Cardiac Diet

Cardiac diets are widely prescribed in the hospital setting for patients with heart disease, hypertension, myocardial infarction, hyperlipidemia, and dyslipidemia. A cardiac diet can be part of a plan for either treatment or prevention of cardiovascular disease. In general, it consists of foods the patient may classify as healthy.

The cardiac diet increases consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fiber and decreases consumption of fats and sodium. The diet prescription for long-term management may need to be adjusted depending on the goals of the diet or the diagnosis. A referral to a dietitian is recommended for outpatient diet evaluation and education.

The usual cardiac or heart healthy diet prescription follows the guidelines of the National Cholesterol Education Program which include:

A brief explanation of the different fats may be beneficial when dealing with patient questions. Dietary fats, particularly saturated and trans fats, can contribute to increasing total cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and triglycerides, which can cause plaque build-up on the blood vessel walls, decreasing the size of the blood vessel lumen. Restriction of the blood vessels increases the load on the heart because it needs to pump harder to get the blood through smaller openings.

Saturated fats are found mainly in animal products. They are termed “saturated” because on the molecular level they contain all single bonds. Unfortunately, this type of fat has been shown to increase low-density lipoprotein levels (LDL), which are associated with increased heart disease risk. Unsaturated fats contain double bonds and are encouraged in place of saturated fats because they help decrease LDL levels.

The newest addition to the identified fat family is the trans fat. Trans fat found its way into the spotlight because it has been shown to increase LDL and decrease high-density lipoproteins (the good blood cholesterol). As of January 2006, law requires that the trans fat content of foods be listed on the nutrition facts panel. This fat, found often in processed foods, is formed when hydrogen atoms are added to unsaturated fat to, in a sense, saturate them and create a solid product. Processed foods often contain these fats because they increase the shelf life. In the past there has been no dietary recommendation for trans fat. The most recent recommendation from the American Heart Association is to “limit…trans fat to less than 1% of daily calories” (Lichtenstein et al., 2006).

Sodium is restricted due to its tendency to increase blood pressure, as well as for its negative effect on the diuretic properties of some medications. Sodium is often restricted to 2,000-4,000 mg per day, depending on the diagnosis and medical plan of care.

In addition to fat and sodium restrictions, cardiac diets in the hospital may contain a caffeine restriction of 0-2 caffeine-containing items per day. Caffeine is a stimulant and can increase heart rate.

A cardiac diet takes into consideration both the benefits of restricting some food components as well as increasing consumption of healthy foods and food components.

Cardiac Diet Survival Skills

For more individualized diet prescription guidelines that what is listed below, encourage the patient to contact the registered dietitian after hospital discharge.