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The Worst Foods To Eat if Heart Disease Runs in Your Family

Avoid loading up on these foods if you want to do all you can to keep your ticker strong.

Summer is already in full swing, and with your social calendars expanding, your food and beverage choices will be as well. Who can resist a little BBQ action on a summer night? If you happen to be someone with a family history of heart disease, though, trying to stick to a heart-healthy diet during seasons like this can be overwhelming.

However, if cardiovascular disease does run in your family, it's crucial to focus on foods that will lower your risk.

"The risk of developing heart disease leading to heart attacks is a result of nature and nurture," says Dr. Satjit Bhusri, founder of Upper East Side Cardiology. "By nature, we mean genetics and family history. For this we have no control. What we do have control is nurture, and that is lifestyle."

So when you are out and about enjoying the summer sun with friends, what types of foods can you choose to maintain a healthy heart?

"For a heart healthy lifestyle, it is imperative especially for those with a family history of heart disease to adhere to a strict DASH or Mediterranean diet," says Bhusri. "It is back to basics. No added salt, sugar and carbohydrates."

And to help you further, we've put together a list of foods and drinks that you should avoid if heart disease runs in your family. Instead, be sure to stock up on The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

Ice Cream

chocolate ice cream

We're not trying to break hearts here, just keep them healthy. Although ice cream is the perfect comfort food and dessert on a scolding summer day, too much of it can be troublesome for those with a higher risk of heart disease.

According to Laura Burak, MS, RD author of Slimdown with Smoothies and founder of Laura Burak Nutrition, added sugar can be dangerous for those with a family history of cardiovascular disease.

"I truly believe that excess sugar and processed carbs like candy, cookies, and ice cream are creating a cascade of health problems, including heart disease," says Burak, "which can go hand in hand with diabetes, high blood pressure, and other diseases that are exacerbated by a diet way too high in added sugar."

Although heart disease is often mostly associated with high fat content, it's crucial for people at risk to maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure levels, as well. According to a report from the World Heart Federation, an increase in added sugars can lead to cardiovascular disease through higher blood pressure and higher levels of plasma triglyceride concentration.


new haven pizza

When it comes to lowering our risk for heart disease, especially for those with a family history, you want to focus on lowering your sodium intake. The DASH Diet is often recommended by doctors to help prevent cardiovascular disease, and according to the Mayo Clinic, this diet is designed to greatly lower how much sodium we consume in a day. The average American consumes around 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, and the DASH diet helps you decrease that number to the recommended 1,500-2,300 milligrams.

While pizza can be one of the yummiest foods to consume, it is extremely high in sodium content. For a standard slice of cheese pizza, for example, you're looking at more than 900 milligrams of sodium. And that is just for one slice!


chocolate candy

Candy may be the perfect treat to throw in your bag on your way out the door, but most candy is high in added sugar and high fructose corn syrup. These are two components that can be risky for those with a family history of heart disease.

The World Heart Federation states that it is processed foods that are high in sucrose and high fructose corn syrup that can significantly increase cardiovascular disease risk. This report found in the National Library of Medicine states that processed sugars often to lead to obesity, excessive caloric consumption, and heart disease, which is why the American Heart Association made an official statement about Americans reducing their sugar intake.



According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with a family history of heart disease or people who want to prevent cardiovascular disease should not consume more than a moderate amount of alcohol. The CDC states that moderate consumption is two drinks per day for men and one drink for women.

There is still much research that needs to be done on the direct effects of alcohol consumption and prevention of cardiovascular disease. However, this recent 2020 research report states that it has been found that alcohol can increase blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol, all of which are important to pay attention to for those who have heart disease in the family.

Sugary Cereals

unhealthy cereal

Sugary cereals in the morning might be a nice treat, but you may want to avoid this breakfast food if you're more susceptible to heart disease. Burak tells us that processed foods like cookies, crackers, and cereals often have a higher amount of trans fats because it helps them keep their long shelf life. If you are already at higher risk for heart disease, it is especially important to not only limit unhealthy fats found in processed foods, says Burak, "but to look at the big picture which includes taking in too many calories from processed packaged sugary junk food."

