Nutrition for a Healthy Heart Print

Heart health dietitian advice on what to eat for heart health, high cholesterol and high blood pressure

If you are confused about what you should be eating to keep your heart healthy, you are not alone.  All of the conflicting information about nutrition makes it difficult to figure out what to eat to help protect against heart disease.  The debates about nutrition for elevated blood cholesterol or high blood pressure can be even more perplexing.

Rest assured that the best heart-healthy eating plan is the one you will actually follow.  You do not need a diet. Instead, you need a healthy lifestyle you can sustain for life.  Follow a plan that speaks to your food personality and the types of foods that you enjoy.

what to eat for a healthy heart by a heart health dietitian

What is the best diet to follow for my heart?

Many research studies on nutrition for heart health exist.  You can find one to support almost anything you want to promote or discount.  One study will show that a well-planned vegan or vegetarian eating plan is healthy for your heart.  Another will say that animal foods, such as the dairy, meat, poultry, and seafood included in the Mediterranean diet, also belong in a heart-healthy eating plan. 

Your health and heart health depend on your whole diet, not just the type of fat you eat, how much sodium is in your diet, or any other single nutrient.  The key is to take a big picture look at what scientific research suggests.  Then, use your common sense and remember what your grandparents likely already knew.

First, eat plenty of whole foods that you can recognize as food. Avoid complicated labels with a long list of ingredients.  Emphasize plant-based foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.  If you wish to consume animal foods, choose those that are minimally processed with lower levels of sodium and sugar.  Limit ultra-processed foods that have very high levels of sugar, like pop and candy.  Packaged snack foods and convenience meals also contain high levels of sodium. 

Trans fats are a particularly unhealthy class of fat found in packaged and processed foods like deep-fried items, and commercially baked goods and pastries.  Read food labels and limit foods that contain hydrogenated vegetable oil and shortening.

However, you do not need to be extreme.  There is always room for your favourite soulful foods, such as sweets and savoury foods that you choose for taste and enjoyment.  You can eat anything, just not everything.  It’s all about being intentional about your overall choices.

What is the most important nutrition change to make for heart health?

While reducing your sodium intake and watching what type of fat you are eating is key to boosting your heart health, it is important to remember the following. 

If you are overweight and consuming too many calories, the single most effective nutrition strategy to lower your blood cholesterol levels (and blood pressure) is to lose weight.  Even small changes in your weight can significantly affect your blood cholesterol level.  The best weight loss plan is going to be based on your food philosophy and which eating plan you can actually sustain.

Is it worth talking to a dietitian?

Working with a registered dietitian on our team can really help.  An experienced dietitian can create a customized plan for everyday meals that considers:

  • what, when and how much to eat
  • what types of food you enjoy
  • your cooking skill
  • your family situation
  • and how often you like to eat out.

As well, our online nutritionists / Calgary dietitians can give ongoing support and strategies for success related to:

  • emotional eating
  • managing cravings
  • and accountability.

Contact us for more information on our Dietitian Calgary nutrition counseling services: CONTACT OUR REGISTERED DIETITIAN TEAM

Are foods like butter, cheese and eggs bad for my heart?

The answer is both yes and no.  Traditionally, it was thought that saturated fat was harmful for heart health.  Saturated fats are found in heavily marbled meats, the skin on poultry, in butter, margarine, and tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter), and in high-fat dairy foods like cheese. 

High levels of LDL cholesterol can be harmful to heart health.  Newer research has found that saturated fats may or may not increase the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in the body.  Part of the reason that findings conflict is because research results depend on which foods replace the saturated fat.  Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, nuts and avocado) and omega-3 fats (such as what is found in fish) is beneficial for heart health. 

Be aware that the cholesterol in food is different than the cholesterol found in your blood.  Although foods like eggs and shrimp are high in dietary cholesterol, they have little effect on blood cholesterol.  There is research to support that an egg a day is fine for most people.  Both shrimp and eggs are free of trans-fat and low in saturated fat.  This means their influence onblood cholesterol levels are limited for most people.  This is good news if you enjoy eggs for breakfast or grilled shrimp on the barbeque.

You may wonder whether the butter, cheese or eggs you are eating is good or bad.  The bigger question is about which food you put butter on, and what else you eat with your eggs and cheese.  Since most people need to eat more veggies and fruit, focus on this group first.

A final note about heart healthy eating

Health depends on the quality of your whole diet, not just a type of fat or the amount of sodium or cholesterol in a food.  Rather than counting grams of fat or milligrams of dietary cholesterol, focus on healthy cooking skills.  Any diet should include more vegetables, fruit, and wholesome foods your grandparents would recognize, with simple ingredients on the label that kids can pronounce.

Looking for more nutrition advice from trusted Registered Dietitians?  Sign up for our free weekly nutrition newsletter for our latest articles, videos and recipes on healthy eating here: Our Free Nutrition Newsletter

Book an appointment with a heart health dietitian on our team to help you personalize this heart health advice for your own needs.  We specialize in weight concerns, meal planning, heart health nutrition, nutrition for high cholesterol and what to eat to reduce high blood pressure. We can see you in our local dietitian Calgary office or by phone or video conferencing for virtual nutrition counseling.   CONTACT US

About Andrea Holwegner

CEO, Registered Dietitian, Counseling Practice Director & Professional Speaker

Andrea the «Chocoholic Nutritionist» is founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. since 2000. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education....Read more

Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. Andrea and her team really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Andrea is an excellent teacher and motivator. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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