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Cardiovascular disease is far too common these days. So what can you do to protect yourself? Focusing on your diet is one of the best things you can do. But what is the best diet for heart disease and the best diet after a heart attack?
Should you avoid red meat or high-sodium foods? What about saturated fat or whole grains? Should you be going with low-fat foods or low-salt foods?
Below, I'll let you in on my #1 recommendation when it comes to the best diet for heart disease or after a heart attack.
In this article, I will cover:
- The top 3 causes of heart attack.
- The dietary changes that will help prevent those causes.
- The best diet for heart disease.
- The bottom line on what to eat (and what not to eat) for heart disease.
The 3 causes of heart attack
First, let's look at the three things that can cause you to have a heart attack.
- Clogged coronary artery. If the coronary artery is clogged, blood flow to the heart muscle will be blocked. As a result, it will cramp up and you will get a heart attack.
- Arrhythmia. This means that the rhythm of the heart is off. When that happens, blood can pool in different parts of the heart. That blood can then form a clot, which can get dislodged, clog an artery, and cause a heart attack.
- Heart muscle cramping. Did you know you can have a heart attack without clogged arteries? One way this can happen is if the heart muscle itself cramps up. Now that we understand what causes heart disease and attacks, we can reverse engineer to figure out how to use our diet to lower our risk factors and stay healthy.
Dietary changes to prevent causes of heart attack
Your diet is so important when it comes to keeping your heart healthy. In fact, the heart is one of the muscles in the body that responds to nutrition incredibly well.
I believe that diet is not emphasized nearly enough when it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease.
It might surprise you that my recommendations don't have to do with low-fat diets, avoiding all red meat, or removing the salt. Instead, I focus on the true root causes of cardiovascular disease and how to work with your diet to stay healthy.
So let's dive into the main causes of heart disease and the specific dietary changes you can make to address each.
1. Clogged coronary artery.
You don't just end up with plaque in your arteries out of nowhere. This is a process that occurs over time, with a buildup of things like protein, cholesterol, and calcium forming in response to damage in the artery wall. But way back at the beginning of that process is the real culprit: inflammation.
So if it all starts with inflammation, then stopping inflammation is key.
And what causes inflammation in the first place? High levels of insulin and low levels of nutrients (especially antioxidants).
To fix this, you can do two things:
- Eat a diet low in refined carbs and sugars to keep insulin levels down. This means no bread, grains, pasta, sweets, etc.
- Consume plenty of vegetables loaded with antioxidants. Make sure to eat healthy veggies that will give you antioxidants like vitamins E, C, and the B vitamins.
The rhythm of the heart is controlled by electrolytes - mainly potassium and magnesium. We need enough of these to maintain a steady beat.
To address this, you can:
- Eat a lot of vegetables. Avocados and leafy greens are good sources of potassium and magnesium.
- Keep insulin in check. If you develop insulin resistance, you'll have a hard time absorbing these minerals. So again, keep carbs and sugar low.
3. Heart muscle cramping
There are two vitamins that come into play in keeping the heart pumping smoothly: vitamin E and vitamin B. They help to increase oxygen levels in the heart muscle itself. If you are low in either, the heart will have to work harder, and it will have a higher tendency of cramping up (leading to heart attack).
Deficiencies in either vitamin E or B can be a risk factor for heart attack. So you need enough of both. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant so it will help protect the lining of your arteries from damage.
To stay healthy, you can:
- Avoid refined grains. You can become deficient in these vitamins when you consume too many grains, especially refined ones.
- Stay away from whole grains, too. While you might have heard that whole grains are good for heart health, blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease, we recommend against them. Whole grains do have vitamin E and B vitamins. But when they get ground up, those nutrients get oxidized pretty quickly. So unless you are grinding the grains yourself and then cooking with them (which isn't very practical), the vitamins will already be destroyed.
