DALLAS Eating right just got easier especially for health-conscious folks who get a heady thrill from fruits and vegetables but a headache from math.
The American Heart Association revised its influential dietary guidelines yesterday, stressing common sense in choosing one’s daily fare and downplaying complicated percentages of fat or nutrients.
“We are moving toward a diet that focuses on food rather than strictly on the numbers,” said Dr. Ronald M. Krauss, lead author of the report.
It’s the first significant revision in four years of the association’s guidelines, which other health organizations widely mimic.
The association urges a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish, lean meats and poultry. Five servings of fruits and vegetables and six servings of grains are recommended daily.
And, for the first time, two weekly servings of fatty fish, such as tuna or salmon, are recommended.
“In the past, we have focused rather heavily on the percent of calories as fat and amounts of cholesterol,” Dr. Krauss said. “These are still important considerations, but the emphasis has shifted.”
For the first time, the association also emphasizes the prevention of obesity. Prevention is key, Dr. Krauss said, because shedding pounds and keeping them off is so difficult.
“The low-fat message for many people is distorted so they are selecting food with high junk calories,” such as soft drinks and baked goods, Dr. Krauss said. “That just leads to excess weight gain without any real nutrition.”
The association recommends tailoring people’s menus to their own risk of heart disease and stroke, and it outlines dietary directions for doctors and their patients for a variety of diseases.
The no-no’s still are saturated fats and trans-fatty acids, especially for adults prone to heart disease, the association said. Saturated fats are found in animal products and tropical oils, and trans-fatty acids include hydrogenated oil used in commercially prepared foods and some hard margarines.
The new guidelines, to be published in the Oct. 31 issue of Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, should help consumers, said Edith Howard Hogan, a dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
“This mirrors the ADA’s recommendations of a diet based on a variety of foods,” she said. “People are more interested in adding things to their diet than taking things out.”
But eating sensibly can still be tough, especially with fast food so readily available, said Margo Denke, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas.
The guidelines say the average adult should cut saturated fats and trans-fatty acids to 10 percent of calories, which would be a cut of two to three percentage points for the average adult.
“That’s setting a high mark for people to achieve,” Miss Denke said. “Is it doable for people who are eating out? Without a message that can be translated to people in restaurants, it’s not going to be an effective message.”
Dr. Krauss, though, said the guidelines should help even those who relish fast food.
“When people eat out, it’s hard to think about what percentage of the dinner comes from saturated fat,” he said. “It’s much easier to think about the various food groups.”
For the obese, the guidelines recommend a gradual weight loss of no more than one to two pounds a week by eating fewer calories and increasing physical activity.
The guidelines also weigh in on popular diet strategies. For example, there is little scientific evidence to support the belief that high-protein diets result in significant changes in metabolism, sustained weight loss or improved health.