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Foods to Avoid on a Heart Healthy Diet

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and with February being American Heart Month, learning what foods to avoid seems timely. Foods to avoid for your heart are those packed with harmful fats, sodium, and added sugar. No single food can destroy a balanced eating plan, but a steady diet of these foods/beverages which are poor choices, can harm your heart health over time.

Processed meats: Cold cuts such as salami, pepperoni, smoked sausages, breakfast meats such as bacon and sausage along with an American favorite at ball games, hot dogs, are among the processed meats to avoid. Many processed meats – which are produced by curing, salting, and smoking supply sodium, and saturated fat. Excess salt consumption raises blood pressure, and high intakes of saturated fat increase the concentration of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, that create clogged arteries. Limit cold cuts such as bologna, salami and those mentioned above to less than once a week, or rarely.

Fried foods: Fried fish and chicken, mozzarella sticks, French fries, and doughnuts are often prepared in partially hydrogenated oils, which are major sources of trans fat. These oils are banned in U.S. packaged products but may still be found in restaurant and bakery foods. Trans fat boosts levels of LDL cholesterol and reduces beneficial high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) in your blood, setting the stage for plaque buildup in arteries. Make healthier baked or pan-fried versions of your favorite restaurant fare at home.

Snack chips: Snack chips are ultra-processed foods. For the most part, they have been stripped of nutrients essential to heart health, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Research links ultra-processed foods like snack chips with weight gain, high blood pressure, and heart disease risk. Chips also contain sodium and saturated fat and other ultra-processed foods like cookies, candy, and granola bars we often overeat. Instead, snack on ¼ cup of unsalted or lightly salted nuts instead of chips. Nuts supply heart-healthy fat, protein, fiber, and other nutrients for a healthy heart.

Coconut oil: Has a negative effect on your arteries and heart health. A review of research studies shows that using coconut oil results in much higher LDL cholesterol, as compared to oils with less saturated fat, such as canola. Although all oils have saturated fat in them, coconut oil has the highest level and "takes the cake". A tablespoon of coconut oil contains 11 grams of saturated fat – half of the suggested daily amount on a 2,000-calorie eating plan, while the same amount of canola oil supplies about 1 gram of saturated fat. Use canola, corn, olive, safflower, and sunflower oils for cooking and dressings.

Canned soup: A single serving of many canned soups adds is almost half of the suggested daily sodium intake for adults which is 2,300 milligrams on a regular diet. Excess sodium in the bloodstream increases pressure on blood vessels, often encouraging artery clogging. Choose canned soups that supply no more than 480 milligrams of sodium per serving or less. In addition to sodium, creamy soups such as chowders and bisques can contain between 25% to 50% of your daily saturated fat intake. Select lower-sodium soups with less than 3 grams of saturated fat per serving.

Sugary drinks: Sugary beverages, such as soda, coffee drinks, and energy drinks, are the number one source of added sugar in the American diet. Large amounts of added sugar spell trouble for heart health, especially when paired with saturated fat or trans-fat in beverages and pastries. Too much added sugar also increases your odds of chronic inflammation, type 2 diabetes, and fatty liver disease, all of which raise the risk for heart disease. Experts suggest you get no more than 10% of your total calories from added sugar, which amounts to about 50 grams or 12 teaspoons of table sugar daily on a 2,000-calorie eating plan.

Source: Karen Ensle, Rutgers Cooperative Extension

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