38 The Worst Foods For Your Heart

It’s important to remember that our foods can significantly impact our heart health. Consuming heart-healthy foods that are rich in nutrients such as omega-3s, potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants can benefit our cardiovascular system by lowering ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, reducing blood pressure, controlling weight, and improving insulin sensitivity.

Diets like the Mediterranean and DASH diets are highly recommended for maintaining or improving heart health due to their emphasis on produce, whole grains, nuts, beans, dairy, and heart-healthy fats. Research has shown that following a diet centered around these foods can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by about a third. It’s also crucial to be aware of the worst foods for your heart so you can make informed choices about your diet.

Here are the 38 Worst Foods For Your Heart

1. Processed deli meats

Avoid deli meats as they often contain sodium nitrate, even in lower-fat versions. According to Suzanne Fisher, a registered dietitian, this preservative can contribute to internal inflammation, which is linked to the development of atherosclerosis. This condition causes stiffening or narrowing of the arteries.

2. Hot dogs

Franks, hot dogs, and sausages are popular cured meat options but can be high in saturated fat and packed with salt. It’s essential to be mindful of your sodium intake, as consuming too much dietary sodium can lead to higher blood pressure.

3. Rotisserie chicken

When buying roasted chickens from the supermarket, remember that they are often high in sodium and saturated fat if they come fully seasoned with the skin on. To have more control over these factors, consider roasting your chicken at home using an unseasoned bird and removing the skin to reduce the saturated fat content.

4. Ketchup

Consider rethinking your condiment choices, as many commercially available options contain high added sugar and sodium levels. According to Juan Rivera, MD, a cardiologist in Miami, Florida, and chief medical correspondent for Univision Network, ketchup is exceptionally high in sodium, with just two tablespoons containing 320 milligrams—14 percent of the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams. Additionally, it contains eight grams of sugar per two tablespoon serving.

5. Barbecue sauce

Regarding condiments, it’s essential to be mindful of your sodium intake. The typical bottle variety of sauce contains around 310 milligrams of sodium in just a couple of tablespoons. For a healthier option, consider choosing brands like Tessamae’s or Annie’s, which have lower sodium and fewer added sugars. Alternatively, you can make your sauce and season it according to your taste preferences for a healthier choice.

6. Table salt

Approximately 70 percent of our total sodium intake is derived from packaged foods or meals consumed at restaurants. Another 15 percent occurs naturally in ingredients. This leaves around 15 percent of the sodium we control entirely, which we add to the salt shaker on the table or while cooking. To reduce sodium intake, add half the amount of salt a recipe calls for and then adjust based on taste. To avoid habitually adding extra salt, keep it in the kitchen and only bring it to the table if needed after the first bite.

7. Reduced-fat salad dressings

Reduced-fat salad dressings can be deceivingly unhealthy as they often contain hidden sugars and salt to compensate for the removed fat. Nutritionist Fisher warns that just because a product is low in fat or calories, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. She advises looking beyond macronutrient levels and considering the quality of your diet’s carbohydrates, protein, and fats. For example, are the carbohydrates from whole, high-fiber sources? Is the protein lean? And is the fat heart-healthy?

8. Fat-free packaged snacks

Avoiding fat-free packaged foods when looking for healthy food options is best. While they were once promoted as a weight loss solution, they are now considered less healthy. A good rule of thumb is to avoid products that are not typically fat-free, as they often compensate for the lack of fat by adding sugar. It’s important to read food labels and ingredient lists to understand how much sugar has been added as a fat substitute. Natural fats are beneficial as they promote a feeling of fullness, which can help reduce cravings and overeating in the long run.

9. Fat-free peanut butter

When looking for a healthy nut butter, opt for an all-natural, full-fat, and sugar-free option, as it’s a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Low-fat peanut butter often contains the same calories as regular ones, as they compensate for the reduced fat content by adding sugar. Ideally, the ingredient list should only include “Peanuts, Salt.” For bonus points, try to find or make a nut butter that contains only nuts and no added sodium.

10. Sugary cereal

Nutrition experts now caution against diets high in added sugars, which may pose a significant threat by contributing to obesity, inflammation, high cholesterol, and diabetes— all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Therefore, it’s essential to be mindful of the added sugar in your diet, even if a product is low in fat. For instance, if your cold cereal contains more than eight grams of sugar per serving, opting for a different option may be best.

