Healthy Eating Habits Means Healthy Heart

Making healthy food choices is one important thing you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease—the leading cause of death of men and women in the United States.

According to the American Heart Association, about 80 million adults in the U.S. have at least one form of heart disease—disorders that prevent the heart from functioning normally—including coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems, heart defects, infections, and cardiomyopathy (thickening or enlargement of the heart muscle).

Experts say you can reduce the risk of developing these problems with lifestyle changes that include eating a healthy diet. But with racks full of books and magazines about food and recipes, what is the best diet for a healthy heart?

Food and Drug Administration nutrition expert (FDA’s) Barbara Schneeman says to follow these simple guidelines when preparing meals:

  • Balance calories to manage body weight
  • Eat at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, including a variety of dark-green, red, and orange vegetables, beans, and peas.
  • Eat seafood (including oily fish) in place of some meat and poultry
  • Eat whole grains—the equivalent of at least three 1-ounce servings a day
  • Use oils to replace solid fats.
  • Use fat-free or low-fat versions of dairy products.

The government’s newly released “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010” also says Americans should reduce their sodium intake. The general recommendation is to eat less than 2,300 mg. of sodium a day. But Americans 51 or older, African-Americans of any age, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should restrict their intake to 1,500 mg. The government estimates that about half the U.S. population is in one of those three categories.

Packaged and Restaurant Food

Schneeman, who heads FDA’s Office of Nutrition, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements, says one way to make sure you’re adhering to healthy guidelines is by using the nutrition labels on the packaged foods you buy.

“Product labels give consumers the power to compare foods quickly and easily so they can judge which products best fit into a heart healthy diet or meet other dietary needs,” Schneeman says. “Remember, when you see a percent DV (daily value of key nutrients) on the label, 5 percent or less is low and 20 percent or more is high.”

Follow these guidelines when using processed foods or eating in restaurants:

Choose lean meats and poultry. Bake it, broil it, or grill it.

In a restaurant, opt for steamed, grilled, or broiled dishes instead of those that are fried or sautéed.

Look on product labels for foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol. Most of the fats you eat should come from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as those found in some types of fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.

Check product labels for foods high in potassium (unless you’ve been advised to restrict the amount of potassium you eat). Potassium counteracts some of the effects of salt on blood pressure.

Choose foods and beverages low in added sugars. Read the ingredient list to make sure that added sugars are not among the first ingredients. Ingredients in the largest amounts are listed first. Some names for added sugars include sucrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, and fructose. The nutrition facts on the product label give the total sugar content.

Pick foods that provide dietary fiber, like fruits, beans, vegetables, and whole grains.

Feel like getting creative in the kitchen? The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has come up with dozens of delicious heart-healthy recipes—many in Spanish. To get a free cookbook or download recipes, visit

This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page8, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated



About the Author:

Rahonie Evans, ARNP, has joined Holy Cross Medical Group-Cardiology Associates of Boca Raton. Ms. Evans went to nursing school at Florida Atlantic University and received her MSN Nursing and Advance Registered Nurse Practitioner license in 2009. She graduated Magna Cum Laude and has worked in hospital telemetry and ICU/CCU units. Ms. Evans has experience in interventional and general cardiology and specializes in the management of PT/INR anticoagulation therapy, hypertension, cardiac disease, cardiac arrhythmia and general internal medicine.

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  9. Eating a variety of foods can also reduce the risk of getting conditions including heart disease , stroke, some cancers , diabetes and osteoporosis, according to Lydia Kelly, a specialist registered dietician who works for the NHS.

  10. “With these enhancements, the Heart-Check program will help consumers easily identify and choose even more heart-healthy foods for themselves and their families,” said Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., the Bickford Green and Gold Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont and an American Heart Association spokeswoman.

  11. The 7,400 patients aged 55 to 80 were all high risk of heart disease because of diabetes, a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels or they were overweight or smokers.

  12. Nutrient-dense foods provide vitamins, mineral and other substances that have health benefits, with relatively few calories. They’re lean or low in solid fats, and minimize or exclude added solid fats, sugars and refined starches, as these add calories but few essential nutrients or dietary fiber.

  13. Unhealthy fats such as saturated and trans fats, and cholesterol, are found in many foods. So, look for choices that are lean, fat-free, or low-free when selecting and preparing meat, poultry, dry beans, and milk products. An easy and quick way to reduce saturated fats is to trim excess fat from meat and poultry and remove the skin from poultry. Additionally, watch out for foods processed or made with certain oils (for example, palm oil, palm fruit oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil) that increase the amount of saturated fats in the food. Examples of foods that tend to have saturated fats are fatty cuts of meat, whole milk products, cakes, cookies, pies, crackers, candy, candy bars, household shortening, and creamers. Limiting these foods can reduce saturated fats in your diet.

  14. The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 focuses on balancing food choices with physical activity, and encourage Americans to consume more healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood, and to consume less sodium, saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and refined grains.

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  16. While some fat is necessary for good health, the type of fat you consume is important. Omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats are essential, since your body can’t make them, and other unsaturated fats can also be healthy as long as you stick to the recommended total fat consumption of between 20 percent and 35 percent of your calories. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommends you limit unhealthy saturated fats, which increase your risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, to no more than 7 percent to 10 percent of your calories. The least healthy type of fat is trans fats, which increase your LDL, or bad cholesterol, while decreasing your HDL, or good cholesterol, making it more likely you will suffer from heart disease. Get no more than 1 percent of your calories from trans fats, found mainly in foods containing hydrogenated oil, recommends the American Heart Association.

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