Whether you’re recovering from a heart attack or trying to prevent one, a healthy diet should be part of the plan. As you start building your healthy eating strategy, it’s important to know which foods to avoid and which foods to target. Eating a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that includes fibrous carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats is key. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to only 5–6 percent of your total calories. On a 2000-calorie diet, this equals 11–13 grams daily. Avoiding trans fats is also recommended.
To help you, we'll highlight several heart-healthy substitutions and suggest tips for making them taste great. With a few simple swaps, you can keep your ticker in top shape and still enjoy delicious food.
While you could substitute low-fat mayo for the regular mayonnaise, there are also delicious substitution options. One example is avocado, which when mashed can be substituted for potato in recipes like egg salad. Hummus is also a good option for making “salads,” like egg and tuna salad. If you know a person who simply always must have mayo on their sandwich, suggest trying a hummus spread instead.
For green salads or mixing with vegetables, Greek yogurt is an excellent option. The tangy taste and smooth texture also make it great for adding to dips. Pesto is another flavorful option for veggies and potato salad instead of mayo.
Sliced-up hard-boiled eggs are also a great substitution for mayo on a sandwich. Because mayo has eggs as part of its base, there is a similar flavor and boosted protein, but fewer calories and fat.
Taste Tip: Kick up the flavor of hummus as usual by adding lemon juice, red peppers, or even mashed avocado to your hummus. These will add flavor and nutrients — a win-win for substitutions.
Low-fat cheese offers a great-tasting alternative to the full-fat versions. Although fat-free cheese may seem like the better option, most brands tend to be very gummy, don’t melt well, and are more like plastic than cheese. Instead, try reduced-fat cheese, which has the same great flavor and melting qualities as the original but with significantly less fat.
Expert’s Tip: Buy blocks of reduced-fat cheese and grate it yourself. It’s not only cheaper, but it also melts better.
Most doctors, along with the American Heart Association (AHA), recommend a diet containing less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. That’s less than 1 teaspoon. If you already have high blood pressure, aim for less than 1,500 milligrams per day.
Instead of reaching for the saltshaker, add a splash of vinegar or a squeeze of fresh lemon to your food. Using herbs and spices is a great way to give a familiar dish a new twist. Try creating your own salt-free spice blends to have on hand when you need a boost of flavor.
Taste Tip: The flavor of fresh herbs fades quickly when cooked, so add them just before serving.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein and essential nutrients, but they do contain saturated fat. One large egg contains 1.6 grams of saturated fat. Instead of cutting eggs out completely, try to consume them in moderation, or up to six whole eggs a week. Eggs can be a part of a heart-healthy diet as long as you take stock of your saturated fat intake for the day, and are staying within the recommended limits.
Expert’s Tip: Opt for making a “chia egg” for a fibrous, omega 3-rich egg replacement in baked goods. Mix 1 tablespoons chia seeds with 3 tablespoons water to replace one egg in a recipe.
When you’re craving a juicy burger or a thick slice of meatloaf, mix equal parts lean ground turkey breast and grass-fed, lean ground beef. The ground turkey adds moisture and makes cooked burgers less crumbly. For recipes like chili, pasta sauce, or casseroles that call for ground beef, you can substitute with ground turkey without noticing much of a difference.
Expert’s Tip: Most supermarkets offer a variety of great-tasting low-fat sausages made from ground turkey.
Chocolate does have a place in heart-healthy diets, but you should forgo white chocolate and milk chocolate varieties. Eaten in moderate amounts, dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa or higher) may reduce blood pressure and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, according to the International Journal of Molecular Science.
For baked goods like cookies and cakes, finely chop the dark chocolate to evenly spread it throughout the recipe and reduce the amount of sugar called for by one quarter or one half.
Taste Tip: Want more chocolate flavor? In appropriate recipes, substitute 1/4 cup cocoa powder for 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour.
Like many other dairy products, sour cream is an ingredient incorporated into a wide variety of recipes. Get the same tangy flavor without all the fat by pureeing equal amounts of low-fat cottage cheese and nonfat yogurt in a blender and using it in place of the sour cream. In baking, you can substitute an equal amount of low-fat or nonfat yogurt in many recipes.
Expert’s Tip: Try Greek yogurt, which is considerably thicker and creamier than regular yogurt because a lot of the whey has been strained.
Steak often gets a bad reputation as being unhealthy. However, there are a number of cuts that are great lean meat substitutions. Your best bets are:
- eye of round
- sirloin tip side
- top round
- top sirloin
Portion size is key. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 3-ounce serving of these cuts has 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol.
Taste Tip: For a cut of beef with an intense, beefy flavor, ask your local butcher about dry-aged beef.
Diets rich in whole grains have been shown to reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and the risk of strokes, according to the AHA. You can substitute up to half the amount of all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour in almost all of your favorite baking recipes. For added texture, try using 1/4 cup of rolled oats in place of all-purpose flour.
Expert Tip: Don’t like the flavor or texture of whole wheat? Look for 100 percent white whole-wheat flour. It’s milder in flavor, but still has all the nutrition.
New heart-healthy guidelines from the AHA urge people to consume no more than 100 to 150 calories from added sugars — that don’t naturally occur in food — a day. You can substitute stevia or erythritol for up to half of the sugar in most baked goods without any difference in texture or flavor. Limiting intake of refined and processed sugars is best though. Try using 100 percent natural fruit juices to sweeten sauces and beverages.
Expert’s Tip: High quantities of sugar can be found in items like ketchup, salad dressings, and sauces, so read the labels carefully. Every 4 grams of sugar is a teaspoon.