Heart-healthy eating isn’t just for older people. It’s a wise approach for the whole family: every age, every day. The good news: advice for heart-healthy eating is the same as advice for overall healthy eating. Read on for some heart-healthy eating tips for everyone from adults to children.
Keep Calories Balanced
Aim for a healthy weight at every age. Excess body weight puts a strain on the heart, can raise blood pressure, “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides and can lower “good” (HDL) cholesterol.
Balance calories by eating and drinking enough for your energy needs, without going over, and by being more physically active to burn more calories.
- Tips for everyone. Start with moderate portions of food and beverages; eat slowly and eat more only if you’re still hungry. Fit regular physical activity into your daily lifestyle: 60 minutes for kids; at least 30 minutes for adults (you’ll need more physical activity if you are trying to lose weight).
- Tips for kids. Eat small, nutrient-rich snacks to satisfy hunger. Walk the family dog, ride a bike, dance or play ball after school.
- Tips for adults. When away from home, choose small or regular-size breakfast options, sandwiches and meals instead of large-size choices. Walk with a co-worker during breaks. Shoot hoops with your family after dinner.
Eat Plenty of Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and vegetables contribute fiber and important nutrients such as beta-carotene, vitamin C and potassium. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is an easy heart-healthy eating tip.
- Tips for everyone. Enjoy about 4-1/2 cups of fruits and veggies daily (based on a 2,000 calorie-a-day eating plan). Choose different colors and varieties. Fiber-rich cooked dry beans count, too!
- Tips for kids. Layer cereal with yogurt and berries or sliced peaches. Tuck an apple or orange in a backpack. Snack on carrot and zucchini sticks with salsa.
- Tips for adults. Take a fruit smoothie break. Opt for a chef’s salad or a veggie-layered sandwich at lunch. Add sliced vegetables, pineapple chunks or mandarin oranges to a quick stir-fry dinner.
Go the "Whole" Way When Choosing Grains
Soluble fiber in whole grains helps with heart health. But it’s not just fiber—whole grains are nutritious and can help you feel satisfied, too.
- Tips for everyone. Make at least half your grain choices whole.
- Tips for kids. Prepare sandwiches on whole wheat bread. Snack on popcorn. Use a corn tortilla to make a soft taco.
- Tips for adults. Make French toast on whole grain or oat bread. Buy a whole grain wheat (bulgur) salad at the deli. Pair brown rice with Asian food.
Set Limits on Fats
Limiting saturated fats and trans fats in food choices is key to reducing blood cholesterol and lowering heart disease risk. “Sat fats” and/or trans fats are found chiefly in solid fats; examples are butter, stick margarine and shortening.
- Tips for everyone. Choose fish, lean meat and skinless poultry, cooked beans and lentils and fat free and low fat dairy foods. Check the label and limit foods with trans fats.
- Tips for kids. Cut back on fries and other fried foods. Try lower fat cheese on a burger. Order extra veggies on pizza, instead of double cheese, pepperoni or sausage.
- Tips for adults. Grill or broil chicken and fish, instead of frying. Buy low fat or fat free milk for the family. Switch to tub margarine. Top baked spuds with salsa.
Heart Healthy Fats & Oils
Experts recommend eating most of your fats as monounsaturated fat (found in a variety of foods and oils such as olive oil, canola oil, nuts, and avocado) and polyunsaturated fat (found in plant-based foods and oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, walnuts, flaxseed, fish and shellfish). Both of these types of dietary fats may help promote healthy blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease.
Fit Fish In
Many types of fish (e.g., tilapia, cod, flounder) are lean, with less saturated fat and cholesterol than some meats or poultry. “Oily” fishes (e.g. salmon, mackerel, tuna) contribute heart healthy omega-3 fats.
- Tips for everyone. Fish is a nutritious part of a healthful diet. To get the benefits while reducing exposure to mercury, experts recommend that women who are pregnant or nursing or who might become pregnant and young children follow 3 recommendations:
- Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish.
- Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury (e.g., shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, catfish).
- Albacore tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two fish meals, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.
- Tips for parents and caregivers of young kids. Follow the recommendations above, but serve smaller portions.
- Tips for adults. Make a favorite casserole or salad with canned salmon. Grill fish steaks for dinner.
Eating nuts, which contain mostly unsaturated fatty acids as well as some fiber and important vitamins and minerals, can help you follow a heart-healthy diet. Remember to keep an eye on portion size to manage calories—a small handful of nuts (about ¼ cup) counts as a serving.
- Tips for everyone. Add peanuts as a garnish on Asian dishes or stir fries. Nuts are easy to portion out and take to work or school for a snack.
- Tips for kids. Enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or get more creative, topping an apple with peanut butter or preparing ants on a log!
- Tips for adults. Add walnuts or almonds to your salad for flavor and crunch. Or make nuts the base of a “make-your-own” trail mix the whole family can enjoy!
Don't Overdo on Salt
Choose and prepare foods with little or no added salt. For sodium-sensitive people, too much salt (sodium) can contribute to high blood pressure.
- Tips for everyone. The Daily Value for sodium is 2,400 mg per day. That’s about a teaspoon of salt, from processed foods and foods you prepare. Use the salt shaker sparingly, if at all.
- Tips for kids. Snack on unsalted nuts and popcorn. Skip added salt on fries. Munch on fresh veggies.
- Tips for adults. Check food labels; look for choices with less sodium. Season with spices, herbs, onions or balsamic vinegar instead of salt. Taste foods before salting.
Fit in Physical Activity
According to experts, regular physical activity greatly reduces the risk of dying from coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Physical activity is an important component added to heart-healthy eating.
- Tips for everyone. Being active can help to promote heart health and keep you feeling your best.
- Tips for kids. Have fun getting physical! Being active helps kids build strong bones and muscles. And it makes them feel good about themselves, too. Experts recommend that children and teens be active for a total of at least 60 minutes every day.
- Tips for adults. Fit in physical activity. Life is hectic, but physical activity should be a top priority as you age. The key is consistency to help maintain and build muscle, improve balance and flexibility and reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. Get active for at least 30 minutes each day and your body will feel the difference–today and in the future.
Try this delicious Baked Salmon with Veggies dish as a part of a healthy living plan and resolve to step up your activity level to meet your heart healthy eating goals. Explore more Healthy Living recipes that are designed to help you meet your heart smart eating goals.