Best Diet Plan for Afib? Actually, there is no such thing as the best diet plan for afib. But there are specific foods you will want to avoid and some that are definitely very much in your best interest to include. If you’ve never been told by your physician specifically what to eat while you’re dealing with a controlled condition such as atrial fibrillation (afib), this article will serve as an idea of where to start.
If you are planning on diets for treatment of afib, there are several points you should keep in mind and consider when creating a plan that works for your tastes and lifestyle.
What is AFib?
AFib is a type of arrhythmia that affects the upper chambers of the heart. The electrical impulses that control these chambers fire in a disorganized way, which leads to an irregular heartbeat.
AFib itself is not a life threatening condition. However, it can increase the risk of stroke, blood clots, and congestive heart failure.
Several possible risk factors increase the chances that someone will develop AFib. These include:
- having overweight
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- alcohol consumption
- obstructive sleep apnea
- high cholesterol
- having a family history of AFib
There is no cure for AFib. Some people may require medication, cardioversion, a pacemaker, or catheter ablation to manage the condition.
The best AFib diets
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that people who experience AFib consume foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, salt, and cholesterol.
A 2017 review found that a plant-based diet high in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains can decrease obesity and hypertension. As these are risk factors for AFib, such dietary measures may help prevent someone from developing the condition.
There is also evidence to suggest that the Mediterranean diet may help reduce the risk of AFib. A 2014 study suggests that olive oil, in particular, is a beneficial part of the diet.
The benefits of the Mediterranean diet for AFib include:
Overall heart health
A study in Circulation Research found that people who follow the Mediterranean diet have better overall heart health compared with those who do not.
Platelets are blood cells that help the body form clots to stop bleeding. A 2015 study found that the Mediterranean diet can positively affect platelet function for people who have AFib.
The Mediterranean diet may lower cholesterol levels. As high cholesterol is a risk factor for AFib, someone who lowers their cholesterol will reduce their chances of developing the condition.
Reduced risk of heart attack and stroke
According to a 2015 study, the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of someone with AFib having a heart attack or stroke.
Although these diets may have a positive effect on AFib, if someone wishes to change their food habits, they should discuss their options with a registered dietitian first.
Foods to eat for AFib
The AHA list these foods to eat on the Mediterranean diet:
chicken and turkey
nuts and seeds
highly processed foods
fatty, processed meats
Each meal should contain a good portion of vegetables, a source of protein, a complex carbohydrate, and unsaturated fat. In addition to olive oil, this fat may include avocado oil, flaxseed oil, or hemp seed oil.
If a person needs inspiration for potential meals under the Mediterranean diet, the AHA provide a wide range of recipe ideas.
If a person is vegetarian or vegan, they can follow a more general plant-based diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and proteins from nonanimal sources.
Foods to avoid for AFib
Foods to avoid may include those that directly trigger symptoms and raise the risk of heart disease and cholesterol. These include:
Caffeine and energy drinks
The AHA recommends that people avoid excessive amounts of caffeine. However, one study found that drinking 1–3 cups of coffee daily may reduce AFib in males. If a person believes that caffeine could be a personal trigger, they may wish to avoid caffeinated foods and drinks, such as coffee and tea.
A 2014 study found that even moderate alcohol intake could be a risk factor for AFib. Therefore, it may be advisable to limit or avoid alcohol.
In general, red meats such as beef or lamb tend to have higher amounts of saturated fat than white meat. Saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for AFib. A person who substitutes red meat for plant-based protein may lower their cholesterol levels.
Processed foods, such as ready meals or sausages, tend to have large quantities of salt and preservatives. It may be best to limit the intake of these as they can adversely affect the heart.
Sugary foods and drinks
People should avoid foods and drinks that contain a large amount of sugar, as these can trigger AFib episodes. Sugary foods also increase the risk of heart disease.
Someone may have more frequent AFib episodes if they consume food with large quantities of salt. Reducing salt intake may be a useful way to help reduce AFib.
If a person follows the Mediterranean diet, they will also need to limit much of the same foods listed above.
There is some evidence that very low carb diets, such as the keto diet, may increase the risk of AFib. However, researchers need to carry out more studies to confirm and understand these findings.
Exercise for AFib
In addition to diet, exercise may also help manage AFib risk factors, such as obesity and hypertension.
A 2016 study suggests that people with AFib who exercise regularly have a lower arrhythmia burden than those who do not. This group also had fewer episodes and milder symptoms.
Research suggests that even a small amount of low impact exercise helps reduce the frequency of AFib symptoms.
A person with AFib can consider doing low impact exercises, such as walking, light jogging, or swimming. They should start slowly and build up gradually so they can exercise several times per week.
