Research data compiled by the National Heart Lung Blood Institute showed that reducing sodium intake lowers blood pressure even if you are eating a typical American diet with more calories than you actually need. The biggest benefit came from lowering sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day.

Saturated fats or trans fats are found in most processed foods. These fats – considered “bad” fats (low-density lipoproteins or LDLs) – contribute to high cholesterol and lower the amount of good cholesterol in your body, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Sugar provides no nutrition and your body doesn’t need it to function properly. Foods with added sugars contribute extra calories to your diet, which leads to weight gain, thereby affecting your heart health. Read the nutrition label and choose foods with the lowest amount of sugar.

Make whole grains part of your regular diet.  The USDA recommends making at least half of the grains you eat whole grains. Instead of having a sandwich on white bread, switch to whole wheat bread, or eat brown rice, whole grain cereal or whole wheat pasta. Making these simple changes adds more fiber to your diet and can help prevent cholesterol from building up in your arteries.  

Read nutrition labels. It’s important to become an informed consumer. Learn where the nutrition labels are on all of the foods that you eat and what all of the information means. By reading the nutrition label, you can find out the sodium content, grams of fiber, number of servings and more.

Eat the correct serving size. A serving size and a portion size are not the same. A serving size is the recommended amount of a particular food that should be consumed. A portion size can be whatever amount of food put on a plate by you or someone else. Portion sizes are often two or three times bigger than the recommended serving size. Read the nutrition label to determine the recommended serving size that should be eaten. Follow this chart to help control portion sizes.

Limit unhealthy foods. Strive to eat fewer unhealthy foods such as desserts or high-fat foods. According to the American Heart Association, you don’t have to completely eliminate the foods that you enjoy. But you do need to eat less of them since these foods can be low in nutrition and high in calories.

You will have to take personal responsibility and decide if you are able to follow these limits or if it would be best for you to not indulge in these foods until you have established healthier eating habits.

Save your favorite unhealthy foods for an occasional treat, such as once a week or once a month. Or eat them in smaller amounts; instead of having a whole piece of cake, eat only a half a piece. Or prepare the food you love in a different way; instead of having pan-fried chicken, opt for oven fried, or make your favorite pasta dish with skim milk and skim cheese.

For more resources, check out Choosemyplate.gov, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which offers a visual resource showing you how to fill your plate at meal time – with half your plate full of fruits and veggies, and the other half full of whole grains and lean proteins.