By Kristen Hicks-Roof Ph.D., RDN, LDN and Paige Chaffin

Did you know that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States? (AHA, 2018) Have you ever heard the phrase “You are what you eat?” Well is it true! Making SMART dietary and lifestyle choices can be the best defenses against heart disease. Below are some simple dietary tips that provide important health benefits.

Consume more whole grains:

    • Whole grains are a great source of fiber. Dietary fiber can help improve blood cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease.
    • Fiber helps you feel full so you will be content with less food
    • When looking for whole grains at the store, look for the words “whole grain” at the beginning of the ingredient list.
    • Examples of whole grains are brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, oats, bulgur, whole-wheat bread/pasta and popcorn.

Select healthy cooking oils:

    • Replacing the less-healthy fats (saturated and trans-fat) with a healthier fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat) is much better for your heart.
    • Any fat that is solid at room temperature contains more saturated fats, such as butter, margarine, lard and coconut oil.
    • Examples of healthier fats are olive oil, corn oil, safflower oil and canola oil.

Add in fruits and vegetables:

    • Fruits and vegetables are high in many nutrients such as potassium, magnesium and fiber which can help lower your blood pressure.
    • Keep it colorful; include fruits and vegetables from each color of the rainbow.
    • Examples of nutrient rich choices are spinach, tomatoes, kiwi, sweet potatoes, okra, artichoke, berries, pears and so many more.

Do not feel overwhelmed if some of these foods mentioned are not already in your diet. Rather, start to incorporate some of the suggestions for better heart health. New routines do not occur overnight, so don’t give up. It is important that when you make healthy dietary and lifestyle changes, you do them one step at a time.


Kristen Hicks-Roof PhD, RD, LD is an Assistant Professor, Department of  Nutrition and Dietetics at the Brooks College of Health, University of North Florida.

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