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The foods we eat are incredibly important for our overall health and well-being, and also our heart health. However, many of us eat too many of the foods that aren't helpful in decreasing our risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death for adults in the United States. Here are five foods that could be secretly hurting your heart health:
While fat was once thought to be the main villain in heart disease, studies have found that sugar is also a culprit. A recent study showed that Americans who consumed more than 25 percent of their daily calories in added sugars had double the risk of death from heart disease than those who consumed less than 10 percent of their calories from sugar.
Soda, along with other foods and drinks with lots of added sugars can negatively impact heart health. They contain a lot of excess, empty calories, which can lead to weight gain and an unhealthy weight — a major risk factor for heart disease.
According to the Harvard School of public health, excess sugar intake has been linked to the development of high triglycerides, high levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), high blood sugar and high blood pressure. Not so sweet after all.
Reduce your sugar intake by swapping soda for unsweetened beverages, and choosing everyday foods (like breakfast cereals, yogurt, salad dressings, etc.) that are low in added sugar. Remember, every four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon of sugar.
Eating whole grains instead of refined, processed grains like white bread, white flour and white rice lowers the risk of heart disease by almost 30 percent according to some studies.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that for every ounce of whole grains consumed daily, there was a nine percent reduction in the risk of death from heart disease.
Whole grains are a good source of fiber, which helps slow down digestion and the release of sugar into the blood stream. Fiber also helps lower cholesterol levels. Whole grains contain a good amount of vitamins and minerals, all of which are good for your heart.
Saturated and trans fats
Trans fats are a triple whammy for heart health because they increase your LDL ("bad") cholesterol while decreasing your HDL ("good") cholesterol and promote inflammation. Trans fats are found in many shelf stable baked goods and snack foods, as well as stick margarine and shortening.
It's best to limit your intake of saturated fats, which are usually solid at room temperature and are found in full fat dairy, butter, lard and tropical oils like palm and coconut oil. These increase levels of LDL cholesterol (the "bad" kind), which is also a risk factor for heart disease.
Swap saturated and trans fats for the heart healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil, canola oil, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, etc.
Foods high in sodium
Sodium is an essential mineral used for muscle contraction and fluid balance. But, when we consume too much of it — and most Americans get close to double the recommended limit of 2,300mg/day — it can lead to health problems like increased blood pressure.
And don't think you're safe just because you don't use the salt shaker, by most estimates, we get around 90 percent of our sodium from processed and restaurant foods.
Work on preparing more of your meals at home to lower your sodium intake and purchase products that are lower in sodium. Use fresh herbs, spices and citrus to increase the flavor of your food without adding salt. Your taste buds will adjust to the lower amount of sodium and before long, foods you used to eat might just taste too salty for you!
Chips and snack foods
Chips and snack foods leave a lot to be desired nutritionally; they are often lacking in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Also, they are usually high in calories, added sugars, sodium and less healthy fats.
Omega 6 fatty acids, found in soybean and vegetable oils, can also promote inflammation when consumed in excess (as most Americans do). Omega 6 fatty acids are essential, meaning your body can't produce them on its own, but it's the over consumption of them that can lead to inflammation. (Tip: balance them out with Omega 3 fatty acids, present in fatty fish, canola oil, chia seeds, fortified eggs, walnuts and flax seeds).
Looking for even more advice from a knowledgeable dietitian? Harmons has four dietitians on staff that travel statewide to provide education and resources to our shoppers. We provide health screenings, nutrition counseling and a variety of other services. Visit our website to find out more about the services and classes we provide.
Check out our other Ask a Chef and Dietitian articles for great tips and recipes.