"A heart healthy approach means making lifestyle changes that help keep your blood cholesterol, triglycerides levels, and blood pressure under control."

Your heart’s health is directly influenced by the life choices that you make. Remember that pizza that you had last weekend, and then swore to yourself that you were going to eat healthy thenceforth but, failed the next day when you couldn’t resist that extra cheesy burger? Well, such diet choices and other factors like obesity and physical inactivity directly influence the health of your heart.

Everyone knows that making changes to your diet can feel overwhelming in the beginning. To help you get started, keep these steps in mind. Choose a step that you would like to start with. Your registered dietitian can help develop a meal plan that is right for you.

1. Choose leaner proteins

  • Avoid fatty meats like bacon, sausage, ribs and hot dogs.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat, such as the “loin” and “round”.
  • Eat up to 6 to 8 ounces of lean meat, poultry, or fish daily.
  • Trim visible fat from meat and remove skin from poultry.
  • Try vegetarian protein alternatives, like soy products, and tofu.

2. Choose low-fat or nonfat dairy products

  • Use nonfat or 1% low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, sour cream, and cottage cheese.
  • Buy reduced fat or low-fat versions of your favorite cheeses. Some cheeses, like mozzarella and ricotta, are naturally lower in fat.
  • Avoid cream, cream sauces, and creamed soups.

3. Limit added fats in recipes and watch the condiments

  • Strictly limit butter and hard stick margarine. Choose margarine labeled “no trans-fats”.
  • Avoid tropical oils (coconut and palm oils).
  • Choose liquid oils instead of solid fats.
  • Try reduced fat or nonfat versions of condiments, like salad dressings, mayonnaise, sauces, and gravies.

4. Choose low-fat cooking and baking techniques

  • Try baking, broiling, barbecuing, steaming, boiling, light sautéing, grilling, poaching and braising.
  • Avoid fried foods.
  • Drain and discard visible fat when cooking.
  • Use vegetable oil sprays to coat pans and trays for cooking or baking.
  • Modify your standard recipes by substituting with ingredients that are lower in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. View a printable list of recipe modification tips.

5. Eat more soluble fiber

Eating a diet rich in soluble fiber may help to lower your blood cholesterol levels. Include at least 5 servings  a day from a combination of fruits and vegetables. Good sources of soluble fiber include:

  • Cereal grains, oatmeal, oat bran, rice bran, barley.
  • Dried beans, split peas, lentils.
  • Carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes.
  • Citrus fruits, papayas, strawberries, apples.

6. Choose lower sodium foods

  • Use uncured meats and avoid pickled vegetables.
  • Remove the salt shaker from the kitchen and your dining table.
  • Season with fresh or dried herbs, or add lemon, garlic, ginger, onions, or flavored vinegar.
  • Buy salt-free seasoning shakers.
  • Look for low sodium, reduced sodium, or “no salt added” products.
  • Don’t add salt to the cooking water for rice, pasta or cooked cereals.
  • Make homemade soups, or buy low-sodium canned soups.
  • Rinse canned foods that have been processed with added salt.
  • Limit salted convenience foods like instant rice, pasta and, potato dishes.
  • Steer clear of fast food restaurants.
  • Move the focus to “fresh, fresh, fresh” – fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods.

7. Read Nutrition Facts labels on food packages

It’s a good idea to check the packaging label of food items before you proceed to buy them. Choose foods with low or no saturated fat, trans fat, hydrogenated fat, or cholesterol.

  • A low fat choice is 3 grams of fat per ounce of meat or cheese, or 3 grams of fat per serving of snacks, sauces, or dairy products.
  • A low saturated fat choice is 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving.
  • A low cholesterol choice must be 20 mg or less of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat.
  • A low sodium choice is 140 mg or less per serving. Try to stick with foods that are less than 400 mg of sodium per serving.

Changing your diet choices overnight is difficult but, not impossible if you are determined. You might not succeed at the first go, and that’s completely okay. Stay in touch with your dietitian and stay motivated!