How to improve heart health
What should you eat to support your heart health? Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at The British Heart Foundation, shares her top 10 tips for a heart healthy diet...
Eating to keep your heart healthy needn't mean a complete lifestyle change. A few simple swaps can make all the difference...
1. Go low with dairy
Using low-fat milk instead of whole milk will reduce your saturated fat intake, which in turn can help to lower your cholesterol levels. It might seem like a small change but, because milk is an everyday food, it can add up and make a big difference to your overall diet. If you already use semi-skimmed milk but are reluctant to use skimmed, give 1% milk a go.
2. Bigger isn't always better
Use measuring spoons to help with portion control and don’t always go for the biggest when it comes to choosing individually portioned foods. These little choices can really add up – we know that by choosing the smallest bagel at breakfast rather than the largest each day you could save enough calories over a year to mean you lose 5½lbs.
3. Dear diary
It can be easy to forget the snacks we have between meals and wonder why the weight is creeping on. Writing down what you eat over the day can remind you of the extras you’ve had and can also help you keep track of positive things like whether you are eating enough wholegrains and getting your five-a-day.
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4. Lean isn't always mean
Choosing lean meat and removing skin and visible fat is a great way to reduce the saturated fat content of your meals. If you’re using meats where the fat is difficult to remove, like mince, then choose the leanest version you can and then skim any excess that rises to the top during cooking.
5. Think Mediterranean
An easy switch to start off with is looking at the oils and spreads you use in your cooking. A Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish and pulses and using unsaturated oils such as olive, rapeseed and avocado rather than saturated fats like butter or lard might not be low in fat overall but these type of fats are better for your heart.
6. Get fruity
Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day is linked to a lower risk of heart disease. If you find it difficult to eat fresh produce, remember that there are five ways you can get your five-a-day: fresh, frozen, tinned, dried and juiced. However, don’t get carried away with the juicer – juices only count once a day, no matter much you have. The process of juicing also exposes the natural sugars in the fruit, which may be detrimental for your teeth – so if possible, enjoy your juice with a meal to minimise damage.
7. Full of beans
Try making some vegetarian meals during the week for a lighter choice. Beans are a great way to fill you up and a portion will count as one of your five-a-day. Even if you're still making a meat dish, why not add some beans and lentils to it? It will mean you need less meat, which will lower the saturated fat content, but still have plenty of savoury flavour and added fibre.
8. Cooking counts
When you’ve spent time sourcing healthy, seasonal ingredients for your dishes, use healthy cooking methods to show them at their best. Grill or bake fish and meat and have vegetables baked, boiled or steamed to go alongside. If you are going for a pasta dish, make a tomato rather than cream-based sauce for a heart-healthy option.
9. Halt the salt
On average in the UK, we eat more than the recommended maximum of 6g a day. Cutting down on salt is important to help to avoid high blood pressure. But that doesn’t mean your food has to be bland – you can still pack your meals with taste without adding salt. Try adding herbs and spices, pepper, chilli or citrus instead.
10. Be label savvy
Cooking from scratch will help you control the amount of saturated fat and salt as well as sugar in your meals, but it’s still important to check the nutritional information of the ingredients you use. The content of staples like bread and breakfast cereals, or meat products like bacon and sausages, can vary widely. By looking at the nutritional information you can make a more informed choice. Knowing exactly what’s in the product means you’ll know what’s on your plate – your heart and your waistline will thank you for it.
For more information on heart health visit bhf.org.uk or find more recipes and tips for a healthy heart in our guides:
Spotlight on heart disease
Heart healthy diet: what to eat
How to serve heart healthy portions
How to lose weight and keep it off
For more information on heart health, visit bhf.org.uk
This article was last reviewed on 29 January 2024 by the British Heart Foundation.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.
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