The Worst Foods for Your Heart
Loaded with trans fats, refined grains and sugar, these foods can contribute to heart disease and other cardiovascular issues.
Processed and cured meats
Processed and cured meats, including cold cuts, bacon and hot dogs, are some of the worst foods for your heart because of their high amount of saturated fats. Plaque buildup, hardening of the arteries and saturated fats are all connected, according to Barbara George, MD, the director of the Center for Cardiovascular Health Medicine at NYU Winthrop Hospital on Long Island. “Saturated fats raise your ‘bad’ cholesterol, or LDL, as compared to ‘good’ cholesterol, or HDL,” she says.
A 2020 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found a link between red and processed meat and a higher risk of heart disease and death. But research on processed meat being bad for your heart goes back some time. A research review from 2012 in Current Atherosclerosis Reports by Harvard University researchers found that eating processed meats is associated with a 42 per cent higher risk of heart disease.
The bottom line: Limit cold cut sandwiches and save hot dogs for a rare indulgence. If you plan to continue eating animal meats, turn to the best meat options such as lean red meat, skinless chicken, ground turkey or fish, especially fish rich in omega-3s like salmon, cod, and tuna, Dr. George suggests.
Here’s the healthiest fish you can eat.
Refined and processed grains
Among the worst foods for your heart are processed foods, says Nieca Goldberg, MD, the medical director of NYU Women’s Heart Program in New York. “Processed foods cause sharp increases in sugar and insulin levels,” Dr. Goldberg explains. “And then the levels sharply decrease, leaving you more hungry and then you eat more.”
Processed foods often contain refined grains, including white flour or white rice. A 2017 study in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine found that refined grain intake was associated with a 9.4 per cent higher risk of heart disease.
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No surprise here: Deep-fried foods can be bad for your ticker, according to Dr. Goldberg. Eating deep-fried foods contributes to heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, and obesity. A 2015 review in Nutrients found that eating fried food four or mere times per week is associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, two observational studies on men and women from the U.S. found that frequently eating fried foods increases the risk of developing heart disease. Bake, broil or roast your food for a healthy alternative to frying, Dr. Goldberg recommends.
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Soda and sugar-sweetened beverages (including juice)
Many people associate high triglycerides (a type of fat that circulates in the blood) with high-fat foods. People may not know, however, that concentrated sweets, such as regular soda and sugary beverages, can actually rapidly raise blood triglyceride levels, according to Westchester, New York-based registered dietitian nutritionist Malina Malkani, creator of Solve Picky Eating.
Untreated high triglyceride levels may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. One 15-year study in JAMA Internal Medicine on added sugar and heart disease found that people who had 25 per cent of their daily calories from sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who had less than 10 per cent of added sugar make up their daily calories.
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Your sweet tooth could get you into lots of trouble when it comes to heart health. Just like sugary drinks aren’t great for your heart, it’s the same idea with candy. “Dense sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and hypertension—all risk factors for heart disease and stroke,” Dr. George says.
Satisfy your sugar cravings with fruit slices and unprocessed peanut butter. You get the crunch while benefitting from more protein and fibre. Try your best to stick to whole foods, fresh vegetables and fruits.
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Some studies—like that in Alcohol Research & Health—suggest that moderate drinkers are at a lower risk of heart disease compared to heavy drinkers and non-drinkers. This information, however, is not a license to binge drink. In fact, one of the worst things for your heart is alcohol, according to Dr. George, because of the calories and sugar in alcohol. (Learn to spot the warning signs of binge drinking.)
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends one alcoholic drink a day for women and two for men. “The difference is that women metabolize alcohol differently, and there is also a link between higher alcohol consumption and other conditions such as breast cancer and addiction,” Dr. George says.
Canned soups and vegetables
Some canned soups and vegetables are high in sodium and fat, making them a poor choice for heart health, according to Dr. Goldberg. “Sodium is a preservative that is often added to foods during the canning process to increase shelf life and palatability,” Malkani explains.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting daily sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. The ideal daily limit is 1,500 mg for most adults, especially those with elevated blood pressure. (Find out what happens to your body when you eat too much salt.)
But canned foods offer a convenient and affordable way to meet daily recommendations for foods like vegetables, legumes and fruits. “People can incorporate canned foods into meals and still stay within recommended sodium limits for optimal heart health by reading food labels, choosing canned products that are labeled, ‘low-sodium,’ or ‘low salt,’ or ‘no added salt,’ and rinsing canned foods like beans and vegetables with water before using,” Malkani says.
Here’s how to read nutrition labels like a pro.
Foods containing trans fats
Foods packed with artificial trans fats are some of the most detrimental when it comes to heart health, says Malkani. “Artificial trans fats have been shown to lower HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol levels and raise LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels and increase the risk for heart disease and stroke,” she says. In one 14-year study of 80,000 women, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found a positive connection between heart disease and eating foods containing trans fats. Check the ingredient list on all packaged foods.
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Condiments and sauces contain salt. This can raise blood pressure or worsen heart failure symptoms for someone with high blood pressure or heart failure, according to Dr. Goldberg. Try your best to eat unhealthy condiments sparingly and ask for them on the side when you dine out.
Next, learn to spot the heart attack symptoms that are frequently misdiagnosed.