Dr. Mansfield
Maintaining a healthy diet is important for everyone, but especially for someone with coronary artery disease. Captain Miller, can you tell us how diet affects heart health?

Captain Miller
Of course, Dr. Mansfield. Plaque that builds up in the coronary arteries consists, in large part, of fat and cholesterol, both of which are affected by diet.

In general, calories that are not used for energy are stored as fat. Overeating without compensating with extra physical activity can lead to an accumulation of body fat, including inside the arteries. In addition, foods with saturated fat and trans fat can raise blood cholesterol.

Cholesterol comes from two sources. The first is the body itself. The liver produces varying amounts of cholesterol, usually about 1000 milligrams per day.

The second source of cholesterol is food. Generally, foods from animal sources, such as egg yolks, red meat, organ meats, poultry, and whole milk dairy products contain cholesterol. The body typically makes all the cholesterol it needs, so it's not really necessary to consume more. Foods from plants, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds, don't contain cholesterol.

Sodium, or salt, intake can also affect the risk for coronary artery disease because there is a strong relationship between sodium intake and blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage the coronary arteries, making them more vulnerable to plaque buildup. The recommended daily intake of sodium is no more than 2300 milligrams.

Heart-healthy diets, such as the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet, and whole food, plant-based diets, can help lower the amount of cholesterol, fat, and sodium acting on the cardiovascular system. Low-carbohydrate and high-protein diets are not heart-healthy, and should be avoided.