After a heart attack, treatment focuses on preventing a future heart attack or any related complications, like a stroke.

What you eat affects how your body functions, including your heart. Changing eating habits can help reduce your risk of having another heart attack.

Here’s a breakdown of diets that can help and foods that should be limited.

A heart-healthy diet can consist of:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • nuts and seeds
  • beans and legumes
  • fish and seafood
  • whole grains
  • plant-based oils, such as olive oil
  • eggs (you can eat up to six per week)
  • lean meats
  • skinless poultry

These choices are low in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. Consuming a diet high in these ingredients may increase your risk of a heart attack.

Canned and frozen veggies and fruits may be used in place of fresh varieties but look out for added ingredients such as sodium, butter, or sugar. When possible, consume vegetables and fruits in their natural state to get the maximum benefits.

Fish is one of the best foods for your heart, especially certain types. Oily fish is considered best because it’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce triglycerides and inflammation and promote vascular health. Canned versions are also a good option but choose ones that are packed in water.

Aim to have at least 2 servings of fish per week. Examples include:

  • salmon
  • sardines
  • trout
  • herring
  • mackerel

When it comes to drinks, your best option is water. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, experiment with flavoring it, like slicing a lemon, cucumber, or berry and adding it to your water for some all-natural flavor.

If you’re interested in following a more structured eating plan, there are a few different heart-healthy diets to consider.

Remember to consult your doctor when considering making dietary changes. Tell them if you’re planning to try a new diet or eating style or ask for a referral to a nutritionist who can help you choose an existing diet plan or customize one for you.

The Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet has garnered a lot of attention in recent years, and it’s for good reason.

A recent review of long-term studies points to the cardiovascular benefits of this style of eating, which may help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

This diet focuses on healthy fats, legumes, fish, beans, and grains, along with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. Dairy and meat can be enjoyed in moderation.

The Mediterranean diet also focuses on using plant-based oils, like olive oil, in place of butter.

If you choose to incorporate dairy products into your diet, choose low fat or nonfat options. This reduces your overall saturated fat consumption.

DASH

Dietary approaches to stopping hypertension (DASH) is another eating plan designed to promote heart health by lowering your blood pressure.

Like the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet focuses on plant-based foods along with lean meats.

Try to make more homemade meals to manage how much salt is added to your foods and check the labels of packaged and canned foods for sodium levels.

While the Mediterranean diet doesn’t directly address sodium limits, eating more plant foods may mean less sodium intake naturally.

With DASH, you can also eat 2 to 3 servings of low fat dairy per day. Overall, DASH is designed to lower blood pressure by naturally reducing your sodium and cholesterol intake, which helps promote heart health.

Plant-based eating

Also known as “plant-forward” eating, a plant-based diet consists of eating little to no meat.

As the name suggests, plant-based eating focuses on fruits and vegetables, along with grains, legumes, and other non-animal food sources.

Research links plant-based eating to promoting heart health and lowering the risk of:

  • cancer
  • stroke
  • type 2 diabetes

Eating less meat means you’ll also be consuming less saturated fat and cholesterol.

As dietary guidance, you’ll want to limit excess sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. This is especially true after experiencing a heart attack.

The following is a partial list of foods to limit or avoid:

  • fast food
  • fried food
  • canned food (veggies and beans are the exceptions, as long as there’s no added salt)
  • candy
  • chips
  • processed frozen meals
  • cookies and cakes
  • biscuits
  • ice cream
  • condiments such as mayonnaise, ketchup, and packaged dressing
  • red meat (enjoy in limited quantities only)
  • alcohol
  • hydrogenated vegetable oils (these contain trans fats)
  • deli meat
  • pizza, burgers, and hot dogs

For a happy heart, limit your intake of saturated fat. Saturated fat should make up no more than 6 percent of your total daily caloric intake. This is especially crucial if you have high cholesterol.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 2,300 mg per day of sodium and is moving toward a lower limit of 1,500 mg for most adults, especially for those with high blood pressure.

Ask your doctor if caffeinated beverages, like coffee and tea, are appropriate for your heart. Enjoy these drinks in moderation without added cream or sugar.

Your body processes supplements differently than food, so you’re likely to absorb more from actual foods than manufactured pills.

Supplements are generally considered if you’re not getting enough of the nutrients you need from your diet.

If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet you may not be getting enough vitamin B12 or iron. Additionally, as you become older, your body doesn’t absorb nutrients as effectively as it once did. Your doctor can order tests to check for these nutrients in your blood. They may recommend supplementation if your levels are low.

Additionally, vitamin D, which is not widely found in the food system, is key for heart health. The main source of this vitamin is when the skin is exposed to the sun’s UV light.

According to research published in 2021, People of Color and those who live at high latitudes are at an increased risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency.

People with darker skin are also more likely than people with lighter skin to have low levels of vitamin D year-round as melanin in darker skin tones can interfere with the body’s ability to make vitamin D.

The researchers conclude that environmental and social factors such as housing, employment, healthcare, and income inequalities likely factor into this health outcome. Addressing the inequalities is necessary, but it doesn’t eliminate the need for more research and continual medical care to better understand the deficiency and how to effectively treat it.

Vitamin D deficiency is another situation when your doctor may recommend supplementation. They can order a vitamin D blood test to check your levels to determine whether supplementation is necessary.

Be sure to talk with your doctor before taking any supplements. They can advise you about whether supplements are safe for you to take, and if so, which ones.

Additionally, when taking supplements, check the label and opt for products that have undergone third-party testing.

Read more about third-party testing here.

Nutrition is a key to your overall health, especially when it comes to your heart. Aside from eating a nutrient-rich diet, other lifestyle habits can help promote heart health, too.

Getting regular exercise

The AHA recommends you get at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Talk with your doctor about a safe routine if you’re new to exercising.

There’s no need to join a gym. Walking around your neighborhood or swimming laps at your local pool will do the trick.

Losing weight, if needed

Ask your doctor if you’re within a moderate weight range. Being overweight or having obesity can put extra stress on the heart.

If you’re comfortable, you can try working with a nutritionist or registered dietitian to figure out which foods you can eat that will help you maintain the weight that’s right for you.

Learning to manage stress

Stress can negatively affect your heart health. Practicing mindfulness techniques or meditation can help reduce stress.

Quitting smoking if you smoke

If you smoke, quitting is important for your health regardless of whether you have a heart condition. If you smoke, talk with your doctor about tips on how to begin your path to quitting.

They can recommend supportive resources like online resources, mobile apps, and support groups for you to try.

Limiting alcohol

If you’re considering drinking in moderation, the AHA recommends one to two drinks per day for men and one for women, but speak with your doctor to ensure that is acceptable for your specific situation.

Additionally, consuming too much alcohol may increase your chance of developing certain health concerns like triglycerides in the blood, high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, and cardiac arrhythmia.

If you need help reducing your alcohol consumption, consider joining an online community or support group in your city or talking with your doctor.

Check on Your Mental Health

Answer 6 simple questions to get an assessment of how you’re managing the emotional side of heart attack recovery, along with resources to support your mental wellness.

Eating a nutrient-dense diet is an important part of a heart-healthy lifestyle that can help prevent another heart attack, improve quality of life, and make a positive impact on your outlook.

Talk with your doctor, a registered dietitian, or a nutritionist about ways you can make helpful changes to your eating habits.