How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?

Updated:Dec 7,2015
The American Heart Association recommends an eating plan that emphasizes intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes (dried beans and peas), nontropical vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.  It should limit intake of sodium, sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats.
  • One serving equals: 1 cup raw leafy vegetables (about the size of a small fist); 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. 
  • Look for vegetables that are fresh, frozen, or canned in water without added sugar, saturated and trans fats, or salt.
  • 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 100% fruit juice.
  • Eat a variety of colors and types, especially deeply colored fruits such as peaches and berries. 
  • Eat whole fruits to get all of the nutrients (such as fiber) that can be missing in some juices.
Whole grains
  • One serving equals: 1 slice bread; 1⁄2 cup hot cereal, 1 cup flaked cereal; or 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta (about the size of a baseball)
  • At least half of your servings should be  high-fiber whole grains. Select items like whole-wheat bread, whole-grain crackers and brown rice.
  • Aim for about 25-30 grams of fiber from foods each day.
Poultry, fish and lean meat (less 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 (3 oz. of grilled or baked fish is about the size of a checkbook).
  • Trim all visible fat from meats before cooking.
  • Remove skin from poultry before eating.
Nuts, seeds, and legumes
  • 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)
  • Add beans to your soups, salads, and pasta dishes.
  • Try unsalted nuts in your salads, stir-fries, or stirred into yogurt. 
Low-fat dairy products
  • One serving equals: 1 cup milk or yogurt or 1 1/2 oz. low sodium, fat-free or low-fat cheese (about the size of 6 stacked dice).
  • 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.
How can I learn more?
  1. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit to learn more about heart disease and stroke.
  2. Sign up to get Heart Insight, a free magazine for heart patients and their families, at
  3. Connect with others sharing similar journeys with heart disease and stroke by joining our Support Network at
We have many other fact sheets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit to learn more.

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:
How many calories should I eat each day?
What’s a good, healthy cookbook?
©2015, American Heart Association

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