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Eat healthy to help protect your heart

Small changes in your eating habits can make a big difference for your heart health. The good news is that there’s no single right way to eat well — you can create healthy eating habits that work for you.

What do heart-healthy eating habits look like?

Cut down on sodium

Too much sodium (salt) can cause your blood pressure to go up — and that raises your risk of heart disease and stroke. Salt hides in a lot of foods that don’t taste salty, like bread, sauces, and many processed and packaged foods. To discover sneaky sources of sodium, use the Nutrition Facts label to choose options with less sodium.

Watch: Watch Out for Sneaky Sodium

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Choose healthier fats

Too much saturated fat from fatty meats and full-fat dairy is bad news for your heart health. Saturated fat raises your “bad” cholesterol (called LDL cholesterol), while switching to unsaturated fats can lower it. Try swapping saturated fat — like in full-fat cheese and butter — for healthier, unsaturated fats — like in olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Learn more about saturated fat.

Avoid added sugars

Added sugars are sweeteners that companies add to foods and drinks — or that you add at home. This includes so-called “natural” sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. The good news is there’s a whole group of foods that taste sweet but have no added sugars. It’s fruit! Use fruit instead of sugar to sweeten oatmeal, yogurt, or baked goods. Learn more about added sugars.

Eat more fiber

Fiber has lots of benefits — it can make you feel full longer and help control both blood sugar and cholesterol. To get more fiber, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and choose whole grains, like brown rice or 100% whole wheat bread.

Let MyPlate be your guide

MyPlate is a tool that can help you build healthy eating habits by following this simple strategy: Try to make half your plate fruits and vegetables — and fill the other half with whole grains and protein foods like lean meats, fish, or tofu. Learn more about MyPlate or make your personalized MyPlate Plan.

How can I build healthy eating habits?

Shop smart

A little planning can go a long way toward helping you make healthy choices! Plan your meals ahead of time and make a shopping list with everything you need. You’ll get through the grocery store faster and it can even save you money — buying only what’s on the list helps avoid “impulse buys,” and knowing what you’ll make for dinner means you’re less likely to order takeout.

Cook once, eat twice

Cook in big batches and eat leftovers the next day or freeze them for later. Try chopping up fruits or vegetables to cook with or snack on during the week. You can also use frozen or canned fruits (in water or with no sugar added) and vegetables (with no or low sodium) to save money and prep time.

Remember that small changes add up

Creating new habits can be tough — but remember that you don’t have to change your whole diet overnight or say goodbye to all your favorite foods. It’s about making small changes to your eating routine that add up to a whole lot more heart health!

Pick healthier options for takeout or restaurant food

Sometimes, there’s just not enough time in the day to cook at home — but you can pick healthier options when getting takeout or eating at a restaurant. For example, choose grilled or baked foods instead of fried, and get fruits or vegetables as your side dish. Consider splitting an entrée or dessert with a friend — or take half home as leftovers. And when it comes to drinks, pick water, sparkling water, or unsweetened tea instead of soda or other sugary drinks.

What simple heart-healthy switches can I make?

Try plant protein instead of meat

Switch up your protein routine to help cut down on saturated fat and get more fiber. A few times a week, replace meat with plant protein like beans, chickpeas, or lentils. You can also try tofu instead of meat in your favorite recipes. Search for vegetarian recipes here.

Switch to low-fat cheese and dairy

Dairy products like milk and yogurt have important nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, but they can also have a lot of saturated fat. Try switching to low-fat or fat-free options — that way, you get all the benefits and protect your heart health at the same time.

Swap salty snacks for healthier options

Snacks like potato chips can have a lot of saturated fat and sodium. Try snacking on crunchy vegetables, fruit, unsalted nuts, or plain popcorn instead.

Reach for naturally flavored water instead of soda

Skipping the soda is a great way to cut back on added sugars and protect your health. Case in point: A single can of soda can have as much as 10 teaspoons of sugar! Instead, try flavored sparkling water (no sugar added!) — or add some cut-up fruit to a pitcher of water to give it a boost.

Have a dinner party at home instead of eating out

Cooking meals at home gives you more control over what’s in your food. But eating at home doesn’t have to mean giving up on social time with friends and family! Instead of meeting at a restaurant, plan a potluck dinner at home — ask every guest to bring a healthy dish to share.