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Eat for a Healthy Heart

Making healthy food choices is one of many lifestyle changes that can help reduce your risk for getting heart disease—the No. 1 killer in the United States. The Nutrition Facts found on most foods and health claims allowed on some foods can help you choose wisely.

To help ward off heart disease, choose foods with

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  • less fat
  • less sodium (salt)
  • less cholesterol
  • fewer calories
  • more fiber

“Making better food choices for your health doesn’t mean you will need to exclude favorite foods,” says Barbara Schneeman, Ph.D., director of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) Office of Nutrition, Labeling and Dietary Supplements. “You can use one of the most valuable tools people have—the food label—to make dietary trade-offs. For example, if you eat a food that is high in saturated fat, you can make other choices during the day that are low in saturated fat to keep your total daily intake in balance by using the part of the food label called Nutrition Facts.”

FDA regulations require nutrition information to appear on packaging for most prepared foods, such as breads, cereals, canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts, and drinks. Nutrition labeling for raw produce (fruits and vegetables) and fish is voluntary.

Food Label and Nutrition Facts

“The food label gives people the power to compare foods quickly and easily so they can judge which products best fit into a heart-healthy diet or meet other dietary needs,” says Schneeman.

For example, people concerned about their blood pressure who want to limit how much salt (sodium) they eat may be faced with five different types of tomato soup on the shelf, says Schneeman. You can compare the sodium content of each product by looking at Nutrition Facts to choose the one with the lowest sodium content.

Nutrient Highs and Lows

Most of the nutrients that must be declared under Nutrition Facts on the food label are listed with a "percent Daily Value" (%DV), which shows the percent of the recommended daily intake that's in a serving of that product.

Consumers can use the %DVs to create a balanced diet. With a glance, they can see if a product has a high or low amount of a nutrient. The rule of thumb is 20% DV or more is high and 5% DV or less is low.

Health experts recommend keeping the intake of nutrients that may increase your risk for heart disease as low as possible. These nutrients are

  • saturated fat
  • trans fat
  • cholesterol

There is no %DV for trans fat, but you can use the label to find out whether the saturated fat and cholesterol are high or low. When comparing products, look at the total amount of saturated fat plus trans fat to find the one lowest in both of these types of fat.