Dos and Don'ts for Eating Well With Atrial Fibrillation
Eating the right foods can help you avoid atrial fibrillation symptoms. Here's how to put together a heart-healthy diet.Diet plays a significant role in managing atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat that can cause dizziness, chest pain, and shortness of breath. In addition to eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, if you have atrial fibrillation — often simply called Afib — you should avoid foods that increase your blood pressure or heart rate, or any unhealthy foods that can cause heart problems. Maintaining proper vitamin and mineral levels is important, too. Follow these dos and don'ts for a safe and nutritious Afib diet.
Don't Eat Too Much Salt
Salt may be used in countless dishes, but consuming too much isn't a good thing: Salt raises your blood pressure, and high blood pressure increases your chances of experiencing atrial fibrillation symptoms. Ways to manage your salt intake include rinsing canned foods, especially beans, to wash off excess salt; avoiding salty foods such as chips, nuts, and canned soups; and not adding extra salt to your food, says Chester Hedgepeth, MD, PhD, chief of cardiology at Kent Hospital in Warwick, R.I. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day if you have high blood pressure. To add flavor to foods without using salt, experiment with herbs and spices.
Don't Drink Caffeinated Beverages
Pass on the soda, energy drinks, and double-shot espressos to better manage atrial fibrillation, Dr. Hedgepeth says. Caffeine increases your heart rate and makes you more susceptible to an Afib episode or other heart arrhythmias. Consider drinking decaffeinated coffees or teas and water instead. To liven up plain water, add a slice of lemon or lime, or drink natural fruit juice for a sweet treat.
Do Keep Animal Fats in Check
"Sticking to a modest fat and cholesterol intake can help to lower your risk for heart problems, such as arrhythmias like Afib," Hedgepeth says. Meats that are high in fat include organ meats, beef, lamb, sausage, dark-meat poultry and poultry skin, and bacon. High-fat dairy products include whole milk, heavy cream, ice cream, and full-fat cheeses. Instead, choose lean protein sources, such as beans, lentils, and fish, and low-fat dairy.
Do Eat Healthy Fats
Not all fats are bad in a heart-healthy diet, says Lisa Cimperman, MS, RD, LD, a clinical dietitian at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. Foods high in monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, nuts, and seeds, are good additions to your diet when eaten in moderation. Polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, can be beneficial for overall heart health. Omega-3s are found in foods such as salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, walnuts, and flaxseed. Foods with these fatty acids reduce the risk for arrhythmias, decrease triglyceride levels, and slow plaque formation.
Do Use Caution When Eating Leafy Greens
It's okay to eat leafy green vegetables — just keep your daily intake consistent if you’re on the blood-thinning drug warfarin. That’s because leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spinach, asparagus, and spring onions have high levels of vitamin K, which can interfere with how warfarin works, especially if you eat large quantities. However, if you're only taking aspirin as a blood thinner for Afib, you don’t have to worry because vitamin K doesn’t affect aspirin.
Don't Drink Alcohol
Even in what may seem like modest amounts, alcohol can trigger an Afib event. Avoid drinking alcohol in quantities beyond moderation — which is considered to be anything more than one drink a day for women and two for men, says John P. Higgins, MD, an associate professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at UTHealth Medical School, director of exercise physiology at Memorial Hermann Ironman Sports Medicine Institute, and chief of cardiology at Harris Health System Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, all in Houston. If this seems difficult, talk with your doctor about setting appropriate limits for you.
Don't Eat Foods High in Tyramine
Foods with the compound tyramine can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk for Afib symptoms, Hedgepeth says. Foods that have high levels of tyramine include:
- Aged cheeses, such as aged Cheddar, Swiss, blue cheeses such as Stilton and Gorgonzola, and Camembert
- Cured meats, which are meats treated with salt and nitrate or just nitrite, such as dry-type summer sausages, pepperoni, and salami
- Fermented cabbage, such as sauerkraut and kimchee
- Certain sauces, including soy sauce, fish sauce, and shrimp sauce
- Yeast-extract spreads, such as Marmite
- Broad bean pods, such as fava beans
Do Use Heart-Smart Cooking Methods
Cooking heart-healthy foods is easier than it may seem. As long as you start with a lean cut of meat, baking, roasting, or sauteing will allow maximum flavor with minimal fat, Cimperman says. Poaching and steaming are great ways to cook vegetables and even fish with zero added fat.
Do Add Color to Your Dinner Plate
A variety of fruits and vegetables will ensure that your diet contains disease-fighting antioxidants such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, and other phytochemicals. Aim to fill half your plate with colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables, Cimperman advises. This will also help keep your weight in check, which is key to preventing a host of ailments, including heart disease and cancer.
Don’t Risk Food Poisoning
Certain illnesses, like food poisoning, can quickly lead to dehydration and deplete essential nutrients. If you have symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or fever, you can lose a significant amount of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium. This can increase your risk for Afib events and even heart failure, says William R. Lewis, MD, chief of clinical cardiology at MetroHealth Medical Center and professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University, both in Cleveland. Hedgepeth suggests managing such illnesses by quickly rehydrating with an electrolyte solution. Electrolyte abnormalities affect normal electrical activity in the heart and can potentially cause arrhythmias such as Afib.
To avoid food poisoning, cook foods such as meat, poultry, and eggs thoroughly, and avoid eating foods that have been sitting out for a long time, especially those containing dairy.