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Senior Life: Seven Tips to a Heart Healthy Diet


Every February we celebrate “American Heart Month.” This makes it a great time to think about your own heart health and what you can do to decrease your risk of heart disease. Changing habits in your diet can be difficult but following these seven tips can help you be on your way toward a heart-healthy diet.

1. Be mindful of portion sizes

How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Controlling food portion size is healthy for your heart and can help you lose weight. Using a smaller plate or bowl can help you eat smaller portions. Eating more low-calorie, nutrient rich foods can help you decrease the amount of unhealthy foods that you crave. When eating out, order a half-sized portion, request a to-go container to box up half of the portion before you start eating, or split a full sized portion with a friend.

2. Increase fruits and vegetables in your diet

Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. They also contain substances that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Eating more fruits and vegetables can also help you cut back on higher calorie foods. Using fresh and frozen rather than canned fruits and vegetables can help reduce sodium and calories (due to the salt and syrup that some canned goods are packaged with).

3. Choose whole grains

Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. You can increase the amount of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet by making simple substitutions for refined grain products. The best whole grain products to choose are whole-wheat flour and whole-grain bread, preferable 100% whole grain, high-fiber cereal with five grams of fiber or more per serving, whole grains such as brown rice, barley, and buckwheat, whole grain pasta, and steel cut or regular oatmeal.

4. Limit unhealthy facts

Limiting how much saturated and trans fats you eat is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease. Some simple ways to cut back on fats are to trim fat off your meats, or choose lean meats, use less butter or margarine/shortening, and use low-fat substitutions when possible.

When you do use fats, choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or canola oil. Polyunsaturated fats, found in certain fish, avocados, nuts and seeds are good choices for a heart-healthy diet. When used in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help lower your total blood cholesterol. However, moderation is essential as all types of fats are high in calories.

5. Choose low-fat protein sources

Lean meat, poultry, and fish, low-fat dairy products, and eggs are some of the best sources of protein. Choose lower fat options, such as skinless chicken breasts rather than fried chicken patties and skim milk rather than whole milk. Fish is a good alternative to high-fat meats, especially cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring which are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood fats called triglycerides. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and canola oil.

6. Reduce your consumption of salt/sodium

Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure. A risk factor for heart disease. Limiting salt/sodium is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. The American Heart Association recommends that:

  • Healthy adults have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (about a teaspoon of salt)
  • Most adults ideally have no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day

Although getting rid of the salt shaker is a good first step and can help reduce the amount of salt you eat, much of the salt you consume comes from canned and processed foods. Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews can reduce the amount of salt you eat. Another way to reduce the amount of salt you eat is to choose your condiments carefully. Many condiments are available in reduced-sodium versions, and salt substitutes can add flavor to your food with less sodium.

7. Don’t be afraid to allow yourself an occasional treat

Allow yourself an indulgence every now and then. A candy bar or handful of potato chips won’t derail your heart-healthy diet. But don’t let it turn into an excuse for giving up on your heart healthy eating plan. What’s important is that you eat healthy foods most of the time.

With planning and a few simple substitutions, you can be on your way to eating with your heart in mind.

Written by: Jessica Strobl, PharmD

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