Maintaining a Healthy Diet

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One of the most important things you can do for your health is to keep your heart, veins, and arteries healthy. This is why it is important to eat healthy foods and stay active. We offer many resources to help you keep your heart healthy, including heart-healthy screenings, tips on staying active and maintaining a healthy diet, and how to get back to what you love after treatment with our cardiac rehabilitation program.

Learn more about maintaining a heart-healthy diet, or learn more about cardiac conditions and vascular conditions.

Maintaining a Healthy Diet

If you are trying to make heart-healthy changes to your lifestyle and diet, it's helpful to know some basics about nutrition, starting with the components of food.

Facts about calories

  • You need enough calories to give you energy, but no more than you can burn off. This is called energy balance.
  • If you take in more calories than you burn, you gain weight.
  • If you take in fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight.
  • If you balance the two, you maintain your weight.
  • Even when you are dieting, you shouldn't cut back calories so much that you don't meet your energy needs. The number of calories you need depends on your age, gender, and activity level.

Facts about dietary cholesterol

  • Remember that "cholesterol-free" does not mean "fat-free."
  • Dietary cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in all foods from animals. This includes egg yolks, meat, poultry, fish, milk, and milk products.
  • Because your body makes cholesterol, you don't need it in your diet. But most people eat foods that contain cholesterol, so it's important not to eat too much cholesterol. The amount of cholesterol you eat can affect your blood cholesterol levels.

Types of Fats

Fatty acids are the basic chemicals in fat. They may be saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, or trans fats. These fatty acids differ in chemical makeup and structure, and in the way they affect your blood cholesterol levels.

Saturated fat

Used by the liver to make cholesterol, saturated fats can raise blood cholesterol levels, particularly the LDL or "bad" cholesterol level. This raises your risk for heart attack and stroke. Saturated fat can be found in meats, whole dairy products, butter, cocoa butter, coconut, and palm oils, and should make up no more than 10% of your daily calories.

Polyunsaturated fats

This type of fat doesn’t appear to raise blood cholesterol levels, and can be found in some plant oils, such as safflower, sunflower, corn, and vegetable oils, and soybean oils.

Monounsaturated fats

Monounsaturated fats also do not seem to raise bad cholesterol levels. They may help boost HDL or "good" cholesterol in the blood. Higher HDL levels have been linked to a lower risk for heart disease. Examples of monounsaturated fats include olive and canola oils.

Trans fats

Trans fats are byproducts of hydrogenation, a chemical process used to change liquid unsaturated fat to a more solid fat. Trans fats will be found in an ingredients list as a partially hydrogenated oil, and are similar in structure to saturated fat. They have a great impact on raising total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, meaning you should avoid trans fats as much as possible. Examples of trans fats include stick margarine and fats found in commercially prepared cakes, cookies, and snack foods.

Facts about fats

  • Your total fat intake should be no more than 30% of your daily calories.
  • All fats contain about the same number of calories.
  • Fat is the most concentrated source of calories. It supplies more than twice as many calories per gram as either carbohydrates or proteins.
  • Most people get too much fat in their diet, creating health problems like obesity, high blood cholesterol and heart disease.
  • Coconut and palm oils have no cholesterol, but they are high in saturated fat. You should avoid these fats.

Facts about Fiber

Your body doesn't digest most of the fiber you eat. Fiber can be soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber is found in foods like oat bran and dried beans, and can lower blood cholesterol in some people. Insoluble fiber is found in foods like wheat bran and helps with weight control because it makes you feel full. It does not help lower your cholesterol.

