Heart Healthy Diet

Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve health outcomes with our evidence-based heart-healthy diet plan based on AHA recommendations.

By Alex King on Feb 29, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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What is a Heart Healthy Diet Plan?

Cardiovascular disease represents a huge disease burden worldwide and is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Moreover, many of these cases are preventable with lifestyle changes, including adopting a heart-healthy diet. 

When you think about heart-healthy foods, you might think of fruits, vegetables, or whole grains, but there’s a lot more to a heart-healthy diet than just getting your five-plus a day. 

In the world of fad diets, the messaging is often confusing about what is actually beneficial for heart health- and that’s where our Heart Healthy Diet Plan comes in. Based on recommendations from the American Heart Association, our evidence-based Heart Healthy Diet Plan sets out the recommended daily intake of various food groups depending on your daily caloric needs. 

Additionally, this diet plan includes a weekly meal template with a checklist to help you or your patients adhere to the heart-healthy guidelines provided in this resource. So, if you are looking for a research-backed diet plan to aid in a positive lifestyle change, our Heart Healthy Diet Plan is for you.

Printable Heart Healthy Diet Plan

Download this Heart Healthy Diet Plan to help improve the health of your patients.

How Does it Work?

Fill in Your Details

The first step is to enter your or your patient’s details into the space provided. These include name, date, height, weight, and BMI. These details can be useful for tracking progress, and for determining daily caloric intake.

Find Your Recommended Daily Eating Pattern from Tables One and Two

For this section, you will need to know your daily recommended caloric intake. Four options are provided, ranging from 1600 to 3000 kcal. Daily recommended caloric intake will depend on sex, activity level, and weight management goals. For general reference, a sedentary female will likely need around 1600 kcal daily, whereas an active male will need closer to 3000 kcal daily, but this number can vary widely. 

Write Down Your Customised Heart Healthy Daily Intake Goals

Once your caloric intake is selected, read off the values in the applicable column to determine the heart-healthy recommendations for your daily energy requirements. These are provided in both volume of food (cups or ounces) or servings of food. You can input your preferred method of measuring food intake into the pie chart provided.

Use the Weekly Meal Plan Template to Plan Heart Healthy Meals

The weekly meal plan template is provided alongside a daily checklist of whether that day’s meals meet your heart-healthy nutrition goals, as established in Tables One and Two. This template can either be used as criteria for planning a week of meals or as a reflective journal to determine how well the past week’s meals met your goals.

Reflect on the Week’s Progress and Think About Goals for Next Week

Every week will likely look different; some days, you may exceed your goals, while others will struggle to meet them. As long as your goals are being met overall, you don’t need to worry about small daily variations. However, there is always room to improve, and it’s important to take note of what works well for you, so we have provided space at the end of the diet plan to reflect on the week’s meals and plan for the following week.

This is a resource-intensive process, and there are many goals to keep track of in the initial stages, but this weekly meal template is designed to help facilitate the change to a heart-healthy diet, and once a few months have elapsed, these healthy choices will begin to come more naturally. 

Heart Healthy Diet Plan Example (Sample)

Now for the fun part: food! Take a look at our heart-healthy diet plan example to see the kinds of delicious meals that can be included as part of a week of heart-healthy meals. You can download this sample heart-healthy diet plan PDF here. 

Download this Heart Healthy Diet Plan Example:

Heart Healthy Diet Plan Example (Sample)

When Would You Use This Plan?

Opting for a heart-healthy diet is an excellent choice for individuals aiming to lower their chances of developing coronary artery or cardiovascular disease. This dietary approach is especially advantageous for those with an elevated risk of heart disease, individuals seeking a scientifically supported healthy eating plan, or anyone committed to making a positive lifestyle shift.

Practitioners who may benefit from having this resource on hand for their clients include:

  • Dietitians
  • Nutritionists
  • General Practitioners
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Life Coaches
  • Cardiologists

Research & Evidence

The world of healthy eating is saturated with fad or crash diets often with little to no scientific backing, making finding a genuinely healthy diet option a perilous task. The difference with our Heart Healthy Diet Plan is it is based on the American Heart Association dietary recommendations for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease (Van Horn et al., 2016). 

Chances are, nothing in this Heart Healthy Diet Plan will be particularly surprising to you, as deep down, we all know that vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein are good for us, but in order to help you convince yourself (or your patients) of this fact, let’s dive into the evidence for this heart-healthy diet plan.

Fruits, Vegetables, and Healthy Plant Foods

It might seem like a no-brainer to emphasize fruit and vegetables in this Heart Healthy Diet Plan, with a daily recommended intake of 1.5-2.5 and 2-4 cups of each, depending on your caloric needs.

