Diet and heart health are connected. A healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease!

You can reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by eating certain foods every day,” says Julie Zumpano, RD, LD, a dietitian in the Preventive Cardiology and Nutrition Program at Cleveland Clinic. “Try to eat foods that are in their natural form, as they come from the ground,” Ms. Zumpano says, recommending what she calls the “whole-foods diet.”

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Diet and Heart Health

First of all, you should start by knowing how many calories you should be eating and drinking. Calorie information on food labels is typically based on a 2,000 calorie diet. You may need to adjust your calories depending on your age, weight, and level of physical activity. If you do have heart issues or are overweight, you should consult with your doctor and possibly a nutritionist to figure out how many calories per day you should be consuming for a healthy heart.

One effective way to control your calories is to manage your portion size. Overloading your plate, taking seconds, and eating until you feel full can lead to eating more calories than you should. Be aware that portions served in restaurants are usually too large. Try using a small plate or bowl to help control your portions. Eat more substantial portions of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions of high-calorie, high-sodium foods, such as refined and processed foods.

What types of food are the best choices for a healthy heart?

1. Fruits and vegetables

Vegetables and fruits are not only good sources of vitamins and minerals but also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Vegetables and fruits also contain substances that may help prevent cardiovascular disease.

2. Whole grains

Whole grains are excellent sources of fiber and other nutrients that help regulate blood pressure and heart health. Try a new whole grain, such as whole-grain farro, quinoa, or barley.

3. Healthy fats

Limiting how many saturated and trans fats you eat is a beneficial step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of heart disease. Moderation is essential as all types of fat are high in calories.

Choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or canola oil. Polyunsaturated fats, in certain fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, and flaxseed, are great choices.

4. Low-fat protein

Poultry, lean red meat, certain types of fish, low-fat dairy products, eggs, beans, peas, and lentils are some of your best sources of protein. Try substituting plant protein for animal protein, for example, a bean burger for a hamburger.

5. Low sodium

Reducing sodium is an essential part of a heart-healthy diet. Much of the salt you eat comes from canned or processed foods, such as soups, condiments, and frozen dinners. Many foods are available in reduced-sodium versions. Eating fresh foods can significantly reduce the amount of salt you eat.

Below are 12 heart-healthy choices to put on your next grocery list:

  1. Fish (high in omega-3s) – salmon or mackerel
  2. Healthy nuts – almonds or walnuts
  3. Berries – blueberries, strawberries, cranberries or raspberries
  4. Flaxseeds
  5. Oatmeal
  6. Dark beans – kidney or black beans
  7. Red, yellow and orange veggies – carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, and acorn squash
  8. Dark, leafy greens – spinach or kale
  9. Fruits – oranges, cantaloupes, and papaya
  10. Green vegetables – asparagus or broccoli
  11. Tomatoes
  12. Dark chocolate

It is hard for most people to eat healthy all of the time. Allow yourself an occasional indulgence — like a slice of birthday cake, ice cream, or potato chips. One healthy snack that can satisfy the sweet tooth is dark chocolate (it should be at least 70% cocoa). What’s important is that you eat healthy foods most of the time.