4 Popular Foods That Are Bad for Your Heart Health — Best Life

Eating healthy is easier said than done—and it’s no wonder when you consider that many popular foods are packed with ingredients that can put your heart at risk. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Americans consume too much added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, all of which can contribute to heart disease. We also don’t get enough vitamins, minerals and fiber to keep our hearts healthy. This dietary trend may explain why heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. But there is good news: healthy eating is within your control. Keep reading to learn which grocery staples to keep out of your pantry for a healthier heart.

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Most of us already know that drinking soda is not good for us. That’s why many people choose diet soda, thinking it’s a less harmful option. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Although diet sodas claim to be sugar-free, they typically contain artificial sweeteners — and artificially sweetened beverages are linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and all-cause mortality, according to a 2021 study published in nutrients.

“Drinking diet soda triggers your body to release insulin because of its sweet taste, [which] can cause inflammation and hunger,” Dana Ellis HunesPhD, MPH, Registered Dietitian and author of A recipe for survivaltells Best life. “When insulin is released, it lowers your blood sugar by allowing glucose to enter the cells, which can make you feel hungrier and make you eat more.”

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Three jars of Skippy peanut butter
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Let’s face it, peanut butter is delicious. And low-fat peanut butter is even better, right? Unfortunately no. Peanut butter is full of healthy fats that improve heart health. Choosing a low-fat or fat-free version means that the fat is replaced with added sugars to make up for the flavor lost from the removed fat. So by choosing low-fat, you’re missing out on the benefits of healthy fats while eating more of the added sugars that can damage your heart. And added sugars are one of the main dietary culprits in heart disease, diabetes and obesity, says a 2017 study published in An open heart.

“Plain peanut butter is heart-healthy because it contains the full amount of healthy fats found in peanuts (monounsaturated fats). There is no evidence that full-fat peanut butter increases body weight, waist circumference, or the risk of chronic disease,” explains Ellis Hance. “Low-fat and fat-free peanut butter often replaces these healthy fats with sugar to compensate for mouthfeel and taste. Unfortunately, added sugars are a known inflammatory food that increases the risk of heart disease.”

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A plate of fries with a bottle of ketchup
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Many of us don’t think twice about drowning our fries, eggs and hot dogs in ketchup. However, condiments like ketchup contain large amounts of added sugars and sodium. As mentioned above, added sugars are a major dietary driver of heart disease. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high sodium intake raises blood pressure, a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

“Ketchup—while quite tasty—is easy to overdo, giving you more sugar and sodium than you might have intended,” warns Ellis Hance. “Added and processed sugars … can increase the risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. Using tomato puree is a good substitute without added sugar,” she suggests. You can also buy organic ketchup that is naturally sweetened with dates, or make your own ketchup to limit your sugar and salt intake.

Rows of Campbell's soups in a grocery store
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Canned soups are convenient, affordable, and often contain vegetables—so how can they hurt your heart health? Well, most canned soups are ultra-processed and extremely high in sodium, allowing for a longer shelf life. As mentioned above, high sodium intake increases blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. Experts recommend that adults consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (about one teaspoon of salt). A typical can of Campbell’s soup contains 1,400 to 1,800 milligrams of sodium, according to the experts at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa.

The next time you’re craving soup, choose a low-sodium canned soup or make a homemade soup that you can season with heart-safer sea salt or pink Himalayan salt. “The more sodium you eat, the more fluid you retain,” says Ellis Hunes. “It makes the heart work harder, exacerbating certain heart conditions, stroke risk and blood pressure. Your best bet is to make your own sodium-free soup and add only what you need for flavor.”

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