Diet After Heart Attack and Stents: What Can You Eat?

Okay, so you had to heart attack. Or maybe you had a stent (or multiple stents) placed. You’re still here. Your heart is still pumping. You’re in recovery mode. But what can you eat moving forward? Does your diet need a complete overhaul? Well, that depends on how you were eating in the weeks, months, or years before your surgery. Your diet after a heart attack or stent placement will likely need some adjusting.

In this article, I’ll explain the importance of a proper diet following a stent placement or heart attack and list a few heart-healthy dietary patterns that may benefit you. I’ll also give you a list of foods you can include in your diet to improve heart function along with a sample one-day post-stent diet and some healthy recipes to try!

What is an Angioplasty?

An angioplasty is a nonsurgical procedure that is used to open blocked or narrow arteries that supply blood to the heart (1). The narrowing of arteries is usually the result of a condition called atherosclerosis (a chronic disease leading to plaque build-up in arteries).

Angioplasty may also be referred to as percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).

There are two types of angioplasty:

  • balloon angioplasty
  • angioplasty with stent placement

An angioplasty is considered noninvasive because you are not being cut open. Instead, a needle is inserted into your extremity (either your wrist via the radial artery or your groin via the femoral artery). A wire is then guided into your artery and up to your heart.

Dye is injected into the heart and imaging is used to see the blood flow in your heart and locate any blockages.

If blockages are found, a tiny balloon is inflated and deflated to compact the plaque against the artery wall to allow more room for blood to flow through. Then a stent is inserted to keep the artery open.

Most patients who have a balloon angioplasty will also have a stent placement. More than one stent can be placed in the same procedure but this depends on how many and how severe the blockages are in your arteries.

According to the American Heart Association, about 600,000 cardiac stent procedures are performed each year in the United States (2).

Why Would Someone Need an Angioplasty?

An angiogram or angioplasty procedure is often performed in individuals who have established coronary artery disease (CAD) or have had a heart attack. It may also be recommended if you have unstable angina.

Unstable angina is a symptom resulting from blockages in your arteries. You will experience angina when your heart isn’t getting enough oxygen or blood flow. Symptoms of angina include:

  • Chest pain that radiates to the arm or jaw
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Pain that does not resolve after medication

One of the most distinguishing factors of unstable angina is that discomfort will not entirely go away when receiving nitroglycerin or aspirin (2).

angioplasty with balloon stent procedure
Image by brgfx on Freepik

What is a Stent?

A stent is a wire mesh device used to keep blocked arteries open. During an angioplasty, a stent is placed over a balloon and guided into your heart. The balloon is then inflated which opens the stent and locks it into place.

Then the balloon is deflated and taken out of the artery, leaving the wire mesh stent behind.

The procedure can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours and there is a recovery process afterwards.

You can expect to stay at the hospital for up to one day after the procedure. Some patients may even go home the same day. However, it’s important to follow any physical restrictions your doctor recommends.

Related Article: Can You Eat Before a Stress Test?

YouTube Video Explaining Angioplasty

For a quick explanation of this procedure using a femoral approach, you can watch this less than 4-minute YouTube video:

Pre-Stent Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations

On the day of your angioplasty or stent procedure, you will likely be instructed to not eat anything after midnight. Some surgeons may allow a light meal or clear liquids up to 6 hours before your procedure.

A few days before your angiogram or angioplasty, you may have to stop taking certain medications. These often include blood thinners like warfarin or Eliquis, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, or other medications. This is to prevent any complications or bleeding risk during your procedure.

When the angioplasty is over, you can generally restart your medication regimen. Your doctor may also prescribe some new or temporary medications for a brief period after your procedure.

Diet After Stent Placement or Angioplasty

Because a stent isn’t a permanent fix for future plaque build-up, it’s important to follow a heart-healthy diet and manage any risk factors for heart disease you have. The American Heart Association promotes two very specific dietary patterns to prevent and manage cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis. These are the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.

Both of these dietary patterns are excellent choices following a heart attack or stent placement. While there are differences between the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, they also have similarities that will help you recover and prevent future arterial blockages.

If you are interested in learning what and how to eat on either of these dietary patterns, check out the following articles:

For now, let’s talk about specific dietary changes you can make right away. These changes include adding specific foods into your diet while limiting others. First, let’s find out which healthy foods you should add to your diet.

Plant-Based Foods

Fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods are the building blocks of any nutritionally sound diet. They provide many vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and other components to support a healthy body and mind.

The key to heart health is following a healthy plant-based diet versus an unhealthy plant-based diet. What do I mean by this?

