Search for cardiologists near you and schedule your next appointment today
If you have coronary artery disease, the key to managing your condition could be as close as your kitchen. In fact, following a special diet for coronary artery disease is one of the most important steps you can take for healthier arteries. Here's what you need to know about eating your way to better health.
How Diet Impacts Your Arteries
Coronary artery disease -- or CAD for short -- occurs when fatty deposits, known as plaque, build up in the arteries. This causes them to narrow, restricting blood supply to the heart and brain. In some cases, these deposits may eventually block the artery entirely, resulting in a heart attack or stroke. Because plaque is mostly made of harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, a diet that reduces LDL cholesterol levels can prevent additional plaque from accumulating.
The Troublemakers You Should Avoid
The first tenet of a successful diet for coronary artery disease is avoiding foods that raise LDL cholesterol -- namely those that are rich in saturated fat, such as red meat, coconut oil, butter, cheese, and whole and 2 percent milk. You'll also want to skip foods that contain cholesterol-raising trans fats, like French fries, doughnuts, creamer, stick margarine, and shortening.
The Dietary All-Stars
The right diet for coronary artery disease isn't just about avoiding certain foods. It's also about eating more foods that can improve artery health. Here's a list of the heavy hitters when it comes to striking the right balance in your diet.
- Oats: Oats are rich in beta-glucan, a fiber that blocks the absorption of cholesterol from your digestive tract. Eating one and a half cups of oats a day has been shown to lower cholesterol levels by 5 to 8 percent. Don't just save it for breakfast. Layer cooled, cooked oatmeal into a yogurt parfait or blend a couple of tablespoons of whole oats into a smoothie.
- Beans: Beans keep your arteries healthy in two ways. Like oats, beans reduce the amount of cholesterol you absorb from food. If that isn't enough, their potent antioxidants keep your arteries in top condition. Aim for four to five half-cup servings a week.
- Olive and canola oils: Make these your go-to cooking oils. They're naturally low in saturated and trans fats, yet filled with heart-friendly unsaturated fats.
- Nuts: Whether they're almonds, pistachios, walnuts, or pecans, nuts are smart food for blood vessels thanks to arginine, an amino acid that keeps blood vessels relaxed and supple, helping blood flow freely throughout your body. Maybe that's why one study found that people who munch nuts a few times a week are 30 to 50 percent less likely to suffer from a heart attack or heart disease. Snack on a small handful for a crunchy alternative to chips or crackers.
- Fatty fish: Fish is a top source of omega-3 fats, which are credited with slowing plaque growth. While almost all fish contain some omega-3s, fatty fish like salmon, anchovies, and white fish are especially plentiful in these beneficial fats.
In addition to a heart-healthy diet, lifestyle also plays an important role in managing coronary artery disease, so don't forget to maintain a healthy body weight, exercise regularly, and make time to relax.