When a heart attack occurs, it's most often the result of coronary artery disease having limited the flow of blood to the heart. Coronary artery disease, in turn, is often caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Plaque is formed by high levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the bloodstream, and a significant factor for high triglyceride and cholesterol levels is your diet.
Considering all this, it’s no surprise that heart-health experts have come to realize just how important diet is in the overall health of your heart and ultimately in preventing a heart attack.
What Not to Eat
Researchers now know that some types of fat -- particularly the saturated fat found in red meat and high-fat dairy products, as well as the trans fats found in many processed foods -- can directly contribute to elevated cholesterol levels.
Other dietary factors can play a role in your heart health, too. For example, eating foods that contain a lot of sodium, or salt, can be a liability. Many people develop high blood pressure as a result of consuming too much sodium. Because this puts a strain on the blood vessels and heart, it's another risk factor for a heart attack.
What to Eat
A number of food choices can have a positive effect on heart health. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, for example, has been shown to be heart-healthy. Choosing foods with whole grains over processed and refined carbohydrates is another important choice that protects the heart. And there are also healthy fats you can choose. Nuts, seeds, fish and soy, for instance, are all rich in fats that are healthy for your heart, as opposed to saturated fats. However, too much fat in general, regardless of the type, can be hard on your heart.
Finally, one of the most important dietary factors in heart health is to eat a sensible diet that promotes a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese puts a strain on your heart and is one of the greatest risk factors for heart attack, so making good choices in general can be a big step in preventing a heart attack.
SOURCES: U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; World Heart Federation
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