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5 Foods To Eat With Heart Disease

Updated on September 07, 2022
Article written by
Jodie Rothschild

When you’re diagnosed with an illness like cardiovascular disease (better known as heart disease), it can be hard to keep hearing “no’s” — no more fried foods, no more red meat, no more salty snacks. Diets can be hard to stick to for a lot of reasons, especially if you feel deprived. You might feel tempted to cheat too often or binge on the unhealthy foods you miss.

Many MyHeartDiseaseTeam members have a difficult time adjusting to their new diets. But to support your heart health, you will have to avoid or eat less of certain foods. If you can find healthier foods that satisfy your tastebuds, it will be much easier to stick with a heart-healthy eating plan.

1. Spices

Your doctor has probably suggested that you limit salt. Many MyHeartDiseaseTeam members say that their tastes adapted after eating less salt over time. Eventually, even foods like celery can taste salty.

Limiting salt doesn’t mean your food has to be bland. Many members replace salt with flavorful ingredients like onions, garlic, and spices.

Herbs and spices can make low-sodium foods more exciting. Some spices have even been shown to have health benefits. For example:

  • Turmeric has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. This can be beneficial for people with (or at risk for) heart disease.
  • Garlic may also reduce inflammation. It may also lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
  • Some studies have suggested that cinnamon may help reduce blood sugar levels.
  • A small 2021 study showed that diets high in herbs and spices can improve hypertension (high blood pressure).

Some spices — like turmeric, garlic, and cinnamon — are also available as supplements. Supplements aren’t regulated the way medicines are, and their doses can be high. It’s important to always check with your doctor before trying any herbal supplement.

2. Healthy Fats

Part of a heart-healthy diet is avoiding saturated and trans fats. Our bodies need some fat to work properly. Fat helps us absorb certain vitamins, and it supports brain health. Healthy (unsaturated) fats also help manage cholesterol levels. Especially for people with heart disease, it’s important to make sure you’re including the right type of fat in your diet.

There are two kinds of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats are found in:

  • Nuts, like almonds, hazelnuts, and cashews
  • Seeds, like pumpkin and sunflower seeds
  • Plant oils, like olive, peanut, avocado, and canola oils

You’ve probably heard of omega-3 fatty acid. This is a kind of polyunsaturated fat, and it is an important part of a healthy diet. Omega-3 fatty acids and other polyunsaturated fats can be found in:

  • Nuts and seeds, including walnuts, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds
  • Plant oils, such as corn, safflower, and soybean oils
  • Oily fish, like salmon, sardines, and mackerel

Many MyHeartDiseaseTeam members find that olive oil is great for cooking. Others use canola, avocado, grapeseed, and vegetable oils. Coconut oil has gotten a lot of publicity recently, but it’s fairly high in saturated fat and should be used sparingly.

Other members have sworn off cooking with fat altogether. Instead, they use air fryers and well-seasoned cast-iron pans. Remember, our bodies need some fat. Make sure you’re getting some healthy fat in your diet. You could have a handful of nuts for a snack, grilled salmon for dinner, or flaxseeds in your smoothie. You can also include other low-fat options in your meals, like lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

3. Fruits and Veggies

If you’re living with heart disease, your doctor has probably talked to you about how important it is to manage blood sugar levels. Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage your heart and blood vessels. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in people with diabetes.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber. Many legumes (like peanuts, lentils, and beans) are also a healthy source of protein. Fruits and vegetables are an important part of any diet — especially a heart-healthy diet. They’ve also been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Fruit can be a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth. Berries and Granny Smith apples are good choices that are lower in sugar. To get more fruit in your diet, try making fruit smoothies with extra vegetables, flaxseeds, and other healthy foods. Try to avoid too much fruit juice, though. Juice tends to be very high in sugar, and it doesn’t have the fiber that whole fruits do.

It’s important to talk with your doctor about the right heart-healthy diet for you, especially if you’re taking any medications. For example, leafy greens like spinach and kale are high in antioxidants and fiber. However, they can also interact with blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin).

4. Whole Grains

Processing grains removes fiber, an important part of a healthy diet. Whole grains are minimally processed, so they still have all their fiber. Fiber plays many roles in the body. For example, fiber:

  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Helps to control your blood sugar
  • Can help you manage your weight

Look for whole-grain versions of common foods like rice, bread, pasta, and cereals. Other whole grains you can try include:

  • Rolled or steel-cut oatmeal (not instant)
  • Quinoa
  • Barley
  • Farro

5. Sugar-Free Drinks

Many people overlook what they drink when thinking about their diet, but drinks can sneak a lot of sugar into your diet. Drinks like soda and juice especially have a lot of sugar and should be avoided. More heart-healthy options include:

  • Green or herbal tea
  • Coffee, in moderation (The American Heart Association recommends only drinking one to two cups of coffee per day to limit caffeine intake.)
  • Low-fat or nonfat milk
  • Plain or sparkling water

One MyHeartDisaseTeam member suggested pepping up water with slices of cucumber, lime, and strawberry. They even said it satisfies their sweet tooth!

What about diet sodas? According to the American Heart Association, it’s best to limit how many diet sodas you drink. Opt for water or unsweetened, flavored water instead.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyHeartDiseaseTeam is the social network for people with heart disease and their loved ones. On MyHeartDiseaseTeam, more than 52,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with heart disease.

Have you made changes to your diet after being diagnosed with heart disease? What are your best tips for healthy eating? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
    Larry A. Weinrauch, MD, FACC, FACP, FAHA is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School with a focus on cardiovascular disease and clinical outcomes research. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
    Jodie Rothschild is principal of Rothschild Biomedical Communications and a proud member of both the American Medical Writers Association and Plain Language Association International. Learn more about her here.

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