If you’ve recently had a heart attack, you’re likely overwhelmed with questions about your treatment and recovery, including any lifestyle adjustments you need to make. After a heart attack, treatment focuses on preventing a future heart attack or any related complications, like a stroke.
Your diet directly correlates to your overall heart health. It’s never too late to change your eating habits, even if you’ve already experienced a heart issue. Talk to your doctor about the following dietary considerations so you can achieve your best heart health possible.
A heart-healthy diet consists of lean meats, fish, whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables. These are all low in saturated fats and empty calories. As a rule of thumb, make sure your plate is half full with a variety of vegetables at every meal.
Fish is one of the best foods for your heart. But you have to pick the right types. Oily fish is considered best because it’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that reduce cholesterol and promote vascular health. You should aim for about three servings of fish per week. Examples include:
If you’re interested in following a more structured diet plan, the Mediterranean diet is the way to go. This diet focuses on healthy fats, legumes, grains, and fish, along with lots of fresh vegetables. 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 chose 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.
When it comes to beverages, 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. 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.
As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to avoid excess sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. This is especially true after you’ve had a heart attack.
The following is a short list of foods to avoid:
- fast food
- fried food
- boxed food
- canned food (veggies and beans are the exceptions, as long as there’s no added salt)
- processed frozen meals
- cookies and cake
- ice cream
- condiments such as mayonnaise, ketchup, and packaged dressing
- red meat (enjoy in limited quantities only)
For a happy heart, limit your intake of saturated fat and avoid trans-fat (found in hydrogenated oils) completely. The American Heart Association (AHA) says that 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 control blood pressure, limit your daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg or less.
You may be curious to know if taking supplements will help with your heart health. Supplements should only be considered if you’re not getting enough of the nutrients you need from your diet. Your body processes supplements differently than food, so you’re likely to absorb more from actual foods than manufactured pills.
If you’re vegetarian, you may not be getting enough vitamin B12 or iron. Your doctor can check for these nutrients in your blood, and 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 flipside, some supplements can be harmful to your heart health. Beta-carotene is one example. This form of vitamin A has been shown to increase the chances of having another heart attack, according to the National Health Service (NHS).
Be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. They can advise you on 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 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 to your doctor about a safe routine if you’re new to exercising. There’s no need to join a gym if you’d want to — 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. You can work with a nutritionist to figure out which foods to eat to lose some weight. Or, you can try a mobile app like MyFitnessPal.
Learn to manage your stress
Your stress levels can impact your heart health. Work with your primary care doctor or cardiologist to figure out how to manage your stress. One trick is to keep a diary where you can track any sparks in your stress levels as it relates to any changes in your routine or environment.
Quitting smoking is important for your health whether you have a heart condition or not. If you smoke, talk to your doctor for tips on how to start on your journey to quitting. They can recommend online resources, mobile apps, and support groups for you to .
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.
Eating a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do to prevent another heart attack and prolong your lifespan. Talk to your doctor about ways you can eat better. You’ll also want to check with them if you have any special dietary considerations such as food allergies or sensitivities.