Create a Heart Healthy Pantry

Learn how to make smart food choices

Making smart food choices is one way to help guard against heart disease and promote healthful eating in your household. Diets that are low in red meats, whole milk dairy products and added animal fats and salt and high in fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, nuts and seeds can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.

Help Your Family Eat a Heart Healthy Diet

Good eating habits need to start early in life, and children learn by example. So think before opting to buy a bag of potato chips or cookies; instead, add apples, low-fat yogurt or whole-grain crackers to your shopping cart. Try not to keep sweets like cookies, candy or soda in the house. Instead, stock up on healthful snack options, such as carrots, raisins and almonds, and foods that make it easy to prepare well-balanced, nutritious meals.

For a healthy heart, shop for foods that have

  • Less fat and cholesterol
  • Less sodium
  • Fewer calories
  • More fiber
 Create a Heart Healthy Pantry

Cut the (Bad) Fat and Calories

Some fats—saturated fats and trans fats—are more likely to cause heart disease by boosting LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels and lowering HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. Over time, they can clog your arteries.

  • Saturated fats are typically found in foods from animals, such as meat, milk, cheese and butter.
  • Most trans fats (also called trans fatty acids) are found in snack foods, baked goods and other processed foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils.

Unsaturated fats are "good" fats when eaten in moderation and do not raise LDL cholesterol. These include:

  • Polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish (omega-3 rich fats), sesame and sunflower seeds and corn and soybean oils.
  • Monounsaturated fats in olive, peanut and canola oils, nuts and avocados.

More Fiber, Please

Look for foods high in fiber. Good sources of fiber include whole-grain cereals (choose low-sugar and low-sodium options) and breads, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, oat bran, legumes and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Stock the cupboards with:

  • Whole-grain breads, cereals and crackers
  • Nuts, seeds and dried fruits
  • Heart healthy oils, such as olive and canola
  • Dried or canned peas and beans
  • Brown rice and whole-wheat pasta

Keep your refrigerator and freezer heart healthy by filling them with:

  • Skim or 1 percent milk and low-fat yogurt
  • Low-fat cheeses, with less than 3 grams fat per ounce
  • Lean cuts of red meats, such as sirloin, chuck, loin and round, “choice” or “select grades rather than prime, and lean or extra lean ground meats
  • Fish, especially fatty fish
  • Soy products, such as tempeh or tofu
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables

More Heart Helpful Tips

  • Make a grocery list.

    This will force you to be more consciously aware of the food choices you make for yourself and your family. Check out the American Heart Association's interactive Web tool to help build a heart-healthy grocery list at You can search by food category or your preferred manufacturer.

  • Look for healthier options.
Instead of buying:Select this:
Whole or 2 percent milk and cream 1 percent or skim milk
Lard or butter Unsaturated vegetable oils, such as corn, olive, canola, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower or peanut
Fatty cuts of meat, such as prime rib, hot dogs, 80 percent lean ground beef Poultry, fish, lean cuts of red meats, such as sirloin, chuck, loin and round, and lean or extra lean ground meats
Whole eggs Egg substitute
Sour cream and mayonnaisePlain low-fat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese or low-fat or "light" sour cream
Regular hard and processed cheeses Low-fat, low-sodium cheeses
Salted potato chips and other snacksLow-fat, unsalted tortilla and potato chips and unsalted pretzels and popcorn

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

  • Shop the outer aisles of the supermarket.

    Less processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products, are available on those aisles.

  • Read food labels as you shop.

    Food labels on the side or back of products can help you make better food choices. Pay attention to total fat, saturated fat and trans fats, sodium and cholesterol.

    Look for foods that are low in fat and cholesterol. Aim for less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day.

    To reduce trans fats in your diet, buy fewer products that list "hydrogenated oil" or "partially hydrogenated oil" as a main ingredient. As of January 1, 2006, manufacturers must list trans fat on the nutrition label.

    Also limit sodium, which can raise blood pressure. Aim for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (about a teaspoon of salt). African Americans, middle-aged and older adults, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease need less than 1,500 mg.

By educating yourself about various food sources, you can be sure your family follows a heart-healthy eating plan. Eating well and stocking your pantry with healthful foods can also give you and your kids more energy to face the day.

© 2014. National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. All rights reserved. All content provided in this guide is for information purposes only. Any information herein relating to specific medical conditions, preventive care and/or healthy lifestyles does not suggest individual diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for medical attention.

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