How to Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet Without Feeling Deprived

Updated on September 29, 2018
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Dreamworker believes that every human being deserves the right to be able to live to his or her full potential.

When my husband had a bad health scare awhile back, we wondered how we ever were going to adapt to a low salt, low fat diet without feeling deprived.

In fact, we really thought we wouldn’t be able to do so, and if this was the case, life for him could end quickly.

After doing a great deal of research and experimentation, I realized that although we would have to give up eating some of the foods we had eaten in the past, there were many products on the market that would help us to eat well without feeling that we were sacrificing much.

Here is what we learned and what we did to be able to eat comfortably.

Tips to help people comfortably eat the types of foods that will keep them heart healthy.
Tips to help people comfortably eat the types of foods that will keep them heart healthy. | Source

Educate, Educate

Before doing anything, we had to educate ourselves about the things we could eat or should not eat and also how to limit our intake of sugar,sodium and fat.

The biggest thing that we had to remember is that it takes very little salt, to max out our save sodium eating levels.

We were shocked to learn that only one level teaspoon equals 2300 MG, which is the most any person is supposed to ingest in a day and further that this included any sodium already in the food itself!

Sodium, therefore, was our biggest problem. This is because the rules for limiting fat and sugar intake are quite clear.

For example, we learned that simply staying a way from fried foods and sweets and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables plus lean meats, poultry and fish could help us easily to control the amount of fat in our diet.

The problem was that the very things we had to limit were the same ones we loved to eat and had eaten our entire lives!

Thus, we realized early on that we would have to find substitutes and additives that would make what we ate taste good/

A book that really helped us to do this was Eat This Not That. It showed us exactly what was in various foods and how we could avoid problems by using similar but different ones.

For example:

  • whole milk has 3.5% fat whereas skim milk only has 0.2 % fat,
  • ice cream has 7 g of fat but low fat frozen yogurt has only 3 g
  • one slice of cheddar cheese has 174 mg of sodium, whereas one slice of low sodium cheddar cheese has 55 mg.

We use this book almost like a food bible to help us stay on track, and doing so makes eating much more pleasurable and easy!

Although the substitutes do vary in taste from the real thing, they’re not bad and over time, you get used to eating them.

However, using it is not the only thing you can do to stick to your heart healthy diet.

This sandwich is loaded with sodium and fat and is a bad choice for people who want to eat heart healthy good.
This sandwich is loaded with sodium and fat and is a bad choice for people who want to eat heart healthy good. | Source

Limit Restaurant Food

Without realizing it, we had been eating out far too often. Most of the time we ate fast food, but about once a week would dine in regular restaurants.

In fast food places we stuck to smaller burgers, small bags of fries and salads when dining in fast food places, but got into the habit of topping these meals off with ice cream.

In regular restaurants we mostly ate pasta, salads, soups and sandwiches but tended to add fried potatoes to certain meals.

Because we omitted salad dressings and sodas and opted for smaller portions, we thought we were eating healthy.

In a way we were, because we stayed away from greasy foods, red meat, soft drinks, salad dressings and desserts.

It was only after we had our scare that we found out that nothing we were eating in those places was healthy, even the salads because everything was loaded with MSG, salt and fat.

For example,

at McDonald’s

  • a small Caesar Side Salad has 400mg of sodium and 8 grams of fat
  • a hamburger has 510 mg of sodium and 8 grams of fat and
  • a hot fudge sundae has 230 mg of sodium and 7 grams of fat and

at Olive Garden

  • a house salad with dressing has 770 mg of sodium and 10 grams of fat
  • spaghetti with meat sauce has 1020 mg of sodium and 22 grams of fat and
  • cheese ravioli with marinara has 2140 mg of sodium and 39 grams of fat.

Eliminate MSG

We also learned that many restaurants use MSG (monosodium glutamate) to extend the life of foods and reduce the amount of sodium needed to retain flavor. MSG has 40% less of the sodium than salt.

