A Cardiac Diet to Keep Your Heart Healthy
Your heart is one of your body's most vital organs. It's responsible for pumping blood throughout your circulatory system, supplying your body with oxygen and essential nutrients while carrying away waste and carbon dioxide.
Taking care of your heart is important for living a long, healthy life. However, many people struggle with heart-related conditions and diseases due to genetic predisposition, lack of exercise, and poor diet.
Whether you've been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, need to lower your blood pressure, or simply wish to live your healthiest life, following a cardiac diet plan can help keep your heart functioning at its best.
Keep reading to learn more about what constitutes a cardiac diet, including which foods and supplements to incorporate into your daily meal plan and which ones you're better off avoiding.
What is a Cardiac Diet?
Adopting a cardiac diet means sticking to foods that are known to promote heart health while avoiding those that detract from it. Good heart health is critical in maintaining your overall well-being and preventing cardiovascular problems down the line.
A heart patient diet typically consists of foods that are rich in antioxidants, dietary fiber, and anti-inflammatory agents. Great cardiac diet foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, mushrooms, and lean meats such as poultry.
The cardiac diet plan is low in saturated fats, added sugars, and processed foods. If your doctor has prescribed a heart patient diet, expect to reduce or cut out red meats, alcohol, high-sodium snacks, and sugary desserts and drinks.
Reasons to Adopt a Heart Patient Diet
According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. One in every five people who died in 2020 succumbed to heart disease, with over half of those deaths caused by coronary artery disease.
One of the reasons this type of illness is so prevalent is that it can be caused by a wide variety of factors, including genetic predisposition and lifestyle choices. Multiple heart attacks in the immediate family can increase one's risk of heart disease, as can smoking, alcohol use, high blood pressure, and a poor diet.
Here are some of the primary reasons you may want to switch to a cardiac diet plan.
Heart Disease Risk
If you have a family history of heart disease, you may be at higher risk of developing cardiac issues yourself. Adopting a cardiac diet plan can be a useful preventative measure in this case. Talk to your doctor about your family's cardiovascular health history, including any heart attacks, strokes, or other symptoms of heart problems in your immediate family.
Of course, genetic predisposition isn't the only risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Other conditions such as diabetes and alcoholism can increase your risk of heart problems, as can chronic obesity and lack of exercise.
Whatever your risk level, following a heart patient diet may help postpone or prevent CVD. Ask your primary care physician to learn more about your specific risk for cardiovascular illness and whether implementing a cardiac diet plan might be right for you.
Your body needs some cholesterol to function. However, too much can cause fatty deposits to build up in your bloodstream, creating blockages and clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes.
Most people develop high cholesterol due to poor diet choices and lack of exercise, although a predisposition to overproducing cholesterol can also be inherited.
If you've been diagnosed with high cholesterol, ask your doctor about following a heart patient diet. Getting sufficient daily exercise can also help lower cholesterol, as can certain prescription medications.
High Blood Pressure
Chronically high blood pressure could prompt doctors to recommend a heart patient diet. High blood pressure—also called hypertension—means that your heart is working harder than normal to pump blood throughout your circulatory system. This can cause wear and tear over time, leading to severe conditions such as heart failure, kidney failure, heart attack, or stroke.
People can develop high blood pressure due to genetics, lifestyle choices, and chronically severe stress. Specific lifestyle changes such as intentional relaxation, exercise, and following a cardiac diet plan can keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
History of Smoking
Your lungs aren't the only organs affected by smoking tobacco. It's a major risk factor for heart disease as well. Some people—those who take birth control pills and patients with diabetes, for example—are even more likely to develop cardiovascular disease due to smoking.
Moreover, it's not just chronic or heavy smokers who are at risk. Even an occasional or irregular smoking habit can damage your heart, blood vessels, and other parts of your circulatory system. Those who are exposed to secondhand smoke are also at increased risk of heart disease.
If you're a smoker, used to smoke, or have lived with or been regularly exposed to someone who smokes tobacco, your doctor may recommend a heart patient diet to take some strain off of your cardiovascular system. Switching to a cardiac diet plan won't combat other effects of smoking, however, such as lung cancer and breathing problems.
10 Superfoods for a Cardiac Diet Plan
Whether you've recently received a heart disease diagnosis or are interested in preventing cardiovascular issues in the future, committing to a heart patient diet is one of the best ways to look after your heart health.
One of the most crucial aspects of a cardiac diet plan is eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber. Meals for a heart patient diet should be half fruits and veggies, one-quarter whole grains, and one-quarter protein.
Another noteworthy element of the heart patient diet involves “eating the rainbow.” This phrase refers to the fact that consuming fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, tan, and white—ensures you get a plethora of heart-healthy vitamins and other nutrients.
Here are some of the best foods to incorporate into your new cardiac diet plan.
These ruby-red fruits are famously rich in antioxidants, and they're also high in dietary fiber—two ingredients that are vital for a heart patient diet. Antioxidants have anti-inflammatory properties, while dietary fiber can help lower your cholesterol.
