Keys to a heart-smart diet

Tip

Why It Works

Notes

Maintain a healthy weight.

Obesity is a risk factor for high blood pressure and high cholesterol—both predictors of heart disease.

The American Heart Association defines overweight as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29. Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or more.

Eat two servings of omega-3-rich fish each week.

Omega-3s decrease risk of arrhythmias, decrease triglyceride levels, improve artery health, and may lower blood pressure.

One serving equals 3 ounces cooked fish, about the size of a deck of cards. Fish rich in omega-3s include mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon.

Limit sodium to 2,400 mg/day.

Too much salt can increase blood pressure.

Recommended daily amount equals roughly 1 teaspoon of salt. To season food without salt, use fresh herbs, such as oregano, dill, and parsley.

Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Produce contains heart-healthy phytonutrients and may reduce blood lipid levels.

Fruits and vegetables are low in fat and sodium and contain no cholesterol. A medium apple is one example of a single serving.

Eat a variety of whole grains.

Whole grains are an excellent source of dietary fiber, which may help lower blood cholesterol levels.

One serving equals one slice of whole-grain bread or 1/2 cup cooked grains.

Add soy to your diet.

Helps lower cholesterol. The FDA recommends 25 grams of soy protein a day to help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Minor side effects include occasional gastrointestinal upset, such as stomach pain, loose stools, and diarrhea.

—K.R.

Sources: Jaime S. Ruud, RD, research analyst in the department of nutritional science and dietetics at the University of Nebraska and author of Nutrition and the Female Athlete (CRC, 1996); American Heart Association, www.americanheart.org.