There are many ways you can reduce your risk for heart disease. Among the easiest is simply watching what you eat. The key is knowing which foods to avoid.
There’s no single diet that’s best for your heart health. The goal is to focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and foods brimming with antioxidants. At the same time, avoid foods high in sugar, salt, saturated fats and trans fats.
But while there may be no perfect diet, there are certainly some foods that should not be a regular part of your menu. Let’s look at half a dozen that cardiologists avoid.
1. Bacon, sausage and processed meats
These foods don’t have a lot going for them, health-wise. Start with the fact that they are high in salt, which can be a major contributor to high blood pressure. These tasty foods are also high in saturated fats, which can increase your LDL cholesterol levels. Often referred to as “bad cholesterol,” this is the stuff that collects on the walls of your blood vessels, increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke. And finally, processed foods have a lot of free radicals, which can increase your risk for various types of cancer.
2. Potato chips and other processed snacks
These crispy snacks tend to be high in sodium and fat. But even worse is all the empty calories you are consuming. When eating healthy, you’re aiming to fuel your body. But when you eat chips and crackers, all you’re getting is calories without the vitamins, minerals and fiber your body is craving. That’s a recipe for overeating, since you’ll still be hungry, even after finishing that bag.
3. Fast food
This can be a tough one since we all find ourselves in situations from time to time where fast food is the easiest option. The key is to avoid having these foods as a regular part of your diet. Like some other foods on this list, they are high in sodium. But even worse is that many fast-food restaurants are still using trans fats. These are the least healthy fats you can eat, since they raise your bad cholesterol levels, while also lowering your good cholesterol levels. One of the reasons these fats continue to be used – particularly with fried foods – is that they have a longer shelf life.
4. Red meat
Red meat, including pork, is higher in saturated fats and cholesterol. Recent research also suggests that red meat carries nutrients that produce trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO), when broken down by your gut. TMAO has been linked to increased risk for hardened arteries, heart attack and stroke. If you have a craving that can’t be solved with chicken or fish, go for the leanest cut of red meat you can find and trim away any visible fat. Among the leanest cuts, according to the US Department of Agriculture:
- Eye of round roast and steak
- Sirloin tip side steak
- Top round roast and steak
- Bottom round roast and steak
- Top sirloin steak
5. Sugary drinks
Sugary drinks increase your risk for metabolic disease as well as diabetes, which is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Like chips, these drinks are also full of empty calories. Energy drinks are a part of this group. They’re loaded with sugar and high amounts of caffeine, which can cause heart palpitations (fluttering or fast-beating heart) and, in some cases, arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat).
6. Movie theater popcorn
There are several reasons to avoid this snack during your next trip to the theater. Along with being covered in salt, the stuff is often popped in coconut oil – high in saturated fats that can raise your bad cholesterol level. It’s even worse if you get it drenched in “butter,” which is usually something like butter-flavored flavored palm oil, which gets you even more saturated fats. The large portion sizes don’t help, either. This isn’t to say that all popcorn is bad. You can make a healthy snack with air-popped popcorn. Just take it easy with the butter, salt and portion size.
No one is suggesting that you have to abandon your favorite treats or foods completely. If you are on the road and the only option is fast food – grab the grilled chicken sandwich rather than the double-bacon cheeseburger. Order the occasional movie popcorn. But skip the butter or order a smaller size. Having a healthy diet is about balance. The important thing is that you focus on the healthier options most of the time.
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