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 in danger. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Americans consume far too many added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium, all of which can contribute to heart disease. On top of that, we also don’t get enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber to keep our hearts healthy. This diet trend may explain why heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US But there’s good news: Eating healthy is within your control. Read on 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 isn’t good for us. That’s why many people choose diet soda, thinking it’s a less harmful option. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Although diet soda products claim to be sugar-free, they usually contain artificial sweeteners—and artificially-sweetened beverages are associated with 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 trigger inflammation and hunger,” Dana Ellis HunnesPhD, MPH, registered dietitian and the author of Recipe for Survivallike best life. “When insulin is released, it lowers your blood sugar by allowing glucose into cells, which can make you feel hungry and cause you to eat more.”
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Let’s face it, peanut butter is delicious. And low-fat peanut butter is even better, right? Sadly, no. Peanut butter is loaded with healthy fats that boost heart health. Choosing a low-fat or fat-free version means the fats are replaced with added sugars to compensate for the flavor lost from the removed fats. So by choosing low-fat, you lose the benefits of the healthy fats, while eating more of the added sugars that can damage your heart. And added sugars are one of the main dietary culprits behind heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, says a 2017 study published in open-heart.
“Regular peanut butter is heart-healthy because it contains the full amount of healthy fats found in peanuts (monounsaturated fats). There’s no evidence suggesting full-fat peanut butter increases body weight, waist circumference, or the risk for chronic disease,” explains Ellis Hunnes. “Low-fat and fat-free peanut butter often replace these healthy fats with sugar to make up for mouthfeel and flavor. Unfortunately, added sugars are a known inflammatory food product, which increases the risk for heart disease.”
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Many of us don’t think twice about drowning our french fries, eggs, and hot dogs in ketchup. However, condiments such as ketchup contain high amounts of added sugars and sodium. As previously mentioned, added sugars are a main 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 overuse, causing you to get more sugar and sodium than you may have intended,” Ellis Hunnes cautions. “Added and processed sugars… may increase the risk for heart disease and other chronic conditions. Using tomato paste is a good substitute that has no added sugar,” she suggests. You can also buy organic ketchup, which is naturally sweetened with dates, or make your own ketchup to limit your sugar and salt intake.
Canned soups are convenient, affordable, and often contain vegetables—so how can they harm your heart health? Well, most canned soups are ultra-processed and extremely high in sodium to allow for longer shelf lives. As mentioned before, high sodium intake increases blood pressure and your risk of heart disease. Experts recommend that adults consume fewer than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (about a teaspoon of salt). One typical can of Campbell’s soup contains 1,400 to 1,800 milligrams of sodium, according to the experts at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa.
Next time you crave soup, choose a low-sodium canned soup or make homemade soup that you can season with sea salt or pink Himalayan salt that’s safer for your heart. “The more sodium you eat, the more fluid you retain,” states Ellis Hunnes. “This causes the heart to work harder, exacerbating certain heart conditions, stroke risk, and blood pressure. Your best bet is to make your own no-sodium soup and add only what you need to taste.”