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Nutrition Articles  ›  Healthy Habits

Eating for a Healthy Heart

A Heart-Healthy Diet Plan

-- By Becky Hand, M.Ed., RD, LD with Nicole Nichols, Health Educator
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Looking for ways to kick start your heart-healthy lifestyle? Start by looking at your diet. Poor food choices can have a negative effect on your heart, weight and overall health; but making small, sustainable changes to improve your diet can have a lasting impact. There is a lot of misinformation about what foods are or aren't heart-healthy, so it may surprise you to learn that you don't need exotic fruits, imported nuts, or even pricey supplements to take care of your ticker. By making heart smart choices at home, at the grocery and at your favorite restaurant, you can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Dietary DOs and DON'Ts for a Healthy Heart

DO focus on fruits and vegetables. Most American's don't come close to eating the recommended minimum of five servings per day, but vegetables and fruits of all kinds and colors should take center stage in a heart-healthy diet. They're rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that promote a healthy heart and body, plus they're filling and low in calories, which can promote weight management. Fresh, frozen, dried, canned (without sugar/syrups or added salt), raw, cooked—all fruits and vegetables are good for you. Here are more tips to fit them into your meals and snacks.

DON'T overdo it on juice and processed "fruit" snacks. The fruit filling in a breakfast pastry is mostly sugar—not a real serving of fruit. And while small amounts of 100% fruit juice can fit into a healthy diet, they're also concentrated sources of sugar (naturally occurring) and calories compared to whole fruits, which also boast heart-healthy fiber while juice does not. Find out how juice can fit into a healthy diet.

DO monitor your sodium intake. Sodium gets a bad rap—and deservedly so. Our bodies do need this mineral, but in much smaller quantities than we normally eat. To prevent high blood pressure and heart disease, a healthy sodium goal to strive for is no more than 1,500 milligrams per day. Keep in mind that sodium doesn't just come from the salt shaker; processed foods, frozen entrees, canned vegetables, common condiments (like ketchup), deli meats (such as salami) and cheeses (including cottage cheese) can be high in sodium, as can many restaurant dishes. Learn how sodium sneaks into your diet and ways to reduce your intake.

DON'T forget about added sugar. Most people know that sugar isn't exactly a health food. It provides quick-digesting carbohydrates, but no real nutrition (think: vitamins and minerals). While many people associate sugar with the development of diabetes, few people realize that sugar plays just as much of a role in heart disease as dietary fat does. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that individuals who ate more sugar had lower levels of HDL "good" cholesterol and higher triglycerides—markers of increased heart disease risk. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars (about 100 calories) each day; that number becomes 9 teaspoons for men (150 calories). Just one 12-ounce can of cola has about 130 calories, or eight teaspoons of sugar. Learn more about where sugar lurks in your diet.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • HEALMONY
    Very nice article!
    http://healmony
    .com - 7/22/2014 11:51:47 AM
  • Great article. - 12/24/2013 8:09:06 AM
  • Kudos to KPILVER, 2SNOWCRANES and DMATTISON :)) Thankfully people are starting to pay attention to the problems with wheat and other carbs. Try no sugar and no grains for 2 weeks. Your body will thank you. There are low carb teams here to help. - 9/4/2013 4:02:14 PM
  • PINKWANTSTOLIVE
    Thanks very good information♡
    ;♡ - 9/4/2013 2:48:54 PM
  • PINKWANTSTOLIVE
    Thanks very good information♡
    ;♡ - 9/4/2013 2:46:42 PM
  • Good comments - thanks. - 7/5/2013 6:52:13 AM
  • KLEPSCH
    Canola Oil is:

    Low in saturated fat: Saturated fat raises the bad LDL cholesterol in your blood and has been linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease.

    A source of omega-6 fat: Omega-6 fat must be consumed in your diet and is important for the brain and essential for the growth and development of infants.

    High in omega-3 fat: Omega-3 fat must also be consumed in your diet and helps protect against heart attacks and strokes.

    High in monounsaturated fat: Monounsaturated fat may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering bad LDL cholesterol in the blood and helping control blood glucose.

    Cholesterol and trans fat free: Trans fat raises bad LDL cholesterol and lowers good HDL cholesterol.
    - 7/4/2013 11:32:17 AM
  • PATTIMAE4
    To those of you who are looking for the answer to the same question I had- What is Canola Oil? I recommend that you read pages 102-103 of "The Science of Skinny" by Dee McCaffrey for the answer. This article reenforces what we pretty much already know. Eat fresh, read labels and exercise. - 7/4/2013 11:01:29 AM
  • KLEPSCH
    Canola is not rapeseed. While canola's origins were in rapeseed, the two plants are not the same. Their nutritional profiles are very different - 7/4/2013 10:49:09 AM
  • I'm seeing a lot of confusing and conflicting information recently. Especially about how many carbs we should be eating and that heart disease is not caused by eating too much cholesterol. It is caused by inflammation as a result of eating too much sugar...including grains and cereals. I'm not sure if the recommended carbohydrate and fat servings here are really correct for optimum health. - 3/3/2013 9:32:08 PM
  • I read Wheat Belly too - and so had most of my family - and lots of us are going gluten free. It is amazing how many products contain gluten. When I went off wheat, (my naturalpath suggested that and sugar for 6 months) I no longer have bloating after I eat, no more cramping and running to the bathroom, and my doctor says the gut inflamination is gone. I highly reccommend this book. - 2/25/2013 9:04:51 AM
  • I recently read "Wheat Belly" and it truly makes sense to me. The author argues that it's not fat and meats that are the problem it is wheat. I suggest anyone interested in another view of how to eat healthy read this book. Whole grains and carbs from wheat products are the true culprits. I began avoiding wheat in my diet and have lost more fat and my cholesterol levels are perfect now. For years we have been told to "eat more whole grain" but, after reading Wheat Belly, I have begun to question that advice. Read it for yourself and get another opinion. - 2/14/2013 1:26:43 PM
  • I liked the article about eating fruits and vegetables maintaining the healthy heart. It is difficult to put the meat down. :) - 2/14/2013 5:56:10 AM
  • CHRISSPARK101
    Sueatkins -- Canola oil comes from the rape(seed) plant -- a member of the cabbage family. Someone changed it (Canada, maybe?) to canola.

    I'm searching for REAL information on such things... how do canola, soy, corn and cottonseed oil compare to red palm oil and olive oil, for instance?

    - 11/4/2012 4:48:57 PM
  • To itsaclaire re how do we manage our salt intake without making everything from scratch? You answered your own question already. And you eat at home instead of at restaurants, unless you find one that will actually make you a salad with nothing added, whether fruit or veggie. Then a little basalmic vinegar on the side, and you have a delicious something out , or at home that really didn't take much time to prepare!! We CAN do this. - 11/1/2012 11:11:45 AM