Heart-healthy diet tips may only mean making small adjustments to what you eat.
A heart-friendly diet includes more than the incorporation of healthy fats alone. It also involves a different way of eating and of preparing meals.
As a whole, following a heart-healthy diet doesn’t necessarily mean you have to radically cut out all your eating habits or your favorite dish. Pile on the veggies, have some fruit, beware of hidden fats, and remember that physical activity is an integral part of a heart-friendly lifestyle.
After all, many popular dishes can be perfectly incorporated into a heart-friendly menu and diet with a different preparation.
Below, you’ll discover all about heart-healthy diet tips so you can start putting these helpful guidelines and insights into practice yourself.
Table of Contents
- 1 Heart-healthy diet tips: Introduction
- 2 Essential elements of a heart-healthy diet
- 3 Tips to prevent heart disease
- 3.1 Moderate chocolate, candy, and cookies
- 3.2 Don’t overdo it with alcohol
- 3.3 Be careful with cholesterol bombs
- 3.4 Opt for more fish and meat substitutes
- 3.5 Keep your weight under control
- 3.6 Fat is possible but in limited amounts
- 3.7 Choose healthy fats
- 3.8 Do not use too much salt
- 3.9 Utilize more high-fiber products and starches
- 3.10 Benefit from a soy product every day
- 4 Heart-healthy diet tips: Conclusion
Heart-healthy diet tips: Introduction
We cover the essential elements of a heart-friendly diet, give some heart-healthy diet tips, dwell on good and bad fats, and address the dangers of cholesterol bombs.
The dangers of salt and obesity are also addressed and we’ll explain how soy also comes into play as an element of a heart-friendly diet.
Essential elements of a heart-healthy diet
Listed below are all the foods we need as heart-healthy diet tips:
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are among the staples of the heart-friendly diet.
Try to eat 2 to 3 pieces of fruit every day and about 10 to 11 ounces of vegetables.
Eating too much fruit (more than 2 to 3 pieces a day) is not recommended because it brings an overload of fructose, the so-called sugar from fruit.
Half of your plate should be vegetables when you’re having a hot meal.
Fruit juice is definitely not a suitable alternative to fresh fruit for overweight people. In other words, the advice that a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice would be equivalent to eating 2 oranges is incorrect.
After all, via the juice, you get much less fiber (via the pulp) than when you eat the fruit itself. In addition, you only absorb more fast sugars.
It is also better to eat unpeeled fruits when possible. Examples of fruits that are better eaten with the skin are the following:
This ensures the intake of additional fiber.
You do need to make sure that you wash your fruits well with warm water beforehand.
Indeed, many fruits are covered with a kind of fatty layer (from insecticides) that it is best to remove before eating them.
Ten to eleven ounces of vegetables a day seems like quite a lot for one meal. Still, you can easily accommodate that by eating vegetables with your lunch, a small salad, or a nice fresh vegetable soup.
With soup, be careful not to overcook the vegetables! Because if you cook vegetables for too long, too many vitamins and minerals are lost due to oxidation.
Daily fluid intake is also vital in the context of a heart-friendly diet.
The general rule is to drink 0.4 to 0.5 gallons of fluid every day.
Those who are really not water drinkers may substitute with other liquids such as soy milk, tea, soup, coffee, broth, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk.
Fish, meat, eggs, and meat substitutes
For this food group, it is crucial to choose meats that are not fatty and limit the amount to about 3.5 to 5.5 ounces per day.
Dairy products and soy products
In terms of dairy products and calcium-enriched soy products, 3 to 4 servings per day are recommended, and about 1 to 2 slices of cheese.
Whole milk products are not recommended for a heart-friendly diet.
With semi-skimmed milk, the fat content is 1.5 percent, while the fat content of whole milk rises to about 3.5 percent, so opt for skimmed or semi-skimmed varieties and do not use whole milk products!
The fat from milk is an animal and saturated fat, so it is definitely not cholesterol friendly.
Skimmed cheeses are also better than the fatty, creamy versions based on whole milk for this reason.
The best way to verify this is to check the fat content of the cheese on the label. Also, be sure to watch out for potentially misleading messages on packaging.
For example, some cheeses use the title Light because they add less salt, for example. So it comes down to really checking the fat level!
