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Helping Loved Ones With Heart Disease Eat Right

WebMD Medical Reference

A heart-healthy diet is one of the most important steps for a person with heart disease; combined with a healthy lifestyle, it can slow or even reverse the narrowing of arteries and prevent further complications.

Caregivers can help a loved one who has heart disease by adopting a diet that reduces LDL (''bad'') cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, lowers blood sugar, and reduces body weight. The most powerful nutrition strategy helps people with heart disease focus on what they can eat, and in fact, research has shown that adding heart-saving foods is just as important as cutting back on others. As a caregiver, here are some strategies to help you plan meals for someone with heart disease:

1. Serve more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. These foods may be one of the most powerful strategies in fighting heart disease.

2. Choose fat calories wisely by:

  • Limiting total fat grams.
  • Serving a minimum of saturated fats and trans-fats (for example, fats found in butter, salad dressing, sweets and desserts).
  • When using added fats for cooking or baking, choose oils that are high in monounsaturated fat (for example, olive and peanut oil) or polyunsaturated fat (such as fats found in soybean, corn and sunflower oils).

3. Serve a variety -- and just the right amount -- of protein-rich foods. Balance meals with lean meat, fish, and vegetable sources of protein.

4. Limit cholesterol consumption. Dietary cholesterol that is found in red meat and high-fat dairy products can raise blood cholesterol levels, especially in high-risk people. 

5.Serve complex carbohydrates. Include foods like whole wheat pasta, whole-grain breads and sweet potatoes to add fiber and regulate blood sugar levels. Avoid simple carbohydrates like soda and sugary foods.

6. Serve meals regularly. By serving regular meals, you can help someone with heart disease control blood sugar, burn fat more efficiently, and regulate cholesterol levels.

Other Heart Disease and Diet Tips

  • De-emphasize salt. This will help your loved one control his or her blood pressure.
  • Encourage exercise. The human body was meant to be active. Exercise strengthens the heart muscle, improves blood flow, reduces high blood pressure, raises HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol), and helps control blood sugar levels and body weight.
  • Encourage hydration. Water is vital to life. Staying hydrated makes you feel energetic and eat less. Encourage your loved one to drink 32 to 64 ounces (about one to two liters) of water daily (unless he or she is fluid restricted).

An excellent motto to follow is: dietary enhancement, not deprivation. When people enjoy what they eat, they feel more positive about life, which helps them feel better.

How Much Is in a Serving?

When trying to coordinate an eating plan that's good for the heart, it may help to know how much of a certain kind of food is considered a "serving." The following table offers some examples.




The size of

1 cup cooked rice or pasta

2 starch

tennis ball

1 slice bread

1 starch

compact disc case

1 cup raw vegetables or fruit

1 fruit or vegetable


1/2 cup cooked vegetables or fruit

1 fruit or vegetable

cupcake wrapper full or size of ice cream scoop

1 ounce cheese

1 high-fat protein

pair of dice

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 fat**

half dollar

3 ounces cooked meat

1 protein

deck of cards 

3 ounces tofu

1 protein

deck of cards 

** Remember to count fat servings that may be added to food while cooking (oil for sautéing, butter, or shortening for baking)


Reviewed on February 15, 2012
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