1. Decrease saturated fats and trans fats.
Decrease saturated fats (such as whole milk, butter, fatty cuts of meat) and trans fats (e.g. fast foods) and choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (from olive and canola oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, soy and fatty fish) instead.
2. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
Aim for seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Choose a rainbow of colors (carrots, raspberries, plums, lettuce, and peaches) to ensure a diversity of nutrients.
3. Eat more fiber.
As fiber passes through the body, it affects the way the body digests foods and absorbs nutrients. Fiber also helps control blood sugar, reduce cholesterol, promote regularity, prevent gastrointestinal disease and helps in weight management. Aim for a total intake of 25 or more grams of dietary fiber each day.
4. Substitute animal protein with plant protein.
Increase plant sources of protein (e.g. beans, tofu) and reduce your intake of animal protein which contributes to weight gain and increased risk of heart disease.
5. Increase whole grains.
Limit processed or refined carbohydrate foods (e.g., white bread, white pasta, white rice). Whole grain breads, brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, bread and cereals are much healthier.
6. Limit sweets, desserts, and sugary sodas.
Sweets and sugar sweetened beverages should be limited.
7. Choose low fat or non-fat dairy products.
Limit dairy to two—three servings per day of skim milk or 1% milk, 1% or nonfat yogurt, and reduced fat cheeses.
8. If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
Drinking alcohol is not encouraged, but if you do drink, moderation is key. This is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.
9. Control your portion size.
Use a small plate to help control portions. Eat larger portions of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions of high-calorie, high-sodium foods.
10. Do not skip meals.
Small, frequent meals and snacks promote weight loss and maintenance and give you an opportunity to consume important nutrients throughout the day. Skipping meals only lowers metabolism.
A healthy diet in addition to exercise improves blood pressure, cholesterol and heart health. Engaging in aerobic exercise—even brisk walking—for at least 30 minutes most days of the week can have considerable heart-health benefits.
Sources: American Heart Association; Centers for Disease Control & Prevention