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

What you eat has an effect on 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 can hurt.

A heart-healthy diet consists of:

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

These are all low in saturated fats and empty calories. As a rule of thumb, make sure your plate is half full and contains a variety of vegetables at every meal.

Canned and frozen veggies and fruits may be used in place of fresh varieties as long as they don’t contain salt and sugar.

Fish is one of the best foods for your heart, but you need to pick the right types. Oily fish is considered best because it’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce cholesterol and promote vascular health.

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 bet is water. If you don’t care for the taste of plain water, experiment by 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 keep your doctor in the loop. Tell them if you’re planning to try a new diet 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 diet plan, which may help decrease 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 on an occasional basis only.

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, make sure they have 1 percent fat or less. This reduces your overall saturated fat consumption.

Look for skim milk and fat-free yogurt instead of whole-fat options.

DASH

Dietary approaches to stopping hypertension (DASH) is another eating plan used 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.

The biggest difference is that DASH focuses on reducing sodium in your diet, with a goal of 1,500 to 2,300 mg per day.

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 promotes your blood pressure and heart health by naturally reducing your sodium and cholesterol intake.

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.

Aside from being scientifically proven to promote heart health, eating more plant-based foods is linked to a lower risk of:

  • cancer
  • stroke
  • type 2 diabetes

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

“Clean” eating

While not a specific diet per se, “clean” eating is a term used a lot more frequently when discussing eating habits. This type of eating consists of foods from their whole sources only while minimizing processed versions.

Canned and frozen produce are an exception to this rule.

Clean eating automatically decreases your intake of salt, added sugars, and saturated fats often found in processed foods. For a truly heart-healthy eating plan, though, you’ll also want to limit red meat.

As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to avoid 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
  • boxed 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 and avoid trans-fat (found in hydrogenated oils) completely.

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.

To manage blood pressure, limit your daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg or less.

Ask your doctor if caffeinated beverages, like coffee and tea, are appropriate for your heart. Enjoy these drinks in moderation without added cream, milk, 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’re a vegetarian, you may not be getting enough vitamin B-12 or iron. Your doctor can order tests to check for these nutrients in your blood. They’ll recommend supplementation if your levels are low.

They might also suggest taking a fish oil supplement if you eat little to no fish.

On the flip side, some supplements can be harmful to your heart health. Beta-carotene is one example. This form of vitamin A has been shown to increase your chances of having another heart attack.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. They can advise you about which ones are safe for you to take.

Nutrition is a key component to your overall health, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Aside from eating well, other lifestyle habits can help promote heart health, too.

Getting regular exercise

The American Heart Association recommends you get at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Talk to 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.

Lose weight, if needed

Ask your doctor if you’re within a healthy weight range. Excess body weight puts unneeded strain on the heart.

If you need to lose some weight, you can work with a nutritionist to figure out which foods you can eat to help you reach your weight loss goal.

Learn to manage stress

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

Quit smoking

Quitting smoking is important for your health whether you have a heart condition or not. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about tips on how to start on your journey to quitting.

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

Abstain from alcohol

Alcohol is a blood thinner, so it should only be consumed in moderation if you’ve had a heart attack. However, it’s best to avoid alcoholic beverages altogether.

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

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 healthy diet is one of the best things you can do to help prevent another heart attack and prolong your lifespan. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about ways you can make helpful changes to your eating habits.