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Heart-Healthy Eating

Topic Overview

What is heart-healthy eating?

A heart-healthy eating plan is full of foods that can lower your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. This plan can help you stay at a healthy weight and manage cholesterol and blood pressure. It is part of a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes regular activity and not smoking.

You can choose from several eating plans to keep your heart healthy. They include the American Heart Association diet, DASH diet, Mediterranean diet, and MyPlate plan.

Heart-healthy eating is for everyone. It is not just for people who have heart problems or who are at a high risk for heart problems. Heart-healthy eating focuses on adding more healthy foods to your plan and cutting back on foods that aren't so good for you.

If you already have heart or blood vessel problems, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure, specific eating plans can help you manage those problems.

A few simple ideas
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables and other high-fiber foods.
  • Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
  • Eat at least two servings of fish each week. Oily fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, are best. These fish include salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, and sardines. If you cannot eat fish, you can also get omega-3 fats from omega-3 eggs, walnuts, flax seeds, and canola oil.
  • Limit sodium, alcohol, and sugar.

American Heart Association diet

The American Heart Association publishes heart-healthy diet guidelines for all adults and for children older than age 2.

To put these guidelines into action, see:

Click here to view an Actionset.Heart Disease: Eating a Heart-Healthy Diet.

DASH diet

The DASH diet is a good choice for people who have high blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Hypertension is high blood pressure.

For help with the DASH diet, see:

Click here to view an Actionset.High Blood Pressure: Using the DASH Diet.

To learn more, see a sample menu for the DASH diet.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

With the Dietary Guidelines for Americans plan, you enjoy your food but eat less. This plan recommends eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. You limit or avoid saturated fats, trans fats, and added sugars. These guidelines are from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

For more information, see the topic Dietary Guidelines for Good Health.

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet can also help lower cholesterol. It emphasizes fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high fiber breads and whole grains, nuts, and olive oil. Meats, cheese and sweets are limited.

For more information, see the topic Mediterranean Diet.

How do you choose a diet?

With so many different food plans and health tips, it can be confusing to know what's best for you and your heart.

A chart that compares heart-healthy dietschart that compares heart-healthy diets(What is a PDF document?) can help you see what foods are suggested in each plan.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • American Heart Association (2006). Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006. Circulation, 114(1): 82–96. [Erratum in Circulation, 114(1): e27.]
  • Eckel RH, et al. (2013). 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/11/11/01.cir.0000437740.48606.d1.citation. Accessed December 5, 2013.
  • Expert Panel on Integrated Guidelines for Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents (2011). Expert panel on integrated guidelines for cardiovascular health and risk reduction in children and adolescents: Summary report. Pediatrics, 128(Suppl 5): S213–S256.
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (2006). Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH (NIH Publication No. 06-4082). Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf.
  • Smith SC, et al. (2011). AHA/ACCF secondary prevention and risk reduction therapy for patients with coronary and other atherosclerotic vascular disease: 2011 update: A guideline from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology Foundation. Circulation, 124(22): 2458–2473. Also available online: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/124/22/2458.full.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Also available online: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical Reviewer Colleen Gobert, PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian
Current as of March 12, 2014

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