5 Foods Harming Your Heart


Heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease, causes more deaths in the United States annually than all types of cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease combined, as reported by the American Heart Association (AHA). Stroke, too, accounts for one out of every 19 deaths in the U.S., according to the same source.

Factors such as insufficient physical exercise, stress, and underlying health conditions contribute to heart disease. However, it's important to note that a diet lacking heart-healthy choices can also elevate the risk of stroke, heart attack, and cardiovascular disease, as emphasized by the AHA.

What's even more concerning is that you might not be aware of how harmful your diet can be for your heart. Some of the most detrimental foods for your heart might be regular components of your daily meals.

Keep reading to discover some of the worst types of food and beverages for your heart, along with alternatives to promote better heart health.

1. Fatty red meats

Put down that cheeseburger or juicy steak if you're aiming to safeguard your heart health. Research reveals that individuals who consume red meat daily have triple the levels of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) compared to those who primarily opt for white meat or non-meat protein sources, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). TMAO is a chemical produced by gut bacteria that exacerbates cholesterol deposits in the artery walls and is linked to heart disease.

The silver lining? A study by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that elevated TMAO levels can be reversed. Participants who ditched their red meat diet in favor of white meat or non-meat alternatives for just one month witnessed a decline in their TMAO levels.

For better heart health, the American Heart Association suggests limiting red meat intake and opting for fish and poultry instead. Ensure you trim away fatty areas and skin from these meats before cooking to further enhance heart-friendly choices.

2. Soda and other sugary drinks

Next time you're tempted to grab a soda, energy drink, sports drink, sweetened sparkling water, or a juice loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, consider refreshing yourself with a glass of water or another beverage that isn't packed with excessive sugar.

Regularly consuming high-sugar drinks is linked to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, both contributing factors to heart disease, as revealed in a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. However, the negative impact of high-sugar beverages isn't limited to just your heart.

Research also connects frequent consumption of these drinks to issues such as weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, kidney diseases, liver disease, tooth decay, and gout (a type of arthritis), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

To make a healthier choice, the CDC recommends opting for plain water, 100% fruit juice, or water sweetened with a splash of 100% fruit juice instead of reaching for a sugary beverage.

3. High-fat dairy products

Regularly consuming high-fat dairy products, such as whole-fat milk, butter, cream, and cream cheese, can increase your risk of heart disease, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

You don't need to eliminate dairy entirely from your life for heart health, though. HHS recommends opting for low-fat dairy alternatives. For instance, choose fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk or soy milk enriched with calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D instead of whole milk.

Instead of using butter in your cooking, make the switch to heart-healthy vegetable oils like canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, or sunflower. Just be sure to steer clear of coconut and palm oils, as they are high-fat oils.

4. Salt

Many Americans (about 90%) consume too much sodium, increasing the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and heart attack, as per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

What's concerning is that it's easy to unintentionally consume too much sodium. Even if you're mindful of the salt you add to your food, processed foods—some unexpected ones like bread, sauces, condiments, and salad dressings—often contain salt.

The good news is that avoiding sodium overload is simple. Check the nutrition facts label on foods before buying, and opt for items labeled "low-sodium" or "no salt added."

To protect your heart health, choose foods with a sodium content of 5% daily value (DV) or less. Steer clear of foods with more than 20% DV, as this is considered high.

5. Alcohol

Consuming alcoholic beverages regularly can elevate your blood pressure, boost fats in your blood leading to high cholesterol, and worsen or increase your risk for heart failure, as highlighted by The Institute for Heart, Lung, and Blood at a National Level (NHLBI).

To promote heart health, the NHLBI suggests either limiting your alcohol intake or abstaining altogether. If you choose to drink, the American Heart Association recommends keeping it moderate—no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

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