If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a history of heart problems, you have a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. You can lower your risk by making this small change: At each meal, choose foods that are good for your heart.
Most diets are based on foods you shouldn’t eat. Instead, take a positive approach and focus on foods that are good for you.
Eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The fiber in these foods helps lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. Put these on your plate with every meal to reach these daily amounts: At least 5 cups of fruits and vegetables and three 1-ounce servings of whole grains a day.
Eat more beans, legumes (like lentils), seeds, and nuts. Your weekly target: 4 servings of either nuts, seeds, or legumes such as black beans, garbanzos (also called chickpeas), or lentils.
Put healthier fats to work for you. Favor unsaturated fats, such as canola, olive, and peanut oils. These oils are less likely than butter or lard to clog your arteries.
Eat fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, including albacore tuna, salmon, and sardines. Omega-3s seem to lower triglycerides, fight plaque in your arteries, lower blood pressure, and reduce your risk of abnormal heart rhythms.
Eat lean protein. Make beans, nuts, fish, and chicken your mainstays, and keep portions in check. The American Heart Association suggests you eat at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish a week. Some cuts of meat have more fat than others, so look for leaner choices. If you’re craving some type of processed meat -- bacon, deli meats, hot dogs, sausage, chicken nuggets, or jerky -- limit those, too.
Feed your body regularly. When you skip a meal, you’re more likely to overeat later. For some people, eating 5 to 6 mini-meals works best to limit calories, help control blood sugars, and regulate metabolism. For others, 3 meals a day works better, since extra meals can trigger overeating. See which approach works for you.
Experiment with new flavors. Try using dried herbs and spices instead of salt, which can drive up your blood pressure. For chicken, try using rosemary, garlic, or sage. For fish, try dill or tarragon. Vinegars are another way to liven up ho-hum food.
Celebrate each pound you lose. Small steps add up. Dropping even 5 or 10 pounds -- even if you're still technically overweight afterward -- will cut your risk of having a heart attack or stroke by lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
As important as your diet is, you'll also do your heart a favor by doing these things:
Exercise. Be as active as possible. It strengthens your heart, improves blood flow, raises "good" HDL cholesterol, and helps control blood sugar and body weight. According to the American Heart Association, your goal should be 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week.
If you smoke, quit. No matter how many years you've been smoking, know this: Research shows that quitting works as well -- if not better -- than just about any heart drug available. Quitting now will lower your risk of death from heart disease by 33%.