What is a heart-healthy diet?
Unfortunately, a steady diet of Valentine’s Day candy doesn’t qualify. The basics won’t surprise you, since balanced nutrition that’s good for you, period, is also good for your heart. More specifically, it means avoiding added sugar, empty calories, trans fats, and other ingredients which increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. As always, moderation and portion control matter.

Here are 4 basic tips for heart-healthy eating. 

1. The whole truth.

Whenever possible, choose whole grains. They’re rich in fiber, helping to regulate blood pressure. Oatmeal, barley, and quinoa are all good choices. Something as simple as making or ordering sandwiches with whole-wheat bread instead of white bread can make a big difference. 

Meanwhile, you should try to limit refined flour. The occasional doughnut isn’t going to lead to a cardiac event. But don’t make it your daily breakfast. 

2. Pick up produce.

Yeah, we know. Vegetables always seem to be the answer to better health. But your heart will thank you. That’s because foods that come straight from the ground tend to be nutrient-rich, high in fiber, and low in empty calories. That’s a good combination. 

And remember: Frozen fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh produce, with the added benefit of keeping longer!

3. Don’t get too salty.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults keep their daily sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams. Why? Because too much sodium can contribute to high blood pressure and an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease.  

Many Americans—particularly those who don’t prepare their own meals—eat way more sodium than they should. And it’s not just fast food. Restaurants often load their dishes with salt. The canned and processed foods lining the grocery store aisles also tend to be heavy on sodium. Be sure to check nutrition labels.

4. Lean is clean.

Sticking to lean protein sources is a terrific way to improve your heart health. Eggs and poultry are better options than red meat. Fish has its own advantages. Oily fish carry a lot of Omega fats, which are known to be best for the heart. Salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines are all excellent choices to be a part of your regular diet.

If you’re vegetarian, you’re already cutting out a lot of the fatty animal protein that can create cardiovascular risk over time. Plant protein from legumes tends to be lower in fat, higher in fiber, and better for managing your cholesterol level.

Other quick tips:

  • Be mindful of how much caffeine and alcohol you consume. As with everything, moderation is a vital component of a heart-healthy diet.
  • Meal prep! Knowing what to eat is just the first step. You actually have to do it. Planning meals ahead of time is a smart way to ensure you don’t just opt for convenient (and heart-unfriendly) food later.