A heart-healthy diet can provide important nutrients to support your heart and blood vessels and limit substances that can be harmful to them. The diet can also help manage heart disease risk factors. This type of diet is especially important for people who have:
Any form of cardiovascular disease, such as
coronary artery disease (CAD),
peripheral vascular disease (PAD), previous
heart attack, or previous
Risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as
high blood pressure,
high cholesterol, or
diabetesA desire to lower their risk of developing cardiovascular disease
The word "diet" may make you groan, but a well balanced diet includes a wide variety of foods that you can choose to suit your tastes. Some simple guidelines can help you get started.
Nutrient-rich foods have higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other substances important for your body. These foods also tend to have lower amounts of substances like salt and trans fats which can damage blood vessels and worsen blood pressure or cholesterol. Whole foods, foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, tend to be nutrient-rich foods. Examples of nutrient-rich foods include: Fruits and vegetablesWhole grainsLean meats and poultryFishBeansEggsNutsLow- or fat-free milk and milk products
The majority of a heart-healthy diet is made of these nutrient-rich foods. Processed foods, those not found in nature and often packaged in boxes, cans or bags, tend to have fewer nutrients. While not completely banned in heart-healthy diet, these foods should be limited since they provide little nutritional value and tend to be high in harmful substances like saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium. Carefully read nutrition labels of processed food to understand how much sodium saturated fat, or trans fat may be present. When possible, choose whole foods over processed options.
Some simple switches can help increase your nutrient-rich foods and decrease processed foods.
|Food Category||Nutrient-rich options...||Limit or avoid....|
|Grains|| Breads and rolls without salted topsMost dry and cooked cerealsUnsalted crackers and breadsticksLow-sodium or homemade breadcrumbs or stuffingAll rice and pastasMake 1/2 of your daily grains whole grains|| Breads, rolls, and crackers with salted topsHigh-fat baked goods like muffins, donuts, and pastriesQuick breads, self-rising flour, and biscuit mixesRegular bread crumbsInstant hot cerealsCommercially prepared rice, pasta, or stuffing mixes|
|Fruits and vegetables|| Most fresh, frozen, and low-sodium canned fruits and vegetablesLow-sodium and salt-free vegetable juicesAll fruit juicesCanned vegetables if unsalted or rinsed|| Regular canned vegetables and juices, including sauerkraut and pickled vegetablesFruits processed with salt or sodiumFrozen vegetables with saucesCommercially prepared potato and vegetable mixes|
|Milk|| Nonfat or low-fat (1%) milkNonfat or low-fat yogurtCottage cheese, low-fat ricotta, cheeses labeled as low-fat and low-sodium|| Whole milkReduced-fat (2%) milkMalted and chocolate milkFull fat yogurtMost cheeses, unless low-fat and low saltButtermilk (no more than 1 cup per week)|
|Meats and Beans|| Lean cuts of fresh or frozen beef, veal, lamb, or pork (look for the word loin)Fresh or frozen poultry without the skinFresh or frozen fish and some shellfishEgg whites and egg substitutes (Limit whole eggs to 3 per week)TofuNuts or seeds (unsalted, dry-roasted), low-sodium peanut butterDried peas, beans, and lentils|| Any smoked, cured, salted, or canned meat, fish, or poultry, including bacon, chipped beef, cold cuts, hot dogs, sausages, sardines, and anchoviesPoultry skinsBreaded and/or fried fish or meatsCanned peas, beans, and lentilsSalted nuts|
|Fats and Oils|| Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil and canola oilLow-sodium, low-fat salad dressings and mayonnaise|| Saturated an trans fats common in some butter, margarine, coconut and palm oils, bacon fat|
|Snacks, Sweets, and Condiments|| Low-sodium or unsalted versions of broths, soups, soy sauce, and condimentsPepper, herbs, and spices; vinegar, lemon, or lime juiceLow-fat frozen desserts (yogurt, sherbet, fruit bars)Sugar, cocoa powder, honey, syrup, jam, and preservesLow-fat, trans-fat free cookies, cakes, and piesGraham and animal crackers, fig bars, ginger snaps|| High-fat dessertsBroth, soups, gravies, and sauces, made from instant mixes or other high-sodium
foodsCanned olivesMeat tenderizers, seasoning salt, and most flavored vinegars|
|| Low-sodium carbonated beveragesTea and coffee in moderationSoy milk|| Commercially softened water|
The foods we eat contain a unit of energy called calories, no matter if they are carbohydrates, fats, sugars, or proteins. In order to maintain a healthy weight, we must balance the amount of calories we take in with the amount of energy we burn through our normal body functions, daily activities, and exercise. Weight gain occurs if you eat more calories that your body uses, and excess weight increases the risk of heart disease.
