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 far too much added sugars, saturated fats and sodium, all of which can contribute to heart disease. In addition, we also do not get enough vitamins, minerals and fiber to keep our hearts healthy. This nutritional trend may explain why heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. But there is good news: healthy eating is in your own hands. Read on to find out which 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 soda products claim to be sugar-free, they mostly contain artificial sweeteners — and artificially sweetened drinks are associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and all-cause death, 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 HunnesPhD, MPH, Registered Dietitian and author of Recipe for survivaltells best life† “When insulin is released, it lowers your blood sugar by allowing glucose into cells, which can make you hungrier and help you eat more.”
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Let’s face it, peanut butter is delicious. And low-fat peanut butter is even better, right? Unfortunately not. Peanut butter is packed with healthy fats that improve heart health. Opting for a low-fat or fat-free version means replacing the fats with added sugars to make up for the flavor lost from the fats removed. 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 is no evidence that full-fat peanut butter increases body weight, waist circumference, or risk of chronic disease,” explains from. Ellis Hunnes. “Low-fat and fat-free peanut butter often replaces these healthy fats with sugar to make up for mouthfeel and taste. Unfortunately, added sugars are a known food item with inflammation, which increases the risk of heart disease.”
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Many of us don’t think twice about drowning our fries, eggs, and hot dogs in ketchup. However, condiments such as ketchup contain high amounts of added sugars and sodium. As mentioned, 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 major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
“Ketchup—while quite tasty—is easy to overuse, leaving you with more sugar and sodium than you might have intended,” warns Ellis Hunnes. “Added and processed sugars… can increase your risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. Using tomato paste is a good alternative without added sugars,” 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 could they harm your heart health? Well, most canned soups are ultra-processed and extremely high in sodium, which gives them a longer shelf life. As mentioned, a high sodium intake increases blood pressure and your risk of heart disease. Experts recommend that adults consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day (about a 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 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,” says Ellis Hunnes. “This makes the heart work harder, exacerbating certain heart conditions, stroke risk and blood pressure. It’s best to make your own sodium-free soup and add only what you need for flavor.”