If you are trying to make heart-healthy changes to your diet, it is helpful to know some basics about nutrition, starting with the components of food.

Many vascular conditions can be improved by changing certain lifestyle factors. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of many factors. If you are trying to make heart-healthy changes to your diet, it is helpful to know some basics about nutrition, starting with the components of food. Check nutrition labels and ingredients for information regarding what is contained in a particular food product.

Facts About Calories

  • You need enough calories to maintain your energy level, but no more than you can burn off. This is called an energy balance
  • If you take in more calories than you burn, you gain weight
  • If you take in fewer calories than you burn, you lose weight
  • If you balance the two, you maintain your weight
  • Even when you are dieting, however, calories should not be cut back so much that your energy needs are not met. The number of calories you need depends primarily on age, gender, and activity level

Facts About Dietary Cholesterol

  • Remember: "cholesterol-free" does not mean "fat-free"
  • Dietary cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in all foods of animal origin: egg yolks, meat, poultry, fish, milk, and milk products
  • Because our bodies make cholesterol, it is not required in our diets. However, because most people eat foods that contain cholesterol, it is important to avoid excessive amounts. The amount of cholesterol you consume can affect your blood cholesterol levels

Types of Fats

Fatty acids are the basic chemical units in fat. They may be saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, or trans fats. These fatty acids differ in their chemical compositions and structures, and in the way in which they affect your blood cholesterol levels, according to the following:

Saturated Fat

  • Is used by the liver to manufacture cholesterol
  • Is considered the most dangerous kind of fat because it has been shown to raise blood cholesterol levels, particularly the LDL
  • Should comprise no more than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake
  • Examples include: meats, butter, cocoa butter, coconut and palm oils

Polyunsaturated Fats

  • Do not appear to raise blood cholesterol levels
  • Examples: safflower, sunflower, corn, and vegetable oils, margarines, and soybean oils

Monounsaturated Fats

  • Do not seem to have any affect on blood cholesterol
  • Examples: olive and canola oils

Trans Fats

  • By-products of hydrogenation, a chemical process used to change liquid unsaturated fat to a more solid fat. Structurally similar to saturated fat, trans fatty acids may have a great impact on raising total and LDL cholesterol levels
  • Examples: stick margarine and fats found in commercially prepared cakes, cookies, and snack foods
  • Total fat intake should be no more than 30 percent of your daily calorie intake

Facts About Fats

  • All fats contain about the same number of calories - teaspoon for teaspoon
  • Fat is the most concentrated source of calories, supplying more than twice as many calories per gram as either carbohydrates or proteins
  • Most people tend to get far too much fat in their diets, which contributes to health problems such as obesity, high blood cholesterol, and heart disease
  • While coconut and palm oils contain no cholesterol, they are high in saturated fat and should be avoided

Facts About Fiber

  • Fiber is the indigestible portion of food
  • There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble
  • Soluble fiber - found in such foods as oat bran and dried beans, can lower blood cholesterol in some people
  • Insoluble fiber - found in foods such as wheat bran and is known to have many benefits. While this type of fiber has not been found to lower cholesterol, it is useful in weight control because it creates a feeling of fullness

Facts About Sodium

  • Although salt is the major contributor of sodium in our diets, sodium and salt are not the same, contrary to popular belief. A teaspoon of table salt contains 2,300 milligrams of sodium
  • Sodium is a mineral needed to maintain body fluids and proper nerve function. It occurs naturally in some foods, but most of the sodium in our diets comes from seasonings and food additives
  • Too much dietary sodium can cause the blood pressure to rise, putting one at risk for heart disease or stroke