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The Medical Minute: A simple guide to heart-healthy eating

Eating certain foods can increase your risk for heart disease, and though it is often difficult to change dietary habits, eating “heart healthy” is very important for your long-term health. According to a diet and health study from the National Institutes of Health, there is growing evidence that eating lots of fruits, vegetables, olive oil and fish offer some level of protection from health problems. Dr. Jason Fragin, cardiologist at Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute in State College, offers tips to get started, or simply fine tune, a heart-healthy diet.

  • Control portion sizes – Keep track of the number of servings you eat. Eating until you feel stuffed can lead to eating more calories, fat and cholesterol than necessary. Eat until you are not hungry, not until you feel full.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables – Both are good sources of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Aim for fresh or frozen options and/or canned fruit packed in juice or water (not with sugar added or in heavy syrup).
  • Eat whole grains – Whole grains are good sources of fiber and nutrients which help regulate blood pressure and heart health. Healthy examples include whole grain couscous, quinoa and barley, steel-cut oatmeal, ground flaxseed or high fiber cereal. Avoid white, refined flour-based foods.
  • Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol – Avoiding saturated and trans fats helps reduce your risk of coronary artery disease. Limit the amount of solid fats (butter, margarine and shortening) you add when cooking and instead use olive or canola oil.  Avoid foods with “partially hydrogenated oil” on the label.
  • Choose low-fat proteins – Eating lean meat, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products and egg whites are great sources of protein. Salmon is rich is omega-3 fatty acid, which lowers blood fats called triglycerides.
  • Reduce sodium intake – To avoid high blood pressure, the Department of Agriculture recommends that healthy adults have no more than a teaspoon of sodium per day. Reduce the amount of salt you add to food at the table or while cooking.

“Being more heart health conscious with your diet helps both with primary prevention – to avoid heart disease – and secondary prevention – for those who seek to minimize complications from known heart disease,” says Fragin.

Additional resources

  • Want to know more about your heart health? Take Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute's heart risk assessment. Also, check out these heart-healthy recipes.
  • Penn State offers personal nutrition coaching at Penn State Hershey Medical Group locations in State College for University faculty and staff. This one-on-one counseling service with a registered dietitian is designed to help make healthy lifestyle and nutrition choices. Highmark members are eligible for an initial one hour session and up to six half-hour follow-up sessions per calendar year at no charge. Call 814-865-3085 or email to learn more.
  • Penn State also offers employee discounts on a Weight Watcher's program through Health Matters.
  • Penn State's College of Health and Human Development is actively engaged in nutrition studies on campus. Learn more about nutrition research in Nutritional Sciences, Kinesiology and Biobehavioral Health.

The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature brought to you by Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Articles feature the expertise of Penn State Hershey faculty physicians and staff and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

Up next week:  Heart health tips for the people closest to your heart this Valentine's Day.

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