By Dana Leigh Smith
Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.? Scary, we know! Kick out these ticker-harming foods from your diet to improve your health for years to come.
The heart: It’s our most vital organ, but if you ask someone how to best care for yours, they’ll likely tell you to find a nice guy who won’t break it into a million pieces. (Thanks, mom!) Even M.D.s aren’t the best source of heart advice: The average primary care office visit lasts just 10 minutes. So, even if your ticker is in danger, most docs will just tell you to watch what you eat and send you on our way, no other details provided.
That’s not the very prescription to put into practice, and that’s why we’re here to help. Read on to discover 30 foods that sabotage your heart health and that need to be booted out of your diet ASAP. And once you’ve cleaned up your diet, ward off other age-related diseases with the help of these 30 Foods to Eat to Never Feel Old!
BECAUSE IT’S HIGH IN SALT…Many people know that eating too much salt can raise their blood pressure. But not everyone realizes that uncontrolled high BP can cause their arteries to harden and narrow, increasing the risk of heart disease. That’s not all: New research has also linked obesity to high sodium intake while another study found that overweight men with the highest salt intakes were 61 percent more likely to die of heart disease than those who consume less of the mineral. You already know foods like chips and pretzels pack a lot of salt, but here we reveal 10 less-obvious sources of sodium that are making your blood pressure soar. Commit them to memory and keep them far away from your mouth!
1. Canned Vegetables
Veggies may be a cornerstone of a blood-pressure-friendly diet, but not the ones that come out of a can. The preservatives and sauces that keep the vitamin-filled veggies company inside the container are packed with sodium. Look for “no salt added” or “low sodium” options and be sure to rinse your veggies thoroughly before digging in. Can’t find an unsalted option? Consider switching to frozen veggies; there are plenty of unsalted selections. And speaking of surprisingly salty foods, check out these 20 Restaurant Desserts With More Salt Than A Bag of Pretzels!
2. Restaurant Soup
Get this: P.F. Chang’s Hot&Sour Soup Bowl, packs an artery-shivering 7,980 mg of sodium. That’s more than four days’ worth or the equivalent of nearly 45—yes, 45—individual bags of Cool Ranch Doritos. Not all restaurant’s bowls of broth are quite that salt-filled, but even chains like Ruby Tuesday and Applebee’s don’t ladle out anything with less than half a day’s sodium per bowl. Our advice: If you’re looking to enjoy something warming and delicious, make soup at home with the help of these 20 Best-Ever Fat Burning Soup Recipes.
3. Cold Cuts
According to a recent survey, 48 percent of Americans are looking to cut back on sodium, however according to a Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics study, nearly half of Americans consume a sandwich every day—one of the top source of salt in the American diet. Coincidental? We think not. The bread and condiments certainly don’t help the salt situation, but cold cuts and cheese are the primary culprits, contributing about 250 milligrams of sodium per slice. And let’s be real: we all use at least three or four slices of the stuff, which equates to 1,000 milligrams of salt in a single sitting. Looking for delicious flat-belly lunches to eat instead of your tired turkey and mayo? Indulge in the all-new Zero Belly Cookbook!
4. Tomato Sauce
Want some pasta with that salt!? A half cup of Hunter’s Tomato sauce packs a whopping 830 milligrams of sodium—which is more than you’d find in 97 Cheez-It crackers! To keep your blood pressure from spiking, look for jars of tomato sauce with fewer than 350 milligrams per half-cup serving. Both Amy’s Light in Sodium Organic Family Marinara and Ragu Light No Sugar Added Tomato&Basil fit the bill. And speaking of noodle night, make sure you’re entire bowl is wholesome with the help of our exclusive report, Most Popular Types of Dry Pastas—Ranked for Nutrition!
5. Frozen Meals
Frozen dinners may be quick and easy options when you’re time strapped, but they’re also loaded with sodium. Yes, even the healthy-sounding options. Two prime examples: Lean Cuisine’s Roasted Chicken and Garden Vegetables packs 620 milligrams of sodium and Special K’s Sausage, Egg&Cheese Flatbread Breakfast Sandwich carries 700 milligrams—or just under half a day’s worth. When you’re in the freezer aisle, look for meals with less than 500 milligrams per serving. And whenever you’re eating something high in sodium, wash down your meal with one of these 50 Best Detox Waters for Bloat.
