Avoiding trans fats and saturated fats is especially important for managing your cholesterol levels. So whenever possible, opt for an unsaturated fat instead of one that is saturated or contains trans fats. Look for the helpful monounsaturated fats found in canola oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Other unsaturated fats, such as corn, safflower and soybean oil, are also better choices than saturated or trans fats. But keep in mind that unsaturated fats are still fats, still high-calorie, and need to be limited in your diet.
Among the best of the many foods that tout heart-healthy properties are products fortified with plant sterols, which can help lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. Plant sterols are found naturally in some foods - like vegetable oils, almonds, beans, corn, wheat, banana, apples, and tomatoes. A healthy diet should provide a certain amount of plant sterols. You can buy sterol-fortified margarines, orange juice, cereal bars, yogurt, chocolate bars, and more. However, more studies need to be done to evaluate its long-term effects.
Alcohol in moderation - that's one drink a day for women and two for men -- can help increase your HDL "good cholesterol." But beyond these recommended amounts, it can have harmful effects. Researchers agree that people who don't drink should not start. There are many other dietary and lifestyle changes that can give nondrinkers similar heart benefits.
For an easy dietary boost, try enjoying a vegetarian meal a few times a week, suggests researcher Wahida Karmally, RD.
"Plant-based diets offer an abundance of low-calorie, nutrient-dense vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting antioxidants that offer tremendous benefits for your health and your heart," she says.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Diet isn't the only lifestyle change that can help you get heart-healthy. Excess weight puts extra strain on all parts of your body, including your heart.
"Being overweight can increase your risk for heart disease, diabetes, as well as other diseases," says Karmally, RD. "The first line of defense, and one of the best things you can do for your heart, is to get your weight within normal limits."