Heart-Healthy Eating

Heart-healthy eating can support your heart and blood vessels. It can also limit things that can harm them. Eating this way can also help control your risk of heart disease. It is vital for people who have:

You can eat this way and still choose from many types of foods. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Focus on Healthy Foods

Healthy foods have high of vitamins, minerals, and other things your body needs. They have less things like salt and trans fats. These can harm vessels. They can also make blood pressure or cholesterol worse. Whole foods that are close to their normal state are:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Whole grains
  • Meats and poultry with very little fat
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Low- or fat-free milk and milk items

Heart-healthy eating focuses on these foods. Processed foods aren't as healthy. These are foods in boxes, cans, or bags. They should be eaten rarely. They have little nutritional value. They are also high in things like fats and salt. Read food labels to find out how much of these the foods you eat have. Always pick whole foods first.

Food Choices

Here are some changes you can make.

Food Healthy choices... Do not eat or eat rarely...
Grains
  • Breads and rolls without salted tops
  • Most dry and cooked cereals
  • Unsalted crackers and breadsticks
  • Low-salt or homemade breadcrumbs or stuffing
  • All rice and pastas
  • Make half of your daily grains whole grains
  • Breads, rolls, and crackers with salted tops
  • High-fat baked goods like muffins, donuts, and pastries
  • Quick breads, self-rising flour, and biscuit mixes
  • Bread crumbs
  • Instant hot cereals
  • Pre-made rice, pasta, or stuffing mixes
Fruits and veggies
  • Most fresh, frozen, and low-salt canned fruits and veggies
  • Low-salt and salt-free veggie juices
  • All fruit juices
  • Canned veggies if unsalted or rinsed
  • Canned veggies and juices, such as sauerkraut and pickled veggies
  • Fruits with salt
  • Frozen veggies with sauces
  • Pre-made potato and veggie mixes
Milk
  • Nonfat or low-fat (1%) milk
  • Nonfat or low-fat yogurt
  • Cottage cheese, low-fat ricotta, cheeses labeled as low-fat and low-salt
  • Whole milk
  • Reduced-fat (2%) milk
  • Malted and chocolate milk
  • Full fat yogurt
  • Most cheeses, unless low-fat and low salt
  • Buttermilk (no more than 1 cup per week)
Meats and Beans
  • Lean cuts of fresh or frozen beef, veal, lamb, or pork (look for the word loin)
  • Fresh or frozen poultry without the skin
  • Fresh or frozen fish and some shellfish
  • Egg whites and egg substitutes (Limit whole eggs to three per week)
  • Tofu
  • Nuts or seeds (unsalted, dry-roasted), low-salt peanut butter
  • Dried peas, beans, and lentils
  • Any smoked, cured, salted, or canned meat, fish, or poultry, such as bacon, chipped beef, cold cuts, hot dogs, sausages, sardines, and anchovies
  • Poultry skins
  • Breaded and/or fried fish or meats
  • Canned peas, beans, and lentils
  • Salted nuts
Fats and Oils
  • Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil and canola oil
  • Low-salt, low-fat salad dressings and mayo
  • Saturated and trans fats found in some butter, margarine, coconut and palm oils, bacon fat
Snacks, Sweets, and Condiments
  • Low-salt or unsalted versions of broths, soups, soy sauce, and condiments
  • Pepper, herbs, and spices; vinegar, lemon, or lime juice
  • Low-fat frozen desserts (yogurt, sherbet, fruit bars)
  • Sugar, cocoa powder, honey, syrup, and jam
  • Low-fat, trans-fat free cookies, cakes, and pies
  • Graham and animal crackers, fig bars, ginger snaps
  • High-fat desserts
  • Broth, soups, gravies, and sauces, made from instant mixes or other high-salt items
  • Salted snack foods
  • Canned olives
  • Meat tenderizers, seasoning salt, and most flavored vinegars
Drinks
  • Low-salt carbonated drinks
  • Tea and coffee in moderation
  • Soy milk
  • Softened water—having a water softener in your home may raise the amount of salt in your home's water

Calories and Activity

All the foods we eat have a unit of energy called calories. We must balance the calories we take in with the energy we burn. We burn energy through body functions, activities, and exercise. Weight gain happens if you eat more calories than your body uses. This is a problem because too much weight raises the risk of heart disease.

If you need to lose weight, track the calories in the food you eat. Compare those calories to the amount of calories that you burn. Make changes to balance calories and activity so that you can lose weight.

Follow Healthy Habits

Here are some healthy habits:

  • Eat fish at least twice a week. Fish have a fat called omega-3 fatty acids that may have some heart benefits. The fish highest in omega-3 fatty acids and lowest in mercury are salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, and canned chunk light tuna.
  • Do not eat fast food and convenience food. They tend to be high in saturated and trans fat and have a lot of added salt.
  • Limit alcohol to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

Know about:

  • Sugary foods or drinks—Sugar can add calories with little to no value and are often not very filling.
  • Partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats—These fats can raise your cholesterol levels. Read food labels and do not eat them or limit foods with them.
  • Saturated fats—These are common in animal products. If your cholesterol is high, your doctor may tell you to lower your saturated fat intake.
  • Salt intake—Lowering your salt intake can lower your blood pressure and stress on your heart. Most salt comes from processed foods. Read food labels and aim for 2,400 milligrams (mg) a day or less. If you have high blood pressure your doctor may tell you to limit salt intake to 1,500 mg per day.

When you make meals:

  • Skip the salt when cooking or at the table. If food needs more flavor, try herbs and spices. Garlic and onion also add a lot of flavor.
  • Trim fat off meat and poultry before you cook them. Drain the fat off after browning.
  • Use cooking methods that don't need fat, such as grilling, boiling, baking, poaching, broiling, roasting, steaming, stir-frying, and sautéing.
  • Watch your serving sizes. A food scale may help you get used to serving sizes.

If you need help making these changes, talk to your doctor. A dietitian can teach you how to make changes.