Heart-healthy foods: What to eat and what to avoid
Eating foods for a healthy heart involves keeping to a nutrient-rich diet. Primary sources are plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and beans. Moderate amounts of dairy and fish are beneficial as well.
A diet that can help prevent or manage heart failure also excludes certain foods. Experts recommend limiting the intake of salty foods and those that are high in saturated fat, such as sausage and fatty cuts of red meat.
Keep reading to learn about foods for heart failure, as well as foods that can worsen the condition.
Foods to prevent or manage heart failure
The American Heart Association (AHA) note that eating a varied, high quality diet can help prevent poor outcomes in people with heart failure.
A 2018 study examined the effect of diet on individuals with the condition. It found that those with deficiencies in seven or more micronutrients had almost twice the risk of hospitalization and death compared with those with few deficiencies.
Micronutrients consist of vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamin C. Deficiencies of micronutrients tend to be due to inadequate intake of high quality foods, which are mainly plant-based foods.
In addition to a high content of micronutrients, plant foods are rich in fiber. Fiber is also important for a heart-healthy diet. High fiber foods include:
- fruits, such as blackberries, raspberries, pears, and oranges
- vegetables, including chickpeas
- nuts, such as almonds, pecans, and pistachios
- whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and 100% whole grain bread
- legumes, such as beans and peas
Moderate amounts of fish can also be beneficial for heart health, as fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids slower plaque growth in arteries, among other things. The AHA recommend eating 2 servings of fish per week. Fatty varieties, such as salmon and trout, are especially beneficial.
Experts also advise eating moderate quantities of dairy products. According to a 2018 article, recent research indicates that full fat dairy foods have higher bioavailability of nutrients than low fat versions.
Bioavailability refers to the body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients. The study authors found that fermented dairy foods, such as yogurt and cheese, are beneficial for heart health.
The Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is not one specific diet but a dietary pattern that emphasizes consumption of vegetables, fruits, and pulses, along with moderate intake of fish and dairy products.
A 2016 study involving more than 37,000 males suggests the Mediterranean diet could have value for people with heart failure.
The authors found a strong link between closely following the Mediterranean diet and lower the risk of heart failure and death from the condition.
Foods and beverages to avoid
Doctors advise limiting intake of salt, avoiding foods with saturated fat, and drinking moderate amounts of alcohol.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, avoiding excessive salt consumption is important for reducing the risk of heart failure.
The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions offer the following tips to help people lower their salt intake:
- Eat large amounts of vegetables and fruits, which naturally contain small amounts of salt.
- Use herbs and spices, such as onion, garlic, and sodium-free herbal seasonings, to flavor foods.
- Limit the use of condiments, such as ketchup and mustard.
- Avoid fast foods and processed foods.
- Choose salt-free snacks, such as carrot sticks and unsalted almonds.
- Check food labels for sodium content when shopping for groceries.
- Try to cook at home and save eating out for an occasional treat.
Saturated fat and fried foods
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), eating foods high in saturated fat or trans fat can contribute to heart disease. Trans fat is a type of oil that turns into solid fat during food processing.
Foods containing saturated fats include:
- high fat cuts of meat
- coconut oil
- palm oil
- ice cream
Foods containing trans fats may include:
- fried foods
- store-bought cookies, pies, and crackers
In a 2015 meta-analysis, researchers found that people who limit their alcohol consumption to moderate amounts have a lower risk of heart failure.
The CDC recommend males limit their daily alcohol intake to no more than two drinks, and females — to no more than one drink.
What is heart failure, and what causes it?
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 5.7 million people in the United States have received a diagnosis of heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure.
In this condition, the heart does not pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. It can affect the right side, the left side, or both sides of the heart.
Right sided heart failure involves the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to the lungs to collect oxygen. In left sided heart failure, the heart is unable to pump enough oxygen-rich blood to all parts of the body.
Heart failure can be due to conditions that overwork, damage, and weaken the heart. When this happens, the body releases certain substances into the blood that have a toxic effect on the heart.
These conditions include:
- high blood pressure
- ischemic heart disease, where plaque builds up inside arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke
- other heart diseases
Lifestyle practices that promote heart health
While a healthful diet plays a vital role in promoting heart health, other lifestyle practices can help as well. People may try the following:
- quitting smoking, if applicable
- exercising regularly
- learning to manage stress
- getting enough sleep
- maintaining a moderate weight
Foods that help prevent or manage heart failure include dietary items that are rich in micronutrients, which nourish the entire body, including the heart. These come mainly from plant-based foods.
The Mediterranean diet is an example of an eating plan that benefits the heart, because it prioritizes plant foods while including moderate amounts of fish and dairy products.
People can also reduce their risk of heart failure by adopting some lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, doing exercise regularly, and getting enough sleep each night.
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