It has been used for years in Chinese food, processed foods, soups and canned vegetables, but there have been many reports of people who have having had problems after eating such as heart palpitations, headaches, flushing and other health issues.

So while it may seem to be helpful in a low sodium diet, we decided that the potential problems it can cause are not worth the risks.

For example, if you already have an Atrial Fibrillation problem, you certainly don’t want to eat something that may give you heart palpitations!

Understand Labels

Another piece of information we found was that just about anything that comes in a can, bag or a box likely is loaded with sodium or fat.

However, we learned that this does not apply to every food. By reading labels closely to see what the ingredients were, we were able to separate the good from the bad.

However, some of the information was truly shocking. For example

  • a half cup of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup contains 850 mg of sodium,
  • a half cup of Bush’s Baked Beans contains 550 mg of sodium and
  • one cup of canned white potatoes has 324 mg of sodium.

Many high sodium products have reduced sodium counterparts, but you can’t count on what is written on the front of the package. You still have to read the nutritional details listed on the back to know exactly what is in them., You should also be aware that the lack of sodium or fat in some products greatly reduces the flavor.

If you do a Google search for “How much sodium (or fat) is there in ___________” you can quickly find credible information about food products.

Good Products to Use:

There are some products that do taste good and have very little sodium or fat in them such as low sodium

  • ketchup,
  • sherbet,
  • salsa,
  • popcorn,
  • bread,
  • cheese,
  • chips and
  • cookies.

There also are foods that are naturally good tasting and safe to eat such as skim milk, eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, frozen fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fish, rice and others.

We learned that you can flavor some these items with those on the above list to enhance their flavor. For example, you can’t put salt in scrambled eggs, but you can use low salt ketchup or salsa to make them taste good.

However, you want to make sure that the nutritional ingredients support the claims on the front of the food product container!

Some Foods to Avoid

Unfortunately, there are many foods you’ll learn to automatically avoid due to their high salt and fat content. You already know what they are and that you should avoid them, so I won't list them here.

However, if you find yourself craving some pizza or Chinese food, treating yourself every so often to these kinds of foods will actually help you to stay on your heart healthy diet (as long as you only enjoy them briefly and rarely).

The worst times for temptations are at holiday gatherings. So, the best thing to do is fill up at home on healthy foods so that you won't be hungry when you attend these special functions. While there, choose foods that are the least damaging and limit how much you eat.

How to Still Eat Well

People who are used to eating salty, fatty foods or dining out often will find that transitioning to a heart healthy diet can be tough.

The trick is to learn to mostly eat at home using recipes that have some taste to them and are satisfying.

If you want to avoid having a heart attack or stroke, doing this is the only option you really have.

However, after a week or so, you’ll find that because you are feeling better, losing weight and still eating well, you can handle the changeover.

In fact, you may find that when you try to treat yourself to an unhealthy meal, you may not even like it!

Unhealthy eating is just a habit, and habits can be changed.

Daily Meal Tips

Breakfast recipes are easy to develop because eggs can be combined with veggies in a variety of ways and are easily seasoned with ketchup or salsa and cereals such as oatmeal have very little if any sodium or fat in them.

Lunches are also easy because you can create sandwiches using mustard or ketchup rather than mayonnaise and low sodium breads, meats and cheeses. Sides can be anything from low sodium chips to fruit, vegetables or chili.

Dinner is a little trickier, so to help you get started, I’m providing two recipes that I worked out for my husband and myself that taste pretty good. You may also want to check Pinterest for recipes you can create at home that will also be good to eat.

I’ll also mention a few products you can use to substitute for those you might be missing.

