What Makes a Heart-Healthy Food?

There’s a lot more to heart health than just cutting out junk food.

February 15, 2022

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heart-healthy food

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Blueberries and one Strawberry in a heart shaped bowl

Photo by: Wavebreakmedia Ltd

Wavebreakmedia Ltd

There’s a lot more to heart health than just cutting out junk food. Keeping your heart healthy means managing stress levels, keeping blood pressure in check and getting enough sleep in addition to eating well. Eating for a healthy heart means cutting back on certain foods and making sure you’re getting enough of others. While diet alone isn't the quick fix to ensuring heart health, it is a great place to start. Here's what to know about what makes a heart-healthy food and how to get more of them in your diet.

Foods to Limit for Heart Health

Saturated Fats – Butter, high-fat meats, coconut, palm oil, fried foods and full-fat dairy products are just some of the places you'll find saturated fats. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 7 percent of calories should come from saturated fat. That's about 16 grams on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Trans Fasts - Processed foods once used high amounts of hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats) to improve texture and increase shelf life, but science has taught us they're even worse for your heart than saturated fats. For this reason, with guidance from the WHO, trans fats have been banned from food manufacturing. It continues to be an arduous process, but certainly worth it for heart health.

Cholesterol (but not really) - Dietary cholesterol (what’s found in food) differs from the blood cholesterol levels seen on lab tests. As mentioned above, a diet too high in saturated fat is the primary culprit for increasing LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. There are some foods that are high in both saturated fat and cholesterol and those should be avoided but foods like shrimp and eggs that are low in saturated fat are not as concerning.

High Sodium Foods - High-sodium foods like salty snacks, restaurant and processed foods packaged foods can aggravate blood pressure. Keep your intake below 2,300 milligrams per day (or 1,500 milligrams if you've already been diagnosed with high blood pressure). Following the DASH diet can also be a beneficial way to help keep your sodium intake and blood pressure in check.

Foods to Eat More of for Heart Health

Fruits & Veggies – Low in calories but full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, you can never go wrong with adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet. If you're looking for new ways to try more plants, consider trying out plant-based meals and smoothies at least once a week.

Soluble Fiber – Soluble fiber is the type of fiber that's incredible for your body. It can help lower LDL cholesterol, keeps you feeling fuller longer and can contribute to better digestion (yay for gut health). This type of fiber found in many foods you likely eat regularly like oats, beans, lentils and carrots.

Omega-3 Fats – The majority of Americans don’t get enough of this essential nutrient. Omega-3 plays a major role in overall wellness and mental health. It's important for brain health and may even contribute to stress reduction — also important for heart health. Dig into salmon, tuna, walnuts, chia, flax and sardines on a regular basis.

Heart-Healthy Recipes to Try

These recipes all have less than 400 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat and 60 milligrams of cholesterol per serving.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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