11. Flavored milk alternatives

It’s essential to be mindful when choosing nut milk, as not all options are equally healthy. Flavored and sweetened varieties in supermarkets can make finding the most nutritious choice challenging. According to Fisher, opting for cardio-protective nut milk, like unsweetened almond milk, is recommended. Flavored versions with additives such as chocolate and vanilla can significantly increase the calorie content.

12. Fried Chicken

Consuming large amounts of fried food has been linked to a higher risk of death from coronary artery disease, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This is because conventional frying methods often involve oils containing trans fats, which can raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol levels. While trans fats were popular due to their ability to be reused in commercial fryers, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has banned their use due to their negative impact on health. Restaurants and food manufacturers must phase out trans fats by January 1, 2020.

13. French fries

Frequent consumption of fried chicken and high levels of potato intake have been associated with an elevated risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, according to scientific research. Additionally, indulging in potato chips has been found to contribute to weight gain more than other foods, including sugary drinks, processed meats, and red meat, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Potato chips are high in calories, low in fiber and protein, and contain a significant amount of sodium, with 160 calories per serving (15 Lay’s chips).

14. Fruit smoothies

Fruit smoothies may seem healthy, but they can be deceptive regarding serving size and sugar content. Despite being made from fruit, consuming a full glass of juice can mean consuming a significant amount of sugar. Furthermore, drinking fruit juice instead of eating whole fruit means missing out on essential fiber, which regulates blood lipids and reduces the risk of heart disease.

15. Green juices

Regarding green juices, it’s essential to be mindful of portion sizes. Many bottles and restaurant servings are intended for more than one serving, potentially doubling or tripling the calories and sugar grams you consume in one sitting.

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16. Canned soup

Most broths typically contain at least 600 milligrams of sodium per cup. A single serving can provide more than one-third of your daily sodium limit when combined with other salty ingredients. According to Rivera, canned soups are exceptionally high in sodium, which has the potential to raise blood pressure in all individuals and worsen the condition of those with heart failure.

17. Canned vegetables

Canned vegetables can be a healthy addition to your diet, but it’s essential to be mindful of added sodium. Some canned vegetable products contain excessive amounts of salt, which can transform a naturally low-sodium vegetable into a high-sodium option. Jenna A. Werner, R.D., the creator of Happy Strong Healthy, advises reading the labels on canned vegetables to make informed choices.

18. Capers

Capers, despite being low in calories, can significantly increase the sodium content of your meal. Due to their pickling in a salty brine, a single tablespoon of capers contains 400 milligrams of sodium, so it’s essential to be mindful of portion sizes when incorporating them into your dishes.

19. Fruit-flavored yogurt

Choosing plain Greek yogurt over fruit-flavored options can be healthier, as fruit yogurts often contain high added sugar. Mixing plain Greek yogurt with fresh or frozen unsweetened fruit can provide fiber and phytonutrients missing in pre-mixed fruit yogurt.

20. Granola

Granola can be a high-calorie breakfast option due to its sugar content. It may lack essential nutrients and fiber. Instead, choose oats or a low-sugar, whole-grain cereal for a healthier breakfast.

21. Fancy coffee drinks

Be mindful of your sugar intake when consuming a grande blended frappuccino, as it may contain more carbohydrates than 4 ½ pieces of bread without providing any fiber or substantial nutritional value. This drink, especially with whole milk, can significantly increase your saturated fat intake. An iced coffee with unsweetened almond or skim milk can be a healthier alternative. Consider trying some drinks from Starbucks’ low-sugar menu for more low-sugar options.

22. Margarine

Recent research suggests that butter may not be as harmful as previously thought. A 2016 review published in PLOS One found little evidence linking butter consumption to heart disease. On the other hand, margarine, often containing additives and saturated fats, appears to pose more risks. These factors can elevate triglyceride levels in the blood, contributing to the accumulation of arterial plaque, as explained by Rivera.

23. Pastries

Pastries such as danishes and donuts are high in fat, sugar, and white flour and may contain trans fats, which can raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease.

24. Crescent rolls

Always be cautious of misleading labels. Even if a product’s nutrition facts claim “0 grams of trans fats,” it’s crucial to check the ingredients list. When you spot hydrogenated oil, there may still be hidden trans fats present. Consuming multiple servings can quickly add up. While sticking to a single portion is an option, it’s best not to take the risk.

25. Certain frozen entrees

Checking the nutritional information on packaged food and paying attention to the sodium content is essential. Be mindful of the amount you consume rather than just the serving size. Some frozen meals can contain over 1,000 milligrams of sodium in one serving, half of the recommended daily intake. Being aware of this can help you manage your blood pressure effectively.

