Adopting healthy eating habits can be easier said than done. But if you’re looking to prevent heart disease, lower your cholesterol, and ward off a heart attack, changing your diet is a necessary step towards improving your heart health. Along with medication and proper medical care, changes to your diet can lessen your risk of serious heart problems.
In addition to increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, you’ll also need to cut back on foods that contribute to heart issues. Whether you’re looking to completely overhaul your unhealthy lifestyle or simply make a few small changes to your diet to improve your health, here are a few types of food to avoid on a heart-healthy diet.
6 Types of Food to Avoid on a Heart-Healthy Diet
Studies have linked fried food with type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, three health issues that increase your chances of heart failure. When foods are deep-fried, they absorb large amounts of oil, increasing fat content and overall calories. Plus, fried foods are typically packed with sodium. Here are a few of the worst fried foods for heart health:
- Fried chicken
- French fries
If you can’t imagine life without your favorite fried foods, try making healthy alternatives using an air-fryer. The handy countertop kitchen gadget uses hot air to recreate the same crispy exterior and moist interior of deep-fried foods. Air fryers use 70-80% less oil than traditional deep fryers, reducing the fat content and calories of your favorite fried snacks.
If you’re a meat lover, you’re probably dreading cutting back on your meat intake. The good news is, you can still eat meat on a heart-healthy diet. By swapping from unhealthy processed meat and red meat to leaner alternatives like chicken or turkey, you’ll still be able to enjoy the foods you love. While you can incorporate limited amounts of red meat like beef, lamb, and pork into your diet, here are a few types of processed meat you’ll need to cut out altogether:
- Hot dogs
Processed meat, in particular, has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. This is due to high levels of sodium and saturated fat, two common contributors to high cholesterol.
Good news, pasta lovers! You won’t need to cut out crabs altogether when switching to a heart-healthy diet. By swapping from refined grain products to heart-healthy whole grains, you can still enjoy some of your favorite dishes. Here are a few refined grain products to avoid on a heart-healthy diet:
- White bread
- Snack crackers
- White rice
- Regular pasta
During the refinement process, these refined grain products are stripped of their nutritional value. As a result, the body quickly converts them to sugar and stores them as fat. On the other hand, whole grains are excellent sources of fiber and other key nutrients.
According to the American Heart Association, diets rich in whole grains have been shown to reduce high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and stroke risk. Aim to get at least half of your daily grain intake from whole grains like whole-wheat bread or pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, and high-fiber cereal.
Saturated and Trans Fats
Saturated fat can raise your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), known more commonly as bad cholesterol. Additionally, many foods that are high in saturated and trans fats also contain high levels of sodium and added preservatives that are also linked to heart issues. Here are a few foods that are high in saturated and trans fats:
- Bacon fat
- Cream sauce
- Hydrogenated margarine and shortening
The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to 5-6% of your total daily calories and avoiding trans fats altogether. But eating a heart-healthy diet does not mean cutting out fat entirely. In fact, regular intake of mono- and polyunsaturated fats has been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol levels. Olive oil, certain fish, avocados, and nuts are a few foods that contain these healthy fats.
While reducing your sugar intake may feel particularly challenging, it’s an integral part of eating a heart-healthy diet. Studies have found a link between high-sugar diets and increased risk of death from heart disease. Consuming too much added sugar raises blood pressure, increases chronic inflammation, and leads to greater fat accumulation over time.
While the average American consumes 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day, American Heart Association suggests that adults consume no more than 150 calories daily from added sugar. Here are a few baked goods you’ll need to cut back on to meet these guidelines:
In addition to high amounts of sugar, baked goods are also packed with salt, saturated fat, and refined crabs. Next time you’re craving something sweet, try reaching for a piece of fresh fruit instead. When making baked goods at home, swap in whole-wheat flour, reduce the sugar content by using bananas or applesauce, and use heart-healthy plant oils instead of butter.
High-Sodium Snack Foods
It’s no secret that most processed snack foods are bad for your health. They’re filled with empty calories, lack nutritional value, and are covered in salt. Despite a recommended daily intake of 2,300 mg of sodium (roughly one teaspoon of salt), the average American consumes upwards of 3,400 mg per day. High sodium levels have been shown to boost blood pressure and cause hypertension that puts additional strain on your heart.
Plus, most snack foods are loaded with preservatives and unhealthy fats that also contribute to heart disease. Here are a few high-sodium snacks to avoid when eating a heart-healthy diet:
- Potato chips
- Instant pudding
Another issue with nutritionally-void snack foods is that they don’t keep you full for long. Instead, opt for nutritious snacks that contain a combination of healthy crabs, fat, and protein. Even when consuming healthy snacks, you’ll still need to monitor portion size. Aim for around 150-300 calories between meals. Try whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese, vegetables dipped in hummus, or fresh fruit with a handful of nuts.
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