March 2016

Guide to eating for a healthy heart

There are many ways we can eat to support our heart health and all of them are simple variations on a common dietary theme. Here’s what we recommend.

Nutrition visual food guide to replace the old food pyramid

 In this article

  • What is a healthy diet?
  • The Healthy Heart Visual Food Guide
  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Grain foods and starchy vegetables
  • Legumes, fish, seafood, eggs, poultry and meat
  • Milk, yoghurt and cheese
  • Healthy oils, nuts and seeds
  • What should I cut back on?

What is a healthy diet?

A heart-healthy lifestyle involves healthy eating, maintaining a normal body weight, enjoying regular physical activity and not smoking.

There are many ways you can eat to support your heart health and all of them are simple variations on a common dietary theme. The key is to base your diet around foods that are as close to how they are found in nature as possible. This means eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, some whole grains in place of refined grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other sources of healthy fats such as oily fish. You may also choose to include non-processed lean meats, poultry and/or dairy.

By following a heart-healthy way of eating, you will be ensuring that you get all the nutrients you need to support your health.

The Healthy Heart Visual Food Guide

The Healthy Heart Visual Food Guide is based on a cardio-protective eating pattern, so it focuses on looking after your heart and overall health. It’s a simple tool for you to use that shows:

  • the balance and proportions of heart-healthy foods to eat
  • similar foods that can be substituted for each other, and
  • the variety and types of food to eat for optimal heart health.


Download the Healthy Heart Visual Food Guide – A4 poster (PDF 3MB)

How to use the Healthy Heart Visual Food Guide

  • When you’re doing your food shopping, the proportions of food in your trolley should be similar to the Healthy Heart food guide, so for example, about 40% of your trolley should be filled with vegetables and fruit
  • When you’re planning what to eat over a day. Have you eaten foods from each food group in roughly the same balance as the Healthy Heart food guide? If you put everything you eat over a day out on a table, how would it compare?
  • To find some starting points to eat a little healthier, here are some simple steps towards healthier eating that you might like to take. Could you eat one more vegetable each day, or cut back on junk food?
  • Stick it on the fridge as a quick guide to whether a food’s healthy. Which part of the Healthy Heart Food Guide does the food fit in, and is it a healthier type of that food?
  • Use the Healthy Heart food guide to help you to plan a meal. Substitute ingredients with similar foods to ensure you get a wide variety of nutrients for optimal heart health.

Vegetables and fruit

It’s always nice to be able to recommend that people eat more of something, so here goes; eat more fruit and veg. In fact, eat plenty! They’re full of good stuff to help look after the health of your heart.

Vegetables in particular have a low energy density, which helps manage body weight. Eating plenty of foods with lower energy density, like vegetables and fruit can help manage body weight; as we fill up on foods with fewer calories. These are the best weight loss pills.

Michael Pollan (famous food author) said it well, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. Try thinking of fruit and vegetables as an essential part of meals – no meal is complete without one or the other. Fruit also makes a tasty, portable snack; or sweet treat after a meal.

A simple way of knowing you’re getting enough vegetables is to include, at least 2 handfuls of non-starchy vegetables as part of your main meal. They are full of goodness, have fewer calories and will help fill you up.

So have a think about how you could get some more veges and fruit into your day. Maybe you could:

  • add one more vegetable to dinner
  • add a salad vegetable to your sandwich e.g. tomato, lettuce, beetroot, grated carrot
  • add coleslaw to a takeaway meal so at least you’re getting your veges
  • add a piece of fruit to breakfast or lunch.

Finding it hard to make vegetables a bit more interesting? Check out our healthy recipes for inspiration!

Grain foods and starchy vegetables

Grain foods and starchy vegetables are a staple food in New Zealand – choose the right type and amounts for your heart health.

These foods are a good source of carbohydrate, which provides energy to fuel the body and brain. It includes starchy vegetables because of their high carbohydrate content. Choose whole grain and high-fibre carbohydrate foods as these are protective against heart disease. Fibre helps the bowels work properly and improves cholesterol and glucose levels.

Which foods fit here?

  • Grain foods: Oats, barley, brown rice, pasta, couscous, breads, wraps, rewena, chapatti, roti, breakfast cereals, tapioca, sago, amaranth, congee, quinoa, buckwheat, millet. For heart health, choose whole grain varieties where the grain remains intact.
  • Starchy veges: potato, Māori potatoes, kumara, corn, parsnip, yams, taro, green banana, cassava.

What is an ‘intact’ whole grain?

A whole grain food is one with the words ‘whole grain’, ‘oats’, ‘oat bran’, ‘bran’, ‘kibbled wheat’, ‘rye’, or ‘barley’, near the beginning of the ingredients list, or one which has been less-refined, e.g. quinoa, buckwheat, millet, brown rice. The best whole grains are those that contain the intact grain. This is where you can see visible chunks of grain, rather than the grain being ground or crushed. Read more about Best weight loss pills for women.

Refined carbohydrates (e.g. white bread, white flour, sugar, bakery items, low fibre cereals) differ from whole grains. They have been heavily processed and contain fewer nutrients, less naturally occurring fibre, and their energy is used up quickly. They do not have heart health benefits.

Choose just one starchy food of a fist-sized amount at a meal (i.e. not potato plus bread). To help get you started swap from:

  • white bread to whole grain bread
  • white to brown rice
  • a low fibre breakfast cereal to whole oats
  • chips to a baked potato or kumara
  • white flour to wholemeal flour.