In this area, a good rule of thumb is the following: For hard cheeses (sliced cheese), the fat content may not exceed 20 percent, and for soft cheeses, it may not exceed 15 percent.
A mention of the term skimmed on the label does not always mean that in reality! This is the case for certain foods such as cheese spread, among others, because these so-called skimmed versions contain even more fat than whole milk in some cases!
It is not a big problem if you use such a cheese spread only as a sandwich filling and thus eat little of it. But, of course, it does pose a big problem if you really start eating this as an alternative to low-fat yogurt.
Starch sources are foods such as pasta, cereal products, breakfast cereals, potatoes, rice, etc.
Not all breakfast cereals are equally healthy, and quite a few are too high in sugars and fats.
Whole grain breakfast cereals are definitely preferred.
An important guideline is to pay attention to the starch-sugar ratio indicated on the nutrition label.
Suitable breakfast cereals, for example, contain more starch (or slow carbohydrates) than sugar (fast carbohydrates).
Furthermore, you should note that such breakfast cereals contain a minimum of 6 grams of fiber per 100 grams and a maximum of 12 percent fat.
Finally, an important tip: Multigrain is not the same as whole wheat or whole grain:
- Multigrain just means that multiple grains are used, but even these can be highly refined so that there is little or no fiber in them.
- On the other hand, whole grain means using whole grains, which logically contain a lot of fiber. So, in any case, choose whole grain or whole wheat!
Physical activity is an integral part of heart-healthy diet tips, even if it’s not about food.
Adults should get at least 30 to 45 minutes of active exercise daily.
The bar is set a bit higher for children and adolescents, at least an hour of physical activity daily.
This can include sports, either individual (tennis) or club-based (basketball or American football, for example). Still, other activities can also be considered, such as working in the garden, walking, swimming, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, cycling training, etc.
Those with little time, by the way, can get creative. For example, it is better to exercise at least 30 minutes daily than only once a week for 2 hours.
Tips to prevent heart disease
These treats are the biggest temptations for many and are best consumed in minimal amounts.
Not only for the high sugar and calorie content but also because these treats contain the wrong fats.
The cocoa butter in chocolate, for example, is among the saturated unhealthy fats. Also, in cookies, we find primarily hard vegetable fats or sometimes even trans fatty acids.
Conclusion: Variety in diet is a must to keep it tasty and interesting and absorb as many diverse nutrients as possible.
Don’t overdo it with alcohol
Drink mostly water or other alternatives.
Alcohol consumed in moderation is certainly allowed (but not required) and can have a beneficial effect.
For men, the guideline is a maximum of 2 to 3 glasses (units) per day, and for women, it is a maximum of 1 to 2 glasses per day.
Excessive consumption of wine and other alcoholic beverages can promote high blood pressure and feed useless extra calories.
Moreover, it can encourage alcohol addiction and alcoholic liver disease, so be careful with alcohol and definitely don’t overdo it!
Be careful with cholesterol bombs
Several foods are outright cholesterol bombs.
So those who are sensitive to excess cholesterol levels really need to take extra care when consuming these foods. Its use should then best be limited.
Specifically, egg yolks (a maximum of two eggs per week on your plate or in a dish is the guideline).
The same is true, by the way, of the somewhat lower-cholesterol omega 3 eggs or the so-called Columbus eggs.
These are the product of chickens that are specially fed algae, among other things, to reduce cholesterol production.
As a result, these eggs bring a little less cholesterol than those from regular free-range chickens. Still, an egg every day is definitely not a good idea!
Other cholesterol bombs are organ meats such as brains, kidneys, liver, blood sausage, liver pate, sweetbreads, and so on) and certain seafood such as crab, shrimp, lobster, or scallops.
That last group of seafood does come with a side note. Delicacies such as shrimp or lobster are generally not eaten in large quantities but rather in small portions.
Therefore, these products can certainly remain on the menu with some common sense. Just don’t overdo it is the message.
Mussels and oysters are not included in this group because they are more likely to bring good HDL cholesterol!
Opt for more fish and meat substitutes
Fish fats such as the omega 3 fatty acids are among the good fats.
It is ideal to put fish on the menu twice a week, and that may be once lean and once an oily fish.
