Heart healthy diet tips: Focus on high-fiber foods

Heart Disease

A diet high in fiber can lower “bad” cholesterol and provide nutrients that can help protect against heart disease. By filling up on whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, you can get most of the fiber you’ll need, which means you’ll also be lowering your risk of heart disease.

Go for whole grains

Refined or processed foods are lower in fiber content, so make whole grains an integral part of your diet. There are many simple ways to add whole grains to your meals.

  • Breakfast better. For breakfast choose a high-fiber breakfast cereal—one with five or more grams of fiber per serving. Or add a few tablespoons of unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
  • Try a new grain. Experiment with brown rice, wild rice, barley, whole-wheat pasta, and bulgur. These alternatives are higher in fiber than their more mainstream counterparts—and you may find you love their tastes.
  • Bulk up your baking. When baking at home, substitute whole-grain flour for half or all of the white flour, since whole-grain flour is heavier than white flour. In yeast breads, use a bit more yeast or let the dough rise longer. Try adding crushed bran cereal or unprocessed wheat bran to muffins, cakes, and cookies.
  • Add flaxseed. Flaxseeds are small brown seeds that are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your total blood cholesterol. You can grind the seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor and stir a teaspoon of them into yogurt, applesauce, or hot cereal.

Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables

Most fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber, making them heart healthy. You can use some of the following strategies to make eating fruits and veggies part of your diet every day.

  • Keep fruit and vegetables at your fingertips. Wash and cut fruit and veggies and put them in your refrigerator for quick and healthy snacks. Choose recipes that feature these high-fiber ingredients, like veggie stir-fries or fruit salad.
  • Incorporate veggies into your cooking. Add pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables to soups and sauces. For example, mix chopped frozen broccoli into prepared spaghetti sauce or toss fresh baby carrots into stews.
  • Don’t leave out the legumes. Legumes are fiber-rich, too. Eat more beans, peas, and lentils. Add kidney beans to canned soup or a green salad.
  • Make snacks count. Fresh and dried fruit, raw vegetables, and whole-grain crackers are all good ways to add fiber at snack time. An occasional handful of nuts is also a healthy, high-fiber snack.
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Heart healthy diet tips: Cut out saturated and trans fats

Heart Disease

Of all the possible improvements you can make to your diet, limiting saturated fats and cutting out trans fats entirely is perhaps the most important. Both types of fat raise your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol level, which can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke. Luckily, there are many ways to control how much saturated and trans fats you take in. Keep these culprits in mind as you cook and make food choices—and learn how to avoid them.

  • Limit solid fat. Reduce the amount of solid fats like butter, margarine, or shortening you add to food when cooking or serving. Instead of cooking with butter, for example, flavor your dishes with herbs or lemon juice. You can also limit solid fat by trimming fat off your meat or choosing leaner proteins.
  • Substitute. Swap out high-fat foods for their lower-fat counterparts. Top your baked potato, for example, with salsa or low-fat yogurt rather than butter, or use low-sugar fruit spread on your toast instead of margarine. When cooking, use liquid oils like canola, olive, safflower, or sunflower, and substitute two egg whites for one whole egg in a recipe.
  • Be label-savvy. Check food labels on any prepared foods. Many snacks, even those labeled “reduced fat,” may be made with oils containing trans fats. One clue that a food has some trans fat is the phrase “partially hydrogenated.” And look for hidden fat; refried beans may contain lard, or breakfast cereals may have significant amounts of fat.
  • Change your habits. The best way to avoid saturated or trans fats is to change your lifestyle practices. Instead of chips, snack on fruit or vegetables. Challenge yourself to cook with a limited amount of butter. At restaurants, ask that sauces or dressings be put on the side—or left off altogether.
  • Not all fats are bad for your heart

    While saturated and trans fats are roadblocks to a healthy heart, unsaturated fats are essential for good health. You just have to know the difference. “Good” fats include:

    • Omega 3 Fatty Acids. Fatty fish like salmon, trout, or herring and flaxseed, canola oil, and walnuts all contain polyunsaturated fats that are vital for the body.
    • Omega 6 Fatty Acids. Vegetable oils, soy nuts, and many types of seeds all contain healthy fats.
    • Monounsaturated fats. Almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, and butters made from these nuts, as well as avocadoes, are all great sources of “good” fat.

10 best foods for your heart

Heart Disease

Almonds are rich in omega-3s, plus nuts increase fiber in the diet, says Dr. Sinatra. “And like olive oil, they are a great source of healthy fat.”

Berries Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries — whatever berry you like best — are full of anti-inflammatories, which reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer.

