Eat Like a Dietitian: Foods to Avoid for Heart Health

foods to avoid for a healthy heartfoods to avoid for a healthy heart

Your heart is quite possibly the hardest working muscle in your body. It beats an impressive 100,000 times each day and a staggering 2.5 billion times during an average lifetime. 

As the centerpiece of your cardiovascular system, your heart plays a key role in pumping life-sustaining, nutrient-rich blood throughout your body. Therefore, it may come as no surprise that supporting the health of your heart is one of the best ways to support your overall health and well-being. 

Your diet strongly influences the health of your heart. While certain foods may support your heart health, others may damage it. Let’s explore some of the foods to steer clear of, along with heart-healthy swaps to keep your heart happy and healthy for years to come. 

Processed Meats 

Processed meats including bacon, hotdogs, sausage, and deli meats are loaded with salt, unhealthy fats, nitrites, and other chemical preservatives that can wreak havoc on your heart health. 

One recent study examined the link between different types of meat and health outcomes in various regions of the world. Researchers found that processed meat had a more significant negative impact on the health of your heart than either unprocessed red meat or poultry. 

Rather than load your cart with bacon or sausage, consider natural turkey bacon or give vegetarian sausages a try. Also, try replacing deli meats with heart-friendly options like hummus, tofu, or meat alternatives like seitan. When selecting meat alternatives look for products that are made with whole food ingredients like beans, legumes, and whole grains rather than more processed ingredients and additives.  

Fried Foods 

While the occasional French fry or potato chip is fine, regularly eating fried foods can negatively impact your heart health.  

Fried foods including fried chicken, French fries, onion rings, potato chips, and donuts are high in unhealthy saturated fats. An excess of saturated fat can damage the walls of your arteries by promoting plaque buildup. Plaque buildup within your artery walls can narrow the artery, making it more difficult to pump blood. Over time, this narrowing can set the stage for various heart issues.  

One recent meta-analysis of 19 studies found a strong association between eating fried foods and coronary artery disease. 

If you’re not ready to completely ditch fried foods, you can use the following techniques to help make them healthier: 

  • Try frying foods in healthier, unsaturated fats like olive oil or avocado oil 

  • After pan-frying, place foods on paper towels to help remove excess oil 

  • Invest in an air fryer that can mimic the texture of traditionally fried foods without using as much oil.  

Sugary Drinks 

Believe it or not, for many Americans the largest source of added sugar may not come from food, but may actually come from sugary drinks. Presweetened coffee drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sodas are brimming with excess sugar which, when consumed regularly, can take a toll on your heart health. 

According to one large observational study, drinking 12 ounces of sugary drinks more than once a day may lower HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and increase triglycerides, fat in the blood that can lead to heart disease. 

Excess sugar can also contribute to inflammation throughout your body. Research has found that daily exposure to sugary drinks can lead to chronic inflammation which can place stress on your blood vessels and heart, increasing your risk of heart problems over time. 

Looking for a healthy alternative to sugary beverages that may be more exciting than plain water? Try seltzer, herbal teas, kombucha, or water with fresh lemon or cucumber. 

Baked Goods 

Baked goods, especially those that are commercially produced, are not only chock full of sugar but are often made with unhealthy fats. This combination of ingredients can send your triglyceride levels sky-high, placing additional stress on your heart. 

When looking through the baked goods section of the grocery store, it’s best to read the ingredient label to ensure you’re steering clear of potentially harmful ingredients. For example, look for products with 5% Daily Value (D)V or less of saturated fat per serving. 

Better yet, if you have the time, try baking your cakes, cookies, muffins, and scones at home. This will allow you to swap out unhealthy ingredients for healthier ones. For example, you can swap out vegetable oil for applesauce, swap out butter for avocado, and swap out refined white flour for almond flour, or whole wheat flour. 

The Bottom Line 

Maintaining the health of your heart starts with a healthy diet. To optimize your heart health consider limiting foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, sodium, and sugar. 

And remember, you don’t have to completely avoid these unhealthy foods as the occasional hotdog or brownie won’t impact your heart health long term. It’s all about moderation and showing your heart some love by including heart healthy foods into your diet every day.   

Shaffer F, McCraty R, Zerr CL. A healthy heart is not a metronome: an integrative review of the heart's anatomy and heart rate variability. Front Psychol. 2014 Sep 30;5:1040. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01040. PMID: 25324790; PMCID: PMC4179748. 
Iqbal R, Dehghan M, Mente A, Rangarajan S, Wielgosz A, Avezum A, Seron P, AlHabib KF, Lopez-Jaramillo P, Swaminathan S, Mohammadifard N, Zatońska K, Bo H, Varma RP, Rahman O, Yusufali A, Lu Y, Ismail N, Rosengren A, Imeryuz N, Yeates K, Chifamba J, Dans A, Kumar R, Xiaoyun L, Tsolekile L, Khatib R, Diaz R, Teo K, Yusuf S. Associations of unprocessed and processed meat intake with mortality and cardiovascular disease in 21 countries [Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) Study]: a prospective cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2021 Sep 1;114(3):1049-1058. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa448. PMID: 33787869. 
Qin P, Zhang M, Han M, et al Fried-food consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis of observational studies Heart 2021;107:1567-1575. 
Haslam DE, Peloso GM, Herman MA, Dupuis J, Lichtenstein AH, Smith CE, McKeown NM. Beverage Consumption and Longitudinal Changes in Lipoprotein Concentrations and Incident Dyslipidemia in US Adults: The Framingham Heart Study. J Am Heart Assoc. 2020 Mar 3;9(5):e014083. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.119.014083. Epub 2020 Feb 26. PMID: 32098600; PMCID: PMC7335580. 
Ma X, Nan F, Liang H, Shu P, Fan X, Song X, Hou Y, Zhang D. Excessive intake of sugar: An accomplice of inflammation. Front Immunol. 2022 Aug 31;13:988481. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2022.988481. PMID: 36119103; PMCID: PMC9471313. 
Alert_Error Alert_General Alert_Success