6 Diet Tips for Better Heart Health

To help reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, help you keep your weight under control, and possibly reduce your risk of cancer, follow these six tips toward a heart-healthy diet.

1. Replace foods containing saturated fat with small amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. That means eating more olives, nuts, avocados and seafood. Use soft margarine (made without hydrogenated oils) instead of stick margarine; replace some meats and poultry with seafood or unsalted nuts; and use vegetable oils like olive, canola or safflower instead of butter. In addition, steer clear of foods containing coconut oil, palm kernel oil and palm oil, since they are high in saturated fat. Also, limit your consumption of foods that are high in saturated fat, such as full-fat cheese, pizza and dairy-based desserts. Instead, choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

2. Avoid trans fats by limiting foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils found in some margarines, fast foods, packaged snack foods, fried foods and commercial baked goods. Small amounts of trans fats are also found naturally in some animal products, principally full-fat dairy, beef and lamb. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk and lean meats instead. Products that are labeled trans-fat free may still contain up to 0.5 g of trans fat per serving.

3. Replace fat calories with ones from complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes (beans and peas). For a heart-healthy diet, avoid calories from products that contain large amounts of refined carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour.

4. Eat eight or more ounces of a variety of seafood each week. Consuming this amount may reduce the risk of dying from heart disease. The omega-3 fats found in fatty fish—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—appear to have protective effects on the heart. In addition, fish is a good source of protein and is low in saturated fat. Examples of seafood that is high in EPA and DHA and low in contaminants (such as mercury, PCBs and pesticides) are salmon (wild caught from Alaska), Pacific sardines (wild caught), oysters (farmed) and rainbow trout (farmed). If you are worried about contaminants (for example, mercury), remove the skin and surface fat from fatty fish before cooking. But keep in mind that the benefits of fish consumption far outweigh the risk of exposure to contaminants for middle-aged and older men and postmenopausal women. Omega-3 fats are also found in soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed, canola seeds and products made from those foods (such as tofu and oils). The omega-3s in those foods are in the form of alpha-linoleic acid and only small amounts of it are converted in the body to EPA and DHA.

5. Minimize cancer risk while grilling. The American Institute for Cancer Research advises simple measures to minimize cancer risks associated with grilling, such as selecting lean cuts of meat, trimming fat, cutting meat into small kabob-size pieces that cook quickly and spend less time on the grill, marinating, precooking, flipping often, and minimizing fire flare-ups and smoke. After cooking, remove any charred or blackened areas before eating. Also, consider replacing some grilled meat on your menu with grilled vegetables and fruits, which can be a delicious, healthy addition to a meal.

6. Even out fat intake over the course of a week. If you eat a high-fat lunch, for example, you can compensate by eating a low-fat dinner or a little less fat than usual over the next several meals for a heart-healthy diet. But do not reduce your total fat intake to less than 15 percent of total calories. Short-term studies show that lowering fat intake below this amount does not reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels much further than a standard low-fat diet. In addition, very-low-fat diets decrease HDL (good) cholesterol and increase triglyceride levels. What’s more, your body needs some fat to digest certain vitamins, and it’s difficult to eat a balanced diet that contains less than 15 percent fat. Your best choices for a heart healthy diet: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Good sources are fatty fish, avocados, nuts and olive, safflower and canola oils.