March 16, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Once again, the American Heart Association is preparing to tell us we're not eating right. New dietary guidelines will be released later this spring, in tandem with similar advisories from the Department of Agriculture.
While "heart-healthy" will again be the AHA's main message, the changes will reflect recent scientific research on saturated and monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, soy -- even eggs, Robert Eckel, chairman of the AHA's nutrition committee, tells WebMD.
"I doubt the changes will be radical ... [but] nutrition is a very controversial topic, so we want to maintain a strong scientific base," says Eckel, who is professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology/metabolism at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.
Current guidelines suggest that Americans get no more than 30% of their total calories from fat. They call for less than 10% of total calories to come from saturated fat; up to 10% from polyunsaturated fat; and up to 15% from monounsaturated fat.
"If anything, we will recommend a stronger restriction on saturated fat," Eckel says. The nation's obesity crisis -- especially among children -- will also be a theme. "Obesity in children has increased in the last 10 years. Physical activity and nutrition are obviously both involved; we're looking at the nutritional component."
One criticism the AHA has received over the years, Eckel says, is that although people are eating less fat, they're eating more carbohydrates. "So weight is going to be an important part of these revised guidelines ... achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight."
Certain foods and nutrients may be mentioned specifically. "There's increasing evidence that fish consumption may be helpful, and that diets high in monounsaturated fats are associated with better triglycerides and higher HDL 'good' cholesterols," Eckel tells WebMD. "Also, the whole soy issue is maturing. The nutrition field has advanced enough in the last half decade to take into consideration how that may affect dietary guidelines."
More details on omega-6 and omega-3 fats would help the American public, Annemarie Hedberg, DRPH, director of clinical nutrition at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital/Texas Heart Institute, tells WebMD. "People don't understand the difference, and it's a really big problem," she says. "We feel [these fats] affect people's immune systems. "