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Heart Healthy Diet


A heart healthy diet is an eating plan low in total fat, unhealthy fats, and sodium (salt). A heart healthy diet helps decrease your risk for heart disease and stroke. Limit the amount of fat you eat to 25% to 35% of your total daily calories. Limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg each day.


Healthy fats:

Healthy fats can help improve cholesterol levels. The risk for heart disease is decreased when cholesterol levels are normal. Choose healthy fats, such as the following:

  • Unsaturated fat is found in foods such as soybean, canola, olive, and sunflower oils. It is also found in soft tub margarine that is made with liquid vegetable oil.
  • Omega-3 fat is found in certain fish, such as salmon, tuna, and trout, and in walnuts and flaxseed.

Unhealthy fats:

Unhealthy fats can cause unhealthy cholesterol levels in your blood and increase your risk of heart disease. Limit unhealthy fats, such as the following:

  • Cholesterol is found in animal foods, such as eggs and lobster, and in dairy products made from whole milk. Limit cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams (mg) each day. You may need to limit cholesterol to 200 mg each day if you have heart disease.
  • Saturated fat is found in fatty meats, such as bacon and hamburger. It is also found in chicken or turkey skin, whole milk, and butter. Limit saturated fat to less than 7% of your total daily calories.
  • Trans fat is found in packaged foods, such as potato chips and cookies. It is also in hard margarine, some fried foods, and shortening. Avoid trans fats as much as possible.

Heart healthy foods and drinks to include:

Ask your dietitian or healthcare provider how many servings to have from each of the following food groups:

  • Whole-grain breads, cereals, and pastas, brown rice, and low-fat, low-sodium crackers and chips
  • Fruits, vegetables, and juices with no added salt or are canned in light syrup or fruit juice
  • Low-fat dairy products , such as nonfat (skim) or 1% milk, cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese
  • Meats and proteins , such as lean beef, skinless chicken, legumes, soy products, egg whites, and nuts

Foods and drinks to limit or avoid:

Ask your dietitian or healthcare provider about these and other foods that are high in unhealthy fat and sodium:

  • Snack or packaged foods , such as frozen dinners, cookies, macaroni and cheese, and cereals with more than 300 mg of sodium per serving
  • Canned or dry mixes for cakes, soups, sauces, or gravies
  • Vegetables that are powdered, such as instant potatoes, are packaged with sauces, or are canned (unless they are low sodium)
  • Whole or 2% milk, cream cheese, or sour cream, and cheeses with more than 140 mg of sodium per serving
  • High-fat cuts of beef (T-bone steaks, ribs), egg yolks, chicken or turkey with skin, and organ meats, such as liver
  • Cured or smoked meats , such as hot dogs and sausage
  • Fats and oils , such as butter, stick margarine, shortening, and cooking oils such as coconut or palm oil
  • Other foods high in sodium , such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, salad dressing, pickles, olives, soy sauce, and miso

Other diet guidelines to follow:

  • Eat more foods containing omega-3 fats. Eat fish high in omega-3 fats at least 2 times a week.
  • Limit alcohol. Too much alcohol can damage your heart and raise your blood pressure. Women should limit alcohol to 1 drink a day. Men should limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
  • Choose low-sodium foods. High-sodium foods can lead to high blood pressure. Add little or no salt to food you prepare. Use herbs and spices in place of salt.
  • Eat more fiber to help lower cholesterol levels. Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Eat 3 ounces of whole-grain foods each day. Legumes (beans) are also a good source of fiber.
  • Replace sweetened foods and drinks with those that have no or low sugar added. Ask your dietitian or healthcare provider which foods and liquids are best for you.

Lifestyle guidelines:

  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung and heart damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Exercise regularly to help you maintain a healthy weight and improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. Do not start an exercise program without asking your healthcare provider.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.