Heart bypass surgery diet

Keeping Blood Vessels Clear After a Bypass

Coronary artery bypass surgery may be common, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a serious undertaking that requires significant recovery time. If you’ve had it, odds are you’ll want to do everything you can to keep your heart healthy and to avoid needing a future bypass surgery.

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When your doctor sends you home from the hospital, you’ll no doubt have some heart medication prescriptions. But you’ll also have strict instructions to change your lifestyle to healthy, or healthier, habits to keep those newly grafted blood vessels clear and free of plaque.

Tips for Healthy Living and Clear Blood Vessels

A healthy lifestyle is the key to keeping blood vessels clear following coronary artery bypass surgery. Here’s what you can do to minimize fat and cholesterol buildup in your blood and blood vessels:

  • Trim the fat and cholesterol from your diet. When you eat fatty foods, some of the fat flows through your bloodstream, where it can stick to the walls of your blood vessels. Eventually it builds up and forms a hard, sticky plaque, which clogs blood vessels — the reason you had bypass surgery. To keep blood vessels clear after bypass surgery, avoid foods high in fat and cholesterol, such as whole milk, cheese, cream, ice cream, butter, high-fat meats, egg yolks, baked desserts, and any foods that are fried.
  • Shed excess weight. Maintaining a healthy body weight is important to keep your heart healthy and blood vessels clear. Weigh yourself regularly, and track your weight. Let your doctor know if you gain even a few pounds very quickly. And use diet and exercise to lose excess pounds and keep them off.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise not only makes your heart stronger, but it helps to minimize your heart disease risk. You probably will be enrolled in a cardiac rehabilitation program which involves a gradual return to exercise. Follow your doctor’s instructions for getting regular aerobic exercise — walking, jogging, biking, swimming — to get your heart pumping. You will probably be advised to exercise at least three to five days each week, for at least 30 to 60 minutes per session.
  • Manage your stress and prevent depression. Your mental and emotional health can affect your physical health, and stress and depression can strike after coronary artery bypass surgery. Keep your stress levels under control, and battle depression with regular exercise, staying socially active, getting plenty of sleep, and talking to friends or members of a support group about what you’re feeling. Some people may also benefit from a prescription anti-depressant.
  • Participate in cardiac rehabilitation. Cardiac rehab can help you manage all of these lifestyle changes. Your cardiac rehab team will assess the strength of your heart to be sure it’s improving, and teach you how to eat well and get plenty of exercise to help you lose weight and strengthen your heart.

Medications to Keep Blood Vessels Clear

Lifestyle changes play an important role in keeping your heart healthy and blood vessels free of plaque buildup, but often lifestyle changes aren’t quite enough by themselves. You’ll probably need medications to help.

Make Sure You Follow Up After a Heart Attack

Your doctor may want you to take something as simple as a daily aspirin. Aspirin therapy has many benefits for people wanting to prevent heart disease, including:

  • Decreasing the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke
  • Helping to manage pain from other conditions
  • Preventing dangerous blood clots

Other medications your doctor may prescribe following coronary artery bypass surgery include:

  • Cholesterol-lowering medications
  • Blood pressure-lowering medications
  • Other antiplatelet drugs, such as clopidogrel (Plavix), to prevent blood clots

Learning to live a healthy lifestyle — coupled with the right combination of medications — can help keep blood vessels clear and you off the operating table.

Learn more in the Everyday Health Heart Health Center.

Living with

Coronary artery bypass graft

Healthy lifestyle

There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make after having a coronary artery bypass graft to help reduce your risk of further heart problems.

Healthy diet

An unhealthy diet can increase your chances of developing heart problems after a coronary artery bypass graft.

To reduce this risk, you should ensure your diet is low in saturated fat and salt, but high in fibre and omega-3 (a fatty acid that can help reduce your cholesterol levels).

Examples of foods you should try to avoid include:

  • meat pies
  • sausages and fatty cuts of meat
  • butter, lard and ghee (a type of butter often used in Indian cooking)
  • cream
  • cakes and biscuits

Instead, you should try to eat:

  • starchy foods, such as wholegrain rice, bread and pasta
  • fruit and vegetables – ideally 5 portions a day
  • oily fish, such as mackerel and sardines

Also, cut down on the amount of salt you add to your food and check the nutrition labels on food when shopping to find products with the lowest levels of salt.

Read more about healthy eating, eating less saturated fat and tips for a lower salt diet.

Exercise regularly

Once you have fully recovered from the effects of surgery, you should exercise regularly to reduce your risk of developing further heart problems.

Adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week.

Moderate-intensity means an activity that’s strenuous enough to leave you slightly breathless.

Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities include:

  • fast walking
  • cycling on level ground or with a few hills
  • doubles tennis
  • pushing a lawn mower
  • hiking

If you find it difficult to achieve 150 minutes of activity a week, start at a level you feel comfortable with (for example, around 10 minutes of light exercise a day) and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your activity as your fitness starts to improve.

Read more about the physical activity guidelines for adults (19 to 64).

Lose weight

If you’re overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk of further heart problems by trying to reach a healthy weight.

You can use the BMI healthy weight calculator to find out whether you need to lose weight.

The best way to lose weight is to make sure you have a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

You may find it helpful to follow a structured weight loss programme, such as the free NHS weight loss plan.

Stop smoking

Smoking can significantly increase your risk of developing heart problems because it narrows your arteries and raises your blood pressure.

If you want to stop smoking, your GP will be able to refer you to the NHS Smokefree service, which will provide you with dedicated help and advice about the best ways to give up smoking.

You can also call the NHS Smoking Helpline on 0300 123 1044. Specially trained helpline staff will offer you free expert advice and encouragement.

If you’re committed to giving up smoking but don’t want to be referred to a stop smoking service, your GP should be able to prescribe medication to help with withdrawal symptoms you may experience after giving up.

Find out more about stop smoking treatments.

Drink less alcohol

If you drink alcohol, don’t exceed the recommended limits:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over 3 days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week

One unit of alcohol is roughly half a pint of normal-strength lager or a single measure (25ml) of spirits.

A small glass of wine (125ml) contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.

Regularly exceeding the recommended alcohol limits can raise your blood pressure and cholesterol level, increasing your risk of heart problems.

Read more about alcohol units and tips on cutting your alcohol intake.

Nutrition Guidelines

Diet to Promote Recovery

Diet to Help Recovery

Good nutrition is necessary for healing. During the healing process, the body needs greater amounts of calories, protein, vitamins A and C, and sometimes, zinc (if you have zinc deficiency).

Power Foods to Help Wound Healing

  • Protein
    • Lean beef, pork, poultry (skinless), and any fish
    • Beans, lentils, split peas (cholesterol and saturated fat free)
    • Fat free or low-fat milk or yogurt (Greek yogurt is higher in protein)
  • Vitamin C
    • Citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple
    • Peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, tomato
  • Vitamin A
    • Carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, dark green leafy vegetables, butternut squash
    • Cantaloupe, dried apricots
  • Zinc
    • Fortified dairy products, cereal
    • Lean red meat
    • Sesame and pumpkin seeds

Five tips if you are not eating well

  1. Eat 5-6 small meals a day. Instead of trying to eat 3 big meals a day, try eating smaller meals and snacks between meals to get enough nutrition.
  2. Some foods that taste good during recovery are not nutritious. Try replacing them with foods that are good sources of calories, protein, vitamins and minerals.
  3. If you experience taste change after heart surgery, try a variety of foods to find out what works for you. You may find that cold foods and foods with little odor work best.
  4. Use a prepared nutritional drink/supplement if nothing else works. These are available at grocery stores, drug stores, and discount stores. The drinks vary in taste, so if you don’t like the first one, try another brand. Also, adding milk or ice cream may make the supplement tastier. Try blending with berries, plain low-fat Greek yogurt, and ice to make a smoothie.
  5. Take a multivitamin if you are eating less than recommended amounts during meals and snacks.

If you have diabetes or high blood sugar

Continue to closely monitor your blood sugar levels. Having good control of blood sugar levels will help with would healing and may prevent infection. You may need to visit your doctor and a registered dietitian to help control blood sugar through diet and medication.

Make an appointment with a registered dietitian if your appetite remains poor, your wound is not healing properly, you are losing weight or do not understand your diet guidelines. To make an appointment with a registered dietitian in Preventive Cardiology call: 216.444.9353.

For more information: See your Guide to Cardiac Surgery binder. If you have any questions or concerns, please call the Heart and Vascular Institute Post Discharge Phone Line at the number you were provided or your doctor’s office.

This information is about care at Cleveland Clinic and may include instructions specific to Cleveland Clinic Heart and Vascular Institute patients only. Please consult your physician for information pertaining to your care.

Diet & Activity

Occupational Therapy

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy (OT) helps cardiac patients regain self-care skills and adapt activities after surgery so they can be as independent and as safe as possible during their recovery. Occupational therapy at The Cleveland Clinic helps patients reach their highest level of functioning, become self-reliant and build a balanced lifestyle of work and leisure.

How is occupational therapy different from physical therapy and cardiac rehabilitation?

