How to Avoid Foods That Are Bad for Your Heart

Three Methods:Limiting Foods that Can Damage Your HeartFollowing a Heart-Healthy DietFollowing a Heart Healthy Lifestyle

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States.[1] One of the biggest reasons behind this statistic is that Americans do not follow a heart-healthy diet or lifestyle. Not being active and eating foods that are bad for your heart significantly increase your risk of developing heart disease.[2] Aim to avoid or strictly limit foods that are bad and damaging to your heart. Instead, focus on filling your diet with foods that promote a healthy heart and body.

Method 1
Limiting Foods that Can Damage Your Heart

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    Avoid trans fats. There are a variety of foods in the typical American or Western diet that should be limited or avoided due to their link to heart disease. Trans fats in particular are one of the worst foods for your heart.
    • The majority of trans fats are very processed and are a man-made fat. Very few trans fats occur naturally.[3] They're typically labeled as "hydrogenated oil" or "partially hydrogenated oils" on the food label.
    • These fats are considered the worst by health professionals. They raise your LDL (or bad cholesterol) and decrease your HDL (good cholesterol).[4]
    • The most common sources of trans fat are: fried foods, fast foods, baked goods and pastries, creamer and margarine, pre-made cookie dough or biscuit dough, and snack foods like chips, crackers or buttery popcorn.
    • There is no safe limit for trans fats. You want to avoid them as much as possible.
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    Limit saturated fats. Saturated fat is another type of fat that health professionals typically want limited in your diet. Although not considered as unhealthy as trans fats, it's still important to limit your total saturated fat intake.[5]
    • Unlike trans fats, saturated fats occur naturally. They typically occur in animal products like full-fat dairy products, fatty red meat, skin on poultry and fatty cuts of pork.[6]
    • Saturated fat has been shown to increase your LDL levels (the bad cholesterol); however, it does not affect your HDL levels. Some studies have also shown that high quantities of saturated fat may increase your risk for type 2 diabetes.[7]
    • Health professionals recommend limiting your total saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your total calories. If you're eating 2,000 calories daily, you shouldn't consume more than 22 g of saturated fat daily.
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    Minimize your sodium intake. In addition to limiting saturated fats and cutting out trans fats, it's also important to moderate your total sodium intake. Although sodium doesn't have a direct effect on your heart, other conditions it causes do.
    • A high sodium diet can lead to high blood pressure and stroke.[8] High blood pressure can severely damage your heart and arteries over time.[9]
    • Reducing salt may reduce blood pressure in normotensive, prehypertensive, and hypertensive individuals.[10]
    • It's recommended to limit your sodium intake to 2,300 mg daily or less.[11]
    • Some of the foods highest in sodium or salt include: breads, restaurant foods (especially fast foods), deli meat, frozen meals, canned goods, processed meats, condiments and sauces, chips, pretzels and pizza.
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    Limit your consumption of red meat. A very specific food that has been more recently linked to heart disease is red meat — especially fatty cuts of red meat. Limit your intake of beef as this can lead to heart disease.[12]
    • A recent study showed that when people ate red meat regularly, they showed increased levels of a compound that is directly linked with the development of heart disease.[13]
    • If you currently eat red meat on a regular basis, consider moderating how much you eat and switch to lean cuts. Cut your consumption down to one serving a week or one serving every other week.
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    Limit alcohol consumption. There are many studies that suggest that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol may produce some protective benefits to the heart; however, drinking more alcohol than recommended or on a regular basis can actually cause heart disease.[14]
    • Drinking a moderate amount of alcohol is defined as drinking two or less drinks daily for men and one or less drinks daily for women.[15]
    • Drinking three or more drinks at a time has a direct toxic effect to the heart. Heavier drinking like this can lead to high blood pressure, enlarge the heart muscle and weaken it over time.
    • Although there are some benefits to very small amounts of alcohol, it's still best to limit your overall consumption and consume a maximum of one to two drinks occasionally, not daily.
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    Avoid sweetened beverages. Sweetened beverages have been linked to many adverse health effects like obesity and diabetes and can also lead to heart disease.[16]
    • A recent study that was conducted showed that consuming 2 sweetened beverages daily increased the risk of heart disease and heart failure by 25%.[17]
    • Limit drinks with added sugars or high amounts of sugar like: sodas, fruit juices, fruit juice cocktails, sweetened coffee drinks, sweet tea, sports drinks, energy drinks and punch.
    • Instead, try aiming for 64 oz of water, sparkling water, unsweetened decaf coffee, tea or a combination of all of these.

