Heart-Healthy Living Choose Heart-Healthy Foods
Heart-healthy eating involves choosing certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables, while limiting others, such as saturated fats and added sugars.
Your doctor may recommend the heart-healthy Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan because it has been proven to lower high blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood. See Delicious Heart-Healthy Eating for recipes, cooking tips, and more information.
Foods to eat
These foods are the foundation of a heart-healthy eating plan.
- Vegetables such as leafy greens (spinach, collard greens, kale, cabbage), broccoli, and carrots
- Fruits such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes, and prunes
- Whole grains such as plain oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain bread or tortillas
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy foods such as milk, cheese, or yogurt
- Protein-rich foods:
- Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, and trout)
- Lean meats such as 95% lean ground beef or pork tenderloin or skinless chicken or turkey
- Nuts, seeds, and soy products (tofu)
- Legumes such as kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans
- Oils and foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats:
- Canola, corn, olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower, and soybean oils (not coconut or palm oil)
- Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, and pine nuts
- Nut and seed butters
- Salmon and trout
- Seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, or flax)
Foods to limit
A heart-healthy eating plan limits sodium (salt), saturated fat, added sugars, and alcohol. Understanding nutrition labels can help you choose healthier foods.
Adults and children over age 14 should eat less than 2,300 milligrams of a day. Children younger than age 14 may need to eat even less sodium each day based on their sex and age. If you have high blood pressure, you may need to limit sodium even more. Talk to your healthcare provider about the amount of sodium that is right for you or your child.
Try these shopping and cooking tips to help you choose and prepare foods that are lower in sodium:
- Read food labels and choose products that have less sodium for the same serving size.
- Choose low-sodium, reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added products.
- Choose fresh, frozen, or no-salt-added foods instead of pre-seasoned, sauce-marinated, brined, or processed meats, poultry, and vegetables.
- Eat at home more often so you can cook food from scratch, which will allow you to control the amount of sodium in your meals.
- Flavor foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.
- When cooking, limit your use of premade sauces, mixes, and instant products such as rice, noodles, and ready-made pasta.
Limit saturated fats
Saturated or “bad” fats come from animal sources such as butter, cheese, and fatty meats. They should make up less than 10% of your daily calories. Unsaturated fats are also known as “good” fats and are found in vegetable oils and nuts.
Read food labels and choose foods that are lower in saturated fats and higher in unsaturated fats.
- Eat leaner, lower-fat, and skinless meats instead of fatty cuts of meat and chicken with skin.
- Consume lower-fat dairy products instead of whole-milk.
- Use certain vegetable oils (such as olive and canola oil) instead of butter, lard, and coconut and palm oils.
Limit added sugars
You should limit the amount of calories you get each day from added sugars. This will help you choose nutrient-rich foods and stay within your daily calorie limit.
Some foods, such as fruit, contain natural sugars. Added sugars do not occur naturally in foods but instead are used to sweeten foods and drinks. They include brown sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, raw sugar, and sucrose.
In the United States, sweetened drinks, snacks, and sweets are the major sources of added sugars.
- Sweetened drinks include soft drinks or sodas, fruit drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks, alcoholic drinks, and favored waters. Sweetened drinks account for about half of all added sugars consumed.
- Snacks and sweets include grain-based desserts such as cakes, pies, cookies, brownies, doughnuts; dairy desserts such as ice cream, frozen desserts, and pudding; candies; sugars; jams; syrups; and sweet toppings.
Lower how much sugar you eat or drink.
- Choose drinks without added sugar such as water, low-fat or fat-free milk, or 100% vegetable juice.
- Choose unsweetened foods for snacks or dessert.
- Eat sweetened drinks, snacks, and desserts less often and in smaller amounts.
Talk to your healthcare provider about how much alcohol you drink. They may recommend that you reduce the amount of alcohol you drink or that you stop drinking alcohol. Alcohol can:
- Add calories to your daily diet and possibly cause you to gain weight
- Raise your blood pressure and levels of fats in your blood
- Contribute to or worsen heart failure in some people, such as some people who have cardiomyopathy
- Raise your risk of other diseases such as cancer
If you do not drink, you should not start. You should not drink if you are pregnant, are under the age of 21, taking certain medicines, or if you have certain medical conditions, including heart failure.
How much should you eat?
You should eat the right amount of calories for your body, which will vary based on your sex, age, and physical activity level. Remember that some healthy foods, including oils and dairy, can still have a lot of calories. Some fruits can have a lot of natural sugar, especially when they are dried. Develop a personalized food plan at Get Your MyPlate Plan.
You can visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has information about healthy eating and recommendations for healthy eating patterns.