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Your 3-Day Heart-Healthy Meal Plan: 1,800 Calories

Plus 6 ways a heart dietitian can help you

Tuna pita sandwich with apple slices

Perhaps diabetes or hypertension have raised your risk of heart disease. Or you simply want to eat in a more heart-healthy way. A three-day meal plan can help you get started. This 1,800-calorie plan is best for men who want to maintain their weight, says Julia Zumpano, RD, LD. (Discover the six benefits of seeing a heart dietitian below.)

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Day 1

Breakfast: ½ cup plain instant oatmeal, 1 cup low-fat milk, ½ banana, ¼ cup chopped walnuts.

Lunch: 2 slices whole wheat bread, 4 oz. low-sodium turkey meat, 1 slice low-fat Swiss cheese, ½ medium tomato, 1 Tbsp. yellow mustard, ¼ cup shredded lettuce; 6 baby carrots; 6 oz. plain, fat-free Greek yogurt with ¾ cup blueberries.

Dinner: 6 ounces baked chicken breast, 1 cup brown rice, 1 cup steamed broccoli, 2 Tbsp. margarine.

Snack: 1 low-fat string cheese stick, 2 clementines.

Day 2

Breakfast: 1 egg, 1 whole wheat English muffin, 1 slice part-skim milk cheese, 2 oz. ham or turkey sausage; 1 cup fruit.

Lunch: 1 large whole wheat pita, 4 oz. canned light tuna in water, 1 Tbsp. light mayo, 2 slices tomato, ¼ cup lettuce; 1 cup low-fat milk; 1 medium apple; 2 cups spinach, 1 tsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar.

Dinner: (Salad) 6 oz. salmon, 2-1/2 cups raw baby spinach, ½ cup blueberries, ¼ cup sliced almonds, ¼ cup feta cheese, 2 Tbsp. lite balsamic vinaigrette.

Snack: 15 small whole wheat crackers, 3 Tbsp. hummus.

Day 3

Breakfast: (Omelet) 1 egg or ¼ cup egg substitute, ½ cup spinach, 1 Tbsp. chopped onion, 1 Tbsp. chopped red pepper; 1 slice toast with 1 tsp. olive oil; 1 cup 1% milk; 1 orange.

Lunch: 4 ounces low-sodium ham, 1 slice part-skim milk cheese, 2 slices whole wheat bread, 2 tsp. mayo, 3 spinach leaves, 2 slices tomato; 6 baby carrots; 1 small pear.

Dinner: 2 oz. whole wheat spaghetti, ½ cup marinara sauce, 3 meatballs (lean beef or turkey), ¼ cup Parmesan cheese; 1 cup lettuce, 2 Tbsp. reduced fat salad dressing; ½ cup unsweetened applesauce.

Snack: 6 oz. light strawberry-flavored Greek yogurt, 28 pretzel sticks.

6 ways a heart dietitian can help you

When you have high blood pressure, diabetes or excess weight, your doctor may refer you to a heart dietitian.

“Our goal is to reduce your cardiac risk,” explains Zumpano. “We try to get you started and educate you so that you’re empowered to make ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ food choices.”

When you see a heart dietitian, you will learn how to:

1.Distinguish nutrient-dense foods from empty-calorie foods.

  • The Mediterranean diet is loaded with nutrient-dense foods, packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and/or healthy fat: fresh produce; nuts, seeds and olive oil; beans and whole grains; and lean proteins.
  • The typical American diet contains too many high-calorie foods devoid of nutrients: soda, chips, crackers, cookies and candy bars. They add to your weight, and raise your blood sugar and bad HDL cholesterol levels.

2. Choose healthy versus unhealthy fats.

  • Healthy (unsaturated) fats don’t turn solid at room temperature, and include plant oils, nuts, olives, avocado and fatty fish.
  • Saturated fats turn solid at room temperature. “While there’s room for some saturated fat in our diets, we want to limit meat and keep solid animal fat, like chicken skin, marbled cuts and bacon, to a minimum,” she says.
  • Start replacing red meat with poultry or fish, and full-fat dairy with plant-based options like olive oil and nuts. Try making one meatless meal per week using beans or legumes.
  • Manmade fats (trans fat/partially hydrogenated oils), also solid at room temperature, have been banned by the FDA. “They increase bad cholesterol and usually cause weight gain and inflammation,” she notes.

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3. Tell healthy carbs from unhealthy carbs.

  • High-fiber carbs (like whole grains and legumes) are always better than simple carbs like sweets, snack foods, chips, and white bread, pasta or rice.
  • Every meal should include lots of veggies, and some fruit or whole grain. “Watch your grain portions,” cautions Zumpano. “I recommend three 15-gram servings of carbs per day — for example, ½ cup oatmeal, 1 slice of bread and ½ cup of brown rice.”
  • If you have diabetes and need to lose weight, limit your carbs to 2 to 3 grams per meal (for women) and 3 to 4 grams of carbs (for men). This will also keep your blood sugars stable.

4. Eat at home more often.

  • Restaurant meals are often high in salt and saturated fat. If you’re eating out five days a week, “we’ll troubleshoot why you’re doing this so often and try to find some quick, easy options that you can make at home instead,” says Zumpano.
  • Can’t give it up? Work on eating at restaurants four, or three, days a week instead. Avoid dishes that are fried, creamed, buttered or tempura, and opt for baked, boiled or broiled foods instead.

5. Get a handle on your snacking.

  • Snacks should have no more than 15 or 20 grams of carbohydrate. (One carb serving is 15 carbs, two is 30, etc.).
  • Include a protein and complex carb in each snack.
  • Choose healthy snacks that suit your taste buds (e.g., replace sweets with fruit and nuts, and salty chips with whole grain crackers and cheese).

6. Reduce the salt in your diet.

  • Always read food labels for sodium content, and if you have hypertension or prehypertension, limit yourself to 1,500 milligrams (about 2/3 teaspoon) of salt per day.
  • When eating out, avoid the American Heart Association’s “salty six” (foods that increase blood pressure): pizza, poultry, deli meats, canned soups, breads and sandwiches.

“We can show you how to make changes in the way you eat so that you can follow a heart-healthy diet and not even have to think about it,” says Zumpano.

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