It is possible to reverse certain kinds of heart disease, like coronary artery disease, which involve cholesterol plaque building up in the arteries.
A coronary artery disease patient might stop additional plaque deposits through healthy lifestyle changes and medical treatments. Sometimes, the severity of the disease can be reversed. However, the primary goal should be to get a handle on your symptoms and reduce the risk of more adverse consequences due to cardiovascular disease.
Specific changes to your eating and lifestyle have the potential to prevent, reverse, and successfully manage all types of heart disease.
Why Is Your Diet Crucial to Reversing and Managing Heart Disease?
A healthy diet is a crucial component of reversing and managing heart disease. The foods we consume can have a significant impact on our health. Diet is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for those who suffer from heart disease because it can help to reverse or manage the condition.
There are many different diets that you can follow in order to help your heart disease, including the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, and the ketogenic diet. The best thing to do is to find a diet that suits your lifestyle and make sure you stay committed to it.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. According to the CDC, the most common kind of heart disease is coronary heart disease, which killed over 380,000 people in 2020 alone. In general, nearly 700,000 people died of all manners of heart disease in the US that same year.
If you’re already suffering from heart disease or at high risk of it, following a diet that reverses, prevents, or successfully manages heart disease should be your top priority.
12 Suggestions to Help with Your Heart Healthy Diet
This following tips have been proven in various studies to reverse heart disease by improving cardiovascular health and lowering risk factors for diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
1. Commit to Smoking Cessation (If You're a Smoker)
We need to start with a disclaimer. You can’t reverse something like coronary heart disease (or any other heart disease) if you don’t quit smoking (if you’re a smoker).
You can make other dietary and lifestyle changes to bolster heart health. However, living smoke-free is a non-negotiable facet of a lifestyle focused on heart health.
- Quitting smoking will immediately improve heart health
- This is the only way you’ll ever reverse a condition like coronary heart disease
- Smoking is addictive, and quitting is easier said than done
The Bottom Line On Quitting Smoking: The first step for smokers toward reversing heart disease or avoiding developing heart disease is to stop smoking. It’s a challenging lifestyle change, but it will be a boon to your heart health and overall wellness.
2. Follow the Ornish Diet
Dean Ornish is the Medical Doctor who developed the following two innovative methods of treating heart disease:
- He created the Ornish Diet
- He developed the cardiac rehabilitation program known as Ornish Lifestyle Medicine
The Ornish Diet is a plant-based diet featuring:
- Soy foods
- Whole grains
You can also eat egg whites and nonfat dairy foods, such as yogurt and non-fat milk, are permitted up to two servings. Ornish lifestyle medicine and the Ornish Diet were game-changing innovations in heart health and the first to reverse heart disease.
- The Ornish diet Offers more food per calorie than other dietary approaches
- There is a history of a complete reversal of heart disease
- This diet is rigid–you’ll only achieve the desired result through strict adherence
- Since you’re cutting out 10% of fat, there’s a chance for a macronutrient imbalance, which is risky if you’re pre-diabetic or have diabetes
The Bottom Line On The Ornish Diet: Combined with stress reduction, frequent exercise, and a shift to an overall healthy lifestyle, strict adherence to the Ornish Diet may successfully reverse cardiovascular disease.
3. Try Another Plant-Based Diet If You're Not Interested in Following Ornish's Suggestions
Strictly eating plant-based foods and trying out a vegetarian diet or vegan diet doesn’t begin and end with the Ornish program.
One 2014 study of nearly 200 patients showed that the 177 people who only ate plant-based foods experienced decreased symptoms, while 22% experienced a reversal, per test results.
A vegan or vegetarian diet excluding processed foods, added oils, refined carbs, sugar, excess salt, avocado, nuts, and fruit juice might do wonders for heart disease patients.
- Going plant-based improves gut health, allowing you to absorb nutrients better, likely contributing to a reversal and complete recovery from heart disease
- Plant-based foods are better for the environment
- Giving up meat is challenging
- Produce is perishable and can be hard to prevent from spoiling
The Bottom Line On Plant-Based Foods: A plant-based approach may prevent, manage, and reverse heart disease–but it’s not always the easiest lifestyle to adhere to.
4. Add Healthy Fats to Your Diet
Of course, if heart disease is an issue for you, trans fats and saturated fats aren’t wise dietary options for you.
Yet, one particular shortcoming of Ornish’s approach is a lack of healthy fats. To that point, evidence continues to grow that suggests healthy fats can reverse coronary artery disease.
- Healthy fat is known to lower bad (LDL) cholesterols while increasing good (HDL) cholesterol
- Results suggest these fats may reverse some instances of heart disease
- Deciphering between bad fats like trans fats and good fats (like you’d find in many plant-based options) can be confusing
The Bottom Line On Adding More Healthy Fat To Your Diet: Adding good fats to a heart disease management and reversal diet is a welcome update to Ornish’s method.
5. Not a Vegetarian? Then Consider Sticking to Lean Meat
Since high blood pressure (BP) and heart disease are closely intertwined, it makes sense that incredibly low BP can reverse damage to your heart.
Also, eating lean red meat can combat high blood pressure and, in turn, help reverse damage from heart disease.
- You’ll increase your HDL cholesterol with leaner cuts of meat–a boon to heart health
- Lean red meat (not processed meats) is proven to decrease your blood pressure
- Beef prices continue to rise, making this an expensive dietary choice (although lean meats are less costly than their fatty counterparts)
The Bottom Line On Lean Meats: If you can afford it, enjoy the suggested daily servings of lean meat to prevent high blood pressure and reverse or manage heart disease symptoms.
6. Whole Milk Is Better than Low-Fat Dairy Products
People who consume more dairy fat (found in yogurt, cheese, and whole milk) aren’t as likely to experience heart disease as those who consume less dairy fat.
Thus, full-fat milk could be better than low-fat or non-fat dairy products when combatting–and potentially reversing–heart disease.
- Full-fat milk lowers blood pressure, which can lead to reversed heart damage
- This approach will make you feel full without an excess of calories
- This isn’t an option for anybody with lactose sensitivity
- Drinking too much full-fat milk can worsen heart disease risks because of its fat content
The Bottom Line On Whole Milk: Full-fat milk might help reverse or manage heart disease–just be sure to enjoy it in moderation.
7. Follow the Mediterranean Diet
The American Heart Association suggests the Step 1 diet, which is high in carbs and allows up to 30% of energy from fat.
Alternatively, those adhering to the Mediterranean Diet experienced between 50% and 70% decreased recurrent heart disease risk than those following the Step 1 diet.
This diet is plant-based but, unlike Ornish’s nutritional guidelines, suggests treating carbs as treats. Comparatively, Ornish recommends having two “bad carb” servings daily.
- The Mediterranean approach also calls for more fats than Ornish’s diet
- This approach has direct links with improved heart health
- This diet can cause weight gain if you aren’t careful about calories (and if you aren’t active)
- Following this diet can be expensive
Bottom Line On The Mediterranean Diet: The Mediterranean diet offers well-rounded plant-based nutrition to improve heart health and might help reverse heart disease.
8. Incorporate Enough Whole Grains Into Your Heart-Healthy Diet
You’ll regulate your blood pressure and improve your heart health by replacing refined grain products (e.g., refined white flour, white bread) with whole grains (e.g., whole-wheat flour, kasha).
- Incorporating whole grains into your diet is rooted in heart health–but it can also be made adventurous with barley, farro, or quinoa
- Such foods are high in fiber and will make you feel full, contributing to maintaining a healthy weight–which is also ideal for heart health
- While these foods are part of a heart-healthy diet, they are high in calories and may contribute to unhealthy weight gain
The Bottom Line On Whole Grains: Getting the appropriate amount of whole grains might be integral to a heart-healthy diet.
