The Worst Foods for Your Heart

By H&W on 1st Jun 2018

Makenzie Jones (pictured), rounds up the latest advice on foods to avoid if you want to keep healthy heart.

Information available about heart health has shifted over time. It is not as much against the red meat as it used to be, but the main culprit may be surprising to some. Sugar has become one of the body’s worst enemies and is also one of the most prevalent in society. Ways that technology, food production and preparation have changed introduced more harmful factors into foods that are addictive, causing people to have a hard time recognizing or avoiding them.

In line with the idea that red meats are hard on your heart, it is wise to limit intake because of saturated fat and cholesterol. When eating out, the red meat may not be as much of a source of harm as the toppings, sauces, and sides such as butter and cream. The heme-iron and other important aspects of red meat are key to a healthy body, so the main thing to look out for is the lean quality and preparation of the cut of meat. Processed, cured, and fermented meats lead the pack of meats to avoid, adding salt and preservatives to increase shelf life. These include bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and other cold cuts.

Two iconic American favorites have a deadly combo of meat, processed cheese, and bread. Fast food burgers and pizza have multiple sources of saturated fat and sodium coupled with carbs making them two to avoid. For this reason, Meat-Lovers Pizza is on the American Heart Association’s list of “Salty Six.”

Another category of foods that includes meat and more is fried foods. Fried chicken, French fries, onion rings, tomatoes, are just a few common examples among many other things due to the increasing popularity of frying random foods for the fun of it. Conventional frying methods create trans fats which raises bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers the good kind (HDL). It also brings oxidants into the body systems, changing structures of vitamins and antioxidants that the heart and body need. Many people have heard about Ramen noodles being loaded with sodium, but a hidden problem is that they are first deep fried, too.

The American Heart Association has launched an initiative called #BreakUpWithSalt aiming to make changes from the policymakers, to producers, to people. Kristin Palmer from the AHA of Greater Nashville confirms that around 75% of the sodium people eat comes from packaged and restaurant foods. She says that “You deserve the right to choose how much sodium is in your food.”

Margarine can be used in cooking meat, side dishes, vegetables, and casseroles. Butter was previously the bad guy, but now data is leaning toward margarine and shortening since they are artificial substitutions made of partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats.

Chips (baked or deep fried) and buttered popcorn are also common sources of sodium and trans fats. In general, salt is one of the worst food additives people use on a daily basis, increasing blood pressure and the risk of obesity, heart attack, and heart disease.

Refined carbs like white bread are higher in additives and sugar and lower in fiber than the whole grains they come from. These refined starches quickly turn to sugar in the body, causing blood sugar spikes and cravings. Even more sources of refined carbs and additives aside from the typical bread and pasta are condiments like ketchup and salad dressing, pasta sauce, and yogurt.

Baked goods, candy, cereals, and jarred frosting are packed with sugar and preservatives to keep them shelf stable and sweet-tasting as long as possible. Sugar is linked with hypertension, heart failure, obesity, and clogged arteries. Baked goods are also higher in fat, possibly trans and saturated, so combining sugar and fats is even harder on the heart.

Sugar is abundant in drinks, specifically soda and fruit drinks. This added sugar triggers inflammation and blood sugar spikes, stressing artery walls and increasing the cardiovascular risk. Sodas and diet sodas alike are problematic from high fructose corn syrup and alterations to gastrointestinal bacteria. People who drink diet tend to overcompensate and consume more calories than they would if they had drunk regular soda. Energy drinks are one of the highest sugar-loaded beverages coupled with extreme caffeine, literally “a heart attack waiting to happen.” Even those boosters labeled “natural” (and are not regulated) can produce a rapid heart rate and arrhythmia. Energy drinks encourage a cycle of lack of sleep and artificial energy consumption, a spiral difficult to escape.

Taking all these factors into account led the AHA to create the Heart-Check Mark that denotes foods that meet specific recommendations for a healthy heart. Studies show that people who eat more consciously with these guides have better diet quality and fewer heart disease risk factors than those who do not. For more information on what to beware of to keep your heart “Healthy for Good”, visit @HeartNashville on Twitter and American Heart Association – Greater Nashville on Facebook.

Local events and information can also be found online, including a local chapter of the National AHA Heart Walk. This year’s will take place on Saturday, September 15th at Vanderbilt’s Capers Field.

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