Well, a healthy plant-based diet includes whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes, oil-based salad dressings, and coffee and teas to drink.

A less healthy plant-based diet includes fruit juices, refined grains, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, and sweets and desserts.

By following a healthy diet focused on minimally processed, whole foods you will likely see improvements to your health and lower your risk of coronary heart disease (3).

Fiber-Rich Foods

The next type of nutrient you need to add to your heart-healthy diet after stent placement is FIBER! There are two different types of fiber; soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults aim for 25-30 grams of total dietary fiber each day.

The research on the benefits of soluble fiber, including beta-glucan (the fiber present in oats and barley) and psyllium, is quite impressive. One meta-analysis shows that individuals who consume high amounts of fiber reduce their risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by anywhere from 7% to 24%.

Some of the best high-fiber foods to include in a diet after stent placement include:

  • Oats and oat bran
  • Barley
  • Legumes, beans, and peas
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Prunes

Plant-Based Protein Sources

I already mentioned that a plant-forward diet is a highly encouraged component of a diet after heart attacks and stents. Another reason for adding more plants to your diet is for the plant-based protein!

By adding a variety of plant proteins into your diet, you can meet your protein needs easily and with all of the essential amino acids your body needs. Some excellent plant protein choices that contain nearly the same amino acid profile as animal meats are:

  • Soy products including tofu, tempeh, and soy milk
  • Canola protein
  • Potato protein
  • Pea protein
  • Quinoa

However, there are many other plant sources of protein that you may not be aware of. Check out some of them in the table below.

Chickpeas (Garbanzo beans)15 grams per 1 cup
Edamame (young soybeans)17 grams per 1 cup
Mung beans14 grams per 1 cup
Lentils12 grams per 1/2 cup
Oatmeal6 grams per 1/2 cup
Sunflower seeds7.5 grams per 1/4 cup
Nut butters8 grams per 2 tablespoons
Hemp seeds6 grams per 2 tablespoons
Table 1: Amount of protein in different plant food sources

By replacing some of the animal protein in your diet with more plant proteins, you are also more likely to consume less cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fat. This is because all of the above plant proteins have zero cholesterol and less sodium and fat than most animal proteins we consume.

And if you aren’t too keen on limiting your animal proteins, you can start by trying a plant-based protein powder in smoothies!

Supplements and Alternative Therapies

You may have heard of herbal or nutritional supplements to improve heart health. These include fish oil, fiber, magnesium, red yeast rice, and others.

You should not start taking any new supplements or herbal remedies without talking to your doctor first, as this could interfere with your current medications and lead to serious health issues.

Research is overall inconsistent on the benefits of vitamins and minerals on cardiovascular health. However, certain individuals who have vitamin and mineral deficiencies SHOULD take supplements to correct their deficiency and improve heart health.

If you are a smoker, have diabetes, or are more than 70 years old, you may need to get tested for nutrient deficiencies and begin a regular vitamin/mineral regimen.

Additionally, alternative therapies like aromatherapy also exist. This form of therapy may help relax you and reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety levels (4).

For more on supplements or aromatherapy, you may enjoy the following articles:

💙 If you’d like a copy of the exact handouts I use when talking to patients in my cardiac rehab class, you can purchase them by clicking the image below!

Cardiac rehab nutrition bundle handouts

💙Or sign up to my monthly email list and I’ll send you a copy of my Top 25 Best Foods for Heart Health!

Top 25 foods for heart health opt-in

Foods To Avoid After Angioplasty

Now that you have an idea of which foods to include, let me explain what not to eat when you have a stent.

First off, I want to say that I don’t want you to completely avoid any foods that you love. However, after a heart attack or stent placement, you may need to re-evaluate certain food choices in your life.

If any of the following types of foods are ones that you eat often or in large quantities and have likely contributed to your heart issue, it may be time to substitute these foods with healthier choices- maybe even some of the previously mentioned heart-healthy foods!

Another great option is to limit how often you eat these foods and your portion size when you do choose them.

Ultra-Processed Foods

Not all processed foods need to be limited in a diet after heart attack and stents. However, ultra-processed foods have been shown to have negative effects on heart health, and brain health, and increase your risk of death from all causes (5).

Ultra-processed foods are most often higher in calories, fat, sugars, and salt while having small amounts of nutrients and dietary fiber. Because of this, consuming a diet high in these types of foods raises your risk of developing many chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and dementia (6).

Ultra-processed foods are defined as having 5 or more ingredients. They will also include substances not normally used in homemade meals- like hydrolyzed protein, modified starches, hydrogenated oils, or a long list of other additives.

