Your 3-Day Heart-Healthy Meal Plan: 1,200 Calories

Have diabetes or hypertension raised your risk of heart disease, or do you simply want to eat in a more heart-healthy way ? A three-day meal plan can help. This 1,200 calorie-a-day plan can help most women lose weight, says Julia Zumpano, RD, LD . (Discover the six benefits of seeing a heart dietitian below.) Day 1

Breakfast: 2 large eggs, 2 slices whole grain bread, 1 Tbsp. olive oil spread.

Lunch: 2 slices whole grain bread, 3 oz. tuna (canned in water), 1 slice low-fat mozzarella cheese, 1 Tbsp. olive oil mayo.

Dinner: 4 oz. grilled chicken, 1 medium Idaho baked potato, 1-1/2 cups green beans.

Snacks: 1 cup skim milk, 1 medium apple. Day 2

Breakfast: 1 cup oatmeal, ½ cup blueberries, 1 Tbsp. peanut butter.

Lunch: 2 slices whole grain bread, 2 oz. low-sodium turkey, 1 slice Swiss cheese, 1 tsp. mustard; 1 cup skim milk.

Dinner: 4 oz. salmon, ½ cup brown rice, 1-1/2 cups broccoli, 2 tsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese.

Snacks: 6 oz. non-fat plain Greek yogurt, ½ cup strawberries. Day 3

Breakfast: 1 cup fat-free cottage cheese, ½ cup fresh pineapple.

Lunch: 3 oz. grilled chicken, ¼ cup bell pepper, ¼ avocado, 2 Tbsp. salsa, ¼ cup shredded lettuce, 1 low-carb wrap; 1 medium peach.

Dinner: 3 turkey meatballs, ½ cup whole wheat pasta, 1/3 cup marinara sauce, 1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese; 2 cups spring lettuce mix, 1 Tsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar.

Snacks: ¼ cup mixed nuts, 2 Tbsp. dried cranberries. 6 ways a heart dietitian will 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 Ms. 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.

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 Ms. 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 Ms. Zumpano.

Can’t give up eating at restaurants? Work on doing so 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 Ms. Zumpano.

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