Choose fresh fish and avoid fish salads or canned fish. These are often canned in oil, and if it is palm oil, it is not a heart-friendly choice.
By the way, the label does not always state the exact oil used.
Many tasty alternatives are available for sandwich fillings to replace the classic charcuterie with heart-friendly goodies.
Examples of alternative sandwich fillings include the following:
- Vegetables such as carrots, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, radish, cauliflower, etc.
- Fruits such as banana slices, applesauce, pear or apple slices, melon or strawberry slices, and so on
- Low-fat vegetarian sandwich filling (be sure to check the label for this)
The occasional vegetarian meal is definitely OK
By the way, incorporating a vegetarian meal regularly is also a good idea.
Meat and fish can be replaced with various combinations of:
- Soy products such as tempeh, tofu, etc.
- Legumes such as dry peas, chickpeas, lentils, white beans, etc.
- Grain products
Ready-made vegetarian dishes with low-fat content (check the packaging) can also be a good alternative!
Keep your weight under control
Obesity can be at the root of sleep problems and many other health problems including cardiovascular disease.
Tip: Learn how heart-healthy foods can limit your risk of cardiovascular disease in our other article Heart-Healthy Foods to Reduce Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes and Tumors
Watching your weight is therefore highly recommended if you are going to adopt and implement a heart-friendly diet and you can specifically address this by ensuring you don’t overeat portions.
Serve your meal on smaller plates because you spoon less food on them, and your plate immediately seems well-filled too.
Also, be careful with sugary foods, alcohol, fried foods, pastries, sweet spreads, sugary soft drinks, cookies, potato chips, and fatty foods that add many empty calories.
Fat is possible but in limited amounts
Grease and cooking fats do not have to be banished from your daily kitchen but do try to reduce their use, both for spreading on your sandwiches and preparing hot meals.
Choose lean meats, cheeses, and dairy products as a heart-healthy diet tip.
Are you tempted by a specific type of prepared meat? Then replace the pork version with a poultry or veal version.
Remember that breaded edibles will soak up much more fat when fried than non-breaded ones. So when frying, do not add too much cooking fat if you are going to fry a piece of lean meat with a breaded coating.
Lean meats include poultry, steak, veal, pork tenderloin, etc.
Also, be careful with various lean meats that unfortunately feature a thick fat rim. Examples include sirloin steak, ham, and tournedos). This fat edge is best not eaten.
By the way, this also applies to chicken! Chicken can be fried on the skin, but be careful not to eat the fried skin itself with it (even though this is the most delicious, according to many people).
Pork tenderloin or pork mignonette can also be considered a lean meat.
Replacing fatty meat is the biggest obstacle
When switching to a heart-friendly diet, limiting and properly replacing fatty meats and spreads with lean varieties remains the most challenging obstacle for most people.
This is evidenced by the practical experience of numerous specialist dietitians.
But make no mistake because it is perfectly possible to turn lean meat dishes into something delicious with some simple, practical interventions.
Those who enjoy meat preparations, for example, can make them more heart-friendly by making some of them themselves or ordering them from the local butcher.
For example, you can make your own burgers based on a mixture of prepared chopped steak.
You can also ask the butcher to pure grind your meat or buy yourself a small meat grinder.
This way, you can be sure that nothing is added incorrectly to the meat that ends up on your plate.
Finally, a lot of fat is literally and figuratively hidden in places we don’t immediately expect it.
You can find those hidden fats in cookies, pastries, potato chips, fatty snacks, etc. Such saturated fats (or even trans fatty acids) are best left out as much as possible.
Choose healthy fats
Heart-healthy diet tips include fats and which ones to choose.
Healthy fats tend to be just as tasty, and they bring less saturated fat.
There are plenty of healthy alternatives for both spreading and preparing sandwiches.
The general rule of thumb is that soft fats, which are spreadable or liquid from the refrigerator, are better.
And fats that come out of the fridge hard contain more saturated fat (or formerly trans fatty acids), which is worse for our health.
Those struggling with excessively high cholesterol can also opt for fats enriched with plant sterols or stanols.
You must use enough of this to get the cholesterol-lowering effect.
