You already know the basics: Eat a heart-healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and keep your weight in check. But there are some things that you definitely should not do if you want to keep your heart healthy for years to come
In the United States, heart disease kills more people than any other cause. Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, overweight/obesity, inactivity, family history, age, gender and diet. Every risk factor you have increases your chances of having heart disease.
Fortunately, many of the risk factors for heart disease are under your control. You already know the basics: Eat a heart-healthy diet, get plenty of exercise, and keep your weight in check. But there are some things that you definitely should not do if you want to keep your heart healthy for years to come.
Following are some of the worst foods and habits for your heart.
1. Processed and cured meat. Cold cuts and cured meats, such as bacon and sausage, can be high in saturated fat. But even the low-fat options are very high in sodium and preservatives. A study from Harvard University found that people who eat just a scant 2 ounces of processed meat daily have a 42-percent-increased risk of heart attack.
2. Deep fried foods. Consumption of fried chicken, fried snacks and French fries has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Conventional frying methods create trans fats, the type of fat shown to raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. Fried foods are often high in saturated fat and sodium as well.
3. Soft drinks. Diets high in added sugar contribute to obesity, inflammation, high triglycerides and diabetes, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Soft drinks are the No. 1 source of added sugar in most people’s diets. Diet soft drinks don’t seem to be any healthier. Although they don’t contribute sugar or calories, they may alter our gut bacteria and cause us to overcompensate and consume more calories than we normally would.
4. Baked goods. Most baked goods, especially those that are commercially produced, are loaded with sugar and likely made with saturated fats (such as butter or palm oil) or trans fats (such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils). Eating pastries, cakes and treats too often can lead to clogged arteries and inflammation. Experiment with making your own lower-fat, lower-sugar desserts.
5. Fast food. In general, fast food restaurants tend to use lower-quality ingredients and unhealthy cooking methods. The food is notoriously high in calories, salt, sugar and fat. Be good to your heart: Eat fast food infrequently, and then make good choices.
6. Too much TV and inactivity. Sitting for long periods of time has been linked to a number of health concerns, including obesity, heart disease and metabolic syndrome. Occasional exercise and weekend activity don’t seem to compensate for days filled with uninterrupted sitting. Instead of an all-or-nothing exercise program, aim for slow, steady and — most importantly — consistent exercise.
7. Poor dental hygiene. There is a strong link between gum disease and heart disease. When you don’t take care of your teeth, sticky bacteria causes plaque buildup, which can lead to gum disease. It’s thought that gum disease triggers inflammation that then promotes atherosclerosis, or fatty plaque buildup in the arteries. Take good care of your teeth, and get regular dental checkups.
8. Smoking or living with a smoker. Smoking and breathing smoke contributes to plaque buildup and promotes blood clots which prevent blood flow to the heart and reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. Smokers are two to four times more likely to get heart disease than nonsmokers. Nearly 34,000 nonsmokers die each year from heart disease caused from secondhand smoke, according to the American Lung Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you smoke, the best thing you can do for your health and the health of those you love is to quit smoking.
9. Too much alcohol. Small amounts of alcohol may be beneficial for your heart, but too much can cause high blood pressure, increased blood fat (triglycerides) and liver failure. Plus, alcohol contributes extra calories that can lead to obesity. The American Heart Association guidelines call for no more than one drink a day for women or two for men.
10. Skipping or stopping medications. Taking pills can be expensive and difficult to remember, plus there are potential side effects. But just because you feel fine when you stop your meds, doesn’t mean you are fine. High blood pressure is called the silent killer because you can’t tell you have it. You might feel fine with high cholesterol, too, but your risk is still there. There are usually several options, so if you aren’t tolerating your medicine well, or if it is too expensive, let your doctor know.
Check in with your physician on a regular basis so that you know your numbers for cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Then take action to get them in normal ranges.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.