Nutrition and Diet Tips for Atrial Fibrillation Patients: Foods that Promote Heart Health
Your heart beats about 100,000 times a day. It is a continuous indefatigable engine that deserves the best care possible, from working out (exercise), adequate rest and recovery, and importantly nutritive support. Optimising your diet to have a heart-healthy diet is critically important for your heart health.
If you’ve been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF), a heart rhythm disorder, you might wonder how your diet can support your heart health. Fortunately, there are dietary choices you can make to help optimise AF and promote overall heart well-being. In this article, we’ll explore nutrition and diet tips tailored to patients to avoid episodes of AF or minimize the likelihood of developing AF.
Understanding Atrial Fibrillation (AF)
Before we dive into diet tips, let’s briefly understand what AF is. Atrial fibrillation is a condition where the heart’s upper chambers (atria) beat irregularly and often too quickly. This irregular rhythm can disrupt blood flow, increasing the risk of blood clots, stroke, and other heart-related complications, including heart failure (a weakened heart muscle) which causes symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath, lightheadedness and fatigue.
What is a Heart-Healthy Diet
A heart-healthy diet is essential for AF patients because it can help manage the condition and reduce the risk of further heart problems. Here are some key dietary guidelines.
Embrace the “Full Diet”
The “Full diet” – is a diet proposed by Dr Saira Hameed, a pioneering consultant endocrinologist based at Imperial College London is the diet I would normally suggest my patients adopt. The fundamental principles of this ideal metabolic healthy diet include a period of time restriction eating (for example in a 16:8 window – with 4 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating a day), coupled with lower amounts of carbohydrates and processed foods. With these dietary principles of eating, patients gain the ideal metabolic profile and improve overall cardiovascular status
Prioritize Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, are heart-friendly. These are also found in non-fish “superfoods” such as a variety of nuts, avocado and extra virgin olive oils. They have anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce the risk of irregular heart rhythms. Aim to include fish in your diet at least twice a week. Some of my patients take an omega 3 fish oil supplement which contains high amounts of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are both long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids which are excellent for overall heart health.
Increase Fiber Intake
Fiber is your heart’s friend. Foods high in fibre, like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, can help lower cholesterol levels and stabilize blood sugar. This can reduce the strain on your heart and improve overall cardiovascular health.
Mind Your Sodium Intake
Too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for AF. Limit your sodium intake by avoiding highly processed and salty foods. Opt for fresh, whole foods, and try seasoning your dishes with herbs and spices instead of salt.
Limit or reduce Caffeine and Alcohol (or any other triggers)
While moderate caffeine and alcohol consumption may not be harmful for everyone, they can be AF triggers for some individuals. Pay attention to how these substances affect your heart rhythm and consult your doctor if you notice any negative effects.
A particular patient of mine had an exquisite sensitivity to mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) typically found in takeaway Oriental foods. Avoiding this was able to minimise his triggers of AF, and he was much less symptomatic after being able to avoid these types of food triggers.
Proper hydration is essential for everyone, but particularly for AF patients. Dehydration can trigger episodes of AF, so make sure to drink enough water throughout the day.
Limit Sugars and processed foods.
Excess sugar in your diet can contribute to obesity and diabetes, which are risk factors for AF. Cut back on sugary beverages, candies, and processed foods. Opt for natural sources of sweetness like fruits.
Manage Portion Sizes
Overeating can put extra strain on your heart. Pay attention to portion sizes, and try not to consume large meals in one sitting. Eating smaller, more frequent meals may be easier on your heart and digestion. Some of my patients have declared that larger portion sizes, which lead to a feeling of stomach distension, have led to triggered episodes of AF. In these instances, reducing the amount of food during any one sitting helped reduce the episodes of AF.
A heart-healthy diet is a cornerstone of managing atrial fibrillation and promoting overall cardiovascular health. By embracing the principles of eating including time-restricted meals, lowered carbohydrate and processed foods, increasing omega-3 fatty acids, prioritizing fibre, and being mindful of excessive sodium, caffeine, and alcohol intake, you are keeping yourself in an optimal state to improve your heart health and avoid AF symptoms.
But remember, a diet isn’t the only aspect of heart health. The ideal strategy to promote overall heart health comes from a combination of the 4 pillars of health – balanced nutrition, optimal exercise, adequate rest and recovery, and getting adequate sleep. To find out more about these aspects of holistic heart health care, you can check out Dr Lim’s Penguin Life Expert Concise book “Keeping Your Heart Healthy” here https://drboonlim.co.uk/books/