Atrial fibrillation (AFib) occurs when the normal rhythmic pumping of the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria, breaks down.
Instead of a normal heart rate, the atria pulse, or fibrillate, at a fast or irregular rate.
As a result, your heart is less efficient and must work harder.
In addition to treatments like mediation, surgery, and other procedures, there are certain lifestyle changes, like your diet, that can help manage AFib.
This article reviews what the current evidence suggests about your diet and AFib, including what guidelines to follow and which foods to avoid.
Some foods can negatively affect your heart health and have been shown to increase the risk of heart complications, like AFib, as well as heart disease.
They can also lead to other negative health outcomes like weight gain, diabetes, cognitive decline, and certain cancers (
Read on to learn what food and drinks to avoid.
Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk for developing AFib.
It may also trigger AFib episodes in people who already have AFib, especially if you have existing cardiovascular disease or diabetes (
Alcohol consumption can contribute to hypertension, obesity, and sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) — all risk factors for AFib (5).
While binge drinking is especially harmful, studies indicate that even moderate alcohol consumption can be a risk factor for AFib (6).
More recent evidence suggests that individuals who stick to recommended limits — two drinks per day for men and one drink for women — are not at increased risk for AFib (7).
If you have AFib, it’s best to limit your alcohol consumption. But going cold turkey might be your safest bet.
A 2020 study found that quitting alcohol significantly reduced arrhythmia recurrences in regular drinkers with AFib (8).
Over the years, experts have debated how caffeine affects people with AFib.
Some products that contain caffeine include:
- energy drinks
For years, it was standard to recommend that people with AFib avoid caffeine.
Although drinking coffee may increase blood pressure and insulin resistance initially, long-term studies have found that regular coffee consumption is not associated with higher cardiovascular risk (
A 2019 study found that men who reported drinking 1 to 3 cups of coffee per day were actually at a lower risk for AFib (13).
Consuming up to 300 milligrams (mg) of caffeine — or 3 cups of coffee — per day is generally safe (14).
However, drinking energy drinks is another story.
That’s because energy drinks contain caffeine at higher concentrations than coffee and tea. They’re also loaded with sugar and other chemicals that can stimulate the cardiac system (
If you have AFib, you may want to avoid energy drinks, but a cup of coffee is probably fine.
Cardiologists may recommend that you reduce certain types of fat if you have AFib.
Foods like butter, cheese, and red meat have high amounts of saturated fat.
Trans fats are found in:
- foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
- certain crackers and cookies
- potato chips
- other fried foods
A 2015 study found that diets high in saturated fat and low in monounsaturated fatty acids were associated with a greater risk of persistent or chronic AFib (
Monounsaturated fats are found in plant foods, including:
- olive oil
But swapping saturated fats with something else may not be the best fix.
A 2017 study found a slightly increased risk of AFib in men who replaced saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats.
It’s likely that less healthy sources of polyunsaturated fats, like corn oil and soybean oil, have different effects on AFib risk than healthy sources of polyunsaturated fats like salmon and sardines.
More high-quality research is needed to determine how polyunsaturated fats affect AFib risk.
The good news is, if you haven’t had the healthiest diet in the past, there’s still time to turn things around.
Australian researchers found that individuals with obesity who experienced a 10% weight loss could reduce or reverse the natural progression of AFib (23).
Excellent ways to address excess weight and improve overall heart health, include:
- reducing intake of high-calorie processed foods
- increasing fiber intake in the form of vegetables, fruits, and beans,
- cutting added sugar
Studies show that sodium intake can increase your chances of developing AFib (24).
That’s because salt can elevate your blood pressure (
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can almost double your chances of developing AFib (
Reducing sodium in your diet can help you:
- maintain heart health
- lower blood your pressure
- reduce your AFib risk
Many processed and frozen foods use a lot of salt as a preservative and flavoring agent. Be sure to read labels and try to stick with fresh foods and foods with low sodium or no salt added.
Fresh herbs and spices can keep food flavorful without all the added sodium.
Research indicates that people with diabetes mellitus are 40% more likely to develop AFib compared to people without diabetes.
Experts are unclear on what causes the link between diabetes and AFib.
But high blood glucose levels, which is a symptom of diabetes, may be a factor.
A 2019 study in China found that residents over 35 with elevated blood glucose (EBG) levels were more likely to experience AFib compared to residents without EBG.
Foods high in sugar can elevate your blood glucose levels.
Eating lots of sugary foods constantly may also cause insulin resistance to develop, which significantly increases your chances of developing diabetes (
More research is needed to determine how blood glucose levels can affect AFib.
