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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. A dietitian will teach you how to read and understand food labels.

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, corn, and safflower 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 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. Limit saturated fat to less than 6% if you have heart disease or are at increased risk for it.
  • 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:

  • Grains:
    • Whole-wheat breads, cereals, and pastas, and brown rice
    • Low-fat, low-sodium crackers and chips
  • Vegetables:
    • Broccoli, green beans, green peas, and spinach
    • Collards, kale, and lima beans
    • Carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers
    • Canned vegetables with no salt added
  • Fruits:
    • Bananas, peaches, pears, and pineapple
    • Grapes, raisins, and dates
    • Oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, orange juice, and grapefruit juice
    • Apricots, mangoes, melons, and papaya
    • Raspberries and strawberries
    • Canned fruit with no added sugar
  • Low-fat dairy products:
    • Nonfat (skim) milk, 1% milk, and low-fat almond, cashew, or soy milks fortified with calcium
    • Low-fat cheese, regular or frozen yogurt, and cottage cheese
  • Meats and proteins , such as lean cuts of beef and pork (loin, leg, round), skinless chicken and turkey, 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, sodium, and sugar:

  • 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 with added sodium , such as instant potatoes, vegetables with added sauces, or regular canned vegetables
  • Other foods high in sodium , such as ketchup, barbecue sauce, salad dressing, pickles, olives, soy sauce, and miso
  • High-fat dairy foods such as whole or 2% milk, cream cheese, or sour cream, and cheeses
  • High-fat protein foods such as high-fat cuts of beef (T-bone steaks, ribs), chicken or turkey with skin, and organ meats, such as liver
  • Cured or smoked meats , such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausage
  • Unhealthy fats and oils , such as butter, stick margarine, shortening, and cooking oils such as coconut or palm oil
  • Food and drinks high in sugar , such as soft drinks (soda), sports drinks, sweetened tea, candy, cake, cookies, pies, and doughnuts

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.
  • Eat regular meals. Do not skip meals. Skipping meals can lead to overeating later in the day. This can make it harder for you to lose weight. Eat a healthy snack in place of a meal if you do not have time to eat a regular meal. Talk with a dietitian to help you create a meal plan and schedule that is right 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. Regular exercise can also decrease your risk for heart problems. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. Do not start an exercise program without asking your healthcare provider.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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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.

Further information

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