Diet and Exercise

  • Eat well.

    A good diet can lower your risk of heart attack substantially.

    Avoid saturated fats.

    Saturated fats (red meat, butter, cream, lard, cheeses) and trans-unsaturated fats (labeled hydrogenated by the food industry) both increase risk of heart attack.

    Seek out Omega-3 fats.

    Diets high in Mono and Poly-unsaturated (Omega-3) fats can decrease the risk of heart attack by up to 70%. Omega-3 fats are found in:

    • Olive oil
    • Canola oil
    • Fish oil
    • Walnut oil
    • Flax Seed oil



  • Sodium. Friend or Foe?

    Everyone needs some sodium, but too much may aggravate high blood pressure, congestive heart failure or other medical conditions. Most Americans consume much more sodium than they need. There is enough sodium found naturally in unsalted food to meet daily needs. The American Heart Association suggests reducing sodium to 3000 milligrams or less per day.

    Why Limit Sodium?
    With some medical conditions, the body retains too much sodium causing fluid retention. Some individuals are more sensitive to the effects of sodium. Predicting those who may be 'salt sensitive' is difficult.

    Blood Pressure
    For certain individuals, too much sodium in the diet aggravates high blood pressure. A high sodium diet does not cause high blood pressure. Cutting back on salt may not prevent high blood pressure, it may help lower blood pressure for 'salt sensitive' people.

    Medical Conditions
    Some people have heart or kidney conditions that warrant the reduction of sodium in their diet. Their bodies have difficulty processing sodium and the resulting fluid retention can be life-threatening.

    Fluid Retention
    Sodium can cause water retention in some individuals resulting in swelling.

    Label Lingo
    Most food packages list the amount of sodium per serving size in the nutrition information section of the label. Remember to check serving sizes. They sometimes differ from the amount you eat. If a food product has been made lower in sodium, you may see sodium-specific labeling on the front of the label. These labeling terms mean:

    • Sodium Free - contains less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
    • Very Low Sodium - contains no more than 35 mg of sodium per serving
    • Low Sodium - contains no more than 140 mg of sodium per serving
    • Reduced Sodium - contains at least 25% less sodium than the product it is replacing
    • Light in Sodium - contains 50% less sodium per service of original product

    Want To Eat Less Sodium? Try these helpful hints:

    • Use less salt in cooking.
    • Do not add salt to food at the table.
    • Try using lemon juice, fresh garlic or garlic powder or onion in place of salt.
    • Keep salt out of easy reach.
    • In restaurants, ask that your selection not be salted.

    Check labels on food containers for clues about sodium in the list of ingredients. Some labels will state the amount of sodium in a serving. It is very important to read labels carefully if you are on a low-sodium diet prescribed by a doctor.

    Look for new recipes that are low in sodium.



  • Low Sodium Foods

    150mg of sodium per serving

    • Herbs & Spices
    • Low sodium seasoning mixes (i.e. Mrs. Dash, Parsley Patch, etc.)
    • Mustard, Tabasco/red pepper sauce

    • BreadCrackers, low sodium
    • Hot cereals (except instant)
    • Low sodium cereals (i.e. Shredded Wheat, puffed rice and wheat granola)
    • Matzoh, noodles
    • Rice, tortillas
    • Unsalted popcorn, whole grains

    • Fruits
    • Fruit juices
    • Unsalted vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned)
    • Check the label

    • Beef & veal
    • Dried beans (cooked without salt or ham hocks)
    • Eggs, fish
    • Lamb
    • Peanut butter
    • Poultry
    • Pork
    • Tuna
    • Unsalted nuts

    • Cream cheese
    • Milk
    • Ricotta cheese
    • Sherbet
    • Sorbet

    • Carbonated beverages (i.e. pop & soda)
    • Milk
    • Coffee & tea
    • Most mineral waters
    • Check the labels


  • Moderate Sodium Foods

    150-400mg of sodium per serving

    • Salted seasonings: (limit 2 tablespoons per day)
    • Barbecue sauces
    • Catsup
    • Chili sauce
    • Gravy
    • Mayonnaise, salad dressings
    • Steak sauce, tomato puree or sauce
    • Worcestershire

    • Bread & rolls
    • Doughnuts
    • Dry cereals
    • Biscuits & muffins
    • Cakes, cookies
    • Instant hot cereals
    • Pancakes & waffles
    • Pastries, pies

    • Canned vegetables

    • Canned beans (rinsed and drained)
    • Frozen dinners (500 mg or less per serving)
    • Garden Burgers
    • Shellfish, fresh fish

    • Buttermilk, cheeses (aged, brick-type)
    • Cheeses (feta & Parmesan - limit to 1 Tablespoon)
    • Cottage cheese (limit to 1/2 cup)
    • Frozen desserts (such as ice cream, frozen yogurt, ice cream bars)
    • Ice cream
    • Pudding
    • Yogurt


  • High Sodium Foods

    More than 400mg of sodium per serving

    • High sodium seasonings
    • Bouillon, meat tenderizers
    • Salt/salt substitute mixtures
    • Salted seasonings (garlic salt, onion salt, seasoning salt)
    • Soy sauce, teriyaki sauce

