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A Guide to Heart-Healthy Eating After Your Cardiac Episode

If you don’t eat healthfully, you won’t be healthy. It’s common knowledge, but a lot of people still struggle with their diets and lifestyles. Unfortunately, failing to consistently eat healthfully is a major risk factor for heart disease and cardiac episodes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 47% of adults in America have at least one of the three highest risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoking tobacco. Two of these are direct results of an unhealthy diet. If you have diabetes, you are also at a higher risk for cardiac disease.

So how does a poor diet affect heart disease? Plaque will build up in your arteries if you aren’t eating enough minerals and nutrients to get your blood flowing. If you’ve experienced a cardiac event such as a heart attack, you’ll want to stick to healthier eating habits so that you don’t have another episode. Patients who also have diabetes will need more aggressive diet control, further education, and major behavior control for diet management.

About 1 in 5 people who survive a heart attack will have to be readmitted for another episode within five years, according to the American Heart Association. The AHA advises you to improve heart health and lower your risks of a second attack by developing a routine of regular physical activity and — you guessed it — eating a lot more healthfully.

Nutrition Tips for a Cardiac-Healthy Diet

The biggest culprits of a diet that’s poor for cardiac health include unhealthy fats, such as saturated and trans fats, that are found in most processed foods. These contribute largely to the plaque buildup that blocks arteries before a heart attack. Eliminating or severely limiting these fats from your diet is an important first step.

However, there’s no single best diet for cardiac health; everyone’s health and metabolism is different. There are many kinds of foods to improve heart health, and the following strategies will help you discover the best nutrition plan for you:

1. Start with healthier alternatives.

Start with the basics and focus on changing how your meals look. Instead of fried chicken, pick skinless grilled chicken. Buy low-fat versions of the milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products you enjoy. These seemingly small changes will help you get used to approaching your meals from a healthier perspective.

Once you’ve grown accustomed to looking for better alternatives, you can start incorporating the best foods to improve heart health like vegetables and fish. You can also pick foods with healthy fats (like omega-3 fatty acids) and complex carbs to help maintain blood sugar levels.

2. Try more natural diets.

Once you’re in the habit of making healthier food choices, you can start getting more creative in how you arrange it all on your plate. For example, natural-style meal plans like the Mediterranean diet have helped people reduce their risk of having cardiac episodes.

Natural diets aim to create meals that are full of essential minerals and nutrients. They involve eating fruits and vegetables in a wide variety of combinations as well as whole grains and naturally raised fish. Cooking your meals with vegetable or plant oil instead of butter can also boost your heart health and energy levels.

3. Experiment with healthier cooking methods.

In addition to using healthier ingredients, you can use healthier preparation methods. If everything you eat is fried, for instance, then it won’t matter what’s under the batter. The preparation of it will still negatively influence your health.

Instead, try healthier cooking methods like steaming, poaching, and baking. Preparing food this way will help it maintain its essential minerals and nutrients. Give it a shot: Combine your favorite ingredients into a casserole, or get crazy with a stir-fry, and enjoy heart-healthy eating.

4. Avoid risky foods and supplements.

What you do put on your plate is just as important as what you don’t. As you experiment with foods to improve heart health, be sure to stay away from options that contain saturated and trans fats, high amounts of sugar, and lots of sodium.

You should also avoid pre-packaged foods, which are nutritionally useless, and supplements such as beta-carotene and other vitamins. Your goal is to regulate your heart function and blood flow, and these supplements can interfere with that goal in many negative ways (some of which may not be predictable).

Cardiac episodes are scary, and the fear can linger long after you’ve recovered from one. By following these broad cardiac-healthy diet strategies, you can significantly lower your risks of experiencing another heart event and improve your life. Just be sure to follow your doctor’s advice regarding which diets are appropriate for you and consider meeting with a dietician for detailed education.