We have all been told to eat foods that are good for the heart. But with so much conflicting information available about “good” and “bad” fats, different kinds of proteins and “heart-healthy” marketing claims on food packaging, shopping and cooking for your heart can seem overwhelming.
Troy Mueller, R.D.-N., works with patients at Carilion’s Cardiac Rehab Center and in Carilion’s diabetes program. He says that knowing how to read labels at the store and make substitutions at home can be empowering for patients regardless of their condition.
“Working with a registered dietitian can help people take control of their diets and their kitchens—and by extension, their health,” he said. “They can synthesize the latest research and can customize more general recommendations and strategies to each patient’s specific needs.”
The general heart-healthy recommendations and strategies offered by Carilion Clinic’s Dining and Nutrition Services team include shopping tips, label-reading tips and cooking tips.
Shop for foods that do not have a lot of added ingredients, such as salt, fats or sugar.
- Start with fresh fruits and vegetables. Read labels before buying frozen or canned produce and avoid those that have added sauces, gravies or seasonings.
- Choose whole-grain breads that have at least 2 grams (g) of fiber per serving. Choose cereals that contain at least 5g of fiber per serving and don’t include added sugars.
- When choosing milk or dairy products, pick nonfat or low-fat types—no more than 1 percent fat milk and low-fat, low-sodium cheeses.
Look for the following on food labels, keeping in mind that information on labels refers to one serving, even if more than one serving fits in the container:
- Calories: Choose foods that help you get the nutrients you need without going over your daily calorie goal.
- Fats: Choose foods with less than 5g total fat per serving, and with heart-healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) instead of saturated or trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils).
- Sodium: Look for foods that are low in sodium. Each day, eat less than 2,400 milligrams sodium (or the limit set for you by your health care team).
- Carbohydrates and sugars: Choose foods that contain less than 30g total carbohydrates and less than 15g sugars per serving.
- Fiber: Aim for 25 to 30g dietary fiber each day.
One of the healthiest things you can do for your diet is to prepare more foods at home so you can control the fats, sugars and salt in each bite. Many recipes can be adapted to be more heart-healthy without sacrificing flavor or eating enjoyment. Carilion Clinic’s Dietary and Nutrition Services team suggests the following general cooking tips:
- Select lean cuts of beef and pork, such as those labeled “loin” or “round”
- Remove skin from poultry and drain fat from ground meats before serving them
- Refrigerate stews and soups and skim off the hardened fat before reheating
- Eat fish regularly, especially salmon, tilapia and tuna
- Get some of your protein from soy, dried beans, legumes and egg whites
- Cook with unsaturated fats such as canola, olive or soybean oil
- Use very little salt when cooking and avoid salting food at the table
- Season foods with herbs, spices, garlic, onions, peppers and lemon or lime juice
- Use only half the sugar called for in recipes for baked goods and replace half the fats with unsweetened applesauce
For more information about developing a diet that is appropriate for your needs, contact your primary care provider. She will want to identify or rule out any underlying health conditions that may affect your dietary needs.