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Heart-Healthy Diet

Healthy Habits for a Healthy Heart

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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:

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...
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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:

Know about:

When you make meals:

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


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: Updated January 7, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2018.

Dietary considerations for cardiovascular disease prevention. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated September 11, 2018. Accessed October 4, 2018.

Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website. Available at: Accessed October 4, 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: Updated September 18, 2018. Accessed October 4, 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: Updated October 31, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2018.

Shaking the salt habit to lower high blood pressure. American Heart Association website. Available at: Updated October 31, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2018.

The skinny on fats. American Heart Association website. Available at: Accessed April 31, 2017. Accessed October 4, 2018.

Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN  Last Updated: 10/4/2018