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Eye on Nutrition: A Heart Healthy Diet

Make Every Bite Count

WIC food packages and nutrition education are the primary 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 is a series that brings focus to the foods and nutrients in the WIC food packages to shine a light on their importance to the health of WIC participants. Healthy pregnancy outcomes, and improving the health of pregnant women, new mothers, and their children, 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 the 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

Nutrients to include in a heart healthy diet include fiber, potassium, and unsaturated fats, and nutrients to limit include saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars.

This eating style is aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and is 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.

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create a heart-healthy eating style for life.


Steps to Reduce Sodium Intake

Did you know that approximately 70% of the sodium we eat comes from processed 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 while breastfeeding is important for the health of both pregnant people, and developing babies.

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 chance of birth defects and other problems. It can also cause serious complications for the pregnant person.

Healthy eating habits from an early age can lower the risk of developing several potentially deadly diseases later in life. Risk factors for heart disease include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, obesity, and a family history of early-onset heart disease.  

What Foods in the WIC Food Packages are Heart Healthy?

Heart healthy foods beyond those in the WIC food packages include unsalted nuts and seeds, and other lean proteins. Oils are not a food group, but they do provide essential nutrients and 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 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 ask their healthcare provider specific questions about their health, including before starting or ramping up exercise This is 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.

The Nutrition Facts label fact sheets for vitamins and minerals provide action steps for consuming a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, 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, and 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. They can also 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. 
  • Watch heart healthy eating solutions for families via videos
  • 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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