Let's be honest: heart disease is scary. In the United States alone, nearly one person dies of heart disease every 36 seconds, and about 18.2 million adults above the age of 20 have coronary artery disease.
These statistics can sometimes make grocery shopping or dining out an overwhelming process because it's difficult to know what exactly is good for your heart and what is risky. With all of the different opinions out there, it can be hard to know exactly how to have a healthy heart.
We're here to help you out and we've put together a list of surprising popular foods that you may not have realized are damaging your heart. Now you'll be prepared to make the best decision for your ticker by avoiding the worst foods for your heart! And while you're making healthy changes, be sure to stock up on The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
Sugary sodas are fairly well-known as bad news. It's no secret that these are on the warning list of beverages that aren't great for your heart. Because of this, some may rightfully assume that diet soda is a safer option.
Unfortunately, that is not the case, as regular intake of sugary sodas—yes, including diet—has been proven to increase the risk of heart diseases and diabetes. The Publication of Medicine concluded in a similar study that regular consumption of artificially-sweetened drinks can lead to an increased risk in heart disease as well as increased blood pressure. It's no wonder it's on our list of the worst foods for high blood pressure.
Cold Cuts/Deli Meat
It's normal to get excited about a delicious toasted sub with slices of ham from the local deli and all of your favorite toppings. The bad news is that deli meat (or cold cuts) has been proven to greatly increase your risk of heart disease. A 2020 study found that eating processed meats just two times a week could heighten your risk by 3-7%.
The study states that going with seafood for your next lunch can greatly help with heart health. If you're not a seafood fan, you can also opt for a plant-based protein or grilled chicken.
Pulling out a box of pasta at home is one of the easiest dinner options on those busy evenings. What you might not realize, though, is that processed carbohydrates are risky when it comes to damaging your heart health. Processed carbs like pasta, white bread, and white rice are all known as high GI foods (high glycemic index). Foods like these are known to raise the glucose levels in your body to dangerous amounts. It is always helpful to opt for whole-grain pasta or bread when you're still craving those carbs!
Yes, some energy bars are healthier than others. But you need to be careful—just because a company advertises themselves as "healthy," it doesn't always mean it's true. If you're going to reach for the energy bar, check out the back of the box to make sure you can read and pronounce the ingredients. Many energy bars are made with corn syrups, citric acids, and added sugars.
Processed foods, also known as ultra-processed foods, have been proven to cause an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and can damage your heart health. If you're going to reach for an energy bar, try one with real or organic ingredients.
This one can be sad for all the steak lovers out there. For many years, red meat has been heavily debated on the subject of heart disease. Recently, a chemical called Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO for short) has been discovered as an ingredient in red meat that can cause damage to the heart and increase your risk of heart disease.
The exact reasons why this chemical is so damaging are still being debated. Some studies suggest it's because the chemical increases levels of cholesterol in the arteries, while some believe it's more to do with blood cells and blood clots.
Rotisserie chicken is probably the most enticing smell you'll encounter in the grocery store. For those fans of this quick, delicious dinner choice, it's important to know that it can actually put you at risk for heart damage.
Not only is rotisserie chicken loaded with sodium, but it's packed full of saturated fats. Regular consumption of saturated fats is one of the most common causes of heart failure and cardiac disease. Next time when you reach for the rotisserie chicken, opt for chicken breasts to throw on the grill instead!
This one may be surprising because you most likely don't often think about your condiments as much as you think about the main meal. Unfortunately, condiments can be just as much the culprit as your red meat or diet soda. Ketchup, for example, is full of processed sugar and sodium. Like we mentioned early, processed sugar consumption has a directly negative impact on our cardiovascular health. Next time you're craving ketchup, try making a simple homemade ketchup recipe and cut back on the salt and sugar.
Looking for more helpful tips? Your ultimate restaurant and supermarket survival guide is here!
Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
At first glance, fat-free peanut butter might sound great. However, peanut butter is loaded with healthy fats. When you opt for the fat-free version, you're sacrificing those good fats for tons of added sugar to compensate for flavor. Added sugars increase your risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Processed Fruit Juice
Fruit juice may be a surprising beverage to find on this list. But when you are choosing a fruit juice to buy, it's important to look at the ingredients. Many common fruit juices that you buy at the store are actually packed full of sugar and processed ingredients to use as preservatives. Any type of refined carbohydrates, which especially includes drinks loaded with sugar, can increase your risk of heart disease, coronary heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Canned soup often flies under the radar, but these cheap meals can actually cause quite a bit of damage. For one, most cans of soup are highly processed, which allows them to stay on the shelves for so long without expiring. Their high levels of sodium also make them a dangerous culprit in the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Sodium is a necessary nutrient for our survival and well-being. And good quality sodium, like sea salt for example, is an amazing way of helping our bodies absorb nutrients. When you consume too much processed sodium, you put yourself at risk for high blood pressure and an increase in heart disease risk.
Instead, be sure to keep an eye out for any of the best low-sodium canned soups for heart health, approved by dietitians next time you're food shopping.
Premade Fruit Smoothies
If you're making fresh smoothies at home, this shouldn't be much of an issue for your heart. But when you go to the store and buy those premade, bottled fruit smoothies that are packed with added sugars, you may actually be damaging your heart without realizing it. You know now that added sugar is trouble for your heart health. But smoothies are a culprit for another, lesser-known reason.
You need fiber in your diet to help regulate your blood lipid levels. When you don't regulate these levels, you are increasing your risk of heart disease. By drinking fruit in a sugary beverage with zero fibers, you are hindering your abilities to regulate your lipid levels, which can be dangerous.
Flavored Coffee Drinks
Most people enjoy celebrating the new season with a festive drink. Take for example the fall staple that is the pumpkin spice latte season. But before you order that grande pumpkin spice latte with extra pumpkin and extra whipped cream from Starbucks, you'll want to take a look at the risks these flavored coffee drinks carry.
In a study from JAMA Internal Medicine, it was concluded that people whose diets consumed 17-21% of processed sugar increased their risk of heart disease by 38%. When you consume sugary beverages, you can sometimes forget how many calories you are actually getting from the sugar because it is more conspicuous than eating something like a donut or a slice of cake. But sugary, flavored coffee drinks can be just as dangerous.
A grande-sized PSL from Starbucks made with 2% milk and whipped cream is packing 380 calories, contains 52 grams of carbohydrates, and 50 grams of added sugar. As you can see, this drink is actually worse than some baked goods!
Microwave popcorn is a perfectly delicious movie night snack. And in theory, it's usually less fattening than movie theater popcorn. But it may come as a surprise that microwave popcorn (the wrong kind, that is) is still loaded with trans fats, something that you need to look out for when caring for your heart health.
Trans fats are usually made with hydrogenated oils, like vegetable or canola. A study in 2014 concluded that trans fatty acids were found to negatively affect cardiovascular health and increase your chance of heart disease. This is the same reason margarine is no longer suggested as a better alternative to butter!
You might be wondering how white rice can be harmful. It's just a natural grain, right? Unfortunately, white rice is a highly processed carbohydrate and has the same risk factor as white bread or pasta.
As we mentioned earlier, processed carbs have a negative impact on cardiovascular health. The added sugars are a huge culprit, but another reason to stay away is because foods that are highly processed undergo the changing of their natural form. Things like rice, cereals, and pasta are processed so much from their natural wheat state that it can cause a spike in your blood sugar levels.
Non-Dairy Coffee Creamer
Another surprising item on the list is non-dairy coffee creamer. You may often reach for these to avoid going for the fattening dairy creamers, but these creamers can be loaded in trans fats. Trans fats are known for being bad news for your heart health and it has been proven for many years that regular consumption can lead to cardiovascular disease.
Again, look for hydrogenated oils in the ingredients list, such as vegetable oil or canola oil. Oftentimes, you'll notice it's one of the first few ingredients on the list. According to an article published by MDPI, trans fats in amounts as small as 0.5 tbsp can create issues if consumed regularly. That's why even if you're drinking just a little bit of this creamer each day, it can still have negative impacts on your heart.