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Healthy Eating for a Healthy Heart

Despite major advances in drugs and medical treatments, maintaining a healthy diet, being physically active, and not smoking are still the best approaches to preventing heart disease. Improving your diet lowers your risk for heart disease in many ways, including helping to lower high cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as preventing obesity and improving the function of your heart and blood vessels.

A crucial take-home message of this report is to consider the types of foods that you eat and your overall dietary pattern, rather than focusing on individual nutrients such as fat, dietary cholesterol, or specific vitamins. There are no single nutrients or vitamins that can make you healthy. Rather, there is a short list of key foods that together can dramatically reduce your risk for heart disease.

A closely related, second take-home message is that you cannot simply eat “everything in moderation.” Among different foods, there are clear winners and losers when it comes to risk of heart disease, weight gain, and diabetes. You want to stock up on the right foods, and minimize the harmful foods. The rest of this report will explore practical steps for eating your way to a healthy heart.

Fortunately, a heart-healthy diet is relatively easy to define — as you’ll see in the pages to follow. More great news: you don’t have to give up great-tasting food to eat for your heart, as you’ll see when you get to the recipes section of this report.

This report was prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publications in consultation with Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard School of Public Health, and Ellen di Bonaventura M.S., R.D., L.D.N., Clinical Dietitian at Massachusetts General Hospital. 49 pages. (2011)

  • How diet affects your health
    • Blood pressure
    • Blood cholesterol
    • Blood sugar
    • Obesity
  • Foods that foster heart health
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Whole grains
    • Fish and seafood
    • Vegetable oils
    • Nuts
    • Dairy products
  • Foods to eat in moderation
    • Unprocessed red meats
    • Eggs
  • Foods to limit or avoid
    • Processed meats
    • Highly refined and processed grains and carbohydrates
    • Soft drinks and other sugary drinks
  • Notes on specific nutrients
  • Beverages: Drink to your health
  • Special bonus section: Lose weight for your heart
  • Specific diet patterns and your heart
    • The DASH and Mediterranean diets
    • OmniHeart diet
    • Mediterranean diet
    • Other diets
  • Putting theory into practice
    • Shop smart
    • Choose convenience foods wisely
    • Eat out the healthy way
  • Recipes
  • Sample meal plan for a week
    • Appendix A: The DASH eating plan
    • Appendix B: The three OmniHeart diets
  • Resources
  • Glossary

Foods to eat, those to avoid, and those to have in moderation 

In 2011, a review article on the subject of nutrition and heart disease was published in the journal Circulation. It looked at the recent scientific evidence on the effects selected foods have on the heart. This section is based mostly on these findings, as well as other select, important studies.

Note that the serving amounts and sizes are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. The amount of calories you need may be less or more than that, which will alter the servings you need to consume.

The bottom line on foods to eat and avoid is summarized in the table.

Foods to eat and foods to avoid

Foods to eat in abundance

 

 

 

How much to eat  

Notes

Fruits and vegetables

 

2 to 2½cups (4 to 5 servings) of fruits and 2 to 2½ cups (4 to 5 servings) of vegetables per day

 

 

Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.

Eat canned or frozen varieties (no salt added) when fresh aren’t convenient.

Whole grains

 

3 servings of whole grains per day; one serving is 1 slice of whole-grain bread, 1 cup of cooked whole-grain cereal, or ½ cup cooked brown rice

 

Don’t simply add whole grains to your diet; eat them in place of starches (like potatoes), refined carbohydrates (like white bread, white rice, and low-fiber breakfast cereals), and sweets.

Fish and seafood

 

 

At least two servings (3–4 ounces each) per week, including at least one serving of oily (dark meat) fish

 

Oily, cold-water fish, such as salmon, herring, sardines, and tuna, contain higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fats.  

Vegetable oils

 

5–6 teaspoons per day, including oil found in foods

 

Healthy vegetable oils include extra virgin olive, canola, peanut, corn, soybean, safflower, and cottonseed oils.

Nuts

4 to 5 servings (1 oz each) per week, with a serving equaling ¼ cup nuts or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter

 

All types of nuts contain beneficial compounds, so, simply choose a variety that you like, such as peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.

Dairy products

 

2–3 servings per day, with 1 serving being equal to 1 cup of milk or yogurt, or 1 ounce of cheese

More study is needed to determine exactly which type of dairy is best for the heart, but based on the current evidence, most dietary guidelines recommend low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt over full-fat versions, and avoiding butter.

Foods to eat in moderation

 

 

Unprocessed red meat

2 to 3 ounces of red meat, up to a few times per week

 

Unprocessed red meats include fresh beef, lamb, or pork.  Unprocessed red meats don’t seem to raise risk of heart disease very much, but there is no evidence that red meat is good for the heart, and there are healthier protein choices, such as fish and nuts, which will greatly reduce your risk. Poultry is also a better choice than red meats, although not as heart-healthy as fish or nuts.

Eggs

One egg, up to a few times per week 

 

Like unprocessed red meats, there’s little evidence that eggs raise risk very much, but also no evidence that eggs are good for the heart. If you want to enjoy an occasional egg, make it healthier by cooking in vegetable oils and adding spinach, tomatoes, and other vegetables.

 

Foods to avoid/eat in small amounts 

 

 

Processed meat

Preferably none, or at most, 2 servings per week

 

 

Processed meats are those preserved using salts or other preservatives such as nitrites. They include hot dogs, bacon, sausage, salami, and other processed deli or luncheon meats — including deli ham, turkey, bologna, and chicken.

Highly refined and processed grains and sugars

Preferably none, or at most, no more than one serving (1 ounce) per day

 

 

Refined or processed foods include white bread, white rice, low-fiber breakfast cereals, and sweets and sugars.

Sugary drinks

Preferably none, or at most one 8-ounce serving per day

 

Avoid or limit sugar- sweetened soda, energy drinks, iced teas, and fruit drinks. A 12-ounce can of soda contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of table sugar.

The following reviews have been left for this report. Log in and leave a review of your own.

I highly recommend this report. It's the best way to understand how to make changes to your diet that will help you have a healthy heart diet. This report is for anyone who wants to cut to the chase – and not spend a fortune on fad diet books or costly nutritional systems. It gave me a good framework for getting back on track in a way that's easy for me and good for my heart. Jim M, CT
I was sent the wrong report initially. I was then promised the correct report sometime ago but haven't yet received it.
everything I needed to know!

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