Certainly, reducing the amount of fat, cholesterol and sodium in the foods you eat can help reduce your risk of heart disease. But that’s just part of it. Eating great-tasting foods that promote heart health is just as important — and a whole lot more fun!
Basics of heart-healthy eating
A heart-healthy diet is actually pretty easy to follow. Basically, heart-healthy eating means less fat, less sodium, fewer calories and more fiber. Read the nutrition labels on foods and use the following guidelines:
- Select foods that are low in saturated and trans fats. Focus on lean meat, seafood and dairy products.
- Keep total fat low — between 20% and 35% of your total calories — and get most of the fat in your diet from heart-healthy oils, such as olive oil.
- Foods from plant sources — vegetables, fruits, grains and some oils — do not contain cholesterol. The bulk of your diet should come from these foods.
- Eat foods high in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, nuts and flaxseed.
- Eat foods low in sodium. That includes most fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or non-fat dairy products and moderate amounts of lean meat.
The heart-healthy pantry / refrigerator
Stock up on these foods and you’ll find it much easier to stick to your heart-healthy eating plan:
Instead of saturated fats like butter that are solid at room temperature, use monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or canola oil; and polyunsaturated fats that come from nuts, seeds and nut oils. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help reduce your total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind). Olive oil and nut oils, such as walnut oil, also provide great flavor.
- Olive oil
- Nut oils
- Sesame seeds
- Unsalted nuts
Whole Grains Pastas and breads made with whole grains are high in nutrients that promote heart health and help regulate blood pressure. They’re also high in fiber, and studies show that increasing the amount of fiber in your diet may also reduce heart-disease risk.
- 100% whole-wheat bread
- Brown rice
- Unsalted nuts
- Baked whole-grain crackers
- High-fiber, low-sugar cold cereal
- Wild rice
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain fiber and phytochemicals — valuable plant-based nutrients — that may lower cholesterol and blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Plan to stock up on a variety of fresh, frozen and canned fruit and veggies. Select low-sodium canned vegetables and canned fruits packed in juice. Keep bowls of fresh fruit such as apples, bananas, pears and oranges on the counter. Stock up on frozen berries and cut up raw veggies for snacks.
- A variety of fresh, frozen and canned fruit and vegetables
Legumes: Beans, peas and lentils
Legumes are great high-fiber sources of lean protein that are cholesterol-free and low in fat. Studies have shown that soybeans in particular seem to be especially beneficial to the heart.
- Dried or canned lentils
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
- Chili beans
Red wine / grape juice / grapes
The heart-healthy benefits of red wine include reducing the risk of blood clots, reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and maintaining healthy blood pressure – but many researchers believe grapes and grape juice offer the same health benefits.
- Red wine
- Purple grapes
- Purple grape juice
Nuts and seeds
Nuts contain heart-healthy oils that experts believe may reduce the risk of blood clots and lower LDL cholesterol as well as improve the health of arteries. Nuts also provide Omega 3 fatty acids — healthy fatty acids that seem to prevent abnormal heart rhythms that may lead to a heart attack. Just be sure to eat plain, unsalted nuts. Flaxseeds are also a good source of Omega-3s.
- Roasted, unsalted walnuts
- Other nuts
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines are also excellent sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce cholesterol and inflammation that can lead to heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish a week.
There are plenty of wonderful foods to enjoy, whether you are trying to reduce your risk of heart disease or just want to eat a healthier diet in general. You don’t have to sacrifice flavor and variety to experience the wonderful benefits of heart-healthy foods!