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What makes a food heart-healthy?

Leslie Bonci is a registered dietitian, a board-certified sports dietetics specialist and a Pennsylvania-licensed dietitian and nutritionist. She is the nutrition consultant to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Pir...

Develop heart-healthy eating habits

February is American Heart Month, giving you the opportunity to focus on your heart health and become familiar with heart-healthy foods and eating habits to adopt all year round.
Develop heart-healthy eating habits

Heart health: It's what you eat and how much you eat

When eating for your heart health, it's important to focus on foods you like and will eat regularly. They should be easily accessible and affordable. These heart-healthy foods should be part of your total diet -- not in addition to what you're already eating. So when you read research that suggests dark chocolate may be good for your heart, you need to swap it in rather than add it in. Keep in mind, too, that heart-friendly amounts of foods are not platter-sized. Olive oil is heart-healthy, but too much adds too many calories. This means you also need to be savvy about serving size with your diet choices.

The best foods for heart health


A 1 oz. serving daily of nuts, such as Planters Lightly Salted Dry Roasted Peanuts, may help reduce your risk of heart disease. Peanuts are nutritious and have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and dietary fiber to help support a healthy heart.

Develop heart-healthy eating habitsFruits and vegetables

Make sure there is produce on your plate during every meal: fruits and vegetables contain potassium, vitamin C (an antioxidant) and phytonutrients, which may act as anti-inflammatory agents.

Sweet potatoesFiber-rich fare

Eat foods containing soluble fiber, such as citrus fruits, oats, barley, apples, pears, cabbage-family vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, and dried beans and peas. Oats and barley contain beta-glucan, which can lower cholesterol.

SalmonOmega-3 foods

Serve up foods rich in omega-3s, such as salmon, fresh tuna, albacore tuna, sardines, herring, walnuts and flaxseed. You can also get your omega-3s through krill capsules.

Develop heart-healthy eating habitsOlive oil

Use moderate amounts of extra-virgin olive oil (about 1 tablespoon of olive oil per day). Olive oil contains monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, polyphenols and oleocanthol, a substance that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.


Aim for 2 to 3 cups of green, black or white tea per day.

Dark ChocolateDark chocolate

Enjoy dark chocolate, but stick to a 1-ounce serving per day.

Whole wheat breadWhole grains

Chow down on whole grains, like oats, whole wheat, brown rice and cornmeal.

Heart healthy dos and don'ts

Now that you know the healthiest foods for your heart, adopt the following heart-healthy eating habits.


Do sit down for meals

Take more time to focus on food and you'll be more likely to eat the right amount for you.


Don't multi-task

Don't do stressful chores while eating. Your mealtimes should be relaxing and enjoyable, so don't answer emails or work calls.


Do eat slowly

Take the time to eat slowly, savoring every bite of your food. Eating too quickly may result in overeating, and can even make your mealtime stressful.


Don't eat large meals

Try to evenly divide food over the course of the day. Large meals tend to be taxing on your body. As a bonus, smaller meals will keep your energy level up and can help you maintain a healthy weight or lose weight.


Do eat lighter in the evening

Try to have a smaller meal in the evening, or space food out over the course of the evening. Studies have shown that the incidence of heart attack and stroke is highest during the late evening and early morning, and may correlate to having a large evening meal.

More tips for heart health

Top 6 habits for heart health
How to prevent heart disease and diabetes
3 Heart disease myths busted

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