Eating Healthy When You Have Atrial Fibrillation
Like many other health conditions, atrial fibrillation becomes more manageable when you adopt a healthy diet. While changing your eating habits can’t cure AF, taking steps to improve them may reduce the number of AF episodes you suffer in addition to slowing the progression of the disease.
Of course, there is also a world of conflicting information out there about the “best” AF diet, just as there is for weight loss or any other condition. Every person’s body is unique, which makes it hard to speak in absolutes. Still, there are a few key principles which seem to hold true.
Commercial Diets that Work
Many AF patients will begin their journey by looking for a commercial diet or a proven eating system which tells them what they can and can’t have. Several have proven to be effective.
The first is the Paleo diet, which focuses on returning people to mankind’s earliest eating habits. Many people are successful on this diet because it does not rely on portion control or calorie counting. Instead it cuts sugary, salty processed foods and drinks, as well as pasta, rice, bread, and cereal. Paleo dieters stick to grass-fed meat, fowl, fish, eggs, vegetables, natural cooking oils, some fruits and nuts, and the occasional sweet potato. Most of the benefit may well come from the reduction of sugar and salt alone.
Many people with atrial fibrillation have also found a great deal of success with The Mediterranean Diet. Most of the allowed foods are very similar to the Paleo Diet, with fewer restrictions: healthy whole grains make it back onto the menu, as do coffee, tea, and wine in moderation. You’ll have to watch your own triggers of course; if you know wine is one of yours then you’ll need to avoid it.
The Rosedale Diet and the Schwarzbein Diet are two other diets people with AF have tried with success. These diets are similar in that they limit carbs, starches, sugars, and processed foods. You could as easily choose any diet that does the same (the South Beach Diet, the Atkins 40, etc.) and perhaps see very similar results.
Rigid Diet or General Principles?
Most people struggle to follow a rigid diet. One bad day at work, one family vacation, or one night out with friends can make many commercial diets frustrating, if not impossible, to follow. Slip too many times and you might find yourself ready to give up.
Thus, it may be better to focus on the principles behind these diets. For example, the primary benefit of a low-carb diet might boil down to reducing gluten. If you’re gluten-sensitive you’ll tend to gather weight around your gut, which can crowd the stomach and diaphragm into the heart area. This crowding can increase the number of episodes you suffer.
By focusing on the principles, you can control your shopping and cooking. For the most part, you’ll eat healthy enough, but you won’t have to obsess or beat yourself up if you break and indulge in a piece of pizza at an office party.
Building Your Own “AF Diet”
If you’re going to focus on the principles bringing all these diets together then you’ll want to let the following guidelines influence your food choices:
- Choose whole grains over simple carbs, or eliminate carbs and gluten altogether.
- Watch the GI index. Choose non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits.
- Eat protein every day, but focus more on fish and fowl than on red meat.
- Use healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and grapeseed oil.
- Use caffeine and alcohol only in moderation.
- Limit processed foods, sugar, and soda
As a bonus, following these principles won’t just help you manage your AF, but they’ll improve your overall health and may even lead to long-term weight loss.
Author by line:
Travis Van Slooten is an atrial fibrillation patient who has been passionate about providing knowledge, inspiration, and support to fellow AF patients through his blog at www.livingwithatrialfibrillation.com