Numbers to Know
- Waist circumference: Ideal is <40 inches for men, <35 inches for women
- Blood pressure: Top number (systolic) <120 mmHg, bottom number (diastolic) < 80 mmHg
- Blood sugar: Normal fasting blood sugar (without diabetes): 70 mg/dL to 99 mg/dL; normal blood sugar 2 hours after a meal is <180 mg/dL
- Total cholesterol: <180 mg/dL
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein): >40 mg/dL for men, >50 for women (>60 mg/dL is even better)
- LDL (low-density lipoprotein): <130 mg/dL
- Triglycerides: <150 mg/dL
Too much sodium in your bloodstream pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing blood pressure. High blood pressure forces your heart to work harder and can damage blood vessel walls. The majority of sodium comes from packaged, cured, and processed foods. For example, lunch meat, bacon, and canned and pickled foods are highest in sodium. The best way to keep sodium intake in check is to eat whole foods and pair more highly processed foods with naturally low-sodium foods to balance their impact. Use salt-free seasonings, herbs and spices, and citrus to flavor food.
Dietary fats are essential for a healthy heart, brain, and body. They help your body absorb vitamins and minerals, give structure to your cells, help the blood to clot, and keep organs like the heart and brain health. But not all fats are created equal. Stick with mono and polyunsaturated fats. Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats. Some healthy fats to include in your diet are avocado, fish, nuts, and seeds.
- Monounsaturated Fats: Oils that contain monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled. Olive oil is an example of a type of oil that contains monounsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood, which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells. Oils rich in monounsaturated fats also contribute vitamin E to the diet, an antioxidant most Americans need more of. Examples are olive oil, avocados, and sesame oil.
- Polyunsaturated fats: Oils that contain polyunsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled. Avocados are an example of a type of oil that contains polyunsaturated fats.
Polyunsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood, which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells. Oils rich in polyunsaturated fats also provide essential fats that your body needs but can’t produce itself such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. You must get essential fats through food. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are important for many functions in the body.
- Triglycerides: A type of fat (lipid) found in your blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn't need to use right away into triglycerides. The triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Between meals, your body will release triglycerides for energy.
- Saturated Fat: These fats are solid at room temperature. Replacing foods that are high in saturated fat with healthier options can lower blood cholesterol levels and improve lipid profiles. Some examples of saturated fats are meat, baked goods, and fried foods.
- Trans Fats: There are two broad types of trans fats found in foods: naturally occurring and artificial trans fats. Naturally occurring trans fats are produced in the gut of some animals, and foods made from these animals (e.g., milk and meat products) may contain small quantities of these fats. Artificial trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.
The primary dietary source for trans fats in processed food is “partially hydrogenated oils.” Look for them in the ingredients list on food packages.
Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Some examples of foods with trans fats are fried foods like doughnuts; baked goods including cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, and crackers; and stick margarine and other spreads.