Tips for Eating Right to Prevent Heart Disease

Eat these foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to maintain good heart health.

Medically Reviewed

An Easy Way To Reduce Fat While Cooking

Chef Daniel Green shows you how to cut back on fat with this easy cooking hack.
An Easy Way To Reduce Fat While Cooking

When it comes to your overall health, taking care of your heart is paramount.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 659,000 people die of heart disease each year, about one in every four deaths.

People with heart disease are at a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, aneurysm, peripheral artery disease, and sudden cardiac arrest.

Avoiding these health problems and maintaining good heart health starts with a healthy diet. Here, experts offer advice on the types of food to include in your diet to protect your heart.

One-Pan Baked Oatmeal

One-Pan Baked Oatmeal is one of the most delicious?social media food trends to date — and it's super easy to make! This oatmeal technique was made viral by the likes of @feelgoodfoodie and @smartgusto?—?and you'll be so glad it found its way into your?life.

contains? Dairy, Tree Nuts
4.5 out of 20 reviews

SERVES

6

CALORIES PER SERVING

455

AUTHOR

Alex Santos

PREP TIME

5 min

COOK TIME

25 min

TOTAL TIME

30 min

Ingredients

Cooking or baking spray
2 ripe bananas
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups milk (of your choosing)
2 tbsp chia seeds
2 cups fresh berries (frozen would work, too!)
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 lemon, zested
Maple syrup, to taste

Directions

1

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large baking dish, mash two ripe bananas. Next, add oats, milk, and chia seeds. Stir to combine.

2

Add berries, walnuts, and lemon zest on top. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the liquid has absorbed.

3

Remove from oven,?and drizzle on some maple syrup to your liking. Slice into individual pieces and enjoy!

Nutrition Facts

Amount per serving

calories

455

total fat

19g

saturated fat

1.9g

protein

13g

carbohydrates

64g

fiber

8.9g

sugar

24.2g

added sugar

11.1g

sodium

40mg

TAGS:

Dairy, Tree Nuts, Mediterranean, Gluten-free, Heart-Healthy, Vegetarian, Low-Sodium, High-Fiber, Family-Friendly, Breakfast

Fiber Is Essential for a Heart-Healthy Breakfast

Breakfast wasn’t dubbed the most important meal of the day for nothing. Fuel up on foods high in fiber and low in unhealthy saturated fats in the mornings to start your day out right.

Kelly Kennedy, RDN, Everyday Health's staff nutritionist, recommends fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for breakfast.

Although dairy can sometimes get a bad rap, she says it can certainly be an important part of a healthy breakfast and overall diet.

A study published in The Lancet in September 2018 found that dairy consumption was associated with a lower risk of death and lower risk of major cardiac events.

“Many people who don't have an allergy or intolerance to dairy products choose to avoid them anyway and use dairy-free alternatives,” Kennedy says. “Dairy foods can be a valuable part of a balanced diet. They are one of the top food sources of calcium and provide more protein, on average, than any plant-based milk products.”

She recommends sticking to fat-free or low-fat varieties of dairy, as full-fat dairy contains unhealthy saturated fat. Oats, either steel-cut or old-fashioned rolled, are also a smart option for breakfast. “They are 100 percent whole grain and a good source of soluble fiber, which means they are not only good for you but they will keep you feeling full until lunch,” says Rebecca Fuller, RD, a cardiovascular intensive care dietitian at MUSC Heart and Vascular Center in Charleston, South Carolina.

A?study published?in the July–August 2021 issue of the?Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine concluded that participants who ate breakfast daily, particularly when they consumed more than 25 grams of fiber per day total, had a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and death from any cause.

Additionally, oats may help to lower blood cholesterol levels, decreasing the?risk of heart disease, Kennedy says.

Steer clear of breakfast foods high in saturated fat and refined grains and sugars, including bacon, sausage, waffles, pancakes, and sugary cereals. “These can all increase bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which are bad for heart health,” Kennedy says.

And while eggs have been a somewhat controversial food when it comes to heart health because they’re high in dietary cholesterol, she points to research that shows a moderate amount of dietary cholesterol does not increase blood cholesterol levels for most people.

