What Is a Heart-Healthy Diet?

Coconut, Punch

A heart-healthy diet is one that limits saturated fat, trans fat and dietary cholesterol while adding heart-healthy foods in an attempt to lower your blood cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, saturated fat should not exceed seven percent of your total calories, trans fat should not exceed one percent and cholesterol should be less than 300 milligrams.

Always check with your health professional for personalized advice.

  If You Are Eating Your Saturated Fat Intake Should Be No More Than Your Dietary Cholesterol Intake Should be Less Than  
2,000 calories 20 grams 300 milligrams
2,500 calories 28 grams 300 milligrams
2,800 calories 31 grams 300 milligrams

The strategy for minimizing your intake of these dietary components is fairly straightforward. In general, you need to eat lean and eat less (animal foods, that is).

  • Saturated fat is most abundantly found in fatty cuts of meat and in the skin on poultry, using leaner varieties of these foods and eating less by limiting your servings to approximately six ounces daily, will automatically reduce the saturated fat in your diet.
  • Dietary cholesterol is ONLY found in animal foods, keeping a six-ounce, upper limit on the amount of meat and poultry you eat daily will also harness the amount of dietary cholesterol you eat.
  • Trans fats are found in foods made with hydrogenated oils, and show up in commercially-baked goods, stick margarine, shortening and many fried foods.

While high-fat dairy foods such as whole milk, cheese, and many premium ice creams can provide a substantial amount of saturated fat as well as dietary cholesterol, using the low-fat and nonfat versions of these foods will dramatically reduce both of these dietary substances.

Foods from plant sources have negligible amounts of saturated fat and ALL are free of dietary cholesterol. Have a field day with plant-based grains, fruits and vegetables as long as you don't also need to restrict your daily calories to manage your weight. While palm, palm kernel, and coconut oils are the only foods from plant sources that are extremely high in saturated fat, all the other vegetable oils aren't. In fact, olive oil and canola oil are high in heart-healthy omega-3s.

There really isn't a downside to consuming a heart-healthy diet. While you need some unsaturated fat for a healthy diet, you don't need to eat a morsel of saturated fat or trans fat. Your daily dietary fat requirements can be easily met by enjoying foods that provide predominately heart healthy unsaturated fat, such as olive, canola, and soybean oils, nuts

The same good news holds true for dietary cholesterol. While cholesterol is needed in your body to make important substances, such as certain hormones and vitamin D, your body can make all the cholesterol that it needs. You don't have to rely on your diet to provide any cholesterol.