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Heart disease and diet

A healthy diet is a major factor in reducing your risk of heart disease.

Alternative Names

Diet - heart disease

Function

A healthy diet and lifestyle can reduce your risk of heart disease , heart attacks, and stroke. Conditions that lead to heart disease, including high cholesterol , high blood pressure, obesity , and type 2 diabetes can all be influenced by your diet and lifestyle. The same is true for osteoporosis  and some forms of cancer.

Recommendations

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

Most fruits and vegetables are part of a heart-healthy diet. They are good sources of fiber , vitamins, and minerals. Most are low in fat, calories, sodium, and cholesterol.

Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Fruits and vegetables

GRAINS

Eat low-fat breads, cereals, crackers, rice, pasta, and starchy vegetables (such as peas, potatoes, corn, winter squash, and lima beans). These foods are high in the B vitamins, iron, and fiber. They are also low in fat and cholesterol.

Choose whole grain foods (such as bread, cereal, crackers, and pasta) for at least half of your daily grain intake. Grain products provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates. Eating too many grains, especially refined gain foods (such as white bread, pasta, and baked goods) can cause weight gain.

Avoid high-fat baked goods such as butter rolls, cheese crackers, and croissants and cream sauces for pasta.

EATING HEALTHY PROTEIN

Meat, poultry, seafood, dried peas, lentils, nuts, and eggs are good sources of protein, B vitamins, iron, and other vitamins and minerals.

Fish in diet
  • Avoid high-fat proteins. These include meats such as duck, goose, prime cuts of steak, organ meats such as kidneys and liver, and prepared meats such as sausage, hot dogs, and high-fat lunch meats.
  • Adults should eat no more than 5 to 6 cooked ounces of lean meat, poultry, and fish daily. One serving of these foods should be about the size of a deck of cards on your plate.
  • Trim off all visible fat before cooking the meat.
  • Eat two servings of fish per week.
  • Cook by baking, broiling, roasting, steaming, boiling, or microwaving instead of deep frying.
  • For the main entree, use less meat or have meatless meals a few times a week. Use smaller amounts of meat to reduce the total fat content of the meal.
  • Use skinless turkey, chicken, fish, or lean red meat to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
  • Do not use more than three or four egg yolks per week, including the eggs you use in cooking.
  • Eat less organ meat (such as liver) and shellfish (such as shrimp and lobster)

Milk and other dairy products are good sources of protein, calcium, the B vitamins niacin and riboflavin, and vitamins A and D. Use skim or 1% milk. Cheese, yogurt, and buttermilk should be low-fat or non-fat.

FATS, OILS, AND CHOLESTEROL

Some types of fat are healthier than others. A diet high in saturated and trans fats causes cholesterol to build up in your arteries (blood vessels). This puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, and other major health problems. Avoid or limit foods that are high in these fats. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that come from vegetable sources have many health benefits.

Obesity and health
  • Limit total fat intake to 25 to 35% of your total daily calories. Keep saturated fats to only 10% of your total daily calories.
  • Foods with a lot of saturated fats are animal products such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, sour cream, lard, and fatty meats such as bacon.
  • Some vegetable oils (coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils) also contain saturated fats. These fats are solid at room temperature.
  • Limit trans fats as much as possible by avoiding hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats. These are often found in processed foods and solid margarine.
  • Use no more than 5 to 8 teaspoons of fats or oils per day for salads, cooking, and baking.
  • Eat less than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol each day. (One egg yolk contains an average of 184 mg of cholesterol.)

Think about the following when choosing a margarine:

  • Choose soft margarine (tub or liquid) over harder stick forms.
  • Choose margarines with liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient. Even better, choose "light" margarines that list water as the first ingredient. These are even lower in saturated fat.

Trans fatty acids are unhealthy fats that form when vegetable oil hardens in a process called hydrogenation. They are often used to keep foods fresh for a long time and for cooking in fast food restaurants.

  • Trans fats can raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels in your blood. They can also lower your HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.
  • To avoid trans fats, stay away from fried foods, commercial baked goods (donuts, cookies, and crackers), processed foods, and hard margarines.

OTHER TIPS TO KEEP YOUR HEART HEALTHY

You may find it helpful to talk to a dietitian about your eating choices. The American Heart Association is a good source of information on diet and heart disease. Balance the number of calories you eat with the number you use each day to maintain a healthy body weight. You can ask your doctor or dietitian to help you figure out a good number of calories for you.

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Limit your intake of foods high in calories or low in nutrition, including foods like soft drinks and candy that contain a lot of sugar.

Eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (about 1 teaspoon of salt per day). Cut down on salt by reducing the amount of salt you add to food when eating. Also limit prepared foods that have salt added to them, such as canned soups and vegetables, cured meats, and some frozen meals. Always check the nutrition label for the sodium content per serving.

Exercise regularly. For example, walk for at least 30 minutes a day, in blocks of 10 minutes long or longer.

Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Women should have no more than one alcoholic drink per day. Men should not have more than two alcoholic drinks each day.

References

Heimburger DC . Nutrition's interface with health and disease. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 220.

Mosca L, Banka CL, Benjamin EJ, Berra K, Bushnell C, Dolor RJ, et al. Evidence-based guidelines for cardiovascular disease prevention in women: 2007 update. Circulation. 2007;115:1481-1501.

Mozaffarian D. Nutrition and cardiovascular disease. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald’s Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 48.

U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.

Updated: 7/16/2013

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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