Follow These Recipe Modifications for a Heart Healthy Diet

We recently talked about all of the ways you can modify your risk factors for heart disease with every day lifestyle changes like exercising, quitting smoking, and more. Adjusting your diet to make it more heart healthy is another heart disease risk factor you can control, and we hope the below information will help you do so.

Tips for a Heart Healthy Diet

  • Make meal planning a priority.  Take a few minutes to pack a lunch of nutritious foods rather than relying on a fast food meal, which is often high in fat and calories. Include fruits and vegetables in your packed lunch.
  • Use the Food Guide Pyramid as a guideline for a heart healthy diet plan. Watch the number of portions you eat as well as your portion sizes.
  • Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables since they are naturally low in calories, sodium, fat, and cholesterol, but high in vitamins and minerals.
  • Avoid skipping meals as this often leads to hunger, cravings, and overeating.
  • Eat slowly and without distractions such as watching television, reading, or driving. It is easy to overeat since you are not fully aware of the food you have already consumed
  • A healthy diet is a balanced diet that includes all foods, even occasional sweets or high fat foods. The key is to limit portion sizes, especially when it comes to high fat and higher calorie foods.

Recipe Modifications

recipe modifications for a heart healthy diet

Tips to Reduce Fat and Calories When Cooking

  • When baking, cut the total amount of fat by 1/3 and utilize applesauce or fruit purees as a substitute for some of the oil.
  • Chill soups, stews, sauces, and broth and then remove the hardened fats that form at the top.
  • Choose lower fat versions of luncheon meats such as skinless chicken or turkey breast, lean ham, or roast beef
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat labeled as select grade such as round, sirloin, top loin, lean and extra lean ground beef, or ground turkey breast.
  • Limit meat portion sizes to 3-4 ounces.
  • Many lean meats are tougher than other meats. Try marinating the meats for a few hours or overnight to help tenderize the meat.
  • Grill, bake, broil, steam, roast, or boil meats rather than frying or deep fat frying.
  • Trim fat and remove the skin from poultry before cooking it.
  • Use tuna or salmon packed in water.
  • Use canned fruits that are water packed rather than those packed in heavy syrup.
  • When making cream soups, use skim milk and thicken with bread crumbs, pureed potatoes, or vegetables.
  • For a creamy salad dressing, mix low fat cottage cheese or low fat yogurt with onions, garlic, and other herbs in a blender.
  • Use low-calorie bases, such as vinegar, mustard, tomato juice, or bouillon for sauces and dressings, instead of cream, fats, oils, or mayonnaise.

dining options for a heart healthy diet

Tips for a Heart Healthy Diet When Dining Out

  • Avoid going to a restaurant when you are excessively hungry as you will be more likely to order higher calorie, higher fat items. Have a light snack of fruit or crackers to help take the edge off your hunger.
  • Ask if items can be prepared differently to meet your dietary needs. You may want to ask for meats or fish to be broiled, rather than fried. Often times, small or 1/2 portions of entreés are available. Sauces, gravies, and salad dressing can be provided on the side so you can control the amount on your food.
  • Watch your alcohol intake. It may enhance your appetite and can add many calories at the same time.
  • Slow down the time it takes you to eat. It takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to tell your stomach that it is full. If you eat quickly, you may have already over-eaten before you begin to feel full.
  • Do not feel the need to eat everything that is put in front of you. If you don’t want to waste food, take it home for another meal the next day. Splitting an entrée is also an option.

High Levels of Blood Fats & Heart Disease Risk

Diet and genetics contribute to the amount of fats we have circulating in our blood. High levels of blood fats create plaques in coronary arteries. It is important to reduce the amount of cholesterol-rich foods you consume as a part of a heart healthy diet. Exercise can also work to reduce blood fats. Sometimes, your physician will have to prescribe a daily medication to help reduce the amount of fat in the blood.

Managing Your Cholesterol Profile Through Diet

Lipoproteins are protein-coated packages that carry fat and cholesterol throughout the body.  There are three types of lipoproteins.

  • VLDL:  very low density lipoproteins carry cholesterol and triglycerides from the liver.  After VLDL sheds the triglycerides, it becomes LDL.
  • LDL:  low density lipoproteins are referred to as the “bad cholesterol.”  These carry the largest amount of cholesterol in the blood and are responsible for depositing cholesterol in the artery walls.
  • HDL:  high density lipoproteins are referred to as the “good cholesterol.”  These carry the bad cholesterol away from the walls of the arteries and return it to the blood stream so it can be returned to the liver.

What happens to the cholesterol and fat you eat?

