Lower The Risk Of Heart Disease By Limiting The Worst Foods For Your Heart

Heart disease is the world’s deadliest killer. According to the World Health Organization, it killed over 15 million people in 2016 alone. Fortunately, people at any age can reduce their chances of cardiovascular disease through their diet.

Although there are many heart-healthy foods on the market, others lead you one step closer to disease. Even “healthy” foods, such as diet sodas and “fat-free” snacks, may harm your most vital organ. To diminish your chances of heart disease through your diet, keep reading.

Newsflash: Cheese Still Isn’t Heart-Healthy

Cheese is organized on a plate.

Debates over cheese and heart health have raged for years. According to the American Heart Association, cheese can raise your cholesterol through its saturated fat. In 2017, a study in the European Journal of Nutrition said that eating cheese helps your heart. However, experts are skeptical of this finding.

A nutrition scientist at Stanford University, Christopher Gardner, says that the dairy industry funded the study. Plus, its portion sizes were too small. Cheese still raises cholesterol, and over-consuming it can result in heart consequences later.

Diet Soda Isn’t Much Better Than Regular Soda

A woman browses sodas in a store.

Obviously, soda is an unhealthy drink. But diet soda comes with health risks as well. Researchers for the American Heart Association observed over 80,000 participants, and they concluded that diet soda increases the chance of heart disease by 29%.

Despite the study, Harvard researchers say that the issue may be more complicated than diet soda. During a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, those who drank diet soda were more likely to have diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure–all risk factors of heart disease.

White Bread Is Harmful, But Not Because Of Carbs

A woman sorts through slices of white bread.
marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Although some people believe that carbohydrates prompt heart disease, this isn’t the case. Carb-heavy foods, such as bread, only cause harm if they have sugar. White bread is all simple sugars, which can cause blood sugar spikes. In 2010, researchers found that eating white bread frequently doubles a woman’s risk of heart disease.

An associate professor of nutritional medicine, Marie-Pierre St-Onge, says that white bread “looks pretty much like plain sugar, really, just simple carbohydrates.” You can eat whole-grain bread; the American Heart Association encourages it! But avoid white bread for the sake of your heart.

Settling The Butter VS Margarine Debate

Three cubes of butter sit in a glass bowl.

According to Roy Morgan Research, butter sales increased by 7.5% in 2016, while margarine sales fell. The switch appeared when margarine was revealed to have trans fats, and butter was considered the more natural option. But the World Health Organization still has plenty of evidence that saturated fats in butter increase your risk of heart disease.

The Heart Foundation of New Zealand still warns that butter raises harmful cholesterol. If you eat it sparingly, it shouldn’t be a problem. But if you’re a butter fan, you may want margarine made with olive oil, which won’t have harmful trans fat.

Avoid Processed Foods, Even Ice Cream

Two women eat ice cream cones in Central Park, New York.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

Processed foods are foods that have been cooked, packaged, or frozen before they were sold. While they are convenient, processed foods (including ice cream and frozen meals) aren’t good for your heart. At the University of Paris, researchers found that a 10% increase in processed foods raises your likelihood of heart disease by 12%.

In the journal The BMJ, Spanish researchers reported a larger risk of processed foods. Participants who ate four servings of processed foods a day had a 62% higher chance of getting heart disease. Every serving heightens the risk, scientists say.

Energy Drinks Make Your Heart Beat Abnormal

A man sips an energy drink.

The average energy drink has between 70 mg and 90 mg of caffeine–a dangerous amount for your heart. In 2018, researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center found that one energy drink can harm your arteries. The blood vessels narrow, which raises your risk of heart attack and stroke.

The largest study on energy drinks was in the Journal of the American Heart Association. In it, consumers experience electrical activity in their hearts. The arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythms, may encourage heart disease down the line.

There’s Too Much Sugar In Fruit-Flavored Yogurt

A teenager eats flavored yogurt.
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Although the American Heart Association recommends 25 grams of sugar per day, some yogurts have 36 grams per cup! Why? Because flavored yogurts pack on processed and artificial sugars, according to dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick. That only increases your risk of disease.

According to a 2014 study in JAMA, people who get 17% of their calories from added sugars have a 38% added risk of heart disease. So why have added sugars when you could mix some fruit into Greek yogurt? That’ll provide plenty of healthy fats and protein for your heart.

“Fat-Free” Packaged Foods Aren’t Healthy

Two cans of fat free Pringles are seen.
Flickr/Mike Mozart
Flickr/Mike Mozart

When it comes to heart health, fat isn’t the only risk factor. After analyzing 72 studies, the British Heart Foundation concluded that sugars impact the heart more than fat. Unfortunately, low-fat foods replace trans fat with sugar. That’s a packaged sugar high waiting to hurt your heart.

Plus, fat-free doesn’t mean calorie-free. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute compared fat-free products to regular versions, and they found little difference in calories. For instance, fat-free fig cookies have only nine fewer calories than normal. That doesn’t prevent disease in the long run.

The Danger Of Canned Tomato Sauce

The pot on the left contains pasta sauce, while the pot on the right contains noodles.
Tom Kelley/Getty Images

Several studies have linked tomatoes to a healthy heart. However, canned tomato sauces come with some risk. Many canned foods contain high amounts of salt, which could result in congestive heart failure, according to the University of California, San Francisco.

According to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, at least 75% of packaged and canned foods have added sugars and salt. Since canned tomato sauces often have sugar and salt, they may negatively impact heart disease. Choose a sauce with low salt and sugar if you can find one.

Powdered, Nondairy Coffee Creamers Are A “No”

In the grocery store, powdered coffee creamers sit on a shelf.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Coffee-Mate, Pream, and Cremora sell nondairy powder creamers that taste great and last a long time. Unfortunately, they may damage your heart. Researchers from Nebraska determined that these creamers increase trans fats and cholesterol in the blood. Both are bad signs for someone on the brink of heart disease.

Instead of including milk, nondairy creamers add corn syrup, sugar, and sodium to add more flavor. These additives raise calories, inflammation, and harmful LDL cholesterol, according to MedBroadcast. Buy a natural creamer to improve your heart health overnight.

Fruit Smoothies Aren’t Superfoods

An employee blends a smoothie that's overflowing at a market.
Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Although fruit smoothies sound like the perfect healthy drink, they have a downside. According to registered dietitian Ryan Andrews, all this fruit becomes a sugar bomb that could spike your blood pressure. And without adequate protein, you’ll be left hungry. The result is more sugar and calories, which could encourage heart disease over time.

When you blend fruit, it loses its fiber, says co-director Dr. Alka Cupta of the Integrative Health & Wellbeing Program. With no fiber, you won’t feel as full or normalize blood lipids, which is crucial for heart health. Add some protein and fiber to your smoothies to make them more heart-healthy.

Choose Your Mayonnaise Wisely

Jars of mayonnaise sit on a grocery store shelf.
Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Mayonnaise contains egg yolks, lemon, and oils that may or may not be heart-healthy. According to registered dietitian Asvini Mashru, most mayo’s have refined soybean oil. This processed oil has omega-6’s, which puts people at risk of coronary heart disease, according to BMJ Open Heart.

Mashru recommends finding a mayonnaise with olive oil instead. While omega-6 fatty acids hurt your health, omega-3’s in olive oil help you. Scientists from the University of Toronto emphasize that even “healthy” oils can heighten your chances of disease.

Don’t Buy Processed Deli Meats

A man browses packaged sausages at the grocery store.
Sam Tsang/South China Morning Post via Getty Images
Sam Tsang/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

In 2019, research in Circulation found that many animal products help the heart–but processed meat doesn’t. For every gram of deli meats that participants ate, their risk of cardiovascular disease increased. Processed meats contain salt, fat, and preservatives that damage the heart over time.

In February 2020, scientists at Northern University discovered how significantly processed meat raises the risk. For every two servings of deli meat you eat per week, your chances of heart disease spike 3% to 7%. Plus, your risk of death heightens by 3%.

