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Eat Better

Find answers to frequently asked questions about nutrition, like why healthy eating is important and how to improve your diet.

  • What are the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables?
  • Fruits and vegetables are low in fat and calories and contain a wealth of important nutrients, such as potassium, fiber and vitamin C. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet may help reduce risk of heart disease, cancer and other health conditions.
  • Are diet drinks bad for heart health?
  • Previous studies have linked frequent diet drink consumption to increased cardiovascular risk, but further research is needed on the topic. Until we learn more about the relationship between diet drinks and heart health, moderation is key when it comes to the consumption of diet drinks.
  • Are all types of fat bad for the heart?
  • No, there are many different types of fat—some of which are harmful and some of which are beneficial. The two main types of harmful fats are saturated fat and trans fat, both of which can increase cholesterol levels. Healthier types of fat include monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which may help promote cardiovascular health. Although you don’t need to eliminate fat from your diet, it’s important to consume fat in moderation and choose healthier fats when possible to promote a healthier heart.
  • What is a vegetarian?
  • Although the term vegetarian typically refers to someone who doesn’t eat meat, there are different types of vegetarians. Vegans are the strictest type of vegetarians, who avoid any type of meat or foods derived from animals (dairy, eggs, etc.). Other types of vegetarians eat dairy (lacto-vegetarians) or dairy and eggs (lacto-ovo-vegetarians), but avoid all other meat and fish.

  • How can I lower my blood pressure through diet?
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet is one of the best ways to help lower blood pressure. Limiting salt intake and eating plenty of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, like with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, can help significantly lower blood pressure.

  • Should I take a daily multivitamin?
  • Research suggests that multivitamins may offer certain benefits, like improved mental and physical health. However, the true health benefits of multivitamins are unclear and may vary between individuals.
  • How much caffeine can I safely have in one day?
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that adults have no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is equivalent to about four to five cups of coffee. However, the FDA notes that there is no safe level for children.
  • What makes nuts heart-healthy?
  • Nuts are packed with heart-healthy fats, protein and disease-fighting vitamins and minerals. As such, regular consumption of nuts has been shown to prevent heart disease and diabetes.
  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

  • I'm a pharmacist in Ontario. Please clarify the health benefits/risks of coconut oil. Dietitians and trainers are advocating 1–2 tablespoons daily, putting it in coffee (with butter!). The packages say “no cholesterol.” But one tablespoon contains 130 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat. Related question: Is it better to eat margarine or butter?

  • Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, and for heart disease prevention we recommend avoiding trans fat and saturated fats. It is probably best to use spreads that are fortified with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) or plant sterols. A softer spread is probably healthier than hard butter, but it all depends on your calorie intake versus how many calories you use. An overall healthy lifestyle with eating a primarily Mediterranean-based diet and getting plenty of physical activity (two common guidelines are 10,000 steps per day or 30 minutes of activity five times per week) is the key.

    Best regards,

    Puja Mehta, MD, FACC

  • What is the DASH diet?
  • DASH is an eating plan that can help lower your blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH eating plan focuses on foods that are low in bad fats, sugar and salt, but high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium. This includes fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, and beans. These foods can help lower blood pressure and reduce risk of heart disease.
  • What are the benefits of a Mediterranean diet?
  • A Mediterranean-style diet may help lower your risk for certain diseases, improve your mood, and boost your energy levels. It may also help keep your heart and brain healthy.

    The benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet reinforce the benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, high-fiber breads, whole grains, and healthy fats.

    For your heart and body, a Mediterranean-style diet may:

    • Prevent heart disease.
    • Lower the risk of a second heart attack.

    • Lower cholesterol.

    • Prevent type 2 diabetes.

    • Prevent metabolic syndrome.

    For your brain, a Mediterranean-style diet might help prevent:

    • Alzheimer's disease and other dementia.
    • Depression.
    • Parkinson's disease.
  • What is the Mediterranean diet?
  • The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating rather than a formal diet plan. It features foods eaten in Greece, Spain, southern Italy and France, and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

    The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating foods like fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber breads and whole grains, and olive oil. Meat, cheese, and sweets are very limited. The recommended foods are rich with monounsaturated fats, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids.

