Sodium is found in salt, which is added to food. In general, most people consume much more sodium than they need. Diets high in sodium can increase blood pressure and lead to water retention. On a heart-healthy diet, you should consume no more than 2,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day—about the amount in one teaspoon of table salt. The foods highest in sodium include salt processed foods, convenience/junk foods, and preserved foods. Table salt contains nearly 50% sodium.
Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance in your blood. Our bodies make some cholesterol. It is also found in animal products, with the highest amounts in fatty meat, egg yolks, whole milk, cheese, shellfish, and organ meats.
It is normal and important to have some cholesterol in your bloodstream. However, too much cholesterol can cause plaque to build up within your arteries, which can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.
The 2 types of cholesterol that are most commonly referred to are: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
—Also known as bad cholesterol, this is the cholesterol that tends to build up along your arteries. Bad cholesterol levels are increased by eating fats that are saturated or hydrogenated (trans).High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
—Also known as good cholesterol, this type of cholesterol actually carries cholesterol away from your arteries and may, therefore, help lower your risk of having a heart attack. You can raise this good cholesterol by including olive oil, canola oil, avocados, or nuts in your diet. Exercise has been shown to raise HDL levels, too.
Eating a heart healthy diet can help lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol levels.
Fats are calorie dense, therefore they pack a lot of calories into a small amount of food. Even though fats should be limited due to their high calorie content, not all fats are bad. In fact, some fats are quite healthful. Fat can be broken down into 4 main types. The fats that are good for you include: Monounsaturated fat
—found in oils such as olive and canola, avocados, and nuts and natural nut butters; can decrease total cholesterol levels, while keeping levels of HDL cholesterol high
—found in oils such as safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn, and sesame; can decrease total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol
Omega-3 fatty acids
—a subcategory of polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in fatty fish like salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines; these fats can decrease risk of arrhythmias, decrease triglyceride levels, and slightly lower blood pressure
The fats that you want to limit are:
—found in animal products, many fast foods, and a few vegetables; increases total blood cholesterol, including LDL levels
that are saturated—butter, lard, whole-milk dairy products, meat fat, and poultry skinVegetable fats
that are saturated—palm oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter
are found in margarine and vegetable shortening, most shelf-stable snack foods, and fried foods. They increase LDL and decrease HDL.
This is a fat that has no healthful qualities. You should try to eliminate trans fats from your diet completely.
It is generally recommended that you limit your total fat for the day to less than 25%-35% of your total calories. If you follow an 1,800-calorie heart healthy diet, for example, this would mean 60 grams of fat or less per day.
Saturated fat and trans fat in your diet raises your blood cholesterol the most, much more than dietary cholesterol does. For this reason, on a heart-healthy diet, less than 7% of your calories should come from saturated fat and less than 1% from
fat. On an 1,800-calorie diet, this translates into less than 14 grams of saturated fat per day, leaving 46 grams of fat to come from mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
|Food Category||Foods Recommended||Foods to 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|
|Vegetables|| Most fresh, frozen, and low-sodium canned vegetablesLow-sodium and salt-free vegetable juicesCanned vegetables if unsalted or rinsed|| Regular canned vegetables and juices, including sauerkraut and pickled vegetablesFrozen vegetables with saucesCommercially prepared potato and vegetable mixes|
|Fruits|| Most fresh, frozen, and canned fruitsAll fruit juices|| Fruits processed with salt or sodium|
|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|| Olive oil and canola oilLow-sodium, low-fat salad dressings and mayonnaise|| 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|
|Beverages|| Low-sodium carbonated beveragesTea and coffee in moderationSoy milk|| Commercially softened water|
Make whole grains, fruits, and vegetables the base of your diet.Choose heart-healthy fats such as canola, olive, and flaxseed oil, and foods high in heart-healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, soybeans, tofu, and fish.Eat fish at least twice per week. 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.
Read food labels:
For products low in fat and cholesterol, look for
fat free, low-fat, cholesterol free, saturated fat free, and trans fat free—Also scan the Nutrition Facts Label, which lists saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol amounts.For products low in sodium, look for
sodium free, very low sodium, low sodium, no added salt, and unsaltedSkip 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.Avoid fast food and convenience food. They tend to be high in saturated and trans fat and have a lot of added salt.Talk to a registered dietitian for individualized diet advice.