Guidelines for heart-healthy eating

If you are worried about heart disease, one of the most important things you can do is to eat a heart-healthy diet. But with so many different food plans and health tips, it can be confusing to know what's best for you and your heart.

A chart that compares heart-healthy diets(What is a PDF document?) can help you see what foods are suggested in each plan.

A few simple rules

You can start eating better every day just by following a few simple rules. For example:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables and other high-fiber foods.
  • Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
  • Limit salt and alcohol.

To put these guidelines into action, see:

Click here to view an Actionset. Heart disease: Eating a heart-healthy diet.

Diets to lower your risk

The way you eat can also help you control high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which increase your risk for heart problems. If you already have heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure can make it worse. A diet that's low in saturated fat can help lower cholesterol. One that focuses on low-fat foods and fiber can help control blood pressure.

To lower high cholesterol

The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet aims to lower cholesterol by reducing saturated fat in your diet. It does this by limiting the amount of meat and dairy foods that you eat.

For help with the TLC diet, see:

The Mediterranean diet can also help lower cholesterol. Like the TLC diet, it limits saturated fat. But on the Mediterranean diet, you can eat more total fat—as long as it's unsaturated. It also allows more fish oils, olive oil, and nut and seed oils than the TLC diet. For more information see:

To lower high blood pressure

The DASH diet is a good choice for people who are worried about controlling high blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Hypertension is high blood pressure.

The DASH diet includes foods that are high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium. These nutrients lower blood pressure. Fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, nuts, seeds, and beans have the highest amount of these nutrients. For help with the DASH diet, see:

Heart-healthy foods

Other foods can help you stay healthy or even lower your risk of heart disease when you add them to a balanced diet. These include:

  • Fish oil. Eating fish can lower your risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association suggests eating at least two servings of fish a week, especially albacore tuna, salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, and sardines. These fish all have omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.1
  • Soy protein. Eating soy protein doesn't affect HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, or blood pressure. Eating soy protein can lower LDL cholesterol, but not very much. But eating soy protein instead of meat or dairy foods may help your heart stay healthy. That's because soy contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals and is low in saturated fat.2
  • Alcohol. If you drink alcohol, you might be able to lower your risk of heart disease by having up to two drinks a day if you're a man and one drink a day if you're a woman. But don't start drinking just to lower your risk. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of alcohol.
  • Cholesterol-lowering margarines, such as Benecol and Take Control. These margarines may help people who have high cholesterol or who eat too much fat.

Exercise and quitting smoking

While eating right is an important step toward a healthy heart, it's not the only one. Quitting smoking and getting regular exercise are also important.

Citations

  1. Kris-Etherton P, et al. (2001). Summary of the scientific conference on dietary fatty acids and cardiovascular health: Conference summary from the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association. Circulation, 103(7): 1034–1039.
  2. Sacks FM, et al. (2006). Soy protein, isoflavones, and cardiovascular health: An American Heart Association science advisory for professionals from the Nutrition Committee. Circulation, 113(7): 1034–1044. Also available online: http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/113/7/1034.

Last Updated: May 19, 2008

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