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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

A Heart-Smart Diet

From the American Heart Association

A healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons you have to fight cardiovascular disease. It's not as hard as you may think! Remember, it is the overall pattern of the choices you make that counts.

Use up at least as many calories as you take in.

  • Know how many calories you should be eating and drinking to maintain your weight. Don't eat more calories than you know you can burn up every day.
  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week — best of all — at least 30 minutes every day. If you are trying to lose weight, aim for 30 to 60 minutes on most days. Regular physical activity can help you maintain your weight, keep off weight that you lose and help you reach physical and cardiovascular fitness. If you can't do at least 30 minutes at one time, you can add up 10-minute sessions throughout the day.

Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups.

  • Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber — and they're low in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and your blood pressure.
  • Unrefined whole-grain foods contain fiber that can help lower your blood cholesterol and help you feel full, which may help you manage your weight.
  • Eat fish at least twice a week. Recent research shows that eating oily fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, trout and herring) may help lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease.

Eat less of the nutrient-poor foods.

  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.
  • Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day.
  • Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. Aim to eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
  • Select fat-free, 1% fat, and low-fat dairy products.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means one drink per day if you're a woman and two drinks per day if you're a man.
  • Follow the American Heart Association recommendations when you eat out, and keep an eye on your portion sizes.

Also, don't smoke tobacco — and stay away from tobacco smoke.

Last updated January 8, 2010




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