Tips, Meal Plan to Prevent Heart Disease

Tips, Meal Plan to Prevent Heart Disease

Diets high in ultra-processed foods, sugars, and unhealthy fats can increase heart disease risk. Changing your diet can have a positive effect on your heart, even if you already have heart disease.

Your heart is a complex organ that works continuously to provide your body with a constant supply of oxygenated blood.

It’s part of the cardiovascular system, which also includes arteries, veins, and capillaries.

Research suggests that diet may be the most preventive factor in heart disease-related death, which accounts for one-third of global mortality. Following a heart-healthy diet can significantly reduce your chance of developing heart disease and even heart disease-related death.

This article explains how diet impacts heart health and shares evidence-based ways to reduce heart disease risk and promote optimal cardiovascular health using simple, realistic dietary changes.

Your diet affects the health of every part of your body, including your heart.

After all, food provides the nutrients your body needs to function optimally, including protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Heart disease risk factors are categorized as modifiable or non-modifiable. Diet falls into the modifiable category because it’s something that you can change, unlike other risk factors like age or genetics.

Specifically, diet can help reduce the following risk factors for heart disease:

  • Blood pressure: This can damage blood vessels and narrow arteries, which increases the strain on your heart. It can lead to an enlarged heart and increase the risk of heart failure. Research shows that a healthy diet low in sugar, calories, and salt but high in nutritious foods like vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and fish is linked to a 44% lower risk of high blood pressure.
  • Blood fat: Elevated levels of blood lipids, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides, can lead to atherosclerosis and increase your chance of heart disease. Eating a diet high in fiber-rich plant foods and low in added sugar and processed foods can help reduce this risk.
  • Blood sugar and insulin: High blood sugar and insulin resistance can lead to an accumulation of compounds called advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) and the creation of oxidative stress, which can damage the heart’s function. This can lead to diabetes and coronary artery disease (CAD), which are more likely if you’re eating a diet of ultra-processed foods and added sugar.
  • Body weight: The Western diet high in calorie-dense foods can lead to weight gain and heart issues like fibrosis, high blood pressure and lipids, and diabetes. As a result, obesity increases heart disease risk, but even just too much abdominal fat is a risk factor in itself.

Through decades of research, scientists have narrowed down which diets are most associated with a healthy heart and low risk of cardiovascular disease.

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is perhaps the most studied diet when it comes to heart health.

It’s generally high in plant-based foods like beans, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, and healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil and nuts, and low in ultra-processed foods, red and processed meats, and added sugar.

Some studies have found that adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet could decrease the risk of heart disease by as much as 40%.

Plant-based diets

Some plant-based diets of different types, including vegetarian, vegan, and high-fiber diets, are strongly associated with improved heart health and decreased heart disease risk.

For example, a 2021 review of 10 studies involving 698,707 people found that people with the highest adherence to plant-based diets had a 16% lower risk of heart disease.

That said, plant-based diets high in refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, and highly processed snacks can still increase the risk of heart disease.

Generally, diets that are most associated with improved heart health outcomes are high in plant foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds and low in ultra-processed foods, processed and red meats, and added sugar.

A 3-day heart-healthy menu

Here’s a 3-day heart-healthy meal plan to help get you started.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: an egg omelet made with sautéed peppers, kale, and onions served with sliced avocado and berries
  • Lunch: lentil soup served with a green salad with pumpkin seeds, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and balsamic vinaigrette
  • Dinner: salmon with pesto served with broccoli and roasted sweet potatoes
  • Snacks: trail mix made with almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, and dried cherries

Day 2

  • Breakfast: overnight oats made with almond butter, chia seeds, cashew milk, golden raisins, and mixed berries
  • Lunch: Mediterranean quinoa salad with arugula, chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives, and feta cheese with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette
  • Dinner: baked chicken breast with butternut squash and asparagus
  • Snacks: unsweetened Greek yogurt with diced apples, sliced almonds, and cinnamon