A 2017 study published in Pharmacological Research found that pomegranate juice significantly lowered blood pressure in eight different clinical trials. Since high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease, researchers concluded that pomegranates may be a welcome addition to a cardiac diet.
Make sure to serve yourself a heaping portion of cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving! These potent little parcels are jam-packed with nutrients and vitamins that are beneficial for your circulatory system.
A 2016 study by the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service found that drinking cranberry juice helped reduce five separate indicators of cardiovascular disease risk in participants. Cranberries contain ample polyphenols, which are anti-inflammatory agents that protect the body's tissues and blood vessels from harmful swelling.
Carrots and Peppers
Representing the orange and yellow slices of our culinary rainbow, carrots and peppers are high in dietary fiber and carotenoids, which are antioxidants the body can convert into vitamin A. Carotenoids help brace the immune system and improve the body's ability to fight off infections, and they also strengthen eye health.
While fresh vegetables provide the most dietary fiber, frozen and canned vegetables still offer valuable nutrients. When buying canned or frozen veggies, check the label for added salt. It's essential to avoid excess sodium when following a heart patient diet.
Kale, spinach, collards, arugula: there's a tremendous variety of healthy and delicious leafy greens out there. All green vegetables have fiber, and many of them also contain lutein, an important carotenoid.
Vitamin K is another nutrient found in leafy greens that may protect the body against CVD. A study performed over a 20-year period in Denmark found that adults with a high vitamin K intake were 21% less likely to suffer from clogged arteries than people with low intakes.
Fish and Poultry
While red meat may be off the table for those on a heart patient diet, being conscious of your cardiovascular health doesn't necessarily mean going vegan. Lean meats like poultry and fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are excellent choices for a cardiac diet plan.
Most fish contain some sort of omega-3 fatty acids, but some have more than others. The best, most nutrient-rich fish to add to your diet are salmon, Atlantic mackerel, cod, herring, and light canned tuna.
Oyster mushrooms are a delicious and nutrient-rich staple of many meat-free diets. They also enjoy a long history of use as a natural remedy for various illnesses and conditions.
Some varieties of oyster mushrooms are particularly high in beta-glucans, which are compounds that help reduce your body's cholesterol. Since high cholesterol is a common cause of heart disease, it's thought that a diet rich in oyster mushrooms may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, although further research is needed.
Another celebrated ingredient in natural medicine, reishi mushrooms have been cultivated for their purported healing properties for over 2,000 years. Modern studies into their medicinal value have been limited; however, evidence suggests that reishi mushrooms may help support heart health due to their significant beta-glucan content.
You might not find reishi mushrooms in the produce aisle. Instead, they're usually sold in powdered form or incorporated into supplements. You can also brew reishi mushrooms into a delicious and healthful tea.
We've known for a while now that fermented foods such as yogurt, pickled beets, and low-fat cheese can improve gut health and digestion. That's because these foods are loaded with probiotics, which are microscopic living organisms that aid our digestive system and help keep your body's natural gut flora in balance.
However, recent evidence suggests that these foods may also boost cardiovascular health. In 2018, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology published a review of several studies that looked at the heart health benefits of fermented foods like pickled beets and kimchi. Multiple studies found that eating these foods regularly could help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
At the blue and purple end of the spectrum, we have blueberries, a long-celebrated superfood known to contain huge supplies of antioxidants. Blueberries also contain lots of soluble fiber, which helps your body get rid of bile and maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Ingesting small amounts of blueberries every day may help keep your metabolism functioning normally. Eating blueberries may also help reduce inflammation, a known factor that contributes to the onset of heart disease.
Some of us remember a food pyramid with a broad base that advised ingesting as many as twelve servings of grains per day. Nowadays, nutrition experts suggest grains should be consumed in moderation. No more than a quarter of each meal should be made up of grain products.
That said, whole grains like brown rice, oats, and faro are still important for a balanced diet. Many studies have shown that incorporating whole grains into your diet lowers the risk of cardiovascular issues and improves the conditions of people already living with coronary heart disease.
Stay away from processed grains as much as possible, since they often contain added sugars, sodium, and other ingredients that can increase your cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Foods to Avoid While Following a Cardiac Diet
If you've been advised to stick to a cardiac diet plan, your doctor will inform you of the foods and beverages you should eliminate or cut down on. A few of the most common prohibitions for heart patients include the following:
- Red meat. Beef, pork, and other red meats are high in saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol. Processed meats like bacon, sausage, and hot dogs are usually very high in sodium.
- Excess salt. High sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure. Processed foods are among the worst offenders in this category.
- Added sugars. Sugar can increase your blood pressure and induce chronic inflammation, which both increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Avoid sodas, candy, and other sugary foods while on a cardiac diet plan.
- Unhealthy fats. Saturated fats and trans fats are associated with high cholesterol. Use olive oil for cooking instead of coconut oil or butter.
