An in-depth report on how to build the best diet for your heart's health.
Diet - heart health
Heart-Healthy Diet Guidelines
Key recommendations for a heart-healthy diet include:
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts. Reduce consumption of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods and beverages.
- Eat fish, especially oily fish (such as salmon, trout, and mackerel) at least twice a week. Oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower the risk of death from heart disease.
- Get at least 5 - 10% of daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn, and soybean as well as nuts and seeds.
- Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
- Limit daily consumption of foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol, such as red meat, whole-fat dairy products, shellfish, and egg yolks.
- Limit consumption of trans fatty acids (found in fast foods and commercially baked products) to less than 1% of total daily calories.
- Replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats from plant and fish oils.
- Restrict your sodium (salt) intake. Try to limit sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams a day. This target is especially important for middle-aged and older people, African-Americans, and people with high blood pressure. The DASH diet is a good example of a heart-healthy eating plan that limits sodium intake.
- Choose nutrient-rich fruits instead of beverages and processed foods that contain added sugars
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation (1 drink per day for women, 2 drinks per day for men).
- Exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes a day) so that you burn at least as many calories as you consume to attain or maintain a healthy weight.
New Guidelines on Triglycerides and Heart Health
In 2011, the American Heart (AHA) emphasized in a scientific statement that diet and lifestyle changes are essential for patients with high triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are blood
fats associated with unhealthy cholesterol levels and increased risk for heart disease. In addition to the standard advice on limiting saturated and trans fats, the AHA recommends that people with unhealthy triglyceride levels should:
- Limit fructose intake by consuming fruits that are relatively lower in fructose (cantaloupe, grapefruit, strawberries, peaches, bananas) and avoiding added sugars. Fructose is metabolized differently than other sugars and can significanty raise triglycerides.
- Avoid processed foods with added sugars of any kind. Pay attention to ingredients in food labels that indicate the presence of added sugars. These include terms such as sweeteners, syrups, fruit juice concentrates, molasses, and sugar molecules ending in “ose” (like dextrose and sucrose).
- Limit or avoid alcohol, especially if triglyceride levels exceed 500 mg/dL.
- Try to achieve a healthy weight! Weight loss has an enormous impact on decreasing triglycerides. A 5 – 10% weight loss can produce a 20% drop in triglyceride levels.
The goals of a heart-healthy diet are to eat foods that help obtain or maintain healthy levels of cholesterol and fatty molecules called lipids. You can achieve this by:
- Reducing overall cholesterol levels and low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which are harmful to the heart
- Increasing high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which are beneficial for the heart
- Reducing other harmful lipids (fatty molecules), such as triglycerides and lipoprotein(a)
Any diet should also help keep blood pressure and weight under control. It is also extremely important to limit daily salt (sodium) intake.
The American Heart Association’s (AHA) current dietary and lifestyle guidelines recommend:
Balance calorie intake and physical activity to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight. (Controlling weight, quitting smoking, and exercising regularly are essential companions of any diet program. Try to get at least 30 minutes, and preferably 45 - 60 minutes, of daily exercise.)
Eat a diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits that are deeply colored (such as spinach, carrots, peaches, and berries) are especially recommended as they have the highest micronutrient content.