Food for the Heart
Heart-healthy eating involves more than slashing fat and cholesterol. Learn what foods can help keep you healthy.

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Food for the Heart

You want to eat well to protect your heart. You start by limiting certain foods you know can cause trouble, such as butter, red meat, cheese and fried foods. Reducing saturated and trans fats, cholesterol and sodium in your diet is a good start. But did you know that one of the keys to heart-healthy eating is to concentrate on what to add to your meal plan?

Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and fiber. The following guidelines may help:

  • Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Variety is the key, and the more colorful, the better. Try red peppers, yellow squash, orange carrots and purple cabbage.
  • Make at least half your grains whole for extra fiber and nutrients. Try brown rice, barley, whole-grain breads, cereals, crackers and pastas.
  • Include sources of fiber such as kidney, pinto, navy and soy beans. These are also loaded with protein.

Choose fat-free and low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry and lean meats. All animal foods contain cholesterol. However, lean and low-fat choices will contain very little saturated fat. Vegetables, grains and beans should make up the bulk of your meal plan, rounded out by low-fat, lean animal foods.

  • Try fat-free or low-fat milk and yogurt.
  • Lean meat can also be part of a heart-healthy diet. Fish, white meat chicken and turkey are all good choices. Make sure that poultry is eaten without the skin. Keep portions to no more than 6 ounces per day.
  • Enjoy seafood twice a week. Children and pregnant or nursing women should avoid certain fish that are high in mercury. These include shark, swordfish, mackerel and tilefish.

Include healthy fats in your meal plan. Typically, the first thing to go on a low-cholesterol diet is the fat. Cutting out all fat is not required and can even work against you. Some types of fat can be harmful. Dietary guidelines suggest avoiding trans fats altogether. Other fats have proven to be beneficial. In general, use oils to replace solid fats.

  • Saturated fats should be limited. They can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood. These fats are found in red meat, bacon, hot dogs, poultry skin, butter, high-fat dairy and products made with butter or cream.
  • Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.It's recommended that the fats you eat mostly come from unsaturated sources.
    • Monounsaturated fats include vegetable, sunflower, canola and olive oil, as well as nuts and avocados.
    • Polyunsaturated fats include omega-6 sources such as soybean, corn and safflower oil. Omega-3 sources include soybean and canola oil, as well as flaxseed, walnuts, salmon, trout and herring.

Remember that a healthy diet can include the foods you love. And watching what you eat may keep you around longer for the people you love.

By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Contributing Writer
Created on 02/03/2000
Updated on 12/04/2012
  • American Heart Association. Prevention and treatment of high cholesterol.
  • United States Department of Agriculture. Let’s eat for the health of it.
  • United States Department of Agriculture and United States Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010.
  • United States Food and Drug Administration. Eat for a healthy heart.
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