There is no question that the foods we eat matter very much to our health, but it’s important not to focus exclusively on food when discussing heart health. As you will see in this list of the top 10 foods to avoid for a healthy heart, there are several lifestyle habits – like exercise and alcohol consumption – that can also play an important role in keeping your ticker happy.
1) Processed Meats
When looking at ways to keep your heart healthy during the holidays, watch out for processed meats like salami, bologna, hot dogs or sausages. Processed meats have been linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease because they contain large amounts of saturated fat and sodium. Eating too much red meat has also been associated with increased cholesterol levels, increased blood pressure and an increase in the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.
2) Sugary Drinks
One of the best ways to keep your heart healthy is by drinking water. By replacing sugary drinks like soda and fruit juice with water you will improve your health as well as allow yourself to lose weight if needed. There is a lot of controversy surrounding diet soda because it contains zero calories, but there’s no denying that they lack any nutritional value whatsoever. When drinking diet soda or other sugar-free beverages, watch out for sugar substitutes since they may cause headaches and nausea and have been linked with increased appetite and cravings for sweet foods.
3) White Bread and Other Refined Grains
Refined grains such as white bread, white rice and pasta should be avoided because they lack nutritional value and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. They can also lead to high blood pressure by causing your body to respond with a large insulin release. This forces your kidneys to retain sodium which will lead to fluid retention and increased blood volume. The result is an increase in the workload on your heart and higher blood pressure. Instead, look for whole-grain breads and pastas without added sugars or fat since these provide more calories along with dietary fiber, minerals and vitamins that help control hunger and keep blood sugar stable.
4) French Fries
French fries are very high in calories but low in nutrients. Even when made with healthy oils, the process of making French fries causes them to lose most of their original nutritional value. A large portion of French fries is often more than 50 percent fat and is loaded with high amounts of saturated fat which can up your risk for heart disease.
Margarine isn’t all that bad for you since it doesn’t contain any trans fats, but many people are unaware that it’s very high in Omega-6 fatty acids which have been linked with inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular problems like hypertension and atherosclerosis, so limiting intake of omega 6 fatty acids is essential for keeping your heart healthy. Instead opt for healthier spreads based on plant sterols or olive oil.
6) Packaged/Canned Soups
Americans are becoming more health conscious, but there are still many foods that are packed with sodium that should be avoided. When shopping for soups – canned or packaged – check the labels carefully since many still contain high amounts of salt, which can increase blood pressure and cause fluid retention. Canned soups also lack significant amounts of fiber which is essential to help keep food moving through your digestive system at a healthy pace. The good news is that you can make your own low-sodium soup at home by using fresh ingredients like chicken broth, chopped vegetables, beans and spices instead of pre-made packets full of salt.
7) Fried Food
Deep fried food isn’t all that bad for you if it’s done in moderation, but eating too much of this type of food can have negative long-term effects on your heart. Most foods are deep fried in very hot oil that is often hydrogenated, which creates trans-fat – a harmful substance that has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
8) Ice Cream
Ice cream contains both saturated fat and sugar so it can have an immediate impact on your cholesterol levels. The good news is that because ice cream melts quickly, it fills you up faster so you won’t eat as much overall. This means you can still enjoy some lower calorie frozen treats every now and then without sabotaging your health goals. Instead try healthy alternatives like frozen yogurt or sweet sorbets that are often lower in fat and sugar.
9) Pre-Cut Fruit and Vegetables
Many supermarkets offer pre-cut fruit and vegetables which may seem like a great time-saver, but some store-bought produce has actually been shown to have lower levels of nutrients than whole foods. The process of cutting fruits and vegetables creates a loss in water-soluble vitamins which provide protection against cardiovascular disease. The good news is you can benefit from pre-cut items by purchasing them frozen instead since the freezing process helps preserve the original antioxidants. You can even buy fruit that’s been sliced and then dried at a low temperature to retain its nutritional value.
10) Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners contain virtually no calories yet may be more harmful than regular sugar since they can increase cravings for sweets. Even though the amount of artificial sweetener used is small, it can still cause problems for your heart by influencing your appetite and altering the way enzymes function in your body which impacts insulin levels and blood sugar stability – both of which are factors that influence cardiovascular health. Instead, opt for natural alternatives like honey, maple syrup or blackstrap molasses if you’re looking for something to add a touch of sweetness to your foods. If you must use an artificial sweetener, make sure to read the labels carefully since many contain trace amounts of carbohydrate in the form of sugar, maltodextrin or dextrose. These ingredients can affect blood sugar levels in a similar way to regular sugar so they should be monitored carefully if you have diabetes.
Making these simple changes to your diet can help you get on the path to better heart health. All of the foods mentioned are common staples in American households which means it may be difficult to change your eating habits, but by making small swaps here and there you can still enjoy your favorite foods while reaping huge benefits for your cardiovascular system.
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