Eating to Get  and Stay  Heart Healthy

The statistics are daunting.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 67 percent of Americans ages 20 and older are overweight or obese.  And along with the extra pounds, comes the risk for a constellation of serious health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, arthritis and other conditions. For many overweight and obese children, the health problems are already evident.  Overweight children are more likely to have high blood pressure that can put strain the heart.  They also often have early indicators of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which is the most common cause of heart disease.

Determining what constitutes being overweight or obese is calculated on a person's body mass index (BMI), which measures body fat based on height and weight that applies to both adult men and women. For example, people with a BMI of 25 to 29 are classified as overweight; 30 to 40 are classified as obese; and people with BMIs of 40 or above are morbidly obese. To calculate your BMI, go to

Making some simple changes in your diet can go a long way to lowering your risk for not just heart disease, but for other serious health conditions like cancer as well, and you won't have to sacrifice taste or satisfaction in the process.

The American Health Association recommends eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and poultry, and avoiding foods containing saturated and trans fat.  Consuming fish-especially fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel and albacore tuna, at least two times a week-is also suggested. The New American Plate, an approach to eating for better overall health developed by the American Institute for Cancer Research, suggests making plant foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans) the centerpiece of your meal, covering about two-thirds of your plate, with meat, fish, poultry or dairy-based toppings or fillings making up one-third or less of your plate.

Reduce Salt Intake

Eating a lot of salt can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The AHA recommends limiting your amount of salt per day to less than 2,300 milligrams, about a teaspoon. Eating fresh foods is best to control the amount of salt you consume, but if you buy canned soups or prepared meals, look for ones that have reduced levels of sodium.

Other tips:

  • Try to be physically active for 30 minutes every day
  • Maintain a healthy weight throughout your life
  • Don't smoke