Ask the Dietitian – Heart Health


Ask the Dietitian – Heart Health

According to the American Heart Association, 47% of Americans have at least one of three risk factors that contribute to heart disease.i  February is American Heart month and NielsenIQ hosted a Q&A with registered dietitian Paul Brown to get his take on heart-healthy diets to ensure brands, retailers, and consumers know how to give their vital organ a little extra love. 

Q: What is a heart-healthy diet and who is it best suited for?

Are there populations where a heart-healthy diet is NOT advised?  

A: A heart-healthy diet emphasizes an overall increase in fruit and vegetable consumption; prioritization of whole grains and increase of fiber intake; limiting the amount of added salts and sugars; and choosing lean sources of protein.  

This diet is geared towards individuals who are at risk or currently have heart disease; however, the recommendations for a heart-healthy diet are overall beneficial and easy to implement that the general population could follow them with no problem. 

Q: What beverages/drinks fit into a heart-healthy diet?  

A: While a heart-healthy diet can accommodate most individuals’ taste in beverages; however, avoiding high-fat beverages, such as non-dairy creamers, and heavily processed, sugar-sweetened beverages, is encouraged. The industry responds in kind, touting heart-healthy claims to ensure greater transparency and choice for the consumer. According to NielsenIQ’s Product Insight (NPI), share of department index for AHA Stated Heart Healthy claims are at 501, with 65% of market share and stated Hypertension support at 207 with 25% of market share. 

Alcohol consumption should be moderate, limiting intake to 1 serving a day for women and 2 servings a day for men.  The Category Development Index notes a high share of department index of 321 for stated Heart Health claims for wine.  

Q: What types of products do we see making callouts to consumers about benefits to the heart?

How else are these products positioning themselves?  

A: Fish and nuts are two categories of products that are consistently called out on package specifically for their heart health benefits. Seafood total share of department over indexes at 357 (3%). Nuts stated Heart Health indexes at a staggering 2021 with 35% share of department and 6.1% share of category and 7.8% of total UPCs make the qualified claim of AHA heart healthy. 

Both fish and nut products contain helpful oils, omega 3 and omega 6, that are known to reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease and strokes. Nuts and fish have also gained popularity with other nutritional programs, such as the Whole30 diet

The total UPCs sold with qualified AHA heart healthy claims were in milk and dairy alternatives (47.3%) and beans (45.8%) in terms of permeation; however, over 1,400 vegetable products made the claim (29.4%). 

In relation to the number of UPCs selling in the market that make heart healthy claims, vitamins and supplements are the clear winners in the breadth of stated claims. Stated claims across heart health, hypertension, and cardiovascular health were notably at 5.5% in heart health.  

Q: Besides following a heart-healthy diet, what other lifestyle factors impact heart health?

A: NielsenIQ Health & Wellness Thought Leader Sherry Frey spoke about the rise of comorbidities during the pandemic at a recent webinar in December 2021. Health issue rise may correlate with the stress from societal uncertainty. In a NielsenIQ Annual Shopper Health Study in 2021, 32% of respondents reported high blood pressure and 27% reported that obesity affected someone in their household.  

Exercise is one of the biggest factors impacting heart health aside from diet. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Heart health can also depend on an individual’s family history and predisposition to heart disease, as well as family or personal history of high blood pressure. 

Q: How do trendy diets like keto and paleo differ from a heart-healthy diet?

What does the science say about these fad diets and their impact on heart health?  

A: Trendy diets, such as keto and paleo, are generally more restrictive with what individuals can and cannot eat when compared to a heart-healthy diet. As with many fad diets, there is little concrete, research-based evidence that ketoii or paleoiii diets are beneficial long term for cardiovascular health. However, a “heart-healthy” diet has been extensively researched and is proven to be effective for the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease.iv 

Q: What attributes are available in Nielsen Product Insight (NPI) associated with heart health?

A: NPI boasts several heart-health-specific attributes, as stated in previous answers: 

  • Heart Health Stated 
  • Hypertension Support Stated 
  • AHA Heart Healthy Qualified 
  • AHA Heart Healthy Stated 
  • Cardiovascular Health Stated 
  • Cholesterol Support Stated 

Products such as olive oil, fish, omega fatty acids, and nuts fall into the category of heart-healthy and can receive appropriate attribution. These specific attributes, which look for on-package claims from manufacturers, can help guide consumers to heart-healthy products they may not be aware of.   

The most thorough attribute uses data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Nutrition Facts label and aligns with the American Heart Association’s Heart Check program. The American Heart Association Heart-Check program ensures that foods have 10% or more of the daily value of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein, or dietary fiber; limited amounts of bad fats; 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving and 0.5 g of trans fat per serving; and limiting amounts of sodium at 480 mg per label serving and standard serving size. 

A: While some consumers are searching for specific heart health attributes with products, such as “Heart Health Support,” many are looking for items that fit into a heart-healthy diet.  

Over 23% of consumers had someone in their household increase plant-based foods in their diet or have elected this behavior across the last six months, according to a NielsenIQ Omnibus survey. Plant-based product popularity have consumers searching for “fresh” products with limited added salts and sugars. Within the last year, nuts, seeds, and whole-grain cereals continue to trend within the heart health category, along with health drinks geared towards post-exercise recovery.  


i Virani SS, Alonso A, Aparicio HJ, Benjamin EJ, Bittencourt MS, Callaway CW, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2021 update: a report from the American Heart Associationexternal icon. Circulation. 2021;143:e254–e743.  

ii Joshi, Shivam, Robert J. Ostfeld, and Michelle McMacken. “The ketogenic diet for obesity and diabetes—enthusiasm outpaces evidence.” JAMA internal medicine 179.9 (2019): 1163-1164. 

iii De la O, V., Zazpe, I., Martínez, J., Santiago, S., Carlos, S., Zulet, M., & Ruiz-Canela, M. (2021). Scoping review of Paleolithic dietary patterns: A definition proposal. Nutrition Research Reviews,34(1), 78-106. doi:10.1017/S0954422420000153 

iv Gonzales, Fenina. “The Impact of a Heart Healthy Diet on the Development of Heart Disease.” (2022).