6. Vegetable Juice
Prefer to sip your greens rather than chew ‘em? Stick with the freshly made varieties from a local juice shop (or your kitchen). The bottled versions are filled to the brim with salt. For example, just 8-ounces of V8 Vegetable Juice Essential Antioxidants has 480 milligrams of sodium. If you have to sip the bottled variety go for V8’s low-sodium blend. It will save you 340 milligrams of sodium, which over the course of a month can really make a difference in your blood pressure levels. For more better-for-you picks to keep within reach, read up on these 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have in Their Kitchen.
When it comes to your blood pressure and heart health, condiments matter. Those capers you top your Chicken Piccata with? They carry over 200 milligrams of salt per tablespoon. And the ketchup you dip your fries into has 167 milligrams in the same serving size. Scale back on the condiments to maintain your flat belly and keep your ticker in tip-top condition.
9. Cottage Cheese
Even though this breakfast staple doesn’t taste salty, a one-cup serving can carry almost 700 milligrams of the mineral—more than a third of what you’re supposed to have in an entire day. If you’re going to keep the stuff in your breakfast lineup, swap to a no-salt-added variety. Or, better yet, eat a container of Greek yogurt instead. It’s a low-salt, high-protein cottage cheese substitute we’re big fans of.
10. Beef Jerky
Jerky is super trendy right now, thanks in part to the ever-growing Paleo trend. Sure, it’s free of refined grains and packed with protein, but it’s also notoriously high in salt—not good news if you have high blood pressure or want to keep your heart healthy. A small, 1-ounce serving can have an upwards of 700 milligrams of salt, which is more than four times what you’d find in the same serving of chips. And speaking of the savory snack, see how healthy your favorites crisps are in our special snacking report, The 35 Best-Selling Chips—Ranked.
BECAUSE IT WILL CLOG YOUR ARTERIES…When you have more cholesterol in your blood than what’s considered to be healthy, it can clog your arteries with plaques that increase the risk heart disease. What causes the backup? A diet high in certain types of cholesterol, saturated and trans fats. Read on to meet the most dangerous fat- and cholesterol-laden eats on the planet. 11. Coffee Creamer
Traditional coffee creamers are prime sources of trans-fats, often hiding under the guise of its lesser-known name: hydrogenated oil. Trans fats have been shown to raise cholesterol levels and diminish memory in adults under 45 years old—scary stuff! Our advice: Switch to milk or use one of Coffee Mate’s Natural Bliss creamers—they come in great flavors and are totally free of scary ingredients and heart-harming fats. Alternatively, switch to tea! One Dutch study found that people who drank three daily cups of antioxidant-filled tea had half the risk of heart attack of those who didn’t sip the brew at all. To learn more about the benefits of black, white, and green tea, check out The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse! Test panelists improved their health and lost up to 4 inches from their waist!
12. Frozen Pies
We know that baking a pie isn’t easy—but tread carefully in the land of frozen lattices and crumble tops. Frozen desserts one of the most potent sources of trans-fat in the supermarket. In fact, Marie Callender’s Lattice Apple Pie packs 3 grams of the stuff per slice—that’s more than you should eat in an entire day. One 14 year study of 80,000 women found a positive correlation between heart disease and the consumption of foods containing trans fatty acids so stay away at all costs—your ticker and waistline will thank you! For more foods that should be on your “do not eat” list, check out these 150 Worst Packaged Foods in America.
13. Ice Cream
A healthy adult should consume no more than 300 mg of cholesterol a day. A cup of Ben and Jerry’s has more than a third of the day’s intake (130 grams!)—and so do plenty of other creamy, cool treats. To indulge in something icy without freezing out your heart, make a batch of banana ice cream. Here’s how: Slice two bananas and place them in a bag and freeze overnight. The next day, blend them up on high with some milk and almond butter until the mixture reaches a consistency that resembles ice cream. Shavings of dark chocolate make for a tasty topping, as do raspberries—a potent heart-healthy food. High fiber foods like raspberries have been shown to reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, according to the Mayo Clinic.
14. Fried Chicken
Grilled chicken breast is one of the best 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss, but when you keep the skin on and dunk it into a deep fryer, the nutritional reality of your meal changes—and fast. In fact, one 4-ounce serving of fried chicken with the skin on it has as much cholesterol as 11 strips of sizzling bacon! Do your heart a favor and opt for a more heart-healthy piece of poultry.
