Heart Health

young man peeling a banana

Taking steps toward a healthy heart:

  • Choose leaner proteins
  • Choose low-fat or nonfat dairy products
  • Choose low-fat cooking and baking techniques
  • Choose lower sodium foods
A heart healthy approach means making lifestyle changes that help keep your blood cholesterol and triglycerides levels and blood pressure under control.

Heart Health Includes:

  • Making smart food choices
  • Keeping a healthy body weight
  • Losing weight if you’re are overweight or obese
  • Being physically active and making exercise a part of your routine

What is a Heart Healthy Diet?

A heart healthy diet means making smart food choices that help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure. These choices are:

  • Low in saturated fat, hydrogenated fat and trans fat
  • Low in cholesterol
  • High in soluble fiber
  • Low in sodium

A Heart Healthy Diet: Finding the Right Balance

To help get you on your path to heart health, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • About 25-35% of your total calories should come from total fat.
  • Less than 7% of calories should come from saturated fat.
  • Polyunsaturated fats can be up to 10% of your calories.
  • Monounsaturated fats can be up to 20% of your calorie.
  • Limit dietary cholesterol to less than 200 mg a day.
  • Aim for 20-30 grams of fiber a day – with at least 10 grams from soluble fiber.
  • Limit sodium to 2300 mg a day or less.

Getting Started: Steps to a Healthy Heart

These percentages may just feel like a lot numbers. So how do you translate these numbers into practical food choices? Everyone knows that making changes to your diet can feel overwhelming in the beginning. To help you get started, keep these steps in mind. Choose a step that you would like to start with. Your registered dietitian can help develop a meal plan that is right for you. :

  1. Choose leaner proteins:
    • Avoid fatty meats like bacon, sausage, ribs and hot dogs.
    • Choose lean cuts of meat, such as the “loin” and “round”.
    • Eat up to 6 to 8 ounces of lean meat, poultry or fish daily.
    • Trim visible fat from meat and remove skin from poultry.
    • Try vegetarian protein alternatives, like soy products and tofu.
  2. Choose low-fat or nonfat dairy products:
    • Use nonfat or 1% low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, sour cream and cottage cheese.
    • Buy reduced fat or low-fat versions of your favorite cheeses. Some cheeses, like mozzarella and ricotta, are naturally lower in fat.
    • Avoid cream, cream sauces and creamed soups.
  3. Limit added fats in recipes and watch the condiments:
    • Strictly limit butter and hard stick margarine. Choose margarine labeled “no trans-fats”.
    • Avoid tropical oils (coconut and palm oils).
    • Choose liquid oils instead of solid fats.
    • Try reduced fat or nonfat versions of condiments, like salad dressings, mayonnaise, sauces and gravies.
  4. Choose low-fat cooking and baking techniques
    • Try baking, broiling, barbequing, steaming, boiling, light sautéing, grilling, poaching and braising.
    • Avoid fried foods.
    • Drain and discard visible fat when cooking.
    • Use vegetable oil sprays to coat pans and trays for cooking or baking.
    • Modify your standard recipes by substituting with ingredients that are lower in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. View a printable list of recipe modification tips.
  5. Eat more soluble fiber.
    Eating a diet rich in soluble fiber may help to lower your blood cholesterol levels. Include at least 5 servings a day from a combination of fruits and vegetables. Good sources of soluble fiber include:

    • Cereal grains, oatmeal, oat bran, rice bran, barley.
    • Dried beans, split peas, lentils.
    • Carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes.
    • Citrus fruits, papayas, strawberries, apples.
  6. Choose lower sodium foods:
    • Use uncured meats and avoid pickled vegetables.
    • Remove the salt shaker from the kitchen and your dining table.
    • Season with fresh or dried herbs, or add lemon, garlic, ginger, onions, or flavored vinegar.
    • Buy salt-free seasoning shakers.
    • Look for low sodium, reduced sodium, or “no salt added” products.
    • Don’t add salt to the cooking water for rice, pasta or cooked cereals.
    • Make homemade soups, or buy low-sodium canned soups.
    • Rinse canned foods that have been processed with added salt.
    • Limit salted convenience foods like instant rice, pasta and potato dishes.
    • Steer clear of fast food restaurants.
    • Move the focus to “fresh, fresh, fresh” – fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods.
  7. Read Nutrition Facts labels on food packages:
    • Choose foods with low or no saturated fat, and no trans fat.
    • Read ingredient lists and be on the lookout for the words “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil”. Those terms indicate that the product may contain trans fat. A Nutrition Facts label can say 0 grams of trans fat as long as the amount of trans fat is less than 0.5 gram (less than 1/2 gram) per serving. If you have multiple servings, that could add up.
    • A low fat choice is 3 grams of fat per ounce of meat or cheese, or 3 grams of fat per serving of snacks, sauces, or dairy products.
    • A low saturated fat choice is 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving.
    • A low cholesterol choice must be 20 mg or less of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat.
    • A low sodium choice is 140 mg or less per serving. Try to stick with foods that are less than 400 mg of sodium per serving.

Read more information about The Heart Healthy Diet

What About Blood Pressure?

Keeping a healthy heart also includes controlling your blood pressure. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, damages blood vessels and makes your heart work harder. High blood pressure can increase your risk of heart and blood vessel disease, as well as other diabetes complications. Your blood pressure should be measured at every routine diabetes visit. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes maintain blood pressures of less than 140/90 mmHg. A lower target may be recommended (<130/90) for some individuals if it can be achieved safely. Discuss your target with your health care provider.

Are There Other Things I Can Do To Help Control My Blood Pressure?

The main lifestyle changes that lower blood pressure are weight loss and regular exercise. It’s also important to limit sodium and alcohol, and avoid smoking. Research from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has shown that a diet low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and rich in low fat dairy foods, fruits and vegetables, substantially lowers blood pressure. The DASH daily meal plan – or Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension – was developed with these guidelines in mind. For more information about the DASH diet, please visit the NHLBI DASH publication at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf.

Self-assessment Quiz

Self assessment quizzes are available for topics covered in this website. To find out how much you have learned about  Understanding Fats and Oils, take our self assessment quiz when you have completed this section.  The quiz is multiple choice. Please choose the single best answer to each question. At the end of the quiz, your score will display. If your score is over 70% correct, you are doing very well. If your score is less than 70%, you can return to this section and review the information.

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