Adhering to a healthy plant-based diet has also been shown to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality (Kim et al., 2018), as well as reducing the risk of coronary heart disease (Satija et al., 2017). For these studies, a distinction is drawn between “healthy” plant-based diets, i.e., comprising fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes, and “unhealthy” plant-based diets, i.e., comprising refined grains, fries, juices, and sweetened beverages. This distinction is reflected in our Heart Healthy Diet Plan, as just because something is plant-based does not necessarily make it good for your heart health.

Protein

Tharrey et al. (2018) found that having a higher proportion of dietary protein from meat-based sources was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease outcomes, whereas having a higher proportion of dietary protein coming from nuts and seeds, i.e., plant protein, was associated with lower cardiovascular risk factors. Within the meat category, further research was conducted by Pun et al. (2012), which found that both the consumption of red meat and processed meat increased the risk of cardiovascular mortality and that replacing one serving of red meat with one serving of fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy or whole grains reduced this mortality risk. These studies demonstrate that while protein is an essential macronutrient, the source of this protein can greatly impact cardiovascular risk factors. 

Fats

This heart-healthy diet emphasizes unsaturated fats, such as extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil, and limits saturated fats, such as butter, cheese, or coconut oil. Additionally, trans fats, typically found in processed foods such as shortening or margarine, are identified as increasing the risk of atherosclerotic heart disease. As such, choosing unsaturated fats over trans or saturated fats can help to reduce the risk of various heart diseases. 

References

Arnett, D. K., Blumenthal, R. S., Albert, M. A., Buroker, A. B., Goldberger, Z. D., Hahn, E. J., Himmelfarb, C. D., Khera, A., Lloyd-Jones, D., McEvoy, J. W., Michos, E. D., Miedema, M. D., Muñoz, D., Smith, S. C., Virani, S. S., Williams, K. A., Yeboah, J., & Ziaeian, B. (2019). 2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Circulation, 140(11). https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000678

Aune, D., Keum, N., Giovannucci, E., Fadnes, L. T., Boffetta, P., Greenwood, D. C., Tonstad, S., Vatten, L. J., Riboli, E., & Norat, T. (2016). Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: Systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ, i2716. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i2716

Bittner, V. (2020). The New 2019 AHA/ACC Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Circulation, 142(25), 2402–2404. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.040625

Kim, H., Caulfield, L. E., & Rebholz, C. M. (2018). Healthy Plant-Based Diets Are Associated with Lower Risk of All-Cause Mortality in US Adults. The Journal of Nutrition, 148(4), 624–631. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxy019

Pan, A., Sun, Q., Bernstein, A. M., Schulze, Matthias B., Manson, J. E., Stampfer, M. J., Willett, W., & Hu, F. B. (2012). Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(7), 555. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287

Satija, A., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Spiegelman, D., Chiuve, S. E., Manson, J. E., Willett, W., Rexrode, K. M., Rimm, E. B., & Hu, F. B. (2017). Healthful and Unhealthful Plant-Based Diets and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in U.S. Adults. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 70(4), 411–422. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2017.05.047

Tharrey, M., Mariotti, F., Mashchak, A., Barbillon, P., Delattre, M., & Fraser, G. E. (2018). Patterns of plant and animal protein intake are strongly associated with cardiovascular mortality: The Adventist Health Study-2 cohort. International Journal of Epidemiology, 47(5), 1603–1612. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyy030

Van Horn, L., Carson, J. A. S., Appel, L. J., Burke, L. E., Economos, C., Karmally, W., Lancaster, K., Lichtenstein, A. H., Johnson, R. K., Thomas, R. J., Vos, M., Wylie-Rosett, J., & Kris-Etherton, P. (2016). Recommended Dietary Pattern to Achieve Adherence to the American Heart Association/American College of Cardiology (AHA/ACC) Guidelines: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 134(22). https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000462

Which fats are heart-healthy?
Which fats are heart-healthy?

Commonly asked questions

Which fats are heart-healthy?

Unsaturated fats from whole foods such as olive oil or avocado oil are recommended in this heart-healthy diet plan instead of saturated fats. To tell the difference, saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature— such as beef fat or coconut oil. The solid nature of these fats means they are more likely to form atherosclerotic plaques and contribute to coronary artery disease. In addition, trans fats, commonly found in processed foods such as margarine or shortening, are highlighted as the least heart-healthy and a risk factor for coronary artery disease.

When are Heart Healthy Diet Plans used?

A heart-healthy diet is a great option for anyone looking to reduce their risk of coronary artery or cardiovascular disease. Those who may particularly benefit from this heart-healthy diet are those at increased risk of heart disease, people looking for an evidence-based healthy diet plan, or anyone looking to make a positive lifestyle change.

How long is a Heart Healthy Diet Plan used for?

In order to see the benefits of a heart-healthy diet, it is recommended to follow this diet plan for at least six months. However, this heart-healthy diet is a permanent lifestyle change rather than a fad diet, and so in order to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, these heart-healthy dietary recommendations should be adhered to on an ongoing basis.

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