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The 9 Worst Foods for Your Heart

Keep your heart healthy with our expert tips on how to avoid the foods bad for the heart, from canned soups to candy.

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What not to eat for your heart

Eating well for your heart is just as important as avoiding foods that are bad for your heart. Prioritizing whole foods, fresh fruits, and vegetables is the easy part. But what about pizza, French fries, and candy? They have ingredients like trans fats, refined grains, and sugar than can increase the risk of heart disease and other cardiac issues.

Keep your ticker in tip-top shape by avoiding the following worst foods for your heart. (Take a look at the foods cardiologists avoid.)

Processed-meatsNeirfy/Shutterstock

Processed and cured meats

Processed and cured meats, including cold cuts, bacon, and hot dogs, are some of the worst foods for your heart because of their high amount of saturated fats. Plaque buildup, hardening of the arteries, and saturated fats are all connected, according to Barbara George, MD, the director of the Center for Cardiovascular Health Medicine at NYU Winthrop Hospital on Long Island. “Saturated fats raise your ‘bad’ cholesterol, or LDL, as compared to ‘good’ cholesterol, or HDL,” she says.

A 2020 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found a link between red and processed meat and a higher risk of heart disease and death. But research on processed meat being bad for your heart goes back some time. A research review from 2012 in Current Atherosclerosis Reports by Harvard University researchers found that eating processed meats is associated with a 42 percent higher risk of heart disease.

The bottom line: Limit cold cut sandwiches and save hot dogs for a rare indulgence. If you plan to continue eating animal meats, turn to the best meat options such as lean red meat, skinless chicken, ground turkey, or fish, especially fish rich in omega-3s like salmon, cod, and tuna, Dr. George suggests.

flour in a sieveNungning20/Shutterstock

Refined and processed grains

Some of the worst foods for your heart are processed foods, according to Nieca Goldberg, MD, the medical director of NYU Women’s Heart Program in New York. “Processed foods cause sharp increases in sugar and insulin levels,” Dr. Goldberg explains. “And then the levels sharply decrease, leaving you more hungry and then you eat more.”

Processed foods often contain refined grains, including white flour or white rice. A 2017 study in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine found that refined grain intake was associated with a 9.4 percent higher risk of heart disease.

Fried chicken legs with french friesNatasha Breen/Shutterstock

Fried foods

Deep-fried foods are one of the top foods that are bad for your ticker, according to Dr. Goldberg. Eating deep-fried foods contributes to heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, and obesity. A 2015 review in Nutrients found that eating fried food four or mere times per week is associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, two observational studies on men and women from the U.S. found that frequently eating fried foods increases the risk of developing heart disease. Bake, broil, or roast your food for a healthy alternative to frying, Dr. Goldberg recommends.

soda with ice full frame close upMKucova/Getty Images

Soda and sugar-sweetened beverages (including juice)

Many people associate high triglycerides (a type of fat that circulates in the blood) with high-fat foods. People may not know, however, that concentrated sweets, such as regular soda and sugary beverages, can actually rapidly raise blood triglyceride levels, according to Westchester, New York-based registered dietitian nutritionist Malina Malkani, creator of Solve Picky Eating.

Untreated high triglyceride levels may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. One 15-year study in JAMA Internal Medicine on added sugar and heart disease found that people who had 25 percent of their daily calories from sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who had less than 10 percent of added sugar make up their daily calories.

yellow candyvirtu studio / Shutterstock

Candy

Your sweet tooth could get you into lots of trouble when it comes to heart health. Just like sugary drinks aren’t great for your heart, it’s the same idea with candy. “Dense sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes, and hypertension—all risk factors for heart disease and stroke,” Dr. George says.

Satisfy your sugar cravings with fruit slices and unprocessed peanut butter. You get the crunch while benefitting from more protein and fiber. Try your best to stick to whole foods, fresh vegetables, and fruits.

Negroni cocktailEvgeny Karandaev/Shutterstock

Alcohol

Some studies—like that in Alcohol Research & Health—suggest that moderate drinkers are at a lower risk of heart disease compared to heavy drinkers and non-drinkers. This information, however, is not a license to binge drink. In fact, one of the worst things for your heart is alcohol, according to Dr. George, because of the calories and sugar in alcohol.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends one alcoholic drink a day for women and two for men. “The difference is that women metabolize alcohol differently, and there is also a link between higher alcohol consumption and other conditions such as breast cancer and addiction,” Dr. George says. Keep an eye on your glasses of wine and consider ways to drink less.

overhead shot of canned beansImage Source/Getty Images

Canned soups and vegetables

Some canned soups and vegetables are high in sodium and fat, making them a poor choice for heart health, according to Dr. Goldberg. “Sodium is a preservative that is often added to foods during the canning process to increase shelf life and palatability,” Malkani explains.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting daily sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. The ideal daily limit is 1,500 mg for most adults, especially those with elevated blood pressure.

But canned foods offer a convenient and affordable way to meet daily recommendations for foods like vegetables, legumes, and fruits. “People can incorporate canned foods into meals and still stay within recommended sodium limits for optimal heart health by reading food labels, choosing canned products that are labeled, ‘low-sodium,’ or ‘low salt,’ or ‘no added salt,’ and rinsing canned foods like beans and vegetables with water before using,” Malkani says.

Freshly baked cinnamon buns with spices and cocoa fillingGreenArt/Shutterstock

Foods containing trans fats

Foods packed with artificial trans fats are some of the most detrimental when it comes to heart health, says Malkani. “Artificial trans fats have been shown to lower HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol levels and raise LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels and increase the risk for heart disease and stroke,” she says. In one 14-year study of 80,000 women, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found a positive connection between heart disease and eating foods containing trans fats.

In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that trans fats were unsafe because of research connecting them to poor heart health. Manufacturers were given three years to remove them from food.

But the FDA notes that food containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fats, sometimes listed on the ingredient label as partially hydrogenated oils, can claim they have zero.

Malkani points out that there may still be some products on the market that manufacturers created before the ban. Those goods could contain artificial trans fats. Keep an eye on non-dairy coffee creamers, microwave popcorns, frozen doughs, pastries, pizzas, fried foods, and shortenings. Check the ingredient list on all packaged foods.

condiments in refrigeratorrustycanuck/Getty Images

Condiments

Condiments and sauces contain salt. This can raise blood pressure or worsen heart failure symptoms for someone with high blood pressure or heart failure, according to Dr. Goldberg. Try your best to eat unhealthy condiments sparingly and ask for them on the side when you dine out.

Next, learn about the foods that may improve circulation.)

Sources

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.