Some people with AFib may have a pacemaker. A person who has recently had a pacemaker fitted should avoid strenuous exercise for 4–6 weeks. After this time, they can continue most sports and activities, but they must take precautions in contact sports, such as football or boxing. It is also advisable to avoid strenuous sports, including squash.
Anyone with questions about how soon they can take part in sports after having a pacemaker fitted should talk to their healthcare provider.
Other tips for AFib
There are several other ways a person with AFib can adjust their lifestyle to promote heart health.
People who smoke are 2.1 times more likely to develop AFib. There is also a link between smoking and other diseases, such as coronary artery disease.
Manage sleep conditions
Sleep deprivation, obstructive sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders may increase the risk of AFib coming back after someone has undergone ablation or cardioversion. The management of sleep apnea and stress may help a person improve the quality of their sleep.
Stress, anger, and anxiety have a significant effect on AFib. One study reported an 85% drop in AFib symptoms after people reported feeling happy. Regular relaxation and stress reduction through activities like yoga may help someone manage these emotions.
Food to Watch When You Have AFib
When you have AFib, an irregular heartbeat, you need to watch what you eat. Too much salt raises your blood pressure, and high blood pressure may make you more likely to go into AFib. It may also make symptoms harder to manage, so your odds of having a stroke go up. One serving of deli turkey slices could have more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium. That’s about half of what’s OK for an entire day. Other super-salty foods include pizza, canned soups, breads, and rolls. Check food labels to find lower-sodium options.
Some Instant Oatmeals
Read the sugar content before you buy this quick and easy breakfast food. One popular fruit-flavored brand has about 11 grams of sugar in one packet — almost 3 teaspoons of added sugar. Extra sugar in your diet can lead to obesity and high blood pressure, which can set off bouts of AFib. Other surprising sugar sources: pasta sauce, granola bars, and ketchup.
The science on caffeine as a trigger for AFib is somewhat mixed. Older research suggests a link, newer studies don’t. But either way, you should go easy on your coffee. Too much caffeine could raise your blood pressure and heart rate, which might set off episodes of AFib. Stick to no more than two or three cups a day. Or switch to decaf. Or do both.
Taking a blood thinner can help stop clots, which lead to a stroke, from forming. But one type of these medications may not work as well when you eat foods high in vitamin K like lettuce, spinach, and kale. Talk to your doctor to find out if leafy greens change how well your medication works. If so, your doctor may be able to adjust your dose or change your medication so you can enjoy these healthy foods.
If you take medicine to control your heart rhythm, skip this citrus fruit until you talk to your doctor. Grapefruits and grapefruit juice have chemicals that can change the way you digest certain medications. That makes side effects from these drugs more likely. Check with your doctor about whether grapefruit is OK for you.
The saturated fats in beef, lamb, and pork are the kind that raise bad cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to heart disease and AFib and raise your odds of a stroke. Put lean cuts of beef, such as round or sirloin, and pork tenderloin or loin chops on the menu instead. For burgers or meatloaf, choose at least 90% lean ground beef, or replace half the meat with beans for a twist that trims fat.
Dairy products made from whole or 2% milk, cream, and cheese are also sources of saturated fat. Your body already makes all the “bad” cholesterol it needs, and eating foods with saturated fat causes it to make even more. The better-for-your-heart choice: skim milk and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Use heart-healthy oils like olive and canola for cooking.
Doughnuts, potato chips, and french fries may have what some doctors call the worst type of fat you can eat: trans fat. Unlike other fats, these are a double-whammy: They raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. Baked goods, including cookies, cakes, and muffins, may also have them. Watch out for “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients.
Many brands add other ingredients to a super-sized shot of caffeine to give you a boost. That combo may be worse for your heart than caffeine alone. In one small study, energy drinks caused more changes to the heart’s rhythm than other drinks with just as much caffeine. Another study linked energy drinks to bouts of AFib. Check with your doctor before downing these pick-me-ups.
Sure, the crystals are bigger than regular salt and the flavor a little stronger. But sea salt still has about the same amount of sodium as table salt, contrary to what many people think. One teaspoon of either has about 2,300 milligrams of sodium — the recommended limit per day. To help shake your salt habit, try different spices and herbs to season your food, such as ginger on chicken or paprika in soups.
These little grains are stripped of the nutrients and fiber your heart needs to stay healthy. Fiber can help improve cholesterol levels. It may also lower your risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes — conditions linked to AFib. Opt for whole-grain brown or wild rice. Whole grains are more filling and may help lower your chance of stroke.
Those same icy drinks that cool you off on a hot, steamy day can also set off an episode of AFib. Though research is still in its early stages, one recently published study suggests there may be a link between downing a cold beverage, brain freeze, and an irregular heartbeat. If you notice a flutter after eating or drinking something cold, talk to your doctor.