A low-fat spread (such as minarine) and low in saturated fat is the best choice to spread on your bread.
Usually, margarine contains almost no trans fatty acids, but check it out just to be sure. The maxim is that it should contain no more than 1 percent trans fatty acids.
Replace the regular saturated cooking butter with a vegetable oil such as olive oil when cooking. Or replace them with cooking fats with low-saturated fat (the light version).
Ideally, when frying food, choose peanut or olive oil or premixed frying oil.
Butter and other hard fats such as smalt should remain the exception rather than the rule.
If necessary, limit them to special occasions and be sure not to make them a habit.
In a kitchen preparation such as baking, the ideal guideline is to use 1 level tablespoon of fat per person in the pan.
Those who are not overweight may use a little more if necessary.
Cutting fat from your diet is definitely not a healthy option. Occasionally, stories surface of people who become so health-conscious that they ban every trace of fat. But that’s really not a good idea.
We do need a limited amount of healthy fats to function properly.
It’s not always clear which fats are the good ones. Unfortunately, a lot of the information about them turns out to be very misleading in practice.
Products such as palm fat or coconut fat that are touted as cholesterol-free or low cholesterol in health food stores, among others, do indeed contain little cholesterol.
But that doesn’t make them a healthy alternative. Because both are very rich in saturated fatty acids, so just avoid them.
Do not use too much salt
A low-salt menu is not necessary for a regular heart-friendly diet.
However, as with the hidden sugars, you also have to watch out for the equally well-hidden salts.
In fact, extra salt is added to many dishes or foods, such as certain breakfast cereals, breads, ready meals, cookies, stock cubes, salted dishes, preserves, etc.
Therefore, if salt is already added to the food, there is really no need to use additional salt at the table.
Too much salt can negatively affect blood pressure. And those who already struggle with hypertension are better off resolutely cutting out extra salt.
Ideally, daily salt intake should be limited to 5 to 6 grams.
Taste your dish and food first before deciding to add additional flavorings. All too often, we sprinkle on the saltshaker out of habit when, in fact, it does not enhance the taste.
In short, you may use salt while cooking, or you may put the saltshaker on the table during meals.
But choose between one or the other and do not combine.
There are many tasty alternatives available to season dishes without adding salt.
A good option is to draw your broth yourself, for example.
Meat and vegetable preparations can also be marinated with numerous fresh herbs such as basil, rosemary, lime, coriander, lemon, etc.
In addition, other forms of food preparation can also reduce salt consumption. For example, why not grill, steam, or cook your food in a papillote?
Utilize more high-fiber products and starches
Put fiber-rich foods on the menu more often, such as whole-grain bread, potatoes, legumes, granola, brown bread, unrefined bread and pasta, vegetables, oatmeal, brown rice, and whole-grain pasta.
This is beneficial for the heart and stimulates digestion and bowel movement.
Those who regularly suffer from constipation, for example, should definitely consider this as well.
A high fiber intake is also crucial to help prevent diabetes. It also appears to play a role in protecting against colon cancer.
Unfortunately, most people today do not eat enough fiber.
Benefit from a soy product every day
Soy products such as yogurt, soy milk, and cheese (tofu) may regularly appear on the menu.
They can perfectly replace regular yogurt or milk products if fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and B12.
Soy can also be served in the form of a meat substitute, by the way. Soy products are entirely plant-based and cholesterol-free, and they also contain proteins that help lower cholesterol levels.
To get that cholesterol-lowering effect from soy protein, a large daily dose of soy is needed.
About 60 percent of the fatty acids in soy are polyunsaturated fatty acids, so in other words, these fatty acids are cholesterol-lowering.
Not coincidentally, in countries where soy is consumed in high quantities, heart disease is also often less prevalent.
Heart-healthy diet tips: Conclusion
Heart-healthy diet tips always seem to come to the same conclusion.
Basically, make sure to top up well on veggies, read the labels, and don’t overdo it on the salt.
Choose lean meat cuts and keep cooking simple and enjoyable.
Tip: Knowing what to eat is a good start, but sticking to this new regimen is even more important. Check our other article to improve your odds of making a lasting change to your lifestyle: How to Stick to a Lasting Healthy-Heart Diet? Tips to Make Lifestyle Changes That Last