Mayo Clinic Minute: Ideas for a heart-healthy diet
What a Heart-Healthy Diet Looks Like
You know it’s important to eat heart-healthy foods for better health, but do you know just how beneficial it can be? Something as simple as eating a healthy diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease and other health problems, including obesity and cancer.
Most people know in general what foods are healthy and which ones aren’t. But translating this information into three meals a day, seven days a week can take some practice. Luckily, it can be easy to get the benefits of a healthy diet.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are essential to protect your heart. “Both are valuable sources of soluble fiber, which helps keep bad cholesterol levels at bay,” says Hannah El-Amin, RD, CDE, a nutritionist with Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and owner of Nutrition That Fits, a nutrition counseling service. “Soluble fiber functions as a cholesterol magnet, cleaning artery-clogging low-density lipoprotein [LDL], or the ‘bad’ cholesterol, out of the blood.”
Three to four servings of fruit each day is recommended for a heart-healthy diet. One serving of fruit is a piece of fruit about the size of a small tennis ball, 1 cup of cut fruit, or 2 tablespoons of dried fruit, like raisins. Good choices include citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, and apples.
Vegetables should be an even bigger part of your diet, with six to seven servings a day. One serving of vegetables is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and carrots are just a few of the many good options. To get a good mix of nutrients, eat vegetables in a variety of colors.
Whole grains are especially good to get fiber and help protect against heart disease by lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels, decreasing blood pressure, and normalizing blood sugar levels, El-Amin says.
Look for healthy whole grains such as barley, oatmeal, and quinoa, and aim for six to seven servings each day. A serving size is equal to one slice of whole-grain bread, 1/3 cup of brown rice or whole-wheat pasta, or two high-fiber crackers.
Whenever you have the chance, replace white bread, white pasta, and white rice with whole grains. That means using whole-wheat bread for toast and sandwiches, whole-wheat pasta for your spaghetti recipe, and brown rice for stir-fries and sides. As more and more restaurants carry healthier options, you can even request these whole grains when eating out.
Eating lean protein is another way to help protect your heart. You can have 6 to 8 ounces of lean protein a day. For example, a 3-ounce piece of meat is about the size of a small fist or a computer mouse. Coldwater fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, and mackerel, are great protein choices and high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower triglyceride levels. Other good sources of protein are skinless chicken, lean red meat (meaning no visible white fat), eggs, and beans.
Understanding dietary fats is also key. “Substituting unhealthy fats with healthy ones can help lower cholesterol,” El-Amin says. “Healthy fats also help decrease inflammation in the body, which in turn can help decrease the risk of heart disease.”
Saturated fats — the kind found in butter, cheese, ice cream — should be limited to 5 to 8 teaspoons daily. As much as possible, avoid trans fats, which are typically found in commercial-baked goods and hard margarines.
For cooking, olive oil is a good choice, as are margarine spreads that contain some natural cholesterol-lowering ingredients.
Nuts and seeds are also sources of healthy fats — they're high in monounsaturated fat as well as vitamin E and magnesium. Aim for 1/4 cup of walnuts or almonds each day.
Decreasing salt intake can help protect your heart by lowering the risk of high blood pressure. Left unchecked, high blood pressure can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, and congestive heart failure.
Limit salt to 2,400 milligrams a day, or less if you already have high blood pressure. Remember that many packaged foods already contain salt, and restaurant dishes are also often high in salt. Resist the urge to add more salt when cooking or eating. You can replace salt as a flavoring agent with lemon juice, herbs, and spices. Some spices like cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and turmeric may even help protect against heart disease with their anti-inflammatory properties.
Protect Your Heart: Beware of These Foods
In addition to eating healthy foods, it’s important to avoid certain foods that are particularly unhealthy. Try to minimize or avoid:
- Stick margarine
- Fried foods
- Fatty meats
- Full-fat cheese
- Refined low-fiber grains, like white pasta and white bread
Also try to limit restaurant visits. “Restaurant food often contains high levels of unhealthy fat,” El-Amin says. “Even if it’s low in fat, it tends to be high in sodium to enhance flavor.”
However, as much as you try to avoid all these unhealthy foods, remember that you're human, and occasionally straying from heart-healthy eating can happen. To offset this, El-Amin recommends having a “cheat meal” once or twice a month instead of a “cheat day” each week, which can result in much more damage. And think of each meal as a new chance to eat heart-healthy again.
Heart-Healthy Diet: A Sample Menu
There are so many options for a healthy diet, but sometimes you just need examples to get started. El-Amin recommends the following menu to begin — and you can adapt it with the guidelines above to fit your own tastes and lifestyle.
Breakfast:Oatmeal topped with 1 tablespoon of walnuts and fresh blueberries. When you need to change it up, replace the oatmeal with quinoa and mix up the nuts and berries.
Lunch:A salad of fresh spinach topped with grilled or broiled salmon, orange segments, broccoli, carrots, whole-wheat soba noodles or a tablespoon of sunflower or pumpkin seeds, a low-fat vinaigrette, and an apple on the side.
Afternoon snack:An orange with a low-fat cheese stick.
Dinner:Grilled chicken breast, roasted Brussels sprouts, and a barley pilaf (cook barley according to package instructions, then toss with mixed vegetables).
Nighttime snack:Fresh pineapple topped with 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts, and 1 teaspoon honey.
Video: Heart healthy nutrition tips
How We Respond to Sex
How to Read a Water Meter
Best October holidays 2019: The 8 top places to visit
Safe Ways to Get Vitamin D for Your Heart
Nicole Richie Learns How to Properly Use Highlighter, Teaches Us a Thing orTwo
6 Steps to Become a Regular Runner
5 Things You Need to Know About the Maserati Q4 Range
5 Radiant Orchid Wedding Ideas We Love
How toWear Shoes With Skirts ofDifferent Types
Is It Perimenopause
How to Approach a Stray Dog