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Heart Healthy

What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease (also referred to as heart disease) is a term that encompasses many conditions of the heart, all of which affect the heart's ability to fill with blood or pump blood to the rest of the body.

  • Hypertension: also known as high blood pressure. High blood pressure is known as a "silent killer" because it is often undiagnosed, especially in its early stages.
  • Atherosclerosis: thickening of the blood vessels due to plaque build up
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD): narrowing of the blood vessels, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
  • Peripheral vascular disease (PVD): condition of all vessels except specific coronary vessels
  • Congestive heart failure (CHF): heart's inability to eject blood from the heart or fill with blood
  • Dyslipidemia: altered lipid profile that increases the risk for atherosclerotic development
  • Ischemic heart disease (IHD): inadequate blood supply to the heart
  • Angina: chest pain due to inadequate oxygen supply to the heart

If you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions, your doctor may have advised you to follow a heart healthy diet.

How is cardiovascular disease prevented?

You can lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and slow the progression of current cardiovascular disease by making simple lifestyle changes. Following a heart healthy diet, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco products and managing stress can all be used as prevention and treatment options for cardiovascular disease.

How can nutrition help?

Heart healthy nutrition along with a healthy lifestyle can help you prevent cardiovascular disease and improve your lipid profile (cholesterol and triglyceride levels). The foods recommended on a heart healthy eating plan can help you achieve a healthy weight, reduce your LDL or "bad" cholesterol some can even help improve your HDL or "good" cholesterol.

What are the nutrition guidelines?

Limit saturated and trans fat

Saturated and trans fats have both been linked to cardiovascular disease. Research has shown that these two fats can increase total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol. Limit sources of saturated fat, which include high-fat meats, poultry skin, whole milk, cream and butter and avoid trans fat, which is found in stick margarine, shortening, fried foods, products made with hydrogenated oils

Limit dietary cholesterol to 200 milligrams (mg) or less per day

Although research is pending regarding dietary cholesterol and heart health, it is still recommended to reduce your total cholesterol intake to 200 milligrams or less per day. Sources include egg yolk (limit 3 per week), fatty meat, whole milk, cheese, shrimp, lobster and crab.

Eat more omega-3 fats

Unlike saturated and trans fat, omega-3 monounsaturated fats are good for you heart. Omega 3's have been shown to help lower cholesterol, lower high blood pressure and help prevent heart disease. Aim to eat fish 2 to 3 times per week and also include more walnuts, canola oil and olive oil.

Increase fiber

Fiber is an essential component in a heart healthy meal plan. Fiber helps remove excess cholesterol, and it can also help with weight management. Aim to eat 20-30 grams per day by including breads with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving and cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Make it your goal to incorporate legumes, whole grains and five to nine servings for fruits and veggies each day.

Reduce sodium

Sodium affects your blood pressure by holding on to extra water, which in turn makes your heart work harder. Choose products that fit into a 2000 milligram plan. This means choosing products that contain less than 300 milligrams of sodium per serving and putting down the salt shaker.


  • Read food labels: concentrate on lowering total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. Increase fiber, vitamins and minerals
  • Select lean cuts of meat including "loin" and "round"
  • Bake, broil, roast, stew or stir-fry lean meats instead of frying
  • Eat fish at least two times per week
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Use heart healthy olive oil, canola oil or margarine in place of butter
  • Choose products with 300 mg of sodium or less per serving
  • Look for products made with "whole grain" or "whole wheat"
  • Choose breads that contain at least 2 grams of fiber per serving

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