Coronary heart disease occurs when your heart’s major blood vessels become damaged or diseased. These blood vessels or arteries narrow or harden due to a buildup of plaque, a type of fatty deposit.

Symptoms of coronary heart disease can vary from person to person. Some people don’t experience any symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, they can include pain described as a tightness, burning, or heaviness around the chest.

Other symptoms of coronary heart disease include:

  • sweating
  • cramping
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath

There’s no cure for this disease, but it’s possible to manage the condition and improve the quality of your life. Proper nutrition is one way to manage symptoms. This includes eating certain types of foods while avoiding others.

Coronary heart disease can gradually get worse, hence the importance of eating a healthy diet. A buildup of plaque in your arteries can reduce blood flow to your heart. It’s this reduction of blood flow that causes symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath.

If left untreated, coronary heart disease can lead to a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest. Both of these conditions can be life threatening.

Medication can protect against serious complications. Your doctor may prescribe a beta-blocker to reduce your blood pressure, and medication to widen your arteries and improve blood flow.

In addition to medication, changes to your diet can lead to better outcomes. Try to include the following in your diet:

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Increasing your intake of plant-based foods can improve heart disease and help prevent a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest.

Fruits and vegetables both contain a healthy amount of vitamins and nutrients, contributing to heart health. Plus, these foods are low in calories, which can help you maintain a healthy weight. Since they’re also a great source of fiber, fruits and vegetables help lower cholesterol levels and protect the heart.

Eat a wide variety of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. If you can’t eat fresh selections, choose low-sodium canned vegetables. You can also drain liquid from cans and rinse off the vegetables before cooking to remove excess salt.

Only eat non-fresh fruits that are packed in juice or water. Avoid those packed in heavy syrup, which contains more sugar and has a higher calorie count. Adult men and women should eat 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day.

Whole grains

Eating whole grains can also contribute to heart health and reduce the negative impacts of coronary heart disease. Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains are nutrient-dense and an excellent source of fiber. Because of this, they can help regulate your cholesterol level and blood pressure.

Good choices include:

  • 100 percent whole-grain breads
  • high-fiber cereals
  • brown rice
  • whole-grain pasta
  • oatmeal

Grains to limit or avoid, though, include white bread, frozen waffles, donuts, biscuits, egg noodles, and cornbread.

Healthy fats

If you have coronary heart disease, you might think that all fats are off-limits. But not all fat is bad.

The truth is, eating healthy fats in moderation can be good for heart health. Healthy fats can lower cholesterol and protect against heart attacks and stroke.

These include monosaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. They’re found in:

  • olive oil
  • canola oil
  • flaxseed
  • avocados
  • nuts and seeds
  • cholesterol-lowering margarine

You should also look for fat-free or low-fat dairy products. This includes milk, yogurt, sour cream, and cheese.

Lean protein

Eating protein also contributes to your overall health. However, be selective and choose proteins that are low in fat.

Healthy options include types of fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This includes salmon, herring, and other cold water fish.

Other heathy sources of protein include:

  • peas and lentils
  • eggs
  • soy beans
  • lean ground meats
  • skinless poultry

If you have coronary heart disease, it’s important to control your cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight. Taking these measures can also improve your overall health.

To achieve this, avoid high-fat and high-sodium foods. High-fat foods to avoid include:

  • butter
  • gravy
  • non-dairy creamers
  • fried foods
  • processed meats
  • pastries
  • certain cuts of meat
  • junk foods, like potato chips, cookies, pies, and ice cream

Many of the above are also high in sodium, which can worsen coronary heart disease by contributing to high blood pressure. Other high-sodium foods to avoid include:

  • condiments like mayonnaise and ketchup
  • table salt
  • packaged meals
  • restaurant menu items

Here are a few tips to improve your diet when living with coronary heart disease:

  • Keep fruit and vegetables readily available. Keep fresh fruits and vegetables ready for consumption in your fridge. Slice them ahead of time for a quick snack in between meals.
  • Reduce food portions. Reducing your food portions can help you consume fewer calories, fat, and sodium.
  • Cook with herbs. Instead of seasoning your food with table salt, experiment with different types of herbs, spices, and salt-free seasoning blends. When buying canned goods and condiments, look for low-salt or reduced salt alternatives.
  • Read food labels. Get into a routine of reading food labels to avoid consuming too much fat and sodium.

There’s no cure for coronary heart disease, but dietary modifications can help lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and improve your overall health. As a result, you can reduce your risk of complications like heart attack, stroke, or sudden cardiac arrest.