Many of us are aware of the foods we eat that aren’t good for heart health. Yet even some of our favorites that might be considered healthy — like yogurt, for example — have been linked to heart disease. Think about your favorite foods before reading on, then see how many of them are in this list of 20 foods that could cause heart disease. If, like us, you’re shocked to find lots of your faves here, fear not. Healthier alternatives are available these days, in many cases. Simply eating these foods less could also make a big difference for your heart.
20. Sugary Drinks
Soda, diet soda, sports drinks, sweetened juices — all of these sugary drinks and more could be putting way too much glucose in your bloodstream if you drink them daily. This can lead to an increase in blood pressure, as well increasing the bloodstream’s triglyceride load from the liver releasing more fat. Not every influence sugar has on the heart is clear, but the connection between sugar consumption and heart disease is a strong one. Try weaning yourself off sugary drinks by drinking pure filtered water throughout the day instead.
The main ingredient in candy is sugar. We just established back in the sugary drinks category that sugar raises blood pressure. When candy and sugary foods are eaten regularly, blood glucose is chronically high, your heart has to pump harder to do its job, and eventually heart disease could be the result. Or, you could develop a combo of type 2 diabetes and heart disease all from the same source: too much sugar. When candy cravings hit, try eating a few grapes or berries instead. But don’t overdo the fruit, because too much fructose can be hard on the liver.
18. White Bread
White bread is harder on the heart than some other breads because it’s made with refined or processed grain. When a grain is broken down into refined carbohydrate form, it becomes a simple sugar that digests quickly and causes a quick rise of glucose in the bloodstream. Refined and other simple sugars can raise the body’s triglyceride levels in our blood. Refined grain in white bread has also lost some of its nutrient value during processing, no longer providing as much heart-healthy fiber and phytonutrients. Switch to whole grain bread or eliminate breads from your diet altogether.
17. Sugary Cereals
Sweetened cereals are fun, yummy and addictive, but they sure can be bad for the body. The list of unhealthy ingredients can be quite long. Sugar, corn syrup, saturated fat, modified starches, artificial dyes, preservatives — when you break it down, no wonder your heart starts beating faster when you see a box of cereal you love. It’s because your heart fears for its life! Fortunately, not all breakfast cereals are created the same. The better cereal choices include those made from whole grains without any additives or added sweeteners.
16. Fat-Free Foods
There are at least three problems with foods that are altered to be fat-free. First, fat-free food typically has added sugar for texture, taste and the blissful sugar rush feeling that keeps you coming back for more. Second, fat-free packaged foods are often junk foods you should avoid anyway due to low nutrient value and fake food ingredients. Third, healthy fats are important for heart health. Instead of filling your plate with foods altered to be fat-free, eat a variety of naturally fat-free vegetables plus whole food sources of essential omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, avocado, and walnuts.
Before pouring on the sauces and gravy, consider how these delicious extras might be messing with your heart health. Store-bought pasta sauce, BBQ sauce, and teriyaki sauce are full of sugar. There’s about 1,000 mg of sodium in just one tablespoon of soy sauce, and store-bought gravy is also riddled with salt. Even small servings of these sauces can be detrimental to heart function due to high levels of sugar, salt and preservatives. If you can’t give up your favorite sauces, make them from scratch at home, where you can control what ingredients you eat.
14. Red Meat
Move over saturated fat. It seems red meat might be a threat to heart health in other ways, too. A recent study found that the levels of a chemical linked to heart disease tripled for participants who regularly ate red meat. That chemical is called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), which is created during digestion by the bacteria in the gut. TMAO is believed to be linked to heart disease by how it influences cholesterol in arteries and platelets in the blood. The good news? The study also showed that reducing red meat consumption reversed the amount of TMAO in the body.
The main ingredient you need to avoid in bouillon products is monosodium glutamate (MSG). Become a strict label reader to make sure any bouillon cubes, powders, and pastes are MSG-free. The relative safety of MSG or lack thereof is something experts seem to disagree on, but some swear that MSG causes troubling symptoms for the body and for your heart. Called the MSG symptom complex, consuming MSG could bring on symptoms like heart palpitations and chest pain. Ask your doctor if they feel you should err on the side of safety and avoid MSG completely.Related: 5 Sleep Problems Related to Heart Failure
Cheese and cheesy foods made this list because cheese is high in saturated fat, and because most of us simply eat too much of it for our own good. Saturated fat used to be a complete no-no where heart health is concerned, but lately nutritionists have started noting the benefits of some saturated fat, or at least that it isn’t as bad as once thought. So, if you love cheese and your body isn’t sensitive to it (lactose or A1 protein intolerance, etc.) you can probably have a little now and then, but the less the better.
We added pizza to this list because it’s a white dough-based (refined grain) cheesy food (saturated fat) with sauce (sugar, sodium) and maybe some hamburger (saturated fat, trimethylamine N-oxide) or pepperoni (saturated fat, nitrates). Even if you’ve got veggies on your pizza, all those other ingredients make this beloved meal a risky one for heart health. But pizza can be made much healthier with alternative crusts, homemade sauces, white meats and more veggies. Or eat your favorite pizza monthly instead of weekly and your heart (along with the rest of your body) will be grateful.
