February is American Heart Month—a time to educate Americans on how to adopt a healthy lifestyle to help prevent heart disease. There is a lot of great information available about how to eat a heart-healthy diet, exercising to strengthen your heart, and other lifestyle changes you can make, such as stopping smoking to reduce your risk for heart disease. But one thing that is not discussed as often is what not to do to protect your heart. There are certain foods you should avoid if you want to lower your risk for heart disease—the leading cause of death in the U.S.
There are ways you can lower your risk, and that starts with diet. To help decrease your risk of developing heart disease, avoid foods that are high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat.
Below are ten specific foods to avoid:
1. Baked goods
Cookies, cakes, pastries, packaged treats—all of these foods are delicious, but have no nutritional value. They are packed with both sugar and saturated fat, which can increase your risk for heart disease if eaten regularly and in high quantities. And we all know that sugary baked treats will add unwanted pounds, which increases your heart disease risk even more.
2. French fries and fast food
Those fast food favorites are full of hydrogenated oils, salt, and fat—a triple threat for heart disease risk. Plus, fried foods like French fries have been linked to higher rates of certain cancers as well. Most other fast food items are fried or high in salt, fat, and simple carbs and are best avoided most of the time.
Bacon is full of salt and fat, with more than half of its calories from saturated fat, which can raise your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or what’s known as “bad cholesterol,” and increase your heart attack or stroke risk significantly.
4. Red meat
Eating too much red meat can increase your risk not only for heart disease but also for cancer and Type 2 diabetes. It’s best to eat red meat in moderation and to choose leaner cuts such as sirloin or extra-lean ground beef. Instead of red meat, you can choose seafood high in Omega-3 acids, poultry, or meat substitutes. Limit your red meat consumption to a few times a month or only for special occasions.
5. Soft drinks
Sugary, carbonated drinks have no nutritional value, and they add empty calories to your diet with their high sugar content. They contribute to weight gain and obesity, which increases your risks for heart disease. They are best avoided at all costs.
6. Cured deli meats
Even lower fat versions of deli meats contain sodium nitrate, which has been linked to chronic inflammation and narrowing of the arteries.
7. Potato chips and packaged snacks
Those highly processed crunchy, salty snacks you might find in a vending machine or convenience store are loaded with salt, sugar, and fat, all things you want to avoid. While they may be convenient, it’s better to get into the habit of carrying snacks with you that are more nutritious, such as apples, carrots, nuts, or whole grain crackers.
8. Energy Drinks
Energy drinks have become more popular in recent years, but many of these drinks that are marketed as healthy simply aren’t. Most contain a high amount of sugar and can trigger high blood pressure or arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat.
9. Coconut Oil
Another product that has become widely touted as healthy is not healthy. Coconut oil actually contains more saturated fat than lard (Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat while lard is 40% saturated fat.)
Margarine and other butter alternatives contain partially hydrogenated oils, which are full of trans fats that have been linked to heart disease. It’s better to use olive oil or even full fat butter in moderation.
So, what can you eat? A heart healthy diet is one that is full of a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, lean meats and seafood, and polyunsaturated fats. Choose fresh, whole foods over processed, packaged foods most of the time to help lower your overall risk of heart disease.