Perhaps the biggest challenge to losing weight, besides gathering the strength and motivation to get started and stick to an eating plan, is figuring out what to eat each day to reach our health goals.  A customized eating plan created by a dietitian is always an option if you have a busy lifestyle, but the basics of what you need to get started on your healthy eating regimen can be found in the well-established DASH diet promoted by the National Institutes of Health.

The DASH Diet, or Dietary Approaches to Hypertension" diet, consists of several simple guidelines to help lower blood pressure and in turn, decrease risk of heart disease:

1.) Limit your diet to 2300 milligrams of sodium by limiting processed foods such as salty snacks, canned foods, frozen convenience foods, as well as through reducing the amount of salt you add to your food at meal time.

2.) Limit red meat intake and replace it with 6 ounces a day of lean meats, seafood, and other proteins such as chicken, turkey, eggs, beans, and tofu.

3.) Increase fiber intake by consuming 4 to 5 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes a week, of which one serving is equal to 1/2 cup beans or 1/4 cup nuts or seeds, and also by consuming 4 to 5 servings each of fruits and vegetables a day.  One serving of fruit or vegetables is equal to one medium fruit equal to about the size of a baseball, 1/2 cup vegetables or diced fruit, or 1 cup leafy greens.

4.) Consume 2 to 3 servings of low-fat dairy daily of which one serving is equal to 1 cup low-fat milk or yogurt,  1/2 cup cottage cheese, or 1.5 ounces cheese.

5.) Limit fat and sugar intake by sticking to unsaturated "healthy" fat-containing foods such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and omega-3 fatty acid rich seafood such as salmon, and by limiting sugar intake to those natural sugars found in fruits and honey.  Limit processed sugars such as those found in ice cream, jellies and jams, or sweetened beverages to 5 servings or less per week, with one serving equal to about 1/2 cup ice cream, 1 tablespoon jam or jelly, or one cup of sweetened beverage.

6.) Limit alcohol intake to two servings or less daily for men or one serving or less for women, with one standard serving of alcohol equal to 12 ounces beer, 5 ounces wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.  The less alcohol the better since it is low in nutrients and can slow fat metabolism in the body long-term.

In addition to these recommendations, it is always important to truly get on your way to heart health by getting your heart pumping with at least 30 minutes physical activity  most days of the week. For information on a specific heart healthy diet for your lifestyle try a My Lighttrack Dietitian Diet Assessment.

Sources:  National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic