A heart healthy diet consists of eating patterns that promote heart health and healthy eating (Source: Heart Foundation). Heart disease affects millions of Australians and people around the world (Sources: Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, British Heart Foundation), and a heart healthy eating diet is one way that you can reduce your risk from developing heart disease.

Consuming a variety of heart healthy foods is an important and achievable preventative measure you can take. 

In this article, we go into how a heart healthy diet works.

Where can I find recipes for a heart healthy diet?

At the Life! program’s Health Hub, we have a series of recipes to help you make a variety of healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks. 

What does a heart healthy diet look like?

Heart healthy diet includes fresh vegetables, fruit and whole-grains, a variety of protein-rich foods, healthy fats, unflavoured dairy products and replacing added salt with herbs and spices.

Plenty of Vegetables, Fruit and Whole Grains

You should try to eat at least five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit every day (Source: Heart Foundation).

Serves of fruit include:

  • 1 medium apple, banana, orange or pear 
  • 2 small apricots, plums, kiwi fruit 
  • 1 cup of diced/canned fruit (no syrup)
  • ½ cup (125ml) juice (drink only occasionally)
  • 30g (small handful) of dried fruit (eat only occasionally)

Serves of vegetables include:

  • ½ cup of cooked vegetables 
  • 1 cup of raw or salad vegetables 
  • ½ cup of sweet corn 
  • ½ medium potato, sweet potato and other starchy vegetables 
  • ½ cup of cooked peas, beans or lentils

Whole grains are foods like brown rice, wholemeal pasta, grainy bread and oats. These foods are full of fibre and can help lower your cholesterol. Swapping from refined grains like white bread and white rice to wholegrain versions is a simple change that can improve your diet.

A variety of healthy protein-rich foods

It is recommended to eat a variety of protein rich foods with minimal processing.  The best protein rich foods for a heart healthy diet include:

  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Fish and Seafood

Eggs and poultry are also protein-rich foods that can be enjoyed as part of a heart-healthy eating pattern.

Red meat is also a good source of protein. However, it is best to limit red meat consumption to 1-3 meals per week, as research shows it is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Foods with healthy monounsaturated/polyunsaturated fats

The type of fat you eat plays an important role in your heart health. Good fats help improve cholesterol levels by decreasing bad (LDL) cholesterol and increasing good (HDL) cholesterol. Low LDL cholesterol levels can help lower your risk of heart disease and higher levels of HDL can help protect your heart.

Foods that contain healthy monounsaturated fats include:

  • Avocados 
  • Unsalted nuts such as almonds, cashews and peanuts  
  • Olives  
  • Cooking oils made from plants or seeds, including: olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, soybean, sesame and safflower

Foods that contain healthy polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) include: 

  • Fish 
  • Tahini (sesame seed spread) 
  • Linseed (flaxseed) and chia seeds 
  • Soybean, sunflower, safflower, canola oil and margarine spreads made from these oils 
  • Pine nuts, walnuts and brazil nuts

Unflavoured dairy products

Overall milk, yoghurt and cheese have a ‘neutral’ effect on your heart health, meaning these foods don’t increase or decrease the risk of heart disease (Source: Heart Foundation)

While dairy is not crucial for a heart healthy diet, it is still recommended as a good source of calcium. There are other non-dairy alternatives for calcium, such as:

  • Fish with bones
  • Almonds
  • Tofu

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating between 2-4 serves of milk, yoghurt and cheese a day to make sure you get enough calcium (Source: Heart Foundation).

The Australian Dietary Guidelines outline what a serving of dairy should be here.

If you are going to incorporate dairy into your heart healthy diet, it is recommended that you stick to unflavoured milk, yoghurt and cheese with reduced fat wherever possible.

Using herbs as an alternative to salt

The Heart Foundation also recommends that you use herbs to flavour your food instead of salt. This is because eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. 

On average, Australians are eating nearly double the recommended amount of salt (Source: Heart Foundation). Most of the salt you eat is found in processed and packaged foods such as canned foods, deli meats (like ham and salami) and baked goods. That’s why it is important to avoid processed foods and refrain from using salt to flavour your foods.

How can the Life! program help me achieve a heart healthy diet?

Part of taking on a heart healthy diet is finding out the kind of heart healthy diet that your body needs. 

The Life! program helps you through every stage of a heart healthy diet; from finding out your heart health with a 3-minute health check, to working with you to build a heart healthy diet plan, to supporting you as you incorporate that diet into your lifestyle.

Life! is a free healthy lifestyle program that helps you improve your eating habits, increase your physical activity and manage stress. You can choose from a group course or the Telephone Health Coaching service. 

Our experienced health professionals will help you make small changes to your lifestyle so that you can achieve your health goals and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Life! is funded by the Victorian government and managed by Diabetes Victoria. You can check your eligibility for the program here.

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Elleni Kaias, Accredited Practicing Dietitian | Primary Care Engagement Lead

Kristie Cocotis, Head of Prevention and Health Promotion

Sarah Dubé, Strategy and Engagement Lead

Ria Cheripuram, Digital Communications Officer

Tegan Kohlman, Communications and Social Marketing Officer