Love and roller coasters, unfortunately, aren't the only things that can make your heart go flippitty-flop. Atrial fibrillation, also called AFi or AF, causes a quivering or abnormal heartbeat known as arrhythmia in an estimated 2.7 million Americans, according to the American Heart Association. Medical treatment, as needed, paired with a heart-healthy diet can help manage AF, lowering your risk for blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other complications.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and veggies are pillars of a heart-healthy diet, according to the Mayo Clinic. They provide rich amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber and relatively few calories per serving. Staying within your caloric needs by limiting high-fat and high-sugar processed foods and upping your fiber intake can help ensure healthy weight and blood pressure control, leading to a healthier heart and arteries. Fiber promotes blood sugar and appetite control and overall cardiovascular health. Natural substances in plants called phytochemicals may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Particularly nutritious fiber-rich fruits and vegetables include berries, Asian pears, artichokes, winter squash and cooked leafy greens.
Whole grains also provide hefty amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Whole-grain fiber promotes healthy cholesterol levels, says the American Heart Association, and may help prevent heart disease. Positive cholesterol health guards against AF complications overall. For maximum benefits, swap refined-grain products, such as enriched breads, white rice and pretzels, with whole-grain alternatives. Nutritious options include oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, air-popped popcorn and 100-percent whole-grain bread. Avoid salty items, such as whole-wheat pretzels, because a salt-rich diet can increase your blood pressure and other AF-related risks.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered heart disease-fighting superstars. Cold-water fish are prime sources. Omega-3s reduce inflammation in your body, says the University of Maryland Medical Center, lowering your risk for cholesterol, arterial and heart problems. Fish also provide heart-healthy alternatives to protein sources high in inflammatory fats, such as red, fried and processed meats. Fish that are particularly rich in omega-3s include halibut, mackerel, herring and salmon. Use low-fat cooking methods, such as poaching, baking and grilling, and avoid salty and fatty ingredients. Natural herbs and fruit zest provide fat-free, low-sodium alternatives to table salt, soy sauce and commercial marinades.
Every healthy diet contains moderate amounts of fat, which is not the same as the fat in your body. Dietary fats promote nutrient absorption and normal brain function while enhancing the texture and flavor of dishes making them more satisfying. The Mayo Clinic lists olive and canola as valuable heart-healthy oils. Walnut, hemp and flaxseed oils also provide valuable amounts of helpful fats. Brush baked potatoes with olive oil instead of butter, and use canola oil, which is flavorless, instead of butter or shortening to keep baked goods, lean meats and fish from sticking to pans.
- American Heart Association: What is Atrial Fibrillation?
- Mayo Clinic: 8 Steps for a Heart-Healthy Diet
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Fiber Content of Selected Foods
- American Heart Association: Whole Grains and Fiber
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Cleveland Clinic: Heart-Healthy Oils
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer, podcast host and author of “Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment” (Amberjack Publishing, 2018). Her articles appear in DAME Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, the Huffington Post and more, and she loves connecting with readers through her blog and social media. augustmclaughlin.com