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Eye on Nutrition: A Heart Healthy Diet

Make Every Bite Count

WIC food packages and nutrition education are the chief means by which WIC affects the dietary quality and habits of participants. Did you know that these two benefits are among the top reasons for continued participation in WIC (in addition to the work of WIC personnel!), and that consistent 4-year participation in WIC was associated with better diet quality?

Eye on Nutrition brings focus to the foods and nutrients in the WIC food packages to shine a light on their importance to WIC participants. Healthy pregnancy outcomes and improving the health of pregnant women, new mothers and their infants is an integral part of WIC's mission. Nutrition education that encourages heart healthy eating during and after pregnancy, and during childhood, is key to achieving that mission. Applying that education and purchasing heart healthy foods is made easier for WIC participants with the WIC food package.

Be sure to check out heart healthy recipes shared with us from the WIC community!

What is a Heart Healthy Diet?
Why is a Heart Healthy Diet Important?
What Foods in WIC Food Packages are Heart Healthy?
How does the Nutrition Facts Label Help in Identifying Heart Healthy Foods?
Choosing a Heart Healthy Lifestyle
Education Resources

What is a Heart Healthy Diet?

A heart healthy diet includes nutrient-dense foods that lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. It emphasizes:

  • a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • skinless poultry and fish
  • unsalted nuts and legumes
  • non-tropical vegetable oils

Among the nutrients of particular concern due to the role they play in heart health are those to include, such as fiber, potassium, and unsaturated fats, as well as nutrients to limit, such as saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars.

This type of diet aligns with the overall healthy diet pattern recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, based on the principle that healthy eating patterns support a healthy body weight and can help prevent and reduce the risk of chronic disease throughout periods of growth, development, and aging as well as during pregnancy.

Steps to Reduce Sodium Intake

DYK that about 70% of the sodium eaten comes from processed (packaged) foods and restaurant foods? FDA's Eating Too Much Salt? Ways to Cut Back...Gradually (also available in Spanish) features a video with tips to help WIC participants reduce their intake. For more nutrition education materials to share with WIC participants, see Education Resources below.   


Why is a Heart Healthy Diet Important?

Making healthy food choices during pregnancy and breastfeeding are important for the health of the woman and her developing baby.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Making healthy food choices can help to avoid non-hereditary heart problems in the future.

Chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes can be prevented or well-managed with a heart healthy diet and lifestyle. Many of these conditions can negatively affect women and a developing baby:

High blood pressure during pregnancy can put the mother and baby at risk for problems during pregnancy and delivery as well as after delivery.

Poor control of diabetes during pregnancy increases the chances for birth defects and other problems for the pregnancy. It can also cause serious complications for the woman.

Healthy eating habits from an early age can lower the risk of developing several deadly diseases later in life. One study found early signs of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) in 7% of children between ages 10 and 15 years, and the rate was twice as high between ages 15 and 20 years.

What Foods in WIC Food Packages are Heart Healthy?

  • Whole grain foods, like whole wheat bread, pasta and tortillas, brown rice, corn tortillas, oats, bulgur, whole-grain barley and some cereals.
  • Dry legumes, like beans, peas and lentils
  • Canned beans, low sodium or no added salt
  • Fresh, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables
  • Low sodium canned vegetables
  • Canned fruit packed in water or 100% juice
  • Low-fat and non-fat milk and yogurt
  • Fortified soy-based beverage
  • Tofu
  • Canned fish
  • Eggs

Heart healthy foods beyond those in the WIC food packages include unsalted nuts and seeds, and other lean proteins; and while oils are not a food group, they do provide essential nutrients, therefore, they are considered in USDA food patterns. Heart healthy oils include those that are plant-based, such as olive oil or avocado oil, which are good sources of unsaturated fats.

How does the Nutrition Facts Label Help in Identifying Heart Healthy Foods?

Since most heart healthy-related nutrients of concern are required to appear on the Nutrition Facts Label, it serves as a good resource to determine if a food is heart healthy (i.e., it’s high in dietary fiber and potassium, and low in (or has no) added sugars, sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat).

While the %Daily Value (DV) is based on a 2,000 calorie diet (vs. the specific needs of each individual and their life stage/caloric needs), it can be useful when comparing products and for determining if a food is high (20%DV or more) or low (5%DV or less) in a given nutrient.

Not all foods have nutrition labels. While we know fresh vegetables and fruit are heart healthy foods, some have more potassium than others. Check out this list.

Choosing a Heart Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy diet is just one part of a heart healthy lifestyle, which encompasses a number of other aspects, including:

Education Resources

Always encourage participants to speak to their healthcare provider with specific questions about their health, including before embarking on (for those who don’t already) or ramping up exercise, particularly important for those with heart disease, asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes.

WIC Staff can find more information on feeding older infants in the USDA WIC Infant Nutrition and Feeding Guide for WIC.

The Nutrition Facts label fact sheets for vitamins and minerals provide action steps for consuming a diet rich in vitamins and minerals (including zinc), and charts that identify food sources of each vitamin and mineral. 

MyPlate offers protein foods and dairy nutrition education resources, including galleries for each of these food groups, as well as interactive resources for participants to:

  • Get a personalized MyPlate Plan (Plan de MiPlato) that takes pregnancy and breastfeeding status into account. 
  • Take the MyPlate Quiz to see how their eating habits stack up against recommendations and get tailored resources and a personal quiz results code to sync with the Start Simple with MyPlate app. 
  • Set simple goals based on their personal needs with the Start Simple with MyPlate app. Sync results from the MyPlate Quiz for a personalized experience. Join challenges, see progress, and earn badges to celebrate successes. 
  • Shop (and save money!) with the Shop Simple with MyPlate web app to quickly find savings in the local area and discover new ways to prepare low-cost foods. Just enter the zip code to find cost-saving opportunities in the local area, including physical and online SNAP retailers and Farmer’s Markets. This app can be accessed via a smartphone and computer and tablet
  • Test their Food Group IQ with fun quizzes. 
  • Hear healthy eating solutions from families via videos, and download Food Planning During the Coronavirus Pandemic (in English and Spanish). 
  • Find activity sheets for kids, including bingo, coloring sheets and a food critic activity to help kids try new fruits, vegetables, or a new recipe. 
  • Get MyPlate nutrition tips for your baby or toddler on Amazon Alexa devices or the free Alexa app.

An updated toolkit for health professionals with consumer-friendly fact sheets based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is available online. Visit the toolkit for resources such as Build a Healthy Eating Routine and Cut Down on Added Sugars

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