Occupational therapy is designed to help patients perform activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, grooming and more. Physical therapy (PT) focuses on helping patients build strength and improve coordination, balance, endurance, flexibility and mobility. Cardiac rehabilitation is different from OT and PT. Cardiac rehabilitation focuses on helping patients make healthy lifestyle modifications to reduce risk factors for coronary artery disease. Cardiac rehab also includes the development of an exercise program to build physical activity endurance.

What is an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists (OTs) are professionals who teach cardiac patients how to complete self-care and functional tasks while following sternal precautions to protect their chest incision after surgery. They meet with patients before they go home from the hospital to ensure they are prepared for their recovery at home. OTs perform an assessment and make recommendations based on a patient’s home environment, setup and routine activities to increase the patient’s overall independence and safety.

An OT can provide information to help patients:

  • Make changes to the home or workplace to ensure safety
  • Use adaptive equipment or devices to aid with daily activities such as bathing, grooming, dressing, cooking and eating
  • Conserve energy while completing daily activities

OTs work with patients while they are engaged in a functional activity (such as self-care or light house work) so they can provide energy conservation techniques, deep breathing exercises, and any activity adaptations that may be needed.

What is adaptive equipment?

A few examples of helpful adaptive devices include a bath stool in the shower or tub, grab bars around the toilet or tub, and long-handled shoehorns and sock grippers. Your OT can show you catalogs that have a wide variety of assistive devices you may order.

How can I receive occupational therapy?

To make an appointment with an occupational therapist, please talk with your physician who can write up an order for OT services. If you feel you can benefit from occupational therapy, do not hesitate to ask your physician for a referral.

How many visits will I need?

Occupational therapy sessions vary, depending on each patient’s personal needs. An individualized treatment plan with specific goals is developed after the first appointment, which includes an evaluation and recommendations. The following appointments check your progress and review or expand your program. Many outpatient family health centers offer occupational therapy services in your community.

Meals and food

Talk to your doctor or dietitian about the diet that is best for you.

Discover our healthy eating and drinking ideas.

Find out how to use food labels to make healthier choices.


If you have coronary heart disease, you need to be careful about the foods you eat.

It’s important to change the types of fat you eat. Eating too much unhealthy saturated and trans fats can increase high cholesterol. Choosing foods with healthier fats can help you lower your cholesterol and avoid more heart problems.

How eat less unhealthy fats and more healthier fats

  • Eat fewer bought cakes, biscuits and pastries. Limit take-away food like hamburgers, pizza and hot chips.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat or trim all the fat you can see. Remove skin from chicken.
  • Avoid processed meat (e.g. sausages and salami).
  • Eat fish instead of meat 2–3 times a week, and choose legume or bean-based meals twice a week.
  • Include nuts and seeds in your diet regularly.
  • Choose reduced fat milk, cheese and yoghurt.
  • When you’re cooking or preparing food, use healthier oils like olive and canola, and margarine spreads and dressings made from them, instead of butter or palm oil.

Read more about more about healthy fats.

Learn more about saturated and trans fats.


Salt is hidden in lots of food. The amount of salt you eat should be less than 4 g per day. That’s less than a teaspoon. Salt holds fluid in your body. If you eat too much salt, the extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure.

Salt is made up of sodium and chloride. It’s the sodium that can be bad for your health, and is listed on food packages.

Salty foods

Foods with high-salt levels include:

  • commercially baked products like biscuits, pastries, pies and some breads
  • processed meat, such as ham, bacon, sausages, hot dogs, tinned meat, corned meat and pies
  • take-away foods, such as hamburgers, pizza, hot chips, noodles, potato chips, many Asian foods, pasta and fried chicken
  • packaged foods, such as tinned and instant soup, fish in brine and instant noodles
  • condiments and sauces like packet seasoning, stock cubes, soy sauce and tomato sauce
  • snack foods like salted nuts, olives and dips

Once you or your loved one has open-heart surgery, it is important every heart surgery patient diet should follow certain dietary rules and instructions. The major part of information about what food to eat after bypass surgery? and what you should stay away from will initially come from your doctor.

A heart surgery patient diet should include all the guidelines suggested by the doctor or dietitian as per the patient’s condition. Dietary guidelines may vary depending on your overall health and specific calorie needs, but there is some general advice on an open-heart surgery diet that people can follow post the surgery.

After the surgery, you will be at high risk of infection and health risks, if you do not give proper care to your diet. In order to make sure that the surgery is as effective as it is supposed to be, and that you remain healthy, make sure you follow the tips for as long as your doctor has asked you to.

Food Types To Eat in a diet after open heart surgery.

The Surgeons or dietitian will give you an open heart surgery diet plan which should be strictly followed. Here is a look at the type of foods you should definitely include in your diet after open-heart surgery.

