Heart-healthy eating may not be as simple as you think.
Not so long ago in history, relatively few Americans had ever heard of
terms like cholesterol, body mass index or hypertension. In a world of
plentiful food choices, many people blissfully ate whatever appealed to
them, with little thought to the long-term effects on the heart. Since
the 1950s, statistics showing increased obesity,
heart disease and other chronic conditions attest to a public health crisis in slow motion.
Nowadays, most people are better-educated than they used to be when it
comes to healthier eating. It’s common knowledge that one should
stay away from saturated fats, refined sugars and salt, for example. But even some of the foods that
are commonly thought of as “natural” or healthy can contain
hidden heart dangers. Here are some of the sneakier heart-harmful foods
that should be avoided.
Ready-baked desserts. Frozen pies and other desserts that come from the store are virtual landmines
of heart-sabotaging ingredients. A seemingly innocent slice of frozen
apple pie usually carries with it a whole day’s worth of trans-fat
– which has been shown to be one of the top contributors to heart
disease. Add to that the processed sugars (corn syrup, brown sugar, white
sugar) that are put into commercial pies to make them taste good, and
you have a recipe for high blood pressure, clogged arteries and even heart
failure. Skip the pie (or make your own); your heart and your waistline
will thank you.
Frozen dinners. The frozen food department of the supermarket has dozens of “light”
meals to make it simple and easy for dieters to control their calorie
intake. But the frozen dinner is the poster child for the need to read
package labels -- even the healthiest-sounding brands are usually
loaded with sodium. A typical “lean” chicken dinner may contain only 800 or 1,000
calories, but a closer look at the label reveals it also contains 600,
700 or 800 milligrams of sodium. That’s close to the total salt
one should be consuming in a whole day. When shopping for a frozen dinner,
aim for meals that contain 500 milligrams per serving, or less.
Canned vegetables. Vegetables are well known to be the rock stars of a heart-healthy diet.
The more the merrier -- one can hardly overdo it when it comes to veggies.
But many people would be shocked to know that when vegetables come in
cans, these healthy foods are fairly saturated with sodium. Plus those
cans typically contain preservatives or sauces with ingredients that aren’t
necessarily good for you. Many canned brands now offer low-sodium or “no
salt added” options, but all canned vegetables should be given a
quick rinse before eating them. When in doubt, opt for unsalted frozen
vegetables, or cook your own -- they’re simple to prepare and taste
Butter alternatives. Margarine or “buttery spreads” are popular butter substitutes,
but while they contain fewer calories, they still come loaded with unhealthy
trans-fatty acids. The label on a typical spread will usually say it’s
made with partially-hydrogenated oils, which is the most common source
of trans-fats in the grocery store. It seems that in our quest to avoid
butter, we simply substitute one bad thing for another. Ironically, recent
research suggests butter isn’t as bad for the heart as people think.
This doesn’t mean you should go running back to the butter dish;
opt for smaller amounts of butter, and use more heart-healthy olive oil
for cooking and flavoring.
“Light” cold cuts. This is another area where consumers need to pay attention to food labels.
For people looking to cut back on calories, they may instinctively reach
for a “light” version of cold cuts to use in their daily lunch
sandwich. But according to recent studies, cold cut sandwiches are one
of the top sources of sodium in the American diet. This is also because
we often add cheese slices that contain salt, and the bread and condiments
have salt in them, too. When it’s all added up, one’s healthy-looking
sandwich is suddenly a 1,000-milligram salt bomb. Remember, an average
cold cut or cheese slice can contain more than 200 milligrams of salt,
and stack your sandwich accordingly.
Reduced-fat ice cream. Most consumers already know ice cream is brimming with fat and cholesterol,
so the heart-conscious shopper may consider one of the many lower-fat
ice creams or desserts to address his or her snack attack. But the labels
tell the story: To compensate for the missing fat calories, most “light”
ice creams have extra sweeteners, which contribute to high blood pressure.
And those sneaky partially-hydrogenated oils are usually lurking in the
mix, too. For a cool, creamy treat that’s easy on your heart, try
making your own banana ice cream. Simply slice two bananas and freeze;
then blend them with milk and a dab of nut butter until they reach the
fluffy consistency of ice cream. Top it with chopped nuts or raspberries,
and you actually have a dessert that helps
reduce bad cholesterol. And that’s a treat your heart can be happy about!
What’s your favorite heart-healthy snack or meal? Share in the comments below.