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Eating for a Healthy Heart

Ryane Greene, MHS, RD, LDN

Eating heart healthy means filling your plate with whole foods and eating less processed foods. When it comes to eating for a healthy heart, there are several nutrients to consider, either to eat frequently or to consume in moderation. By changing the way we eat, we can decrease our chances of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, along with other chronic diseases.

You have a variety of foods to choose from!
Eating healthy doesn’t have to be overwhelming and it doesn’t mean you are restricted from multiple foods. The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean Diet both outline heart healthy eating habits by focusing on eating more whole foods and less processed foods. Both diets suggest high intakes of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, legumes and nuts. Unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, and fish are highly recommended, while saturated fats and added sugarsare discouraged. Eating a variety of these foods help lower blood pressure because they contain nutrients like potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Eat more fiber rich foods!
Fiber rich foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. The daily recommendation of fiber is 25-30 grams a day. Fiber helps not only with lowering your cholesterol levels, but fiber helps to regulate normal blood sugars, improves bowel health, and makes you feel full longer which helps weight loss.

Choose leaner protein.
Poultry (without the skin), fish, legumes, nuts, seeds, and low-fat dairy are all good sources of lean protein. Opting for more plant-based proteins like legumes and soy products can help decrease heart disease because they are naturally cholesterol free and low in saturated fat.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines describe red meats as all forms of beef, pork, lamp, veal, goat and non-bird game (e.g. venison, bison, elk). Eat red meat and processed meats (sausage, bacon, luncheon meat, etc.) in moderation, one to two times a month.

Decrease your sodium intake.
According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the average person gets twice as much of the recommended sodium per day. Only 10% comes from using the saltshaker, and 77% comes from processed foods and eating out at restaurants. The CDC lists yeast breads, mixed chicken dishes, pasta dishes, pizza, and cold cuts as the foods that give Americans most of their sodium intake.

The recommended sodium intake is 2300 mg a day, but if you have high blood pressure, you should limit your sodium intake to 1500 mg a day. In order to limit sodium intake, one should eat more whole foods and limit processed food consumption. To have a better idea of your sodium intake, read nutrition labels on food packages and check the nutrition facts at restaurants before ordering. To make it easier, have a plan based on your sodium recommendations. For example, if your sodium recommendation is 2300 mg a day, break it down for three meals and two snacks (i.e. 633 mg of sodium per meal and 200 mg of sodium per snack). Snack ideas could be apple slices with peanut butter, low-fat cheese stick with ½ cup of grapes, or carrot sticks with hummus.

Limit saturated fat and cholesterol.
Saturated fat is one of the biggest culprits of heart disease, because saturated fat can raise your blood cholesterol. It is recommended to consume no more than 10% of your calories from saturated fat, which is 22 grams if consuming 2000 calories a day. However, if you have high cholesterol, limit saturated fat to no more than 11-13 grams per day. Fats that remain solid at room temperature (butter, lard, coconut oil and palm oil) are saturated fats. Saturated fats are listed on nutrition labels, so don’t forget to check the labels before making your purchase.

In addition, by reducing saturated fats, you lessen your chances of becoming insulin resistant and developing diabetes. If you already have diabetes, it’s extremely important to eat heart healthy because you’re at a greater risk for developing heart disease.

Cholesterol is found in animal based food sources. Daily intake should be 300 mg for average individuals and 200 mg for individuals with high cholesterol. Getting some of your protein from plant-based foods can help prevent high cholesterol.

Watch out for hidden sugar.
You can still enjoy sweet treats but they should be eaten in moderation. Read nutrition labels. Foods labeled low-sodium or low fat can sometimes contain added sugar for better taste. Look for ingredients like honey, molasses, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, and any word ending in -ose (dextrose, maltose, sucrose, etc.) to name a few. Daily sugar intake for men is 36 grams and 24 grams for women.

Don’t try to change everything all at once. Set one small goal at a time and after a while those small changes can lead to a greater success. 

  If you would like more information about the DASH diet visit

The content of Healthy In Onslow, Onslow Memorial Hospital and its affiliates, is not a substitute for medical advice.  We encourage you to please consult your primary care provider  before beginning any exercise program or nutrition plan,  especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have any medical condition, or are taking any medication.  We do not endorse the use of any specific product, service or business, including but not limited to supplements, meal replacement products, diet plans, exercise equipment, health and fitness businesses, etc.  The contents on our website are for informational purposes only, and are not intended to diagnose any medical condition, replace the advice of a healthcare professional, or provide any medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.


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