Eat for a Healthy Heart


One of the major risk factors for heart disease is high blood cholesterol. Fortunately, high blood cholesterol levels can often be lowered by diet and exercise. A heart-healthy diet includes foods that are high in soluble fiber and low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Developing a healthier lifestyle that includes better eating habits may help you to maintain a healthy blood cholesterol level and lower your heart disease risk.

Dietary fiber includes soluble and insoluble fibers. Foods that contain soluble fibers include apples, oats, kidney beans and barley. Soluble fibers help reduce blood cholesterol levels by binding and removing bile acids (which are made from cholesterol) from your digestive tract. A byproduct of soluble fiber fermentation (propionate) may also inhibit new cholesterol synthesis by the liver. Insoluble fibers are the tough form of dietary fiber found in whole grains and vegetables. A role of insoluble fiber is to maintain your body’s natural elimination process.Eat-Healthy-Heart


Saturated fats and cholesterol are typically found in animal products. Foods high in saturated fats include fatty meats, whole milk, cheeses, ice cream and butter. An excellent way to reduce your saturated fat intake is to change from whole-milk products to either low-fat or nonfat products. Better yet, try substituting soymilk products for cows milk. Populations consuming higher amounts of soyfoods have a reduced risk of heart disease. The proteins and soluble fiber found in soy-based foods appear to have a cholesterol-lowering effect. Genistein, one of the isoflavones found in soybeans also inhibits plaque and blood clot formation. Because of these protective qualities and the fact that soybeans are low in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol, soyfoods can be part of a heart-healthy diet.

To limit your consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol, reduce your meat intake to no more than one 3-ounce serving of red meat (excluding organ meats) or two servings of lean meat, poultry, or fish per day. Also, when preparing your meats, trim all excess fat before cooking. Rethink the habit of centering every meal around meat. Try to move toward a more plant foods-based diet that includes modest amounts of lean meat, chicken and fish.

The American Heart Association has developed a set of dietary guidelines for a heart-healthy eating plan:

  • Total fat intake should be less than 30 percent of total calories (1 gram of fat = 9 calories)
  • Saturated fat intake should be less than 10 percent of total calories
  • Polyunsaturated fat intake should be no more than 10 percent of total calories
  • Monounsaturated fats should make up the rest of the total fat intake (10 to 15 percent of total calories)
  • Cholesterol intake should be no more than 300 milligrams per day
  • Sodium intake should be no more than 2400 milligrams (3 grams) per day

In addition to the above guidelines, try to eat 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day, with about 25 percent (6 to 9 grams) from soluble fiber. One source of information on soluble fiber, saturated fat, cholesterol, and the sodium content of foods is the food label found on all processed foods. Many times your grocer will also have nutrition information available for the fresh fruits and vegetables found in the produce section.

An excellent tool to help develop a heart-healthy eating plan is the Food Guide Pyramid. Remember, the key is to eat a balanced and varied plant-based diet high in soluble fiber, and low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

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