Excess consumption of food rich in unhealthy fats and trans-fats, mainly ultra processed junk food, is responsible for the high prevalence of cardiovascular disease on a global scale. Experts point out that following a healthy heart-friendly diet along with an active lifestyle are the simplest and most effective ways to keep your heart healthy.
Palak T Punamiya, a Bengaluru based nutritionist explains that it is important to have healthy eating and snacking habits as the small things we consume also make a difference.
Eating food with high levels of unhealthy ingredients like saturated and trans fats, or excess salt could lead to an increased risk of heart diseases. These foods could also lead to obesity and diabetes which again increases the risk of developing a heart condition.
“A good diet must constitute a balance of green vegetables, fruits and whole grains, along with occasional consumption of non-vegetarian foods like chicken, fish and egg,” says Dr Jaideep Rajebahadur, consultant, Cardiology, SRV Hospitals, Mumbai.
Foods that you should avoid for a healthier heart
1. Red meat
Dr Thejaswi N Marla, cardiothoracic vascular surgeon, Fortis malar hospital, Chennai, explains that red meat is considered bad for the heart as it contains high levels of LDS (low-density lipoproteins or bad cholesterol) and triglycerides (a type of fat). Experts state that consuming red meat could affect your heart in the long run. “You can instead switch to chicken or fish as it has good amounts of antioxidants and polyunsaturated fatty acids,” says Dr Rajebahadur.
Dr Marla adds that when consuming any non-vegetarian food, it is recommended to only eat the flesh and avoid the skin and other organs as their cholesterol levels are high.
2. Bread and other bakery items
Punamiya explains that baked food is a good option at home but when you get something from outside, they are processed baked food and they use refined flour (maida) which is unhealthy and has high amounts of carbohydrates. “Whole grain bread, brown bread, or atta free bread can be consumed instead,” says Dr Rajebahadur.
Experts advise that it is best to avoid bread and other bakery items. “There are salts and other ingredients mixed to increase the shelf life of bread and to make it fluffier,” says Dr Marla. He adds that this will interfere with your regular metabolic cycles and affect your body and metabolic health in the long run.
3. Ice cream and chocolates
Ice cream and chocolates contain a high amount of sugar, carbohydrates and bad fat. “Most of these are empty calories (little or no nutritional value) which are difficult to burn, and over a period of time, it can impact your heart health,” says Dr Rajebahadur. He adds that occasional consumption of chocolates or ice cream are fine, but it should not be a part of your eating habits or diet.
Dr Marla adds that the recommended consumption of ice cream would be one scoop, once a month. “Even though it is fine to have it in moderation, since it is packed and processed, it is always better to avoid it,” says Punamiya.
Experts state that it is best to avoid oils that are high in saturated fats. For instance, coconut oil which is high in saturated fat and may also raise your LDL cholesterol levels. “Cold pressed oils (increases the good cholesterol level (HDL)) are a better option for someone with a cardiac issue, ” says Punamiya.
But according to Dr Marla, any oil to an extent is bad and that there is no good oil. He adds that whatever oil is used for cooking, should be used in a limited quantity.
Experts recommend that we limit the usage of salt as much as possible. It is also not advisable for people with already existing heart conditions. “Usage of salt should be kept minimal because the sodium chloride in salt causes irreversible damage in the blood vessels,” says Dr Marla.
Punamiya adds that since sodium should be avoided for people with heart conditions, they should ensure that they don’t add salt as seasoning for food or fruits and instead use herbs like oregano, lemon juice, black pepper or a bit of vinegar to add flavour to the food.
6. Frozen, packed and fast food
“The fast food, packed and frozen food we buy, have added MSG (monosodium glutamate/ ajinomoto),” says Punamiya. She adds that canned foods also have a lot of sodium content that is bad for the heart.
Ready to eat food, packaged juices, canned food, salted butter, fast food, processed cheese, and preserved meat should be avoided as they are also high in cholesterol and carbohydrates. It is also better to avoid sauces and pickles. “It is never a good option as they contain high amounts of unwanted substances like excessive salt or other preservatives,” says Dr Rajebahadur. He adds that sometimes we even fry these foods, so they are very unhealthy.
7. Root vegetables
Experts state that most root vegetables like tapioca, potato, sweet potato are high in carbs and sugar. So, it is generally recommended to avoid them. “It is better to have it baked and not fried in case it is not possible for someone to completely avoid it in their diet,” says Dr Marla. He adds that it might be a part of someone’s staple diet, so we recommend that they have it in boiled form and not fried.
Dr Rajebahadur states that any food that contains excess sugar is not recommended as it could affect your heart health in the long run. Sugary beverages and sugary foods should also be avoided.
“Simple sugars (simple carbohydrates) like jaggery, fructose, corn syrup, and sugar should be avoided,” says Punamiya. She adds that instead, complex carbohydrates like whole grains, vegetables should be included in the diet.