A healthy diet is one of the best ways to combat heart disease. And including healthier choices in your diet isn’t hard, since there are lots of delicious heart-healthy foods available, including whole grain breads, fruit, vegetables, fish, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and even chocolate. There are also some things you should avoid—or avoid too much of. Below are 10 tips to help you get on the path to a more heart-healthy diet.
- Eat Fish Regularly
Omega-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA) that are found naturally in fish can provide numerous cardiovascular benefits, including reducing blood triglycerides, reducing blood clotting and regulating heart rhythms.
- Include Lycopene-Rich Foods in Your Diet
Lycopene is a plant nutrient that has been associated with reducing the risk of heart disease. There is lots of lycopene in tomato products (particularly cooked ones), pink grapefruit and watermelon.
- Eat the Right Kinds of Fat
Aim for a balance of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Research indicates that both types have benefits, including reducing the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. Try choosing extra virgin olive oil or canola oil instead of butter or margarine, and natural peanut butter rather than the kind with hydrogenated fat added. Also, almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts are good sources of healthy fat and make for easy snacks.
- Eat Plenty of Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
In general, richly colored fruits and vegetables contain lots of helpful plant nutrients, and many have been shown to help protect against heart disease, among other health conditions.
- Include Plenty of Fiber in Your Diet
A diet high in both soluble and insoluble fiber can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Soluble fiber, in particular, helps lower cholesterol levels. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats, oat bran, fruits (such as apples, pears, citrus fruits and berries), vegetables, (like carrots, cabbage and sweet potatoes) and legumes. Insoluble fiber is found in grain products like whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas.
- Eat Chocolate—in Moderation
Milk chocolate, dark chocolate and bittersweet chocolate all contain a unique kind of saturated fat — stearic acid — that doesn’t raise blood cholesterol levels, and dark chocolate is also a good source of substances called antioxidants that are helpful in combating heart disease and other health problems. But chocolate also contains added sugars and caffeine , which should be consumed in limited portions (see below), so don’t eat too much.
- Try the DASH Eating Plan
“DASH” stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” The DASH diet is low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, and rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts. In addition to helping with hypertension, the DASH diet may also help lower cholesterol. Learn more about the DASH Eating Plan.
- Reduce Salt
Salt makes the body retain fluid, which can strain the heart. This can lead to increased blood pressure and added burden on your heart muscle. Try replacing added salt in your diet with fresh or dried herbs, lemon, onion or no-salt seasonings. Get ideas for other tasty salt substitutes.
- Limit Caffeine
While there isn’t a consensus on the effects coffee can have on your heart, many experts recommend limiting caffeine intake to the equivalent of no more than three or four cups of coffee a day. But remember that other foods and drinks, such as tea, chocolate and many soft drinks, also contain caffeine and factor these into your daily total as well.
- Curb Added Sugars
More than sugars found naturally in fruit and dairy products, added sugars are associated with elevated bad cholesterol and triglycerides and low good cholesterol, which increase the risk of heart disease.
If you are a woman who thinks you may be at a higher risk of developing heart disease, call 404-778-7777 to schedule a comprehensive cardiovascular risk assessment with an Emory Women’s Heart Center specialist.
About Dr. Cutchins
Alexis Cutchins, MD is an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Cutchins completed medical school at Emory University School of Medicine before going to New York Presbyterian Hospital for her internship and residency in internal medicine. She completed an NIH-supported research fellowship in vascular biology and a clinical fellowship in cardiovascular diseases at the University of Virginia in 2012. She has a special interest in heart disease in women, in addition to heart disease prevention and risk reduction in cardiology patients.
About the Emory Women’s Heart Center
Emory Women’s Heart Center is a unique program dedicated to screening for, preventing and treating heart disease in women. The Center, led by nationally renowned cardiologist Gina Price Lundberg, MD , provides comprehensive cardiac risk assessments and screenings for patients at risk for heart disease, as well as a full range of treatment options for women already diagnosed with heart disease. Call 404-778-7777 to schedule a comprehensive cardiac screening and find out if you are at risk for heart disease.