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Featured Story Written by Julie Lyon

Eating for Heart Health

During American Heart Month, we take time to evaluate the steps we can take to lead heart healthy lifestyles.

February is Heart Healthy Month. Currently, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States of America; approximately 1 in every 4 of American deaths.

While some factors, such as age, gender and family history, cannot be controlled, many of the risk factors for heart disease are preventable. Making minor changes to lifestyle, exercise and food choices while maintaining a healthy weight can go a long way to reduce the risk for heart disease. 

Keep in mind that reducing the risk for heart disease does not need to be complicated. Speaking with a healthcare provider and meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist can help lower the risk by creating an individualized eating, lifestyle, exercise and weight control plan. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day” and dietary habits do not have to change overnight. Making small weekly goals can lead to better success in the long run. Introducing the following guidelines below can help achieve those goals.

Eat a Variety of Healthy Foods

Overall, a heart healthy eating plan should focus on consuming a variety of whole foods. The meal pattern should emphasize fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean meats, with moderate consumption of dairy. It should limit red meats, processed foods, excess sugar, saturated and trans fats and is lower in salt. Diets that fit this pattern include the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.

Increase Fiber Intake

Consuming more fiber can help lower unhealthy cholesterol markers such as LDL cholesterol. It can also help a person to feel fuller longer, which can lead to better weight control. Look for foods with whole grains and increase intake of fruits and vegetables. Aim for 25 grams of fiber for women, and 30 – 38 grams of fiber for men each day, and remember to drink plenty of water.

Consume Less Sodium

The current recommendation for all Americans is 2300 mg of salt per day. The average American currently consumes around 2 – 3x that amount per day. Easy ways to cut back?

-Avoid the salt shaker at the table.

-Add more herbs and spices to flavor dishes

-Choosing foods with 300mg of sodium or less per serving, with an overall meal of 600 mg or less. 

Remember that salt is salt; it does not matter what kind. It can take up to 2 months for taste buds to adjust to less sodium.

Choosing Healthy Fats

Unsaturated fats are fats found in a variety of foods, like those found in salmon, olive oil and nuts and seeds. Unsaturated fats can increase good” HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fats can reduce inflammation in the body and should be consumed more often. 

Saturated fats and trans fats are most often found in animal-based proteins and highly processed or fried foods. These can raise LDL cholesterol that can contribute to clogged arteries and increase the risk for heart attack and stroke and should be limited.

Alcohol in Moderation

If consuming alcohol, it should be in moderation- current guidelines are one standard drink for women or two standard drinks for men a day who are of legal drinking age. A standard drink is 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of spirits.

Remember that it is the overall pattern of choices that matter, and small changes can lead to long term successes. Following these guidelines, along with exercise and weight control can help to reduce or eliminate risk factors for heart disease.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease Facts. CDC​.gov. https://​www​.cdc​.gov/​h​e​a​r​t​d​i​s​e​a​s​e​/​f​a​c​t​s.htm. Accessed January 292019.

2. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Health​.gov. 2020;8. https://​health​.gov/​d​i​e​t​a​r​y​g​u​i​d​e​l​i​n​e​s​/​2015​/​g​u​i​d​e​l​ines/ Accessed January 272019.

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