How to Get Back on a Heart Healthy Diet

photograph of heart healthy diet foods
Most of us recognize and understand the role that a good diet plays in developing and maintaining a heart healthy lifestyle. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to stick to the plan. Unrealistic expectations, lack of support and emotional eating are just a few of the reasons people give up on a diet, but it’s never too late to get back on track.

“When I see patients that need to try to lose weight, I ask them to consider three diets in their life,” said Dr. David Griffin, a cardiologist with the CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute. “The first is you have to be honest about where your diet is now, the second is the diet that you’re going to choose to lose the weight and the third diet is your long-term maintenance diet.”

Before embarking on a new diet journey, establish what your goals are along with the help of your primary care physician or cardiologist. Diets intended to lose weight often differ from those that are more focused on maintaining current weight.

“When you’re trying to eat a healthy diet, you’re trying to meet the caloric needs of your body, which can be calculated simply based on your metabolic rate and activity level,” said Dr. Griffin. “If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s sometimes different and you’re looking to reduce calories or increase your energy expenditure.”

For those looking to lose weight, routine exercise can go a long way toward achieving those goals. However, no amount of time spent in the gym or outside running can take the place of a heart healthy diet.

“When you’re looking at energy expenditure and weight loss, about 80 percent of that will come through dietary changes and only about 20 percent through exercise,” Dr. Griffin said. “Patients who have excess weight may have joint problems and can’t exercise to a certain extent, but they can still lose the majority of their weight through dietary changes. We know that if you drop your caloric intake to around 1,000 calories per day, you will absolutely lose weight.”

While it can be difficult for some people to limit their intake of meats and sweets, the Mediterranean Diet is one of the most effective for establishing a heart healthy lifestyle. Associated with reduced risk for heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, it builds every meal around fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs and spices. It also includes moderate servings of poultry, eggs, cheese or yogurt daily and servings of fish or seafood at least twice weekly.

“The Mediterranean Diet has shown to have long-term cardiovascular risk reduction,” said Dr. Griffin. “It’s been fantastic and it’s a great diet to stick to when you’re at a healthy weight.”

Maintaining a heart healthy diet is often easier said than done, but CHI St. Vincent is here to help. For additional healthy lifestyle tips and delicious recipes, sign up for the Better You and Healthy Foodie’ newsletter at: