating and monitoring patients’ progress at this link. As more and more payers demand outcomes-based care, giving patients guidance towards lifestyle change is becoming the norm. Fortunately, digital tools that automate care education and monitoring now allow more providers to give much-needed guidance without additional practice time.