Is there one special diet that doctors recommend?
After a heart attack, you might be looking for lifestyle changes that can help prevent a second heart attack. One of the most important aspects of a heart-healthy lifestyle is your diet.
A healthy diet has a big effect on your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. All of these affect your heart health and your heart attack risk. Plus, whole and minimally processed foods have beneficial nutrients that can help heal the body.
The “Best” Diet to Prevent a Second Heart Attack
Proponents of certain diets might tell you that it “cures” diseases or is a “silver bullet” to prevent health problems. That sounds promising, but there’s no single diet that can guarantee perfect health.
Instead of studying which diet is best, focus on what the diets have in common: a focus on plants and minimally processed foods. Make sure your diet includes plenty of:
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
The Top Guidelines for a Heart-Healthy Diet
The following recommendations are for everyone, but they’re especially important for people who are trying to improve their heart health:
- Limit trans fats: These are a synthetic fat that you find in some processed foods, like margarine, peanut butter, and crackers. Not only does it raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, but it also lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
- Limit saturated fats: This type of fat is primarily found in animal foods, like red meat and high-fat dairy. Saturated fat has one of the biggest impacts on cholesterol levels, so reducing your intake may lower your cholesterol and your risk of a second heart attack.
- Increase fiber: Fiber has numerous health benefits. One of them is helping to reduce LDL cholesterol. You can get fiber from fruits and veggies, beans, and whole grains.
- Limit processed foods: Heavily processed foods are typically high in sodium, which negatively affects blood pressure. They’re also often high in added sugar and fat, which can make weight control more challenging. Finally, processed foods are often low in fiber and other healthful nutrients.
- Limit sugars and refined carbs: Sweets, desserts, and many baked goods contain sugar and refined carbs. In addition to being low in nutrients, these may harm your blood sugar control. Poor blood sugar control can affect your cardiovascular health. (Learn more here about how diabetes affects heart health.)
Getting Help for a Heart-Healthy Diet
Diet changes can be challenging and overwhelming. Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. Your doctor may have great resources for you, or they may be able to refer you to a registered dietitian. These experts can give you tips, tools, and encouragement as you work to prevent a second heart attack.
Beyond your diet, here are other lifestyle changes for a healthy heart.
Eugenia Gianos, MD, is a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health.