Shopping for Heart Health

A heart-healthy diet starts at the grocery store.  It’s important to stock your kitchen and your pantry with healthy options.

When purchasing packaged foods, read the FDA Nutrition Facts label carefully, and  avoid foods that are high in Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, or Sodium.

For some specific product recommendations, see our Heart Healthy Products page.


Good Stuff

Start your trip in the produce section; plan your meals around fruits and vegetables!

Here are some specific foods that contribute to a heart-healthy diet:

Leafy green vegetables – spinach, kale, and collard greens are rich in vitamin K, which helps protect blood vessels. They also contain dietary nitrates, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure, and decrease arterial stiffness.

Walnuts – a good source of monounsaturated fats, which cut your “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise your “good” HDL cholesterol. Walnuts are also a good source of omega-3 fats.

Avocados – an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Avocados are also rich in potassium, a nutrient that’s essential to heart health. In fact, avocados have more potassium than bananas!

Tomatoes – loaded with lycopene, a natural plant pigment with powerful antioxidant properties. A review of 25 studies showed that foods rich in lycopene are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.

Olive oil – a staple of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is packed with antioxidants and monounsaturated fatty acids.

Garlic – a review of 39 studies and found that garlic can reduce total cholesterol by an average of 17 mg/dL and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 9 mg/dL.

Beans and legumes – chickpeas, garbanzo, pinto, kidney and black beans are high in soluable fiber, B-vitamins, and minerals. Soluable fiber can lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol.  If you buy canned beans, look for low-sodium or no-salt-added varieties!

Salmon and other oily fish – rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least tow services of oily fish per week.

Berries – raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries are loaded with polyphenols — antioxidants that mop up damage-causing free radicals in your body. They also deliver fiber and vitamin C, which are both linked to a lower risk of stroke.

Packaged Foods

When buying packaged foods, look for the Heart-Check Mark, which indicates food that are certified as meeting the dietary guidelines established by the American Heart Association. The Mark identifies products that are a good source of nutrients, low in saturated fats and trans fats, and limited in sodium. Products containing partially hydrogenated oils are not eligible for certification.

(See our Heart Healthy product recommendations, below.)

Bread and cheese basket

Stuff to Watch Out For

There are a few unpleasant surprises in the grocery store:

  • Bread and cheese are usually high in sodium, because salt is used to make them.
    • It’s possible to find lower-sodium bread, though it takes some searching.
    • Some types of cheese are lower in sodium.  Look for fresh mozzarella and Swiss cheese (Emmentaller).
  • Canned foods are almost always high in sodium; look for “low sodium” designations, and check the Nutrition Facts label.
  • Sauces and condiments are usually high in sodium; check labels carefully.

Those “Low Sodium” Labels

FDA Nutrition Facts Label
Sample FDA Nutrition Facts Label

Products labelled as Lower Sodium or Reduced Sodium can be very deceptive. It’s important to understand the FDA labeling rules:

Sodium Free / No Sodium / Salt Free / No Salt: the product contains 5mg or less of sodium per serving.

Very Low Sodium: the product contains 35 mg or less of sodium per serving.

Low Sodium: the product contains 140 mg or less of sodium per serving.

Lower Sodium / Reduced Sodium / Less Sodium: the product contains 25% less sodium than the manufacturers “standard” product. This is a meaningless label! Since the standard product is often extremely high in sodium, a 25% reduction is still high!

Light Sodium or Lightly Salted: the product contains 50% less sodium than the manufacturers “standard” product.

No Salt Added or Unsalted: no salt is added to the product during processing, but it may still containing naturally occurring sodium.

Always check the Nutrition Facts Label to know how much sodium you are really getting!


For some specific product recommendations, see our Heart Healthy Products page.