Could your morning muffin be breaking your heart? Maybe. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and some everyday foods may be to blame.
Around 37 percent of people in the United States possess at least two risk factors associated with heart disease. Most of these factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, are directly related to diet.
Although most foods are safe in moderation, the following five may be jeopardizing your health more than you think:
1. Scones, muffins, and donuts
Harvard University researcher Walter Willet estimates that the trans-fats found in such baked goods are likely responsible for at least 30,000 premature U.S. deaths per year. There is no doubt that these delicious treats are quick and easy to grab in the morning rush, but from a nutrition standpoint, they are a nightmare. Hidden saturated fats, trans-fats, sugar, and refined flour make these treats calorie dense, nutritionally poor, and far from heart healthy. For example, a blueberry scone from Starbucks has 460 calories, 420 mg (18 percent) of sodium, four teaspoons of sugar, 75 mg (25 percent) of cholesterol, and 22 grams of fat (60 percent of which is saturated). Instead, choose whole grain bread, slow-cooked oatmeal, or a fiber-rich, low-salt cereal in the morning.
2. Processed meats
Processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages, salami, ham, bologna, and other deli meats all contain salt, fat, cholesterol, nitrates, and other preservatives. A 2010 review of 20 studies found that these meats were associated with a 42 percent increased risk of heart disease as compared with red meats. The high sodium content in these meats is associated with increased blood pressure, which can also lead to heart disease. Dietary guidelines for adults in the United States state that we should consume no more that 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Instead, choose fresh, lean proteins like turkey, chicken, tofu, fish, and legumes.
With 10 teaspoons of sugar in every can of regular soda, it’s difficult to justify such an indulgence, even in moderation. Now research has found it's also bad for your heart. A recent study from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, followed young adults over a 20-year period and found that higher consumption of soda and sugary drinks was associated with high (bad) LDL cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, and hypertension, all of which increase the risk of heart disease.
Diet soda is no better. Data from a 2008 study of 4,600 adults found that those who drank three servings of diet soda per day were twice as likely to be overweight or obese. Remember, whether it’s regular or diet, soda offers no nutritional benefit. Try breaking your soda habit by replacing at least one soda a day with an alternative like water infused with mint and lemon, sparkling water, a sugar-free juice, or a juice and sparkling water combination. Slowly cut back on the number of sodas you drink and start making healthier choices instead.
4. Salad dressing
One way to ruin the nutritional benefits of a fresh vegetable salad is to top it with your favorite supermarket salad dressing. Not only are these bottled dressings generally loaded with salt, sugar, corn syrup, saturated fat, hydrogenated oils (trans-fats) and preservatives, they are often devoid of beneficial ingredients like real olive oil. These ingredients are associated with numerous heart disease risk factors such as increased inflammation, blood pressure, and higher triglycerides and cholesterol levels. The healthiest choice is to simply make your own dressing and keep it in the fridge for quick usage. Start with three parts extra virgin olive oil to one part vinegar, and then add mustard, herbs, spices, and seasonings to your liking.
5. Fried fish
We all know that eating fish can help prevent heart disease, but once you place that fish in a deep fryer, you’ve eliminated all heart-healthy benefits. In a study of older adults free of cardiovascular disease, researchers found that increased consumption of fried fish raised the risk of heart disease, whereas baked and broiled fish were associated with a 50 percent reduced risk of the disease. The Women’s Health Initiative study of 85,000 postmenopausal women found a 48 percent increased risk of heart failure among those who consumed fried fish more than once per week, as compared with those who ate baked or broiled fish. Bake, broil, steam, or sauté your fish in a small amount of olive oil for maximum benefit.
When making your daily meal choices, keep these nutritional facts in mind. Little dietary changes can go a long way toward big changes in heart health.