Heart Healthy Eating

My doctor told me to change my diet to help prevent me from having heart problems. Why?

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans. Improving your diet and lifestyle can help prevent heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. Whether you already have heart disease or are at risk for heart disease, you can benefit from a healthy diet and regular exercise.

What can I do to reduce my risk for heart disease?

  • Consume an overall healthy diet.
  • Aim for a healthy body weight.
  • Aim for recommended levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides.
  • Aim for a normal blood pressure.
  • Aim for a normal blood sugar level.
  • Be physically active.
  • Avoid use of and exposure to tobacco products.

That sounds daunting. How can I meet all of those goals?

The AHA’s Diet and Lifestyle recommendations for heart disease can help you achieve most of their goals for risk reduction. Modifying your diet and lifestyle can improve your body weight, blood lipid levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.  These recommendations include:

  • Balance calorie intake with physical activity to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Consume a diet rich in vegetables and fruits.
  • Choose whole-grain, high-fiber foods.
  • Consume fish, especially oily fish, at least twice a week.
  • Limit your intake of saturated fat to < 7% of energy, trans fat to < 1% of energy, and cholesterol to <300 mg per day by:
  • Choosing lean meats and vegetable alternatives.
  • Selecting fat-free (skim), 1% fat and low-fat dairy products; and
  • minimizing intake of partially hydrogenated fats.
  • Minimize your intake of beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt.
  • If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation.

I need some practical tips to help me follow this advice.  Can you help?

The tips below can help you reduce the calories fats, sugars, and salt in your diet.
Reduce salt by:

  • Limiting processed meats like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs.
  • Using fewer frozen and boxed dinners.
  • Choosing reduced-salt versions of canned vegetables and processed foods.
  • Rinsing canned vegetables and beans before cooking.
  • Limiting use of salty condiments like ketchup and soy sauce.

Reduce calories by:

  • Preparing and eating smaller portions of everything.
  • Knowing the calorie content of the foods and beverages you consume.
  • Replacing high-calorie foods with fruits and vegetables.

Reduce total fat- trans fats and saturated fat by:

  • Using liquid vegetable oils in place of solid fats like butter, margarine, and shortening.
  • Using fewer full-fat dairy products. Select low-fat or skim dairy foods.
  • Removing visible fat from meat and poultry.
  • Using fewer commercial pastries, cookies, cakes, pies, and doughnuts.
  • Limit processed meats like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs.

Reduce sugars by:

  • Limit beverages high in sugar including regular sodas, fruit punches, and sweetened tea and coffee drinks.
  • Use less jelly, honey, and candy.
  • Eat less cake, cookies, pies, and doughnuts.

Be more physically active by:

  • Decreasing time spent watching TV, sitting at computer and video games, etc.
  • Incorporating movement into everyday activities, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Adding exercise to your week gradually, starting with a few minutes a day or two at a time, building up to > 30 minutes most days of the week.


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