Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common irregular heart rhythm condition. AFib causes disordered and chaotic electrical activity in the heart. It makes the two upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, beat unpredictably. This irregular activity can produce symptoms, such as heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath. AFib may eventually weaken the heart’s muscles and trigger a heart attack. Irregular beating can also produce blood clots, which may lead to a stroke. In fact, a person with AFib is five times more likely to experience a stroke.
Eat a Balanced Diet
A balanced diet greatly benefits individuals diagnosed with AFib. A healthy diet helps protect your body against other conditions or diseases that may worsen your AFib. It can also prevent complications related to AFib.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach or diet to treating AFib and its symptoms. Work with your doctor to establish a treatment plan that’s safe, effective, and tailored for you. This plan will likely include a combination of medicines and lifestyle treatments. Together, these measures can be very effective.
Strive for Low-Fat & Low-Sodium
While high blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke, AFib isn’t far behind. A heart-healthy diet is a good way to prevent a stroke from both potential causes. The cornerstone of a heart-healthy diet is reducing your fat and sodium intake.
Here are some basic steps to take for a healthier diet:
- Limit your intake of saturated fats and trans fat.
- Drink and eat only fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
- Pick lean meats over fattier cuts.
- Keep protein sizes in check, and eat only the recommend serving sizes.
- Keep your daily sodium intake to 1,500mg or less.
Following a specific diet plan can sometimes feel like you’re restricting yourself. But rather than focusing on what you can’t have, shift your focus on what you can have. A diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and lean proteins can help reduce your stroke risk, as well as your risk for other conditions, including heart disease and obesity.
Here are some ways to incorporate more heart-healthy foods into your diet:
- Pick lean poultry or pork over red meat when possible.
- Eat fish and seafood at least twice a week.
- Increase your servings of whole grains, beans, and nuts.
- Fill half your plate with vegetables at each meal.
- Eat fruits for dessert instead of sugary ice cream or cake.
Push for More Potassium
Besides following a heart-healthy diet, you should also look to increase your potassium intake. Sodium-rich diets often leave our bodies depleted of potassium, a necessary electrolyte. Medicines like diuretics can also flush out the valuable nutrient. Low potassium levels can aggravate cardiac conditions, including AFib.
Ask your doctor to check your potassium level. Find out if any medicines you take are sensitive to your potassium needs. And be sure that your diet includes several healthy sources of potassium, including bananas, squash, avocados, and sweet potatoes.
Do the DASH Diet
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan follows many of these suggested food and nutrition guidelines. Doctors typically recommend the DASH to patients with high blood pressure. Studies show it can reduce a person’s heart attack and stroke risk. A person with AFib shares many of the same dietary needs and cardiac concerns as a person with high blood pressure, so DASH may work for you too.
Get your Vitamins from Your Food
If you take a daily multivitamin, tell your doctor. Multivitamins can affect your blood’s natural clotting abilities. You may be able to continue taking it. Just be sure your doctor is aware so they can adjust your treatment medications as necessary.
The same goes for all over-the-counter supplements. Many supplements are never tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which means they have no research supporting their use or identifying their potential dangers. Make sure your doctor knows what supplements you take so they can change your prescriptions if necessary to avoid dangerous interactions.
People who take the anticoagulant warfarin should be aware of a possible dietary dilemma. Vitamin K can interfere with your body’s ability to self-regulate its clotting factors. Taking warfarin and eating vitamin K-rich foods can cause clotting factor levels to fluctuate. Vitamin K-rich foods include green, leafy vegetables, such as kale, lettuces, and mustard greens; vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts; and proteins, including fish, liver, and eggs.
This doesn’t mean you should completely avoid vitamin K. Instead, talk with your doctor about monitoring your intake and keeping it within safe amounts.
Food, AFib, and You
Work with your doctor or a dietitian to develop a healthy-eating plan that’s right for your body. Take into account the medications that you take, any other conditions you have, and your other risk factors for stroke and heart attack.
Your diet is one of the most powerful tools in stroke prevention. Becoming aware of what you’re eating is the first step to improving it. When you know what you’re eating, you can make small, incremental changes that can add up to big, life saving results.