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The Five Worst Foods for Your Heart

March 17, 2023

A pile of nutritional labels show which foods are best and worst for the heart.

Unfortunately, some of America’s most popular foods are also some of the worst for your heart.

“Packaged foods are designed with just the right combination of sweet, salt, crunch and cream to make them tasty and addictive,” says James Hefferan, MD, an Atlantic Health System cardiologist. “But when you look at the nutrition label, they’re often full of empty calories, preservatives, salt, sugars, and unhealthy fats.”

Do your heart and body a favor by staying away from these five failing foods:

1. Supersized fast foods may seem good for the wallet, but they’re bad for the heart.

These extra-large meals tack loads of extra calories onto an already nutrient-deficient meal -- and this can lead to weight gain and increased risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes. A home cooked meal is always better than fast food on the run because it puts you in charge of the ingredients rather than the restaurants.

2. Hot dogs and cured meats are American favorites.

But they’re full of sodium and chemical preservatives that enhance flavor, color, and shelf life, all which can harm the human body. Replace hot dogs, bacon, sausage, ham and bologna with grilled chicken, roast turkey, canned tuna, or even peanut butter. Leave the sauces on the shelf, too. Mayonnaise, creamy dressings, and topping sauces are also empty calories.

3. Crunchy snack foods are tasty, addictive, and highly processed.

Whether crunchy puffs or shapely crisps dusted with seasonings, there’s one thing you won’t find in these foods -- nutritional value. Many crunchy snacks use refined sugars, processed flours, sodium, and additives. So, when a snack craving hits, reach for homemade popcorn or trail mix packed with nuts, seeds, dried fruits and some dark chocolate chunks.

4. Soda has no vitamins, no minerals, and no nutritional value.

Regular soda is packed with sugar; diet cola replaces that sugar with artificial sweeteners. Neither option is good for your body and can lead to obesity and chronic disease. So, scrap the sugary, processed drinks and switch to healthier alternatives such as fresh brewed teas, sparkling waters with a splash of juice, or even your own satisfying blend of fruits and herbs.

5. Boxed desserts will have you craving them again and again.

But look at the label of these addictive processed cookies, cakes and pastries and you’ll find they’re full of ingredients that harm the body. They’re packed with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, chemical preservatives, and artificial flavors and colors. Instead, make your own homemade treats so you can load up on natural sweeteners such as fresh fruits, maple syrup or honey -- foods you know and trust.

“Get in the habit of reading nutrition labels,” says Dr. Hefferan. “Processed foods are made with ingredients that harm our immune system and metabolism, and if there’s no nutritional benefit, try to make a different choice. Eating empty calories in excess leads to weight gain and contributes to serious health problems. This can put undue strain on your heart and other vital organs, potentially affecting your well-being and shortening your lifespan.”

Be Proactive About Heart Health

Artificial sweeteners, sodium, and preservatives can put you at a higher risk for heart disease and health concerns if eaten in excess. If you’re looking to improve your heart health, start by cleaning up your diet in partnership with a cardiologist or primary care physician.