Your doctor may recommend heart-healthy eating, which should include:
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as skim milk
- Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and trout, about twice a week
- Fruits, such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, and prunes
- Legumes, such as kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans
- Vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and carrots
- Whole grains, such as oatmeal, brown rice, and corn tortillas
When following a heart-healthy diet, you should avoid eating:
- A lot of red meat
- Palm and coconut oils
- Sugary foods and beverages
Two nutrients in your diet make blood cholesterol levels rise:
- Saturated fat—found mostly in foods that come from animals
- Trans fat (trans fatty acids)—found in foods made with hydrogenated oils and fats, such as stick margarine; baked goods, such as cookies, cakes, and pies; crackers; frostings; and coffee creamers. Some trans fats also occur naturally in animal fats and meats.
Saturated fat raises your blood cholesterol more than anything else in your diet. When you follow a heart-healthy eating plan, only 5 percent to 6 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fat. Food labels list the amounts of saturated fat. To help you stay on track, here are some examples:
|If you eat:||
Try to eat no more than:
1,200 calories a day
8 grams of saturated fat a day
1,500 calories a day
10 grams of saturated fat a day
1,800 calories a day
12 grams of saturated fat a day
2,000 calories a day
13 grams of saturated fat a day
2,500 calories a day
17 grams of saturated fat a day
Not all fats are bad. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats actually help lower blood cholesterol levels. Some sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are:
- Corn, sunflower, and soybean oils
- Nuts and seeds, such as walnuts
- Olive, canola, peanut, safflower, and sesame oils
- Peanut butter
- Salmon and trout
Try to limit the amount of sodium that you eat. This means choosing and preparing foods that are lower in salt and sodium. Try to use low-sodium and “no added salt” foods and seasonings at the table or while cooking. Food labels tell you what you need to know about choosing foods that are lower in sodium. Try to eat no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. If you have high blood pressure, you may need to restrict your sodium intake even more.
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension
Your doctor may recommend the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan if you have high blood pressure. The DASH eating plan focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other foods that are heart healthy and low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium and salt.
The DASH eating plan is a good heart-healthy eating plan, even for those who don’t have high blood pressure. Read more about DASH.
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood. Alcohol also adds extra calories, which can cause weight gain.
Men should have no more than two drinks containing alcohol a day. Women should have no more than one drink containing alcohol a day. One drink is:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1½ ounces of liquor
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health and can lower your risk for coronary heart disease. Aim for a Healthy Weight by following a heart-healthy eating plan and keeping physically active.
Knowing your body mass index (BMI) helps you find out if you’re a healthy weight in relation to your height and gives an estimate of your total body fat. To figure out your BMI, check out the online BMI calculator on the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) website or talk to your doctor. A BMI:
- Below 18.5 is a sign that you are underweight.
- Between 18.5 and 24.9 is in the normal range.
- Between 25.0 and 29.9 is considered overweight.
- Of 30.0 or higher is considered obese.
A general goal to aim for is a BMI of less than 25. Your doctor or health care provider can help you set an appropriate BMI goal.
Measuring waist circumference helps screen for possible health risks. If most of your fat is around your waist rather than at your hips, you’re at a higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This risk may be high with a waist size that is greater than 35 inches for women or greater than 40 inches for men. To learn how to measure your waist, visit Assessing Your Weight and Health Risk.
If you’re overweight or obese, try to lose weight. A loss of just 3 percent to 5 percent of your current weight can lower your triglycerides, blood glucose, and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Greater amounts of weight loss can improve blood pressure readings, lower LDL cholesterol, and increase HDL cholesterol.
Routine physical activity can lower many risk factors for coronary heart disease, including LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, high blood pressure, and excess weight. Physical activity also can lower your risk for diabetes and raise your HDL (“good”) cholesterol that helps prevent coronary heart disease.
Everyone should try to participate in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week, or vigorous aerobic exercise for 1 hour and 15 minutes per week. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, is any exercise in which your heart beats faster and you use more oxygen than usual. The more active you are, the more you will benefit. Participate in aerobic exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time spread throughout the week.
Read more about physical activity at:
- Physical Activity and Your Heart
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
Talk with your doctor before you start a new exercise plan. Ask your doctor how much and what kinds of physical activity are safe for you.
All of Our Stories Are Red: Eileen's Story04/11/2014
Eileen was a two-pack-a-day smoker for 28 years. When she suffered a heart attack, the surgeon opened her chest and found a 98 percent blockage, and her arteries disintegrated. Eileen hasn't touched a cigarette since that day. Heart disease is preventable, and every woman has the power to lower her risk factors. For Eileen, every day she spends--as a volunteer firefighter and EMT, and with her son and grandsons--is a gift.
The Heart Truth is a national campaign for women about heart disease and is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The NHLBI "Grand Opportunity" Exome Sequencing Project05/16/2012
This video—presented by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health—discusses the NHLBI's Exome Sequencing Project. Made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, this project provided six awards at five academic institutions to identify genetic connections to heart, lung, and blood diseases. Individual studies will address critical health issues, such as heart attack, stroke, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, and others.