By Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

If you have heart disease, the foods you eat can help prevent a recurrence, according to a new study.

Peter Oettgen, MD of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Photo: BIDMC)

Peter Oettgen, MD of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Photo: BIDMC)

“We think of modifying diet and other lifestyle changes as ways to prevent ourselves from getting heart disease in the first place,” says Peter Oettgen, MD, who specializes in preventive cardiology at the CardioVascular Institute at BIDMC. “This new study shows that eating the rights foods is a very important way for patients who already have heart disease to lower their cardiovascular risk.”

Unfortunately, Oettgen says, many heart patients rely solely on their heart medications to keep heart attacks, stroke, heart failure and other cardiovascular events from striking again.

“Now we have persuasive evidence to demonstrate that while medications that lower cholesterol and blood pressure are effective, they are much more so when combined with good eating habits,” Oettgen says.

The study, conducted by the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Ontario, was published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation in December 2012. It looked at the eating habits of 31,546 cardiovascular and diabetes patients in 40 countries of age 66 and above. In a 5-year period, study participants experienced 5,190 cardiovascular events.

Impact of Healthy Diet

The researchers defined a healthy diet as one that is rich in vegetables, fruit and grain and a high ratio of fish to meat. Heart patients who ate this way experienced:

  • 35% lower chance of cardiovascular death
  • 14% lower chance of new heart attacks
  • 28% lower chance of congestive heart failure
  • 19% lower chance of stroke
Elisabeth Moore, RD, LDN of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Photo: BIDMC)

Elisabeth Moore, RD, LDN of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Photo: BIDMC)

Elisabeth Moore, RD, LDN, a dietitian who works closely with the CVI, frequently provides specific advice on healthy diets to patients with heart disease.

“Overall, for prevention of heart disease, a heart healthy diet should consist of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats and foods that are low in sodium and should limit those that are highly processed and low in fiber or high in saturated or trans fats,” Moore says.

Within those food groups, there are specific foods that are thought to be the best for protecting your heart health and can also help in the management of heart disease in people already suffering from it.

Best Foods for Your Heart

The top five foods to prevent heart disease, according to Moore, are, in no particular order:

  • Salmon. It is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, which can prevent erratic heart rhythms, reduce the likelihood of blood clots inside arteries, improve the ratio of good to bad cholesterol and prevent cholesterol from clogging arteries.
  • Kale. This leafy green vegetable is high in vitamins, minerals and fiber and has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. It is also high in protein.
  • blueberries Healthy Eating Prevents Recurrence Of Heart Disease And Stroke

  • Blueberries. This fruit is high in antioxidants, fiber and minerals. Blueberries are high in polyphenols, which prevent cell damage that causes unhealthy blood vessels.
  • Walnuts. This tasty nut is high in healthy unsaturated fats, protein and fiber. Walnuts can be added to almost any dish.
  • Beans. These legumes are a lean protein source and are also a good source of fiber. They can be eaten alone or added to soups or casseroles.

Moore recommends eating salmon twice a week and the rest as often as possible. She notes that there are many other heart healthy foods that can be substituted or added to the list including tuna, strawberries, pomegranate, almonds and seeds.

Other experts recommend garlic, red wine in moderation, lentils, olive oil and sardines.

These foods can lower LDL or bad cholesterol, raise HDL or good cholesterol, and reduce harmful triglycerides as well as help lower high blood pressure. Fiber helps in all of those goals by working to excrete cholesterol and also helps in making you feel satisfied so you don’t eat too much, Moore notes.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted: January 2013


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