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How Do You Eat a Heart-Smart Diet?

The Heart-Check mark appears on foods that are good for your ticker. (Photo courtesy of the American Heart Association)

March 1 marks more than the start of a new month—it's the beginning of a 31-day celebration of healthy eating. Welcome to National Nutrition Month! You'll discover delicious recipes, food news and simple nutrition-boosting strategies to help you celebrate in style all month long here at The Fit Stop.

To kick things off, let's talk food shopping. We know that it's smart to shop in the produce aisle and save cookies for treats, but the gray area between these ends of the grocery spectrum can be tricky! That's why the American Heart Association (AHA) awards their Heart-Check mark to food products that meet their requirements as cardiac-friendly.

"It's an easy way to identify, on the front of a package, heart-healthy foods," says Rachel Johnson, R.D., PH.D., an AHA spokesperson and a professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of Vermont. "The science-based criteria takes into account fat, sugar, sodium and a number of other factors. It's really helpful because you don't need a Ph.D. in nutrition to know if a food is healthy or not."

To respond to the most recent research, new guidelines will go into place by 2014. Sodium and added sugar limits will be lowered and the total fat limit will be raised to accommodate products with healthy unsaturated fats, like nuts and oily fish.

Of course, there are many foods and drinks out there that are super-nutritious and don't need a label to tell you (Strawberries! Oats! Water!). Follow these general guidelines from the AHA to consume a heart-healthy diet:

  • 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables or more daily
  • Two 3.5-ounce servings of oily fish (such as salmon, tuna or mackerel) weekly
  • Three 1-ounce servings of whole grains daily
  • Less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily
  • No more than 36 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages weekly (less is better)

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