American Heart Association Shares Heart-Smart Food Choices

Since March is National Nutrition Month, the American Heart Association shares tips for making smarter heart-healthy choices while shopping for groceries.

family eating fruitNational Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign held annually in March by The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

The American Heart Association encourages making heart-smart choices during Nutrition Month—and every month! At the heart of health is good nutrition.

A healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons in the fight against heart disease—the No. 1 killer of Americans. Cardiovascular disease is largely preventable. One study (NEJM 2000) found that by adhering to five lifestyle choices involving diet, exercise, and not smoking, 83 percent of coronary events might be prevented.

When it comes to diet, making smart choices will benefit heart and overall health. Incorporating even simple, small changes can make a big difference in living a healthier life and can help prevent obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods daily. 

The American Heart Association recommends:

  • Fruits and vegetables: At least 4½ cups per day
  • Fish (preferably oily fish): At least two 3½-ounce servings per week
  • Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce servings per day
  • Sodium: Less than 1,500 mg per day
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: No more than 450 calories (36 ounces) per week

Other Dietary Measures:

  • Nuts, legumes, and seeds: At least four servings per week
  • Processed meats: No more than two servings per week
  • Saturated fat: Less than 7 percent of total energy intake

Preparing and cooking meals at home allows for better control over the nutritional content and the overall healthfulness of the foods people eat. And it can also save money. While it’s generally healthier and cheaper to buy groceries at the store and prepare your meals at home, sometimes the sheer number of food choices at the supermarket can seem overwhelming. 

For more information and recipes, visit Below are some tips for heart-smart grocery shopping from the American Heart Association.


vegetablesVegetables and Fruits

  • Be sure to buy and eat plenty of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables that are deeply colored throughout—such as spinach, carrots, peaches, and berries—tend to be higher in vitamins and minerals than others, such as potatoes and corn. Eat the rainbow!
  • When fresh foods aren't available, choose frozen or canned vegetables and fruits in water without added sugars, saturated and trans fat, or salt.
  • Buy more fruits and vegetables that are good sources of fiber, including beans, peas, oranges, bananas, strawberries, and apples.
  • Stock up on raw vegetables for snacks such as carrot and celery sticks, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and cauliflower.
  • For desserts, buy fresh or canned fruits (in water without added sugars), dried fruit (without added sugars), and gelatin that contains fruit instead of baked goods and sweets.
  • Avoid buying too much fruit juice. It doesn’t provide the fiber whole fruit does, and it’s not as good at satisfying hunger.
  • Some cholesterol-lowering medications may interact with grapefruit, grapefruit juice, pomegranate, and pomegranate juice. Please talk to your health care provider about any potential risks.


milk cheese butter and eggsMilk, Cheese, Butter, and Eggs

  • Select fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1 percent) milk.
  • Avoid milk that contains added flavorings such as vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. They usually have added sugars and calories.
  • Choose fat-free, low-fat, or reduced-fat cheeses.
  • Use egg whites or egg substitutes instead of egg yolks. (Substitute two egg whites for each egg yolk in recipes that call for eggs.)
  • Choose soft margarines that contain “0 grams trans fat” instead of buying butter. (These margarines usually come in tubs.)
  • Don’t buy a lot of butter, cream, and ice cream. Save those for special occasions and, even then, limit how much you eat. These foods have more saturated fat than whole milk.
  • Watch out for the saturated and/or partially hydrogenated fats hidden in casseroles, bakery goods, desserts, and other foods. Read the Nutrition Facts label to determine the saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol content of foods you’re considering.


meatMeat, Poultry, Fish, and Nuts

  • Buy and prepare more fish. You should eat one serving of grilled or baked fish at least twice a week. (A serving is roughly the size of a checkbook.) Good examples of fish to buy include salmon, trout, and herring.
  • Choose lemon juice and spices to eat with fish. Don’t add cream sauces.
  • Stay away from fried fish. It’s usually high in fat—often trans fat.
  • Choose cuts of red meat and pork labeled “loin” and “round”; they usually have the least fat.
  • Buy “choice” or “select” grades of beef rather than “prime,” and be sure to trim off the fat before cooking.
  • When buying or eating poultry, choose the leaner light meat (breasts) rather than the fatty dark meat (legs and thighs). Try the skinless version or remove the skin yourself.
  • Select more meat substitutes such as dried beans, peas, lentils, or tofu (soybean curd) and use them as entrees or in salads and soups. A one-cup serving of cooked beans, peas, lentils, or tofu can replace a two-ounce serving of meat, poultry, or fish.
  • Pick up nuts and seeds, which are good sources of protein and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats—but remember, they tend to be high in calories, so eat them in moderation.


breadBread and Baked Goods

  • Choose whole-grain, high-fiber breads, such as those containing whole wheat, oats, oatmeal, whole rye, whole grain corn, and buckwheat. Choose breads and other foods that list whole grains as the first item in the ingredient list.
  • Limit the amount of bakery products you purchase, including doughnuts, pies, cakes, and cookies. Look instead for fat-free or low-fat and low-sodium varieties of crackers, snack chips, cookies, and cakes.
  • Remember that most store-baked goods are made with egg yolks, saturated fats, and/or trans fats. (Read the Nutrition Facts label to determine the saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol content.) Check for store-baked goods that are made with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated oils, skim or reduced-fat milk, and egg whites—or make your own.
  • Instead of buying a raisin bran muffin, buy a loaf of raisin bread and enjoy a slice for breakfast or lunch.


oils and dressingsOils, Dressings, and Shortenings

  • Buy and use fats and oils in limited amounts.
  • When you must use oils for cooking, baking, or in dressings or spreads, choose the ones lowest in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol including canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil.
  • Stay away from palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter. Even though they are vegetable oils and have no cholesterol, they’re high in saturated fats.
  • Buy a nonstick pan or use nonstick vegetable spray when cooking.
  • Choose reduced-fat, low-fat, light, or fat-free salad dressings (if you need to limit your calories) to use with salads, for dips, or as marinades.
Founded in 1924, the American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke. To help prevent, treat, and defeat these diseases—America’s No. 1 and No. 4 killers—we fund cutting-edge research, conduct lifesaving public and professional educational programs, and advocate to protect public health. To learn more or join in helping all Americans, call 800-AHA-USA1 or visit


Also see:

5 Healthy and Easy Fish Recipes for Family Dinner

No-Sugar Birthday Cake

Greenmarket Vegetable Chowder

Smoky Southwest Chicken and Rice Soup