Some examples of ultra-processed foods include:

  • Mass-produced packaged buns and breads
  • Mass-produced breakfast cereals and energy bars
  • Cookies, pastries, cakes, and cake mixes
  • Chocolates and candies
  • Sweet or savory packaged snacks
  • Ice cream
  • Carbonated drinks, milk drinks, fruit drinks
  • Chicken nuggets, fish sticks
  • Hot dogs, sausage, and other lunch meats
  • Packaged “instant” noodles

Suggested Article: The Best Alternatives to Deli Meat (Plus 13 Yummy Recipes)

Saturated Fat and Trans Fat

Saturated fat and trans fat are also on the list of what not to eat when you have a stent.

You will find saturated fats in foods such as full-fat dairy products, animal meats, butter, lard, and palm oil. Numerous studies have found no association between saturated fat intake and heart disease. Still, the American Heart Association recommends that those with high cholesterol limit their total daily saturated fat intake to 5-6% of their total calories (7, 8).

For reference, if you consume 2,000 calories per day, you need to limit saturated fat to 13 grams per day.

Then there are trans fatty acids which are found in some ultra-processed foods or foods with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats are linked to an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease (9).

There is no safe amount of trans fatty acids. Therefore, it’s best to keep intake to an absolute minimum or avoid them completely.

Added Sugars

When following a proper diet after a stent placement, take extra care to limit any added sugars in your diet. This is because added sugars add excess calories, leading to weight gain, and increasing mortality risk from heart disease (10, 11).

Research shows that most adults consume more added sugars than recommended. The majority of these added sugars come from soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages (11).

The American Heart Association has specific recommendations for the amount of added sugars you are allowed. The amount is different depending on your gender:

Males– limit added sugars to no more than 150 calories per day or around 9 teaspoons of sugar

Females– limits added sugars to no more than 100 calories per day or around 6 teaspoons of sugar

Added sugars include any sweeteners you “add” to your food or any sugars that have been added during processing. Examples of added sugars include:

  • White sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup and corn syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Honey
  • Agave
  • Molasses
  • Malt syrup
  • Anything ending in -ose (glucose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, etc.)

Common Concerns and Myths

There are often some misconceptions about what happens after an angioplasty or stent placement. Let’s talk about some of these and clear the air so you know what to expect.

Myth #1: I Can Stop Taking Heart Medications After Angioplasty

The answer to this is no. Because you now have stents in place, you have to continue taking your heart medications to prevent future blockages from occurring in other areas.

It is also common for your doctor to prescribe additional medications like a blood thinner, aspirin, a statin, or anti-diabetic medications (if you have diabetes) following a heart stent procedure.

You may be on these new medications for a few weeks or the rest of your life. However, medications are very much individualized for each patient. Factors your cardiologist will consider when individualizing medications include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Other health conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, etc.)
  • Genetics
  • Socioeconomic factors

Make sure you discuss any medication changes pre and post-op with your doctor ahead of time.

In my experience, many heart attack and stent patients are on warfarin. This is a blood thinner that interacts with naturally-derived vitamin K in the foods that you eat. Vitamin K helps our blood to clot. So, if you are taking warfarin, you need to know which foods are high in vitamin K.

By educating yourself, you can ensure you are keeping your intake consistent each day and avoid major adjustments to your warfarin dose.

Myth #2: Angioplasty and Stents Are a Permanent Fix

Sadly no. An angioplasty procedure can help open your arteries to give you relief from chest pain, however, it is not a permanent fix to heart disease. It will not guarantee that you will not need future stent placements or a coronary artery bypass graft procedure (or CABG) in the future.

To avoid future heart blockage and the need for surgery, you need to address any underlying issues that led to the development of atherosclerosis.

Your success rate following a stent procedure is determined by many factors including those listed in the previous myth along with diet and lifestyle.

Overall, stent placement procedures have a success rate of 94% to 97% (12). This is wonderful, but it also means there is a small chance that re-narrowing of your arteries can occur.

Related Article: 5 Things You Can Do to Support Heart Health NOW

Myth #3: The Recovery Process Is Long

This is also not true. Angioplasty procedures are not as invasive as open heart surgery. Therefore, the recovery process is quicker than most people expect.

After your stent placement, you may be walking around within a few hours. Most individuals are back to their normal daily routines within 1-2 weeks.

Physical activity is a crucial part of any cardiac rehab. You will likely be encouraged to continue some form of daily exercise to keep your strengthen your heart and help you recover.