Butter alternatives like margarine are often made with partially-hydrogenated oils, one of the most common sources of trans-fats. You may have heard that this type of fat is linked to heart disease, but what most people don’t know is that it may also accelerate the skin’s aging process by making the skin more vulnerable to ultraviolet radiation. Eek! Hello, wrinkles! Skip this high-cholesterol food and stick with heart-healthy olive oil or small amounts of grass-fed butter instead, suggests registered dietitian Isabel Smith.
Bad news, Southern food lovers: Packaged biscuits—the fluffy pillows of goodness that make weekend brunch and fried chicken dinners extra delicious—are chock full of trans fats that can hurt your heart. In fact, each of Mary B’s Buttermilk Biscuits carries three grams a pop, which is more than a day’s worth. And though the nutrition label on Pillsbury Grands! Buttermilk Biscuits reads “0 grams” in the trans fat column, it’s made with hydrogenated soybean oil—a dead giveaway that there are traces of the dangerous fat in the biscuits. Opt for a whole grain English muffin at breakfast or a whole grain roll at dinner (we like Alexia’s Whole Grain Hearty Rolls) to keep your arteries clean and clear.
BECAUSE IT MESSES WITH YOUR BLOOD SUGAR…It’s a little-known fact that impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes increases your risk for heart disease. That said, a major part of keeping your heart healthy involves keeping your blood sugar levels in check. And according to the Mayo Clinic, if you already have diabetes, tight blood sugar control can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Sure, candy and soda can wreak havoc on your system but there a number of other things you may not realize can mess with your sugar levels, too. Read on to get in the know.17. White Rice
While whole grains can reduce your risk of dying of heart disease by nearly 20 percent but nutrient-stripped refined grains have the opposite effect on your health. In fact, in one study of more than 350,00 people, those who ate the most white rice were at greatest risk for type 2 diabetes—can’t say we’re too shocked. Bottom line: Stick with whole grains to ward off the disease. Carboholic? Check out these 25 Best Carbs for Weight Loss.
18. Blended Coffees
Warning: Blended coffees laced with syrup, sugar, whipped cream, and other toppings can have as many calories and fat grams as a milkshake. Not only can the sugar overload send blood glucose soaring, but the caffeine can also increase your blood pressure levels—a combination that’s less than ideal if you’re trying to ward off diabetes and heart disease. To stay healthy, stick with plain java with milk and cinnamon, a spice that’s been shown to decrease the risk of heart damage as a result of high blood sugar. And to find out just how bad the white granular stuff is for your bod, check out these This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Sugar.
19. Chinese Take-Out
Thanks to their sugary sauces and deep-fried breading, Chinese restaurant favorites like sesame chicken and sweet and sour pork are packed with calories, fat, sodium and carbs. Experts say this combination of dietary demons can spike blood sugar dramatically and keep it elevated for a substantial chunk of time—not what you want! To keep your glucose levels in check without giving up the flavors you love order steamed veggies and your protein of choice and ask for your favorite sauce on the side. If you only spoon on a tablespoon or two, you’ll improve the healthfulness of your dish ten-fold. Oh, and, ask your server to hold the rice or see if they have the brown kind. For even more flat-belly restaurant hacks, check out our guide Eat Out at Any Restaurant and Still Lose Weight Fast.
20. Cinnamon Rolls
All pastries are sugar and carb landmines, but cinnamon rolls may be the very worst of the lot. Consider this: A Classic Roll from Cinnabon has 880 calories, 127 grams of carbs and 58 grams of sugar—which is about what you’d find in 10 Chips Ahoy! Chewy cookies. There are so many better ways to kick off your morning. Need some inspiration? Check out these 50 Best Overnight Oats Recipes.
The bacon and sausage you enjoy for breakfast, and the deli meats you use to make your lunch may be putting your life at risk. How? Many of these meats contain nitrates, a preservative that interferes with the body’s natural ability to process sugar, which increases the risk for diabetes. If that wasn’t bad enough, most processed meats are also loaded with sodium, a known contributor to hypertension that can make you bloat and set you up to develop heart disease.
