Guidelines for Heart-Healthy Eating
If you are worried about heart disease, one of the most important things you can do is to eat a heart-healthy diet. But with so many different food plans and health tips, it can be confusing to know what's best for you and your heart.
A few simple ideas
You can start eating better every day just by thinking of these tips. For example:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables and other high-fiber foods.
- Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
- Limit salt and alcohol.
The American Heart Association publishes healthy diet guidelines for all adults and for children older than age 2.
To put these guidelines into action, see:
Eating plans to lower your risk
The way you eat can also help you control high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which increase your risk for heart problems. If you already have heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure can make it worse. A diet that's low in saturated fat can help lower cholesterol. One that focuses on low-fat foods and fiber can help control blood pressure.
To lower high cholesterol
The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet aims to lower cholesterol by reducing saturated fat in your diet.
For help with the TLC diet, see the topics:
- High Cholesterol: Using the TLC Diet.
- TLC Diet for High Cholesterol.
- Tips for Success With the TLC Diet.
- Sample Menu for the TLC Diet.
- Nutrient Composition of the TLC Diet.
The Mediterranean diet can also help lower cholesterol. Like the TLC diet, it limits saturated fat. But on the Mediterranean diet, you can eat more total fat—as long as it's unsaturated. It also allows more fish oils, olive oil, and nut and seed oils than the TLC diet. For more information, see the topic:
To lower high blood pressure
The DASH diet is a good choice for people who are worried about controlling high blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Hypertension is high blood pressure.
The DASH diet includes foods that are high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium. These nutrients lower blood pressure. Fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, nuts, seeds, and beans have the highest amount of these nutrients. For help with the DASH diet, see the topics:
- High Blood Pressure: Using the DASH Diet.
- Sample Menu for the DASH Diet.
- Nutrition for Hypertension.
Other foods can help you stay healthy or even lower your risk of heart disease when you add them to a balanced diet. These include:
- Fish. Eating fish can lower your risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association suggests eating at least two servings of fish a week. Oily fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, are best for your heart. These fish include tuna, salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, and sardines.
- Soy protein. Eating soybean protein does not seem to lower LDL cholesterol levels very much. Soy protein does not change levels of HDL cholesterol or triglycerides. But eating soy protein instead of meat or dairy foods may help your heart stay healthy. That's because soy contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals and is low in saturated fat.
- Alcohol. If you drink alcohol in moderation, you might help lower your risk of heart disease. Low to moderate alcohol use is no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. But don't start drinking just to lower your risk. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of alcohol.
- Cholesterol-lowering margarines. These margarines may help lower cholesterol levels.
Exercise and quitting smoking
Eating right is an important step toward a healthy heart, but it's not the only one. Quitting smoking and getting regular exercise are also important.
Last Revised: May 11, 2010
Author: Healthwise Staff
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