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Heart Disease and a Heart-Healthy Diet

A heart-healthy diet begins by paying close attention to what you eat. You can reduce your chance of developing atherosclerosis, the blocked arteries that cause heart disease, with a heart-healthy diet. If the artery-clogging process has already begun, you can slow the rate at which it progresses.

While this is very important for everyone at risk for atherosclerosis, it is even more important if you have had a heart attack or a procedure to restore blood flow to your heart or other areas of your body, such as angioplasty, bypass surgery, or carotid surgery. Following prevention advice can protect against re-narrowing of your arteries.

Did You Know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, at no cost to you. Learn more. 

Health Insurance Center

Feed Your Heart Well

Feeding your heart well is a powerful way to reduce or even eliminate some risk factors. Adopting a heart-healthy nutrition strategy can help reduce total and LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol), lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and reduce body weight. While some dietary plans just tell you what you CAN'T eat (usually your favorite foods!), the most powerful nutrition strategy helps you focus on what you CAN eat. In fact, heart disease research has shown that adding heart-healthy foods is just as important as cutting back on others.

Here are six nutrition strategies to reduce your risk of heart disease:

  1. Eat more fish. Fish is a good source of protein and other nutrients. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  2. Eat more vegetables and fruits.
  3. Avoid trans fats (for example, fats found in fried foods, snack foods, and packaged sweets).
  4. When you use added fat, use fats high in monounsaturated fats (for example, fats found in olive and peanut oil).
  5. Avoid processed meats. Processed meats like bacon and sausage may contain added sodium and nitrites associated with an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
  6. Limit sugar. Sugars, or simple carbohydrates (found in regular soft drinks, many baked goods, and sweets) are associated with elevated cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, and an increased risk of heart disease.

Other Heart-Healthy Strategies

  • Reduce salt intake. This will help you control your blood pressure.
  • 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 sugars and body weight.
  • Hydrate. Water is vital to life. Be sure to stay adequately hydrated.
  • Enjoy every bite. Your motto should be dietary enhancement, not deprivation. When you enjoy what you eat, you feel more positive about life, which helps you feel better.

How Much Is a Serving in a Heart-Healthy Diet?

When you're trying to follow an eating plan that's good for your 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


1 ounce cheese

1 high-fat protein

pair of dice

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 fat**

half dollar

3 ounces cooked meat

3 protein

deck of cards or cassette tape

3 ounces tofu

1 protein

deck of cards or cassette tape



WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 16, 2014
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