- Refined carbohydrates. Ingesting too many refined carbs—pasta and white bread, for instance—can raise your blood sugar and make your body resistant to insulin, which drives up your risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.
In some cases, your doctor may advise you to reduce your consumption of some or all of these foods rather than cutting them out entirely. Talk to your primary care physician about which foods to eat less of while on your heart patient diet.
Other Ways to Improve Heart Health
Following a regimented cardiac diet isn't the only way to ensure your heart stays healthy and functioning at peak capacity. Here are some additional ways to invest in your cardiovascular health.
Get Lots of Exercise
Consistent and intentional exercise is frequently listed as one of the most critical steps you can take for your overall health and wellness. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are three major categories of exercise that help boost cardiovascular performance: aerobics, resistance training, and flexibility.
Aerobics comprises activities like running, brisk walking, swimming, and cycling. Health experts recommend getting at least thirty minutes of aerobic exercise (often called “cardio”) every day. If you're new to aerobic exercise, start slow, and always check in with your doctor before starting a new workout program.
Resistance training includes strength-based conditioning, such as chin-ups, push-ups, and lifting weights. Muscle-based exercises help your blood flow and can also strengthen your heart. Make sure you know how much weight you can safely lift at a time, and avoid pushing yourself too hard.
Improved flexibility comes from stretching. It's important to stretch all relevant muscle groups before and after you exercise to help prevent muscle tears and other workout-related injuries. Check with a specialist to learn about safe stretches for your age, fitness level, and intended workout regimen.
Reduce or Eliminate Alcohol Consumption
Heavy alcohol consumption has long been known to cause a host of health problems. Last year, the World Heart Federation went as far as to say that no amount of alcohol intake can be characterized as safe and that drinking any amount of alcohol at any frequency should be considered dangerous.
Alcohol consumption can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, and many people who drink experience an irregular heartbeat, sometimes referred to as “holiday heart syndrome.”
While cardiologists and researchers disagree over some specifics—such as whether certain alcoholic beverages or drinking in moderation may have health benefits—the scientific and medical communities are united in their insistence that alcohol's effects on the cardiovascular system include many detrimental consequences. Binge drinking or regularly consuming more than two drinks per day is especially hazardous.
In addition to adopting a cardiac diet, consider cutting down on the amount of alcohol you drink or even eliminating alcohol altogether. If you don't drink, experts recommend continuing to abstain since the potential benefits of alcohol don't outweigh its physiological and psychological risks.
We all know how important it is to drink water. Proper hydration is essential for the whole body, including the heart. Drinking water makes it easier for your heart to pump blood, which ensures your organs and muscles get the nutrients and oxygen they need to function.
Following a 2022 study on the connection between dehydration and cardiac fibrosis (a condition in which the heart muscles become hardened), researchers at the National Institutes of Health concluded that good hydration could help lessen the risk of heart failure.
The exact amount of water you should drink every day depends on several factors, including your age, sex, weight, and activity level. The Mayo Clinic advises at lest 3.7 liters of water for men and 2.7 liters for women.
Take Heart Health Supplements
Lastly, taking supplements formulated for heart health can give your circulatory system a welcome boost. When searching for a vitamin or supplement to add to your cardiac diet, check the label to see if the product contains any of the superfood ingredients listed above. You should also ensure the supplement does not contain any added sugars or sodium.
At Nested Naturals, we've formulated a new heart superfood tonic specifically designed to promote cardiovascular health. This revolutionary supplement is packed with powerful whole ingredients drawn from the top foods recommended by experts for a cardiac diet plan.
Our heart superfood tonic contains the following components:
- Fermented beets. We incorporate nitrate-rich powder from the highest-quality organic fermented beets into our tonic to help relax blood vessels and increase blood flow.
- Beta-glucans. We use powders sourced from the finest oyster and reishi mushrooms and drawn directly from the fruiting bodies themselves to ensure maximum beta-glucan content.
- Real fruit. Our tonic contains pure pomegranate juice and cranberry extract with no added sugars. You get the benefits of rich antioxidants and polyphenols without the sugar overload that often comes with drinking fruit juice.
- Healthy sweeteners. Our delicious tonic is sweetened with monk fruit instead of sugar.
Our tonic is also non-GMO, vegan, and 100% certified organic. As always, ask your primary care physician before adding any new vitamins or supplements to your diet.
Talk to Your Doctor About a Cardiac Diet Plan Today!
It's never too early to start thinking about your cardiovascular health. Many people develop cardiovascular disease and other heart conditions later in life, but that doesn't mean heart problems are inevitable. Early action can often lessen the severity of heart conditions or even prevent them entirely.
Several factors play into your risk for developing severe cardiovascular disease, including genetic predisposition and lifestyle choices such as smoking and heavy drinking. Switching to a heart-healthy diet may not counteract these risks entirely, but it can mitigate them and help you live a healthier, fuller life even after a heart disease diagnosis.
Show your heart some love with a healthy and wholesome cardiac diet, and talk to your doctor about the potential benefits of adding a heart superfood tonic to your daily meal plan.