8 Bad Foods for the Heart

Name a food that doesn't belong in a heart-healthy diet. An egg-a-day? Nope. That morning cup of coffee? Wrong again.

Surprised? These foods may be the subject of much talk about heart health, but there are other foods associated with a higher risk of high blood pressure and heart disease - and they don't get nearly as much attention. Give your heart a break by nixing these 8 unexpectedly bad foods from your diet. 

White Bread 
Women who eat a lot of foods rich in refined carbohydrate like white bread, pizza and rice are twice as likely to develop heart disease as women who eat few of those foods, according to a recent study from Italy. The increased risk seems to be associated with carbs that are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream rather than carbohydrates on the whole.

Heart-Smart Swap 
Instead, choose unrefined (and therefore more slowly digested) whole-grain alternatives. Brown or wild rice, 100 percent whole-wheat bread and whole-wheat pizza crust are all good options.

Canned Soup 
While soup can be a great way to curb your appetite for few calories, choosing certain canned soups can be hazardous to your heart. An individual container of chicken noodle soup contains more than 1,700 mg of sodium, which is 200 mg beyond the recommended daily intake for people over 50, or those who have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. (If you don't fit into those categories, your daily limit is 2,300 mg). The reason? Too much sodium can accumulate in your blood, which increases your blood volume as well as the amount of work your heart has to do to keep up pressure in your arteries.

Heart-Smart Swap
Homemade soup is ideal, since you control how much salt you add to the recipe. If you're pressed for time and can't take on a DIY cooking project, shop for low-sodium canned or boxed soups instead.

Fizzy Drinks
It may come as a surprise that both regular and diet sodas can be harmful to your heart. Regular pop is packed with added sugar - about 8 teaspoons per serving. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 for men to prevent obesity, which can lead to heart disease. And diet soda's a heart no-no too: A recent study found that people who drank a low-cal soda daily had a 61% increased risk of cardiovascular event compared with those who drank none.

Heart-Smart Swap 
If you like fizzy beverages, try seltzer with a squeeze of lime or orange. Or, sip unsweetened green or black iced tea - you'll get a boost of antioxidants and quench your thirst.

Microwave Popcorn 
Homemade popcorn is one of my favorite foods. Not only is it a nutritious whole grain, it's also delicious and fun to eat. There is, however, an exception. Much of the microwave popcorn on the market is loaded with trans fats, the sneaky fats that raise your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol and lower your "good" (HDL) cholesterol. One popular brand of microwave popcorn packs as much as 5 grams per serving - the American Heart Association recommends limiting your trans fat intake to no more than 2 grams per day. Movie theater popcorn is notoriously heart-unhealthy as well.

Heart-Smart Swap  
Make it yourself! Popcorn is easy to make with healthful fats, or no fat at all - pop it on the stovetop, in an air popper or even on the microwave. For DIY microwave popcorn: place 1/4 c of kernels into a glass bowl, place the lid on tight and heat until the kernels stop popping (usually about two minutes).

Full-Fat Dairy
Dairy foods like yogurt, milk and cheese can all be healthful additions to your diet - if you choose the right ones. The grams of saturated fat - the type that can raise your "bad" (LDL) cholesterol - can add up fast when you choose full-fat dairy. For instance, regular (full-fat) Greek yogurt has 7 grams of saturated fat per serving, while a cup of whole milk has 4.6 grams.

Heart-Smart Swap
Go for nonfat or low-fat dairy choices. You'll get the same bone-building calcium and strengthening protein with little or none of the heart-unhealthy saturated fat. And in most cases you won't even notice the difference.

It may seem like a healthy on-the-go snack, but some store bought applesauces subtract one of the most nutritious parts of the fruit - the fiber-full skin - and add sweeteners and even artificial coloring. Too much sugar and not enough fiber can be a recipe for raising your cholesterol levels (and increasing your risk of diabetes).

Heart-Smart Swap 
There are nutritious versions of applesauce out there - you just need to know what to shop for. Double-check the label to make sure it reads "natural" or "unsweetened", and scan the ingredient list - apples and water should be at the top. For an even healthier version, try making a batch yourself. It's quick, easy and gives you control - you can leave the skins on the apples to add fiber, and decide for yourself if it needs any sugar at all (our bet is that it doesn't!).

Pretzels usually seem like a healthier alternative to potato or tortilla chips. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they're a heart-smart snack. The two main ingredients of pretzels (white flour and salt) are devoid of nutrients and can put you at risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.

Heart-Smart Swap 
If it's a crunch you're craving, try sliced apples, baby carrots or a handful of almonds for a filling and healthy snack.

That flaky, golden-brown pie crust may taste like perfection, but the ingredients used to achieve that taste (butter or margarine, shortening, cream, whole milk) can be high in both artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol. And shortening that traditional dough recipes call for is high in dangerous trans fat.

Heart-Smart Swap 
If you're set on a fruit-filled dessert, try a fruit crumble instead. Crumbles keep all of the fruit but ditch the crust in favor of crunchy topping made of uncooked rolled oats, butter and brown sugar. Just go light on the butter and sugar and you've got yourself a sweet, heart-smart treat!

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