Types of Diets for Heart Attack Prevention


Catherine Spader, RN

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The food choices you make every day can either raise or lower your risk of having a heart attack. You may think you have to give up the foods you love to be “heart healthy”. However, you can learn how to indulge in a delicious and satisfying diet that decreases your risk of a heart attack.

How Does My Diet Affect My Heart?

Your eating habits affect the health of your heart and blood vessels in a number of ways.

Fat: Indulging in fatty foods that are high in cholesterol can increase cholesterol levels (high cholesterol). Excessive cholesterol can build up on the walls of the arteries that supply your heart muscle with blood, leading to coronary heart disease. This narrows or blocks blood flow to your heart and can cause a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Salt: A high-salt diet leads to increased sodium in your blood and increases the amount of water and fluid in your blood. This causes high blood pressure (hypertension). Hypertension makes your heart work too hard, damages your arteries, and increases your risk of a heart attack. Some people are more sensitive to salt than others.

Sugar: Eating foods high in sugar or processed carbohydrates increases your blood sugar, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar damages your arteries and raises your chance of having a heart attack.

These specific dietary elements are critical to watch out for, but eating too much and becoming overweight or obese also boosts your risk for developing high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

What Should I Eat to Help Prevent a Heart Attack?

Eating the right foods for your heart doesn’t have to be bland or boring. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat a wide variety of nutritious foods every day.

Here are some examples of heart-smart foods that you should choose often:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables. Frozen choices are fine too if labeled as low salt (140 mg or less per serving) and low fat.

  • Lean and trimmed meats that are not fried. This includes skinless chicken and turkey, lean cuts of beef and pork, and fresh fish. Very low-fat meats, such as buffalo and elk are excellent choices and becoming more available.

  • Heart-healthy oils, such as canola oil, olive oil, corn oil, and peanut oil

  • Low-fat dairy products, such as skim milk and fat-free or low-fat cheese and yogurt

  • Salt-free seasonings, such as pepper, garlic, lemon, and other spices. Ask your doctor if a “salt substitute” product is safe for you to use. Some products can raise potassium in the body to an unsafe level, especially if you have a chronic disease.

  • Breads, pastas, and cereals made from 100% whole wheat or whole grain

  • Other good choices include nuts, legumes, beans, brown rice, and seeds

General guidelines for a heart-healthy diet include:

  • Cholesterol: Less than 200 to 300 milligrams per day

  • Saturated fats: Less than 7% of your calorie intake

  • Trans fats: Less than 2 grams per day

  • Sodium: Less than 1500 to 2000 milligrams per day

  • Fiber: Aim for 22 to 28 grams a day for a woman and 28 to 34 grams a day for a man

  • Sugar: No more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar for women and 9 for men every day

What Specific Diets Can Help Prevent a Heart Attack?

It’s easy to be confused by dieting advice offered by your family and friends as well as in the media. Not all diets are good for your heart, so before starting a diet program, contact your doctor. The following diets incorporate many of the above recommendations. Some heart-healthy diets commonly recommended by doctors include:

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Mar 19, 2015

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Cardiac Rehabilitation Patient Resources. American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. http://www.aacvpr.org/CardiacRehabilitationPatients/tabid/503/Default.aspx)
  2. Heart Attack. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/Heart-Attack_UCM_001092_SubHomePage.jsp
  3. Nutrition Center. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Nutrition-Center_UCM_001188_SubHomePage...
  4. Heart Attack. PubMed Health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001246/
  5. What is a Heart Attack? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/HeartAttack/HeartAttack_WhatIs.html
  6. Heart Attack. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heartattack.html
  7. Heart Disease. New York Online Access to Health. http://www.noah-health.org/en/blood/disease/
  8. Heart healthy diets. New York Online Access to Health. http://www.noah-health.org/en/blood/disease/care/heartdiet.html

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