Healthy Habits for a Healthy Heart
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:
- Heart disease, such as coronary artery disease (CAD), peripheral vascular disease (PAD), prior heart attack, or prior stroke
- Heart disease risks, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes
- A need to lower their risk of having heart problems
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
- 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.
Here are some changes you can make.
|Food||Healthy choices...||Do not eat or eat rarely...|
|Fruits and veggies||
|Meats and Beans||
|Fats and Oils||
|Snacks, Sweets, and Condiments||
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.
- Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between fasting and eating. It may improve heart disease risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
- 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.
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Dietitians of Canada
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Dietary considerations for cardiovascular disease risk reduction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/dietary-considerations-for-cardiovascular-disease-risk-reduction. Accessed February 3, 2021.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Accessed February 3, 2021.
Dong TA, Sandesara PB, et al. (2020). Intermittent Fasting: A Heart Healthy Dietary Pattern?. The American journal of medicine, 133(8), 901–907.
Finding a balance. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/calories. Accessed February 3, 2021.
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. Accessed February 3, 2021.
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. Accessed February 3, 2021.
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 February 3, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN Last Updated: 2/3/2021