If you like to eat (and who doesn't?) you'll enjoy putting together a healthy food plan! As a rule, you want to make your calories work for you and get every benefit you can from what you eat. Focus on these food groups:
1. Fruits and veggies: Packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber; aim for a wide variety
Benefits: Help control weight and lower blood pressure
Servings: Eight or more each day
2. Whole grains: Look for the heartiness of unprocessed whole grains found in barley, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta
Benefits: High in fiber, these foods help lower cholesterol and keep you feeling full so you don't overeat
Servings: Six per day
3. Fish: Eat cold-water fish like salmon and trout.
Benefits: Protein-rich, low in saturated fat and high in healthy, omega-3 fatty acids.
Servings: Two per week
Just reading food labels can help you keep cholesterol in check. Avoid "bad" fats—like saturated and trans fats, found in hydrogenated oils—that can damage your heart. Instead, choose foods containing "good" fats (poly- and mono-unsaturated fats) that actually offer heart-healthy benefits.
Saturated fats go by many names, so don't be fooled. They include butter, cocoa butter, and/or coconut, palm and palm kernel oils. Another thing to watch out for: hydrogenated oil. It's loaded with harmful trans fats, which, along with saturated fats, are the main dietary cause of high cholesterol.
The next time you get the munchies, ditch the sugary processed stuff and reach for fresh whole foods—an apple, baby carrots or unsalted nuts.
What to drink? Instead of cola or coffee, try water with a splash of fruit juice. Even a tall glass of cool water without the fruit embellishment begins to taste fine when you realize just how much good it's doing for your body and your heart.
One more thing: To maintain your weight, make sure you burn as many calories as you take in each day. If you stick with reading nutrition labels and keep a food-and-exercise log, you'll learn how to make this balance work for you.
If you've got the kind of handles we're talking about here, the best thing you can do for your heart—not to mention your waistline—is control your calories. Why? Doctors once relied on a calculation called the body mass index (BMI)—a measure of body fat based on a person's height and weight—to assess your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). While they still use that tool, experts now say it's more important how your weight is distributed than simply whether or not you're overweight.
Approximately 200 million Americans are overweight or obese, and doctors are finding that a large waist circumference increases CHD risk. But an even better predictor of heart disease is the ratio of your waist size to your hip size—if your waist is wider than your hips, it's definitely time to trim down.