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The #1 Worst Eating Habit for Your Heart, Says Cardiologist

This doctor suggests that you stay away from the packaged food and opt for something fresh.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in our country, and it has so many of us asking, "what can we do to prevent this"?

The CDC says high blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking, excessive alcohol use, inactivity, and an unhealthy diet are all serious risk factors for heart disease. But when it comes to an "unhealthy diet," how do we know which foods are good for your heart, and which aren't?

According to Dr. Arash Bereliani, a cardiologist with over 25 years of experience and founder of B-100 Method (an at-home heart health test), the worst eating habit for your heart is eating processed foods, especially processed meats.

"The problem with processed meat is that it's quick and easy, making it a natural choice for busy people on the go. And while that bacon does taste good, it damages your heart," says Dr. Bereliani. 

deli meats
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There really aren't many positive outcomes when it comes to eating ultra-processed foods. They're affordable and easy to grab when you're in a hurry, but research has shown that these foods can lead to many serious health complications.

Two recent European studies found in the British Medical Journal found that eating more processed foods was associated with a greater risk of mortality, coronary heart disease, and overall cardiovascular disease.

While it's all processed foods that we should be cautious of, Dr. Bereliani warns that processed meats (which include sausage, bacon, deli meat, and hot dogs) are especially dangerous because of their sodium content.

"Processed meats are not only high in salt, but also contain sodium nitrite, which is an additional source of sodium," says Dr. Bereliani. "Sodium nitrite is a proven trigger of inflammation, which causes atherosclerosis (cholesterol plaque build-up in the artery walls), as well as being a known carcinogen."

In fact, he notes that "processed meats contain an average of 8 to 11 times more sodium than comparable fresh meats."

bacon
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Dr. Bereliani certainly isn't the only expert who warns against the risks of processed meat. The University of Oxford put together a review of 13 cohort studies related to this topic and discovered that not only does regularly eating processed meat increase your risk of coronary heart disease by 18%, but the increase was also two times higher than the risks associated with unprocessed red meat (like beef and pork).

While this news may be disappointing to bacon lovers out there, you don't have to give up delicious meat products altogether.

"I recommend that you opt for fresh meat products, but if you insist on eating processed meat, look for nitrite-free versions and limit yourself to 3 ounces per serving no more than once a month," says Dr. Bereliani. "Be sure to eat double the amount in fiber to help break down all the bad stuff in processed foods."

Dr. Bereliani's rule of thumb when it comes to heart-healthy foods? "Stay away from anything packaged and opt for fresh. Your heart will thank you."

For more heart-healthy tips, check out The Best Foods to Eat for Your Heart.