Hate to burst your bubble here, but yes, it’s true — some of our favorite foods are simply horrible for heart health. Of course, most of these foods shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, but it’s always good to keep in mind when you’re doing your weekly grocery shopping. According to Indhira Santana, certified health expert and co-founder of My Wellness Solutions, anything processed is bad for heart health because of the high sodium or fat content.
We spoke with experts for some tips on what kinds of foods and ingredients to avoid, and these nine topped the list.
1. Peanut butter
“Peanut butters that are not all-natural contain partially hydrogenated oils or trans-fats. Trans-fats are proven to be dangerous for your heart. Keep in mind products can list 1 gram trans-fat on the food label, yet still contain them in the product if you see the ingredient ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ listed,” said Beth Warren, MS, RDN, CDN.
2. American cheese
Nothing says good comfort food like a classic grilled cheese sandwich, but be careful with this stuff. “This heavily processed cheese food has a high amount of calories, saturated fat and sodium, contributing to an increased risk of heart disease,” Warren said.
3. Non-dairy coffee creamers
They come in all shapes and sizes, and the variety of flavors can be difficult to stay away from — but try. “They are made of sugar, which is inflammatory, hydrogenated vegetable oils (which contain trans-fats; these lower good HDL cholesterol and raise bad LDL cholesterol) and phosphorus additives which are known to contribute to heart disease,” said registered dietician Lisa Hugh. “People who use these products tend to think that they are healthy alternatives to dairy cream, and sometimes see them as a healthful product that they use liberally.”
4. Excess levels of refined carbohydrates
This is bad news for anyone who has a hankering for a big bowl of pasta at the end of the day. According to Dr. Barry Sears, a leading authority in anti-inflammatory nutrition and president of the non-profit, Inflammation Research Foundation, “These carbohydrates quickly enter the bloodstream to cause an excessive increase in insulin levels. Bread, rice, and potatoes may be worse offenders than table sugar in this regard.”
5. Saturated fats
Sears also told us that saturated fats, and palmitic acid in particular, generate inflammation in cells by binding to specific receptors, increasing inflammation in the appetite control centers in the hypothalamus, along with an increased insulin resistance in the fat, liver, and muscle cells.
6. Omega-6 fatty acids
Often found in most vegetable oils, it’s best to stay away from too much of this stuff. According to Sears, in the presence of elevated insulin, omega-6 fatty acids are rapidly transformed into the fatty acid building block that leads to the production of powerful pro-inflammatory hormones that generate inflammation.
7. Red meats
It’s likely no surprise that you probably shouldn’t be consuming burgers on a daily basis, right? And the reasoning behind it? “Red meats contain a ton of saturated fat and cholesterol,” Dr. Scott Schreiber, certified nutrition specialist and a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, said. “In addition, current farm practices are not favorable for the animal and therefore lead to poor quality products.” Mystery meat, anyone? No, thank you.
Schreiber pretty much broke our hearts on this one, too. “Pizza is one of the worst foods for heart health. A trio of saturated fat, sodium and processed sugar are all found in this food.” So essentially, just choose your pizza night wisely and fully enjoy every last bite, but only every once in a while.
9. Frozen meals
Rene Ficek, registered dietitian and lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, reminded us that these easy options are far more convenient than they are healthy. “The meals are often heavily processed and filled with fat and salt,” Ficek said. “Frozen fruits and veggies are a much healthier option, as long as you look for options without added sauces or salt. The unhealthy fat can increase cholesterol levels, while the high sodium content can increase blood pressure – a double whammy for heart health.”