Your diet can play an important part in the development or worsening of heart and vascular disease

Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is an important part of maintaining a healthy heart. Your diet can contribute to important risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides, obesity and diabetes. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains can help you reduce your risk for heart disease.

A heart-healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease. It's not as hard as you may think! Remember, it's the overall pattern of your choices that counts. Make the simple steps below part of your life for long-term benefits to your health and your heart.

Calories and nutrients for heart health

The right number of calories to eat each day is based on your age and physical activity level and whether you're trying to gain, lose or maintain your weight

You could use your daily allotment of calories on a few high-calorie foods and beverages, but you probably wouldn't get the nutrients your body needs to be healthy. Limit foods and beverages high in calories but low in nutrients. Also, limit the amount of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium you eat to maintain a heart-healthy diet.

Read Nutrition Facts labels carefully—the Nutrition Facts panel tells you the amount of healthy and unhealthy nutrients in a food or beverage.

Nutrient-rich foods have vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but are lower in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help control your weight, cholesterol and your blood pressure—all important parts of a heart-healthy diet.

Eat a heart healthy diet

A diet that is healthy for your heart is low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Other healthy choices are to increase your intake of fiber and decrease how much sugar, sodium and salt you eat. By learning to read food labels, you can determine the amount of sodium, sugar or cholesterol in a product and make healthier food choices.

  • Fruits and vegetables: At least 4.5 cups a day
  • Fish (preferably oily fish): At least two 3.5-ounce servings a week
  • Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce-equivalent servings a day
  • Sodium: Less than 1,500 mg a day
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: No more than 450 calories (36 ounces) a week

Explore heart healthy choices

Additional heart-healthy diet recommendations

  • Meat, poultry, fish and dairy
    • Choose lean meats and poultry
    • Prepare without the skin and added saturated and trans fat
    • No more than two servings a week of processed meats
    • Select fat-free, 1% fat and low-fat dairy products.
    • Eat fish at least twice a week. Recent research shows that eating oily fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, trout and herring) may help lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease
  • Trans-fats and saturated fats
    • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans-fat in your diet.
    • To lower cholesterol, reduce saturated fat to no more than 5% to 6% of total calories. For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, that's about 13 grams of saturated fat.
  • Added sugars
    Cut back on beverages and food with added sugars.
  • Use little or no salt
    Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. To lower blood pressure, aim to eat no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day. Reducing daily intake to 1,500 mg is desirable, because it can lower blood pressure even further.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
    If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means one drink per day if you're a woman and two drinks per day if you're a man.
  • Follow portion sizes when you eat out
    Follow the American Heart Association recommendations when you eat out, and keep an eye on your portion sizes.

Being overweight increases your risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease

Your body is made up of water, fat, protein, carbohydrates and various vitamins and minerals. If you have too much fat—especially in your waist area—you're at a higher risk for high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

How do I lose weight?

The first step is to talk to your doctor. Based on your health and current abilities, he or she will recommend modest lifestyle changes related to diet and physical activity.

Physical activity is an important part of losing weight. It also improves insulin sensitivity and glycemic control. The amount of activity you begin with is up to you and your doctor, but the duration and frequency should generally increase to at least 30 to 45 minutes of moderate aerobic activity at least three to five times a week, or more. Greater levels may be required to achieve long-term weight loss.

Find weight management tips

Meet with a registered, licensed dietitian and discuss how to best manage your particular health concern with nutrition

Nutrition Services offers outpatient nutrition counseling to help you manage heart disease and improve your diet.

Your doctor may refer you to this outpatient service or you may schedule a consultation call.

Find a registered, licensed dietitian near you

Healthy recipes

Download these heart healthy recipes for easy meal time options.