Skip to main content

Heart Healthy Diet

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What is a heart healthy diet?

A heart healthy diet is an eating plan low in unhealthy fats and sodium (salt). The plan is high in healthy fats and fiber. A heart healthy diet helps improve your cholesterol levels and lowers your risk for heart disease and stroke. A dietitian will teach you how to read and understand food labels.

What diet guidelines should I follow?

  • Choose foods that contain healthy fats:
    • Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. 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. Eat fish high in omega-3 fats at least 2 times a week.
      Sources of Omega 3
  • Limit or do not have unhealthy fats:
    • Cholesterol is found in animal foods, such as eggs and lobster, and in dairy products made from whole milk. Limit cholesterol to less than 200 mg each day.
    • 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.
    • Trans fat is found in packaged foods, such as potato chips and cookies. It is also in hard margarine, some fried foods, and shortening. Do not eat foods that contain trans fats.
  • Get 20 to 30 grams of fiber each day. Fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, and legumes (cooked beans) are good sources of fiber.

  • Limit sodium as directed. You may be told to limit sodium, such as to 2,000 mg or less each day. Choose low-sodium or no-salt-added foods. Add little or no salt to food you prepare. Use herbs and spices in place of salt.

What can I include in my heart healthy plan?

Ask your dietitian or healthcare provider how many servings to have each day from 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:
    • 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:
    • Lean cuts of beef and pork (loin, leg, round), skinless chicken and turkey
    • Legumes, soy products, egg whites, or nuts

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What should I limit or not include in my heart healthy plan?

  • Foods and liquids that contain unhealthy fats and oils:
    • Whole or 2% milk, cream cheese, sour cream, or cheese
    • High-fat cuts of beef (T-bone steaks, ribs), chicken or turkey with skin, and organ meats such as liver
    • Butter, stick margarine, shortening, and cooking oils such as coconut or palm oil
  • Foods and liquids high in sodium:
    • Packaged foods, such as frozen dinners, cookies, macaroni and cheese, and cereals with more than 300 mg of sodium per serving
    • Vegetables with added sodium, such as instant potatoes, vegetables with added sauces, or regular canned vegetables
    • Cured or smoked meats, such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausage
    • High-sodium ketchup, barbecue sauce, salad dressing, pickles, olives, soy sauce, or miso
  • Foods and liquids high in sugar:
    • Candy, cake, cookies, pies, or doughnuts
    • Soft drinks (soda), sports drinks, or sweetened tea
    • Canned or dry mixes for cakes, soups, sauces, or gravies

What other guidelines should I follow for a healthy heart?

  • 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 provider before you use these products.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol as directed. Alcohol can damage your heart and raise your blood pressure. Your provider may give you specific daily and weekly limits. The general recommended limit is 1 drink a day for women 21 or older and for men 65 or older. Do not have more than 3 drinks within 24 hours or 7 within a week. The recommended limit is 2 drinks a day for men 21 to 64 years of age. Do not have more than 4 drinks within 24 hours or 14 within a week. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Extra body weight makes your heart work harder. Ask your provider what a healthy weight is for you. He or she can help you create a safe weight loss plan, if needed.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise can 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 provider about the best exercise plan for you. Do not start an exercise program without asking your provider.
Prevent Heart Disease

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Learn more about Heart Healthy Diet

Treatment options

Symptoms and treatments

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.