1. Whole Grains

Whole Grain – Heart Surgery Patient Diet

  • Whole grains contain a good amount of fiber that will help your digestive system stay healthy. It will also keep your heart in good shape by keeping your weight in check. Instead of having refined carbohydrates, which include white bread or foods that are sweet, go for whole grains as part of your regular diet.
  • Some foods that you can include in your whole grain meal plan are brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, whole-wheat pasta, non-processed oats, 100 percent whole-grain bread and such.

2. Fresh Fruits And Vegetables

Fresh Fruits And Vegetables – Heart Surgery Patient Diet

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables are great for your health, as well as the health of your heart. They contain a host of nutrients that will strengthen your immunity, are rich in antioxidants and will help you fight off most infections. Eating fruits and vegetables on an everyday basis will also reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack as well as keep your blood pressure in check.
  • Go for different colored fruits and vegetables to get the most amount of nutrition on a daily basis. Some fruits and vegetables that are really good in their antioxidant content are sweet potatoes, apples, kiwis, papayas, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, carrots and different types of berries.

3. Fatty Fish And Lean Protein

Fatty Fish And Lean Protein – Heart Surgery Patient Diet

  • Eating lean protein will keep your heart healthy and not add any undue pressure on the same. It will also keep your heart strong to ward off infections and help in the overall recovery process. Fatty fish are a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids that are known to improve the health of your heart.
  • For lean protein, eat foods such as low-fat dairy products, chicken or turkey breasts, fish, beans, nuts, legumes and other types of lean meat. For fatty fish, go for fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.

Mentioned above are some of the food for open-heart surgery patients which are recommended by expert surgeons and dietitians after a lot of research and studies which proved to be helpful to most of the patients in their recovery post the surgery.

Food Types To AVOID After An Open Heart Surgery

Here is a look at the type of foods you should definitely NOT INCLUDE in a heart surgery patient diet when you are recovering.

1. Avoid Sodium Intake

Sodium Intake – Diet After Bypass Surgery in India

  • Too much salt, or sodium, in your diet, can increase your risk of high blood pressure, which in turn can exert a lot of strain on your heart. Also, having too much sodium in your diet can make your body hold on to fluids, which can add pressure on your veins and arteries.
  • The best way to reduce your sodium intake is to have a diet that is very low on salt. Your doctor may also ask you to only eat foods that say no added salt. In some cases, your doctor may also prescribe a type of water pill that will help to flush out the sodium and fluid from your system.

2. All Types Of Foods TO AVOID

All Types Of Foods TO AVOID – Diet After Bypass Surgery in India

Make sure you do not include any packaged and processed foods in your diet, as these are high in preservatives and not good for your heart health. Here are some foods you should definitely stay away from:

  • Processed meats such as sausages, hams, bacon, hot dogs and such
  • Potato chips, wafers, salted nuts
  • Frozen and ready to eat meals
  • Foods that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Canned soups, beans, broths, juices or processed cut fruits and vegetables
  • Pickled vegetables

3. Avoid Alcohol

Avoid Alcohol – Diet After Bypass Surgery in India

Although it is known for affecting your liver, too much alcohol can damage your heart as well. Drinking too much alcohol increases your triglycerides, which are fats found in your blood. Excessive alcohol intake can increase your LDL, or bad cholesterol while decreasing your HDL, the good cholesterol. High LDL levels, along with high blood pressure and cardiomyopathy, increase your chances of experiencing cardiovascular issues after cardiac bypass surgery. Alcohol is full of empty calories. If you gravitate toward king-sized margaritas or other mixed drinks, you may be consuming lots of excess sugar as well.

Remember that not only is it important to exercise and follow a healthy lifestyle to keep your heart in good shape, the foods you eat and avoid also have a key role to play.


While his bedside manner was harsh, I had to acknowledge that he might be right. For a week or two I was depressed, unable to see a clear path or take decisive action. Then my wife put it all into perspective: “His prediction is not predestination,” she said. “It’s true, you can’t change the cards you were dealt. You have aggressive heart disease at a young age. But you can change the way that you play those cards. And we are going to do everything possible to eat healthier and exercise more effectively to even up the odds.”

And that is what we have done. How has it worked? In 2009 I celebrated the anniversary of my bypass surgery by hiking on Mount Rainier with my wife. Now 33 years after the surgery, I am one of the longest-lived bypass survivors in the country. My current biometric measurements—cholesterol, weight, and blood pressure—show that I’m in better health now than in 1977. As a result, I have experienced the joy of seeing my daughter and son graduate from high school, college, law school, and graduate school; of walking my daughter down the aisle and making a toast at my son’s wedding; of celebrating 42 years of marriage; of gathering with family at my 65th birthday; of holding our grandchildren; and of experiencing a 25-year career of writing and speaking on cardiac health. None of this would have happened without practicing healthier lifestyle habits.

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