The heart is the most vital organ in the human body. And taking care of it should be a priority, especially as we get older. Most experts will tell us that the best way to ensure a healthy heart is to exercise regularly and to watch what we eat.
Fast food and too much office birthday cake are basic examples of bad eating, but did you know that many of the foods we consume on a daily basis contain heart-damaging amounts of sugar, sodium, and fat? No? Well you’re in for a treat! Below are 20 everyday foods that the heart-conscious among us should be wary of.
Everyone loves a good deli sandwich, and there’s no doubt that cold cuts make a convenient and tasty meal on the go, but these delicious deli meats sometimes contain unbelievable amounts of sodium. Cold cuts contribute about 250 milligrams of sodium per slice, so a sammie with at least three or four slices of deli meat equates to 1,000 milligrams of sodium in the meat alone. Breads and condiments don’t help either, but we’ll get to those later.
If you ask 100 Americans what their favorite snack food is, 85 will tell you cheese. While delicious, cheese is the single biggest contributor of saturated fat to the American diet. This type of fat stores itself in the stomach and affects the cardiovascular system like nothing else. And if you thought cottage cheese was safe, you’re mistaken: just one cup can carry almost 700 milligrams of salt.
We may think that eating more vegetables will help improve our overall health, and in most cases, at least when it comes to fresh veggies, we’d be right. The exception to this rule are vegetables that come out of a can. They may be packed with vitamins, but they also contain a lot of sodium, which is used by manufacturers to preserve the tasty niblets. So look for “low sodium” cans and always be sure to rinse the veggies before eating.
Another canned delicacy that we use in much of our everyday cooking is tomato sauce. One can of the crimson condiment contains a whopping 830 milligrams of sodium. For comparison, that’s like eating 97 Cheez-Its snack bites. As with canned veggies, you can find “low sodium” added jars of sauce as an alternative. Look for cans labeled with fewer than 350 milligrams of sodium per half-cup serving.
Baking a pie isn’t an easy task. And some of us are guilty of taking the shortcut of using a pre-made frozen pie instead of cooking one from scratch. What many people don’t know about these sweet treats though, is that they contain more trans-fats than almost anything else in the supermarket. Marie Callender’s Lattice Apple Pie, for example, packs three grams of trans-fats per slice. That’s not good for anyone’s ticker.
In the same supermarket freezer are one of the saltiest foods you’ll ever find: frozen TV dinners. Even the healthiest options contain upwards of 700 milligrams (half a day’s worth), of sodium. Yes, they’re convenient, but is convenience really worth calcifying our arteries? To avoid this, look for meals with less than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving.
Americans love coffee, but many of us eschew the traditionally black brew for a bit of added flavor. Unfortunately, those of us who prefer our coffee with all the bells and whistles are consuming more sugar and trans-fats than we realize. Traditional coffee creamers hide these fats under their less popular name: hydrogenated oil. Use regular milk and sugar if you don’t like your coffee black.
This may not come as much of a surprise, but blended coffee drinks like Frappuccinos and Dunkaccinos are among the most fattening beverages we can consume. These sugary confections are laced with syrup, sugar, whipped cream, and other toppings. Many can have the same amount of calories and fat as a milkshake, and often have more. If you want a bit of added flavor in your coffee, add cinnamon instead.
Butter and Margarine
Another somewhat obvious food to avoid is everyone’s favorite spread: Butter. Now, we must understand that butter, in general, isn’t as bad as its reputation. It can be good for digestion, but it does contain more fats than a normal person needs. Worse than butter, however, are butter alternatives like margarine, which are made with partially-hydrogenated oils, or trans fats.
We don’t realize it, but when it comes to regulating blood pressure and heart health, we have to look at everything we’re eating, even the condiments we use. Ketchup, the “catch-all” condiment, for example, contains around 167 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon, and a fair amount of sugar. Scaling back on these condiments can help lower blood pressure and help us taste more of our food and less of our ketchup.
Typically, when we’re cooking soup we reach for an extra bouillon cube, for an extra dose of flavor. Unfortunately, all bouillon cubes are made of are sodium and chemically concocted flavorings like monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG doesn’t just increase appetite, it tells our bodies to pump out the fat-storing hormone insulin. A healthier alternative would be to make our own flavor stock from fresh ingredients.
Fruit juice is natural, packed with Vitamin C, and delicious, but it also contains up to 36 grams of sugar per cup. For comparison, that’s about the same as four Krispy Kreme glazed donuts. If we’re looking for something healthier, there are much better options than bottled fruit juice. Instead of store bought, try squeezing your own juice or adding orange slices or berries to your water for a fruity, hydrating treat that won’t hurt your heart.
Despite the many effective ad campaigns and catchy commercials we’ve been treated to over the years, there’s no getting around the fact that Diet Soda isn’t the miracle beverage they want us to think it is. No soda is good for you, but diet soda, which has no calories, is loaded with strange additives that can affect our digestive system in the long run. It can also trick our bodies into thinking we can eat more.
Ice cream is a delicious treat on a hot summer day, but it’s also a hefty source of Cholesterol, and not the good kind. One cup of certain Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavors, for example, can contain 130 grams of Cholesterol. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. We know it’s difficult (if not impossible) to cut out ice cream entirely, but we should keep this phrase in mind: “everything in moderation.” Especially when it comes to our heart health.
There’s some bad news for those of us that love buttery baked biscuits: they aren’t good for our hearts. This should come as no surprise, especially to those who read the butter section above, but many brands of biscuit mix are full of trans fats that can wreak havoc on the heart. Instead of these, we suggest English muffins labeled with 0 trans fats.
Bacon and Sausage
If the breakfast biscuits weren’t already a gut-punch, then we’ve got some more bad news, bacon and sausage aren’t all that great for us either. Like their partners in crime, the cold cuts, many of these heavily processed meats contain nitrates, a preservative that interferes with the body’s natural ability to process sugar. They are also loaded with sodium which can affect blood pressure in a harmful way.
While most whole grains can reduce our risk of dying of heart disease by nearly 20 percent, refined grains are a whole other animal. Many of these highly-processed grains, such as white rice, have been stripped of their nutrients in the bargain and can actually have an adverse effect on heart health. A recent study shows that those who ate the most white rice were at greatest risk for type-2 diabetes.
This one hits close to home, because we love Chinese food, but it’s not a great option for those worried about their heart. Many options at these restaurants contain sugary sauces and deep-fried breading. Many dishes are packed with calories, sugar, sodium, and even trans fats. The best way to avoid this and still enjoy is to ask for the sauce on the side of steamed meat and veggies, that way we can control our flavor intake without going crazy.
Salted beef has been a staple of sailors and hiking enthusiasts for centuries. Yet, while it’s free of any refined grains and packed with protein, it’s also packed full of popular preservative: salt. Even an ounce serving can contain more than 700 milligrams of it. It may be better for our tastebuds than trail mix, but not necessarily our hearts.
At the bottom of the list, we have one of America’s all-time favorite comfort foods: fried chicken. This crispy delicious offering is something that everyone should eat in moderation (remember “everything in moderation”), and most people know that already. What they don’t know, however, is that a four ounces of fried chicken with the skin included have as much cholesterol as 11 strips of bacon. Food for thought.