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Tips for a Heart-Healthy Diet

A diet that protects your heart can also help cut your risk for diabetes, stroke, and may even help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease! A heart-healthy diet may also improve your cholesterol.

Choosing Heart-Healthy Foods

A big part of eating a heart-healthy diet means knowing which foods to eat more of and which foods to avoid. It also means controlling your portion size, limiting fats and alcohol, and choosing nutrient-rich foods, such as:

Whole Grains

Eat: oatmeal, brown rice, whole-grain cereals, whole-grain pasta, whole-grain (including whole-wheat) bread, unbuttered popcorn

Avoid: foods made with enriched or all-purpose flour, such as muffins, doughnuts, biscuits, cakes, and pies; granola bars (may also be high in sugar), buttered popcorn, chips, cornbread

Fruits and Vegetables

Eat: fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables (without sauces), low-sodium and sodium-free canned vegetables, canned fruit packed in juice or water

Avoid: vegetables in cream or butter sauces, breaded vegetables, canned fruit packed in syrup, coconut products

Salt (sodium)

Eat: low-sodium, very-low-sodium, and sodium-free canned foods and prepared meals, reduced-sodium ketchup and soy sauce; use salt substitutes, herbs, and spices as seasoning

Avoid: frozen dinners, regular soy sauce, canned soups, table salt; check labels on reduced-sodium products, which may still be fairly high

Unsaturated Fats

Eat: unsaturated and trans fat-free foods, such as olives, olive and canola oils, cholesterol-free margarine and spreads, almonds, walnuts, and seeds

Avoid: butter, lard, bacon, cream sauce, gravy, nondairy creamers, cocoa butter, palm and coconut oils, and trans fats—any any foods that have “partially hydrogenated” oils in the ingredients list, such as vegetable shortening, margarine, cookies, crackers, or chips


Eat: nonfat or 1% milk, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, egg whites, soybean products, lean (85% or higher) ground meat, skinless chicken breasts, beans, lentils and peas, salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and herring

Avoid: full-fat milk and dairy products, liver, spareribs, cold cuts, frankfurters, sausage, bacon, fried or breaded or canned meats, marbled meats

Planning Heart-Healthy Meals

Plan your meals ahead of time to help ensure a healthy diet. Make a shopping list so that you have heart-healthy foods on hand. Consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian if you are not sure whether something is good or bad for your heart.

When you plan your meals, pay attention to cooking methods. Heart-healthy cooking techniques include roasting, steaming, broiling, or grilling instead of frying.

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