9. Don't Neglect Your Dietary Cholesterol Intake
Medical News Today points out how the American Heart Association has changed its stance on dietary cholesterol over the years. The AHA now acknowledges that high HDL levels in foods such as fatty dairy and eggs appear to protect against heart disease.
- Dietary cholesterol is filling, offering you more bang for your buck with calories
- Too much HDL still leads to heart disease
The Bottom Line On Dietary Cholesterol: Incorporating the appropriate amount of dietary cholesterol (specifically, HDL) (45 mg/dL for males and 55mg/dl for females) may reverse and protect against heart disease.
10. Limit Your LDL (Or "Bad") Cholesterol Intake
“Bad” LDL cholesterol causes an increase of plaque in your arteries, leading to heart disease issues like coronary artery disease.
You’ll want to avoid fatty red meat, pork, beef, and lamb. Additionally, fried foods, baked goods, and processed meat intake should be limited.
- Limiting these “bad” cholesterols might protect you from heart disease and atherosclerosis
- Foods that good cholesterols typically also contain bad cholesterols–finding balance might be challenging
The Bottom Line On Limiting LDL Cholesterol: If those with heart disease keep LDL levels below 70 mg/dl, they may reverse or mitigate the condition. Those at a higher risk of heart disease should keep their daily LDL intake under 100 mg/dL.
11. Be Mindful of Portion Size
Portion sizes are almost as crucial to heart health as what you’re eating, explains the Mayo Clinic. It’s wise to use smaller bowls and limit your number of servings per meal to ensure you aren’t overloading on healthy foods and unhealthy foods.
- Even if you’re indulging in a less healthy treat, controlling your portion can offset harm
- The recommended number of servings per food group varies and can be confusing to track
The Bottom Line On Controlling Portion Size: Garnering an understanding of your ideal portion size (based on factors such as age and height) is a vital component of a heart-healthy diet.
12. Carefully Manage Your Sodium Intake
Taking too much salt increases your blood pressure and, with it, your risk of heart disease.
Although the ideal daily sodium intake for healthy adults is less than 2,300 mg, it’s best to try not to go over 1,500 per day.
- You don’t need to eliminate salt, even if you have heart disease–you merely need to moderate
- Convenience foods like frozen dinners and canned foods are packed with sodium, making it hard to limit intake if you lead a busy lifestyle
The Bottom Line On Limiting Sodium in Your Diet: You might reverse, manage, or prevent heart disease by controlling your diet's sodium levels. Provided you don’t have time to prepare fresh-food meals, seek canned and frozen options with lower sodium content.
How Can Top Nutrition Coaching Help You Reverse Heart Disease?
Few things make you confront your mortality like a heart disease diagnosis. It’s a sobering revelation that can make even the strongest of us feel helpless.
With Top Nutrition Coaching at your side, you’ll have the support and help that makes you feel empowered in facing your heart disease.
We’ll offer the knowledge, guidance, and education to make you confident you can manage (or possibly reverse) your heart disease diagnosis. What’s more? We bring our high level of nutritional expertise to you–you don’t need to come to us.
Getting matched with one of our Registered Dieticians specializing in heart health is a simple matter of filling out our quiz and leaving the rest to us. We want you to become the healthiest version of yourself in the most practical, convenient way possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you quickly reverse your heart disease?
Following these steps may help to reverse your heart disease ASAP:
- Cut down on trans and saturated fat
- Moderate cholesterol leaves
- Eat more fiber-rich whole foods
- Reduce body fat (if you’re overweight)
- Move more
- Limit sodium in your diet
- Cut down on sugar
- Quit cigarettes
What vitamin helps eliminate plaque from your arteries?
Niacin and Vitamin B3 help get rid of excess plaque in your arteries.
Can a diseased heart repair on its own?
After a heart attack, the heart can’t regenerate muscle.