Nutrition

Dietitian Advice for a Heart Healthy Diet

selection of foods on a table, including salmon, berries, greens, and fruits.

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women? Following a heart healthy diet can help you manage your risk and support your overall wellness.

Diets for Heart Health

There are two science-backed diets proven to support heart health: the Mediterranean Diet and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (also known as the D.A.S.H. Diet). Both are ideal for preventing and helping to control heart disease.

The Mediterranean Diet and D.A.S.H. Diet emphasize a lifestyle that incorporates a lot of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean poultry and fish, along with nuts and legumes. Both diets have proven heart health benefits, however the D.A.S.H. Diet is ideal if you have high blood pressure (i.e. hypertension). The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate nutrition guidelines recommend that you fill ½ your plate with vegetables, ¼ with lean protein, and a ¼ with a whole grain. Fruits are important to include day-to-day as well but you want the focus to be more on the vegetables. 

Heart Healthy Diet Tips

I always encourage my patients to start making their plates with non-starchy vegetables (i.e. spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, etc.).  If you have a starchy vegetable like corn, sweet potatoes, or white potatoes, make sure to still have a serving of a non-starchy vegetable. Then, add in the lean protein and make your whole grain or carbohydrate more of the side, as a way of controlling portion size.

Stir fries loaded with vegetables and proteins like salmon (ideal for heart health with its omega-3s), shrimp, chicken or turkey are an easy way to maximize flavor and increase your intake of vegetables. You will just want to look for a low-sodium soy sauce and increase the use of garlic, if you like garlic, which has research to suggest some heart health/hypertension benefits.

I also recommend using spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles for Italian pasta dishes, and whole wheat tortillas, lettuce wraps, or taco salads for Mexican meal nights. And, now that it is fall, have more vegetable-based soups made with low-sodium broths. Get that Instapot or Crockpot out and have dinner prepared for you with little prep work involved! 

Managing Heart Health

If you have a family history of heart disease, it is especially important to visit your primary care doctor regularly, and even schedule appointments with a cardiologist to ensure your blood lipid panel (i.e. cholesterol and triglyceride numbers) is controlled through diet and exercise, and medication if necessary.

Meeting with a registered dietitian regularly can also allow you to implement components of both diets to keep your heart in good shape. 

In addition to eating balanced heart healthy meals, getting enough sleep (aiming for 8 hours a night), having an exercise routine (getting a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, per the American Heart Association), and staying on top of your numbers are all very important. Now that you have the information, what can you do today to take better care of your heart?

Lauren Burkett, MS, RDN, LD

Author Lauren Burkett, MS, RDN, LD

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