What you eat impacts your heart health. The wrong diet can increase your risk of heart disease. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that bad diets are linked to 45% of deaths from cardiometabolic diseases heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Unfortunately, many Americans aren’t making choices that align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for healthy eating. According to those guidelines, about 75% of adults in the U.S. have a diet that’s low in fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. These tips can help you make heart-healthy choices.
Focus on nutrient-dense foods.
Nutrient-dense foods are foods that are packed with the nutrients you need to maintain a healthy heart: lean protein, complex carbohydrates and essential vitamins and minerals.
Nutrient-dense foods include fish, skinless poultry, lean meats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds. To choose nutrient-dense packaged foods, read the nutrition label. These ingredients should be listed first. Another easy way to check is to look for foods with the American Heart Association’s Heart Check certification.
Choose healthy fats.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are healthy fats. They help lower your bad cholesterol while increasing your good (HDL) cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats include olive, canola, peanut, safflower and sesame oils. They’re also found in avocados and nut butters. Polyunsaturated fats are found in corn and sunflower oils, nuts, seeds and cold-water fish, such as salmon.
Opt for lean proteins.
Saturated fat increases your body’s bad (LDL) cholesterol. Saturated fats are found naturally in meat and dairy products. That’s why meat eaters should focus on lean proteins, including fish, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, skinless white meat poultry and pork. Vegan options include beans, lentils, tofu and other soy products. If you need a red meat fix, the Mayo Clinic recommends eye of round roast and steak, sirloin tip side steak, top or bottom round roast and steak, and top sirloin steak.
Eat the rainbow of fresh produce.
Some produce packs a bigger heart-healthy punch. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls these “powerhouse fruits and vegetables.” For vegetables, choose chard, spinach, leaf lettuce, parsley, greens, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, carrots, red peppers, tomatoes, rutabaga, turnips, winter squash and sweet potatoes. For fruit, choose strawberries, blackberries, oranges and grapefruit.
Order out wisely.
Heart-healthy eating shouldn’t stop at home. For fast food chains, read the nutritional label on the menu or online. When dining out:
- Limit portion sizes (ask for half your meal packaged to go in advance or split a meal with a companion).
- Skip the bread basket and free soda refills.
- Request substitutes for healthier alternatives (salad instead of fries).
- Limit sugar, sodium and saturated fats.
What you don’t eat is as important as what you do eat. While we can eat these ingredients in moderation, most Americans exceed the recommended daily allowance, according to the Dietary Guidelines. Here’s what the AHA recommends for each:
- Sugar. Added sugars should be strictly limited. Women should limit added sugars to no more than 100 calories (about six teaspoons) daily. Men should consume no more than 150 calories (nine teaspoons) daily.
- Sodium. Adults should aim for 1,500 milligrams (mg) a day.
- Saturated fats. Limit saturated fat to no more than 5-6% of total daily calories. That’s about 11 to 13 grams if you eat 2,000 calories a day.
- Trans fats. These unhealthy fats are found in processed foods. They pack a double whammy by lowering your good cholesterol and increasing your bad cholesterol. Trans fats are found in many baked goods and fried foods. On package labels, look for “partially hydrogenated oil.” The AHA recommends eliminating trans fats entirely if you need to lower your cholesterol.