Choose Heart-Healthy Foods - 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 and trans 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. Visit our Delicious Heart-Healthy Eating page for recipes, cooking tips, and more.

Foods to eat
- Heart-Healthy Living - Choose Heart-Healthy Foods

The following 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
    • Eggs
    • 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)
    • Avocados
    • Tofu

Foods to limit
- Heart-Healthy Living - Choose Heart-Healthy Foods

A heart-healthy eating plan limits sodium (salt), saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and alcohol. Understanding nutrition labels can help you choose healthier foods. Visit How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to learn more.

Limit sodium

Adults and children over age 14 should eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium 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 doctor or healthcare provider about what amount of sodium 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.

For more ways to limit your sodium, visit Living With the DASH Eating Plan or print this handout, Tips to Reduce Salt and Sodium.

Limit saturated fats

Saturated or “bad” fats come from animal sources such as butter, cheese, and fatty meats and should make up less than 10% of your daily calories. Read food labels and choose foods that are lower in these fats and higher in unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are also known as “good” fats and are found in vegetable oils and nuts.

Limit saturated fats by:

  • Eating leaner, lower-fat, and skinless meats instead of fatty cuts of meat and chicken with skin.
  • Consuming lower-fat dairy products instead of whole-milk.
  • Using certain vegetable oils (such as olive and canola oil) instead of butter, lard, and coconut and palm oils.

Learn more about limiting saturated fat from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

Limit trans fats

Limit trans fats as much as possible by:

  • Limiting foods high in trans fats. This includes foods made with partially hydrogenated oils such as some desserts, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, stick margarines, and coffee creamers.
  • Reading the nutrition labels and choosing foods that do not contain trans fats.

Dairy products and meats naturally contain very small amounts of trans fats. You do not need to avoid these foods because they have other important nutrients.

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 by:

  • Choosing drinks without added sugar such as water, low-fat or fat-free milk, or 100% vegetable juice.
  • Choosing unsweetened foods for snacks or dessert.
  • Eating sweetened drinks, snacks, and desserts less often and in smaller amounts.

Limit alcohol

Talk to your doctor about how much alcohol you drink. Your doctor 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 triglyceride 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.

Read the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to learn about what is considered one alcoholic drink and how calories vary by drink.

How much should you eat?
- Heart-Healthy Living - Choose Heart-Healthy Foods

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 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for more information about healthy eating and to read about their recommendations for the following healthy eating patterns.