Eating Well with Heart Disease

A healthy diet is one of the best weapons for fighting heart disease.
When you have heart disease, it means you are at risk for a heart attack. Or maybe you’ve already had one! This means it's important to watch what you eat.

Heart disease is not to be taken lightly. It is the number-1 killer of adults in America. A major reason for this is that most Americans eat too many high-fat, high-calorie foods.

Eating to slow or prevent heart disease means changing how you eat. Hey! Don’t worry! It may seem tough at first, but you will see that small changes can make a big difference in your heart health. So let’s get started!

Getting Started

First, you will need to pay attention to 3 things. One, how much cholesterol you eat each day. Two, how much sodium you eat each day. And 3, the kinds of fat you eat at each meal.

Government experts say that a person with heart disease should have:

  • less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day

  • less than 300 mg of cholesterol per day, and

  • Keep your levels of saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your calories each day.

But how can you know how much cholesterol, sodium, or fat a food contains?

Food nutrition labels are a good place to start. Food nutrition labels show how much sodium, cholesterol, dietary fiber, and calories are in each serving. They will also tell you how many servings are in each container, as well as how many different types of fat.

But not every food comes with a nutrition label. So here are some heart-healthy guidelines to help you make healthy choices throughout your day.

Heart-healthy Guidelines

Eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables every day. Fruit and vegetables are packed with the vitamins, minerals, and fiber your body needs to stay healthy. Plus, they are naturally low in calories, and can be fat- and cholesterol-free -- depending on how they are cooked.

When it comes to meat, think lean. Lean is a measurement of saturated fat and cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a fat that’s naturally made in your body, and the bodies of animals. Your body makes all the cholesterol you need. So, if you eat a lot of foods that come from animals, you are getting more cholesterol than you need.

Most turkey, chicken, seafood, and fish are considered lean protein. Pork and several cuts of beef are, too.

But, you don’t need to eat meat to get the protein your body needs to be healthy. Non-meat sources of protein are good because they don’t have any cholesterol. Most don’t have any saturated fats, either.

Instead, build your meals around beans, peas, nuts, and high-protein grains. Try to have at least 1 no-meat day each week.

Plan to eat seafood and fish at least twice a week. Some fish, like salmon, trout, and herring, contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. They may help protect against heart disease.

Speaking of fat: Cut back on foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fat, and saturated fat. Use liquid olive, canola, or safflower oils in place of soft or hard margarine or shortening.

Foods that have a lot of saturated fats include cheese, butter, and ice cream, as well as cured and fatty meats. Trans fats are often found in cakes, cookies, pastries, muffins, pies, and doughnuts that come from bakeries. Try to think of these foods as treats to have once in a while, instead of eating them every week or every day.

And, cut back on sugary drinks like soda or pop and juice with added sugar. If you drink alcohol, the recommendation is for no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 for men.

Watch out for sodium. Sodium is found naturally in some foods. But, most of the sodium you eat is added to your food when it is made in a factory or restaurant. So it’s easy to get more than you need.

In fact, most Americans eat more than 34-hundred milligrams of sodium every day. That’s quite a bit more than the 2,300 mg of sodium we’re supposed to have!

And finally, learn how to cook! When you cook at home, you get to choose which ingredients go into a meal. And, you can better control your portion sizes. This will help you keep your waist size in line, too.

You can find heart-healthy cooking tips on websites like the American Heart Association, and the American Dietetic Association.

Now, it all sounds like a lot, so remember these 5 Tips for Eating Well with Heart Disease:

  • Read nutrition labels and choose foods with low levels of sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol,

  • Eat 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables every day,

  • Avoid foods with saturated fat, trans fat, and hydrogenated oils,

  • Try to go without meat 1 day each week, and

  • Learn to cook the heart-healthy way!

As you can see, making small changes can have a BIG impact on your heart health -- and now you know how!