Two locations in Maryland for your convenience:

Frederick »Germantown »

For a Healthier Heart Cut Back on These Foods

February is the “month of love”, but did you know it’s also American Heart Month? According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, is the leading cause of death, not just in the United States, but worldwide. The good news is that healthy lifestyle choices can lower your risk of developing heart disease. Eating a heart healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and cholesterol levels, avoiding smoking, and engaging in regular exercise can all help protect your heart and keep your blood vessels healthy.

What exactly is a heart healthy diet? With so many conflicting diet books, articles and opinions it can be confusing to figure out what is actually good for your heart. Thankfully, eating a heart healthy diet doesn’t have to be that complicated. For a heart healthier diet, start by decreasing your consumption of trans fats, saturated fats, sodium and added sugars.



Trans fats

Trans fat are one of the biggest dietary culprits linked to heart disease. These manufactured fats have traditionally been added to processed foods in the form of partially hydrogenated oils in order to preserve shelf life. Unfortunately, trans fats negatively impact cholesterol levels by raising LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowering HDL (good cholesterol), leading to an increased risk of stroke and heart disease. Trans fats can be found in baking mixes, commercially prepared cookies, cakes and pastries, canned frosting, crackers, coffee creamer, shortening, biscuits, donuts, candies with cream filling, frozen breakfast sandwiches, fried foods, and some frozen meals. The best way to avoid trans fats is to cook your own meals using mostly fresh and minimally processed foods. However, if you aren’t sure about whether or not a product contains trans fats, check the ingredients list for partially hydrogenated oils. If these oils are listed as an ingredient, then the product contains trans fats and should be avoided. Fortunately, many food manufacturers are working on cutting out partially hydrogenated oils from their products, but it’s always a good idea to check the label to be sure there’s no trans fat!

Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products such as fatty cuts of meat, poultry skin, and full fat dairy products such as ice cream, butter, cheese and cream. Saturated fats are also found in tropical oils, such as palm and coconut oil. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, unlike the heart healthier oils such as olive oil and canola oil. The American Heart Association recommends that most Americans consume less than 7% of their calories from saturated fats. For someone on a 2000 calorie diet, that’s about 13 grams of saturated fat per day. To lower your consumption of saturated fats, choose low fat or fat free dairy products, and lean cuts of meat. Better yet, eat less red meat overall, and more poultry, fish, nuts, beans and legumes. Try swapping out butter for a heart healthier butter substitute, and limit baked goods, as these are usually made with ingredients high in saturated fat.


The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day, that’s about as much sodium in a teaspoon of salt. Unfortunately, even if you never add salt to your meals, you could well be exceeding 2300 mg per day. That’s because many foods already contain high levels of sodium. The top sources of sodium are canned foods, frozen dinners, cold cuts and processed meats, pizza, cheese, bread, and restaurant foods. Condiments such as soy sauce, mustard and salad dressings can also be very high in sodium. To cut back on the sodium in your diet, check out the sodium listed on the nutrition facts panel of different foods. To be considered “Low Sodium” a food must contain no more than 140 mg sodium per serving. A good goal to help you meet the sodium guidelines is to aim for no more than 700 mg sodium per meal. To help you meet your goal, eat processed meats and cheese sparingly and use as many fresh ingredients as possible when cooking. Try making your own soups at home with a low sodium broth.

Added Sugars

Unlike the sugars naturally found in fruit and milk, added sugars have no nutritional value other than calories, and have been linked with obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10% of your daily calories come from added sugars. That’s about 12 teaspoons or 48 grams of added sugars per day for someone consuming a 2000 calorie diet. However, people attempting weight loss, may need to limit their consumption of added sugars to under 8 teaspoons or 30 grams of added sugar per day.  Whether you are trying to lose weight or to maintain a healthy weight, cutting back on added sugars is a good idea because most of us are eating too much sugar. The top sources of added sugars in the American diet are sugary drinks such as regular soda, sweet tea, flavored coffee drinks, sport drinks, and mixed alcoholic drinks. For example, one 12 oz can of regular soda contains about 12 teaspoons of added sugars. That’s more than most people should be consuming in a whole day! If you are hooked on sugary drinks, trying replacing them with naturally flavored seltzer, unsweet tea with lemon, herbal tea or water flavored with mint, cucumber or citrus fruits.

Of course, even if you avoid sugary drinks, you could still be eating a lot of added sugars from sweet treats such as baked goods, candy, sugary cereals, granola bars and ice cream. If these are a regular part of your diet, you may want to consider eating them in smaller portions or less frequently. Try swapping out dessert for fresh fruit or a homemade fruit smoothie. Or better yet, see if a small piece of dark chocolate is enough to satisfy your sweet tooth. Eating heart healthy can still be delicious!

For more comprehensive advice on how to lower your cholesterol with a heart healthy diet, schedule an appointment with our Registered Dietitian by calling 301-288-1319.