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Getting to the Heart of a Healthful Diet

IMAGE A heart-healthy lifestyle is not about deprivation. It is about eating more—more fruits, more vegetables, more whole grains, and more unsaturated fats. When you focus on putting more of these nutrient-rich foods in your diet, there is naturally less room for the not-so-heart-friendly foods—those high in saturated fat and low in nutrients.

Healthy eating habits can help you reduce 3 of the major risk factors for heart attack:

So how does this translate into your grocery list and onto your dinner plate? To help you eat the heart healthy way, The American Heart Association has created some guidelines. Follow these dietary guidelines to improve and/or maintain your heart health:

  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Eat at least 4-5 servings each day.
  • Eat a variety of fiber-rich whole grains. Eat at least 6-8 servings a day.
  • Include protein, such as fat-free and low-fat milk products, fish, legumes, beans, skinless poultry, and lean, white meats. Limit red meats and processed meat. For nuts, legumes, and seeds, eat at least 4-5 servings a week. For lean meats, poultry, and seafood, eat less than 6 ounces a day. When eating fish, choose oily fish, like salmon.
  • Limit foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and/or cholesterol, such as full-fat milk products, fatty meats, tropical oils, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, and egg yolks. Instead choose foods low in saturated fat, and cholesterol from the first 3 points above. Try to eliminate intake of trans fats, which are found in snack foods, fried foods, and pastries.
  • Limit your intake of foods high in calories or low in nutrition, including foods like soft drinks and candy that have a lot of sugars. For sweets and items with added sugar, stick to 5 or fewer servings per week.
  • Eat less than 1,500 milligrams of salt per day. Read food labels to look for hidden salt, which may appear as sodium.
  • Have no more than 1 alcoholic drink per day if you're a woman and no more than 2 if you're a man.

Note: Recommendations based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

  • American Heart Association

  • US Department of Agriculture

  • Canadian Cardiovascular Society

  • Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

  • Dietary interventions for cardiovascular disease prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 21, 2015. Accessed July 28, 2015.

  • Frequently asked questions about sodium. American Heart Association website. Available at: Updated November 11, 2014. Accessed July 28, 2015.

  • Greene CM, Fernandez ML.The role of nutrition in the prevention of coronary heart disease in women of the developed world. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007;16(1):1-9.

  • Healthy diet goals: Nutrition basics. American Heart Association website. Available at: Accessed April 29, 2015.

  • Serving suggestions from each food group. American Heart Association website. Available at: Updated February 17, 2015. Accessed July 28, 2015.

  • 6/5/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Sinha R, Cross AJ, Graubard BI, Leitzmann MF, Schatzkin A. Meat intake and mortality: a prospective study of over half a million people. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169:562-571.