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Eat Better

Find answers to frequently asked questions about nutrition, like why healthy eating is important and how to improve your diet.

  • What's more important—how much I eat or what I eat?
  • When it comes to health, it’s important to watch how much you eat and find a balance between the number of calories you consume and how many you burn. But it’s also important to watch what you eat and try to eat heart-healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, whole-grains and lean protein, as much as possible.
  • How many calories should I consume to maintain my current weight?
  • How many calories needed to maintain weight depends on a number of factors, like age, height, weight and gender. It also depends on how physically active you are, since the more active you are, the more calories you need for energy.
  • What is vitamin D?
  • Vitamin D is an essential dietary nutrient, which can be found in foods like fish, eggs and fortified milk. Our bodies can also product vitamin D in response to exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D plays a number of important roles in our body, like helping with the absorption of calcium, and studies have shown that vitamin D deficiencies may be linked to increased risk for heart disease.
  • How much vitamin D should I get daily?
  • Most individuals can get enough vitamin D through casual sun exposure and consuming foods containing vitamin D, such as fish, eggs and fortified milk. The current recommended dietary allowance of vitamin D in the United States ranges between 400 and 800 IU/day.
  • What are the possible health benefits of adopting the Mediterranean diet?
  • The Mediterranean diet boasts a number of possible health benefits, including reduced risk for heart disease and cancer. Research has also shown that the Mediterranean diet may help protect cognitive function.
  • Is a vegetarian diet heart-healthy?
  • Some studies have suggested that a vegetarian diet may promote health benefits, like lowering risk of death. This is likely due to the fact that many foods common in the vegetarian diet, including fruit, vegetables and nuts have been shown to have many health benefits and improve heart health. Also, research has shown that reducing consumption of red meat and increasing consumption of fish and lean meats can help reduce heart disease risk.

    Get CardioSmart tips on how to eat for better health.

  • What is fiber?
  • Dietary fiber is found primarily in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and includes all parts of plant foods that our bodies can’t digest or absorb. Since our body can’t break down fiber or absorb it, fiber passes through the stomach, intestine and out of our body. Fiber has been shown to help lower cholesterol, improve blood sugar control, aid in weight control and lower cardiovascular risk.
  • How much fiber do I need for a healthy heart?
  • The daily adequate intake amount for fiber has been calculated by the Institute of Medicine. Men 19 and older should strive for 38 grams a day and women 19 and older should aim for 25 grams a day. For more information, see this guideline on getting enough fiber.
  • How often should I eat red meat?
  • In general, red meat should be consumed rarely—about one serving a week or less. Although protein is an important part of a balanced diet, lean meats, fish and nuts are a better choice than red meat to promote heart health.
  • Is red meat bad for my heart?
  • Red meat contains high levels of fat and cholesterol, which can clog our arteries and increase risk for heart disease. Research also suggests that a substance contained in red meat, called carnitine, may increase levels of the chemical TMAO, which increases cardiovascular risk. To promote heart health, it’s important to limit consumption of red meat to once a week or less and maintain a balanced diet full of lean protein, fresh vegetables and whole grains.
  • Is it healthy to drink alcohol on a daily basis?
  • In moderation, research shows that alcohol consumption (one drink or less a day for women and two drinks or less a day for men) may lower risk for heart disease. However, exceeding these limits can have serious effects on cardiovascular and overall health.
  • How is gestational diabetes treated?
  • In most cases, women developing diabetes during pregnancy can control their blood sugar levels through lifestyle changes, like eating right and staying active. However, some women require insulin therapy to control their condition.
  • How does sodium intake affect heart health?
  • Consuming too much sodium can increase blood pressure, which causes an estimated 45% of heart disease in the United States. By limiting sodium intake to 2,300 mg a day (or 1,500 mg for some adults), you can drastically reduce your risk for heart disease.
  • Why does the Mediterranean diet reduce risk for heart disease?
  • The Mediterranean diet differs from traditional low-fat diets because it does not discourage consumption of fats altogether. Instead, the Mediterranean diet is full of “healthy” fats, like those found in fish, olive oil and nuts, which have been shown to have many heart-healthy benefits.
  • Why is it important to know your BMI and waist circumference?
  • BMI can be helpful in determining if you’re a healthy weight or not, but it’s not 100% accurate. If you have very little or very high amounts of muscle, your BMI will be skewed. Also, research has shown that how we carry weight is more important than our BMI when it comes to risk for heart disease. Belly fat is a known risk factor for heart disease and carrying excess weight around the midsection raises cardiovascular risk, regardless of BMI.
  • How are diet and stroke risk related?
  • The relationship between diet and risk for stroke is often overlooked. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke, and diet plays an important role in maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Having a balanced diet, low in salt and full of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce risk for stroke.
  • What foods are highest in calcium?
  • There are many foods that contain high levels of calcium. Green vegetables, seeds, nuts, herbs, soy, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are some of the best sources of dietary calcium.
  • How can older adults improve and extend quality of life?
  • The best way for older adults to live longer and healthier is to prevent and manage chronic conditions through physical activity and diet. It’s important to reduce and control any cardiovascular risk factors that you may have, and to take advantage of preventive services like health screenings and immunizations.
  • How much calcium do I need?
  • Most adults over 19 years of age need 1,000 mg a day of calcium (except for women 51-70 years old who need 1,200 mg/day), and older adults (over 71) need 1,200 mg daily. See how much calcium you should be getting.

    Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding need the same amount of calcium and vitamin D as other women their age.

  • What is the connection between alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation?
  • Scientists have a couple of theories about how the two factors interact.  Alcohol interferes with the heart’s electrical system and ability to maintain a steady rhythm.  It also directly affects the structure of the heart muscle.  Another speculation is that long-term heavy drinkers may have heart muscle changes that increase their risk of AF even before they show symptoms of chronic heart failure.
  • What is the relationship between eating patterns and good nutrition?
  • Some research suggests that children and teens who skip breakfast are at higher risk for becoming overweight. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that all people eat a healthy breakfast. Snacks should consist of nutritious, non-processed foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, and low-fat dairy products instead of candy or fast food.  In addition, both children and adults should limit TV and other “screen time,” which is often accompanied by unhealthy snacking.
  • Are all types of chocolate good for your heart?
  • It is important to note that not all chocolates are created equal! In general, the best chocolates for your heart are ones that are the least processed and contain the greatest levels of flavanols and cocoa powder.

  • Does higher omega-3 fatty acid consumption increase cardiovascular benefits?

  • Based on guidelines set forth in this review, individuals should consume at least 250mg/day of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids or at least 2 servings/week of oily fish. However, it has not yet been proven that consuming omega-3 fatty acids beyond this minimum would provide more cardiovascular benefits.
  • Do wine, beer, and spirits all have the same health effects?
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, the key is moderation. Heavy drinking of any type of alcoholic beverage puts you at risk for serious conditions including high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and obesity. However, researchers have observed that people who drink moderately may have a lower risk cardiovascular disease. Although no studies have directly compared the potential risk and benefits of different types alcoholic beverages some researchers speculate that antioxidant substances found in wine, particularly red wine, are responsible for the protective effect.

  • Is it OK for me to drink alcohol?
  • This is a complex question best decided by you and your doctor based on your own health history. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), moderate alcohol use--up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people--causes few if any problems for most adults. (One drink equals one 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.) However, you should not drink at all if:  

    • You are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
    • You have a medical condition that can be made worse by drinking. 
    • You plan to drive or do other tasks that require you to be alert.
    • You are taking medicines that interact with alcohol.
    • You have had a problem with alcohol in the past.
    • You are younger than age 21.  

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