Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, with a variety of colors, is one way to protect the heart, since they contain a multitude of potentially helpful nutrients beyond the familiar vitamins and minerals. Here are some additional ways.
Choose healthy fats. Swap unsaturated fats—such as those in canola, olive, safflower, and soybean oils—for saturated fats, such as those in butter. Avoid trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oil that lurks in margarines and many fast or packaged foods. Trans fats raise LDL, lower HDL, and inflame the arteries.
Cut back on salt. Aim for less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day, the amount in a teaspoon of salt. If you already have high blood pressure, try to cut back to 1,500 mg. Focus especially on prepared and packaged foods, since that's were most salt in our diet lurks. See our tips for other ways to reduce your sodium intake.
Get plenty of fiber. That can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, possibly by absorbing saturated fat in the gut. It may also help control inflammation. And it can help you feel full, so may help with weight-loss efforts. Good sources include fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and vegetables. Soluble fiber, found especially in barley, beans, and oats, may be particularly effective.
Limit dietary cholesterol. If your LDL is elevated, consume less than 200 milligrams of cholesterol per day-the amount in one egg yolk, 8 ounces of skinless chicken breast, or 10 ounces of lean sirloin. Other people should keep their daily consumption under 300 mg.
Drink moderately, if at all. Up to one drink a day for women and two for men can raise HDL (good) cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and possibly reduce inflammation and help ward off diabetes. But even a little too much alcohol undermines the heart.
Consider plant stanols or sterols. Those naturally occurring substances are now added to a number of products, including Benecol and Take Control margarine and Minute Maid Heart Wise orange juice. Consuming two servings a day may reduce LDL by 5 to 17 percent.
Include some soy. Two to three daily servings of soy protein—from tofu, soy milk, and other soy products—may reduce LDL by up to 10 percent.
Don't overeat. The rate of heart attack increases after big meals. And digesting lots of food at once may inflame the arteries.