The “Fruit” In Fruit Juice Hardly Helps

A close-up of a bottle of apple juice is seen.
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Although fruit juice contains one healthy ingredient (fruit), it still packs in artificial sweeteners. According to Nutrition, the average fruit juice contains 45 grams of added sugar, not much less than the 50 grams in soda. These sugars do not help your fight against heart disease.

In the journal Circulation, scientists reported that the more sugar drinks you consume, the higher your chance of heart disease. Sugar increases blood pressure, inflammation, and weight gain, all of which harm the heart. Do yourself a favor, and cut back on fruit juice.

How French Fries Clog Your Arteries

A customer dips french fries in ketchup to eat.
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French fries are a bomb of trans fat and salt. Frequently eating french fries heightens the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes–all of which are precursors to heart disease, says Harvard Health Publishing. In that sense, french fries can threaten peoples’ lives.

In 2017, scientists studied over 4,400 people who ate potatoes. Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study reported a higher risk of death from french fries. Potatoes didn’t increase the mortality rate, but after they were fried, participants were more likely to contract heart disease.

Coffee, Milk, And Sugar–Yikes!

A Starbucks coffee employee hands a customer coffee through a drive-thru.
Tim Boyle/Newsmakers
Tim Boyle/Newsmakers

In moderation, coffee improves your health by lowering blood pressure and burning some extra fat. But these benefits disappear when you load your coffee with milk, sugar, and syrup, says dietitian Susie Burrell. For instance, a medium latte has around 14 grams of fat and 60 grams of cholesterol, which don’t help the heart.

The sweeter your drink order, the more sugar and fat are added. Over time, this can clog your arteries and strain your heart. According to registered dietitian Jenna Werner, a grande frappuccino has more carbs than 4.5 slices of bread!

Low-Fat Salad Dressings Are Worse Than Regular Ones

A customer browses shelves of salad dressings in a supermarket.
Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Although low-fat salad dressings are low in calories, that doesn’t make them healthier. Usually, dressing’s calories come from heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. When those are removed, sugars and unhealthy oils take their place, says registered dietitian and nutritionist Suzanne Fisher. These can harm your heart over time.

Plus, you need healthy fats to absorb nutrients from your vegetables. According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, fat-free dressings don’t help the body absorb vitamins as well as regular dressings. Resort to healthy full-fat dressings; they’re better for your heart!

You’ll Never Find A Healthy Potato Chip

A woman picks up a potato chip.
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Yes, potato chips are addicting; even science says so! In the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists said that potato chips pack on more weight than any other food. Their fat, fried, and contain salts that raise blood pressure as well, which contributes to heart disease over time.

Another dangerous ingredient is acrylamide. According to the American Society of Nutrition, the chemical acrylamide (which appears at high-temperature frying) greatly raises your risk of cardiovascular disease. The researchers assert that you should only eat potato chips in moderation.

Hot Dogs? Pass!

Two girls eat hot dogs.
David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Hot dogs may improve an outdoor BBQ, but they don’t support your heart. In 2014, Swedish researchers announced that hot dogs harm the heart, to little surprise. But they also revealed that a slab of steak or ham is more heart-healthy than hot dogs.

Hot dogs are preserved with large amounts of sodium, says a master of public health Rania Batayneh. Eating 2.6 ounces–just under two hot dogs–may heighten your blood pressure and raise your heart disease risk. Cut down on hot dogs whenever you can.

Canned Soup: Convenient, But Not Nutritious

A volunteer organizes cans of soup for a soup kitchen.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

According to the American Heart Association, canned soup is one of the “salty six”–the most popular foods that sneak sodium into your diet. Although they recommend 1,500 mg of sodium per day, the broth in canned soup contains 500 mg. That doesn’t include the other salty, preserved ingredients.

Excess sodium is dangerous for the heart, says registered dietitian Tanya Zuckerbrot. She told The Daily Meal that salt puts pressure on the blood vessels. Over time, this could develop into heart disease. If you buy canned soups, opt for a low-sodium variety.