Day 3

  • Breakfast: shakshuka — a Mediterranean-style breakfast made with eggs and tomatoes — served with a slice of sprouted grain bread topped with mashed avocado and chili flakes
  • Lunch: grilled shrimp and pineapple kabobs over a large green salad with an olive oil and herb vinaigrette
  • Dinner: black bean burgers served with cucumber and red onion salad and roasted herbed potato wedges
  • Snacks: garlic hummus with fresh vegetable sticks

Following a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods like the ones above while limiting foods and beverages associated with negative heart health outcomes can help keep your cardiovascular system healthy and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Diets rich in vegetables and fruits have been consistently linked with improved heart health outcomes and reduced heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Foods to eat

Your diet as a whole matters most when it comes to disease prevention, but regularly consuming the following foods can benefit the health of your heart and promote overall wellness.

  • Fruits: All fruit benefits heart health, but citrus fruits, apples, pears, and berries may be especially cardioprotective. Fruits are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds like anthocyanins.
  • Vegetables: Some studies suggest that onions, garlic, cruciferous vegetables, leafy green vegetables, and carrots may have greater heart health benefits than other vegetables, though all vegetables are heart-healthy.
  • Seafood: Seafood is high in nutrients like omega-3 fats, which benefit cardiovascular health. A 2020 review found that each 100-gram increase in fish consumption was associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, and heart failure.
  • Legumes: Beans and lentils are loaded with fiber and minerals like magnesium and potassium, which are essential to cardiovascular health. Some studies show that legume-rich diets are associated with lower rates of heart disease. However, more research is needed.
  • Whole grains: Foods like quinoa, brown rice, and oats are high in fiber and other nutrients associated with improved heart health. Replacing refined grains with whole grains may help reduce heart disease risk.
  • Healthy fats: Adding sources of healthy fats like olive oil, olives, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, and avocado to your diet may help improve heart health. Olive oil, an important part of Mediterranean-style diets, seems to be especially cardioprotective.
  • Spices: Research shows that spices like turmeric, garlic, saffron, and ginger have powerful anti-inflammatory effects and may help reduce heart disease risk factors.

Foods to avoid

Ultra-processed foods are packed with refined carbohydrates, added sugars, saturated and trans fats, sodium, and potentially artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.

These components are linked to an increased risk of heart problems. In fact, A 2021 study revealed that eating ultra-processed food was associated with 9% higher mortality with each additional daily serving of ultra-processed food.

Generally, it’s a good idea to avoid eating the following processed foods:

  • High sodium foods
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables or meats with sauces or marinades
  • pre-made sauces or ready-to-eat rice or pasta
  • fatty meats or poultry with skin
  • butter, lard, or coconut and palm oil
  • sweetened snacks, desserts, or drinks

That said, the term “processed foods” includes various products, many of which are more convenient and less expensive than other foods. Not all foods that undergo processing are considered unhealthy or harmful. Learn more about identifying healthy food vs junk food.

Even so, it’s a good idea to cook your own food as much as possible, as restaurant or pre-made foods are more likely to be processed and unhealthy for your heart.

But you don’t have to avoid eating out entirely. Just be conscious about what you choose to eat out of the house, and read labels carefully. Also, try to limit how much alcohol you consume to two drinks or less a day if you are male and one drink or less if you are female.

Learn how to read food labels.

What is the best breakfast for heart patients?

Any breakfast that excludes processed foods and includes plenty of healthy protein, fruit, and vegetables is good for your heart. For example, try eggs with avocados and berries or oatmeal with raisins and chia seeds.

What is the 3-day heart diet?

The 3-day heart diet claims that you can lose up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in just three days. However, it’s been criticized as too difficult to follow, ineffective, and potentially harmful to your health.

What are the best drinks for your heart?

The healthiest drinks for your heart include water (either still or sparkling), unflavored cow or plant-based milk, tea, and coffee.

Studies show that your diet can either increase or decrease your risk of developing heart disease.

While diets high in ultra-processed foods and added sugar have been associated with increased risk, dietary patterns high in fiber-rich plant foods like fruits and vegetables, fish, and healthy fats like olive oil can support heart health.

Whether you’re living with heart disease or simply trying to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the future, making a few simple dietary changes can have a profound effect on your heart health.