7 tips for a heart healthy diet

WVU Medicine dietitian Judy Siebart, RD, LD, CDE, MS, gives her recommendations for boosting cardiovascular health through food choices.

Heart healthy diets are plans that aim to lower cholesterol (specifically the LDL), blood pressure, and triglycerides, as well as weight. With so many diet plans out there, it’s difficult to know which one is best.

US News and World Report ranked the 10 best diets for the heart, and the Dean Ornish diet topped the list; others include Mediterranean, vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian. All of these diet plans share the same concepts of reducing cardiovascular disease and risk.

So which diet plan is right for you? One that you can sustain for the rest of your life.

Try these tips to help you make heart healthy choices:

  1. Pay attention to portions. By choosing smaller portions, we help to decrease the possibility of weight gain. Excessive weight contributes to a whole host of health problems, including heart disease.
  2. Eat more vegetables. Your momma was right. Make this group half of your plate for two meals a day. Also, include them in snacks.
  3. Cut out trans fats. These man-made fats are a double whammy: they lower good cholesterol, HDL, and raise bad cholesterol, LDL. Read labels; partially hydrogenated fats are actually trans fats.
  4. Increase your consumption of omega-3 fats. Include cold water fish (salmon, cod, herring, and mackerel) in your diet two times a week. Omega-3 fats are also found in walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, canola oil, fresh basil, dried oregano, and cloves.
  5. Cut back on salt. It doesn’t matter if it’s table, sea, Himalayan, Hawaiian, kosher, etc. Salt is salt, and we eat too much of it. Cut way back on processed foods, and forget fast foods. Planning meals and cooking at home will reduce your salt intake tremendously. You’ll save salt grams, as well as calories, money, and your heart.
  6. Reduce sugar too. Excessive simple carbohydrates are bad for the heart. Don’t drink sugary beverages, and be mindful of total carbohydrates in your diet. A simple way to limit carbs is to follow the plate method and allow a quarter of the plate for carbohydrates.
  7. Increase fiber in your diet. It will help you feel full as it draws water in and doubles in size in your gut. It also keeps the gastrointestinal track moving. By increasing soluble fiber by 5-10 grams a day, you can help lower LDL cholesterol significantly. When choosing the carbs for the quarter of your plate, beans, oats, and whole grains should be almost always be there.

Other ways to improve cardiovascular health include daily exercise, getting a good night’s sleep, and decreasing stress. So plan delicious meals, sit down as a family, enjoy pleasant conversations, and finish with a long walk.

To discuss your heart health with a WVU Heart and Vascular Institute provider, call 855-WVU-CARE to make an appointment.