A heart-healthy diet can provide important nutrients to support your heart and blood vessels and limit substances that can be harmful to them. The diet can also help manage heart disease risk factors. This type of diet is especially important for people who have:
The word "diet" may make you groan, but a well balanced diet includes a wide variety of foods that you can choose to suit your tastes. Some simple guidelines can help you get started.
Nutrient-rich foods have higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other substances important for your body. These foods also tend to have lower amounts of substances like salt and trans fats which can damage blood vessels and worsen blood pressure or cholesterol. Whole foods, foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, tend to be nutrient-rich foods. Examples of nutrient-rich foods include:
The majority of a heart-healthy diet is made of these nutrient-rich foods. Processed foods, those not found in nature and often packaged in boxes, cans or bags, tend to have fewer nutrients. While not completely banned in heart-healthy diet, these foods should be limited since they provide little nutritional value and tend to be high in harmful substances like saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium. Carefully read nutrition labels of processed food to understand how much sodium saturated fat, or trans fat may be present. When possible, choose whole foods over processed options.
Some simple switches can help increase your nutrient-rich foods and decrease processed foods.
|Food Category||Nutrient-rich options...||Limit or avoid....|
|Fruits and vegetables|
|Meats and Beans|
|Fats and Oils|
|Snacks, Sweets, and Condiments|
The foods we eat contain a unit of energy called calories, no matter if they are carbohydrates, fats, sugars, or proteins. In order to maintain a healthy weight, we must balance the amount of calories we take in with the amount of energy we burn through our normal body functions, daily activities, and exercise. Weight gain occurs if you eat more calories that your body uses, and excess weight increases the risk of heart disease.
If you need to manage your weight, begin by tracking the calories in the food you eat every day. Compare those calories to the amount of calories burned by activity. Make adjustments to your calorie intake or your activity level in order to balance calories and activity and reach your weight loss goals.
Here are some healthy habits to follow when meal planning:
Be aware of:
How you prepare the foods you choose can also make a big difference in your overall health. In general:
If you need help following a heart-healthy lifestyle, talk to your doctor. You may be referred to a registered dietitian who can help you with meal planning.
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Dietitians of Canada
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
2015-2020 Dietary guidelines: answers to your questions. Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines-answers-your-questions. Updated January 7, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2018.
Dietary considerations for cardiovascular disease prevention. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115449/Dietary-considerations-for-cardiovascular-disease-prevention. Updated January 23, 2017. Accessed March 29, 2018.
Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Available at: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines. Updated November 22, 2017. Accessed March 29, 2018.
Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2014;129(25 Suppl 2):S76-S99.
Finding a balance. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/calories. Updated November 16, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2018.
Goff DC Jr. Lloyd-Jones DM, Bennett G, et al. 2013 ACC/AHA guideline on the assessment of cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2014;63(25 pt B):2935-2959.
Managing blood pressure with a heart-healthy diet. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Managing-Blood-Pressure-with-a-Heart-Healthy-Diet_UCM_301879_Article.jsp#.Wr1D-i7wZQJ. Updated December 12, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2018.
Nutrition and healthy eating. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/water-softeners-sodium/faq-20058469. Updated April 8, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2018.
Shaking the salt habit to lower high blood pressure. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Shaking-the-Salt-Habit_UCM_303241_Article.jsp#.Wr1ENy7wZQJ. Updated November 13, 2017. Accessed March 29, 2018.
The skinny on fats. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Know-Your-Fats_UCM_305628_Article.jsp#.Wr1D0S7wZQJ. Accessed September 19, 2017. Accessed March 29, 2018.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN Last Updated: 3/29/2018