The first step in a heart-healthier lifestyle is a heart-healthy diet. Here are some guidelines to help you plan and personalize your diet:
1. Calories count.
Being overweight is one of the primary risk factors for heart disease, so be sure your calorie intake is appropriate to achieve and/or maintain a healthy weight.
2. Eat plenty of fiber.
A high fiber diet will help you control your weight (by controlling your appetite) and also can help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Twenty-five grams of fiber per day is the recommended minimum. Ideally, aim for 35-40 grams of fiber per day.
3. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain fiber but also are rich in antioxidant nutrients that help protect your heart. Eat at least five servings of colorful vegetables (such as carrots,tomatos, berries, and broccoli) to get a minimum of 100% of the daily recommended amounts of vitamin A, C, K.
4. Emphasize healthy fats.
A heart-healthy diet doesn't necessarily need to be a low-fat diet. A diet rich in monounsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and other risk factors. Monounsaturated fats are olive oil, avocadoes, and nuts such as almonds. Use these as your primary sources of fat.
5. Watch your sodium
A diet high in sodium can lead to high blood pressure. The USDA recommends limiting your sodium intake to 2300mg per day--but most Americans eat about twice that much. Those with high blood pressure are advised to reduce sodium to 1500mg a day. See also: Tips for reducing sodium.
6. Limit your intake of sweets and refined carbohydrates
Foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates (which includes many low-fat foods!) can create sharp spikes in blood sugar and ultimately increase your risk of both heart disease and diabetes. Choose whole grain foods whenever possible and consume sweets occasionally or not at all. For a naturally sweet treat, enjoy fresh fruit.