Nutrition / Food

18 Simple Heart-Healthy Swaps to Try at Your Next Meal

Make these simple trade-offs for a healthier heart and a better diet.

One of the top risk factors for heart disease involves a poor diet, but luckily, healthy eating is usually within your control and a key area of prevention. According to the American Heart Association, you can protect your heart by choosing plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, heart-healthy fats, and fatty fish—and reducing intake of sodium, trans fats, and saturated fats. Here’s why certain foods are deemed more heart-healthy than others. Plus, find out what to avoid and how making simple heart-healthy swaps.

What makes a food heart-healthy?

“Heart-healthy foods are rich in fiber and antioxidants, while also being low in sodium and saturated fats,” says registered dietitian Stephanie McKercher of the Grateful Grazer. “Most whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts are good for your heart. There’s no need to eliminate fat completely—just aim for foods that are primarily high in unsaturated fats and lower in saturated and trans fats. Avocados and nuts are both great options.”

Watching your intake of saturated fats is important, because they clog arteries and can actually lead to a heart attack or stroke, says Lisa De Fazio, registered dietitian and author of The Women’s Health Big Book of Smoothies and Soups. “Good” fats, on the other hand, help lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as fight off heart disease as a whole.

“A heart-healthy food is one that is more nutrient-dense: it packs a ton of nutrients into every calorie,” explains Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD. “It can have a variety of nutrients, but heart-healthy foods tend to have fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The ‘good fats,’ aka unsaturated fats, are also heart-healthy foods. All of these nutrients have been scientifically shown to help the heart in some way, whether it’s lowering blood pressure or cholesterol or fighting off cardiovascular disease.”

What are some things to avoid eating if you’re trying to eat healthy for your heart?

Unsurprisingly, Rizzo says the things that aren’t good for your health in general are also bad for your heart, including saturated fats, trans fats, refined carbohydrates (such as foods full of sugar), and fried foods.

“The worst foods for your heart are ice cream, red meat, cheese, fried foods, butter, organ meats, whole milk dairy products, and cream sauces,” notes De Fazio. “If it walks, swims, or flies—or comes from something that walks, swims, or flies—it has cholesterol. Excessive cholesterol leads to heart disease.”

In response, you could explore a vegetarian or vegan diet, but McKercher says you can also simply replace some of your meat and dairy choices with plant-based foods, or make heart-healthy swaps in your diet for better nutrition.

Easy Heart-Healthy Swaps

Our experts share their favorite suggestions of nutritious replacements for common meals or snacks, and three Aaptiv trainers chime in regarding what they recommend based on personal experience.

McKercher’s Tips:

De Fazio’s Tips:

Rizzo’s Tips:

Fitness expert Kelly Chase’s Tips:

Fitness expert Jennifer Giamo’s Tips:

Fitness expert Candice Cunningham’s Tips:

Need more ways to amp up your usual fare? Check out these heart-healthy slow cooker recipes, explore anti-inflammatory foods and drinks, or whip up a few delicious pre-workout smoothies.

Food Nutrition


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