  1. Fat goes to the liver and passes through the stomach.  From the stomach, it goes to the small intestine and back to the liver for processing and shipment throughout the body.
  2. The liver loads fat and cholesterol into very low density lipoproteins (VLDL), which are protein-coated packages.  The VLDLs travel through your blood vessels unloading fat.  After this process, the VLDLs turn into low density lipoproteins (LDLs).
  3. LDL cholesterol may become stuck to your artery walls and cause them to narrow.
  4. High density lipoproteins (HDL) pick up stuck cholesterol pieces and bring them back to the liver where it is either repackaged into VLDLs or broken down and excreted.

If you eat too much fat, your liver makes extra VLDLs, which eventually become LDLs.  More cholesterol then is left in the blood vessels if there are not enough HDLs to pick them up and then result in narrowing of the blood vessels and coronary artery disease.

Lowering Lipid Levels with a Heart Healthy Diet

How do you lower lipid levels?  Eating a low fat, low cholesterol diet can help.  Exercising daily will reduce cholesterol levels.  Your physician may prescribe medications to lower your cholesterol.  Here are some suggestions for lowering your cholesterol:

  • Follow a low fat, low cholesterol diet, limiting cholesterol to 200 mg per day and fat calories to less than 30% of your diet.  A good rule is to avoid food higher than 7 grams of total fat per serving.
  • Choose foods that contain monounsaturated fats.  These fats lower bad cholesterol without lowering good cholesterol.  Examples of these foods include olive and canola oils.
  • Avoid saturated fats.  These foods raise cholesterol levels.  Examples of these foods include butter, lard, Crisco shortening, fatty meats, coconut and palm oils, and partially hydrogenated oils hidden in margarines and fried fast foods.
  • Reduce your intake of sweet, sugary foods.
  • Restrict your intake of alcohol.
  • Lose weight!  If you cut 500 calories per day for 7 days, you will lose 1 pound of fat per week.
  • Exercise regularly, with permission from your physician.  The standard for exercising regularly is 30 minutes per day for five days a week.
  • The effects of exercising regularly include increasing HDL, lowering triglycerides, and modification of blood pressure, diabetes, and stress.
  • Cholesterol Medications:  If your lipid levels do not become desirable after six months after initiating dietary changes and exercise, your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications.  If you are at extremely high risk for heart disease or you have extremely high cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels, you may be put on medication sooner.

Total Fat and Saturated Fat

Dietary fat, in general, is a source of energy, or calories. One gram of fat contains 9 calories, thus containing more energy than other sources such as carbohydrate or protein (4 calories per gram respectively). Fat is NOT an enemy. We need some fat in the diet for fuel, hormone production, cell structure, and fat soluble vitamins. What IS the enemy is excess fat.

How Much Fat Do I Need?

Total dietary fat is important, but just as important is the type of fat. Saturated fat, which comes mainly from animal sources, has a direct effect on increasing serum cholesterol, thereby associating it with coronary heart disease (CHD). General recommendations are as follows:

General population:
< 30% total calories from fat < 10% total calories from saturated fat This is approximately 40 - 65 grams (gm) total fat and 13 - 22 gm saturated.

Those with known CHD or high cholesterol:
< 25% total calories from fat < 7% total calories from saturated fat This is approximately 33 - 55 grams (gm) total fat and 9 - 16 gm saturated.

Your dietitian or physician can help you determine the right percentages and daily intakes for you.

Where Do I Start?

Start by reducing the obvious sources, the “add-ons” such as butter, margarine, creams, cheeses, sauces. Then look at foods with a low fat alternative, such as milks, meats, eggs, salad dressings. Decrease consumption of bakery items, high fast prepared foods, and high fat restaurant selections.


What Is Dietary Fiber?

Fiber is a compound of plan origin that is not digested by human gastrointestinal (GI) tract enzymes, but may be broken down by GI bacteria. There are two main types of fiber: water soluble fiber, which may slow down digestion, and insoluble fiber, which may increase stool bulk and timeliness.

What Is Dietary Fiber’s Relationship With Cholesterol and CHD?

Soluble fiber has a positive effect on blood lipids by decreasing LDL cholesterol. It does this by drawing a product of LDL cholesterol (bile acids) out of the body by excreting it in stool, thereby forcing the body to pull more cholesterol out of the blood stream.

How Much Dietary Fiber Do I Need?

The general recommendation is 25-30  grams per day in addition to a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. Although it is soluble fiber that is recognized as playing a role in lowering cholesterol levels, adequate consumption of all fibers likely correlates to a lower fat diet high in whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.

How Do I Start?

Increase fiber gradually in your diet and drink plenty (8-10 glasses) of fluids a day. Knowledge is key. Check your food labels.

Sources of Fiber:

  • Whole Wheat breads
  • Crackers
  • Oats
  • Bran Cereals
  • Fresh Fruits
  • Fresh Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Seeds