What to Eat and Avoid after Heart Surgery

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. The incidence of heart disease has increased in the recent years due to lifestyle changes, increased stress, food habits, etc. Due to the advancements in medical technology heart surgery has become very common these days and the success rates associated with them are also very high. There are different types of heart surgeries such as bypass surgery, heart transplant, cardiomyoplasty, artificial heart valve surgery, etc. Generally your cardiologist will recommend a special diet after your heart surgery to help your heart heal and recover and for long term maintenance of your health.

Diet after Heart Surgery: Dos and Don'ts

Foods you should eat after heart surgery

1. Whole grains

Whole grains include whole wheat, oats/oatmeal, rye, barley, corn, brown rice, wild rice and millet. They are a rich source of dietary fibers. Dietary fibers reduce the levels of bad cholesterol, help prevent the occurrence of diabetes and stroke and improve heart health. The insoluble dietary fibers present in whole grains have been reported to increase heart health by slowing the progression of cardiovascular diseases.

Whole grains also contain B vitamins, magnesium, selenium and iron. Moreover, eating whole grains satiate your hunger easily, helping you maintain a healthy weight. They also help prevent constipation. The American Heart Association recommends that you should consume 25 gm of whole grains for a 2000 calorie diet.      

2. Heart healthy vegetables

Vegetables should form an integral part of your diet after heart surgery. Some of the heart healthy vegetables are:

  • Asparagus-It contains vitamin B6, which lowers homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid that has been associated with heart disease.
  • Bell peppers- Bell peppers are a good source of folate, which also reduces homocysteine levels.
  • Carrots-Carrots are rich in carotenoids, which have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants decrease the levels of free radicals and protect the heart.
  • Garlic- Garlic has immunomodulatory properties and helps prevent infection.
  • Onions-Onion is rich in sulphur containing compounds that reduce cholesterol levels in blood.
  • Tomatoes-Tomatoes contain lycopene, which helps in the prevention of heart disease.
  • Leafy greens- Leafy greens are a rich source of magnesium. According to a study conducted in Harvard, magnesium has been found to decrease the sudden occurence of cardiac arrest in women.
  • Squash- It has numerous heart healthy nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium and folate.

3. Heart healthy fruits

Foods that you can include in your diet after heart surgery are:

  • Apples- Apples contain flavonoids, which prevent blood from clotting in the arteries, lower cholesterol and dilate and relax the arteries.
  • Apricots-They contain carotenoids, which promote heart health through their antioxidant properties. They are also rich in dietary fibers and vitamins K, C, E and A.
  • Bananas- They contain Vitamin B6, C, magnesium and potassium, all of which promote heart health.
  • Berries- They are rich in vitamin C, folate, fiber, potassium and magnesium, all of which promote heart health.
  • Cantaloupe- It contains vitamin A, B6, C, fiber, folate and potassium.
  • Papaya- It contains calcium, magnesium, folate, vitamin A, C, and E, all of which promote a healthy heart.
  • Oranges, grape fruit, Kiwi and peaches also promote heart health and can be included in your diet.  

4. Heart healthy fish

Fish, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, are good for the heart. Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fat and when substituted for saturated fat in the diet help lower your cholesterol levels and keep your heart healthy. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the body and prevent damage to the blood vessels, thereby, preventing heart disease and stroke.

Omega 3 fatty acids are also known to:

  • lower triglyceride levels
  • lower blood pressure
  • reduce risk of blood clots
  • lower incidence of irregular heart beat

Consuming 1-2 servings of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acid reduces the risk of developing sudden cardiac arrest. Omega 3 fatty acids are present in fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring. However, avoid eating fish such as tilapia and catfish as they contain more of unhealthy fatty acids and are not heart healthy. Fish containing omega-3 fatty acids should be part of your diet after heart surgery.

5. Eat more lean protein

  • High fat protein sources such as red meat and whole milk are not healthy for your heart as they are rich in saturated fats. Substituting high fat protein sources in your diet with low fat protein sources or lean protein sources will promote heart health after surgery.
  • Lean protein food sources include lean meat, skinless chicken, turkey breasts, low fat dairy products, nuts, legumes and fish. The nutrients in lean protein will lower your cholesterol levels and blood pressure levels, improve your heart health and help you maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Nuts and legumes are considered the healthiest source of proteins for the heart as they do not contain any cholesterol.  

Foods You Should Avoid after Heart Surgery

1. Reduce your sodium intake

A low sodium diet is essential for a healthy heart. Consuming 2000 milligram of salt per day is ideal but it is still better if you limit your intake to 1500 milligram per day. Too much intake of salt can lead to fluid buildup in your heart and can increase your blood pressure.

Avoid foods that have a high salt content such as bacon, processed foods, ready meals, etc.  Always check the label of the food products you buy for their salt content and go for low salt versions.  You can reduce your salt intake and increase the use of herbs, spices and lemon juice to improve the taste of the food you are cooking. Avoid cooking sauces and seasonings as they usually contain high salt content. Reduce sodium in your diet after heart surgery.  

2. Avoid foods rich in saturated fat and trans fat

Saturated fats increase the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood. They are present in red meat, fatty chicken, whole dairy products and plant products such as palm oil. It is also present in processed and baked foods such as pastries, cookies, cakes and biscuits in which butter and palm oil are used for cooking.

Trans fat decreases the amount of good fat and increases the amount of bad fat in your blood. Foods such as beef, lamb, veal and mutton contain small amounts of trans fat. While foods are being processed in the industry, trans fat can be artificially introduced. Trans fats are present in foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable fats such as deep fried foods, baked foods (biscuits, cakes and pastries).

Avoid foods that contain saturated and trans fat. Read the food labels carefully and if foods contain hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils completely avoid these foods. Butter contains 50% saturated fat and 4% trans fat. Avoid butter completely after surgery. Instead of butter you can use avocado spreads or nut butter. You should also avoid processed meat such as sausages and salami.