26. Store-bought energy bars

It’s essential to be aware that many energy and meal replacement bars are essentially just fancy candy bars marketed as healthy, according to Fisher. While some bars are made from natural, wholesome ingredients, numerous panels on nutrition facts are found in the energy bar aisle. Fisher advises consumers to read the labels and avoid highly processed options carefully. Instead, choose granola or energy bars with less than five grams of sugar per serving. Fisher also recommends choosing bars with minimal ingredients, preferably nut-based, as they are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.

27. Candy bars

Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that the sugar industry funded studies linking fat to heart disease. It turns out that excessive sugar consumption has been scientifically linked to heart disease since the 1950s. For example, a single 3 Musketeers bar contains 36 grams of sugar, just shy of 3 tablespoons.

28. Red meat

Integrating more plant-based proteins, such as beans and nuts, can significantly benefit heart health. Research has shown that consuming red meat may increase the risk of cardiovascular issues. A study published in the European Heart Journal in 2018 suggested that compared to white meat or vegetarian protein sources, red meat can lead to the production of higher levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) in the body during digestion. Elevated TMAO levels have been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

29. White bread

Did you know that bread and rolls are among the top sources of sodium in the American diet, known as the “salty six” by the American Heart Association? Whole grain breads are a better choice as they are rich in fiber and essential vitamins, while white bread often lacks these critical nutrients. The absence of fiber in white bread can rapidly increase blood sugar levels, which may contribute to developing diabetes and heart conditions over time.

30. White rice

Highly processed carbohydrates, such as processed rice and breads, can contribute to increased belly fat, which is a risk factor for diabetes and coronary disease, according to Rivera.

Related: How to Detox Your Body Naturally: 11 Unconventional Steps

31. Sports drinks

H2O is often considered the best choice for staying hydrated and healthy. According to experts, unless you’re involved in intense physical activity, you can replenish electrolytes and muscle glycogen with a small post-workout meal or shake. Choosing water over sugary sports drinks can help you avoid consuming excessive sugar. Full-sugar sports drinks can contain up to 34 grams of sugar, equivalent to about eight and a half teaspoons. The American Heart Association recommends a daily sugar intake of no more than six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men.

32. Energy drinks

Energy drinks often contain high levels of sugar and caffeine, which can put excessive stress on the heart. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that consuming just one 16-ounce energy drink can lead to elevated blood pressure and stress hormones in the body. According to a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, this could potentially increase the risk of cardiac events, even in healthy individuals.

33. Soda

Sugar-sweetened beverages account for approximately half of all added sugars in the average American’s daily diet. Research indicates that for each additional sugary drink consumed, such as soda, the risk of heart disease and stroke increases. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology revealed that regular consumption of sweetened drinks, including soda, fruit juices, and sports drinks, is associated with a higher likelihood of dying from atherosclerosis.

34. Diet soda

It’s important to note that choosing diet sodas over regular ones may not be the healthier option. Although they contain no calories or sugar, studies show that people who consume diet sodas tend to compensate by eating more during their next meal. Additionally, research suggests that the artificial sweeteners and chemicals in diet sodas can affect gut bacteria, potentially leading to weight gain. Therefore, it’s advisable to be cautious about consuming foods containing artificial chemicals, regardless of the health condition you’re trying to prevent.

35. Pizza

One slice of pizza loaded with toppings like pepperoni, sausage, pickled jalapenos, and cheese can contain 50 percent or more of your daily sodium intake. If you choose pizza for dinner, choose plenty of fresh vegetables and minimal cheese, especially when ordering delivery.

36. Marinara sauce

When adjusting your pizza toppings, it’s essential also to consider the tomato sauce. An average half-cup of marinara contains 400 milligrams of sodium and 4 grams of sugar. Consider using low-sodium marinara sauce or substituting olive oil for sauce when making your pizza.

37. Sugary Candy

Sour gummies, hard candies, jelly beans, and other sweet snacks are major contributors to the fact that most American adults consume more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugars. Research in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that individuals who consume less than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugars have a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

38. Alcohol

It’s important to remember that “Everything in moderation,” as noted by Batayneh. If you have high blood pressure or high triglycerides, consuming alcohol can increase your risk of heart disease. Moreover, excessive alcohol consumption adds extra calories to your daily diet, potentially leading to weight gain, which is also associated with the development of heart disease and high blood pressure.


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