The study, published in March 2016 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that eating one egg per day, including the yolk, was not associated with any increased risk of heart disease.

“I think this is a safe number to stick to unless otherwise advised by a doctor,” Kennedy says. “It's just an average, though. If you have three eggs for breakfast twice a week, that works, too.”

As when you cook other foods, a little bit of healthy fat, such as olive oil — or none at all, as with poached or boiled eggs — is preferable.

“When you fry eggs in a ton of butter it adds unhealthy saturated fat, which makes it bad for heart health,” Kennedy says.

Fill Up on Heart-Healthy Fruits and Veggies for Lunch

For lunch, a salad, sandwich, or hearty soup are usually healthy options, but there are some general rules to keep in mind.

“Salads are thought of as a classic health food, but not all salads are created equal. Some salads can be 1,000 calories or more,” Fuller says.

To keep your salad heart-healthy, she suggests using a variety of greens and fresh veggies. Avoid toppings like cheese, bacon, and croutons, which can add a lot of fat and sodium.

“Instead of croutons or bacon for crunch, consider adding a small amount of nuts, like walnuts, almonds, or pecans, or try seeds, like sesame, pumpkin, or flaxseeds,” Fuller says. “These will still add fat, but less saturated fat and more healthier fat.”

For dressing, opt for vinaigrettes and keep the portion to no more than two tablespoons.

When it comes to sandwiches, start with whole grain bread, and choose a lean meat. “Be careful of deli meats. They can be very high in sodium,” Fuller says. “Add a low-fat cheese, such as Swiss, which is also naturally low in sodium.”

Tomato, lettuce, or cucumber can bring texture to a sandwich, but limit pickles and condiments, which are sometimes loaded with sodium.

“Instead, try a small amount of avocado or some olive oil–based mayonnaise,” Fuller says.

Soups sometimes have a bad reputation for high sodium and unhealthy fats. But choosing a low-sodium, broth-based soup is a great option for a meal, Kennedy says.

She suggests opting for soups full of veggies, which can fill you up with relatively few calories. A healthy soup can also contribute to weight loss, help you maintain a healthy weight, and help bring down blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Supplement Your Greens With a Lean Protein for Dinner

For dinner, aim to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.

If you’re including meat in your meal, choose something lean, like skinless chicken or turkey breast. If you’re buying ground meat, Fuller suggests getting meat labeled 93 or 97 percent lean on the package. “Keep portions to about three ounces, or the size of a deck of cards,” she says.

Fish can be a key part of a heart-healthy diet, as well as a good source of protein and heart-healthy fats called omega-3s.

According to the American Heart Association, “research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.” Fuller notes omega-3s also have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation of the vascular walls.

She recommends trying to incorporate fish into your diet twice a week. “Start by switching out one red meat meal a week for fish options, like salmon, tuna, mackerel, or sardines,” she says.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid fried foods and foods with heavy cream or cheese sauces. Instead opt for items that are grilled or baked.

Skip the Junk Food and Fuel Up on Heart-Healthy Snacks

While snacking is often associated with unhealthy foods, like chips or cookies, munching on healthy foods can sate your hunger and control weight, which is essential for a healthy heart.

“Snacks are a great opportunity to add in more heart-healthy fruits and vegetables,” Kennedy says.

Fuller recommends choosing foods with protein and fiber, two nutrients that will help keep you full until your next meal.

Snacking on nuts like almonds, cashews, or walnuts is a great heart-healthy option, she says. A?study published in the March–April 2021 Journal of Clinical Lipidology of 39,000 women found that those who ate nuts a couple of times a week had a lower risk of death from heart disease.

Other heart-healthy go-to snacks to keep on hand are fruits, like

  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Fresh veggies and hummus

Snack foods to avoid include those that are processed, or those that contain refined grains, added sugar, or unhealthy saturated or trans fats, such as:

  • Candy bars
  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Baked goods

“Instead of thinking of a snack as a time to indulge,” Kennedy says, “try to think of it as a time to get in another serving of a healthy food.”