    The Mediterranean diet is like other heart-healthy diets in that it recommends eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber grains. But in the Mediterranean diet, an average of 35-to-40% of calories can come from fat. Most other heart-healthy guidelines recommend getting less than 35% of your calories from fat. The fats allowed in the Mediterranean diet are mainly from unsaturated oils, such as fish oils, olive oil, and certain nut or seed oils (such as canola, soybean, or flaxseed oil). These types of oils may have a protective effect on the heart.  For more information, read this overview of the Mediterranean diet.
  • What's more important—how much I eat or what I eat?
  • When it comes to health, it’s important to watch how much you eat and find a balance between the number of calories you consume and how many you burn. But it’s also important to watch what you eat and try to eat heart-healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, whole-grains and lean protein, as much as possible.
  • How many calories should I consume to maintain my current weight?
  • How many calories needed to maintain weight depends on a number of factors, like age, height, weight and gender. It also depends on how physically active you are, since the more active you are, the more calories you need for energy.
  • What is vitamin D?
  • Vitamin D is an essential dietary nutrient, which can be found in foods like fish, eggs and fortified milk. Our bodies can also product vitamin D in response to exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D plays a number of important roles in our body, like helping with the absorption of calcium, and studies have shown that vitamin D deficiencies may be linked to increased risk for heart disease.
  • How much vitamin D should I get daily?
  • Most individuals can get enough vitamin D through casual sun exposure and consuming foods containing vitamin D, such as fish, eggs and fortified milk. The current recommended dietary allowance of vitamin D in the United States ranges between 400 and 800 IU/day.
  • What are the possible health benefits of adopting the Mediterranean diet?
  • The Mediterranean diet boasts a number of possible health benefits, including reduced risk for heart disease and cancer. Research has also shown that the Mediterranean diet may help protect cognitive function.
  • Is a vegetarian diet heart-healthy?
  • Some studies have suggested that a vegetarian diet may promote health benefits, like lowering risk of death. This is likely due to the fact that many foods common in the vegetarian diet, including fruit, vegetables and nuts have been shown to have many health benefits and improve heart health. Also, research has shown that reducing consumption of red meat and increasing consumption of fish and lean meats can help reduce heart disease risk.

    Get CardioSmart tips on how to eat for better health.

  • What is fiber?
  • Dietary fiber is found primarily in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and includes all parts of plant foods that our bodies can’t digest or absorb. Since our body can’t break down fiber or absorb it, fiber passes through the stomach, intestine and out of our body. Fiber has been shown to help lower cholesterol, improve blood sugar control, aid in weight control and lower cardiovascular risk.
  • How much fiber do I need for a healthy heart?
  • The daily adequate intake amount for fiber has been calculated by the Institute of Medicine. Men 19 and older should strive for 38 grams a day and women 19 and older should aim for 25 grams a day. For more information, see this guideline on getting enough fiber.
  • How often should I eat red meat?
  • In general, red meat should be consumed rarely—about one serving a week or less. Although protein is an important part of a balanced diet, lean meats, fish and nuts are a better choice than red meat to promote heart health.
  • Is red meat bad for my heart?
  • Red meat contains high levels of fat and cholesterol, which can clog our arteries and increase risk for heart disease. Research also suggests that a substance contained in red meat, called carnitine, may increase levels of the chemical TMAO, which increases cardiovascular risk. To promote heart health, it’s important to limit consumption of red meat to once a week or less and maintain a balanced diet full of lean protein, fresh vegetables and whole grains.
  • Is it healthy to drink alcohol on a daily basis?
  • In moderation, research shows that alcohol consumption (one drink or less a day for women and two drinks or less a day for men) may lower risk for heart disease. However, exceeding these limits can have serious effects on cardiovascular and overall health.
  • How is gestational diabetes treated?
  • In most cases, women developing diabetes during pregnancy can control their blood sugar levels through lifestyle changes, like eating right and staying active. However, some women require insulin therapy to control their condition.

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