Patients with heart disease often assume that the medication they take is enough to prevent a repeat heart attack or stroke. We know that a healthy diet is important in preventing heart disease in the first place, but what if you already have cardiovascular disease and are taking medications?
Often, medications that control high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes give patients a false sense of well being. After all, your numbers look good, so what difference does diet really make? In fact, a healthy diet does have some preventive powers.
A new study, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, examined the diet of 32,000 participants throughout a five year period. The participants were at least 55 years old and had a previous history of heart disease, stroke or had diabetes that was severe enough to have caused vessel or organ damage.
The results indicated people with the healthiest diets — those with the highest intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and a higher intake of fish relative to meat, poultry and eggs — were 35 percent less likely to die of a repeat heart attack or stroke. They were also 28 percent less likely to develop congestive heart failure, 14 percent less likely to have an additional heart attack and 19 percent less likely to have a stroke.
This study didn’t adjust for other behaviors, like exercise, weight, smoking or total calorie intake, which may have contributed to these results, as well. But, there is no doubt that a heart healthy diet can play an important role in the prevention of heart disease and in the prevention of reoccurrence of heart attack and stroke. The American Heart Association estimates that in people with heart disease, 470,000 are likely to experience a recurrent heart attack this year. Making diet changes now may prevent this from happening to you.
A heart-healthy diet for everyone should include:
Fruits and vegetables: at least 4 cups a day
Fish: at least 2 servings per week
Fiber-rich whole grains: at least 3 servings a day
Sodium: less than 1,500 mg a day
Sugar-sweetened beverages: no more than 450 calories worth per week
Nuts, beans, seeds: at least 4 servings per week
Processed meats: no more than 2 servings per week
Saturated fat: less than 7 percent of your total daily calories (about 15 grams a day on a 2,000 calorie diet)
Trans fat: less than 2 grams a day, but try to avoid all sources
Additional diet recommendations for individuals with a history of heart disease include:
Include a daily source of plant omega-3. This can be obtained from 2 Tbsp of ground flaxseed or from a handful of walnuts daily.
Page 2 of 2 - Eat fish, especially oily fish like salmon, tuna, trout or sardines, at least twice a week and take a fish oil supplement (2 to 4 grams daily).
Include olives and/or olive oil in your daily diet.
Eat nuts, beans or seeds on a daily basis.
Eat oatmeal daily.
Include dark greens, like spinach or kale, as part of your daily vegetable servings.
Drink 1 or 2 glasses of red wine daily, unless alcohol is contradicted by medications or other restrictions.
Eat dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cocoa), up to 1 ounce daily.
Choose minimally processed foods instead of those with refined grains and added sugars, salts or preservatives.
Tweaking your diet may result in many more healthy, active years added to your life.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.