If you need to manage your weight, begin by tracking the calories in the food you eat every day. Compare those calories to the amount of calories burned by activity. Make adjustments to your calorie intake or your activity level in order to balance calories and activity and reach your weight loss goals.
Here are some healthy habits to follow when meal planning: Eat fish at least twice per week. Fish have a fat called omega-3 fatty acid that may have some heart benefits. The fish highest in omega-3 fatty acids and lowest in mercury include salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, and canned chunk light tuna. If you eat fish less than twice per week or have high triglycerides, talk to your doctor about taking fish oil supplements.Avoid fast food and convenience food. They tend to be high in saturated and trans fat and have a lot of added salt.Limit alcohol to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.
Be aware of: Sugary foods or drinks—Sugar can quickly add calories with little to no nutritional value and are usually not very filling.Partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats—these types of fats can increase your cholesterol levels. Review nutrition labels and avoid or limit foods with these fats. Saturated fats—most common in animal products. If your cholesterol is high, your doctor may recommend lowering your saturated fat intake to 5-6% of your total intake.Salt intake—Reducing your salt intake can reduce your blood pressure and stress on your heart. Most salt comes for processed foods. Carefully read food labels and aim for 2,400 milligrams (mg) for day or less. If you have high blood pressure your doctor may recommend limiting salt intake to 1,500 mg per day.
How you prepare the foods you choose can also make a big difference in your overall health. In general: Skip the salt when cooking or at the table; if food needs more flavor, get creative and try out different herbs and spices. Garlic and onion also add substantial flavor to foods.Trim any visible fat off meat and poultry before cooking, and drain the fat off after browning.Use cooking methods that require little or no added fat, such as grilling, boiling, baking, poaching, broiling, roasting, steaming, stir-frying, and sautéing.Monitor your portion sizes. A food scale may help you become more familiar with appropriate serving sizes.
If you need help following a heart-healthy lifestyle, talk to your doctor. You may be referred to a registered dietitian who can help you with meal planning.
2015-2020 Dietary guidelines: answers to your questions. Choose My Plate—USDA website. Available at: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines-answers-your-questions. Updated January 7, 2016. Accessed January 25, 2017.
Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at:
https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/. Accessed January 25, 2017.
Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2014;129(25 Suppl 2):S76-S99.
Finding a balance. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/calories/. Updated May 15, 2015. Accessed January 25, 2017.
Goff DC Jr. Lloyd-Jones DM, et al. 2013 ACC/AHA guideline on the assessment of cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2014;63(25 pt B):2935-2959.
Know your fats. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Know-Your-Fats_UCM_305628_Article.jsp#.V9ll9DVuMpk. Accessed September 23, 2016. Accessed January 25, 2017.
Managing blood pressure with a heart-healthy diet. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Managing-Blood-Pressure-with-a-Heart-Healthy-Diet_UCM_301879_Article.jsp#.V9lo2TVuMpk. Updated December 12, 2016. Accessed January 25, 2017.
Shaking the salt habit. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Shaking-the-Salt-Habit_UCM_303241_Article.jsp#.V9lphjVuMpk. Updated December 13, 2016. Accessed January 25, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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