Try to limit:
- sugary baked goods
- other products that contain lots of added sugar
Vitamin K is a group of fat-soluble vitamins that plays an important role in:
- blood clotting
- bone health
- heart health
Vitamin K is present in products that include:
- leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale
- green tea
- calf’s liver
Since many people with AFib are at risk for stroke, they’re prescribed blood thinners to help prevent blood clots.
Common blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin) works by blocking vitamin K from regenerating, halting the blood clotting cascade.
In the past, individuals with AFib have been warned to limit vitamin K levels because it could reduce a blood thinner’s effectiveness.
But current evidence does not support changing your vitamin K consumption (
Instead, it may be more useful to keep vitamin K levels stable, avoiding big changes in your diet (
It’s best to talk with your doctor before increasing or decreasing your intake of vitamin K.
If you’re taking warfarin, also talk to your doctor about the possibility of switching to a non-vitamin K oral anticoagulant (NOAC) so that these interactions aren’t a concern.
Examples of NOACs include:
Gluten is one type of protein in wheat, rye, and barley. It’s found in products that include:
- many packaged foods
In two different studies, researchers found that individuals with untreated celiac disease had prolonged atrial electromechanical delay (EMD) (32).
EMD refers to the delay between the onset of detectable electrical activity in the heart and the initiation of contraction.
If gluten-related digestive issues or inflammation are making your AFib act up, reducing gluten in your diet may help you get AFib under control.
Talk to your doctor if you believe you have a gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy.
Eating grapefruit may not be a good idea if you have AFib and are taking medications to treat it.
Grapefruit juice contains a powerful chemical called naringenin (33).
Grapefruit juice can also affect how other medications are absorbed into the blood from the intestines.
More current research is needed to determine how grapefruit can affect antiarrhythmic medications.
Talk to your doctor before consuming grapefruit while on medication.
Certain foods are particularly beneficial for the health of the cardiovascular system and may help improve heart functioning (
- healthy fats such as omega-3 rich fatty fish, avocados, and olive oil
- fruits and vegetables that offer concentrated sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
- high-fiber foods like oats, flax, nuts, seeds, fruit, and vegetables
Numerous studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet (a diet high in fish, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts) may help reduce the risk of AFib (38).
A 2018 study found that supplementing a Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts lowered participant’s risk for major cardiovascular events when compared to a reduced-fat diet.
Evidence suggests that a plant-based diet may also be a valuable tool when it comes to managing and reducing common risk factors associated with AFib (
Plant-based diets may reduce many traditional risks factors associated with AFib, like having hypertension, hyperthyroidism, obesity, and diabetes (
In addition to eating certain foods, particular nutrients and minerals may help lower your risk for AFib.
It’s easy to get extra magnesium in your diet by eating some of the following foods:
- nuts, especially almonds or cashews
- peanuts and peanut butter
- whole grains
On the flip side of excess sodium is the risk of low potassium. Potassium is important for cardiac health because it allows muscles to work efficiently.
Many people may have low potassium levels due to an unbalanced diet or from taking certain medications such as diuretics.
Low potassium levels may increase your risk of arrhythmia (
Some good sources of potassium include:
- fruits, such as avocados, bananas, apricots, and oranges
- root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and beets
- coconut water
Because potassium can interact with certain medications, talk to your doctor before adding more potassium to your diet.
Certain foods and nutritional choices are especially useful in helping you manage AFib and prevent symptoms and complications. Follow these guidelines when deciding what to eat:
Eat for AFib
- For breakfast, choose whole, high-fiber foods like fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. An example of a healthy breakfast would be unsweetened oatmeal with berries, almonds, chia seeds, and a dollop of low-fat Greek yogurt.
- Reduce your salt and sodium intake. Aim to limit your sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day.
- Avoid eating too much meat or full-fat dairy, which contains a lot of saturated animal fats.
- Aim for 50 percent produce at each meal to help nourish the body and provide fiber and satiety.
- Keep your portions small and avoid eating out of containers. Dole out single portions of your favorite snacks instead.
- Skip foods that are fried or covered in butter or sugar.
- Limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption.
- Be mindful of your intake of essential minerals, such as magnesium and potassium.
Avoiding or limiting certain foods and taking care of your health can help you lead an active life with AFib.
To reduce your risk of AFib episodes, consider adopting a Mediterranean or plant-based diet.
You may also want to reduce your intake of saturated fat, salt, and added sugar.
A healthy diet can help with underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.
By addressing these health conditions, you may lower your chances of developing AFib.
Be sure to talk with your doctor about medication and food interactions.