How to Make Heart-Healthy Food Choices


Eating a heart-healthy diet pays big benefits, like better cholesterol and blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and weight.

While chicken wings, pizza and soda might tempt your palate from time to time, think twice! High-fat, high-calorie foods may lead to cardiovascular disease and other heart conditions. Your best weapon of defense is maintaining a healthy diet and making healthy choices. While fad diets tell you what you can’t eat, it’s more powerful to focus on what you can eat. Here are some tips you can take to heart!

EAT MORE FISH. Fish is a good source of protein and other nutrients. It is naturally low in fat if you don’t fry it, and some fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, also gives you omega-3 fatty acids, which may cut your risk of heart disease and stroke. Two servings a week is recommended. You can also get omega-3s from ground flax seeds and chia seeds. This is helpful if you are a strict vegetarian. They also add hearthealthy fiber to your diet.

EAT MORE VEGETABLES, FRUITS, WHOLE GRAINS AND BEANS. Plant foods are a powerful help in fighting heart disease. You get nutrients, fiber, and an almost endless variety of ways to cook them. Eat at two to three servings of fruit and three to four servings of  vegetables. One serving of fruit is usually one piece. Vegetable servings are ½ cup cooked or one cup raw. These foods are high in antioxidants which are a compound found in them that gives them their special color. Antioxidants do what their name states: They fight the oxidative damage we get in our environment and help fight against diseases. Each color has a specific fighting mechanism. For instance, green veggies help protect our eyes against this process. Orange and red ones help our heart to name only a few.

LIMIT SATURATED FAT TO NO MORE THAN 7% TO 10% OF CALORIES. Diets high in this type of fat raise our cholesterol and increase our risk for heart disease. Check food labels to see how much saturated fat is in a serving of butter, hard margarine, salad dressing, fried foods, snack foods, sweets, and desserts.

AVOID ARTIFICIAL TRANS FATS COMPLETELY. They raise your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol level. Items that may have trans fat include baked goods, snack foods (such as microwave popcorn), frozen pizza, fast food, vegetable shortenings, stick margarines, coffee creamer, refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls), and ready – to – use frostings. Even if the label says “0 grams trans fat,” they may still have a tiny bit of trans fat; so check the ingredients list on packaged foods for “partially hydrogenated oils.” Those are trans fats.

WHEN YOU USE ADDED FAT, USE FATS HIGH IN MONOUNSATURATED OR POLYUNSATURATED FATS. Fats found in canola, olive, and peanut oil do not raise your cholesterol levels. In fact, the mono unsaturated fats found in olive oil and canola oil actually help keep  your “good” cholesterol or HDL levels. You still need to limit how much you use, however, even with “good” fats, because they are high in calories.

CUT BACK ON SALT. This will help control your blood pressure. Most people get too much sodium, and a lot of it comes from packaged foods.

AVOID PROCESSED MEATS. This includes meats like sausages, bacon, cold cuts are high in saturated fat and sodium. Choose fish, lean cuts of meat, poultry (without the skin), low-fat or fat-free dairy, beans, nuts, tofu, and legumes.

LIMIT SUGARY BEVERAGES. Water is always a better choice than soda or juice.

LIMIT ALCOHOL INTAKE. The guidelines are one drink per day for women and two for men. Red wine in moderation is a good choice

ENJOY EVERY BITE. When you enjoy what you eat, it’s easier to keep eating that way.

READ AND COMPARE FOOD LABELS. Review how many servings the package contains and then look at the calories and fat per serving. Multiply the calories and fat by the number of servings you’re going to eat.

COOK HEALTHIER. Choose grilling, baking or broiling over frying.

LIMIT FOOD PORTIONS. Remember, don’t supersize!

Eating a heart-healthy diet pays big benefits, like better cholesterol and blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and weight. Best of all, eating this way can taste good!•


Barbara Mintz, MS, RD, Vice President of Healthy Living and Community Engagement for Barnabas Health, New Jersey.

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