Nutrition and Heart Disease in Adults
Making a few simple changes to eating habits can help slow, stop, or even reverse the progression of heart disease. Even small changes may significantly reduce the risk for heart attack. Heart-healthy eating for adults centers on learning about heart-healthy foods and paying close attention to the types of fats in the diet.
Heart-healthy foods to add to the diet include the following:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Proteins such as fatty fish, beans, lentils, and tofu
Information about fats includes the following:
- Good Fats
- mono- and poly- unsaturated oils such as canola, soybean, safflower, olive, and corn oils (use in moderation)
- omega-3 fatty acids from fish, such as salmon, trout, and herring (2 servings per week)
- Bad Fats
- saturated fats (limit to 15 grams per day based on 2000 calorie per day diet)
- dietary cholesterol (limit to 300 milligrams per day)
- trans-fats (avoid altogether)
Fresh fruits and vegetables are nutrient rich and low in calories. These foods provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and nutrients to help fight disease, help the body function at its highest potential, and help reduce cholesterol levels.
Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain soluble fiber, a substance that helps to lower the amount of LDL ("bad") cholesterol in the blood. Examples of whole grains are oatmeal, brown rice, popcorn, and 100 percent whole grain bread.
Good Fats & Heart Disease
Vegetable based oils that contain mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are recommended in moderation, and may even help to lower cholesterol. Canola, olive, soybean, safflower, sunflower, and corn oils all contain mono- and poly-unsaturated oils. Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, and herring contain omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower the risk for heart attack.
Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish due to potentially high levels of mercury. Talk with a health care provider or registered dietician about the safety of fish in the diet.
Bad Fats & Heart Disease
Saturated fats in the diet mostly come from foods from animal sources, such as dairy products, meat, and eggs. Because these fats raise cholesterol levels, they should be limited to 15 grams per day (based on a 2000 calorie per day diet).
Trans fats are found in most fried foods sold in restaurants, and in cookies, pastries, crackers, and other snack foods. These fats should be avoided because they raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol and are generally found in unhealthy foods.
The following suggestions can be helpful for a heart-healthy diet:
- Switch to low-fat or non-fat (skim) milk.
- Choose low- or non-fat yogurt.
- Substitute plain yogurt (low- or non-fat) for sour cream.
- Try low- or non-fat frozen yogurt in place of ice cream.
- Snack on fruits and vegetables rather than chips, crackers, and cookies.
- Limit butter or try a margarine that is made with plant sterols and stanols.
- Choose lean cuts of beef.
- Use vegetable oils when cooking.
- Substitute beans, lentils, and tofu for meat 2-3 times per week.
- Avoid trans fat—in foods made with hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils (e.g., fast food French fries, microwave popcorn, some peanut butters).
According to results of a study conducted in Spain and published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, a diet consisting of vegetables, fruit, nuts, olive oil and smaller amounts of fish, lean meat and wine (called the Mediterranean diet) may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by 30 percent.
Maintaining a healthy weight and getting daily exercise can also help fight heart disease. Talk with a qualified health care provider before beginning an exercise program. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels should be checked regularly.