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 heart.org 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 StrokeAssociation.org.
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 heart.org/answersbyheart 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

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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?