Atrial Fibrillation can be daunting when first diagnosed. It can seem that the condition will dictate your life from that moment onwards, however there are many things you can do to control the symptoms of AFib and live your life to the fullest. In this blog series, ‘Living with AFib’, I will be discussing all aspects of life affected by the condition, including exercise, diet, going on holiday, etc.
We begin the series with some of the top tips for keeping AFib symptoms to a minimum with regards to what you’re putting into your body; Diet. Below are my top diet tips for living with AFib:
Salt contributes to high blood pressure, increasing your risk of atrial fibrillation and potentially making symptoms harder to control. Salt intake should be restricted to under 2,400mgs daily. This will require you to read the nutritional values on food labels — processed foods such as canned goods and processed meat tends to have a high sodium content — and limit your use of the salt dispenser when cooking and at the table as this makes monitoring your salt intake a lot more difficult.
As you’ve probably heard on the news for the past decade, animal-based foods such as butter, cheese, whole milk, ice cream, and fatty meats contain large quantities of saturated fats that are not good for heart health. Limit saturated fat to 10 percent of your total daily calorie intake by choosing healthier low- or no-fat dairy and lean meats (trim any visible fat before cooking). Also avoid processed and fried foods.
There is some evidence to suggest that the unsaturated fats in fish can reduce your risk of an AFib event and protect your heart against irregular heartbeat patterns, although this isn’t proven. The National Institute of Health suggests eating fish, at a minimum, two nights a week. When preparing fish, try heart-healthy techniques including grilling, broiling, baking, and steaming — studies did not find any benefits at all from fried fish.
Fruits and vegetables provide the highest volume of nutrition, fiber, minerals, and vitamins contained within the lowest amount of calories. Ideally, you should aim to have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables everyday. However, you should also steer clear of foods packed with sugar, such as processed baked goods, candy, and sugary sodas.
Whole grains are a perfect food for keeping AFib at bay, as they have not been fully processed and still have their outer shell, where the majority of their fibre and nutrients can be found. Processed grains, used in items such as white bread and regular pasta, have the shell removed and do not help you to control your appetite or blood sugar very well. You should try to start the day with whole-grain oatmeal, and push for a total of six servings of nutrient-rich whole grains each day.
Portion control can be one of the most effective routes to reaching or maintaining a healthy weight. Portion sizes at restaurants can often feed more than one, and depending on the person, occasionally home serving sizes can also be excessive. There are many online tools to help inform you about portion sizes. For example, a food scale can show you exactly how much of each food group you need to be eating — which may be smaller than you think.
Don’t make the mistake of fattening up heart-healthy foods by preparing them incorrectly. Be sure to broil or roast chicken and lean beef, rather than frying. Steam your vegetables to get the most out of their natural flavours — and refrain from smothering your food with butter, salt, or sugar. Finally, when your recipe does need some fat, choose the unsaturated kind, such as olive oil, instead of butter or lard.
Caffeine, similar to alcohol, can potentially put you at increased risk of triggering the symptoms of atrial fibrillation. Although small amounts of coffee are not likely to cause an atrial fibrillation event for the majority of people, it can increase your heart rate and put you at risk.