Heart disease is the number one killer
of both men and women in the United States. If you are worried about heart
disease, one of the most important things you can do is to start eating a
heart-healthy diet. Changing your diet can help stop or even reverse heart
At first, it may seem like there is a lot to learn. But
you don't have to make these changes all at once. Start with small steps. Over
time, making a number of small changes can add up to a big difference in your
To have a heart-healthy diet:
heart-healthy diet focuses on adding more healthy foods to your diet and
cutting back on foods that are not so good for you.
This advice matches the heart-healthy diet recommended by the American Heart Association.
Eat foods that are high in vitamins, minerals,
fiber, and other nutrients, such as:
Limit foods that are
Eating foods that contain unhealthy fats can raise the LDL
("bad") cholesterol in your blood. Having a high level of LDL cholesterol
increases your chance of having clogged arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to
coronary artery disease and
Trans fat is especially
unhealthy. It both raises the level of "bad" cholesterol and lowers the "good"
cholesterol in the blood. Try to avoid trans fat as much as possible.
If I see "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" on a
food label, I should avoid that food because it contains trans fat.
Shortening, partially hydrogenated vegetable
oils, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and some margarines contain unhealthy trans
fats. Read food labels and try to avoid foods with trans fats and shortening,
partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, or hydrogenated vegetable oils in the
ingredient list. It's a good idea to choose only foods that have 0 grams of
Continue to Why?
Making good food choices can have a big impact on your health. Eating a
heart-healthy diet can help you to:
A heart-healthy diet is not just for people with existing
health problems. It is good for all healthy adults and children older than age 2. Learning heart-healthy eating habits now can
help prevent heart disease in years to come.
I need to follow a heart-healthy diet, but my spouse
and kids don't.
A heart-healthy diet is good for anyone. If
your spouse and children don't have heart disease, learning heart-healthy
eating habits now can help prevent heart disease in years to come. Changing the
way your family eats could be one of the best things you ever do for
Continue to How?
To have a
You can get even more benefit from making diet changes if
you also get plenty of exercise and don't smoke.
But you don't
have to be perfect, and you don't have to do it all at once. Make one or two
changes at a time. As soon as you are used to those, make another one or two
changes. Over time, making a number of small changes can add up and make a big
difference in your health.
Here are some ideas about how to get
It may take some time to get used to new tastes and habits,
but don't give up. Keep in mind the good things you are doing for your heart
and your overall health.
All fats are bad for me.
Not all fats are bad for you. Fat is an
important source of energy for the body. The problem comes when you eat too much fat or the wrong
kind of fats. Saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol are unhealthy types
of fat. Unsaturated fats like canola and olive oils are good for you if you use
them in moderation.
Not all fats are bad for you. Fat is an
important source of energy for the body. The problem comes when you eat too
much fat or the wrong kind of fats. Saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol
are unhealthy types of fat. Unsaturated fats like canola and olive oils are
good for you if you use them in moderation.
Continue to Where?
Now that you have read this
information, you are ready to eat a more heart-healthy diet.
If you have questions about
this information, take it with you when you visit your doctor or dietitian. You
may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins where you have
If you would like more information on eating a
heart-healthy diet, the following resources are available:
Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on
physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your
nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information
about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a
nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and
provide information and support.
CardioSmart is an online education and support program that can be your partner in heart health. This website engages, informs, and empowers people to take part in their own care and to work well with their health care teams. It has tools and resources to help you prevent, treat, and/or manage heart diseases.
You can set health and wellness goals and track your progress with online tools. You can track your weight, waist measurement, blood pressure, and activity. You can use calculators to help you find your body mass index (BMI) and check your risk for heart problems. You can search for a cardiologist. And you can find medicine information and prepare for your next appointment. Also, you can join online communities to connect with peers and take heart-healthy challenges.
CardioSmart was designed by cardiovascular professionals at the American College of Cardiology, a nonprofit medical society. Members include doctors, nurses, and surgeons.
This U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site has
information about nutrition, food labels, weight, dietary guidelines, food
safety, supplements, nutrition research, and more.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
(NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing
The Office on Women's Health is a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides women's health information to a variety of
audiences, including consumers, health professionals, and researchers.
For more information on other heart-healthy diets and exercising for a healthy heart, see:
Return to topic:
Other Works Consulted
American Heart Association (2006). Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006. Circulation, 114(1): 82–96. [Erratum in Circulation, 114(1): e27.]
Expert Panel on Integrated Guidelines for Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents (2011). Expert panel on integrated guidelines for cardiovascular health and risk reduction in children and adolescents: Summary report. Pediatrics, 128(Suppl 5): S213–S256.
Johnson RK, et al. (2009). Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 120(11): 1011–1020.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Also available online: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp.
February 5, 2013
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
& Colleen Gobert, PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian
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