You may want to follow a formal diet so you know exactly what to eat, or you might prefer having some general guidelines to keep in mind. Either way, a heart-healthy diet should include these principles:
1. Stay within a reasonable daily calorie limit.
Your diet shouldn't cut out entire groups of foods or leave you hungry all the time. Prepackaged meals (single portions of balanced, calorie-controlled meals) may be an option for you.
2. Use proper serving sizes.
Consider getting a food scale so you can measure or weigh your food until you can learn to judge portions on your own. If you don't want to use a scale, you can find portion size guides online.
3. Cut back on:
- Red meat.
- Sugary foods and drinks. Try foods made with low- or no-calorie sweeteners, like sucralose, stevia and aspartame instead of sugar.
- Saturated and trans fats. Use healthier oils and sprays like olive or canola.
- Sodium. Limit yourself to 2,400 milligrams or less daily; 1,500 milligrams a day should be the max if you want to lower blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about whether you should use a salt substitute.
- Processed foods or canned foods.
4. Eat a variety of food that includes:
- Fruits and vegetables, especially those that are high in potassium, like bananas, raisins and oranges (7-9 servings every day).
- Whole grains (6-8 servings a day).
- Low-fat dairy (2-3 servings a day).
- Fish and lean meats prepared without skin or added fats (up to 6 ounces a day).
5. Get plenty of fiber.
A fiber-rich diet has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes as well as, lower blood pressure, lower bad cholesterol, lower blood sugar and a healthy weight. Most adults need 20-30 grams a day. Great sources are whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans. If you can't get enough from food, a fiber supplement might help. Check with your doctor about the type you should try.