13 Steps to a Heart Healthy Diet

Straight from the American Heart Association (AHA ), here are 13 steps to a heart healthy diet. Every one of the following tips is important and effective on its own, but the more you incorporate into your lifestyle, the healthier you will be.

Not only do these changes make you less likely to develop heart disease, but they also make your heart more healthy. See how many you already follow, and work your way up to abiding by the entire list.

  1. Calories In / Calories Out – Here's a no brainer: Watch those calories! This does not mean you have to meticulously count every carb and gram of fat in your diet (though it could certainly be a wake-up call if you do just that for one week), but use common sense. If you continue to gain weight, or fail to lose any, you are either eating too many calories or not getting enough exercise. You need to strike a balance between the two, depending on your physical abilities.
  2. Smaller portions – A way to trick yourself here is to use smaller plates and glasses. When you have "Super Sized" dishes at home, you're more likely to fill them up and eat more than you usually would.
  3. Move! – Do not think that you can get away with starving yourself and doing no exercise to lose weight. It's unhealthy for your heart and your entire body. Start doing some physical activity, whether it's jogging, playing sports, doing yard-work, or anything else that forces your butt and your couch to part ways.
  4. Mix it up – Lose the processed, boxed, bagged, and canned foods whenever possible. Instead, replace them with a variety of healthy foods, including lean meats, fruits, and vegetables.
  5. Get fishy – Americans do not eat nearly enough fish, which means they're missing out on heart-healthy omega-3's. Can not stomach fish on a regular basis? Get a fish oil supplement.
  6. Got milk? – You've heard it a million times: Milk does a body good. It's true! Just make sure you choose the low-fat or skim varieties.
  7. Protein that's so lean – Protein is essential in helping your body build and repair new muscle, as well as nearly every other function that keeps you running smoothly. Here is a great list of healthy high protein foods.
  8. Cut the fat – Watch out for trans fats, and completely avoid them if you can. They are some of the most unhealthy and heart-damaging substances there are, and unfortunately, they are in a large portion of processed foods. The AHA also suggests limiting "saturated fat to less than 7-percent of calories, trans fat to less 1 percent of calories, and cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams a day."
  9. Less sugar, Sweety – Switch out those soft drinks with water. Those empty calories and excessive sugar add up quick and settle in right around your waistline.
  10. Put salt in a pinch – Again, many processed foods contain tons of salt / sodium, used as a preservative. Seeing a trend here? Most processed foods are bad news. Any food serving that contains more than 450 milligrams of sodium is considered high.
  11. Lose the booze – Though red wine has gotten some good publicity for it's antioxidant powers, that's only if you have one glass. How many people stop after one? The AHA says "no more than two drinks a day for men, one drink a day for women."
  12. How to dine out – Besides following all of the previous guidelines, pay extra attention to the portion sizes. Restaurants usually pile on entrees, side orders, dressings, and anything else they can fit on the plate. If you do not have the will power to eat only what you need, then order off the kid's menu!
  13. Put down the cancer sticks – Study after study shows indisputable evidence that smoking greatly increases the risk for heart disease, cancer, and a variety of other serious illnesses. If you only choose one of these steps to follow, make it this one!

Follow these guidelines for a heart healthy diet , and your ol 'ticker will keep on tickin'!