Heart Healthy Chili


  • 1 lb lean ground turkey
  • 1/3 onion
  • 3 stalks of cleaned, pealed and chopped celery
  • 2 cans low salt diced tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 2 cans dark red kidney beans
  • Chili powder to taste (about 2 tsp)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • enough water to fill soup pot


  1. Rinse tops of cans, dry and set aside
  2. Cut, clean and chop onion and celery
  3. Put ground turkey and chopped onion in soup pot.
  4. Cook over medium heat until turkey is brown and onion pieces are transparent
  5. Drain turkey and onion well, rinse in hot water, drain again and return to pot over medium heat.
  6. Add celery to pot.
  7. Remove lids from all cans.
  8. Drain kidney beans and rinse thoroughly.
  9. Add beans and all canned ingredients to pot.
  10. Stir thoroughly.
  11. Add enough water to fill pot.
  12. Add chili powder, salt and sugar.
  13. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.
  14. Remove cover, skim fat from top of soup and throw away.
  15. Raise heat until mixture boils, stirring constantly.
  16. Lower heat to simmer, leave uncovered and allow to cook for at least an hour, making sure to stir often.

Serve over cooked pasta, rice or mashed potatoes. Do not add salt or butter to the rice, pasta or potatoes.

Serve with fresh cleaned, thin cut carrots.

For dessert serve canned chunk pineapple in juice or fresh pineapple.

This recipe will make about 3 gallons of chili. Freeze two of them

Chicken Tender and Sweet Potato Dinner


  • frozen chicken tenders,
  • fresh sweet potatoes
  • frozen California Mix vegetables
  • 1 packet equal
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon


  1. Thaw frozen chicken tenders before using.
  2. Wash sweet potatoes and cut slit in the tops.
  3. Place vegetables in microwave safe container.
  4. Bake sweet potatoes in oven for one hour at 350 degrees or microwave them for about 15 minutes on high or until they are soft.
  5. While potatoes are baking, place chicken on tabletop grill and grill for about 5 minutes on each side.
  6. When potatoes are done, remove them from oven or microwave and set aside. Microwave vegetables at half power for 8 minutes.
  7. While vegetables are cooking, cut potatoes in half and add Equal and Cinnamon to each half.
  8. Mash these additions into the potato halves.
  9. Place vegetables, potatoes and chicken on plate and serve.

For dessert serve instant chocolate pudding topped with cool whip.

You can create variations of this same meal by substituting ground turkey or a pork chop for the meat, or a different frozen vegetable and serve a few Snack Wells chocolate fudge cookies or some Sherbet for dessert.

Tasty Heart Healthy Foods Short List

Here are some things you can eat that taste good and are safe to eat:

  • baked sweet potato with sugar and cinnamon,
  • Clancy’s Lightly Salted Potato Chips,
  • Clancy’s Lightly Salted Popcorn,
  • Heinz low sodium ketchup,
  • low sodium salsa,
  • low sodium spaghetti sauce,
  • canned chunk pineapple packed in juice,
  • pure maple syrup,
  • fresh or frozen fruit,
  • most fresh or frozen vegetables,
  • fresh or frozen lean meats and poultry,
  • smoothie made with low fat yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, ice and artificial sweetener,
  • eggs, scrambled or poached (never fried),
  • low sodium wheat bread,
  • oatmeal
  • bran cereal,
  • rice (flavored with ketchup or Balsamic Vinegar),
  • potatoes cut into French fries, seasoned with Parmesan Cheese and cooked in microwave,
  • pasta,
  • low fat low sodium chocolate frozen yogurt,
  • skim milk and
  • chocolate syrup.

You can find more foods here.

The Bottom Line

There is no question that you will no longer be able to eat many of the foods you like. However you’ll be able to find substitutes for most of them.

If you need to splurge, you can do so once each month, but you want to make sure that what you eat does not shock your system.

The important thing to remember is that you are trying to keep yourself healthy and alive while still being able to enjoy food.

If you take the attitude that you can do this without feeling deprived, you’ll get the best of both worlds. It is not as hard to do as you may think and is well worth the sacrifice and effort.

Happy eating!

Do you think these tips will help you to eat a healthy diet?

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    © 2018 Sondra Rochelle


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