Facts about Sodium

  • Salt is the main source of sodium in most people's diets. A teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium.
  • Sodium and salt are not the same. Sodium is a mineral needed to keep body fluids at a healthy level. It is also important for nerve function. It is found naturally in some foods, but most sodium in your diet comes from seasonings and ingredients added to foods.
  • You need some sodium for good health, but most people get more than they need. Too much sodium can raise blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Making Healthy Food Choices


The MyPlate icon is a guideline to help you and your child eat a healthy diet. My Plate can help you and your child eat a variety of foods while encouraging the right amount of calories and fat. Divided into 5 food group categories, the MyPlate icon emphasizes the following:

  • Grains – Foods made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain are all grain products. Make at least half of your grains whole grains.
  • Vegetables – Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red, and orange vegetables, legumes (dry beans and peas), and starchy vegetables. Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Fruits – Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut up, or pureed.
  • Dairy – Milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk products, as well as those that are high in calcium.
  • Protein – Choose lean proteins – low-fat or lean cuts of meat and poultry. Vary your protein routine by choosing more fish, nuts, seeds, dried beans and peas.

Oils are not a food group, yet some, like vegetable and nut oils, contain essential nutrients and can be included in the diet in moderation. Others, like animal fats, are solid and should be avoided. Studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet consisting of vegetables, whole grains, beans, fruits, and olive oil lowers the risk of heart disease.

Keeping your sodium intake to less than 2.3 grams of sodium a day also lowers your risk of a heart attack. Daily exercise and physical activity should also be included with a healthy dietary plan. Always talk with your physician about changing your diet or exercise plan, especially if you are currently receiving treatment for a cardiovascular condition.

Guidelines for decreasing fat intake

  • Increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Bake, broil, or grill foods instead of frying.
  • Choose low-fat meats, like chicken, fish, turkey, lean pork, and lean beef (meat without visible fat and without skin).
  • Limit high-fat meats, like sausage, bacon, hot dogs, salami, pepperoni, bologna, and fried meat.
  • Use fruits as dessert instead of high-fat desserts, like ice cream, cake, cookies.
  • Limit amounts of added fat, like margarine, butter, oil, salad dressing, and mayonnaise.
  • Use low-fat or fat-free products, like milk, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, and ice cream.




Meat and meat substitutes, poultry, fish, dry beans, and nuts

1. Regular beef, pork, lamb, regular ground beef, fatty cuts of meat.

2. Poultry with skin, fried chicken.

3. Fried fish.

4. Regular lunch meat (bologna, salami, sausage, hot dogs).

1. Beef, pork, lamb, lean cuts (90 percent lean, well-trimmed before cooking).

2. Poultry without skin.

3. Fish, shellfish.

4. Processed meat prepared from lean meat.

5. Dry beans and peas.

6. Tofu and tempeh.

7. Nuts and seeds.


Fried eggs in butter

1. Egg Whites
2. Egg Substitutes

Dairy Products

1. Milk: whole and 2% milk.
2. Yogurt: whole milk types.
3. Cheese: Regular cheeses (American, cheddar, Swiss, blue, Monterey Jack, cream cheese).
4. Frozen dairy desserts: regular ice cream.

1. Milk: nonfat (skim), low-fat
2. Yogurt: nonfat or low-fat
3. Cheese: low-fat or nonfat types
4. Frozen dairy desserts: low-fat or nonfat ice cream, low-fat or nonfat frozen yogurt.

Fats and Oils

Butter, lard, shortening, bacon fat, regular mayonnaise, sour cream, cream cheese, salad dressings, coconut oil, palm kernel, palm oil, and products with trans fats

1. Unsaturated oils: safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, canola, olive, peanut
2. Low-fat or nonfat mayonnaise, margarine, sour cream, cream cheese, and salad dressings


Refined grains (white flour, white rice), biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, breakfast pastries, doughnuts, waffles, granolas, fried rice, and packaged pasta and rice mixes

Whole-grain breads, pasta, rice, and cereals

Vegetables (dark green, red and orange, legumes, beans and peas, starchy vegetables, and other vegetables)

Vegetables fried or prepared with butter, cheese, cream sauce; or salt, olives

Fresh, frozen, or canned, without added fat, salt or sauce

Fruit (whole, cut up, pureed, and 100 percent fruit juice)

Fried fruit or fruit served with butter or cream sauce

Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried