How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?

Updated:Feb 8,2013
Healthy eating habits can help you reduce three risk factors for heart attack and stroke — high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess body weight.
Be sure to choose a variety of foods from each group.
Fiber-rich whole grains (6 to 8 servings per day)
  • One serving equals: 1 slice bread; 1/2 cup hot cereal, 1 cup flaked cereal; 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta
  • At least half of your servings should be fiber-rich whole grains. Select items like whole-wheat bread, whole-grain crackers and brown rice.
Vegetables (4 to 5 servings per day)
  • One serving equals: 1 cup raw leafy vegetables; 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables; 1/2 cup vegetable juice.
  • Eat a variety of colors and types, especially deeply colored vegetables, such as spinach, carrots and broccoli. 
Fruits (4 to 5 servings per day)
  • One serving equals: 1 medium fruit (about the size of a baseball); 1/4 cup dried fruit; 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit; 1/2 cup fruit juice.
  • Eat a variety of colors and types, especially deeply colored fruits. 
Lean meat, poultry, and fish (no more than 6 cooked ounces per day)
  • A 3 oz. portion is about the size of a deck of playing cards, 1⁄2 of a chicken breast or 3⁄4 cup of flaked fish.
  • Enjoy at least 2 servings of baked or grilled fish each week; especially fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, trout, and herring.
  • Trim fat from meats; remove skin from poultry.
Nuts, seeds, and legumes (4 to 5 servings per week)
One serving equals: 1/3 cup or 1 1/2 oz nuts; 2 Tbsp. peanut butter (no salt added); 2 Tbsp. or 1/2 oz seeds; 1/2 cup cooked legumes (dried beans or peas)
Fat-free, 1 percent and low-fat milk products (2 to 3 servings per day)
  • One serving equals: 1 cup milk or yogurt or 1 1/2 oz. low sodium, fat-free or low-fat cheese.
  • Use only milk products with 0% to 1% fat. 2% milk is not low-fat.
  • Have only fat-free or low-fat yogurt with no added sugars.
  • Use dry-curd, fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese.
  • Cheeses (low sodium, fat-free or low-fat) should have no more than
    • 3 grams of fat per oz. and no more than
    • 2 grams of saturated fat per oz.
Fats and oils (2 to 3 servings per day)
  • One serving equals: 1 tsp. vegetable oil or soft margarine, 2 tsp. diet margarine, 1 Tbsp. regular salad dressing, or 1 Tbsp. regular mayonnaise. Choose no salted added or low-sodium varieties. 
  • Choose fats and oils with 2 grams or less saturated fat per tablespoon, such as liquid and tub margarines, and canola, corn, safflower, soy bean and olive oils.
  • Be sure to count the fats used in store-bought foods, in cooking and on vegetables and breads.
  • Read food labels carefully and try to avoid “partially hydrogenated” oils and fats.
Sweets and added sugars (5 or less servings per week)
  • One serving equals: 1 Tbsp. sugar; 1 Tbsp. jelly or jam; 1/2cup sorbet, gelatin; 1 cup soda or fruit drink.
  • Drink no more than 450 calories or 36 oz per week of sugar-sweetened beverages.
How can I learn more? 
  1. Talk to your doctor, nurse, dietitian or other healthcare professionals. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, members of your family also may be at higher risk. It’s very important for them to make changes now to lower their risk.
  2. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit to learn more about heart disease.
  3. For information on stroke, call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653) or visit us online at
We have many other fact sheets and educational booklets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit to learn more.

Knowledge is power, so Learn and Live!

Do you have questions or comments for your doctor or nurse?
Take a few minutes to write your own questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider. For example:
What about desserts?
What’s a good, healthful cookbook?
©2012, American Heart Association

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

Heart-related Conditions
What is Angina?
What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
How Can I Lower High Cholesterol?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
What Is Diabetes and How Can I Manage It?
How Can I Live With Heart Failure?
What Is Heart Failure?
What Is a Heart Attack?
How Will I Recover From My Heart Attack?
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack?
What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Rehabilitation
Stroke Family Caregivers
How Should I Care for Myself as a Caregiver?

Treatment, Tests and Procedures
What is Cholesterol-Lowering Medicine?
What is High Blood Pressure Medicine?
What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator?
What Is a Pacemaker?
What Is Coronary Angioplasty?
What is a Stent?
What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
What is a Coronary Angiogram?
How Can I Recover From Heart Surgery?
What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

Healthy Lifestyle and Risk Reduction
How Can I Manage My Weight?
How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?
Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Read "Nutrition Facts" Labels?
How Can I Quit Smoking?
How Can I Manage Stress?
How Can I Make My Lifestyle Healthier?
How Can I Monitor My Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Weight?