    • Frozen or canned spaghetti or pasta dishes
    • Salted crackers and chips
    • Salted popcorn
    • Salted pretzels

    • Olives and pickles
    • Pickled vegetables
    • Sauerkraut
    • Vegetable juices
    • Vegetables with seasoned sauces

    • Smoked, cured or pickled products
    • Bacon
    • Corned beef, fried meat or fish, ham
    • Luncheon meats, sausage & frankfurters
    • Canned or dried soups & ramens
    • Canned refried beans
    • Canned crab, salmon, shrimp, tuna
    • Frozen dinners and entrees
    • Imitation crab or shrimp
    • Cheeses, processed (i.e. American Cheese slices)
    • Blue cheese
    • Roquefort cheese


  • Sodium Sources

    Most sodium in the diet comes from sodium chloride - better known as table salt. Sodium is a popular food additive, often added to processed food as a flavoring or preservative. Approximately 75% of the sodium Americans consume is added to foods during processing.

    Sodium is measured in milligrams (1000 milligrams = 1 gram). There are about 2000 milligrams of sodium in a teaspoon of salt.

    Some medications such as antacids are high in sodium. Check with a doctor or pharmacist before taking unprescribed medication.



  • Quick Review

    • Strive for a more plant-based diet.
    • Go meatless several times a week.
    • Try vegetable protein sources such as legumes and soy.
    • Increase fiber. Eat foods in their least refined version such as whole grains.
    • Eat at least 7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
    • Use olive oil and canola oil as your main fat source.
    • Decrease saturated fat to no more than 8% to 10% of your total calories.
    • Use low-fat dairy products.
    • Use cheese as a flavoring or seasoning.
    • Up to four eggs with yolks are allowed weekly (depending on your cholesterol).
    • Use lean meat sources such as chicken and turkey, venison and elk.
    • Limit red beef, lamb or pork to 1-2 times per month.
    • Limit trans-fatty acids by avoiding margarine, shortening, deep fried foods and commercially prepared baked goods and snacks.
    • Avoid corn, safflower, sunflower and soybean oils.
    • Increase omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Eat cold-water fatty fish several times per week. Walnuts, canola oil, flaxseeds and some vegetable greens are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
    • Avoid high-glycemic index carbohydrates such as soft drinks, white rice, sugar, potatoes, sugary breakfast cereals, white flour, corn, white breads and beer.

    (document download, PDF)


  • Diet Guidelines

    Fruits and vegetables - at least 7 servings per day

    Fish (cold water) - 3-4 times per week

    Dairy - Low-saturated fat versions (in limited amounts) and up to 4 eggs per week

    Grains, starches, legumes and nuts - Whole grain fiber-rich cereals, breads and pasta. No refined white flour, baked goods or breads. Avoid refried beans with lard. Limit quantity of nuts and nut butters because they are high in calories. No added oils, fats or sugars.

    Meat - Lean meats such as chicken and turkey in limited amounts. Red meat should be eaten only 1 or 2 times per month.

    Fats - Use olive oil and canola oil. Use canola oil, margarine and mayonnaise in limited amounts (because they are high in calories).

    Alcohol - Limited amount with meals. Best choices are red wines.

    Fiber - Ideal intake of daily fiber is 20-35 grams a day.

    Read food labels carefully. Pay special attention to serving size, amount of sugar, saturated fat and fiber. If you have having difficulty with weight gain or are unable to lose weight, you will need to decrease the amount of mono-unsaturated fat in your diet as well as the portion size of grains and starches. Do not skip meals. It is important to eat several times daily to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Include a small amount of low-fat protein with each meal.

    (document download, PDF)


  • Mediterranean Diet

    This is a diet based on the dietary traditions of the people living in the region of the Mediterranean Sea. Recent studies have shown that patients with heart disease placed on a Mediterranean style diet reduced their risk of a second cardiac event by as much as 70%¹·².

    This is a plant-based diet, low in cholesterol and saturated fat and high in fiber, monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids. Increased fiber is provided through 7 or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, legumes and nuts should be the main component of the meal. Meat, if eaten at all, should be in small portions. When possible fruits and vegetables should be fresh. Dairy products should be those low in saturated fats.

    (document download, PDF)

    ¹ Mediterranean Alpha-linolenic acid-rich diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. (Lancet 1994: 143: 1454-1459)

    ² Mediterranean Diet, Traditional Risk Factors, and the Rate of Cardiovascular Complications After Myocardial Infarction. (Circulation. 1999: 99: 779-785)


  • Exercise

    Everybody knows that exercise is good for you. It reduces your risk of heart attack by 25% or more. It improves your circulation. It helps prevent softening of your bones (osteoporosis). And it makes you feel good and look better.

    The good news is that even mild, regular exercise like walking, housework, or yard work helps, even if you only do 20 minutes a day, three times a week. More exercise gives more benefits. For most people 20 to 45 minutes of moderate exertion, 7 days a week, is ideal.


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