Heart Healthy Diet
Sodium; Fat; and Cholesterol Controlled Diet
What Is a Heart Healthy Diet?
- People with any form of cardiovascular disease (eg, coronary heart disease , peripheral vascular disease , previous heart attack , previous stroke )
- People with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure , high cholesterol , or diabetes
- Anyone who wants to lower their risk of developing cardiovascular disease
Sodium is a mineral found in many foods. In general, most people consume much more sodium than they need. Diets high in sodium can increase blood pressure and lead to edema (water retention). On a heart healthy diet you should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day—about the amount in one teaspoon of table salt. The foods highest in sodium include table salt (about 50% sodium), processed foods, convenience foods, and preserved foods.
Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance in your blood. Our bodies make some cholesterol. It is also found in animal products, with the highest amounts in meat, egg yolks, and organ meats. On a heart healthy diet, you should limit your intake of cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams per day. However, avoiding unhealthy fats has more effect on your cholesterol level.
It’s normal and important to have some cholesterol in your bloodstream. But, too much cholesterol can cause plaque to build up within your arteries, which can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.
The two types of cholesterol that are most commonly referred to are:
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol —Also known as “bad” cholesterol, this is the cholesterol that tends to build up along your arteries. Bad cholesterol levels are increased by eating fats that are saturated or hydrogenated. Optimal level of this cholesterol is less than 100. Over 130 starts to get risky for heart disease.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol —Also known as “good” cholesterol, this type of cholesterol actually carries cholesterol away from your arteries and may, therefore, help lower your risk of having a heart attack. You want this level to be high (ideally greater than 60). It is a risk to have a level less than 40. You can raise this good cholesterol by eating olive oil, canola oil, avocados, or nuts. Exercise raises this level, too.
Fat is calorie dense and packs a lot of calories into a small amount of food. Even though fats should be limited due to their high calorie content, not all fats are bad. In fact, some fats are quite healthful. Fat can be broken down into four main types.
The “good-for-you” fats are:
- Monounsaturated fat —found in oils such as olive and canola, avocados, and nuts and natural nut butters; can decrease cholesterol levels, while keeping levels of HDL cholesterol high
- Polyunsaturated fat —found in oils such as safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn, and sesame; can decrease total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
The fats that you want to limit are:
- Saturated fat
—found in animal products, many fast foods, and a few vegetables; increases total blood cholesterol, including LDL levels
- Animal fats that are saturated include: butter, lard, whole-milk dairy products, meat fat, and poultry skin
- Vegetable fats that are saturated include: hydrogenated shortening, palm oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter
- Hydrogenated or “trans” fat —found in margarine and vegetable shortening, most shelf stable snack foods, and fried foods; increases LDL and decreases HDL
- Saturated fat —found in animal products, many fast foods, and a few vegetables; increases total blood cholesterol, including LDL levels
It is generally recommended that you limit your total fat for the day to less than 30% of your total calories. If you follow an 1800-calorie heart healthy diet, for example, this would mean 60 grams of fat or less per day.
Saturated fat and trans fat in your diet raises your blood cholesterol the most, much more than dietary cholesterol does. For this reason, on a heart healthy diet, less than 7% of your calories should come from saturated fat and ideally 0% from trans fat. On an 1800-calorie diet, this translates into less than 14 grams of saturated fat per day, leaving 46 grams of fat to come from mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
Food Choices on a Heart Healthy Diet
|Food Category||Foods Recommended||Foods to Avoid|
|Meats and Beans|
|Fats and Oils|
|Snacks, Sweets, and Condiments|
- Make whole grains, fruits, and vegetables the base of your diet.
Read food labels.
For products low in fat and cholesterol, look for:
- “Fat free,” “low-fat,” “cholesterol free,” “saturated fat free,” and “trans fat free”—Also scan the Nutrition Facts Label, which lists saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol amounts.
For products low in sodium, look for:
- “Sodium free,” “very low sodium,” “low sodium,” “no added salt,” and “unsalted”
- For products low in fat and cholesterol, look for:
- Skip the salt when cooking or at the table; if food needs more flavor, get creative and try out different herbs and spices. Garlic and onion also add substantial flavor to foods.
- Trim any visible fat off meat and poultry before cooking, and drain the fat off after browning.
- Use cooking methods that require little or no added fat, such as grilling, boiling, baking, poaching, broiling, roasting, steaming, stir-frying, and sautéing.
- Avoid fast food and convenience food. They tend to be high in saturated and trans fat and have a lot of added salt.
- Talk to a registered dietitian for individualized diet advice.
American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association
Dietitians of Canada
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org . Accessed January 12, 2006.
Heart-healthy eating. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center website. Available at: http://patienteducation.upmc.com/Pdf/HeartHealthyEating.pdf . Accessed January 12, 2006.
Shield J, Mullen MC. Patient education materials. Supplement to the Manual of Clinical Dietetics. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association; 2001.
Last reviewed May 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg, MS, RD, LDN
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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