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
Major heart health groups say exercise, good diet can help you maintain memory as you age
Researchers suspect food quality may account for the difference
It kills more than all cancers combined, but study says many overlook the risk
Eating them can reduce your risk of heart disease as effectively as statins, heart experts say
Study found it was linked to longer, disease-free life
Fish oil supplements may help heart attack patients survive, study finds.
Adding healthy foods such as nuts, seeds, vegetables, whole grains might help prevent premature demise, researchers suggest
Heart disease is leading cause of death in U.S., but many don't know they have it
Don't ignore chest pain and seek medical attention immediately, heart specialists say
And health risks may appear even at levels once considered safe, researchers contend
Tips for better eating
Association similar to that from high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and diabetes, researchers say
Women who eat a high protein diet at increased risk of heart failure, study finds.
Inherited distaste for bitterness could make people reach for the shaker, putting heart at risk
A component in cocoa seems to help control blood sugar and inflammation, but there's a caveat
Does following a vegetarian diet lower your risk of cardiovascular disease?
What's better for your heart health diet or exercise?
Those who ate more produce, fish, olive oil were less likely to die during study period
Lack of dietary choices tied to early signs of heart disease
Researchers cite aging populations, diet, inactivity and lack of preventive care
Find them in these nutritious foods
Here's what to include
Former Super Bowl MVP focuses on daily exercise and limiting red meat, salty foods
Eating fresh fruit daily may lower risk of heart attack, stroke and death, new study finds.
Study found seniors who met more heart-healthy goals showed less decline in thinking skills
Research also finds other dietary cholesterol doesn't appear to up heart disease risk
Eating healthier fats could reduce heart disease deaths around the world, new study finds.
The MIND, Mediterranean and Fertility diets also get high marks for health
Heart attack and stroke are leading causes of death worldwide, too, report finds
Simple tricks to help keep your holidays happy and healthy.
But clear link seen between trans fats and heart troubles, early death
Avoid diet heavy in fried food, processed meats and sugary drinks, experts advise
Poor adults with good nutrition had 20 percent lower odds of disease-related death during study period
Group shown images more likely to stop smoking, eat healthier foods and take meds, study found
Study found damage to organs and tissues, even with no sign of hypertension
Three to five cups daily appeared to lower risk of clogged arteries, study says
Even slightly higher levels took their toll, researchers note
Study found this combination drug dropped 'bad' LDL levels
Researchers say air pollution's effects lessened in older men who consumed flavonoids, but more research needed
Substance doesn't seem to protect people from heart disease, cancer, study says
Study suggests whole grains might be particularly important
Analysis of 21 studies may bolster case against a diet of steak
Cardiologist offers advice to lower your risk of heart disease
International study looked at fiber from wide range of sources
Those who thought pressure was affecting their health twice as likely to suffer heart attack, study says
They don't reduce the risk of heart attack, heart failure or death, researchers report
Study finds overconsumption may have contributed to 15 percent of heart-related fatalities in 2010
While awareness has increased for everyone, minorities still lag behind, researchers say
Choosing products like safflower oil may be less heart-healthy than believed
Study found patients who ate more vegetables, fruits and fish lowered their chances of heart attack, heart failure, stroke