Method 2
Following a Heart-Healthy Diet

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    Eat appropriate portion sizes and total calories for your body. Measure portions and be mindful of calories so you can maintain a healthy weight. If you gain weight, are overweight or obese your risk for heart disease increases.[18]
    • If you're looking to avoid foods that could damage your heart, you should also focus on foods and an eating pattern that can protect your heart. Measuring the appropriate portion sizes of foods and counting calories can help keep your weight in check or even help you lose weight.
    • Your total meal portion size should be between one to two cups total. Use a food scale or measuring cups to keep yourself on track.
    • You may also want to count calories. You can use an online calculator to figure out how many calories you need daily. In general women need about 1,800 calories daily and men need about 2,200 calories daily.[19]
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    Go for lean protein sources. Since trans fats, saturated fats and red meat should either be avoided or minimized in your diet, you'll need to focus on other protein sources instead. Stick to lean protein options to help support your healthy weight and your heart.
    • Lean proteins are naturally lower in calories and fat - especially the unhealthy types of fat.[20] This makes them a preferable choice for your heart healthy diet.
    • Leaner protein sources include: poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy, lean cuts of beef, lean pork, seafood, tofu and legumes.
    • Also make sure to measure your protein. Measure out about 3–4 oz or about a 1/2 cup of items like beans or lentils.[21]
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    Include a source of healthy fats every day. Although fats like trans fat and saturated fat are things you want to avoid or minimize, there are actually some types of fat that you want to include in your diet. These are typically referred to as "heart healthy" fats.
    • There are two groups of heart healthy fats that you should focus on: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Both offer great benefits to your heart.[22]
    • Monounsaturated fats are found in foods like: olive oil, canola oil, sesame oil and peanut oil. Cook with these oils, use them in salad dressings or drizzle over steamed vegetables.
    • Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fats and are found in foods like: salmon, mackerel, tuna, avocado, nuts and seeds. Include fatty fish a few times a week, add avocados to your salad or top your yogurt with nuts or seeds.
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    Make half your plate a fruit or vegetable. In addition to including lean protein and healthy fats, you want to aim to make half of your plate a fruit or a vegetable. Both of these food groups are heart healthy foods.
    • Fruits and vegetables are great for your heart and overall health. They're low in calories but high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.[23][24] When you make half of your meals a fruit or vegetable, you help control the overall calories and nutrition of your meal.
    • The antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables (not antioxidant supplements) have been shown to have a protective effect against your heart.[25]
    • Also measure out the portion sizes for your fruits and vegetables. You should go for 1 cup of vegetables, 2 cups of salad greens and 1/2 cup of fruit.[26][27]
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    Choose only whole grain foods. 100% whole grain foods are not only good for your GI system, but also great for your heart and arteries.[28] Make sure when you're choosing to eat a grain, you go for whole grain to reap these great benefits.
    • 100% whole grains are minimally processed and still include all 3 nutritious parts of the grain — the bran, germ and endosperm. These grains are high in fiber, minerals and even protein.[29]
    • Eating appropriate servings of whole grains can help reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and helps maintain a healthy weight.[30]
    • Make sure to measure your grains. Go for about 1 oz or 1/2 cup of cooked grains per serving.[31]
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    Drink adequate amounts of clear fluids. You might be surprised that drinking adequate fluids is also important for a healthy heart. Drink up to help maintain good heart health.
    • If you're dehydrated, it's harder for your heart to pump blood. It's puts a big strain on your heart making it work harder and beat faster. When you're properly hydrated, your heart pumps blood easily to the muscles.[32]
    • To make sure you're getting adequate fluids, aim to consume a minimum for 64 oz or 8 glasses daily. However, many people may need upwards of 13 glasses daily.[33]
    • Stick with sugar-free and decaf beverages like water, sparkling water, flavored water or decaf coffee or tea.

Method 3
Following a Heart Healthy Lifestyle

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    Exercise regularly. Getting regular physical activity is an important part to a healthy lifestyle. In addition, regular physical activity is important to maintain heart health.
    • Health professionals suggest being active at least three to four times a week. This amount of exercise has been shown to help lower your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol and help you maintain a healthy weight.[34]
    • Specifically, it's important to aim for about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio activity each week. You can walk, jog, dance, use the elliptical or go hiking.[35]
    • In addition to cardio, add in one to two days of strength or resistance training. Try yoga, weight lifting or pilates.[36]
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    Quit smoking. Smoking is a well known cause of many chronic and very serious health conditions. There is a direct link to smoking and heart disease.[37]
    • Studies have shown that smoking causes the hardening of arteries and build of plaque as well. This can lead to heart attacks and strokes.[38]
    • Quit smoking as soon as possible. Cold turkey is the quickest way to quit; however, it's also the most difficult.
    • If you're having difficulty quitting, consider seeing your primary care doctor for help. He or she may be able to provide you with medication to help you quit or refer you to a smoking cessation program.
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    Maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight is important to your general health. It also plays a serious role in the prevention of heart disease.
    • If you're overweight or obese, you're at a higher risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. These are the same risk factors for heart disease.[39]
    • Determine if your at a healthy weight by figuring out what your BMI is. You can use online calculators to figure out your BMI. If your BMI is between 25.0-29.9 you're considered overweight. If it's above 30.0 you're considered obese.[40]
    • If you've determined you're overweight or obese, consider losing some weight to help you reach a healthier weight.
    • Talk to your doctor about appropriate weight loss programs or diets to help reduce your weight and your risk for heart disease.
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    Reduce stress. A more unusual risk of heart disease is stress. Studies have shown that stress can influence your risk for a variety of health conditions including heart disease.[41]
    • Stress is something we must all deal with, but many people choose to overeat, smoke, drink or be physically inactive when they're feeling stressed. These are all behaviors that can increase your risk of heart disease.[42]
    • Talk to friends or family members, go for a walk, listen to calming music, do yoga, meditate or take a hot shower to help reduce your stress.
    • Chronic stress has been linked to high blood pressure and high cholesterol.[43]
    • Stressful work and demanding jobs have also been linked to high blood pressure. Stress resulting from job loss, too, can affect blood pressure.[44]
    • If you're having difficulty reducing stress, consider talking to a therapist or counselor for additional stress management techniques.


  • Start cutting out foods that can damage your heart. This may help prevent you from developing heart disease later on.
  • Try to be as physically active as you can everyday.
  • A well-balanced, heart-healthy diet is the best way to prevent heart disease.

Sources and Citations

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Article Info

Categories: Cardiovascular Health and Blood Pressure