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How to follow a heart healthy diet

A healthy lifestyle is one of the strongest weapons in the fight against heart disease. Following a heart healthy diet is a must if you have a personal or family history of heart disease. But even if you don’t have that background, starting a heart healthy diet is a great way to benefit your overall health. Let’s learn what foods are best along with some tips for making a heart healthy diet part of your normal routine.ThinkstockPhotos-464931997

It's not just how much you eat - it’s what you eat

Oftentimes when people hear the word “diet” they think of portion control. Portion control is certainly an important part of eating healthy, but if that’s your only focus you’re missing the mark. Your body needs key minerals, protein and nutrients and eating the right balance of them can help you control your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.

Eat an overall healthy diet that emphasizes:
  • a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • low-fat dairy products
  • skinless poultry and fish
  • nuts and legumes
  • non-tropical vegetable oils

Limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. If you choose to eat red meat, compare labels and select the leanest cuts available.

Write a smart grocery list
Cooking and eating at home gives you more control over the nutrients and portions you eat. When shopping for food pay attention to the labels. Ingredients and nutrient content can vary by brand and preparation. Compare nutrition information on package labels and select products with the lowest amounts of sodium, added sugars, saturated fat and trans fat, and no partially hydrogenated oils.

Stay away from processed foods and focus on a good variety of these for your meals:
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Beans and legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fish (preferably oily fish high in omega-3 fatty acids), skinless poultry, and plant-based alternatives
  • Fat-free and low-fat dairy products
  • Healthier fats and non-tropical oils


Make healthy choices every day

When it comes to heart health, there are no days off. Every day should be filled with a variety of good foods and active exercise. Talk to your doctor about your calorie intake and exercise schedule. These choices may be a big change at first, but soon they will become a habit - a lifesaving habit.

As you make daily food choices, base your eating pattern on these recommendations from the American Heart Association:

  • Eat a variety of fresh, frozen and canned vegetables and fruits without high-calorie sauces or added salt and sugars. Replace high-calorie foods with fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose fiber-rich whole grains for most grain servings.
  • Choose poultry and fish without skin and prepare them in healthy ways without added saturated and trans fat. If you choose to eat meat, look for the leanest cuts available and prepare them in healthy and delicious ways.
  • Eat a variety of fish at least twice a week, especially fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, trout and herring).
  • Select fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) dairy products.
  • Avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
  • Limit saturated fat and trans fat and replace them with the better fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. If you need to lower your blood cholesterol, reduce saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of total calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that’s about 13 grams of saturated fat.
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Choose foods with less sodium and prepare foods with little or no salt. To lower blood pressure, aim to eat no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day. Reducing daily intake to 1,500 mg is desirable because it can lower blood pressure even further. If you can’t meet these goals right now, even reducing sodium intake by 1,000 mg per day can benefit blood pressure.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and no more than two drinks per day if you’re a man.

The American Heart Association has many more resources from recommended grocery lists to tips on how to eat healthy in restaurants. Visit the AHA website

Concerned about you heart health?

Make an appointment with your primary care provider. They can help you evaluate your heart health and risk factors. Refer you to a cardiac specialist if necessary. And establish a baseline from which to measure your future health. 

Find a primary care provider close to home. 

TOPICS: Heart care, Cardiopulmonary