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Eating For Heart Health Fact Sheet

red blood cells flowing in the veins Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is a collective term for the conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels.The most common one is atherosclerosis which is a hardening of the arteries. CVD is still Australia’s greatest health problem.Atherosclerosis is a narrowing of the arteries caused by a build-up of fatty materials (fats and cholesterol) in the blood vessel walls. This makes the blood vessels less elastic and reduces the blood flow to vital organs. If a blockage occurs, stopping the flow of oxygen containing blood to the organs, a heart attack or stroke can occur.There are many factors associated with the development of CVD, some of which we can change.

What you can change

What you can’t change

Smoking Family history of CVD and ethnicity
High blood pressure Age
High cholesterol Gender
Overweight Body shape (e.g. “Apple??? shape has a higher risk than“Pear??? shape.)
Poor diet  
Type 2 diabetes  
Insufficient activity  
Depression, social isolation and a lack of social  
Excessive alcohol intake  

Your diet can affect your health


woman practicing fitness Saturated and trans fats can increase blood cholesterol levels. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (omega 3 and omega 6) fats help lower cholesterol levels. For heart health, reduce saturated fats and substitute them with unsaturated fats in your diet. Healthy heart tips:

  • Use margarines made from poly and monounsaturated oils instead of butter
  • Remove the fat and skin off chicken and meat, use trim cuts and avoid processed meats
  • Choose lower fat milk, yoghurt, and cheese
  • Keep pastries and biscuits for special occasions onlyInclude fish in your meals at least twice per week

Energy Balance

Eating more kilojoules (energy) than you burn through activity leads to weight gain. For heart health, keep your weight in the healthy weight range by choosing foods low in energy (kilojoules) and high in nutrients. Healthy heart tip:

  • Eat less foods high in fat and sugar and reduce the portion size of your meals – include regular activity, but consult your doctor before starting an exercise program heart and stethoscope


There is clear evidence linking high salt intake with increased blood pressure. High blood pressure places increased stress on the heart. For heart health, if you have high blood pressure, have your blood pressure monitored regularly and limit the amount of salt that you eat. Healthy heart tips:

  • Don’t add salt to cooking and don’t put the salt shaker on the table
  • Improve the flavour of food by using lemon juice, fresh herbs or spices in place of salt
  • Choose unsalted nuts or unsalted popcorn


Soluble fibre helps maintain healthy blood fat levels by helping reduce cholesterol absorption. For heart health, choose foods with soluble fibre, like wholegrain cereals, especially oats and barley, fruits and vegetables such as legumes. Healthy heart tips:

  • Start the day with wholegrain cereal, oats or baked beans on wholegrain toast
  • Include legumes by adding hummus to sandwiches, or adding mixed beans to salads Human circulation cardiovascular system with heart anatomy


Foods high in antioxidants can reduce the risk of developing CVD. Antioxidants are known to help prevent the build-up of the fatty deposits in the arteries. For heart health, enjoy a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables, nuts and anti – oxidant containing drinks like tea, coffee and cocoa. Healthy heart tips:

  • Relax with a cup of green tea
  • Snack on fruit and at meal times fill half your plate with vegetables or salad
  • Enjoy dark berries like blueberries and blackberries for a delicious dessert

This fact sheet contains general information. Please consult your healthcare professional for specific advice for your personal situation. Other Nutrition Fact Sheets that might interest you:

  • Salt
  • Fats and your health
  • Antioxidants
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Fibre
  • Heart Foundation Tick
  • Diabetes
  • Healthy Weight
  • Plant Sterols


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Cardiovascular disease: Australian facts 2011 AIHW Cardiovascular disease mortality: trends at different ages – April 2010 Heart Disease and food. (last reviewed October 2010) disease_and_food Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute Resources & Fact Sheets accessed March 2011 Includes Cardiovascular Disease, and many others Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease (Heart Foundation August 2009) default.aspx Heart Foundation Health Publications default.aspx