Good nutrition is essential to normal growth, development, and overall health. It’s especially important for your heart. Following a heart-healthy diet means eating foods that are high in vitamins, minerals, and fibre — and low in sodium and fat. It has been proven that even modest changes to your diet can reduce your risk of death from CVD.

The food you eat affects many of the important risk factors associated with heart disease, including:

  • Cholesterol
  • Blood pressure
  • Weight and waist circumference
  • Blood sugar


1. Saturated, Unsaturated, and Trans Fats

There are many types of fat in the foods we eat. Some fats are more harmful to your body than others. The more dangerous fats can lead to cholesterol buildup in the blood and, ultimately, atherosclerosis, or hardening and narrowing of the arteries. Regardless of the category, all fats should be consumed in small amounts. Foods containing fat are high in calories and can make you more susceptible to weight gain. Eating foods that are low in saturated and trans fat are likely to help you maintain a normal weight and improve your cardiovascular health. There are three main types of dietary fats:

  • Saturated fats are the biggest culprits in raising LDL cholesterol levels in your blood, which indirectly increases heart disease risk. Saturated fats are found in animal products, including butter, cream, whole milk, egg yolks, lard, cheese, red meat, bacon, sausage, coconut butter, cocoa butter, fried foods, chips, and candy bars.
  • Unsaturated fats are often regarded as healthier than saturated fats, although, like any fat, they should be consumed in moderation. When used in place of saturated fats, unsaturated fats have the potential to lower your total blood cholesterol and LDL levels. Most liquid vegetable oils are unsaturated. Other foods that have unsaturated fats include fish, poultry, flax seeds, soy products, and pumpkin seeds.
  • Trans-fatty acids (trans fats) are created from hydrogenated (or hardened) vegetable oils. Trans fats raise your LDL cholesterol while lowering your healthy HDL cholesterol, negatively impacting cardiovascular health. Trans fats are found in fried foods, processed and fast foods, snack foods, margarine, cakes, pies, and commercial baked goods.

The evidence suggests that saturated and trans fats affect blood cholesterol more negatively than do unsaturated fats.


  • Limit lean meat and poultry to two to three servings a day.
  • Replace some of your meat meals with soy or legume meat substitutes, as they are high in fibre.
  • Compare food labels for the lower fat options.
  • Choose foods with little or no trans fats.
  • Replace one whole egg with two egg whites.

2. Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fats lower cholesterol and reduce blood pressure — and are proven to have anti-clotting and anti-inflammatory effects. There are three types of omega-3 fats:

  • ALA — alpha-linolenic acid
  • DHA — docosahexaenoic acid
  • EPA — eicosapentaenoic acid

Omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids because your body can’t make them on its own (except for DHA and EPA in limited quantities). You must get omega-3 fats from food. When you consume omega-3 fatty acids according to guidelines, you can reduce total cholesterol and LDL levels, while increasing HDL levels, which can greatly improve your cardiovascular risk profile.


  • Cold water fish (trout, mackerel, tuna, salmon, herring, arctic char)
  • Flaxseed
  • Walnuts
  • Canola and soybean oil
  • Hemp seeds
  • Soy products


  • Cook with canola or soybean oil.
  • Add flaxseed to salad dressings and dips.
  • Add walnuts to salads.
  • Replace regular eggs with omega-3 eggs.
  • Consume fish two times a week.

3. Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of fat, also known as a lipid, that circulates in your blood. It is naturally produced by your body and needed for cells and tissues to work properly. Cholesterol comes from two sources:

  • The foods you eat, which provide 15% to 20%
  • Your liver, which produces 80% to 85%

When your cholesterol levels are higher than normal, you’re considered to have “high cholesterol,” which is also known as “hyperlipidemia” or “hypercholesterolemia.” Cholesterol is carried in the body by particles called lipoproteins — a type of cholesterol. Click here to learn more about cholesterol.


  • Egg yolks
  • Fatty red meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Shrimp
  • Lobster


  • In addition to being supplied by food sources, cholesterol is produced by your body. These means you should limit your consumption as much as possible.
  • Reduce alcohol intake.
  • Consume smaller portions of lean, well-trimmed meat.
  • Consume less sugar and sweets.

4. Fibre

Fibre is found only in plant sources, which your body is unable to digest. Because fibre is indigestible, it adds bulk and therefore aids in the digestive process. This addition of bulk also allows you to feel fuller longer and contributes to blood sugar homoeostasis, which may contribute to effective weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol management.

There are 2 types of fibres:

Soluble fibre is known to solw down digestion. Combined with water, soluble fibers form a thick sticky substance that can bind to cholesterol and eliminate it from the body. This promostes the regulation of blood glucose and cholesterol (especially LDL cholesterol). Sources of soluble fibre are:

  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Legumes
  • Lentils
  • Apples
  • Beans
  • Citrus fruit
  • Psyllium (a fibrous seed)

Insoluble fibre acts in the gastrointestinal tract to promote digestive health and regularity. Sources of insoluble fibre include: 

  • Whole grains
  • Wheat bran
  • Vegetables and fruit with digestible seeds


  • High fibre foods can decrease your overall calorie consumption because they move slowly through your digestive system and make you feel fuller longer.
  • Although you can take fibre pills, it is best that you get fibre from your diet.
  • Fibre should be introduced to your diet gradually to avoid the possibility of abdominal bloating and cramps. Drinking plenty of water with high-fibre meals can reduce these side effects.
  • Lentils, peas, and baby lima beans are the easiest to digest. Kidney and soy beans are the most difficult.
  • For help with adding more fibre to your diet, click here to find out about high-fibre cereals.

5. Sodium

Sodium is a mineral found in salt. Your body requires only a small amount, about 500 mg a day. You need salt for the functioning of your muscles and nerves, to regulate blood pressure, and to maintain the fluid in your cells, among other things. Too much salt can be harmful to your body, causing problems such as shortness of breath, elevated blood pressure, and water retention, all of which can lead to CVD, stroke, and kidney disease.

On average, Canadians consume double the recommended daily amount of salt. Because salt can be found in a variety of products, particularly processed foods, beverages, and medications, it’s easy to get too much in your diet. This makes it especially important that you monitor your sodium intake.


  • Canned soups/vegetables
  • Salted nuts
  • Instant cooked cereals
  • Processed meats
  • Frozen dinners
  • Bread
  • Fast food
  • Salad dressings/sauces
  • Snack foods (cheese, pretzels, chips)


  • Cook without salt and remove the salt shaker from the table.
  • Use spice and herb substitutes to season foods.
  • Eat fresh, unprocessed food as often as possible.
  • Follow the Dash diet for overall health and to keep your sodium in check.
  • To learn more about reducing your dietary sodium, watch this video from the Give Your Head a Shake campaign to cut sodium (Champlain Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Network).

6. Fruits and Vegetables

Cardiovascular health guidelines recommend that you eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. They are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, as well as generally low in calories.


The DASH diet, a lifelong approach to healthy eating, is a great choice for people who want to get and stay heart healthy. It is easy to follow and does not require special foods. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The focus of the DASH diet is portion control and foods that offer variety and high nutritional value. The eating plan places a premium on fruits and vegetables, while discouraging sodium and saturated fat. It is also high in whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and includes fish, poultry, and nuts. The DASH diet is protective of cardiovascular health, particularly as it relates to blood pressure.

You can download the Dash diet here.