The foods you choose to eat can greatly impact your heart. That’s why it is important to follow a heart-healthy diet. Though adjusting unhealthy eating habits can be a challenge, once you know which types of foods to include in your diet and which foods to limit, you’ll be able to do it with ease. If you begin by making some small changes, it will be easier for you to maintain a heart-healthy diet with consistency, and you will experience long-term health benefits. Here are some ideas of how to start building a heart-healthy diet.



How much you eat is just as critical as what you eat when it comes to your heart health. So, it’s important to balance the portion sizes of the foods you eat for each meal. Eating smaller amounts of high-calorie, high-sodium foods like refined, processed, or fast foods leaves room for you to eat more low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods that are better for you. And while judging serving size is a learned skill that can take some practice, using measuring cups and spoons or a food scale is easy enough to do until you feel more comfortable assessing appropriate serving sizes as you shop and prepare meals.



Speaking of eating more nutrient-rich foods, consider increasing your intake of vegetables and fruits as snacks and to fill up at meals. Vegetables and fruits are great sources of the vitamins and minerals you need to maintain your health. They are low in calories, rich in dietary fiber, and contain substances that may help prevent heart disease. Eating more of them also may help you cut back on eating other less healthy foods because fruits and vegetables satisfy your hunger. Produce is a major part of a balanced, heart-healthy diet.



If your dietary health allows, also consider selecting healthy grain products for your diet. Whole grain products provide the greatest health benefits and are widely available, ranging from brown rice to buckwheat, from farro to freekeh. They are excellent sources of fiber and other important nutrients that play a key role in blood pressure regulation and overall heart health. You can increase the amount of whole grains in your diet by substituting them for refined grains.



Another key element of a heart-healthy diet is the limiting of unhealthy fats. Limiting the saturated and trans saturated fats in your diet is critical for reducing cholesterol and lowers your risk of developing coronary artery disease. Choosing monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, and polyunsaturated fats, like those found in things like avocados, nuts, and certain fish, is better for a heart-healthy diet. Relatedly, choosing low-fat sources of protein in your diet is also a good idea. (Lean meats, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and eggs are some of your best sources of protein here.) Low-fat options help reduce your fat and cholesterol intake while increasing your fiber intake—fundamental for maintaining a diet that benefits your heart health.



Reducing your salt intake is vital as well. Getting too much salt, commonly listed as sodium on food labels, can lead to bloating and severe thirst in the short term and high blood pressure in the long term, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Reducing the amount of salt you add to food at mealtimes or while preparing/cooking food is a good first step; but cutting back on canned or processed foods, such as soups, baked goods, frozen dinners, and condiments is even more essential because they contain a significant amount of the sodium in an average diet.


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Written by: Erika Mehlhaff