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If you’ve had a heart attack – or were diagnosed with heart disease - eating a nutritious, heart-healthy diet is essential for controlling cholesterol, blood pressure, and other risk factors. Members of MyHeartDiseaseTeam agree that giving up pasta, pizza, and greasy French fries is hard, but it’s a small price to pay for improved health.
“It has been three months since I’ve avoided ‘damaging’ foods and I see such a difference,” said one woman, echoing the comments of others. “No shortness of breath. No arthritis pain anywhere in my body. Lots of energy. Amazing!”
Foods to Avoid: Getting Started
Adopting a heart-smart diet – which involves reducing or eliminating sugar, salt, fat, and refined carbs – has been challenging for many members.
“I miss pepperoni. It's a definite no-no. Bacon, too,” lamented one member on MyHeartDiseaseTeam. “I like junk food LOL. The struggle is real,” said another. One man who tries to “eat healthy” admitted to a late-night snacking problem. “Some of those snacks are not very high calorie or high fat, I just eat too much of them.”
Another member, who was recovering from a triple bypass, asked for help getting started. “Before, my meals were eggs and bacon for breakfast and TV dinner at night. I’ve always had fried foods. Now I need to eat healthy. Any ideas?”
#1 Foods to Avoid: Salt
Hidden salt in packaged foods and restaurant meals – which can raise blood pressure and lead to heart disease – has turned members of MyHeartDiseaseTeam into sodium “detectives.”
“Since my doctor limited my intake to 1,500 mg. of sodium a day, I've learned to read labels and look up salt content of foods online. It's worth the effort,” said one member. Another salt “cop” discovered that his favorite TV dinner had 1,046 mg. of sodium. “I put that back [on the shelf] in a hurry,” he said.
Ditching canned foods can help avoid hidden salt. “They have a high concentration of salt because it preserves the food,” wrote one member. “Fresh and frozen foods are better for you. They’re a little more expensive, but I’m worth it.”
Controlling salt intake is even more challenging when eating out. “When you go to a restaurant or order take-out food, tell them to not use salt, or choose foods with low sodium,” urged one member.
Avoiding salt completely reduces the craving and taste for it, advised one woman. “I never pick up the salt shaker and really don't miss it anymore!”
#2 Foods to Avoid: Cheese
MyHeartDiseaseTeam members say giving up cheese – which can be high in salt and fat - has been their biggest struggle.
“Ah, my nemesis,” wrote one woman. “I still love it but try to moderate my intake.” Another shared, “I can't eat cheese anymore. Ever since I was diagnosed with heart disease, I get severe heartburn, and really bad lactose intolerance.”
Members who can’t “kick the habit,” stick with salt-free, low-fat, or hard cheeses. “No more Cheez Whiz or Velveeta - too in high salt. I miss them. Cheddar always tastes better but now it’s Swiss - which is lower salt,” explained one woman.
#3 Foods to Avoid: Red Meat
MyHeartDiseaseTeam members also report cutting saturated and trans fats – particularly in red meat and processed foods.
“After my heart attack in June, all of the docs said, ‘no red meat’ again,” shared one man, who already had four stents. “Also, zero - or almost zero - saturated fats. I’ve lost 12 pounds in eight weeks!” Another member said his cardiologist recommended “thin pork chops instead of bacon.”
Adopting a plant-based diet helped one woman save her heart. “The Mayo Clinic told me 27 years ago that I had a 20 percent chance of living five years without a heart transplant. I still have my same heart, and last fall, a cardiologist told me he’d never seen anyone with a heart as bad as mine live this long. I’m a vegetarian and feel wonderful.
#4 Foods to Avoid: Carbs
Members of MyHeartDiseaseTeam say they avoid pasta, bread, and refined foods in general, which contain sugars and other “empty calories” that can increase the risk of diabetes – and may lead to heart disease.
One woman avoids all “white foods:” “I’ve gotten rid of enriched or bleached white bread, white pasta and sugary cereals, instant rice, bagels, pizza, pastries, pies, cookies, and cakes.” Others “use honey, agave, pure maple syrup, or stevia when needed” - or bake their own bread to control sugars, starches and fats.
“I don't eat starch anymore, especially after finding out how much my triglycerides have come down. It’s amazing,” said one MyHeartDiseaseTeam member. “Eliminating all grains, potatoes, rice, and sugar from my diet has had great results,” said one woman who just received her sixth stent. “It has not been hard at all with the great Paleo recipes on the internet.”
Coping with Food Cravings
It’s hard to eliminate tasty treats completely, say MyHeartDiseaseTeam members who’ve strayed from their doctors’ recommendations. “From time to time, I break my own rules. I’m human, I make mistakes like everybody else. But I [always] go back to my [healthy] diet,” said one member, who gave up junk foods after having two heart attacks, a diabetes diagnosis, and 60-pound weight gain.
Consult with your doctor or nutritionist before starting a new diet.
On MyHeartDiseaseTeam, the social network and online support group for those living with heart disease, members talk about a range of personal experiences and struggles. Avoiding unhealthy foods is a popular topic.
Here are some questions-and-answers about foods to avoid:
Here are some conversations about foods to avoid:
Can you relate? Have you eliminated unhealthy foods since being diagnosed with heart disease? Share your experiences in the comments below or on MyHeartDiseaseTeam.
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