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Top tips for a heart-healthy diet

A well-balanced diet is an important part of maintaining your overall health, but it is a vital part of maintaining your heart health, according to Women’s College Hospital’s (WCH) cardiovascular dietitians.

"Your heart has a large responsibility in pumping blood throughout your body and it cannot function without the right nutrients to keep it going," says Helen Emanoilidis, registered dietitian, cardiology, WCH. "So many conditions that are related to your heart’s function, like hypertension and high cholesterol, are tied to what you put inside your body. The best approach is to focus on getting healthy foods as often as you can."

The foods we eat every day are filled with a variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are beneficial for our bodies. In particular, magnesium (found in dark leafy greens and pumpkin seeds), potassium (found in bananas and other fruits and vegetables) and calcium (found in dairy and canned salmon) are necessary for regular heart function. However, preventing heart disease in particular takes more than just eating a good amount of nutrients.

"An overall unhealthy diet and lifestyle is related to conditions like heart disease, more so than the over or under consumption of specific nutrients," says Allison Kaplansky, dietetic intern, WCH. "If you can take control of your eating patterns and choose heart-healthy foods, you can have a stronger effect on your heart than you might think."

In celebration of Heart Month, Emanoilidis and Kaplansky have shared nine quick tips to help you maintain good heart health through nutrition.

  • Up the Omega 3s – Omega 3s have several benefits and can be found in fatty fish like salmon, trout and sardines. If you’re not a fish lover, you can still get omega 3s from other healthy foods such as walnuts, flax seeds and milk from grass fed cows.
  • Opt for real foods over supplements – Short on nutrients? Instead of picking up an over-the-counter supplement, opt for a whole-food option. For example, if you need vitamin C, an orange will give you that along with fiber and vitamin B1, giving you more bang for your buck.
  • Don’t get caught up in the trends – Trendy ‘healthy’ food options such as coconut sugar and agave syrup might have some small benefits over refined white sugar, but that does not make them healthy. Remember to eat everything in moderation and not to get too caught up in what is popular. 
  • Simplify your choices – Focus on one-ingredient foods such as fresh veggies, fruits, all-natural nut and seed butters, unsalted raw nuts and seeds, plain yogurt, eggs and whole grains such as quinoa, farro or steel cut oats instead of processed foods. Doing so not only simplifies nutrition, but it also helps to keep sodium and sugar consumption levels in check. 
  • Plan in advance – It’s easy to reach for a sodium-packed bag of chips or a croissant filled with hydrogenated oils when you’re in the mood for a snack. But planning your snacks ahead of time can help you make better choices. Try packing some veggies and home-made hummus for a savory snack or yogurt and frozen berries for a sweet one.
  • Increase your soluble fiber intake — While fiber is beneficial in general, soluble fiber in particular is good for lowering LDL (low-density lipoprotein), which is your bad cholesterol. You can find fiber in foods such as oatmeal, vegetables and legumes.
  • Control your portion sizes — Restaurant meals often come in large portion sizes which can make it easy to overeat and subsequently gain weight. Remember that your protein should be about the size of your palm, your starches and/or carbohydrates should be the size of your first. Save any leftovers for another meal.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake — Excessive alcohol consumption can raise triglycerides and can also lead to weight gain. Limit the number of drinks you have to less than nine per week if you are a woman and 14 per week if you are a man. One drink is equivalent to one 5oz glass of wine, one 12oz beer, and one 1.5oz portion of hard liquor.
  • Find a balance – Nobody can be expected to abstain from all unhealthy foods! Aim to eat healthy foods 80 per cent of the time, and not worry about the remaining 20 per cent. Good health is about living the healthiest life you can enjoy, not the healthiest life you can tolerate.


This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: January 17, 2019

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