10. Fried Foods
The more fried foods you eat, like fried chicken and French fries, the greater the risk to heart health. As reported by WebMD, a recent study found that people who eat fried foods at least three times per week have a 7% higher risk of stroke and heart disease. If eaten daily, that risk goes up to 14%. Fried foods are often cooked in rancid oils that cause free radicals in the body. They’re also full of omega-6 fatty acids. Too much omega-6 can lead to high blood pressure and blood clots that could cause heart disease.Related: Lower Your Triglycerides to Prevent Heart Disease
9. Potato Chips
This favorite snack food could also fit in the fried foods category in some cases, but there are also many baked varieties of potato chips nowadays. The main reason potato chips are linked to heart disease is sodium. Most packaged chips are very salty. Salt in moderation is usually fine, but do any of us eat potato chips in moderation? Once that bag is open, chips are hard to resist. Eating high sodium foods like potato chips regularly leads to increases in blood pressure, making your heart pump harder and potentially wear itself out.
8. Hot Dogs
This star of cookouts and sporting events is an American favorite, but the classic hot dog is no friend to the beating heart in your chest. Hot dogs and other processed meats contain nitrates that can contribute to the narrowing and hardening of artery walls. Nitrates can also bond with amino acids during cooking and form cancer-causing compounds called nitrosamines. Thankfully, some hot dog brands are going nitrate free, though hot dogs do still usually contain saturated fat. You’re better off having grilled chicken tenders that you brought to the game yourself.
7. Vegetable Shortening
Vegetable shortening is a fat used in baking that turns solid at room temperature. It got its name because it affects gluten in such a way that makes baking dough less elastic or shorter. Classic shortening brands have changed their preferred fats over the years, including switching to trans fats and then recently making the move away from trans fat again. That doesn’t mean shortening has become healthy. Oils and fats can become toxic when they are oxidized during processing. Oxidized fats lead to free radicals. Free radicals lead to inflammation, and chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease.Related: Resting Heart Rate Facts
6. Frozen Dinners
Many packaged frozen dinners are simply too high in sugar and sodium to be considered safe for cardiovascular health. Sodium, in particular, is sometimes shockingly high. Allina Health recommends choosing frozen meals with under 600 mg of sodium per package, because when you eat foods low in sodium it’s easier for your heart to do its job of pumping blood. Or break the habit of buying packaged frozen meals. Create your own healthier make-ahead meals that you can store in the freezer for convenience.
Like pizza, the cheeseburger is bad for the heart on several levels, especially if you eat it on a white bread bun. Plus, more risky ingredients might be hiding in burger toppings, like bacon, mayo, and ketchup if it’s a store-bought brand made with sugar and preservatives. The burger and cheese have saturated fat. The white bread bun adds simple sugar from refined grain. And that’s even before mentioning what else might be in the beef, from additives to antibiotics. If you can’t give up cheeseburgers, choose the healthiest ingredients possible. Grass-fed organic beef is a great place to start.
4. White Rice
To eat for heart health, we should probably avoid white rice for the same reason we should avoid white bread. White rice is also made from refined grain. This refined carbohydrate turns quickly to glucose in the blood and is lacking some of the nutrients and fiber it once had when in its original form. If you don’t like brown rice or wild rice as alternatives, there are other whole grains that make for tasty rice replacements. Try quinoa, barley, whole grain couscous or riced cauliflower instead.Related: 10 Tips to Help You Survive a Heart Attack
Organic butter from grass-fed cows consumed in moderation is probably fine for some people, but it could be a ticking time bomb for others. It all depends on your bio-individuality, or what chemicals your individual body can and cannot handle. Keto diet enthusiasts are big fans of quality butter and many do thrive eating it. However, all the saturated fat you ingest when dousing your potato, toast, popcorn, etc. with butter could lead to troubling levels of LDL cholesterol and heart disease. Check with your doctor about whether or not eating butter is right for you.
2. Flavored Yogurt
Wait a minute. Isn’t yogurt supposed to be a great source of probiotics? Yes, it is. But flavored yogurts you buy at the store are also full of sugar. Regular consumption of sweetened flavored yogurt could cause glucose and insulin spikes, and could eventually lead to diabetes and heart disease. Yogurt does provide some good stuff, like those probiotics and some protein, so you may not have to give it up. Try switching to plain Greek yogurt with a little bit of stevia or maple syrup, then enjoy it in moderation.
1. Ice Cream
Ice cream is by far one of the hardest treats for many of us to give up, but most of us should be eating it far less. All the sugar and fat from ice cream increases the glucose and triglyceride load in the blood. If that happens regularly, it could lead to a heart attack. If you like bananas, here’s a much healthier option. Add a bit of milk to chunks of frozen banana in a blender or food processor. Blend until it reaches ice cream consistency. Eat immediately, as is or with healthy toppings like walnuts.Related: 10 Common Infections and Illnesses That May Lead to a Heart Attack