Heart Disease: Helping Your Loved One With Heart Disease Eat Right

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005

The Cleveland Clinic

For a person with heart disease, proper nutrition is essential to managing symptoms and preventing further complications. Not only can proper diet help slow the artery-clogging process, but when combined with careful lifestyle modification, it may even stop or reverse the narrowing of arteries.

For caregivers and their loved ones with heart disease, adopting a heart-healthy diet can help reduce total and LDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and reduce body weight. While most dietary plans detail what CAN'T be eaten, the most powerful nutrition strategy helps people with heart disease focus on what they CAN eat. In fact, heart disease research has shown that adding heart-saving foods is just as important as cutting back on others. Here are some strategies to help you plan meals for someone with heart disease:

  1. Serve more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. These foods may be one of the most powerful strategies in fighting heart disease.
  2. Choose fat calories wisely. Keep these goals in mind:
  3. Limit total fat grams.
  4. Serve a bare minimum of saturated fats and trans-fatty fats (for example, fats found in butter, salad dressing, sweets and desserts).
  5. When you use added fat, use fats high in monounsaturated fat (for example, fats found in olive and peanut oil) or polyunsaturated fat (such as fats found in soybean, corn and sunflower oil).
  6. Serve a variety -- and just the right amount -- of protein foods. Commonly eaten protein foods (meat, dairy products) are among the main causes of heart disease. Reduce this nutritional risk factor by balancing animal, fish and vegetable sources of protein.
  7. Limit cholesterol consumption. Dietary cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol levels, especially in high-risk people. Limiting dietary cholesterol has an added bonus: You'll also cut out saturated fat, as cholesterol and saturated fat are usually found in the same foods. Give your loved one energy by serving complex carbohydrates (such as whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, whole-grain breads) and limit simple carbohydrates (such as regular soft drinks, sugar, sweets).
  8. Feed your loved one regularly. Skipping meals often leads to overeating. By serving five to six mini-meals you can help your loved one control blood sugars, burn fat calories more efficiently and regulate cholesterol levels.

Other Heart-Healthy Strategies

  • De-emphasize salt. This will help your loved one control his or her blood pressure.
  • Encourage exercise. The human body was meant to be active. Exercise strengthens the heart muscle, improves blood flow, reduces high blood pressure, raises HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol), and helps control blood sugars and body weight.
  • Encourage hydration. Water is vital to life. Staying hydrated makes you feel energetic and eat less. Encourage your loved one to drink 32 to 64 ounces (about one to two liters) of water daily (unless he or she is fluid restricted).

An excellent motto to follow is: dietary enhancement, not deprivation. When people enjoy what they eat, they feel more positive about life, which helps them feel better.

How Much Is In a Serving?

When trying to coordinate an eating plan that's good for the heart, it may help to know how much of a certain kind of food is considered a "serving." The following table offers some examples.

 Food/amount  Serving/exchange  The size of
1 cup cooked rice or pasta 2 starch tennis ball
1 slice bread 1 starch compact disc case
1 cup raw vegetables or fruit 1 cup raw vegetables or fruit baseball
1/2 cup cooked vegetables or fruit 1 fruit or vegetable cupcake wrapper full or size of ice cream scoop
1 ounce cheese 1 high-fat protein pair of dice
1 teaspoon olive oil 1 fat** half dollar
3 ounces cooked meat 1 protein deck of cards or cassette tape
3 ounces tofu 1 protein deck of cards or cassette tape
** Remember to count fat servings that may be added to food while cooking (oil for sauteing, butter or shortening for baking)

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Heart Center.

Edited by Cynthia Haines, MD, WebMD, October 2005.

Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2005


In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer

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