Healthy Habits

Heart Healthy Nutrition

Content provided by the GBS Health & Wellness Team

From the Dietitian’s Desk
With Becca Rick, MS, RD

Nutrition recommendations for heart health have been subject to a lot of controversy and have evolved over the years. Researchers have come a long way in this field and continue to push for the most current and correct recommendations.

History of Heart Health Recommendations

  • 1950-1970: Twenty years of debate among researchers about the major culprit for cardiovascular disease (CVD) between dietary fat versus refined carbohydrates/sugar.
  • 1974: Dietary fat wins the debate. Researchers conclude that dietary fat and cholesterol lead to atherosclerosis, heart attack, and overall CVD.
  • 1980: People are encouraged to limit dietary cholesterol leading to a major drop in egg consumption.
  • 2000-2015: Researchers begin to question the saturated fat-CVD hypothesis.
  • 2015: Removal of recommendation to limit consumption of dietary cholesterol from Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015.
  • 2015: Several studies find strong connection between refined carbohydrates and added sugar with CVD.
  • 2016: Dairy consumption is found to have a protective effect against CVD.
  • 2020: Consuming fiber and omega-3 fatty acids and limiting intake of added sugars are found to protect against CVD.

To learn more about the history and controversy of heart health recommendations, take a look at this article.

So, what does this mean for me?

Nutritional science evolves as new information is uncovered. This contributes to improved health over time but can be frustrating for someone who strictly follows specific dietary practices for overall health. For those looking to set more focused goals to improve heart health and decrease risk for cardiovascular disease, here are the current research-based nutrition recommendations:

  • Consume 3 servings (3g/serving) of soluble fiber per day. Find soluble fiber in oats, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, and beans.
  • Increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Find omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish (or fish oil), nuts, and seeds.
  • Limit consumption of refined carbohydrates and replace with whole grain alternatives. The main sources of refined carbohydrates include white flour, white bread, white rice, pastries, and sodas.
  • Avoid all forms of tobacco and secondhand smoke.

Did you know?

No need to cut out eggs! Eggs have historically been vilified for their dietary cholesterol content. However, research has since proved that limiting dietary cholesterol for the general population is unnecessary for health. Also, eggs contain additional vitamins and nutrients that can lower risk of heart disease. The Physicians’ Health Study found that eating an egg a day is generally safe for heart health. For most, the benefits of consuming eggs outweigh the potential cons.

Think twice before buying low-fat products. This may be a shock to some, but there is not a significant nutritional benefit to selecting low- or no-fat content in dairy products and other pre-packaged foods. Often, products marketed as low-fat or fat-free end up containing increased sugar or sodium content to maintain a similar taste. The best choice is to stick with the regular version of your favorite products.



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