Too Much of Anything
Overeating even healthy foods can pack on the pounds. You have a higher chance of getting AFib when you’re overweight. It also makes your AFib more likely to come back after certain treatments, like ablation. If you’re obese (your BMI is 30 or more), aim to lose at least 10% of your body weight. Start with portion control: Split an entree with a friend when you’re eating out, or pack up half your meal to go before you even take a bite.
Do Follow a General Healthy Diet
“There really isn’t a special diet for afib patients,” says Kelly Kennedy, RD, the resident dietitian at Everyday Health. “Instead, healthcare professionals often recommend that people follow a general healthy diet.” A general healthy diet includes foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, beans, and seeds. Nuts are also a good choice. A study showed that people with higher levels of nut consumption have a lower risk of afib.
Kennedy says the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension eating plan, also known as the DASH diet, is an example of a general healthy eating plan that’s also heart-healthy. Although the DASH diet was originally created to help people lower high blood pressure, it’s an evidence-based eating plan that can benefit people with afib. A study found that greater adherence to the DASH diet was associated with a lower risk of stroke. This is promising news given the link between afib and stroke.
Don’t Drink Too Much Caffeine, but Some Appears to Be Okay
For many people, drinking too many caffeinated drinks can speed up their heart and increase the frequency of premature heartbeats, which is problematic if you have afib. The good news is that you may not have to give up caffeine completely. A study explored the link between caffeine and arrhythmias. By analyzing data from several large studies, the authors found that coffee and tea were safe for patients with arrhythmias when consumed at appropriate levels (up to 300 milligrams of caffeine a day).
“Many clinicians continue to counsel patients with atrial or VAs [ventricular arrhythmia] to avoid all caffeinated beverages, particularly coffee, despite an absence of evidence to support this approach,” the authors wrote.
Do Watch the Amount of Salt You Consume
Dr. Estes notes that limiting your salt intake is very important. This is because salt can raise your blood pressure, and high blood pressure increases your risk for afib. Although salt is in a lot of foods we eat, there are many ways that you can reduce your salt intake. For example, you can use salt-free seasonings to flavor your food or eat fewer processed foods. You should also avoid what the American Heart Association has deemed the Salty 6. These are the foods that add the most salt to your diet.
Don’t Be a Frozen Food Snob
“In the past, frozen fruits and vegetables have gotten a bad reputation for not being as good as fresh foods,” says Kennedy. “What people don’t realize is that frozen fruits and vegetables often have a higher nutritional value than their fresh counterparts.”
That’s because frozen fruits and vegetables are often picked closer to the time when they’re ripe and then flash-frozen shortly after. This helps preserve nutrients. In contrast, fresh fruits and vegetables are often picked early because they have to travel long distances to make it to grocery stores. By the time they get to the stores, some of the nutrients have been lost.
Do Stay Hydrated
Many people are unaware that being dehydrated can trigger afib, notes Kennedy. That’s why it’s important to drink enough water and fluids throughout the day. “It’s especially important for afib patients to pay attention to their potassium and magnesium intake,” says Kennedy.
Potassium and magnesium are electrolytes. When you have low levels of minerals in the blood (electrolytes), it can trigger an abnormal heart rhythm. And when you’re dehydrated, electrolytes can get depleted. Kennedy notes that the best way to get potassium and magnesium is from food (rather than supplements). Foods that are rich in potassium include fruits, vegetables, and fish. Magnesium can be found in foods like whole grains, beans, nuts, fortified breakfast cereals, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach.
Don’t Forget to Watch Your Calories, Especially if You Need to Lose Weight
“For those who are obese or overweight, getting to a normal weight can help them manage their afib,” says Estes.
But losing weight isn’t always easy. For many people, tracking what they eat on a regular basis helps them reach their weight loss goals. This can be done by simply writing down what you eat in a notebook each day. Or, if you prefer tracking what you eat on your phone or a website, you can check out Lose It!, Fooducate, or MyFitnessPal. All have smartphone apps that are available at the App Store and Google Play.
Do See a Registered Dietitian
“Anyone can benefit from seeing a registered dietitian,” says Kennedy, noting that people who have been recently diagnosed with afib or those with multiple health conditions such as afib and diabetes may want to work with a registered dietitian. That’s because different health conditions have different food considerations. And that can make meal planning complicated.
Kennedy notes that another good time to consider seeing a registered dietitian is when your medications have been changed. For example, people who take blood thinners like coumadin need to be mindful of eating foods rich in vitamin K like kale and spinach.
You can search for a registered dietitian through your health insurance company or professional organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.