Heart-Healthy Diet Tips

There’s no doubt about the close connection between diet and heart health. The food we eat can affect how well our heart pumps blood and delivers oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body. In recognition of Heart Month, below are some tips and tools to help keep your heart healthy, courtesy of North York General Hospital Registered Dietician Indubala Shekhawat and Dietetic students Taylor Hunsley and Tamara Bird.

What foods are best for the heart?

The following foods can help provide healthy sources of nutrients and fibre. These foods have little fat or added salt, which can hinder heart health:

  • Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and trout
  • Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds
  • Soybean products
  • Whole grains like oats, barley, quinoa, and brown rice
  • Low sodium legumes like chickpeas, lentils, black beans, navy beans and kidney beans
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits

What foods can have a negative impact on the heart?

The following foods are high in saturated fat and salt, which can lead to a number of cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure:

  • Deep fried foods and fast foods
  • Fatty cuts of meats, fresh or processed luncheon meats
  • High fat dairy, such as full fat yogurt, cheese, sour cream, ice cream or homogenized milk
  • Baked goods, such as pies, doughnuts, cakes and pastries
  • Packaged/processed foods, such as chips, crackers, cookies and chocolates
  • Canned goods including soups, vegetables, beans and sauces

How can we incorporate heart-healthy food into our diet?

Below is a sample grocery list with suggestions for heart-healthy snack combinations:

  • Low-fat plain Greek yogurt + fresh or frozen berries
  • Carrot sticks + roasted garlic hummus
  • Celery sticks + peanut butter
  • Plain steel-cut oatmeal + apple chunks
  • A clementine orange + unsalted mixed nuts

How does salt impact heart health?

A diet high in salt or sodium can be detrimental to a healthy heart. Excessive salt can lead to high blood pressure, putting stress and strain on the heart’s proper function. It is best to limit salt intake, but many Canadians eat much more than recommended. According to Health Canada, Canadian adults consume an average of 2,760 mg of sodium per day, while the recommended daily intake is no more than 2,300 mg. This puts many Canadians at risk for heart disease.

How can we identify salt quantity in food?

On a packaged food label, the Nutrition Facts table will give valuable information about how much sodium is in a serving of a given food product. When choosing foods lower in sodium, look for products with less than 120 mg of sodium in a 100 g serving. In addition, choose products labeled “no added salt”, “low salt” or “low sodium.”

Heart-Healthy Do’s and Don’ts:

DO: Cook at home often
DON’T: Regularly consume fast foods and deep fried foods

DO: Include a variety of vegetables and fruits in your diet
DON’T: Choose pre-packaged highly processed snacks

DO: Include oily fish 2-3 times per week in your meals
DON’T: Include fatty cuts of meat or processed meats

DO: Use cooking spray or olive oil when cooking
DON’T: Cook with oils high in saturated fat like coconut oil

DO: Choose lean cuts of white meat like poultry
DON’T: Regularly consume red meat

DO: Choose foods with labels like “low sodium”, “low salt”, “no salt added”
DON’T: Choose highly salted and processed foods and snacks