Although you might know that eating certain foods can increase your heart disease risk, it’s often tough to change your eating habits. Whether you have years of unhealthy eating under your belt or you simply want to fine-tune your diet. Improving your diet lowers your risk for heart disease in many ways, including helping to lower high cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as preventing obesity and improving the function of your heart and blood vessels.
If you are watching your heart health, the following foods should not make it onto your meal plan very often. Here are foods to avoid for healthy heart.
Americans on average take in 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day. That’s a third more than the daily recommended limit of 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon salt) and more than double the 1,500 mg suggestion for adults age 51 and older and for anyone who is salt-sensitive about half the U.S. population. Cutting your sodium intake can help lower high blood pressure and also reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure.
One of the easiest ways to cut back on your salt intake is to not add it if you can’t taste it. In other words, don’t add salt to boiling water for pasta or potatoes, but add it to a dish when its impact will be strongest usually at the end of cooking. A little salt goes a longer way if it’s sprinkled on a food just before serving; you’ll taste it in every bite.
Another way to slash your sodium intake is to replace sodium-laden processed foods with fresh foods. Look for “low sodium” or “no-salt-added” labels and rinse canned beans.
2. Processed meats
Studies show that the worst types of meats for the heart are those that are processed. Processed meats are those preserved using salts, nitrites, or other preservatives. They include hot dogs, bacon, sausage, salami, and other deli meats, including deli ham, turkey, bologna, and chicken. It’s likely that the high levels of salt and preservatives found in processed meats are the problem for healthy heart.
3. Highly refined and processed grains and carbohydrates
Whole grain intake in place of starches and refined carbohydrates helps to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and possibly stroke. Whole grains are also linked to lower weight gain over time. This makes sense, considering that whole grains lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and may improve blood vessel function and reduce hunger.
Refined or processed foods include white bread, white rice, low-fiber breakfast cereals, sweets and sugars, and other refined or processed carbohydrates. First, high levels of processing remove many of the most healthful components in whole grains, such as dietary fiber, minerals, phytochemicals, and fatty acids. Second, high levels of processing destroy the food’s natural structure. Third, processing often adds many ingredients that are less healthy, particularly trans fats, sodium, and sugars. Fourth, some research shows that fructose is metabolized differently than other sugars, in a way that increases the liver’s production of new fat.
4. Soft drinks and other sugary drinks
Americans are drinking more and more of their calories instead of eating them. Most of the increase is from sugary drinks, especially sodas, sweetened fruit drinks, and sports drinks. A 12-ounce can of soda contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of table sugar. Diet sodas are sugar-free or low in calories, but have no nutrients.
Sugary drinks have all the same ill effects on the heart as highly refined and processed carbohydrates. Research also shows that your body does not compute the calories you ingest in liquid form in the same way as it does the calories you take in from solid foods. So if you add a soda to your meal, you are likely to eat about the same amount of calories from the rest of your food as if you drank water instead. Sugary drinks also increase your chances of weight gain.
Reducing added sugars will reduce cardiovascular disease risk. High intakes of added sugars are linked with increased risks for high blood pressure and high triglyceride levels, risk factors for heart disease.
The AHA recommends that women limit their added sugars to no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons, and men should eat less than 150 calories, approximately 9 teaspoons.
These recommendations apply only to added sugars, which supply calories but no nutritional value, and not to sugars that occur naturally in healthful foods like fructose in fruit, lactose in dairy. It’s fairly easy to keep track of sugars you add yourself. Added sugars in processed foods are more difficult to track. Sugars on Nutrition Facts panels include natural and added sugars. Check the ingredient list for sugar and all its aliases: corn sweetener or syrup, honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, malt sugar and syrup and sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose). In general, the closer sugars are to the top of the list, the more the food contains.
6. Saturated Fat
Butter, Sour cream, Mayo as well as fatty cuts of meats is high in the saturated fats that elevate “bad” LDL cholesterol, leading to plaque buildup in arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Limit saturated fats to 5 percent or less of your total calories. For example, try replacing butter with vegetable-based oils, particularly olive and canola oil, both of which contain good amounts of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, and by swapping in lean poultry, fish and beans for higher-fat meats.
7. Trans Fat
One of the easiest item to limit in your diet and it’s quite harmful to your heart health is trans fat. Trans fat raises your “bad” LDL cholesterol, possibly even more than saturated fats, according to research. Trans fat also lowers your “good” HDL cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of trans fat you eat daily to less than 1 percent of your total calories.
The easiest way to avoid trans fat is by skipping foods that contain “hydrogenated oil” or “partially hydrogenated oil” in their ingredient lists. Big culprits include packaged snacks, crackers, bakery goods and some margarines. Trans fats are also found naturally even though in small amounts in animal products, such as beef, pork, lamb and the butterfat in butter and milk.
|Type of fat||Recommendation|
|Saturated fat||Less than 7% of your total daily calories, or less than 14 g of saturated fat if you follow a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet|
|Trans fat||Less than 1% of your total daily calories, or less than 2 g of trans fat if you follow a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet|
|Fats to choose||Fats to limit|
|Olive oil, Canola oil, Vegetable and nut oils, Margarine, trans fat free, Cholesterol-lowering margarine, Nuts, seeds, Avocados||Butter, Lard, Bacon fat, Gravy, Cream sauce, Nondairy creamers, Hydrogenated margarine and shortening, Cocoa butter, found in chocolate, Coconut, palm, cottonseed and palm-kernel oils|