Eat your way to a healthy heart

Balanced diet can lower three heart risk factors


According to the American Heart Association, a healthy diet can help alleviate three major risk factors for heart disease: high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and excess body weight.

The AHA recommends a balanced diet that includes foods from all the major food groups but emphasizes fruits, vegetables and grains.

Fruits And Vegetables

The AHA advises that people eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Not only do these foods contain vitamins, minerals and fiber, they're usually low in calories. That can help you lose weight or make maintaining your weight easier.

Breads, Cereal, Grains And Pasta

A healthy heart diet includes at least six servings of grain products, according to the AHA. Keep in mind that starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn and peas are included in this group.

Grains are often low in fat and cholesterol and high in fiber. In fact, oats contain high amounts of soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower cholesterol.

Dairy Products

Adults should include three or more servings of low-fat dairy products in their daily diet. Children should have two or more servings, and teens and older adults need four or more servings every day.

It's important to choose low-fat dairy products, the AHA says, because milk fat is high in saturated fats that can raise cholesterol levels.

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs

The AHA recommends eating no more than 6 ounces of cooked, lean meat, fish or poultry each day. Poultry should be eaten without the skin and meat should be trimmed of as much fat as possible.

The American Dietetic Association suggests including fatty fish in your diet. Fish like salmon, tuna, herring or sardines are rich in a type of fatty acid called omega-3, which thins the blood and makes blood cells less "sticky" and less likely to clot and cause a heart attack. Both the AHA and the ADA suggest you include fatty fish in your diet at least twice a week.

Diet Can Help Lower High Blood Pressure

Your diet can also help keep your blood pressure low. The AHA suggests eating less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium a day. Keep in mind that many prepared foods contain high amounts of sodium.

Alcohol consumption should be limited to one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men.