Many people with cardiac problems, or a predisposition to them, need to follow some type of cardiac diet to treat or prevent cardiovascular disease. Typically, this medical diet consists of heart-healthy foods such as whole grains, fiber, fruits and vegetables. Cardiac diets usually are created by dietitians, and they prohibit harmful foods, including different types of fat, sodium, cholesterol and sometimes caffeine. In the United States, they often follow the basic guidelines of the National Cholesterol Education Program.
Some people utilize this diet to improve overall health and promote weight loss. A typical heart-healthy breakfast includes some form of whole grains and fiber, such as low-sugar cereal or oatmeal and fruit. Lunch might consist of a grilled chicken breast sandwich on whole-wheat bread with carrot sticks on the side. Snacks throughout the day usually consist of fruits such as apples or grapes. A dinner example might be a piece of grilled fish, grilled or steamed vegetables such as asparagus or broccoli and small side salad with lime juice as the salad dressing.
One of the main features of a cardiac diet is eliminating unhealthy fat from meals, including saturated fat, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are known to contribute to high cholesterol and triglycerides, which typically cause plaque buildup on blood vessel walls and make it more difficult for the heart to pump blood. Trans fats can increase low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and decrease high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and they often are found in processed foods. Typically, the diet will cut out the consumption of bacon, luncheon meats, cheese, high-fat milk, high-fat red meat and many bakery products, such as donuts.
Many doctors and dietitians believe that sodium should be restricted to 2,000 mg to 4,000 mg per day on a cardiac diet. Sodium has a natural tendency to increase blood pressure and can have a negative diuretic effect when consumed with medicine. A heart-healthy diet usually will restrict salty snack foods and table salt. Some people think that any foods with more than 140 mg of sodium should be avoided indefinitely.
Restricting foods with high cholesterol is another feature of a typical cardiac diet. This type of food can include butter, red meat, high-fat dairy products and egg yolks. Too much bad cholesterol (LDL) can contribute to fatty deposits in the blood vessels, which can cause a heart attack. Cardiac diets usually suggest that a person consume no more than 200 mg of cholesterol per day.
Caffeine intake on many cardiac diets is restricted to less than two caffeine-containing items per day. It is a stimulant and can increase one's heart rate, which puts many people with cardiovascular issues at risk of a heart attack. A person on this diet might consider drinking green tea in place of other caffeinated beverages.