“Blackberries and blueberries are especially great,” says Sinatra. “But all berries are great for your vascular health.” Health.com: How I survived a heart attack at 43

Legumes Fill up on fiber with lentils, chickpeas, and black and kidney beans. They’re packed with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and soluble fiber.

Spinach Spinach can help keep your ticker in top shape thanks to its stores of lutein, folate, potassium, and fiber.

But upping your servings of any veggies is sure to give your heart a boost. The Physicians’ Health Study examined more than 15,000 men without heart disease for a period of 12 years. Those who ate at least 2½ servings of vegetables each day cut their risk of heart disease by about 25 percent, compared with those who didn’t eat the veggies. Each additional serving reduced risk by another 17 percent.

Flaxseed Full of fiber and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, a little sprinkling of flaxseed can go a long way for your heart. Top a bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal with a smidgen of ground flaxseed for the ultimate heart-healthy breakfast.

Soy Soy may lower cholesterol, and since it is low in saturated fat, it’s still a great source of lean protein in a heart-healthy diet.

Look for natural sources of soy, like edamame, tempeh, or organic silken tofu. And soy milk is a great addition to a bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal. But watch the amount of salt in your soy: Some processed varieties like soy dogs can contain added sodium, which boosts blood pressure.

The Sugar Blockers Diet

Heart Disease

Use these seven rules to tap into the power of foods that can naturally slow sugar absorption, so you can keep eating meals you love.

Nosh on Lightly Cooked Vegetables

Reason: You digest them more slowly.

Both fruits and vegetables contain soluble fiber. As a rule, though, vegetables make better sugar blockers, because they have more fiber and less sugar.

But don’t cook your vegetables to mush. Boiling vegetables until they’re limp and soggy saturates the soluble fiber, filling it with water so it can’t absorb the sugar and starch you want it to. Also, crisp vegetables are chunkier when they reach your stomach, and larger food particles take longer to digest, so you’ll feel full longer. Another tip: Roasted vegetables like cauliflower can often serve as a delicious starch substitute.

The Sugar Blockers Diet

Heart Disease

Use these seven rules to tap into the power of foods that can naturally slow sugar absorption, so you can keep eating meals you love.

Start Your Meal With A Salad

Reason: It soaks up starch and sugar.

Soluble fiber from the pulp of plants–such as beans, carrots, apples, and oranges–swells like a sponge in your intestines and traps starch and sugar in the niches between its molecules. Soluble means “dissolvable”–and indeed, soluble fiber eventually dissolves, releasing glucose. However, that takes time. The glucose it absorbs seeps into your bloodstream slowly, so your body needs less insulin to handle it. A good way to ensure that you get enough soluble fiber is to have a salad–preferably before, rather than after, you eat a starch.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 12: Stir In Flaxseed

Flaxseed is one of the most potent sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Studies indicate that adding flaxseed to your diet can reduce the development of heart disease by 46%, while helping to keep red blood cells from clumping together and forming clots that can block arteries. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of flaxseed a day on your yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, or salad. Buy it preground, and keep it refrigerated.

28 Days to a Healthier Heart

Heart Disease

Lower heart disease risk by 92% with a simple change each day

Heart Health Day 5: Fiber Up Your Diet

Studies show that the more fiber you eat, the less likely you are to have a heart attack. Load up on whole grain breads and cereals that contain whole wheat, wheat bran, and oats. Toss beans into casseroles, soups, and salads. Aim for at least 25 to 35 g of fiber a day.

Get a printable shopping list of high-fiber foods with our Fiber Up Food Finder

Get Healthy High Fiber Recipes

Healthy Power Foods for Your Heart

Heart Disease

Our one-day heart-healthy menu is loaded with foods to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation.

As a cardiologist, I’ve always urged my patients to focus on risk factors they can control, and a heart-healthy diet is paramount among them. This one-day meal plan will help you lower inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. I hope once you see how easy it is to nourish your heart, you’ll be inspired to indulge in these delicious power meals regularly.

For Breakfast

Low-sodium V8 vegetable juice cocktail (6 ounces): It’s loaded with heart-protecting lycopene, potassium, and antioxidant vitamins A and C.

Oatmeal (1 cup): The soluble fiber (5 g per cup) helps lower LDL cholesterol. For convenience, make a week’s worth and reheat what you need each morning. Add 1 cup each steel-cut oats and chopped dried apples, 3 tablespoons granular sugar substitute, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 3 1/2 cups water, and 1/2 cup fat-free (or 1%) milk to a 2-quart slow cooker rubbed with 1 tablespoon trans-free margarine. Cook on low 6 to 8 hours.

Hard-cooked eggs (2): Repeat after me: Eggs do not raise cholesterol in most people.