Coming This Spring: New Guidelines for a Better Diet
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
"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. "
She says oils high in omega-6, such as corn, safflower, sunflower,
cottonseed, sesame oils tend to suppress the immune system and lower both
"good" cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol levels. Omega-3 fats
-- the "good" fats -- are found in canola and flaxseed oil as well as
in cold-water fish: salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout, sardines. "Any kind of
fish is better than meat, but cold-water is best," she says.
The new AHA guidelines may advise individualized diet plans for people with
specific conditions, like diabetes. "Lipid abnormalities predispose them to
heart disease, so they may need a bit more fat to raise HDL levels," Eckel
says. Also, those people with existing heart disease, whose cholesterol levels
may not be very well controlled, may need stricter fat restrictions.