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5 Diet Tips for Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Medically reviewed by Steven Kang, M.D.
Written by Suzanne Mooney
Updated on April 5, 2024

If you are living with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), eating a heart-healthy diet can reduce the risk of disease progression and help you feel your best. HCM is a cardiovascular disease that causes the heart muscle to thicken, often in the left ventricle, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood.

Although medication and surgery are common treatments for HCM, your cardiologist may also recommend lifestyle changes that support heart health. Their suggestions may vary based on your diagnosis, treatment goals, physical activity, and overall health.

Before making any changes to your diet, talk with your doctor to ensure you eat the right foods. Here are five tips to help guide the conversation.

1. Stay Hydrated

Water is essential to life. It aids digestion, regulates your body temperature, lubricates your joints, and more. It also helps your heart pump approximately 2,000 gallons of blood every day.

If your body does not have enough water, your heart has to work harder, which can cause it to beat faster. Dehydration can also cause or worsen some symptoms of HCM, which include dizziness and shortness of breath. You can help your heart do its job by staying hydrated and providing it with the fluids it needs to function.

If you do an Internet search for “How much water should I drink?” you will likely see the standard recommendation of eight glasses of water per day. However, this number does not account for your age, weight, activity levels, and other factors. Some people need more water, while others need less. For people living with HCM, too much water can be detrimental because it can lead to fluid buildup, so finding the right balance is essential. Ask your doctor for guidance.

Other Hydration Options

Most of your fluids should come from water, but other foods and beverages can also help you stay hydrated. Examples include:

  • Sparkling water (without added sugar or salt)
  • Herbal teas
  • Milk
  • Juice
  • Watermelon
  • Spinach
  • Cucumbers
  • Soups and broths
  • Ice pops

Sports drink manufacturers often market their beverages as hydration aids, but many contain excess sodium (salt) and sugar. Avoid sports drinks unless your doctor recommends them.

2. Eat a Healthy Diet

HCM is a hereditary disease, meaning you can inherit it from your parents and pass it on to your children. Although a genetic defect causes most cases of HCM, you can give your heart extra support and help it do its job by making healthy diet and nutrition choices.

Heart-healthy foods help your heart function at its best. People living with HCM should focus on foods that do not contribute to high blood pressure, increased heart rate, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity, all of which can force the heart to work harder to maintain a healthy blood flow.

Here are some basic tips for a heart-healthy diet:

  • Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Choose lean meats, fish, and skinless chicken.
  • Measure and control portion sizes.

Consult a dietitian or talk to your doctor if you need help creating a heart-healthy meal plan.

Heart-Healthy Foods

You may know that you should eat whole grains, proteins, and lean meats, but what does that mean? Here are some examples of heart-healthy foods:

  • Fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits
  • Low-sodium canned vegetables
  • Whole-grain bread
  • High-fiber cereal
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Lentils
  • Beans (garbanzo, kidney, pinto, and others)
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Chicken (skinless)
  • Nonfat or low-fat milk or yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Soybeans and soy products (tofu, tempeh)
  • Almonds
  • Cashews

An HCM diagnosis does not mean you have to eat a bland diet. There are lots of heart-healthy foods and recipes you can try. In addition to supporting your heart, eating well can also help you maintain a healthy weight.

Meal Planning

When you’re having a busy day, it can be tempting to reach for less healthy options, like fast food or a candy bar. With a little planning and preparation, you may find that making healthy dietary choices is easier than you thought.

Here are some meal-planning tips to consider:

  • Make a list of your favorite healthy recipes.
  • Create a heart-healthy shopping list.
  • Wash and chop fresh vegetables before storing them in the refrigerator.
  • Fill a bowl with apples, oranges, bananas, and other grab-and-go fruits.
  • Keep shelf-stable foods like nuts and seeds in your office, car, or other places you snack away from home.
  • Prepare healthy soups and casseroles on the weekends and prepackage them for weekday lunches.
  • Stock your freezer with healthy frozen foods like broccoli, spinach, peas, and green beans.

Read more about heart-friendly dinners you can cook in half an hour.

3. Avoid Salt, Sugar, and Saturated Fats

Just as there are foods that support heart health, other foods can clog your arteries, increase your blood pressure, and make it more difficult for your heart to function. With HCM, your heart may already be working harder, or there may be a narrowing that limits how much blood can flow from the left ventricle to the aorta. By cutting out or limiting certain foods, you can avoid creating extra roadblocks for your heart to overcome.

Salt

Consuming too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. Canned and processed foods, like soups, baked goods, and frozen foods, are often high in sodium. Read food labels to track how much salt you are eating from prepared foods. You can also reduce the amount of salt you sprinkle on your meals or add while cooking.

Sugar

Sugar can affect your heart health. Too much sugar can lead to high blood pressure, inflammation, and fatty liver disease, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Although fruits, vegetables, and other foods with natural sugars are OK to eat, minimize consuming food and beverages with added sugars. This includes regular soft drinks, flavored yogurt, condiments, and most processed foods.

Read more about low-sugar dessert recipes for heart disease.

Saturated Fat

Saturated fat can cause problems with your cholesterol levels, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke. Limit or reduce your intake of animal-based foods like beef, pork, and full-fat dairy products. Tropical oils like coconut and palm are also sources of saturated fats.

4. Limit Alcohol Use

Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke. It can also lead to weight gain, which can worsen the symptoms of HCM. In some cases, heavy drinking can cause alcoholic cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart, triggering arrhythmias and reducing blood flow. Alcohol can also lead to dehydration, which causes the heart to work harder.

If you are living with HCM, talk to your doctor before consuming even moderate amounts of alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Heart Association define moderate drinking as two drinks or less per day for men and one drink or less per day for women.

For people with HCM or other heart conditions, discussing alcohol consumption with your cardiology team is essential because alcohol can further damage an already weak heart muscle.

5. Ask Your Doctor About Caffeine

Talk to your cardiologist about drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks. Research shows no connection between caffeine and heart arrhythmias, but caffeine is a stimulant that affects everyone differently. If you’re living with HCM, know how the foods, beverages, and supplements you consume could affect your heart rhythm.

Like alcohol, caffeine can also cause dehydration, which can worsen the symptoms of HCM. Ask your health care provider about caffeine and what levels of coffee, soda, tea, and other caffeinated products are safe for you to drink.

Adjusting to a new way of eating and a healthy lifestyle may take time, but by making small changes and focusing on your long-term goals, you can feel your best and improve your quality of life while optimizing your heart health.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyHeartDiseaseTeam is the social network for people with heart disease and their loved ones. More than 60,000 members come together on MyHeartDiseaseTeam to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories. To connect with others who understand life with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, visit MyHeartDiseaseTeam.

Have you made changes to your diet since being diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy? What has worked for you? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Updated on April 5, 2024
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Steven Kang, M.D. is the Director of Cardiac Electrophysiology at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center and Alameda Health Systems in Oakland, California. Learn more about him here.
Suzanne Mooney writes about people, pets, health and wellness, and travel. Learn more about her here.

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