Foods To Avoid For A Healthier Heart

Keeping our heart healthy and avoiding foods that can hurt our heart health is a great way to prevent disease, symptoms of old age, and high blood pressure or cholesterol that can interfere with our overall wellbeing. "With nearly two-thirds of the American population in the overweight category, type II diabetes rates have risen dramatically in recent years, and the challenge we have seen for those individuals is nutrition. Keeping blood sugar levels normal is an important factor for those with diabetes, or for those keeping an eye on their blood sugar in general," which will in turn keep our hearts healthy, says Dr. Fred Pescatore, M.D., to me over email. Our heart is so powerful, and it's important to nourish it with proper food, exercise, self-care habits, and respect, and we must be wary of these offenders in order to boost our wellness and prevent damage.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on feeling healthier and spunkier each day, and that energetic, lively feeling starts within the heart. Our hearts are what keep us alive and strong, and if we supply it with poor food and negative lifestyle habits, then we can damage its ability to properly function over time. According to The Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine, strains on our heart can result in high blood pressure and cholesterol, arterial damage or clogging, a general tiredness and low back pain, and inability to sleep soundly throughout the night. Such obstacles can set us up for diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, arterial damage or clogging, diabetes or stroke. Look for these 13 foods that can be damaging our heart health and can raise our risk for various health conditions that can interfere with our quality of life and happiness.

1. Granola

While some granolas can be nutritious, free of sweeteners and additives, and suited for proper portion sizes, many standard, store-bought granolas can be heavy in sugar, additives and refined carbohydrates that can raise our blood sugar, says Keri Gans, R.D. in an interview with Real Simple. Check labels before purchasing and be mindful of portions. Toss on Greek yogurt for extra protein to balance out the sweetness.

2. French Fries

Grease and excess oils can clog our arteries and lead to heart attack, heart disease or stroke, according to the American Heart Association. Plus, bad fats can raise our bad (LDL) cholesterol and blood pressure, which can contribute to cardiovascular disease and other heart conditions, as well. Instead of eating fried foods, bake vegetables and meats instead. A great alternative could be baked zucchini, carrot or sweet potato fries with a bit of seasoning, rather than salt, as these vegetables are packed with fiber and nutrients and contain a lower calorie density, so you can eat more and take in fewer calories and fat.

3. Canned Soups

Experts suggest that canned soups contain hidden sugar and sodium, says Certified Nutrition Specialist, Prachi Baxi in an article on FitDay, as well as other processing additives that can damage our heart health. Make soup from scratch; it'll be healthier, more customizable and easier to prepare in bulk for easy and nutritious leftovers and alternative uses throughout the week. Check labels for low sodium brands that are free of unhealthy ingredients and additives.

4. Sausage And Processed Meats

Ditch the breakfast patties and sausage links for chicken or turkey breast or lean beef instead. If you love the texture of patties, make your own from ground, lean, grass-fed meats. Sausage links and processed meats are loaded with unhealthy additives and ingredients, such as nitrites, explained Cardiologist Dr. Jefferey Etherton, MD, FACC to Thrillist, that can hurt your heart and promote higher blood pressure and cholesterol. Eating these can clog arteries over time, as well.

5. Chinese Food

While Chinese takeout might be delicious and seem like an easy, no-brainer choice for a busy evening after work, eating this cuisine from the standard American and Western diet, rather than traditional Chinese fare, can be harmful for health and heart over time. Most dishes are fried, packed with rice, smothered in high-sodium and sugary sauces, and contain MSG, and even vegetable dishes can have exorbitant amount of sodium that can hurt our health, says Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest on NBC News. Order steamed dumplings and proteins over fried, and ask for light sauce and oil.

6. Mayonnaise

In addition to other condiments, such as ketchup and bbq sauce, mayonnaise is full of fat, which can harm your heart, says registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner over an interview with The Huffington Post. Even if the servings are small, they add up on every chip you dip, sandwich you spread or bite of tuna salad you enjoy. Ditch these condiments for healthy oils instead, such as olive oil, which contains anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids to promote heart health, or go dry and flavor with soft veggies, like tomatoes, instead.

