What Is Considered A Heart Healthy Diet

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What is considered a heart healthy diet? Before we examine that, let’s look at heart disease. Heart disease has many forms and different causes. The most common cause is high blood cholesterol. Bad cholesterol is also known as low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and it can have numerous effects on the body. It can cause buildup in the arteries, the blood vessels that go throughout your body carrying blood. This causes a restriction of oxygen intake to different areas throughout the body and brain — resulting in many problems, from severe headaches to a possible stroke.

What Is Considered a Heart-Healthy Diet?

A heart-healthy diet consists of foods that, when consumed regularly, improve heart-related parameters, such as blood pressure and lipid profile, and help maintain a healthy weight for your age and height.

Making some simple changes to your diet can help take care of your heart and avoid cardiovascular diseases, which are increasingly common in today’s stressful life. This is usually achieved by eating foods that are low in saturated fats, total fats, cholesterol and sodium.

A heart-healthy diet emphasizes plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, while limiting the intake of saturated fats and sodium found in meats, sweets and processed foods.

The below table compares the daily or weekly recommended intake of each food group for the four best heart diet plans. Amounts are based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

DietDaily vegetablesDaily fruitsNuts, seeds (per week)Beans and peas (per week)Daily grainsDaily dairyDaily proteinDaily oils
American Heart Association recommended diet2½ cup-eq2 cup-eq5 servings2 tbsp (½ oz) nuts/seeds1 tbsp peanut butter5 servings½ cup cooked beans*6 oz-eq3 cup-eq5 oz-eq9 tsp
DASH diet2 to 2½ cup-eq2 to 2½ cup-eq4 to 5 servings1½ oz (1/3 cup) nuts2 tbsp peanut butter2 tbsp (½ oz) seeds4 to 5 servings½ cup cooked legumes6 to 8 oz-eq2 to 3 cup-eq6 oz-eq2 to 3 tsp
Mediterranean diet2½ cup-eq2½ cup-eq5 oz1½ cups6 oz-eq2 cup-eq6½ oz-eq6 tsp
MyPlate diet2½ cup-eq2 cup-eq5 oz1½ cups6 oz-eq3 cup-eq5½ oz-eq6 tsp

Researchers have found that polyunsaturated fatty acids in a healthy heart diet plan help prevent and treat various cardiovascular diseases.

  • It is best to eat a variety of foods. 
    • Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, lean meats, fish and low-fat dairy products are best.
  • The best foods are those that are colorful and high in fiber.
    • Foods that are dark red, blue, orange or green (such as raspberries, blueberries, carrots, cantaloupe, spinach and peas) are the best.
  • Limit the number of white foods you eat such as rice, white bread and potatoes.
  • Eating oily fish at least two times per week can help lower your risk of heart disease.

What are the types of fats?

You can prevent and control many risk factors for heart disease by considering good and bad fats.

Monounsaturated fats:

  • They are found mainly in vegetable oils such as canola, olive and peanut oils.
  • Eating foods high in monounsaturated fats can help lower your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, increase your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease.
  • They are the best fats to have in your diet.

Polyunsaturated fats:

  • They are found mainly in vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, cornflaxseed and canola oils.
  • Polyunsaturated fats are also the main fats found in seafood.
  • Some polyunsaturated fats are essential and needed for the cell structure and making hormones. Essential fats must be obtained from the foods we choose.
  • Eating polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fats reduces LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).

Saturated fats:

  • They are found chiefly in animal foods such as meat and poultry, whole or 2 percent milk and butter.
  • Some vegetable oils such as coconut, palm kernel oil and palm oil are highly saturated.
  • Eating too many foods high in saturated fats can increase blood levels of your total and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • High blood levels of LDL and total cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease.

Trans-fats:

  • Trans-fats increase your risk of heart disease. There is no safe level of trans-fat intake.
  • They are formed when vegetable oils are processed into margarine or shortening.
  • Sources of trans-fats in your diet include snack foods and baked goods.
  • Trans-fats also occur naturally in some animal foods such as dairy products.
  • Trans-fats act like saturated fats and increase LDL cholesterol levels.
  • They can also lower HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood.

Omega-3 (n-3 polyunsaturated) fatty acids:

  • They are essential fats that your body needs to function properly but does not make.
  • They can be obtained through foods, which means getting eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from seafood such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel or shellfish and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from sources such as walnuts, flaxseed and canola and soybean oils.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to benefit heart health.

The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations

A healthy diet and lifestyle are the keys to preventing and managing cardiovascular disease. It’s not as hard as you may think!  Remember, it’s the overall pattern of your choices that counts. Make the simple steps below part of your life for long-term benefits to your health and your heart.

