Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(2):265-268

See related article on nutritional assessment for cardiovascular disease.

You can do a lot to reduce your risk of heart disease by eating right and exercising. Here are some tips on what to eat and what to stay away from. At the end, you will find some advice on exercise. This should start you on your way to a healthier heart.

Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta: six or more servings per day
Foods to eat
Breads with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving (examples: whole grain bread, English muffins, bagels, buns, corn and flour tortillas)
Oat, wheat, corn, and multigrain cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving
Whole wheat pasta
Brown rice
Low-fat animal crackers, graham crackers, soda crackers, bread sticks, melba toast, and other crackers that have all of the following:
  • Less than 2 grams of fat per serving

  • At least 1 gram of fiber per serving

  • No hydrogenated oil

Homemade baked goods made with unsaturated oil, skim or 1 percent milk, and egg substitute (examples: quick breads, biscuits, cornbread, muffins, bran muffins, pancakes, waffles)
Foods to avoid
Breads with fat, butter, or eggs listed as one of the first ingredients (examples: croissants, tortillas made with added fats)
Granola made with partially hydrogenated oil
White pasta
White rice
High-fat crackers and those made with partially hydrogenated oil
Commercially baked pastries, biscuits
Dairy products and dairy substitutes: three servings (each 1 cup) per day
Foods to eat
Skim milk, thick skim milk, 1 percent milk, buttermilk
Soy or rice drinks
Low-fat cheese with less than 3 grams of fat per serving, including natural cheese, processed cheese, and nondairy cheese such as soy cheese
Low-fat, nonfat, and dry-curd cottage cheese with less than 2 percent fat
Low-fat or nonfat coffee creamer and sour cream (read the label, and avoid if sugar is one of the first three ingredients)
Foods to avoid
Whole milk, 2 percent milk
Yogurt and yogurt drinks made with whole milk
Regular cheeses (examples: American, blue, Brie, cheddar, Colby, Edam, Monterey Jack, part-skim mozzarella, Parmesan, Neufchâtel cheeses)
Regular cottage cheese
Cream, half and half, whipping cream, regular nondairy creamer or flavored creamer, whipped topping, sour cream
Eggs and egg substitutes: no more than two egg yolks per week (four if eggs have added omega-3 fats)
Foods to eat
Egg whites (two whites can substituted for one whole egg in recipes), cholesterol-free egg substitute
Foods to avoid
Egg yolks (more than two per week; this includes eggs used in cooking and baking)
Fats and oils: no more than 6 teaspoons per day
Foods to eat
Unsaturated oils: olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, soybean oil
Spreads with little or no trans-fatty acids (some brand names: Smart Balance Omega Plus and original, Canola Harvest non-hydrogenated spread, others such as Benecol and Take Control)
Salad dressings made with unsaturated oil, or low- fat or nonfat varieties
Foods to avoid
Saturated oils: coconut oil, palm kernel oil, palm oil
Hydrogenated oils
Trans-fatty acids (partially hydrogenated oils)
Butter, lard, shortening, bacon fat, stick margarine, margarine with partially hydrogenated oil
Foods made with olestra (brand name: Olean) should be limited; may cause gastrointestinal symptoms and keep fat-soluble vitamins out of circulation
Fruits: 2 cups per day (about two regular-sized pieces of fruit)
Foods to eat
A variety of fruits; all fruits are allowed. Limit dried fruit to 1/2 cup.
Meat and meat substitutes: no more than 6 oz per day
Foods to eat
Lean cuts of well-trimmed beef, pork, lamb (examples: loin or round. Choose select grade, not prime or choice)
Fish or shellfish without butter
Processed meat prepared from lean meats (examples: lean ham, lean hot dogs, lean meat with soy protein added)
Poultry without skin
Tofu, tempeh, vegetable patties
Cooked dried or canned beans (legumes) and peas
Foods to avoid
Fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb; regular ground beef; spare ribs; organ meats
Fish or shellfish with butter or high-fat sauces
Nuts and seeds, including olives and avocados: 1/2 cup per day most days
Foods to eat
Seeds and nuts, including avocados, olives, natural peanut butter (no more than 2 tablespoons per day)
Foods to avoid
Coconut, peanut butter made with partially hydrogenated oil
Soups and other mixed dishes: Servings per day depend on ingredients
Foods to eat
Reduced-fat or low-fat soups
Soups with less than 600 mg sodium per serving (examples: chicken or beef noodle, minestrone, tomato, vegetable, potato soups)
Foods to avoid
Soups made with whole milk, cream, meat fat, poultry fat, or poultry skin
Soups with 600 mg or more sodium per serving
Sweets and desserts: If your triglyceride levels are above normal, avoid foods in this section. Otherwise, eat only small amounts.
Foods to eat
Syrup, turbinado sugar, honey, jam, preserves, fruit-flavored gelatin, sucralose (brand name: Splenda), aspartame (brand names: NutraSweet, Equal)
Dark chocolate
Low-fat and nonfat frozen yogurt, low-fat and nonfat ice cream, sherbet, sorbet, fruit ice, frozen ice pops (one brand: Popsicle)
Cookies, cake, pie, and pudding made with egg whites or egg substitute, skim milk or 1 percent milk, and unsaturated oil
Gingersnaps, fig and other fruit bar cookies, fat-free cookies, angel food cake, desserts with no more than 3 grams of fat per serving
Foods to avoid
Candy made with milk chocolate, chocolate, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, or palm oil
Milk chocolate
Regular ice cream and frozen treats made with regular ice cream
Commercially baked pies, cakes, doughnuts, high-fat cookies, cream pies
Baked goods made with partially hydrogenated oil.
Vegetables: at least three to five servings per day
Foods to eat
Fresh or frozen vegetables without added fat or salt
Vegetables stir fried with small amounts of unsaturated oil
Foods to avoid
Vegetables fried or cooked with butter, cheese, or cream sauce
Recommended activities
Gardening, cleaning the house, walking, climbing stairs, playing with children, activities with friends and family, raking leaves, walking to the store, parking far away, dancing, shoveling snow, yoga
Cycling, hiking, racquetball, running, swimming, walking, weight training
Activities to avoid
Excessive inactivity

Continue Reading

More in AFP

More in PubMed

Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.