It's incredibly important to watch sugar intake if you're at a higher biological risk of heart disease, and cereals are packed full of added sugar.

"Too much added sugar in the diet leads to constant blood sugar swings which sets off this metabolic storm where, among other things, the liver secretes more artery-clogging fats into the bloodstream," says Burak.

Red Meat


A 2019 report from the National Institute of Health found that red meat can potentially increase risk of heart disease through a dietary byproduct known as TMAO. TMAO (Trimethylamine N-oxide) is a chemical that comes from certain nutrients found in most red meat, and is formed by gut bacteria during the digestion of red meat products. One of the ways TMAO is known to increase risk of heart disease is by increasing deposits that may clog our artery walls. Consumption of TMAO has been known to clog arteries and lead to heart attack or stroke.

Another study in the European Heart Journal placed three groups of participants on three separate diets that consisted of 25% protein daily: red meat, white meat, and no meat. After just one month, the participants on the red meat diet had TMAO levels that were three times higher than the other two groups. The National Institute of Health noted that these levels were reversible, and that after the red meat participant group was placed on a diet consisting of white meat and of no meat at all, their TMAO levels decreased after just a couple of months.

Sugary Drinks


Sugary beverages like soda, energy drinks, and certain iced coffee drinks can be a delicious addition to a hot summer day. Unfortunately, sugar-packed drinks can be harmful for those looking to decrease their risk of cardiovascular disease. According to the World Heart Federation, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) accounts for about 50% of the processed and added sugar in the American diet.

And aside from the popularity of these drinks and the extremely high levels of processed sugar found in them, it's the sneakiness that also makes them dangerous to those with family history of heart troubles. We often forget that beverages can have so much sugar because we may be focused mainly on food consumption. But SSB have been known to lead to obesity and larger BMI, and according to a study from BMC Medicine, an increase in body-mass index led to a larger risk of heart disease and failure.

The science-backed way to curb your sweet tooth in 14 days.

Eggs (More than one per day)

frying fried eggs nonstick pan oil

The research on egg consumption and cardiovascular disease is mixed. Overall, many studies have found that maintaining a "moderate" consumption of eggs (no more than one per day) will most likely not have a positive or negative impact on those who want to prevent heart disease. In a meta-analysis of 16 different participant studies, it was found that egg consumption had little to no direct effect on cardiovascular disease, stroke, or coronary heart disease. It did, however, increase chances of Type-2 diabetes.

According to the CDC, high blood sugar (similar to what is found in Type-2 diabetes patients) can cause harm to the nerves around your heart. More so, people with diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides, all of which have been known to increase risk of heart disease.

Deli Meat

Processed deli meat cold cuts

If you have an increased risk of heart disease due to your family history, you may want to think twice before adding your favorite sliced deli meat to your sandwiches this summer. A recent analysis found in the World Heart Federation stated that processed red meats were associated with a greater risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.

According to Harvard School of Public Health, eating things like sausage, bacon, and deli meat can potentially increase your risk of heart disease by 42%. This is an an extremely high number for those who already have a family history of heart problems. The research also found that these types of processed meats were associated with 19% higher risk of diabetes. This is something to also note for those with a biological risk of heart disease.

Fried Foods

fried chicken

This one may not be that surprising. But those who have heart disease in the family may want to stay away from fried foods as much as possible. A research study done by the Harvard School of Public Health looked at data collected from 100,000 participants (both men and women) over a span of about 25 years. What they found was that if people consumed fried food at least once a week, their chances for heart disease and type 2 diabetes increased. If they had consumed more fried food, for example up to seven times per week, their chances of diabetes increased to 55%.

An analysis of heart disease research published in Heart found that higher fried food consumption had the possibility of increasing the risk of heart disease by 22%. They combined data from 19 different studies and concluded that fried food is harmful to heart health, especially to those with family history of cardiovascular disease.

Samantha Boesch
Samantha was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and now works as a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Read more about Samantha