Nutrition is a cornerstone of good health. You can exercise all day long, but if your diet is poor, your health will suffer. Food can function as medicine, lowering your cholesterol, reducing inflammation and protecting you against diabetes and heart disease. Food can also function as poison and increase the incidence of disease risk. In other words, what you eat matters a lot.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner and American Heart Month the health focus for February, it’s time to ask yourself, how well are you caring for your heart? Even if you have a family history of heart disease, you can reduce your risk of heart disease with the right foods.
Check out this list of worst foods for your heart:
- Processed meat. You may have been chowing down on hot dogs and ham sandwiches since you were a kid, but all the high nitrate and sodium content, not to mention other chemical preservatives are hard on your heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas. The increased incidence of high blood pressure and diabetes among children has been linked to these sodium-rich, processed foods. You and your kids don’t need processed, prepackaged meats, including turkey, in your diet.
- Red meat. Everyone loves a fresh juicy steak and, while it may not be a processed food, it is still high in artery-clogging saturated fat. Save the steak for an every-once-in-a-while treat and stick with lean proteins, like organic chicken and white fish. Plant proteins, like beans, legumes and nuts are a heart healthy way to get your protein and other vital nutrients without all the fat. If you choose plant proteins exclusively, it is important to vary your choices and supplement nutrients, like B12, iron and vitamin K, which come primarily from animal proteins.
- Cheesy sauce. Whole grain pasta primavera in the right portions is an excellent, well rounded meal, but when you add rich, gooey alfredo sauce, the nutritional profile of this dish changes in an instant. Too much fat and too many calories make cheesy sauces, like alfredo a bad choice for heart health. Try a tablespoon of olive oil to take advantage of heart-healthy omega-3s and the rich flavor of monounsaturated fat. Just remember, olive oil is high in calories, so moderation is important.
- Fried Foods. If you eat your vegetables fried and dipped in buttermilk ranch, I have bad news – that’s really bad for your heart. Not to mention, frying foods often strips it of valuable nutrient content and adds unnecessary fat and calories. Get rid of the oil and deep fryer. Raw vegetables are not your only option. You can try blanching, roasting or steaming your vegetables and enjoy your meats grilled or baked.
- Fast Food. Just like soda, fast food is an unnecessary evil in the American diet. The nutrient value of fast food is non-existent. Even if you order a salad, the chicken is likely loaded with sodium and the fruits and vegetables have been treated with preservatives. And, if you opt for the more popular fare, like burgers, burritos and sesame chicken, be prepared to ingest excessive amounts of saturated fat, trans fats, sugar, sodium and calories – none of which is good for your heart. Not to mention a 2012 study that found fast food can also make you depressed. Heart disease and depression is not a good combination.
Not sure which foods are heart healthy?
Learn more about the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s DASH diet. It was ranked as the best overall diet for 2013 by U.S. News. The American Heart Association recommends a low fat diet or the TLC diet. The efficacy of a healthy diet is personal. You have to find a diet that fits your lifestyle and is good for your health.