When you look at the recommendations listed above, you might start to see a trend. Avoiding carbs and grains, eating lots of vegetables, keeping insulin levels down... That sounds a whole lot like the ketogenic diet, doesn't it?
That isn't just a coincidence. The keto diet is a very healthy diet that can help lower your risk factors in heart disease.
The best diet for heart health: Healthy KetoTM is worth a try
The ketogenic diet can show some positive results when it comes to heart health.
As discussed above, some of the major causes of a heart attack include high insulin, inflammation, and deficiencies in vitamins.
The keto diet can help address those things and support the body in staying healthy. One of its main benefits is keeping insulin levels way down. In doing so, it also helps prevent inflammation. And when you do it in a healthy way with lots of vegetables, the keto diet is also a great way to provide your body with all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.
The basics of keto
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb diet.
My version of the keto diet is Healthy KetoTM. I put the emphasis on quality foods. I recommend eating clean foods (organic, grass-fed, etc.), good sources of healthy fats (like olive oil, avocados, fatty acid-rich fish, etc.) and lots of nutrient-rich veggies. In fact, I recommend you eat 7-10 cups of non-starchy vegetables per day.
The benefits of keto are many. Those benefits include supporting the body in:
- Keeping insulin levels low.
- Improving blood sugar.
- Aiding in weight loss and preventing weight gain.
- Decreasing blood pressure.
- And so much more.
Intermittent fasting is a good idea, too
Avoiding snacking between meals and limiting your food intake to shorter eating windows during the day can really help out and keep your heart healthy. This way of eating is another great way to keep insulin levels down and prevent things like inflammation. Learn all about intermittent fasting here.
Addressing common concerns
When people first hear about the keto diet for heart health, there are some common concerns that come up. Let's address those so you can rest assured knowing you are making the healthiest choice possible.
1. "I hear fats are bad for your heart! How can I do keto?"
The high amount of fat on keto might make you wary. But contrary to popular belief, fats are not the problem. They aren't what cause blood clots. And saturated fats aren't what cause coronary heart disease. In fact, it is my opinion that saturated fats are actually healthy. Low-fat is not the way to go, because we really need fats like omega-3 fatty acids to be healthy.
In fact, the high-fat keto diet shows some positive benefit in decreasing your heart disease risk, not increasing it.
2. "Red meat isn't allowed, is it?"
In my opinion, red meat isn't bad for you like everyone says. You can eat meats on keto, including beef and lamb. You shouldn't be eating a lot of it at every single meal and you need to moderate your protein intake in general, but some of it is totally okay. Just make sure it is high quality, grass fed and organic.
3. "Can I eat salt? Won't that make my blood pressure go up?"
What about blood pressure and salt intake? To keep blood pressure healthy, you don't have to get rid of salt and sodium. Actually, you need sodium to stay healthy (watch me explain the sodium myth here). Instead, you most likely need to eat more potassium, which almost all of us need more. By increasing potassium, you balance out sodium. This will lower blood pressure. Learn more here.
The bottom line on diet for heart disease and heart attack
Nutrition is one of the most underrated, yet powerful ways to support your heart health. Focusing on the diet can show some positive benefits as it relates to heart disease.
I recommend trying the keto diet with intermittent fasting to help your body stay healthy. To review, here are some guidelines on what to include in your diet.
What to eat:
- 7-10 cups of vegetables per day. Choose nutrient-dense vegetables like cruciferous vegetables, avocados, and more. Those with lots of antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins are best.
- Lots of healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids and even saturated fats.
- Moderate amounts of healthy protein like meats, fish, seafood, nuts, eggs, dairy, and more.
- Organic, wild-caught, pasture-raised, grass-fed foods.
What NOT to eat:
- Refined carbohydrates.
- Grains, including whole grains.
- GMO vegetable oils like corn, soy, canola, and cottonseed.
- Foods that aren't high quality, or that aren't organic, grass-fed, wild caught, etc.
- Do you do follow the keto diet for heart health or heart disease? What is your favorite heart-healthy diet? Share below.