Myth #4: I Have To Avoid Eating ALL Fats

This is not entirely true. While it is recommended that you limit the amount of saturated fat and trans fat you consume, not ALL fats are harmful to your heart.

Healthy fats from plant sources like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil can be a great addition to a heart-healthy diet after stent placement. These are monounsaturated fats.

Another type of healthy fats are called polyunsaturated fats. These come from fatty fish, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and eggs.

The American Heart Association strongly suggests replacing the saturated fats and trans fats in your diet with more heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats. Doing this can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL-C), which is a cause of atherosclerosis (13).

The type of fat you consume matters greatly! Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats should be included in a diet after stent placement. However, since all fats are still very calorie-dense, you will need to watch how much you eat to avoid weight gain.

Sample 1-Day Diet After Stent Implant

Now that you’re aware of what foods to include and which foods to limit, let’s put it all together. Here is a sample 1-day diet for after a heart attack or stents.

Breakfast1/2 cup oatmeal, cooked
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1/2 mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)
1 cup soymilk
coffee or tea
AM Snack1 cup low-fat yogurt
1/4 cup low-fat granola
LunchTuna fish sandwich with tomato and avocado slices on whole wheat bread
1 cup Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
2 small mandarin oranges
PM Snack1-2 oz. mixed unsalted nuts
1 apple
Dinner1 1/2 cups tofu stir-fry with mixed vegetables
1/2 cup brown rice
water or decaffeinated tea
Bedtime Snack2-4 tablespoons hummus
veggie sticks
Table 2: Sample 1-Day Diet for After Heart Attack and Stents

Meal Planning Tips

When beginning to eat healthier after a heart attack and stent, you may feel overwhelmed. Grocery shopping and meal prep may become anxiety-provoking tasks. However, with the following tips, maybe you can get through these tasks with more enjoyment.

Make a list– Make a grocery list ahead of time that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins or plant proteins, low -fat dairy, and unsweetened beverages to make shopping a breeze.

Read food labels– While shopping choose foods that are lower in saturated fat and sodium. If canned foods are available in “no added salt” varieties, choose those! Likewise, unprocessed foods will have more fiber. And remember to limit added sugars.

Add a fruit or veggie– A good rule to follow is to include a fruit or vegetable at every meal or snack time. This will help you meet your fruit and veggie intake for the day and provide many nutrients your body needs.

Basic cooking methods– When preparing meals at home, choose easy, low-fat cooking methods like grilling, boiling, broiling, stir-frying, or baking. Experiment with these cooking methods on the same foods to get different results.

Follow serving sizes– To keep calories and weight in check, following the correct serving sizes is crucial. If a food item has a nutrition facts label the serving size will be listed at the top For fruits, vegetables, or other food items that do not have a food label, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has a convenient serving size card you can print!

Additionally, if you have any other health conditions (diabetes, kidney disease, etc.), make sure you are following any other dietary recommendations to manage those conditions.

Heart Healthy Recipes

There are many healthy recipes available online but also ones that aren’t as healthy.

You can improve your diet after heart attack and stents by making simple recipe substitutions to any of your current recipes or ones you find online. To learn more about healthy recipe substitutions, read 5 Healthy Recipe Substitutions [Plus Free PDF].

There are also many recipes available on this website. Feel free to browse my recipe section and try some of my favorites. I do my best to add quick and easy recipes including entrees, soups, snacks, smoothies, and even sweet treats that follow cardiac diet recommendations.

Here are some of my favorite (and easy) heart-healthy recipes:

Bright pink beetroot smoothie to help lower blood pressure in a clear glass surrounded by a halved yellow lemon, ripe, red raspberries and beetroot
Pictured: Beet Smoothie for High Blood Pressure

Conclusion

Stents are placed to keep arteries open so that blood and oxygen can flow through freely. After that, it’s up to you to eat a heart-healthy diet after stent placement and make the appropriate lifestyle changes to prevent further blockages. By adding in specific foods and limiting others, you can be sure you’re diet is exactly what the doctor (and dietitian 😉) ordered.

A whole foods, plant-focused diet can help you recover from a stent and heart attack. It can also help protect your heart by improving blood pressure and cholesterol levels. You also need to be mindful of how much highly processed foods, added sugars and sweets, saturated fat, and sodium you are consuming.

Talk to your physician about any alternative therapies that may help you on your journey toward a healthier heart. And don’t be shy about asking to speak with a registered dietitian who can help you further. Try out new and exciting recipes that will give you the proper nutrients you need to heal and recover. The sample diet and tips given are ones that I encourage my own patients to try. So I hope you find value in them too. You got this!

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