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American Heart Association Cardiac Diet

By Michael R. Peluso, Ph.D. ; Updated August 14, 2017

Heart disease is still the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. The American Heart Association has outlined several steps that you can take to lower your heart disease risk. These include abstaining from smoking, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy body weight and managing your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels. Eating a heart-healthy diet can help control your body weight and blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose, and it is a good frontline defense against cardiovascular disease.

Heart-Healthy Foods

An AHA-endorsed heart-healthy diet contains relatively low-calorie foods rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. It is not a fad diet and includes all major food groups for balanced nutrition. Specifically, eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fatty ocean fish such as salmon or herring each week supplies you with omega-3 fatty acids that can lower your heart disease risk. Eating at least three 1-ounce servings of fiber-rich whole-grain foods every day can help control your weight and cholesterol levels. You also need at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day and four servings of nuts, legumes and seeds every week.

Unhealthy Food Limits

Controlling your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose involves lowering your intake of unhealthy foods. Limit your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages to fewer than 450 calories, or 36 ounces, per week and limit your sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams per day. Choose lean meats and fat-free or low-fat dairy products to reduce your saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of your daily total calorie intake. Limit your cholesterol intake to fewer than 300 milligrams a day, and try to avoid foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which contain unhealthy trans fats.

Grocery Shopping

Following a heart-healthy nutritional plan begins with the foods you choose at the grocery store. If possible, buy fresh fruits and vegetables, as they do not contain added sugar or salt. If you buy canned produce, be sure to strain it with water to remove any excess sugars or salt used to preserve the fruits or vegetables. Whole fruits are a better choice than fiber-depleted fruit juices. Choose “choice” or “select” grades of beef instead of higher-fat “prime” grades, and strive to buy whole-grain instead of refined-grain products. Read food labels. The ingredient list contains each ingredient in the order of its abundance in the product. The label also contains information such as calories, nutrient values and cholesterol, sodium and saturated fat contents.

Food Preparation

Eating at home is usually cheaper, and it gives you better control over what you eat and the way it is prepared. Choose vegetable oils such as canola and olive oil for a cooking medium. They are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which are less likely than polyunsaturated fats to oxidize and degrade when heated. Avoid deep-frying with vegetable oils. Roasting, broiling and baking are healthier low-fat alternative cooking methods. Eat fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible. Instead of boiling in water, lightly steam vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower to retain their nutritional value. When dining out, research and choose restaurants with heart-healthy selections on their menus.

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