The Heart Foundation has announced significant changes to its guidelines on what we should be eating.

To help Australians reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke, the Heart Foundation has released new eating guidelines based on a review of the latest research.

Their key message is heart-healthy food is not about one specific food or nutrient, it’s about regularly eating a variety of healthy foods over time.

The National Director of Prevention at the Heart Foundation, Julie Anne Mitchell, said the new guidelines are supported by emerging health research.

“There’s been quite a shift in public health nutrition research, and we wanted to ensure our healthy eating guidelines…were underpinned by the best available evidence,” Ms Mitchell said.

What are the changes?

For the first time, the health body has put a limit on the amount of red meat Australians should consume. It is recommended Australians consume no more than three lean meals of unprocessed meat a week.
According to the Heart Foundation Chief Medical Advisor, Professor Garry Jennings, our intake of processed or deli meats should also be limited.
“People should get most of their heart-healthy protein from plant sources such as beans, lentils and tofu, as well as fish and seafood, with a smaller amount from eggs and lean poultry,” Professor Jennings said.
The updated guidelines no longer recommend a limit on the number of eggs healthy Australians can eat as they contain good quality protein and are a source of healthy fats.
However, the Heart Foundation does recommend no more than seven a week if you have cardiovascular disease or diabetes.
Similarly, full fat (but unflavoured) dairy no longer has restrictions, unless you suffer high cholesterol or heart disease.
“There is not enough evidence to support a restriction on full-fat milk, yogurt and cheese for a healthy person, as they also provide healthy nutrients like calcium,” Professor Jennings said.
The recommendation for milk, yoghurt and cheese does not extend to cream, butter and ice cream as these foods are not part of a heart-healthy eating pattern.

What other advice has been administered?

The Heart Foundation also recommends Australians eat more plant-based foods, including a variety of vegetables, fruits, wholegrain cereals and legumes (chickpeas, beans and lentils).
The consumption of good fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil has also been encouraged as this style of eating is naturally low in saturated and trans fats, salt and added sugar.
The revised guidelines look more closely at whole foods and patterns of eating rather than focusing on individual nutrients.
Public Health Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton is supportive of this new stance as it promotes foods rather than nutrients.
“I am very pleased the Heart Foundation has now followed up with what I consider evidence-based information that addresses the whole diet,” Dr Stanton said.

What does a healthy diet look like?

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend Australians eat a variety of foods from the following five food groups:
• Vegetables and legumes/beans
• Fruit
• Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties
• Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans
• Milk, yoghurt cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat.
The recommended amounts of food you need depends on your age, sex, height, weight and physical activity levels.
As a guide, adults are recommended to eat:
• At least five serves of vegetables every day. One serve is half a cup of cooked vegetables or one cup of salad
• At least two serves of fruit every day. One serve is one medium piece of fruit (e.g. apple or banana) or two small pieces (apricots or kiwi fruits)
• Two serves of milk, yoghurt and cheese (or alternatives) every day. One serve is one cup of milk or two slices of cheese
• Five to six serves of grains – mostly wholegrain. One serve is one slice of wholemeal bread or half a cup of cooked rice
• Two to three serves of lean meat, fish, eggs, tofu or legumes/beans. One serve is a can of tuna or two eggs.

What does this mean?

When it comes to healthy eating, choosing a variety of healthy foods over time is key.
Heart Foundation Dietitian Sian Armstrong said there are other factors that contribute to living a heart-healthy life.
“It’s also important to be smoke-free, limit alcohol intake, maintain a healthy weight and get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week,” Ms Armstrong said.
You can adjust your diet by aiming to cover half your plate with vegetables and fruit, a third covered with whole grains and then smaller portions of healthy proteins and use of healthier oils.
If you’re concerned with your diet choices, House Call Doctor recommends consulting with your GP.