Heart health and your diet
Your doctor may have recently told you that you’re at risk for heart disease
due to your lifestyle or your family history. Perhaps you’ve recently experienced
a major cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), more
Americans die of heart
disease than any other condition. You can reduce your chances of developing
heart disease by eating a healthy diet.
Eating habits can be difficult to change. You may worry that starting to eat
right now means you won’t enjoy food anymore. This isn’t the case. Even small
changes can make a big difference in your quality of life.
Once you know which foods are best for your heart, eating healthy will become
simpler. What does it mean to eat a heart-healthy diet? A heart-healthy diet
includes a wide variety of nutritious foods, some of which you may already
enjoy. The AHA recommends eating the following to boost your
long-term heart health:
- whole grain
- low-fat dairy products
The AHA also recommends
limiting how much red meat and sugary foods and beverages you consume.
Follow these guidelines and recommendations:
- Choose lean means without skin and prepare them without
added saturated and trans fat.
- Eat fish at least twice per week. Oily fish with
omega-3 fatty acids help lower your risk of heart disease.
- Select 1 percent fat and low-fat dairy products.
- Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
- Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt.
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
- Follow the AHA’s recommendations when you eat out, and keep
an eye on your portion sizes.
- Fill up your plate with 50 percent vegetables and
Beyond these general guidelines, several areas are important to understand
when it comes to nutrition and your heart.
Effects of alcohol on the heart
The AHA recommendation on alcohol is to drink in
moderation if you do drink. For men, this means no more than two drinks per
day. Moderate intake for women means having no more than one drink per day. One
drink equals one 12-ounce beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof
The AHA emphasizes that the relationship between alcohol and heart disease
is complex. Researchers have found an association between heavy alcohol
consumption and health risks, including alcoholism, obesity, and breast cancer.
Some studies have suggested a reduction in
cardiovascular disease with moderate alcohol consumption.
Despite this potential benefit, the AHA doesn’t recommend drinking alcohol
to reduce cardiovascular risk. Use more conventional measures such as
controlling your weight, exercising regularly, and lowering your cholesterol
and blood pressure to reduce your risk. Drinking alcohol can lead to higher calorie intake. Excessive
alcohol consumption can lead to sudden
cardiac death. Your doctor can help you assess the risks and benefits
related to drinking alcohol.
Effects of calcium on the heart
As with alcohol, the link between calcium and cardiovascular disease is
unclear. The AHA emphasizes that there isn’t enough
information to determine if calcium intake affects heart disease risk. However,
eating fat-free and low-fat dairy products, along with eight or more fruits and
vegetables per day, helps to significantly lower blood pressure.
The AHA emphasizes the importance for women in particular to eat fat-free
and low-fat dairy products. Most women should aim to consume between 1,000 and
2,000 milligrams of calcium daily. The Mayo Clinic notes that some men may benefit
from calcium supplements as well. Men over age 50 should consume in the range
of 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams per day and 1,000 to 2,500 milligrams per day for
men under age 50.
Effects of sugar on the heart
notes that the rise in obesity and cardiovascular disease has increased concern
about the high intake of sugar in the typical American diet. Their statement
concludes that you should follow certain guidelines to decrease cardiovascular
risk while maintaining a healthy weight and meeting nutritional needs. Women should consume no more
than 100 calories per day from added sugars. Men should
consume more than 150 calories per day from added sugars
This amounts to a maximum of 6 teaspoons, or 24 grams, of added sugar for
women and about 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams, of added sugar for men. Major sources
of added sugars include:
- soft drinks
- fruit drinks
- dairy desserts, such as ice cream
- sweetened yogurt
- sweetened grains such as waffles and oatmeal
Effects of caffeine on the heart
Caffeine is a stimulant. It can be in many foods and beverages, including:
- soft drinks
It hasn’t been determined yet if high
caffeine intake increases the risk of coronary heart disease.
The Mayo Clinic notes that while studies have
found no definitive connection between drinking coffee and an increased risk
for heart disease, the research does suggest possible risks. Studies show that
high consumption of unfiltered coffee is associated with minor increases in
Eating a healthy, low-fat diet that includes the following can improve your
- lean protein
- whole grains
Take the time and make the effort to change your eating habits. Your heart
and your loved ones will thank you.