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Heart-Healthy Diet and Exercise

For a Heart-Healthy Diet: Try DASH or TLC

These are fancy names for relatively simple approaches to eating. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is geared toward lowering blood pressure. The TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) program focuses on lowering the bad fat you eat to lower your blood fat and cholesterol levels. Both DASH and TLC can help you in these ways:

  • Lower your blood pressure (about 8 to 14 points systolic blood pressure when following the DASH diet)
  • Lower the fat and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in your blood
  • Raise the HDL (good) cholesterol levels in your blood
  • Lessen the burden on your heart
  • Lower your chances of heart attack

What do the heart-healthy diets called DASH and TLC involve?

  • Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Eating less total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
  • Limiting the amount of red meat, sweets, and sweetened beverages you eat.

Ask your doctor for more details about these two eating plans. Or you can find out more yourself online. You may also want to consult a dietitian for advice about heart-healthy eating.

Cut Back on Salt for Heart Health

Sodium is a chemical that makes your blood pressure rise. It's most often found in table salt and in processed food.

Lowering the amount of salt you eat can help lower the amount of fluid your body holds onto. This lowers your blood pressure and makes it easier for your heart to do its work. Reducing sodium to less than 2,400 milligrams  can lower blood pressure two to eight points. People who keep their sodium levels to no more than 1,500 milligrams per day (about a quarter teaspoon of table salt) see the greatest heart-health benefits.  

Recent updates to the USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend the following: Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg), and reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African-American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.

How can you lower the amount of sodium you eat for a heart-healthy diet? Try some of these suggestions to get started:

  • Read labels. Look for "salt," "sodium," "sea salt," and "Kosher salt."
  • Rinse salty canned food such as tuna before using it.
  • Substitute herbs and spices for sodium and salt when cooking.
  • Avoid instant or flavored side dishes, which usually have a lot of added sodium. Instead, try cooking plain rice, pasta, or grains without adding salt. You can add other flavorings or a bit of salt when you serve them.
  • If you buy "convenience" foods, look for "low sodium" on the labels.

Your doctor can recommend a dietitian to work with you on finding more ways to reduce salt in your diet.

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