Back

Cardiac Diet

What It Is, Foods to Consume, Foods to Avoid, and More

Author:Georgina Tiarks

Editors:Alyssa Haag,Emily Miao, PharmD,Kelsey LaFayette, DNP, ARNP, FNP-C

Illustrator:Jessica Reynolds, MS

Copyeditor:Stacy Johnson, LMSW


What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease is a broad term encompassing heart disease and coronary artery disease. Heart failure, valvular disease, coronary artery disease, arrhythmias (i.e., dysfunction of the electrical signals in the heart), and peripheral artery disease are a few of the most common cardiovascular diseases.

The signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease are vast. Still, they may include chest pain, orthopnea (i.e., difficulty breathing when lying down), edema, calf pain, shortness of breath, cold and pale extremities, dizziness, sweating, and palpitations.

 Treatment of cardiovascular disease depends on the exact cardiovascular condition and any comorbidities an individual may have. Treatments can include lifestyle changes to prevent disease or maintain cardiovascular health, like dietary modifications and exercise; medications to control blood pressure, cholesterol, or heart rate; or surgery, like coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) or cardiac catheterization.

Patient with chest pain.

What is a cardiac diet?

A cardiac diet outlines dietary guidelines recommended to reduce cardiovascular disease risk and promote overall heart health. Significant research has been conducted proving specific diets and food groups increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Cardiac diet recommendations aim to reduce the intake of these food groups.

Excited Mo character in scrubs
Join millions of students and clinicians who learn by Osmosis!
Start Your Free Trial

How does a cardiac diet help cardiovascular disease?

The cardiac diet can help to prevent cardiovascular disease through many mechanisms. Several diets and their ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease have been studied, which include the Mediterranean diet, DASH (dietary approach to stop hypertension) diet, and a low-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet focuses on a diet high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seafood, and heart-healthy fats (e.g., olive oil). The DASH diet promotes carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and low sodium consumption. Finally, the low-fat diet focuses on reducing all fat intake. The American Heart Association has outlined recommendations based on all these findings. These recommendations include whole grains; fresh fruits and vegetables; lean and unprocessed sources of protein; low-sodium and low-fat options; and minimal sugar intake.

Whole grain carbohydrates have been found to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol, and total cholesterol. They also allow for a slow sugar release, preventing blood sugar spikes and reducing insulin resistance and fat synthesis. Soluble fiber, found in carbohydrates, vegetables, and fruits, is also responsible for lowering cholesterol by binding cholesterol within the intestine so that it cannot be absorbed into the bloodstream. This leads to increased excretion of cholesterol through feces.

As sodium causes water retention, restricting sodium intake can reduce fluid retention, lowering blood pressure. Lowered blood pressure can prevent coronary artery disease, heart failure, aortic aneurysms (i.e., dilated artery), peripheral artery disease, and stroke.

Saturated fats are saturated with hydrogen bonds and therefore contain no double bonds in their chemical structure, making them rigid. They increase the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood. In comparison, unsaturated fats do contain double bonds. Trans unsaturated fats have double bonds but are associated with a high risk of cardiovascular disease. At the same time, increased polyunsaturated (i.e., two or more double bonds) and monounsaturated fats (i.e., one double bond) fat intake is recommended to reduce both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while simultaneously increasing HDL (i.e., good cholesterol).  Therefore, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are considered “good” fats. 

Elevated sugar levels in one’s diet may foster an inflammatory state in the body. Inflammation and stress are vital to the atherosclerosis cascade and can lead to cardiovascular disease. Therefore, decreasing sugar intake may prevent atherosclerosis. A recent study also showed increased sugar intake was associated with higher blood pressure. Moreover, increased sugar or simple carbohydrates increase insulin (i.e., hormone) secretion, which promotes fat synthesis and obesity. Both of which are independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Several studies have revealed a strong correlation between sugar consumption and cardiovascular disease.

What foods are best on a cardiac diet?

There are a variety of foods recommended for a cardiac diet. Olive oil, vegetable oils, fish (e.g., salmon, mackerel, herring), nuts, and seeds are filled with healthy fats (e.g., omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats) that can lower total cholesterol levels. Low-fat dairy products, like yogurt and skim milk, and lean meats, like turkey and chicken, can also reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. Fresh fruits and vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, apples, and bananas are sources of soluble fiber. In addition, soluble fiber can be found in whole grains such as oats, brown rice, and whole-grain bread. 

What foods should be avoided on a cardiac diet?

Foods that people on a cardiac diet should avoid refined carbohydrates (e.g., white bread, white rice, pastries, breakfast cereals, pasta); processed foods (e.g., chips, bacon, sausage, biscuits); and red meats (e.g., beef, lamb, veal, pork). Soda beverages, baked goods, candy, biscuits, and foods with added sugar should also be avoided. 

What are the most important facts to know about a cardiac diet?

