A high percentage of Americans are overweight and at risk for heart disease. The leading cause of obesity in the U.S. is the consumption of unhealthy foods such as fast food, which tends to be loaded with trans fat and saturated fat. If you can’t cut out fatty foods entirely, then it is important to minimize how much you consume in order to maintain a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. Here are five types of food items to avoid.
- Restaurant Fried Food – The oil used to fry foods in restaurants and fast food joints isn’t very healthy for your heart. Most fried foods at restaurants contain trans fat – a type of fatty acid that is bad for your cardiovascular system.
Some restaurants are beginning to use trans fat free frying oil. Many fast food restaurants publicize this change but you can ask what kind of frying oil is used in any restaurant. If you aren’t sure, avoid fried foods at restaurants. Even if they aren’t high in trans fat, fried foods are often higher in total fat than other menu options. Instead, choose broiled meats, fresh side dishes of beans or vegetables and non-pastry desserts.
- Full Fat Milk (as an everyday drink) – Many people have switched from drinking whole milk to lower fat versions – nonfat milk (skim), 1% milk (low fat) or 2% milk (reduced fat). If you haven’t made the switch, do it today!
One glass of whole milk contains 4.5 grams of saturated fat, compared with 0g in skim milk, 1.5 grams in 1% milk, and 3 grams in 2% milk.
- Processed Foods High in Sodium – With the abundance of foods available in our supermarkets, it’s easy to rely on the convenience and flavor of processed foods. But it’s hard to eat a low sodium diet when you eat a lot of pre-processed packaged foods. Canned soups, frozen meals and packaged snacks are just a few items you find at the store that can be very high in sodium.
Look at the food label for the sodium content. The goal for a healthy adult is to eat less than 2300 mg sodium per day. If you have heart disease or a high risk of heart disease, eat less than 1500 mg per day.
In place of these items, choose fresh or homemade alternatives. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables with little added salt, homemade baked goods, simple meals and healthy snacks like whole grains, nuts and seeds.
- Processed Foods Containing Trans Fat – Trans fat is found in many processed foods and scientists now know that eating trans fat can raise your risk of heart disease. Even small amounts of trans fat can be harmful. Even if the trans fat value is zero, avoid foods with hydrogenated vegetable oils in the ingredient list.
Foods to be watchful of are margarines, baked goods, packaged pie crust, microwave popcorn and some frozen vegetables like frozen french fries. Be careful of bakery items, too. Baked goods from smaller bakeries are often not required to list the nutrient content of the food. So the trans fat content is unknown. Ingredient lists are required, however, allowing you to avoid baked goods made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
- Soft Drinks – Drinking soft drinks everyday can be unhealthy for your heart. Regular soft drinks are very high in sugar, which means lot of calories and no other nutrient benefits. And even diet and low-calorie soda have been shown to be associated with a greater risk of heart disease. One reason may be that your body has a hard time maintaining a healthy weight when you drink soda.
Breaking the soda habit can be tough. One of the best things you can do to help get to a healthy weight is to drink water or milk with meals and water to quench thirst. That way, you can save the calories for healthy foods.
Remember, you may not be able to completely eliminate unhealthy, fatty foods from your diet but by cutting back you will be increasing heart health. Exercising for 20 or 30 minutes per day, coupled with dietary improvements, could extend your life by years — not months!