How to Eat a Healthy Heart Diet

Heart Disease is a condition in which a waxy substance called plaque builds up in the artery walls causing a narrowing of those walls. Once this occurs, there is reduced blood flow to the heart, which eventually can cause blockages and possibly a heart attack. There are many risk factors involved in the development of heart disease, some of which you cannot control. The diet, however, is a risk factor that you can control. Controlling your diet also helps you to control cholesterol levels, weight, and blood pressure, which are also risk factors.

Key factors in following a heart healthy diet include: Choosing low-fat or lean proteins, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and high fiber foods, weight control, limiting sodium and being cautious when going out to eat.


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    Limit fat and cholesterol. Some examples of foods high in fat and cholesterol include butter, lard, hydrogenated margarine, cream sauces, coconut, palm and cottonseed oils, cocoa butter and bacon fat. Excess fat in the diet can contribute to weight gain and elevated cholesterol levels. These are both risk factors for heart disease.
    • Keep saturated fat in your diet less than 7 percent of your daily calories since saturated fats contribute to plaque formation in artery walls
    • Restrict trans fats in your diet since they act similar to saturated fats in your body
    • Dietary cholesterol should be less than 300 milligrams daily
    • If you have elevated LDL or “bad” cholesterol, decrease cholesterol to less than 200 milligrams daily
    • Limit total fat intake to less than 30% of your calories per day
    • Use unsaturated oils to cook with (e.g., olive, peanut, soy, sunflower, canola)
    • Choose oil based salad dressings instead of creamy ones
    • Grill, boil, broil, bake or steam foods instead of frying to decrease total fat intake
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    Choose low-fat proteins.
    • Most saturated fats come from animal sources so it’s important to eat lean cuts of meat, skinless poultry, fish, low fat dairy and egg whites
    • Non-meat low-fat proteins include: dried beans, legumes, soy based products and tofu
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    Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
    • Skim or 1% cow’s milk is recommended
    • Soy or almond milk are both low-fat and nutrient dense
    • Eat low-fat or fat-free cheeses
    • Nonfat or low-fat yogurt is a healthy option
    • Soy-based cheeses
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    Eat more omega-3 fats. They have been shown to be beneficial for heart health by raising HDL (good) cholesterol.
    • Animal sources include: salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines
    • Aim for fish twice per week
    • Other sources include: walnuts, canola and soybean oil
    • Fish oil supplements are another source, although they do not contain other nutrients found in the food sources
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    Eat nuts and seeds 3 days per week. They have been shown to improve blood pressure.
    • 5 to 6 nuts is a serving size for mixed nuts, almonds, cashews and pecan halves
    • Read food labels to determine serving size for other nuts and seeds
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    Eat more fruits and vegetables daily. They have been shown to improve blood pressure.
    • 5 servings of fruits and vegetables are recommended daily
    • Choose fresh or frozen without added fat or salt; unlike canned produce, frozen fruits and vegetables retain vitamin and mineral content
    • Have 2 tbsp. of dried fruit as a snack instead of candy
    • Cut up fresh pieces of fruits and vegetables to have them ready for regular snacks
    • Try ones you’ve never had before to diversify your diet as well as to ensure that you obtain as many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants as you can
    • Make them the main part of your meal at least once daily
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    Increase the fiber in your diet for a goal of 20 g to 30 g daily. Fiber helps to lower cholesterol by binding to it in the digestive tract.
    • Begin slowly and gradually increase so your digestive system can adjust
    • Increase water consumption along with the fiber since they work together
    • Include both insoluble and soluble fiber daily
    • Insoluble fiber is found in wheat, rye, bran and other grains and soluble fiber is found in oats, fruits and legumes
    • Choose whole grains and dried beans often (3 oz of whole grains daily is recommended)
    • Eat the peelings of fruits and vegetables when you can
    • Read food labels and choose those with the highest fiber content
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    Reduce the sodium in your diet. This can help maintain blood pressure which can impact heart health. Sodium is a mineral found in nature and is present in most all foods. You need a certain amount of it, however, most people consume more than the body needs. Salt contains the highest amount of sodium in the diet.
    • Eat less packaged foods since salt is used as a preservative and is in most things packaged
    • Read food labels and choose foods with less than 300 milligrams of sodium per serving
    • Limit cured meats like bacon and sausage
    • Avoid adding extra salt to foods
    • Avoid foods that have visible salt on them like pretzels and crackers
    • Use sea salt when cooking since it contains less sodium per serving
    • Choose fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned; they have less sodium
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    Maintain or lose weight if you need to. Obesity and being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease. Carrying extra weight can also cause too much stress on your heart.
    • Read food labels to determine serving sizes
    • Avoid eating when you are not hungry
    • Use small plates for meals
    • Have pre-portioned meals and snacks available
    • Avoid going back for seconds
    • Practice portion control
    • Limit desserts and sweets
    • Eliminate or limit sweetened drinks like soda since they are low in nutritional value and high in calories
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    Be careful when eating out. Restaurant foods typically contain higher amounts of fat, calories and salt than the same foods you may prepare at home.
    • Ask for less salt and fat added to foods prepared at the restaurant
    • Follow similar guidelines as you do at home
    • Obtain the restaurants nutrition information either from the restaurant or online and keep handy for visits
    • Try to choose restaurants that have heart healthy menu items
    • Have in mind what you will order before arriving
    • Avoid dishes with heavy creams or toppings
    • Choose grilled, steamed or broiled items instead of fried
    • Avoid overeating pre-meal items such as rolls, chips or appetizers
    • Watch out for sauces on sandwiches and in salads, always ask what they are made of


  • For some people alcoholic beverages can raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol decrease heart disease risk. It is recommended that men can have up to 2 servings daily and women can have 1 serving daily. 5 oz of wine, 1 1/2 oz of distilled spirits and 12 oz of beer are serving sizes. Check with your doctor before adding alcoholic beverages to your diet.

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Categories: Diet & Lifestyle | Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating