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Healthy living

By living a healthy lifestyle, you can help reduce and manage your risk factors for heart disease. You can find many healthy living tips on Sunnybrook’s Your Health Matters blog at health.sunnybrook.ca.

Heart-healthy eating

Many risk factors for heart disease – such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity and diabetes – are affected by your food choices and eating habits. Read the nutrition label on food products to help you make healthy choices. Choose foods that are low in fat, such as lean meats and low-fat dairy products. Fruits, vegetables and whole grain products are high in fibre and help to lower cholesterol. You should also limit your salt and sugar intake.

View table to help you make heart-healthy eating choices »

Choose Sometimes Avoid

Fruits & Vegetables
Enjoy a piece of fruit after each meal. Choose colour vegetables, and make sure they fill up half of your plate.

  • Fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Canned fruit, drained
  • Avocado
  • Canned vegetables, drained and rinsed
  • Dried fruit (without hydrogenated oil)
  • Juice
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Coconut

Grain Products
Look for products with more than 4 grams of fibre per serving.

  • Whole grain or multi-grain breads, cereals, pasta
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn (no butter, air popped)
  • Rice (brown, wild or red)
  • Barley, couscous, quinoa
  • Low fat muffins
  • Noodles made with white or enriched flour
  • Chips and salted snack foods
  • Croissants, full fat muffins, pastries, donuts, pancakes and waffles

Dairy & Alternatives
Enjoy skim or 1% dairy products and cheeses with less than 16% M.F. (Milk Fat).

  • Skim or 1% milk
  • Cheese (less than 16% M.F.)
  • 0% or 1% yogurt
  • Soy beverage (plain, unsweetened)
  • 2% milk and yogurt
  • Light cream cheese
  • Soy beverage (flavoured)
  • Cream sauces (made with 1% milk)
  • Homogenized milk
  • Cream of any type; cream sauces made with 2% milk or greater
  • Cheese (greater than 16% M.F.), processed or spreads
  • Yogurt, greater than 2%

Meats & Protein Alternatives
Choose lean meats and poultry. Enjoy fish and legumes at least twice per week.

  • Egg whites
  • Fish (fresh, frozen, canned in water)
  • Legumes (peas, beans, lentils)
  • Lean beef, pork, veal
  • Poultry (skinless)
  • Shellfish (scallops, oysters, shrimp)
  • Tofu and soy products
  • Egg substitutes
  • Nuts (walnuts, almonds, ground flaxseed)
  • Natural peanut and nut butters
  • Meat or fish that is cured, pickled, breaded, fried
  • Processed or deli meats (bacon, ham, sausages)
  • Fish packed in oil
  • Organ meats (kidneys, liver, heart)
  • Peanut butter made with hydrogenated oil
Fats & Oils
  • Margarine (non-hydrogenated)
  • Oils: canola, flax, olive
  • Salad dressings (vinagrettes)
  • Mayonnaise, low-fat
  • Butter, lard, fat, drippings from meat
  • Margarine (hard) hydrogenated
  • Fat, bacon
  • Oils: palm, palm kernel, coconut
  • Gravy

Limit alcohol

Alcohol may increase triglycerides, which are a type of fat in the blood that makes the blood thicker and increases the risk for a clot. If you have high triglycerides, you should avoid having alcohol on a regular basis. Ask your family doctor if you are unsure about your triglyceride levels.

Take your medications

Take your medications regularly as prescribed. If you have concerns about managing your medications, speak with your community pharmacy about using a dosette (pill box) or pre-arranging your medications in weekly blister packs. If you experience side effects, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Check your blood pressure

High blood pressure puts a strain on your heart and increases the speed that plaque forms in your arteries. Check your blood pressure regularly as directed by your doctor and take medications as prescribed. Minimize your sodium (salt) intake and exercise regularly.

No smoking

Smoking makes your heart work harder. It increases your heart rate, narrows blood vessels, raises blood pressure, and reduces the amount of blood, oxygen and nutrients that get to your heart. Second hand smoke can cause the same effects. By not smoking you will reduce your risks of coronary artery disease over time. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for ways of helping you stop or reduce smoking. You may also visit smokershelpline.ca.

Exercise regularly

Physical activity can help you feel better, decrease symptoms and improve your heart’s function. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level. The key is to be active slowly and regularly. The goal is to do 30 minutes of activity a day for five days each week. This can be split into parts, such as three ten-minute blocks of activity.

Manage stress

Difficulties coping with stress may increase your risk of having a heart attack. Stress is a necessary part of living. It helps us respond to emergencies, meet a deadline or achieve a goal. However, if we experience too much stress, our minds and bodies cannot relax. Try to recognize stressful situations and learn effective ways of managing them. For example, avoid rush hour traffic or allow for more time to travel. You can also try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, massage, or meditation. For some people, formal or informal counseling may be helpful.