Fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods can help support recovery after heart bypass surgery.

You may need bypass surgery, or coronary artery bypass grafting, when your coronary arteries become blocked or narrowed due to a buildup of plaque, limiting blood flow to the heart.

After heart surgery, eating specific foods can help with healing, reduce inflammation, and manage cholesterol and blood pressure. All of this is crucial for recovery.

Here are some research-backed dietary options to support your recovery.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in vital nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. All of these are important for cardiovascular health. Fruits and vegetables support tissue repair, strengthen the immune system, and help reduce inflammation, which is important after heart surgery recovery.

A review of 95 studies found that consuming 200 grams (g) per day of fruits and vegetables (combined) was associated with:

  • an 8% lower risk of coronary heart disease
  • a 16% lower risk of stroke
  • an 8% lower risk of cardiovascular disease
  • a 3% lower risk of total cancer
  • a 10% lower risk of all-cause mortality

Evidence from these studies suggests that different fruits and vegetables have varying associations with mortality. In particular, a higher intake of the following foods was linked to a reduced risk of mortality:

In contrast, a higher intake of canned fruits was associated with an increased risk of mortality.

Nuts are packed with nutrients, healthy fats, and antioxidants, all of which are beneficial for cardiovascular health. Studies link higher nut consumption with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), particularly coronary heart disease, indicating a significant protective effect.

Nuts also show promise in lowering risks associated with stroke mortality, atrial fibrillation, and overall mortality.

Consider adding nuts — such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, or pistachios — to your daily diet, either as snacks or toppings. This simple addition can provide heart-protective benefits and contribute to a healthier cardiovascular profile.

Nutrient-packed legumes — which are abundant in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein — have a strong association with lowering heart disease risk.

Research examining people’s intake of legumes — which include beans, lentils, and chickpeas — revealed that eating up to 400 g per week was associated with reduced heart disease. However, this protective effect didn’t extend to stroke risk.

Eating fish rich in omega-3 — like salmon, mackerel, or sardines — supports heart health due to their anti-inflammatory properties. They may reduce heart disease risk factors such as high triglycerides and elevated LDL cholesterol.

An analysis involving over 191,000 people found that consuming at least 175 g of fish per week (about two servings) — particularly oily fish, like salmon or tuna — was linked to a reduced risk of major CVD and mortality in those with existing vascular conditions. However, this benefit didn’t extend to the general population.

Grass-fed meat and dairy products tend to have a more balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Animals fed primarily on grass or plants produce meat and dairy products with higher levels of omega-3s than those fed on grains in intensive feeding systems.

Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats, but they have different roles in the body. Omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory, meaning they can promote inflammation when you consume them in excess. On the other hand, omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties.

If grass-fed options aren’t available, try to opt for unprocessed, all natural meats. Recent research challenges assumptions about the adverse effects of natural red meat on heart health, highlighting higher risks associated with processed meat.

A major study involving over 134,000 participants across diverse regions revealed that a higher intake of unprocessed red meat or poultry wasn’t significantly linked to total mortality or major cardiovascular events.

In contrast, increased consumption of processed meat was linked to higher risks of mortality and major cardiovascular conditions.

Whole fat dairy products contain essential nutrients like vitamins A, D, and K along with calcium and potassium. These are crucial for heart health, bone strength, and muscle function.

The historical shift toward low fat dairy arose from concerns about saturated fats and their effect on weight gain, cholesterol levels, and heart disease. However, recent research challenges these long standing beliefs.

Studies suggest that high fat dairy doesn’t lead to obesity, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease and might even offer preventive benefits.

A recent analysis suggests that a diet emphasizing whole fat dairy along with a variety of natural foods — such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and fish — could lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and death.

Despite these discoveries, such updates haven’t fully made their way into current dietary guidelines. This may be because guideline organizations are proceeding cautiously.

Foods to avoid after heart bypass surgery include:

  • fried foods and those high in trans fats, such as french fries, fried chicken, donuts, and potato chips
  • excessive sodium from processed foods, canned soups, or excessively salty snacks
  • added sugars, which are common in sodas and candy
  • processed carbohydrates from white bread and white rice, for example
  • processed meats, like hot dogs and bologna

Opting for a heart-healthy diet containing lots of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats and only limited trans fats, sodium, and processed foods supports recovery and overall heart health.

If you’re undergoing bypass surgery, aim to prioritize a whole food, natural diet to help manage inflammation, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure effectively.