Children passing salad bowl at dinner table

As much as you might want to eat a healthy diet, it can sometimes be confusing to figure out what you should and shouldn’t eat. Are all fats bad for you? Is all meat unhealthy? Do you need to completely change your diet if you want to be healthy?

The good news is that eating a heart-healthy diet may be easier if you know some basics of healthy eating. When thinking about what changes you need to make in your eating habits for a healthy heart, keep in mind the following tips. Check with your doctor before making changes to your diet.

Get lots of fruits and vegetables

Fruits and veggies are full of fiber,1 vitamins and minerals. And they’re often naturally low in calories. When you include lots of fruits and veggies in your diet, you may be more likely to stay at a healthy weight and have a healthy blood pressure level.

To make snacking on healthy produce easier, keep washed and cut veggies and fruit in the fridge. Put some fruits such as apples, bananas and oranges in a bowl and leave it on the counter.

Include nuts, legumes and seeds

Like fatty fish, nuts such as almonds and walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Plus they’re good sources of protein. You can also get lots of protein from legumes like lentils and beans, which have less fat and no cholesterol. Also you can get fiber and omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed, which you can grind up and add to smoothies or sprinkle over low-fat yogurt.

Choose low-fat dairy

Milk, cheese and yogurt may be good for your bones, but consider choosing low-fat versions to reduce the amount of fat and cholesterol you’re eating. Talk with your doctor about low-fat options to try.

Eat low-fat meats

You may try to eat less meat, and when you do, be sure to go for lean cuts like skinless poultry. How you cook meat also matters. Use small amounts of olive or canola oils, which are unsaturated fats (and are better for the heart). Pay attention to portions: 1 serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards, or 3 to 4 ounces.2

Cut back on the salt

Eating a lot of sodium can raise your blood pressure, which may put you at risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium to 1,500 mg or less a day. Try to cook with less salt. Also limit the amount of processed or canned foods, which are usually chock-full of salt. Try to choose low-fat condiments, like reduced-sodium soy sauce, whenever possible.3

Limit unhealthy fats

What are unhealthy fats? They are those solid fats—butter, margarine, shortening—that are often used in cooking and baking. Try to use less of these fats when cooking, and be sure to read labels carefully. Something may be labeled “low-fat” but contain hydrogenated oils, which are bad for the heart.4

Knowing what to eat for a healthy heart may be easier if you know what to do—and not do.

Sources

  1. “Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet,” Mayo Clinic, last accessed December 31, 2018, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983 , opens new window.
  2. “Controlling Portion Sizes,” American Cancer Society, last accessed December 31, 2018, https://www.cancer.org/healthy/eat-healthy-get-active/take-control-your-weight/controlling-portion-sizes.html , opens new window.
  3. “Why Should I Limit Sodium,” American Heart Association, last accessed December 31, 2018, https://www.heart.org/-/media/data-import/downloadables/pe-abh-why-should-i-limit-sodium-ucm_300625.pdf , opens new window.
  4. “Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health,” Mayo Clinic, last accessed December 31, 2018, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/trans-fat/art-20046114 , opens new window.