7. Butter

Eating butter in excess can be disastrous for our cardiovascular health and wellbeing, and it's sneaky, as it can appear in common dishes, such as a piece of salmon, an omelet, or on a side of asparagus. When going to a restaurant, be mindful of the word "butter," or something related to "creamy," "flaky" or "whipped." Dietician Cynthia Sass, R.D., explained to Health Magazine that switching to unsaturated fats could benefit the heart. She recommends subbing avocado or nut butter for a healthy spread or adding more vegetables to meat dishes.

8. "Reduced Fat" Peanut Butter

When shopping, it might seem smarter to get "reduced fat" versions in order to lower your amount of fats; however, this only applies to bad fats, such as trans fats. Healthy fats, such as nut butters, avocados, anti-inflammatory oils, and fish, can benefit the heart and should be enjoyed full-fat, advises Steven Nissen, MD, chair of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. These brands compensate for lack of fat with higher sugar and sodium, says Robert S. Bobrow, M.D. to The Huffington Post, which is even worse for your heart!

9. Chicken Noodle Soup

While chicken soup is beneficial when under the weather, says Dr. Stephen Rennard, a pulmonary expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha in interview with ABC News, chicken noodle soup can often be loaded with sodium, says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN to Health Magazine. The best way to enjoy it and reap the immunity benefits is to prepare your own. Ditch high-sodium options, as well as cup of noodles or ramen packages, as the sodium content can be bad for your heart health.

10. White Bread

Standard white bread, as well as other refined carbohydrates, such as pie, crackers, and white rice, are stripped of fiber and can spike blood sugar, as the carbs are immediately absorbed the body and can throw it off balance, explains Joy Bauer, MS, RN, CDN, on her blog. Switch to bran, whole wheat, or whole grain varieties, as these have fiber to keep you full and avoid a blood sugar surge. As for pies, these are packed with trans fat in the crust, which is a major heart offender.

11. Pizza

High in saturated fat due to the melted cheese and oils, thick slabs of bread, sauces and other garnishes, the sodium, sugar, and saturated fats in just one slice of pizza can be hazardous to our hearts if eaten regularly, Cynthia Thaik, M.D., a Los Angeles-based cardiologist, told Huffington Post. Instead of eating a big slice out, create your own healthy pizza with thin crust at home, or bake ingredients on a pita bread or english muffin for a smaller serving size. Pile on fresh veggies instead of processed meats for more benefits.

12. Full-Fat Cheese, In Excess

While eating full-fat cheeses can be a nice source of protein and saturated fat in moderation, consuming excess can hurt our hearts due to the abundance in saturated fats and sodium. However, eating it in moderation is beneficial for balancing blood sugar. "A growing body of research indicates that dairy food consumption is associated with lower blood pressure. The nutrient package in milk, cheese and yogurt, including calcium, potassium and protein, may contribute to the beneficial links between dairy foods and blood pressure, says Christopher Cifelli, PhD / National Dairy Council to me over email.

13. Smoothies

Unless you are making your own or can order a low-sugar, veggie packed, and appropriately portioned smoothie or juice outside, many smoothies and juices are high in sugars and carbohydrates, and often lack fiber, calcium and protein. "Reducing carbohydrates from fruit juices , could benefit blood pressure and triglycerides, while having no adverse effect on HDL or LDL cholesterol," says Cifelli. To add in more nutrients, include leafy greens, which are high in calcium, B vitamins and iron, as well protein, found in Greek yogurt or almond milk. Be wary of portions and limit fruits to one or two servings.

While maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle, as well as making time for adequate exercise and cardio, sleep, self-care practice, and outlets for fun and creativity, can improve heart health over time, it's also critical to be mindful of what we eat and to avoid harmful foods that can increase cholesterol, spike blood sugar and heighten risk for diseases.

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