Last updated: Apr 20, 2008
Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Eat variety of grain products, especially whole grains.
Choose fat-free and low-fat dairy products.
Choose legumes, poultry, and lean meats.
Eat fish, preferably oily fish, at least twice a week.
But adopting these habits isn't easy. Paul Tasner, 62, of Greenbrae, Calif., has cholesterol that zoomed up to 298 five years ago. "That's comparable to having little bits of cheese floating around in your arteries," he says. On a fat-restricted vegetarian diet, he was able get it down slightly. But he has a hard time resisting cravings for junk food, especially when he is traveling on business.
After Bypass, New Food Cravings
Hated salads, now loves 'em Watch video
Cutting fat is key
For those who want to start eating healthier, cutting back on saturated fats should be a top priority, says Stanley Rockson, MD, chief of consultative cardiology at the Stanford University Medical Center.
"Across the board, too much saturated fat will raise levels of LDL cholesterol," he says. "And high LDL cholesterol is the most compelling risk factor for atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries."
One could greatly reduce his saturated fats intake simply by cutting back on meats, says Jeffrey Frame, PhD, a registered dietitian and a professor of dietetics at Murray State University. A four-ounce chicken breastabout the size of a deck of cardsis all you need a day. (For more on portion control, visit the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute's website).
Turning a traditional diet into a heart-healthy plan
Platero, 50, now works for the Indian Health Service in Rockville, Md., and follows through on that promise she made. She watches what she eats. She exercises regularly. And unlike her father, she's made it well into middle age without even a hint of heart disease.
She bucked that tradition by cutting way back on meat and eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Her cholesterol and weight have dropped, and she's confident that she'll avoid the heart troubles that plague so many Americans.