Heart Disease Is the Leading Cause of Death in the United States

February 9, 2024

NWTHS dietitian Rachel Hutto

Rachel Hutto, MS, RD, LD, CNSC, shares her insight on what you can do to improve your odds for a long, healthy life.

Heart disease risks include several factors that you can control, including tobacco use, physical activity, stress and what you eat and drink. The American Heart Association® has 10 nutritional recommendations*:

  1. Adjust energy intake and expenditure to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
  2. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, of many different kinds.
  3. Choose foods made mostly with whole grains rather than refined grains.
  4. Choose healthy sources of protein – mostly plants, seafood, low-fat or fat-free dairy, lean cuts of meat and poultry – and avoid processed meats
  5. Use liquid plant oils rather than tropical oils, animal fats or partially hydrogenated oils.
  6. Choose whole and minimally processed foods, and avoid ultra-processed foods.
  7. Minimize foods and beverages with added sugars.
  8. Prepare foods with little or no salt.
  9. If you do not drink alcohol, do not start; if you choose to drink alcohol, limit your intake.
  10. Adhere to the above guidance regardless of where food is prepared or consumed (Lichtenstein, 2021).

Healthiest diets

These recommendations are general, and most people prefer a more specific diet when trying to make changes. The AHA encourages eating patterns such as a whole food plant-based diet, the AHA diet, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. Of these, two (the Mediterranean and the DASH diets) made the Forbes Health list of “Healthiest Diets of 2024” that were reviewed by physicians, dietitians and food scientists for sustainability, effect on weight, heart health, diabetic health, and implementation across socioeconomic classes.

These two diets specifically focus on increased intake of fruits and vegetables, fiber, whole grains and fish while recommending reduction in processed foods, red meats, saturated fats and refined carbohydrates. Protein intake from plant-based sources and lean animal meats are encouraged and an overall reduction in sodium intake is recommended.

Make your diet work for you

Making changes overnight can be overwhelming for the typical person and slow change over time is key to creating a lifestyle that can be maintained. Taking the AHA’s recommendations and deciding which items should be addressed in your own life is a great place to start! Once you have identified your deficits, prioritize the recommendations based on what is most important for you. Maybe you want to tackle the “easier” tasks first and build on that momentum. Great! Maybe your loved one likes to do the “hard” stuff first because they believe the “easier” stuff will then fall in place – also great! The important part is finding goals that are achievable and sustainable over the years to come.


Lichtenstein AH, Appel LJ, Vadiveloo M, Hu FB, Kris-Etherton PM, Rebholz CM, Sacks FM, Thorndike AN, Van Horn L, Wylie-Rosett J. 2021 Dietary Guidance to Improve Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2021 Dec 7;144(23):e472-e487. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000001031. Epub 2021 Nov 2. PMID: 34724806.