A cardiac diet proposes several recommendations for following a heart-healthy diet. Cardiovascular disease refers to many heart diseases, including coronary artery disease. A cardiac diet offers several suggestions for following a heart-healthy diet. The cardiac diet outlines recommended food groups and food groups to avoid. Several specific diets exist, such as the DASH, Mediterranean, and low-fat diets. Overall, a heart-healthy diet may include heart-healthy fats (e.g. olive oils, fatty fish, nuts), lean proteins (e.g. chicken, turkey, tofu), fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain carbohydrates (e.g., brown bread, brown rice, oats). Avoid foods that include simple, refined carbohydrates (e.g., white bread, white rice, cereal, pasta), processed food (e.g., chips, sausage), sugary foods (e.g., baked goods, candy, soda), and red meat (e.g., beef, lamb).

Quiz yourself on Cardiac Diet

3 Questions available

Quiz now!

6 Flashcards available

Quiz now!

Watch related videos:

Mo with coat and stethoscope

Want to Join Osmosis?

Join millions of students and clinicians who learn by Osmosis!

Start Your Free Trial

Related links

Cholesterol metabolism
Fatty acid synthesis
Fats and lipids

Resources for research and reference

Appel, L. J., Sacks, F. M., Carey, V. J., Obarzanek, E., Swain, J. F., Miller, E. R., Conlin, P. R., Erlinger, T. P., Rosner, B. A., Laranjo, N. M., Charleston, J., McCarron, P., Bishop, L. M., & OmniHeart Collaborative Research Group,  for the. (2005). Effects of Protein, Monounsaturated Fat, and Carbohydrate Intake on Blood Pressure and Serum LipidsResults of the OmniHeart Randomized Trial. JAMA, 294(19), 2455–2464. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.294.19.2455

Asirvatham, S., Sebastian, C., & Thadani, U. (1998). Choosing the most appropriate treatment for stable angina. Safety considerations. Drug Safety, 19(1), 23–44. https://doi.org/10.2165/00002018-199819010-00003

Billingsley, H. E., Hummel, S. L., & Carbone, S. (2020). The role of diet and nutrition in heart failure: A state-of-the-art narrative review. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 63(5), 538–551. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2020.08.004

Estruch, R., Ros, E., Salas-Salvadó, J., Covas, M.-I., Corella, D., Arós, F., Gómez-Gracia, E., Ruiz-Gutiérrez, V., Fiol, M., Lapetra, J., Lamuela-Raventos, R. M., Serra-Majem, L., Pintó, X., Basora, J., Muñoz, M. A., Sorlí, J. V., Martínez, J. A., Fitó, M., Gea, A., … Martínez-González, M. A. (2018). Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet Supplemented with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil or Nuts. New England Journal of Medicine, 378(25), e34. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa1800389

Fihn, S. D., Gardin, J. M., Abrams, J., Berra, K., Blankenship, J. C., Dallas, A. P., Douglas, P. S., Foody, J. M., Gerber, T. C., Hinderliter, A. L., King, S. B., Kligfield, P. D., Krumholz, H. M., Kwong, R. Y. K., Lim, M. J., Linderbaum, J. A., Mack, M. J., Munger, M. A., Prager, R. L., … Williams, S. V. (2012). 2012 ACCF/AHA/ACP/AATS/PCNA/SCAI/STS Guideline for the Diagnosis and Management of Patients With Stable Ischemic Heart Disease: A Report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines, and the American College of Physicians, American Association for Thoracic Surgery, Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, and Society of Thoracic Surgeons. Circulation, 126(25). https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0b013e318277d6a0

Hollænder, P. L. B., Ross, A. B., & Kristensen, M. (2015). Whole-grain and blood lipid changes in apparently healthy adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 102(3), 556–572. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.109165

Philipson, H., Ekman, I., Forslund, H. B., Swedberg, K., & Schaufelberger, M. (2013). Salt and fluid restriction is effective in patients with chronic heart failure. European Journal of Heart Failure, 15(11), 1304–1310. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurjhf/hft097

Soliman, G. A. (2019). Dietary Fiber, Atherosclerosis, and Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients, 11(5), 1155. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11051155

Stress, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease. (n.d.). Read by QxMD. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://read.qxmd.com/read/11801260/stress-inflammation-and-cardiovascular-disease

Temple, N. J. (2018). Fat, Sugar, Whole Grains and Heart Disease: 50 Years of Confusion. Nutrients, 10(1), Article 1. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10010039

The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. (n.d.). Www.Heart.Org. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/aha-diet-and-lifestyle-recommendations

Yancy, C. W., Jessup, M., Bozkurt, B., Butler, J., Casey, D. E., Drazner, M. H., Fonarow, G. C., Geraci, S. A., Horwich, T., Januzzi, J. L., Johnson, M. R., Kasper, E. K., Levy, W. C., Masoudi, F. A., McBride, P. E., McMurray, J. J. V., Mitchell, J. E., Peterson, P. N., Riegel, B., … Wilkoff, B. L. (2013). 2013 ACCF/AHA Guideline for the Management of Heart Failure: A Report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 62(16), e147–e239. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2013.05.019

Yang, Q., Zhang, Z., Gregg, E. W., Flanders, W. D., Merritt, R., & Hu, F. B. (2014). Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174(4), 516–524. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563