And what to eat instead.
It’s no secret that the heart is a vital organ and that taking care of it requires making smart lifestyle choices: exercising regularly, eating well, and developing healthy coping mechanisms for stress (yes, stress can cause heart issues!).
What you eat is a major contributing factor when it comes to heart health.
“Poor dietary choices can lead to elevations in blood pressure and cholesterol (especially LDL or 'bad cholesterol'), as well as the development of diabetes—all important risk factors for heart disease and stroke,” says Dr. Enrique Garcia-Sayan, MD, a cardiologist with UTHealth Houston.
How Diet Affects Heart Health
When it comes to heart health, diet is important for numerous reasons.
One of the many causes of heart disease is diabetes. Diabetes is usually related to poor diet, being overweight and eating a lot of carbohydrates, Dr. Ahmed Ansari, MD, a cardiologist at Memorial Hermann in Houston, explains. And unfortunately, diabetes is a very strong predictor of heart disease.
To avoid becoming diabetic, it is recommended that people eat a low-carbohydrate diet. It’s also important to avoid eating foods high in trans fats or saturated fats. Foods high in trans fats and saturated fats can cause cholesterol deposits in the arteries, which can cause blockages that can ultimately lead to heart attack, Dr. Ansari adds.
Additionally, limiting your salt intake is important. A high-sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure. Long-term, uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart failure.
The Worst Food for Heart Health
So, now we know which foods aren't great for heart health. But what food is the absolute worst? Foods with high animal fat content such as bacon, ribeye steaks, and meats that are really fatty should be avoided. They have high saturated fat content, Dr. Ansari explains, and foods high in saturated fats can lead to high cholesterol, which can ultimately lead to blockages in the arteries.
Dr. Garcia-Sayan agrees. “I strongly recommend that all my patients limit their intake of processed meat products (such as bacon, ham and sausage), which contain high amounts of saturated fat and sodium and have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease and certain cancers,” says Dr. Garcia-Sayan.
The Best Foods for Heart Health
So, what are the best foods for heart health? Lean meat and vegetables top the list.
Some examples of lean meats that are heart-healthy include chicken breast, fish and turkey. Lean meats help maintain muscle mass, which is important for your overall strength, Dr. Ansari explains. Also, they are low in fat, which is good for your heart.
Vegetables are an excellent source of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Plus, they are packed full of fiber, which regulates your digestive system and lowers cholesterol. Additionally, you can eat large amounts of vegetables and feel full without all the calories, Dr. Ansari adds.