What Is Considered a Heart-Healthy Diet?

Medically Reviewed on 8/11/2021
heart-healthy diet (cardiac) foods
A heart-healthy diet, unofficially called a cardiac diet, consists of nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and veggies, lean poultry, fish and whole grains, while avoiding saturated and trans fats.

A heart-healthy diet consists of foods that, when consumed regularly, improve heart-related parameters, such as blood pressure and lipid profile, and help maintain a healthy weight for your age and height.

Making some simple changes to your diet can help take care of your heart and avoid cardiovascular diseases, which are increasingly common in today’s stressful life. This is usually achieved by eating foods that are low in saturated fats, total fats, cholesterol and sodium.

A heart-healthy diet emphasizes plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, while limiting the intake of saturated fats and sodium found in meats, sweets and processed foods.

The below table compares the daily or weekly recommended intake of each food group for the four best heart diet plans. Amounts are based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Diet Daily vegetables Daily fruits Nuts, seeds (per week) Beans and peas (per week) Daily grains Daily dairy Daily protein Daily oils
American Heart Association recommended diet 2½ cup-eq 2 cup-eq

5 servings

2 tbsp (½ oz) nuts/seeds

1 tbsp peanut butter

5 servings

½ cup cooked beans*

6 oz-eq 3 cup-eq 5 oz-eq 9 tsp
DASH diet 2 to 2½ cup-eq 2 to 2½ cup-eq

4 to 5 servings

1½ oz (1/3 cup) nuts

2 tbsp peanut butter

2 tbsp (½ oz) seeds

4 to 5 servings

½ cup cooked legumes

6 to 8 oz-eq 2 to 3 cup-eq 6 oz-eq 2 to 3 tsp
Mediterranean diet 2½ cup-eq 2½ cup-eq 5 oz 1½ cups 6 oz-eq 2 cup-eq 6½ oz-eq 6 tsp
MyPlate diet 2½ cup-eq 2 cup-eq 5 oz 1½ cups 6 oz-eq 3 cup-eq 5½ oz-eq 6 tsp

Researchers have found that polyunsaturated fatty acids in a healthy heart diet plan help prevent and treat various cardiovascular diseases.

  • It is best to eat a variety of foods. 
    • Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, lean meats, fish and low-fat dairy products are best.
  • The best foods are those that are colorful and high in fiber.
    • Foods that are dark red, blue, orange or green (such as raspberries, blueberries, carrots, cantaloupe, spinach and peas) are the best.
  • Limit the number of white foods you eat such as rice, white bread and potatoes.
  • Eating oily fish at least two times per week can help lower your risk of heart disease.

What are the types of fats?

You can prevent and control many risk factors for heart disease by considering good and bad fats.

Monounsaturated fats:

  • They are found mainly in vegetable oils such as canola, olive and peanut oils.
  • Eating foods high in monounsaturated fats can help lower your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, increase your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease.
  • They are the best fats to have in your diet.

Polyunsaturated fats:

  • They are found mainly in vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn, flaxseed and canola oils.
  • Polyunsaturated fats are also the main fats found in seafood.
  • Some polyunsaturated fats are essential and needed for the cell structure and making hormones. Essential fats must be obtained from the foods we choose.
  • Eating polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fats reduces LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).

Saturated fats:

  • They are found chiefly in animal foods such as meat and poultry, whole or 2 percent milk and butter.
  • Some vegetable oils such as coconut, palm kernel oil and palm oil are highly saturated.
  • Eating too many foods high in saturated fats can increase blood levels of your total and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • High blood levels of LDL and total cholesterol increase your risk of heart disease.


  • Trans-fats increase your risk of heart disease. There is no safe level of trans-fat intake.
  • They are formed when vegetable oils are processed into margarine or shortening.
  • Sources of trans-fats in your diet include snack foods and baked goods.
  • Trans-fats also occur naturally in some animal foods such as dairy products.
  • Trans-fats act like saturated fats and increase LDL cholesterol levels.
  • They can also lower HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood.

Omega-3 (n-3 polyunsaturated) fatty acids:

  • They are essential fats that your body needs to function properly but does not make.
  • They can be obtained through foods, which means getting eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from seafood such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel or shellfish and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from sources such as walnuts, flaxseed and canola and soybean oils.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to benefit heart health.

What are the goals of a heart-healthy diet?

The goals of a heart-healthy diet are to eat foods that help obtain or maintain healthy levels of cholesterol and blood pressure.

For a healthy heart, it is important to:

  • Reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL; bad) cholesterol, which is harmful to the heart.
  • Reduce other harmful lipids (fatty molecules) such as triglycerides.
  • Increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL; good) cholesterol.
  • Control blood pressure. (Blood pressure readings of 120/80 mmHg are considered normal; readings of 140/90 mmHg or higher indicate hypertension and require initiation of medications.)
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

The foods you consume, along with regular exercise, can help achieve these goals.


Foods That Aren't as Healthy as You Think See Slideshow

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 8/11/2021
The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/aha-diet-and-lifestyle-recommendations

Heart-Healthy Diet Tips: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/diets/heart-healthy-diet-tips.htm

Experts Clarify Definition of a Heart Healthy Diet: https://www.cardiosmart.org/news/2016/11/experts-clarify-definition-of-a-hearthealthy-diet