Use up at least as many calories as you take in.

  • Start by knowing how many calories you should be eating and drinking to maintain your weight. Nutrition and calorie information on food labels is typically based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. You may need fewer or more calories depending on several factors including age, gender, and level of physical activity.
  • Increase the amount and intensity of your physical activity to burn more calories.
  • Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity (or an equal combination of both) each week.

Regular physical activity can help you maintain your weight, keep off weight that you lose and reach physical and cardiovascular fitness. If it’s hard to schedule regular exercise, look for ways to build short bursts of activity into your daily routine such as parking farther away and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Ideally, your activity should be spread throughout the week.

Eat an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes:

  • a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains and products made up mostly of whole grains
  • healthy sources of protein (mostly plants such as legumes and nuts; fish and seafood; low-fat or nonfat dairy; and, if you eat meat and poultry, ensuring it is lean and unprocessed)
  • liquid non-tropical vegetable oils
  • minimally processed foods
  • minimized intake of added sugars
  • foods prepared with little or no salt
  • limited or preferably no alcohol intake

Apply this guidance wherever food is prepared or consumed.

It is possible to follow a heart-healthy dietary pattern regardless of whether food is prepared at home, ordered in a restaurant or online, or purchased as a prepared meal. Read the Nutrition Facts and ingredient list on packaged food labels to choose those with less sodium, added sugars and saturated fat. Look for the Heart-Check mark to find foods that have been certified by the American Heart Association as heart-healthy. 

Heart-Healthy Cardiac Diet Foods

Cardiac diet foods, coupled with regular exercise, can help boost your heart health for years to come.

Cardiac Diet Heart Healthy

What is a Cardiac Diet Menu Plan?

“Cardiac diet” is an unofficial term for a heart-healthy diet. This is a menu plan to eat plenty of nutrient-rich foods—fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean poultry and fish. And it also means avoiding saturated fats, trans fats, and excess sodium and sugar.

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 “Following a heart-healthy—or cardiac—diet would be recommended to someone who has high blood pressure, high cholesterol or any other history of heart disease, or to someone who has a family history of heart disease,” explains Lauren Kelly, MS, RD, CDN and founder of Kelly Wellness in New York City.

But even if you don’t have a cardiovascular health concern, sticking to a cardiac diet is important, since it can reduce risk of heart disease in the future, says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

In fact, this is the way we all should be eating. By limiting junk foods and adding more cardiac diet recipes and foods, you’ll be fueling your body with what it needs to stay healthy and possibly improve your overall health.

“Following a cardiac diet can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels,” says Kelly. “It can even boost your energy because of your healthier food choices.” Results vary from person to person, explains Dr. Lichtenstein, since they depend on a variety of factors, including what you were eating before you went on a cardiac diet, your lifestyle choices (exercise and smoking) and other risk factors.

Heart-Healthy Foods

When you’re following a cardiac diet, it’s important to eat plenty of heart-healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, and foods rich in fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables and are undoubtedly healthful foods. They boost your immune system, providing the nutrients your body needs and help reduce inflammation. Plus, the more fruits and veggies you eat, the less junk you’re liable to eat. At mealtime, American Heart Association recommends filling half your plate with veggies and/or fruits.

The good news is that every vegetable and fruit is good for you, as long as you’re eating them without added salts and sugars. The more colors of the rainbow you consume, the greater variety of nutrients you’re getting.

“Vary your vegetables each day and try to pick more of the non-starchy options [like potatoes and sweet potatoes],” says Kelly. “I find that often the white or beige vegetables are forgotten about and viewed as not as nutritious, but these foods, such as onion, cauliflower, and mushrooms, are incredibly healthy.” Her full list of cardiac diet veggies are below. 

Top Cardiac Diet Vegetables: 

  1. Onion
  2. Spinach
  3. Broccoli
  4. Cauliflower
  5. Mushrooms
  6. Bok choy
  7. Tomato
  8. Arugula
  9. Bell peppers
  10. Carrots
  11. Asparagus

Soluble Fiber

You probably think of fiber as good for digestion, but it’s also an important component of a heart-healthy diet. “One of the most important nutrients for heart health is soluble fiber,” explains Kelly. “Eating soluble fiber can help lower your cholesterol level and better manage blood sugar levels.” Aim for about 10 to 25 grams of soluble fiber per day; you can find it in:

Best Fiber Sources on a Cardiac Diet: 

  1. Oats
  2. Beans
  3. Berries
  4. Ground flaxseed

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish and in some nuts and seeds. These good fats can reduce blood pressure, decrease triglyceride levels, slow the growth of plaque in the arteries and reduce the risk of arrhythmias. Your doctor may prescribe an Omega-3 supplement if you’re on a heart patient diet but you should also be eating Omega-3-rich foods such as the below. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acid Foods on a Cardiac Diet: 

  1. Salmon
  2. Tuna
  3. Herring
  4. Sardines
  5. Walnuts
  6. Ground flaxseed
  7. Hemp Seeds
  8. Chia seeds

Have High Cholesterol? Foods to Avoid on a Cardiac Diet. 

