Heart-Smart Basics

Find out what you need to know about eating a heart-healthy diet. Follow these basic guidelines, and you’ll be on your way to optimum heart health.
  • Saturated Fats: Concentrated mostly in animal products, these solid fats raise harmful LDL cholesterol and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
    Sources: Beef, lamb, pork, bacon, cheese, full-fat yogurt, butter, and whole milk. Snack chips and bakery items made with tropical oils such as coconut, palm, and palm kernel also contain these fats, which are solid at room temperature.

The key with saturated fats is to choose wisely and use them in moderation. For example, use only small amounts of cheese to heighten a dish’s flavor, or make vegetables the main feature of the dish rather than meat. If you eat red meat as a main course, stick to the recommended serving size—3 ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards on your plate. For dairy products, choosing 1% or fat-free options helps limit the amount of saturated fat in your diet.

  • Trans Fats: Produced when liquid oils are processed into solid shortenings, trans fats (also known as partially hydrogenated oils) raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower HDL ( “good”) cholesterol.
    Sources: Foods can harbor trans fats if they’re made with partially hydrogenated oils. Since January 2006, the Food and Drug Administration has required all food manufacturers to indicate the amount of trans fat in a serving of food. (Food with less than one-half gram of trans fat per serving can be labeled “trans fat–free.”) Some meat and dairy products contain trace amounts of naturally occurring trans fats. It’s unknown whether these fats have the same harmful effects on your health as manufactured trans fats.

Slash sodium

For most people, the more sodium you consume, the higher your blood pressure will be. And as blood pressure jumps, so does the risk for heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium to 1,500 milligrams per day.

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