Sodium is found in salt, which is added to food. In general, most people consume much more sodium than they need. Diets high in sodium can increase blood pressure and lead to water retention. On a heart-healthy diet, you should consume no more than 2,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day—about the amount in one teaspoon of table salt. The foods highest in sodium include salt processed foods, convenience/junk foods, and preserved foods. Table salt contains nearly 50% sodium.
Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance in your blood. Our bodies make some cholesterol. It is also found in animal products, with the highest amounts in fatty meat, egg yolks, whole milk, cheese, shellfish, and organ meats.
It is normal and important to have some cholesterol in your bloodstream. However, too much cholesterol can cause plaque to build up within your arteries, which can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.
The 2 types of cholesterol that are most commonly referred to are:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
—Also known as bad cholesterol, this is the cholesterol that tends to build up along your arteries. Bad cholesterol levels are increased by eating fats that are saturated or hydrogenated (trans).
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
—Also known as good cholesterol, this type of cholesterol actually carries cholesterol away from your arteries and may, therefore, help lower your risk of having a heart attack. You can raise this good cholesterol by including olive oil, canola oil, avocados, or nuts in your diet. Exercise has been shown to raise HDL levels, too.
Eating a heart healthy diet can help lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol levels.
Fats are calorie dense, therefore they pack a lot of calories into a small amount of food. Even though fats should be limited due to their high calorie content, not all fats are bad. In fact, some fats are quite healthful. Fat can be broken down into 4 main types.
- The fats that are good for you include:
- Monounsaturated fat
—found in oils such as olive and canola, avocados, and nuts and natural nut butters; can decrease total cholesterol levels, while keeping levels of HDL cholesterol high
- Polyunsaturated fat
—found in oils such as safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn, and sesame; can decrease total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol
- Omega-3 fatty acids
—a subcategory of polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in fatty fish like salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel, herring, and sardines; these fats can decrease risk of arrhythmias, decrease triglyceride levels, and slightly lower blood pressure
The fats that you want to limit are:
- Saturated fat
—found in animal products, many fast foods, and a few vegetables; increases total blood cholesterol, including LDL levels
- Animal fats
that are saturated—butter, lard, whole-milk dairy products, meat fat, and poultry skin
- Vegetable fats
that are saturated—palm oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter
are found in margarine and vegetable shortening, most shelf-stable snack foods, and fried foods. They increase LDL and decrease HDL.
This is a fat that has no healthful qualities. You should try to eliminate trans fats from your diet completely.
It is generally recommended that you limit your total fat for the day to less than 25%-35% of your total calories. If you follow an 1,800-calorie heart healthy diet, for example, this would mean 60 grams of fat or less per day.
Saturated fat and trans fat in your diet raises your blood cholesterol the most, much more than dietary cholesterol does. For this reason, on a heart-healthy diet, less than 7% of your calories should come from saturated fat and less than 1% from
fat. On an 1,800-calorie diet, this translates into less than 14 grams of saturated fat per day, leaving 46 grams of fat to come from mono- and polyunsaturated fats.