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Heart-Healthy Eating

UPMC Content 2

The typical American diet is high in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium (salt). This type of diet can increase your blood cholesterol levels and risk for heart disease.

Research shows that reducing the total fat, cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium in your diet helps to lower your cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.

In addition, regular exercise may also help lower your cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.

About Fats

To choose heart-healthy foods, you need to know about the different kinds of fats.

Saturated Fats Trans Fats

Saturated fats can raise blood cholesterol levels. These are found in a variety of foods, including:

  • Fatty cuts of red meat
  • High-fat luncheon meats
  • Fried foods
  • Poultry skin
  • Whole milk, 2 percent milk
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Cocoa butter
  • Coconut
  • Palm and coconut oils

Trans fats can raise blood cholesterol levels. Tran fats occur when liquid oils are made into solids. This is called hydrogenation (hi-draw-jen-A-shun). Trans fats are found in a variety of foods, including:

  • Fried foods
  • Stick margarine
  • Store-bought baked goods
  • Store-bought snacks, such as potato chips
Cholesterol Mono- and Poly-unsaturated Fats

Cholesterol in the foods you eat can raise your blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is found in all animal foods, including:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Milk
  • Eggs

Unsaturated fats can help lower your blood cholesterol levels if you use them instead of saturated fats. Use fats that are mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated. Good sources of these fats include:

  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Olive oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil

Tips to Lower Fats

Read food labels

  • Look for these words on food labels:
    • Low fat
    • Fat free
    • Low cholesterol
    • Cholesterol free
    • Saturated fat free
  • Use products with 3 grams or less of total fat per serving.
  • Eat less than 300 mg (milligrams) of cholesterol each day.
  • Eat foods with 2 g (grams) or less of saturated fat per serving.

Choose these foods

  • Grilled, baked, roasted, steamed, broiled, blackened, or poached foods
  • Fat-free or 1 percent fat milk products
  • Lean cuts of meat and poultry without skin
  • Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Rice, pasta, potato, wheat, and barley products
  • Whole-grain or whole-wheat breads, pita bread, and bagels
  • Foods with high levels of “soluble” fiber (dried beans, peas, oatmeal, nuts, seeds)

Avoid these foods

  • Fried, deep fried, battered, buttered, and sautéed foods
  • Gravies and sauces
  • Donuts, pastries, pies, cakes, and cookies

Sodium Facts

Sodium is a mineral found in many foods and medicines. It is most commonly known as salt. In the body, sodium helps regulate blood pressure and body fluids. Most Americans consume more than 5,000 mg (milligrams) of sodium daily. A healthy diet limits sodium to less than 2,300 mg (milligrams) daily.

Tips to lower sodium

  • Read food labels. Look for these words:
    • Low sodium
    • Sodium free
    • Salt free
  • Do not add salt at the table or in cooking. This includes sea salt, kosher salt, and salt seasonings, such as onion salt and garlic salt.
  • Use herbs and spices to flavor foods. Make sure spices have no added salt.
  • Choose fresh or frozen vegetables. Avoid canned items, which have more salt.
  • Select fresh meats and poultry.

Avoid these foods

  • Canned, dehydrated, or restaurant made soups
  • Frozen dinners
  • Fast foods
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausage
  • Lunch meats
  • Bacon
  • Cheese spreads
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Many snack foods, such as chips and salted nuts
  • Bouillon cubes
  • Canned vegetables
  • Regular canned tomato products and sauces
  • Tomato and vegetable juices
  • Ketchup
  • Soy sauce

Heart Healthy Diet Guidelines

Protein Foods to Choose

Foods to Avoid

Includes red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and beans

  • No more than 6 ounces daily
  • 3 ounces of cooked meat is about the size of a deck of cards
  • Fresh lean pork, veal, beef, and lamb (cuts: round, chuck, sirloin, loin)
  • Poultry without skin not fried
  • Beans and legumes
  • Rabbit, venison, pheasant
  • Reduced-fat or natural peanut butter
  • Fish or shellfish
  • Tofu
  • Egg whites (2=1 whole egg)
  • Cholesterol-free egg substitute
  • Regular ground beef, highly marbled meat, prime rib, square ribs, organ meats (liver)
  • Poultry with skin or fried
  • Fried fish or shellfish
  • Lunch meats less htan 95 percent fat-free
  • Spam, pickle loaf, bacon, sausage, knockwurst, salami, chipped ham, hot sausage
  • Egg yolks (no more than 3 weekly including those used in cooking and baking)


