This article was refreshed January 19, 2022 to reflect recent research and physician advice.
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In this article:
Eating a heart-healthy diet helps manage blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Choose fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats to maximize heart function.
Dietary fiber in whole-grain bread and cereals helps lower bad cholesterol.
If “getting healthier” topped your list of New Year’s resolutions, eating a heart-healthy diet is one of the best ways to achieve your goal. The food you eat has a direct impact on your cardiac health. And making healthy choices when menu planning gets you closer to success with every bite.
“The choices you make – such as choosing to eat lots of fruits and vegetables; opting for heart-healthy fats and limiting unhealthy fats; deciding not to smoke; and committing to regular exercise – can maximize your heart health and minimize your chances of developing heart disease,” says Valerie Edwards, MS, RD, LD., outpatient nutrition therapist, Providence Nutrition Services.
“Some of the foods that contribute most to heart health are fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish,” says Edwards.
Advice that actually helps
Knowing what to eat and converting that knowledge into action are two very different things. And trying to make significant, sweeping changes to your diet can be overwhelming and set you up to fail. Luckily, we have advice.
Providence Heart Guide
The Providence Heart Guide is available in a digital format or printable PDF. The guide features wellness tips, strategies that can help improve your habits, and recipes that make healthy eating a delicious choice.
Our nutrition blog offers information and insights from health experts designed to empower you with the knowledge you need to improve your health. Check out our recipes for easy-to-understand instructions for making everything from A to Z, including avocado banana pancakes to zoodle slaw and fish tacos.
MyPlate is a resource from the U.S. Department of Agriculture designed to help you balance your meals and make healthy food choices. The program offers education, recipes, resources and guidance on healthy eating and how it affects your quality of life.
Their simple formula can help you get started with small steps that build a strong foundation of healthy eating:
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Focus on whole fruits and vary your veggies.
- Make half your grains whole grains.
- Vary your proteins and keep them lean and low-fat.
- Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy milk or yogurt or lactose-free dairy or fortified plant-based versions.
MyPlate Kitchen features a wide range of healthy recipes, how-to videos, and other resources that take the guesswork out of improving your diet.
Lower your cholesterol with fiber
Dietary fiber helps lower bad cholesterol (LDL). Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils to get the fiber you need. A good goal is to get 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day, according to Edwards.
“One of the best ways to boost dietary fiber is to eat whole-grain bread and cereals. If the label lists at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, that's usually a good indicator that it contains primarily whole grains. Many breads and cereals contain 5 grams of fiber or more – these are great sources of fiber,” Edwards says. “Whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, while also whole-grain foods, are lesser sources of fiber – but every little bit helps.”
Lentils, black beans, pinto beans and other legumes all have about 5 grams of fiber per half-cup serving, according to Edwards. Try to get more beans in your diet by adding them to soups, salads and burritos (with whole-grain tortillas, of course). Making these small changes to your diet can boost your fiber significantly.
Balance snack foods and fats
When it comes to snack foods, moderation is key. Snacks such as packaged crackers, chips, muffins, cookies and microwave popcorn are usually high in saturated fats, trans fats and added sodium which can put extra pressure on your arteries and blood flow to your heart.
Snack foods aren't the only foods that typically contain high amounts of cholesterol-raising fat. French fries and other fried foods, fast foods and highly fatty cuts of meat are also major sources of saturated fats. “Limit these if you want to keep your cholesterol levels in the healthy zone,” says Edwards. “Snacks don’t have to be unhealthy. There is a wide range of nutritious and delicious choices.”
Here are a few of her heart-healthy snack suggestions:
- Low-fat yogurt with fresh berries
- Low-fat cottage cheese with sliced bananas
- A small handful of raw or dry-roasted nuts (limit portions to 1/4 to 1/3 cup, because nuts are calorie dense)
- Homemade trail mix combining nuts, seeds and dried fruit
- A piece of whole-grain toast with natural peanut butter (ingredients should include only peanuts and salt)
- An apple or banana with a tablespoon or two of peanut butter
It’s ok to indulge
Everyone wants a special treat now and then. Small indulgences are a large part of enjoying life. And that's OK, says Edwards. "If you eat healthfully most of the time, it's fine to indulge occasionally. Moderation and balance are the keys,” she says.
Splurging a little once a week or every other week won’t put the brakes on your improved eating plan. However, if splurging is part of your regular routine and not the exception, it’s important to balance that with extra activity and exercise. And if you have advanced heart disease or another serious medical concern, you should talk with your doctor about how strict you need to be.
“For lasting results, it’s important to make lasting changes,” says Edwards. “If you are in this for your heart, don’t look at these suggestions as another temporary diet – look at them as a new and better way to eat for the rest of your life.”
Find a doctor
The registered dietitians at Providence work with you to provide tools that help you change your eating habits to improve your health. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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