BECAUSE IT CAUSES WEIGHT GAIN…Obesity and belly fat has long been linked to cardiovascular disease. That’s because the more fat that’s stored in your midsection, the higher your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels are bound to be. Discover some of the top belly-wideners below. 23. Bouillon Cubes
Made with a homemade stock or low-sodium broth, soup is a healthy, soothing meal. Make the stuff with a bouillon cube, however, and you’ve got yourself an entirely different bowl of nutrition—one that’s overflowing with monosodium glutamate. MSG is a flavoring agent that increases appetite and tells the body to pump out insulin, the fat-storage hormone. Needless to say, eating the stuff regularly can cause those extra pounds to creep onto your frame. To discover other foods you should avoid adding to the pot on the stove, check out these 20 Worst Ingredients to Put In Your Soup.
24. Potato Chips
According to Harvard researchers, chips are one of the worst foods for your belly. Not only are they saturated with saturated fat, which causes your gut to expand and puts your heart in the danger zone, they’re also crusted with salt—yet another nutrient linked to cardiovascular disease when eaten in excess. In the Harvard study, daily chip consumption alone was responsible for adding nearly two pounds of flab to study participants’ frame every four years. That means if you cut out chips, you would lose more than half a pound of belly fat, even if you changed nothing else about your diet.
25. Diet Soda
Did you hear? Recent studies have found an association between sipping diet soda and a wider waist circumference. It may seem counterintuitive since your go-to Diet Cherry Pepsi has zero calories, but researchers think diet soda drinkers may overestimate how many calories they’re “saving,” and then overeat. Here’s our advice: If you’re sipping diet cola on the reg, trade in your daily can for water flavored with some fresh citrus fruit (it’s more flavorful than the plain stuff). Why water? According to Sponge Loma Linda University researchers, drinking five or more cups of H20 daily can slash heart disease risk by up to 60 percent! Sounds like a great reason to ditch the bubbly to us.
Fun fact: Cheese is the single biggest contributor of saturated fat to the American diet. And unlike other fats, the saturated variety is the most likely to be stored in the stomach and wreak havoc on your cardiovascular well-being. Scale back of the mozzarella and cheddar to shrink your love handles and keep your ticker pumping problem-free.
A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips? How about this: A night at the Hut, a lifetime in the gut. In fact, pizza is the second biggest contributor of saturated fat to the American diet, and most slices serve up half a day’s worth of the artery clogger. To keep your health and waistline in check, stick to one slice and pair it with a house salad. This is far better than going back for rounds two and three of the doughy stuff. For more effective—and super simple—slim down tricks, check out these 50 Best-Ever Weight-Loss Secrets From Skinny People.
28. French Fries
Consider Fresh fries a triple threat to your heart health. Not only are they filled with simple sources of carbs that can spike your blood sugar, but they’re also filled with fat and salt, too. In fact, one 20-year Harvard study found that people who regularly ate fries gained more than three pounds of body weight every four years. And over the course of the study, the French fry eaters gained 15 pounds of belly flab from fries alone! Exactly how bad are your favorite fries? Find out in our exclusive report, Every Fast Food French Fry—Ranked.
Studies show that eating the right cuts of beef can help whittle your middle, but pick the wrong cut and your dinner could have the opposite effect on your figure. Ribeye, T-bone, and New York Strip, are three fattiest cuts known to man or cow and can lead to abdominal obesity and larger waist circumference if eaten on the reg. Stick to grass-fed top sirloin or London broil to maintain your flat abs and keep your heart in top condition. For more ways to shrink your gut and unveil lean, hard, rippling abs, get your hands on a copy of *Eat This, Not That! For Abs! In six weeks you can get flat abs—for life!
30. Fruit Juice
It’s natural! It’s packed with Vitamin C! It comes from Florida! What could be wrong? Well, while 100 percent fruit juice is a better pick than sugary drinks like Sunny D, even the all-natural stuff still packs up to 36 grams of sugar per cup—or about what you’d get from popping 4 Krispy Kreme glazed donuts into a blender and hitting frappe. What’s more, most of the sweetness in juice comes from fructose, a type of sugar associated with the development of belly fat. Trick your belly into shrinking itself by filling your glass with some refreshing spa water. Just add fresh berries to plain ol’ H20 and chill. Why berries? Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are both potent sources of salicylic acid—the same heart-disease fighter found in aspirin—making them some of our favorite water additions for heart health.