Atrial Fibrillation: Foods to Watch When You Have AFib

Excess sodium in deli turkey may trigger AFib symptoms.

When you have AFib, an irregular heartbeat, you need to watch what you eat. Too much salt raises your blood pressure, and high blood pressure may make you more likely to go into AFib. It may also make symptoms harder to manage, so your odds of having a stroke go up. One serving of deli turkey slices could have more than 1,000 milligrams of sodium. That's about half of what's OK for an entire day. Other super-salty foods include pizza, canned soups, breads, and rolls. Check food labels to find lower-sodium options.


Sugar increases the risk of obesity and high blood pressure, which can set off bouts of AFib.

Read the sugar content before you buy this quick and easy breakfast food. One popular fruit-flavored brand has about 11 grams of sugar in one packet -- almost 3 teaspoons of added sugar. Extra sugar in your diet can lead to obesity and high blood pressure, which can set off bouts of AFib. Other surprising sugar sources: pasta sauce, granola bars, and ketchup.


Caffeine increases blood pressure and heart rate, both of which are bad for AFib.

The science on caffeine as a trigger for AFib is somewhat mixed. Older research suggests a link, newer studies don't. But either way, you should go easy on your coffee. Too much caffeine could raise your blood pressure and heart rate, which might set off episodes of AFib. Stick to no more than two or three cups a day. Or switch to decaf. Or do both.


Vitamin K in leafy greens may interfere with blood thinning medications.

Taking a blood thinner can help stop clots, which lead to a stroke, from forming. But one type of these medications may not work as well when you eat foods high in vitamin K like lettuce, spinach, and kale. Talk to your doctor to find out if leafy greens change how well your medication works. If so, your doctor may be able to adjust your dose or change your medication so you can enjoy these healthy foods.


Grapefruit and grapefruit juice may interfere with the metabolism of certain medications.

If you take medicine to control your heart rhythm, skip this citrus fruit until you talk to your doctor. Grapefruits and grapefruit juice have chemicals that can change the way you digest certain medications. That makes side effects from these drugs more likely. Check with your doctor about whether grapefruit is OK for you.


Saturated fat in meat increases LDL cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease, AFib and stroke.

The saturated fats in beef, lamb, and pork are the kind that raise bad cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to heart disease and AFib and raise your odds of a stroke. Put lean cuts of beef, such as round or sirloin, and pork tenderloin or loin chops on the menu instead. For burgers or meatloaf, choose at least 90% lean ground beef, or replace half the meat with beans for a twist that trims fat.


Butter is high in saturated fat, which may trigger AFib episodes.

Dairy products made from whole or 2% milk, cream, and cheese are also sources of saturated fat. Your body already makes all the "bad" cholesterol it needs, and eating foods with saturated fat causes it to make even more. The better-for-your-heart choice: skim milk and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Use heart-healthy oils like olive and canola for cooking.


Fried foods are high in trans fats that are harmful.

Doughnuts, potato chips, and french fries may have what some doctors call the worst type of fat you can eat: trans fat. Unlike other fats, these are a double-whammy: They raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. Baked goods, including cookies, cakes, and muffins, may also have them. Watch out for "partially hydrogenated oil" in the ingredients.


Stimulants in energy drinks may trigger AFib.

Many brands add other ingredients to a super-sized shot of caffeine to give you a boost. That combo may be worse for your heart than caffeine alone. In one small study, energy drinks caused more changes to the heart's rhythm than other drinks with just as much caffeine. Another study linked energy drinks to bouts of AFib. Check with your doctor before downing these pick-me-ups.


Use spices in place of excess salt to keep your sodium intake down.

Sure, the crystals are bigger than regular salt and the flavor a little stronger. But sea salt still has about the same amount of sodium as table salt, contrary to what many people think. One teaspoon of either has about 2,300 milligrams of sodium -- the recommended limit per day. To help shake your salt habit, try different spices and herbs to season your food, such as ginger on chicken or paprika in soups.


White rice has been stripped of nutrients and fiber.

These little grains are stripped of the nutrients and fiber your heart needs to stay healthy. Fiber can help improve cholesterol levels. It may also lower your risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes -- conditions linked to AFib. Opt for whole-grain brown or wild rice. Whole grains are more filling and may help lower your chance of stroke.


Frozen slushies and frozen drinks may trigger episodes of AFib.

Those same icy drinks that cool you off on a hot, steamy day can also set off an episode of AFib. Though research is still in its early stages, one recently published study suggests there may be a link between downing a cold beverage, brain freeze, and an irregular heartbeat. If you notice a flutter after eating or drinking something cold, talk to your doctor.


Excess weight increases the risk of AFib.

Overeating even healthy foods can pack on the pounds. You have a higher chance of getting AFib when you're overweight. It also makes your AFib more likely to come back after certain treatments, like ablation. If you're obese (your BMI is 30 or more), aim to lose at least 10% of your body weight. Start with portion control: Split an entree with a friend when you're eating out, or pack up half your meal to go before you even take a bite.

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