With new trends and diets in the personal-care industry popping up all the time, it can be hard to get a sense of what will truly help your overall heart health. Whether you're working on rehabilitating your body after a cardiac event such as a heart attack or stroke, or are simply interested in maintaining your existing health, understanding the effects of calorie intake can be a valued starting point.

People talk a lot about calorie management, but few actually know what calories are and how they're measured. Units of energy or heat, calories come from different sources in your diet and are the foundation of our ability to complete day-to-day functions. Here are some facts about how calories affect heart health:

Determining your personal caloric threshold

Eating too many calories leads to weight gain, increasing the risk of heart problems. One of the most important steps you can take is determining how many calories you should consume every day. For example, the website Health Status suggests that women should consume roughly 1200 calories a day, in comparison to the suggested 1800 for men. While this may be reasonable for some people, your actual needs may vary greatly. If you are extremely physically active or have a high metabolic rate, you may need a lot more. Those who are sedentary for much of the day may require fewer calories. Talk it over with your doctor, as many factors including age and gender affect your calorie needs.

Not all calories are created equal

Once you have a rough sense of what your daily threshold should be for heart-healthy calorie consumption, you're ready to take that thought process a bit further. As the American Heart Association says, it is pivotal that you divide up your caloric intake sources appropriately among the different food groups. This way, your heart and body receive a diverse and nutritious diet in addition to one that is simply the right amount of food. Get the smallest portions of your calories from saturated fats and added sugars that may be detrimental to your heart. Try replacing unhealthy fast-food choices with healthier options like fruits or vegetables.

Break even whenever possible

Not keeping track of the calories you eat is one of the easiest ways to gain weight, raise cholesterol and reduce the overall quality of your health. Many experts recommend trying to break even whenever possible. This means that your daily routine, exercise included, should burn as many calories as you eat that day. That way, your body and heart have exactly as much fuel as they need and you aren't accumulating excess calories in your body.

For more on dieting for heart health:

Keeping a Food Diary to Lose Weight
Low-carb Diet May Benefit Heart Health
Expert Ideas on Losing Weight and Keeping It Off