If you have high blood cholesterol or another cardiovascular health concern, there are certain foods you’ll want to avoid to keep your heart-healthy.

One common misconception is that all high cholesterol foods should be avoided completely. “Cholesterol from your diet actually doesn’t affect your blood cholesterol levels like it was once thought,” says Christy Shatlock, MS, registered dietitian at bistroMD. “However, you do have to be careful because oftentimes foods high in cholesterol are also high in saturated fat, which needs to be limited on a heart-healthy diet.” In other words, don’t indulge in bacon and whole milk. But go ahead and eat eggs, salmon and shrimp even though they have cholesterol, since they’re not high in saturated fat.

Instead of focusing on high cholesterol foods while on a cardiac diet, avoid trans fats and saturated fats and foods high in salt and sugar.

Trans Fats and Saturated Fats

Trans Fats in Doughtnuts

“Overall, we are more concerned about trans fats raising our blood cholesterol [than we are concerned about high cholesterol foods],” explains Kelly. “It’s recommended you consume zero of this type of fat because it has been so strongly linked with heart disease.”

She explains that while trans fats have been ‘banned’ from processed foods, they’re still present in some foods in small quantities. For example, a jar of peanut butter could say it has 0 grams of trans fat but really contain about 0.4 grams per serving. Several foods with “just a little” trans fat can add up to too much trans fat. So check the label and make sure the foods you’re eating don’t contain “partially hydrogenated oils.”

Foods That May Include Partially Hydrogenated Oils: 

  1. Peanut butter
  2. Packaged cookies
  3. Packaged cakes
  4. Donuts and muffins

For a hearty healthy diet, avoid trans fat. This means choosing baked or roasted foods over fried ones. Also eat red meat about once or twice a week (or less), and select lean cuts, such as sirloin or filet mignon.

Avoid: 

  1. Fatty cuts of read meat (porterhouse, rib eye, prime rib)
  2. Any fried food

Saturated fats mostly come from meat and dairy products. Avoiding foods high in saturated fat—and choosing healthier options—can lower your cholesterol level and boost your lipid profile. Fatty beef is an example of a food with saturated fat, along with the below. 

Foods High in Saturated Fat: 

  1. Pork
  2. Lamb
  3. Poultry with skin
  4. Butter
  5. Cheese and other whole or reduced-fat dairy products
  6. Whole fat dairy

Salt

Too much salt in your diet is bad for your cardiovascular health. That’s because extra sodium increases blood volume in your blood vessels, raising blood pressure and making your heart work harder to pump it.

Eat 1,500 milligrams or less of sodium per day to keep blood pressure low. Your first step is keeping the saltshaker off the table. “Instead, use herbs and spices or a salt-substitute such as Mrs. Dash,” suggests Kelly. Read the label on any pre-made spice mixtures, since often the first ingredient is salt, and you want to stay away from that.” Also be careful of hidden salt in the foods you’re eating. Anything over 140 mg of sodium per serving is a no-no. 

Foods Often High in Sodium: 

  1. Cereal
  2. Condiments
  3. Sauces
  4. Sweets (like cookies and cakes)

Sugar

Sorry if you’ve got a sweet tooth—researchers say eating too much sugar is connected to a higher risk of dying from heart disease. Sadly, most of us eat too much. The average American eats about 22 teaspoons of sugar per day. However, the American Heart Association recommends women eat no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day (a.k.a. 24 grams or 100 calories) and men eat no more than 9 teaspoons a day (a.k.a. 36 grams or 150 calories).

Foods That Often Include Added Sugar: 

  1. Soft drinks
  2. Fruit drinks
  3. Candy
  4. Cakes, cookies and pies
  5. Ice cream
  6. Sweetened yogurt and milk
  7. Sweet breads and waffles

“Look out for secret sources of sugar like breads, cereals, yogurts, condiments and sauces,” says Kelly. “Choose foods with less than 9 grams of sugar per serving.”

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