A Heart Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is one of your best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease.  Simple tips for a heart healthy diet can keep heart disease away!

  1. Stay away from the S’s! That means salt, sugar, starches, and saturated fats.

Sodium functions in the body to retain fluid, and as a result, raises blood pressure, which increases the demand on the heart. High blood pressure can lead to stroke and heart failure, in addition to increasing your risk for kidney disease, diabetes, and heart attacks.  Eating at home and preparing your own food is an easy way to control exactly how much salt you are eating. Also, look at the nutritional content on the back of each food item, and see how much sodium there is per serving. If you already have high blood pressure or heart failure, try to limit your to salt intake to 1500 milligrams (1.5 grams) daily. For everyone else, the USDA recommends 2300 milligrams (2.3 grams) daily.

A recent study found that US adults consume much more added sugar than what is recommended by the American Dietary Association guidelines, and this has dramatic effects on the risk of death from heart disease.  Added sugar is found in sweetened beverages such as lattes and frappucinos, juices, soft drinks, and mixed drinks. Be very careful of drinking sugar because these are empty calories that may taste good, but do nothing in terms of satisfying your appetite and may be placing you at increased risk for heart disease and diabetes.

The American diet is filled with starches and carbohydrates such as pasta, bagels, cereal, rice, French fries, mashed potatoes, pizza, and bread, and studies have shown that most US adults obtain more than 50% of their diet from these foods.  Starches are largely responsible for the obesity epidemic in this country, and increase your risk for diabetes and hypertension.  Limiting your intake on simple starches and carbohydrates is incredibly helpful for weight loss, but also for lowering your risk for heart disease.

Saturated fats are extremely dangerous because not only do they increase your risk for heart disease, they have also been linked to breast, colon, prostate, and pancreatic cancers! The ADA recommends that less than 10% of our daily caloric intake should come from saturated fats. Chose lean meats such as chicken breast (not fried), fish such as salmon or tuna, and pork (not bacon!) as healthy alternatives. Limit your use of butter, oils, and try to use small amounts of canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, or soybean oil instead. Also try to avoid heavy cream, cheese, and milks and substitute with reduced or fat-free daily products. Remember that much of the baked and processed foods that are out there are filled with saturated fats, and with salts, sugars, and starches as mentioned above.

  1. Eat chocolate!

Yes, small amounts of dark chocolate may actually improve your heart health. In fact, the flavonoids found in chocolate, red wine, and coffee may actually decrease blood pressure and have important effects on the vascular system by making blood platelets less able to clump together causing heart attack or stroke.  Of course this does not mean that its ok to eat chocolate cakes or sweets, filled with other sugary ingredients such as caramel and whipped crèmes. However small amounts of dark chocolate such as a 1-ounce portion size may be a sweet part of your new resolution to be heart healthy!

  1. Eat varied, nutrient rich foods

Nutrient-rich foods have minerals, protein, whole grains and other nutrients but are lower in calories. They may help you control your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.  Eat an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean skinless poultry and fish, and nuts and legumes.

Try this heart  healthy meal and feel good about what you are nourishing your body and hard-working heart with!

Sesame Brown Rice Salad With Shredded Chicken and Peanuts
From Cooking Light, June 2007


  • 1 cup long-grain brown rice
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/3 cup sliced green onions
  • 1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, divided
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

Cook rice according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Cook with plenty of water to prevent the rice from being sticky. Transfer rice to a large bowl; fluff with a fork. Cool. Add chicken, carrot, onions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, 2 teaspoons cilantro, and salt to rice; toss to combine.

Combine juice and remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle oil mixture over rice mixture; toss to combine. Place 1 1/2 cups salad on each of 4 plates. Sprinkle each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons remaining peanuts and 1/4 teaspoon remaining cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.


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