Nutrition Column – Eat Smart for a Healthy Heart

What have you done for your heart lately? February is Heart Health Month and a good time to re-examine eating and lifestyle patterns that may affect the overall health of your heart and the hearts of those you care for.

Healthy food habits can help you reduce three of the major risk factors for heart attack – high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess body weight. Healthy food habits also help to reduce your risk of stroke, because heart disease and high blood pressure are major risk factors for stroke. Here is a synopsis of the American Heart Association’s Eating Plan for Healthy Americans:

  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Choose five or more servings per day.
  • Eat a variety of grain products, including whole grains. Choose six or more servings per day.
  • Include fat-free and low-fat milk products, fish, legumes (beans), skinless poultry and lean meats.
  • Choose fats and oils with 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving, such as liquid or tub margarines, canola oil and olive oil.
  • Balance the number of calories you eat with the number you use each day. For a rough estimate of the number of calories you use each day, multiply your weight in pounds by 15 calories. This represents the average number of calories used in one day if you’re moderately active. If you get very little exercise, multiply your weight by 13 calories instead of 15.
  • Maintain a level of physical activity that keeps you fit and matches the number of calories you eat. Walk or do other activities for at least 30 minutes on most days. To lose weight, do enough activity to use up more calories than you eat every day.
  • Limit your intake of foods high in calories or low in nutrition, including foods like soft drinks and candy that have a lot of sugar.
  • Limit foods high in saturated fat, trans fat and/or cholesterol, such as full-fat milk products, fatty meats, tropical oils, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and egg yolks. Instead, choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol from the first four guidelines.
  • Eat less than 6 grams of salt (sodium chloride) per day (2,400 milligrams of sodium).
  • Have no more than one alcoholic drink per day if you’re a woman and no more than two if you’re a man. "One drink" means it has no more than 1/2 ounce of pure alcohol. Examples of one drink are 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1-1/2 ounces of 80-proof spirits or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.

While the AHA guidelines are very similar to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the AHA guidelines focus specifically on improving heart health and therefore provide more specific guidelines on the amounts of some foods that should be eaten. Also, while both guidelines strongly encourage regular physical activity, the AHA guidelines give a recommended number of minutes to strive for each day.

For more information about the AHA dietary guidelines or to obtain a copy of the complete AHA Eating Plan for Healthy Americans, visit the AHA’s Web site at