Milk and Dairy Products Foods to Choose Foods to Avoid

Includes cheese and yogurt

  • 2-3 servings daily
  • Skim, non-fat, 1/2 percent, and 1 percent milk
  • Yogurt (non-fat or low fat)
  • Soy or rice beverage (non-fat or low-fat)
  • Low-fat and low-sodium cheese (no more than 3 grams of fat per serving)
  • 1 percent or 2 percent cottage cheese
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Frozen dairy dessert (low-fat, or non-fat ice cream, frozen yogurt, ice milk, sherbet, frozen fruit bars, Popsicles)
  • Whole milk, 2 percent milk, buttermilk
  • Whole milk yogurt or yogurt beverages
  • Regular cheeses, cream cheese, Neufchatel, processed cheese
  • 4 percent cottage cheese
  • Regular ice cream


Fats and Oils Foods to Choose Foods to Avoid
  • Less than 5 to 8 teaspoons daily
  • Canola, olive, safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, and peanut oil
  • Tub margarines made from the above oils and containing no trans fat, non-fat, or low-fat margarine
  • Salad dressing made with the above oils
  • Non-fat or low-fat salad dressing
  • Unsalted seeds or nuts in moderation
  • Cream, half and half, whipping cream, non-dairy creamers made with coconut or palm oil, dairy whipped topping, sour cream
  • Coconut, palm, or palm kernel oil
  • Butter, lard, shortening, bacon fat, stick margarine
  • Dressings madde with egg yolk, cheese, sour cream, cream, or whole milk
  • Coconut


Breads, cereals, grains Foods to Choose Foods to Avoid
  • 6 to 11 servings daily
  • Whole grain breads, English muffins, bagels, buns, low-fat tortillas
  • Cooked or cold cereals, low-fat granola
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Low-fat crackers, low-fat animal crackers, unsalted soda crackers, bread sticks, melba toast
  • Low-fat quick breads, cornbread, pancakes, waffles, and muffins
  • Breads or bread products made with significant amounts of egg, fat, butter, or other saturated fats
  • Croissants
  • Instant hot cereals
  • High-fat snack crackers and crackers with salted tops
  • Commercially baked pastries, pies, cakes, biscuits
  • Dougnuts


Soups Foods to Choose Foods to Avoid
  • Homemade with low-fat and no-added salt broth
  • Low-fat and reduced-sodium soups
  • Most commercially prepared or dehydrated soup mixes
  • Canned soups
  • Bouillon cubes


Vegetables Foods to Choose Foods to Avoid
  • 3 to 6 servings
  • Fresh or frozen without added fat or sauces
  • No-added-salt canned vegetables
  • Reduced-sodium or "lite" vegetable juices
  • Vegetables fried or prepared with butter, cheese, or cream sauces
  • Sauerkraut, pickes, olives
  • Regular canned vegetables or regular vegetable juices


Fruits Foods to Choose Foods to Avoid
  • 4 to 6 servings daily
  • Fresh, frozen, dried, or canned without added salt
  • Fresh, frozen, or canned juices
  • Fried fruit or fruit served with butter, cream cheese, or other fats
  • Avocados
  • Coconut


Condiments Foods to Choose Foods to Avoid
  • Spices and herbs
  • Lemon and lime juice
  • Mrs. Dash
  • Mustard
  • Pepper
  • Jelly or jam
  • Low-sodium ketchup
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Sea salt
  • Kosher salt
  • Soy sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt seasonings
  • Relish
  • Bouillon cubes
  • Poultry seasonings
  • MSG
  • Meat tenderizer
  • Cocktail sauce
  • Hot sauce
  • Steak sauce
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Cooking wine or sherry


Sample Heart-Healthy Diet

Breakfast Lunch Dinner
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup whole grain cereal
  • 1 small banana
  • 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1 whole-wheat toast
  • 1 tablespoon "lite" margarine
  • 1 cup fat-free milk
  • 1 cup coffee or tea
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium, fat-free soup
  • 6 unsalted crackers
  • 3 ounces very lean beef patty
  • 1 bun
  • Mustard
  • Lettuce and tomato
  • 1 cup fresh fruit salad
  • 8 animal crackers
  • 16 ounces flavored water
  • 1 cup tossed salad
  • 2 tablespoons oil and vinegar for dressing
  • 3 ounces baked chicken breast (no skin)
  • 2/3 cup herbed brown rice
  • 1 cup steamed broccoli
  • Whole grain roll
  • 1 tablespoon "lite" margarine
  • 6 ounces low-fat yogurt
  • 1 sliced apple
  • 16 ounces flavored water


A dietitian (nutrition expert) can help you create a nutrition plan that works best for you. To schedule an outpatient appointment with a UPMC dietitian, please call 1-800-533-8762.

Visit our web site, or send your questions to

This patient education material is intended to be used in consultation with a dietitian.​