Heart-healthy eating is an important way to lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for American women. Stroke is the number three cause of death.1 To get the most benefit for your heart, you should choose more fruits, vegetables, and foods with whole grains and healthy protein. You also should eat less food with added sugar, calories, and unhealthy fats.
Heart-healthy eating, along with regular exercise or physical activity, can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for American women. Stroke is the number three cause of death for American women.1 Learn more about heart disease and stroke prevention.
You should choose these foods most of the time:
Learn more about how much of each type of food you should eat, based on your weight, height, and activity level.
You should limit:
Most packaged foods have a Nutrition Facts label. This label has information about how many calories, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars are in each serving. It also lists the amounts of certain vitamins and minerals. Learn to read the Nutrition Facts label to know what is in the packaged food you buy.
For food that does not have a Nutrition Facts label, such as fresh salmon or a raw apple, you can use the MyPlate SuperTracker "Food-a-pedia" tool. The "Food-a-pedia" tool shows whether a food is high or low in cholesterol, saturated fat, or sodium.
The number of calories you should eat each day depends on your age, sex, body size, physical activity, and other factors.
For instance, a woman between 31 and 50 years old who is of normal weight and is moderately active (gets 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week) should eat and drink about 2,000 calories each day to maintain her weight. To find your personalized daily calorie limit, use the SuperTracker tool.
Learn more about calories and your calorie requirements.
The following resources can help you choose heart-healthy foods and create a plan based on your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level:
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) diets topped the 2014 Best Diets Overall list by the U.S. News and World Report. The DASH diet won best overall diet for the fourth year in a row, and the TLC came in second for the second straight year.
To be top rated, a diet must be relatively easy to follow, nutritious, and safe and effective for weight loss and for the prevention of diabetes and heart disease.
Eating foods high in sodium may cause high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Hypertension is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. You should limit the amount of sodium you eat each day to less than 2,300 milligrams (about 1 teaspoon of salt), including the sodium found in packaged foods that you cannot see.
You should limit your sodium intake to less than 1,500 milligrams (about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt) if you:
You can lower the amount of sodium you eat each day by:
Potassium lessens the harmful effects of sodium on blood pressure. Try to eat or drink at least 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day. Good sources of potassium include:
Check out the USDA National Nutrient Database Nutrient Lists to search for more foods rich in potassium.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by your body. It also is found in foods made from animals, like meat and dairy. Fruits and vegetables do not contain cholesterol. There are two types of cholesterol: HDL, or "good" cholesterol, and LDL, or "bad" cholesterol. Higher levels of total cholesterol and LDL or "bad" cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease. Almost half of American women have high or borderline high cholesterol.
You can lower your cholesterol and LDL or "bad" cholesterol by:
You can learn more about cholesterol at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) website.
Yes. Seafood contains a type of fat called omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests that eating about 8 ounces of seafood with omega-3 fatty acids per week can lower your risk of dying from heart disease.2
Seafood that naturally contain more oil and are better sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
Lean fish (such as cod, haddock, and catfish) have less omega-3 fatty acids.
Maybe. Research suggests that moderate drinkers are less likely to develop heart disease than people who do not drink any alcohol or who drink too much. For women, moderate drinking means up to one drink per day. For men, it means up to two drinks per day. One drink is:
The reasons behind the benefit of moderate drinking on heart disease are not clear. But, moderate drinking is also linked to breast cancer, violence, and injuries. So, if you do not already drink, you should not start for the potential benefits to your heart.2
You should also not drink alcohol if you are pregnant or may be pregnant, as there is no amount of alcohol that is known to be safe during pregnancy. You should not drink alcohol if you have another health condition that makes alcohol harmful.
You may want to talk with a registered dietitian. A dietitian is a nutrition expert who can give you advice about what foods to eat and how much of each type. Ask your doctor to recommend a dietitian. You can also contact the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Nutrition counseling for adults at higher risk of chronic disease must be covered by most insurers under the Affordable Care Act (the health care law). If you are at risk for heart disease or another chronic disease that is affected by what you eat, most insurance plans now cover nutrition counseling at no cost to you.3
For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.
For more information on heart-healthy eating, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
All material contained on these pages are free of copyright restrictions and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Citation of the source is appreciated.
Page last updated: June 23, 2017.
Content last reviewed: June 30, 2014.