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Heart-Healthy Food Swaps

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Heart-healthy foods

Trying to make healthy food choices when your goal is to lower cholesterol or manage heart disease can seem overwhelming. But making conscious choices when choosing the foods we eat is key to preventing and managing cardiovascular disease. Eating patterns such as the Mediterranean Diet or the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet—which are heavily plant-based—are ideal approaches due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

Eat more heart-wise foods
Eating heart-healthy foods doesn’t have to be complicated. Following the corner stones of heart-healthy nutrition can make a big impact:

  • Eat less saturated fats and avoid trans fat. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 5-6% of calorie intake (approximately 13 grams per 2,000 calories/day and 10 grams per 1,500 calories/day).
  • Add more healthy fats to your diet—monosaturated and polyunsaturated, fish and omega-3.
  • Eat more soluble fiber such as oats/oat bran, beans, peas, potatoes with skin, apples, oranges and berries including a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Psyllium seed husk-based fiber supplements are also beneficial.
  • Limit beverages and foods high in sugar—100 calories per day for women and 150 calories per day for men.

The chart below can provide additional recommendations for a heart-healthy diet.

Choose More:

Choose Less:

Colorful fruits & vegetables (5+ a day)

Desserts, sweets & pastries

Greens, raw or steamed

Fried foods

Beans (at least 3-4 times/week)

Convenience foods

Whole grains (3+ per day)

Refined grains

Fat-free milk and yogurt

Whole milk

Oats and oat bran (3 grams of soluble oat fiber/day)

Low-fiber cereal (2 grams)

Nuts, seeds (1 oz. or ¼ cup) or nut butters (2 Tbsp.)

High-fat snack foods

Fish (2 times/week)


Lean meat, fish & poultry (4-6 oz./day)

High-fat meats

Lean beef (12 oz. or less/week)

High-fat beef

Canadian bacon & low-fat deli meat

Bacon, sausage & high-fat deli meats

Water and decaffeinated tea

Alcohol & sweetened beverages

Low-fat frozen yogurt, sorbet

Ice cream

Egg whites or egg substitutes

Egg yolks

Smart Balance® Buttery Spread


Low-fat or nonfat cheese

Full-fat cheese

Olive, avocado or canola oil

Coconut or palm kernel oil

Light sour cream

Sour cream

Fat-free half-and-half


Tomato sauces

Cream sauces

Oil & vinegar dressings

Creamy dressings

Clear broth soups

Cream-based soups

Light mayonnaise

Regular mayonnaise

Hummus, salsa & guacamole

Cheese/cream-based dips

Anti-inflammatory foods
Eating patterns such as the ones mentioned above are not only heart healthy, they also have anti-inflammatory effects. Although the American Heart Association states inflammation is not proven to cause cardiovascular disease, inflammation is common in heart disease and those who have had strokes and it is thought to contribute to fatty build up in the arteries.

Below are examples of anti-inflammatory foods to include in your diet and foods to limit.

Include plenty of these anti-inflammatory foods in your diet:

Limit these foods that may cause inflammation:

  • Olive oil
  • Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli, etc.)
  • Nuts such as almonds and walnuts
  • Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, trout, sea bass, halibut, sardines, shrimp and tuna
  • Fruits such as berries, cherries and pineapple
  • Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pastries and desserts
  • Fried foods
  • Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Red meat (high-fat cuts) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausages, bacon)
  • Margarine, shortening and lard

Taking a preventive approach to heart disease by making healthy nutrition choices can help you live a better quality and quantity of life. Working with a registered dietitian nutritionist can help you create an eating plan right for you and make healthy food swaps to lower cholesterol and manage heart disease.

To schedule a one-on-one consultation with a Cooper Clinic Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or learn more about Cooper Clinic Nutrition, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Cynthanne Duryea, RDN, LD, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition.