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Weight Loss Diet for Heart Attack Patients

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedFebruary 29, 2024

Heart attacks are one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with approximately 17.9 million people dying each year due to cardiovascular diseases. If you have recently suffered a heart attack, you may be wondering what steps you can take to improve your health and reduce your risk of future heart problems.

To reduce the risk of recurrence after a heart attack, taking preventive measures, such as following a weight loss diet that is specifically designed for heart attack patients, is essential.

In this article, you will learn about the causes of heart attacks, the recommended weight loss diet for heart attack patients, the heart-healthy foods to include in their diet, and the foods to avoid.

🔑 Key Takeaways

  • Heart attacks are a significant global health concern, with cardiovascular disease responsible for millions of deaths annually.
  • Implementing preventive measures, including healthy habits, adherence to a weight loss diet, and medication, can lower the risk of heart-related fatalities and illnesses.
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the leading cause of heart attacks. However, spasms in coronary arteries can also lead to these events.
  • Excess weight, especially abdominal fat, contributes to the risk of heart attacks by causing fatty deposits to accumulate in arteries. Obesity is also linked to various other health conditions.
  • Weight loss has numerous positive effects on heart health, including improved blood pressure, lowered risk of heart disease, enhanced cholesterol levels, and better cardiac function.
  • Heart attack patients should consider heart-healthy diets like the Mediterranean and DASH diets, which emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and limited saturated fats. This can help improve their cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of future heart-related complications.
  • Avoiding trans fats, excessive sodium, added sugars, and processed foods is key for recovery and heart health. These foods can cause inflammation and damage to the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other complications.
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Understanding Heart Attacks

A heart attack, medically referred to as a myocardial infarction, happens when a segment of the heart muscle doesn't receive sufficient blood supply. The longer the time that elapses without treatment to restore blood flow, the more severe the damage to the heart muscle can be.

In the US, approximately 805,000 people suffer a heart attack each year, meaning someone experiences a heart attack every 40 seconds.

The primary cause of heart attacks is coronary artery disease (CAD). Conversely, a less common cause involves a coronary artery's sudden contraction or spasm, potentially obstructing blood flow to the heart muscle.

It's essential to watch out for the following heart attack symptoms because early recognition and treatment can save lives. Some common symptoms include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Sensation of weakness, dizziness, or faintness
  • Pain or discomfort in either or both arms or shoulders
  • Shortness of breath

✅ Pro Tip

Treatment for a heart attack varies based on its severity and can involve medication, lifestyle adjustments, or medical procedures. Finding a heart attack care option is crucial for reducing the risk of complications and improving the chances of a full recovery.

Obesity's Contribution To Heart Attacks

Excess weight or obesity is a major contributing factor to heart attacks. Carrying excess weight can contribute to the accumulation of fatty deposits, or plaque, in your arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis.

These arteries carry blood to your organs, including your heart. When the arteries that supply blood to your heart become damaged and obstructed due to the buildup of plaque, it can lead to a heart attack. Similarly, if the arteries that supply blood to your brain become blocked, it can result in a stroke or vascular dementia.

Moreover, when the heart muscle is damaged due to a heart attack, the troponin levels in the blood rise significantly. This rise in troponin levels can indicate the severity of the heart attack and the extent of damage to the heart muscle. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight is crucial to reducing the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases.

Positive Effects Of Weight Loss On Your Heart

Losing weight can positively impact your heart's function, making it easier to pump blood. Maintaining a healthy weight can also reduce the strain on your heart. Here are some benefits of weight loss on your heart:

1. Improved Blood Pressure

According to a meta-analysis, even a small weight loss of just one kilogram can significantly impact both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. In fact, achieving a net weight loss of 5.1 kg (about 11 lbs) through calorie restriction and increased physical activity can substantially reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

This means that losing weight can be an effective way to improve blood pressure levels and reduce the risk of developing hypertension, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Therefore, it is important to maintain a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise to keep blood pressure in check and promote overall health and well-being.

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2. Lowered Risk of Heart Disease

A study on 401 overweight or obese adults discovered that shedding 5-10% of body weight substantially improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Furthermore, if more than 10% of body weight was lost, the improvement in these risk factors was even more significant.

It was also found that losing 5-10% of body weight improved fasting glucose levels for higher-risk patients. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight through weight loss can be beneficial in reducing the risk of heart disease.

3. Improved Cholesterol Levels

Lifestyle changes that improve cholesterol levels can significantly reduce the risk of heart attack. Research has shown that weight loss of approximately 8.6 kg (about 19 pounds) can lead to a 7% reduction in total cholesterol, a 10% reduction in LDL cholesterol, and a 32% increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.

Another study found that for men, a weight loss of 10.7 kg (about 23 pounds) was associated with a 15.8% reduction in LDL-cholesterol levels, a 5% increase in HDL-cholesterol levels, and a 7.5% decline in total cholesterol levels. These findings indicate that making changes to improve cholesterol levels can significantly impact heart health.

4. Enhanced Cardiac Function

A study has shown that weight loss can significantly impact cardiac function, particularly in patients with heart failure who undergo HF TAC LF treatment. The study found that after the treatment, there was a notable increase in ejection fraction from 38% to 36%, indicating a significant improvement in cardiac function.

The HF TAC LF treatment is a non-invasive procedure that uses a combination of high-frequency and low-frequency electrical stimulation to improve cardiac function. The treatment is safe and effective, and it is particularly beneficial for patients with heart failure who are overweight or obese.

Weight Loss Diet For Heart Attack Patients

Excess weight can strain the heart and increase the chances of recurring cardiac events. To help with weight loss, here is a recommended diet plan for heart attack patients:

1. Mediterranean Diet

Numerous studies have consistently demonstrated that the Mediterranean diet is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease. In particular, the PREDIMED study reveals that this dietary approach significantly reduces the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes.

Participants who followed the Mediterranean diet experienced a remarkable 70% decrease in overall mortality. This significant reduction was primarily driven by a 73% drop in coronary heart disease-related mortality and similar decreases in nonfatal complications.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, seeds)
  • Lean protein sources (fish, poultry, legumes)
  • Limited red meat consumption
  • Moderate wine consumption (if alcohol is consumed)

2. DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)

The DASH Diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a dietary plan that effectively reduces blood pressure and improves heart health. The DASH-Sodium study, in particular, has demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing the risk of heart disease.

This diet is linked to a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease, especially among individuals under the age of 75. The DASH diet includes:

  • High intake of fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean protein sources (fish, poultry, legumes)
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Limited sodium intake

3. Plant-Based Diet

A plant-based or vegan diet is a dietary approach that emphasizes the consumption of whole, minimally processed foods derived from plants. This type of diet is known to have numerous health benefits, particularly in reducing the risk of heart disease and mortality associated with heart-related issues.

Studies have shown that individuals who follow a plant-based diet have a modest cardiovascular benefit, which can be attributed to the high intake of fiber, antioxidants, and other beneficial nutrients in plant-based foods.

Apart from reducing the risk of heart disease, a plant-based diet also offers several other health benefits. For instance, it is effective in managing obesity, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and colon and prostate cancer.

This is because plant-based foods are typically low in saturated fat and high in fiber, which can help regulate blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation, and promote healthy digestion.

If you're planning to switch to a plant-based diet, it's essential to emphasize the consumption of foods such as:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains

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What Are The Foods To Eat After A Heart Attack?

Doctors typically recommend heart-healthy foods, especially after a heart attack. Heart-healthy foods include various nutrient-dense options that promote cardiovascular health while aiding in weight management.

Typically, these foods comprise fruits and vegetables abundant in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins. Below are the heart-healthy foods to include after a heart attack:

1. Fruits and Vegetables

Nourishing your body with a diet abundant in fruits and vegetables delivers vital vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants crucial for maintaining a healthy heart. As the American Heart Association (AHA) recommended, adults should strive to consume a minimum of 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily.

Below are the recommended fruits and vegetables for heart attack patients:

Vegetables

If you're looking to maintain a healthy heart, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests incorporating a variety of vegetables into your diet. Some examples of heart-healthy vegetables include:

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots

Leafy greens, such as:

  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach

Fruit

A heart attack patient may choose to consume fruits such as:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Prunes

2. Whole Grains

Incorporating whole grains, such as oats, brown rice, and whole wheat bread, can benefit you. These fiber-rich foods have been shown to help lower cholesterol levels and promote weight loss.

To reap the maximum benefits, the American Heart Association recommends that half of the grains you consume be whole grains. Look for products that contain at least 51% whole grains and make whole grains a staple in your diet for improved health.

3. Fatty Fish

Consuming fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and trout, can benefit overall health due to their high omega-3 fatty acid content. These healthy fats not only help to reduce the risk of heart disease but also provide support for weight loss.

A clinical trial named "REDUCE-IT" published in The New England Journal of Medicine has demonstrated that high-dose omega-3 supplementation can significantly reduce the incidence of cardiovascular events among high-risk patients, highlighting the importance of incorporating these essential fatty acids into one's diet.

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4. Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are healthy fats, fiber, and protein sources. They can help control appetite and reduce the risk of heart disease.

In a study featured in JAMA Internal Medicine, people who included nuts in their diet at least twice a week saw a 47% lower risk of sudden cardiac death and a 30% reduction in the risk of total coronary heart disease-related deaths.

5. Legumes

Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are abundant in fiber and protein. They are excellent options for both weight loss and heart health.

A study in the Journal of Advances in Nutrition suggests that increased legume consumption is associated with improved heart health and reduced risk factors for heart disease.

6. Lean Proteins

When it comes to weight loss, it's important to maintain muscle mass while shedding excess fat. One way to do this is by consuming lean proteins. Skinless poultry, such as chicken and turkey, are great lean protein sources.

Lean cuts of meat, such as beef and pork, can also be included in a weight-loss diet, but it's important to choose cuts that are low in fat. Plant-based protein sources like tofu and tempeh are also excellent options for those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting consumption of red and processed meats, as they have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Instead, it's recommended to focus on lean protein sources to support weight loss and overall health. By incorporating lean proteins into your diet, you can help maintain muscle mass while achieving your weight loss goals.

Which Foods Should Heart Attack Patients Avoid?

Individuals who have experienced a heart attack are advised to adhere to a heart-healthy diet that promotes weight loss and overall cardiovascular health. This dietary regimen typically involves avoiding or limiting the consumption of certain foods linked to weight gain, elevated cholesterol levels, and other risk factors associated with heart disease.

Some of the foods that should be avoided include:

1. Trans Fats

Avoid consuming trans fats as they increase the risk of heart disease by raising LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Trans fats are commonly found in partially hydrogenated oils, fried foods, packaged snacks, and baked goods.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), eliminating trans fats from the diet could prevent thousands of heart attacks and deaths each year.

The AHA recommends reducing trans fat intake and restricting the intake of saturated fat to less than 6% of total daily calories for people who need to lower their cholesterol.

2. Saturated Fats

It is recommended to limit the intake of saturated fats as they can increase LDL cholesterol levels in the body. Saturated fats are commonly found in red meat, full-fat dairy products, butter, and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil.

To promote healthy eating habits, it is advised to limit the consumption of saturated fats to approximately 10% of the total daily calorie intake. This means that while it is still acceptable to include some saturated fats in your diet, it is best to be mindful of the amount you consume and opt for healthier alternatives whenever possible.

3. Added Sugars

Reduce consumption of foods and drinks with added sugars, such as sugary beverages, candies, and many processed foods. Excess sugar intake is associated with obesity and an increased risk of heart disease.

The JAMA Internal Medicine journal has published studies highlighting the adverse effects of added sugars on cardiovascular health.

Cardiovascular disease mortality increased with the percentage of daily calories obtained from added sugar, with a significantly higher risk for those consuming more than 10% of added sugar.

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4. High-Sodium Foods

Limit foods high in sodium, as excess sodium can raise blood pressure. Processed and restaurant foods often contain high levels of sodium.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cutting down on sodium intake can aid in preventing high blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease.

5. Refined Carbohydrates

Avoiding refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, and sugary cereals is advisable. These can lead to sudden increases in blood sugar levels and contribute to weight gain.

A study in The Lancet Public Health found that a diet abundant in refined carbohydrates is associated with a heightened risk of heart disease. The study showed that the risk of total mortality was 28% higher in the highest quintile of carbohydrate intake.

6. Alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption can result in chronic diseases and various other serious issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, digestive complications, and a weakened immune system, to name a few.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has shown that even moderate drinking can slightly increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease and that risk increases significantly for those who drink more frequently.

While some studies suggest moderate alcohol consumption may have cardiovascular benefits, excessive intake poses risks. The American Heart Association recommends no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.

7. Processed and Fast Foods

Reducing the consumption of processed and fast food is relevant to heart attack prevention because these types of foods are often high in unhealthy fats, sodium, and added sugars, which can contribute to the development of various risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.

Studies have shown that people who consume a lot of fast food tend to have a higher risk of developing these risk factors, which in turn increases their risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases.

Final Thoughts

Heart attack patients should prioritize their heart health by following a healthy diet like DASH and plant-based diets. Both emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy while limiting saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.

However, it is important to note that every individual's dietary needs are unique, and it is recommended to consult with healthcare professionals to create personalized dietary plans. These professionals can help tailor a diet that meets an individual's specific nutritional needs and preferences.

In addition to proper nutrition, regular exercise is also crucial for maintaining heart health. Combining a healthy diet with regular physical activity forms a comprehensive strategy for achieving and maintaining heart health for individuals recovering from heart attacks.

FAQs On Weight Loss Diet for Heart Attack Patients

What is the relationship between rapid weight loss and heart problems?

Rapid weight loss can potentially increase the risk of heart problems. Suppose you try to lose weight too quickly due to impatience. In that case, you may deprive your body of the necessary nutrients to function correctly. Liquid diets and those that restrict calorie intake to the point of starvation are highly hazardous. Malnutrition can cause various health issues, such as arrhythmia, loss of heart muscle mass, and heart damage.

Which exercises are recommended for individuals with heart conditions who want to lose weight?

Doctors often recommend aerobic exercise for heart patients, such as brisk walking, swimming, running, cycling, jumping rope, and playing tennis.

What is a recommended drink for someone who has had a heart attack?

Water should be your drink for heart health, especially when thirsty, in warm weather, or during exercise. Unflavoured milk, tea, and coffee are acceptable in moderation.

Is pineapple beneficial for heart health?

Pineapple's fiber, potassium, and vitamin C content promote heart health. In one study, people who consumed 4,069 mg of potassium daily reduced the risk of death from ischemic heart disease by 49 percent compared to those who consumed less potassium.

What additional lifestyle changes complement a weight loss diet for heart attack patients?

Apart from dietary modifications, quitting smoking, managing stress, getting adequate sleep, and adhering to prescribed medications are essential components of a holistic approach to heart health.

How can portion control be managed in a weight loss diet for heart attack patients?

Portion control is crucial. Using smaller plates, measuring portions, and being mindful of serving sizes can help manage caloric intake. It's essential to avoid overeating and to listen to the body's hunger and fullness cues.

How important is to incorporate regular physical activity along with a weight loss diet for heart attack patients?

Combining a healthy diet with exercise is a more effective way of losing weight than relying solely on calorie restriction. Exercise can also help prevent and reverse the effects of some diseases. It can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, which in turn can help prevent a heart attack.

Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
Virtual weight loss solution
A personalized GLP-1 medication program delivered to you via our partner Korb Health
Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
  • Free consultation; program starts at $269/mo
  • Checkmark Inside Circle.Customized online program and wellness coaching
  • Prescription medications and supplies shipped to your door