Surprisingly Bad Foods for Your Heart

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Heart disease remains one of the top killers in the United States, and what’s really alarming is how much more we can be doing to prevent it. Part of the problem can often be hereditary; if you have a history of cardiovascular illness in your family, your chances of having some kind of problem with your heart do jump. However, it’s not too hard to beat back genetics and the contributions that lifestyle make to your heart health. A few simple changes like more exercise, better food choices, and cooking in rather than eating out can make a huge difference in your heart’s ability to fight off disease and keep the rest of your body running smoothly.

heart_shaped_mugs_drinks_picYou might think you know what to eat. However, there are some surprisingly bad foods for your heart that you may not have thought of. It can be hard to keep up; it seems like research is evolving all the time, and every week there’s a new diet bestseller on the charts telling you how to lose weight and maximize your heart health. Try to avoid the trends. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re just trying to sell you something. Common sense has a lot to do with it. Surely you know by now that fruits and vegetables are good and cookies and ice cream are bad. Make sure you aren’t surprised and check out these foods that may seem like reasonable choices but are actually very bad for your heart.

White Bread

It might be low in calories and even low in fat, but white bread is not heart-friendly, and neither are food products made from the same refined grains as white bread. This includes rice, pizzas, and anything else that reduces the healthy whole grains into a milled white product.

An Italian study in 2010 focused on women and the way their hearts responded to white bread. White bread and white carbohydrates like rice have a high glycemic index, and the body has a harder time processing those carbs in a healthy way. This puts a lot of strain on the heart. White bread is digested almost immediately by your body, which seems to be a large part of the problem. The diet fix is easy enough. Instead of reaching for a loaf of white bread, make a sandwich with whole grain bread and switch from white rice to brown. If you love to make pizzas, trade out the white pizza dough for a whole wheat crust (and don’t forget to pile the pizza with veggies). The whole grains are far more heart healthy.

glass_of_soda_picSoda—Even Diet Soda

Can you believe it? If you’re a soda drinker, you probably thought you were making the healthy choice by giving up your regular soda for a diet soda. It’s true that you’re saving calories and instead of digesting sugar you’re drinking a sugar substitute. However, any type of soda is bad for your heart, even those low calorie brands you may have been clinging to. The added sugar to regular colas and other flavors of carbonated beverages is terrible for your heart, and if you drink more than a can per day, you’re ingesting way more sugar than the American Heart Association recommends. Too much sugar and soda can also lead to obesity, which is a big problem for your heart health.

Diet soda has been studied and the results might surprise you: you are 61 percent more likely to have a cardiovascular problem in your lifetime if you drink a low calorie soda every day than if you avoided soda altogether. Put down the soda—all sodas—and fill up on water whenever you can. If you need something else, try unsweetened iced tea or flavored seltzer water.

Soup from a Can

Your grocery store probably has an entire aisle dedicated to cans of soup. Many of the labels promise things that you think would be just right: low fat and low calories. However, if you read the label more carefully, you will see that there is a lot of sodium added to those cans of soup. Even the healthy ones. The extra sodium will raise your blood pressure, causing your heart to work a little bit harder than it ought to. High blood pressure leads to a whole series of cardiovascular problems, increasing your risk for having a heart attack or a stroke.

The exact level of unhealthy really depends on the brand and the type of soup. However, if the can of chicken and rice soup that you thought was a healthy lunch turns out to have over 1,200 mg of sodium per serving, you are dangerously close to exceeding your sodium limit for the day with just one bowl of that soup. If you are over 50, you really need to pay attention to sodium. It’s also important for people who are diabetic or struggling with kidney problems.

Look for low sodium varieties of soup, and read the label because many of those are still too high. Try making your own homemade soup. You can control how much salt is added and you might find you like the taste of your own soup better than something that has been processed and canned.

Microwave Popcorn

popcorn_bowl_picHave you been popping some popcorn in the evenings, thinking that whole grain healthy treat is much better for you than the bag of chips you’d normally be tearing into? Well, it’s probably better than the chips, but you’re still not making a heart healthy choice

Lots of microwave popcorn brands include trans fats in their product. Trans fats are directly related to raising your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowering your good cholesterol (HDL). When there’s too much cholesterol in your blood, it hardens into a plaque that lines your arteries, making it harder for the blood to flow. That could lead to heart attacks and strokes, so the trans fats are no good.

Check your popcorn label and find out if you should put it back. Stay away from movie theater popcorn too…it will do your heart no favors. Get one of those vintage air poppers if you want to make popcorn at home, or cook it on the stovetop. You can still have your popcorn; just make sure you’re not getting a sneaky dose of trans fats with it.


Just like the popcorn, you probably think you’re making a good choice when you reach for pretzels instead of chips. Those pretzels are full of simple carbohydrates and sodium. The pretzel is essentially created from white flour and salt. There is literally nothing nutritious about it. They might be lower in calories and fat than potato chips or nachos, but they are still doing damage to your heart. You can see your blood pressure rise and your heart disease set in every time you open a bag of pretzels. Trade them in for a handful of nuts, and your heart will be happier. You’ll still get the crunch and the flavor, but without the bad carbs and the excessive salt. Other ideal snacks include vegetables dipped in hummus, a pile of berries, or even a simple apple with all of its fabulous fiber.


When you use milk or cream with a full fat content, you are raising your bad cholesterol to levels that are too much for your heart to take. Even Greek yogurt—a food presumed to be healthy—has seven grams of saturated fat per serving. That’s too much, so you need to scale back on dairy in the interests of keeping your heart healthy. 

mini_pretzel_sticks_picSo, scrap the pretzels and pass on the diet soda. Now that you know what foods are surprisingly unhealthy for your heart, it’s time to clean out your pantry and make some changes to your grocery list. One of the best things you can do when you’re shopping or cooking is read every label carefully. Your heart needs foods that are high in fiber and whole grains. Skip the sodium whenever you can, and avoid the carbohydrates that are too easily and quickly absorbed by your body before they can be turned into energy or anything good. Your heart needs fresh fruits and vegetables, not foods that come in cans and packages. Drink lots of water, get your exercise, and make the best choices you can for your overall health. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or if you continue to run into confusing information about what’s good for your heart and what’s not.

Claims on this site have not been evaluated by the FDA. Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Sunwarrior’s awesome expert writers do not replace doctors and don’t always cite studies, so do your research, as is wise. Seek the advice of a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet.

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Want to add your voice?

  • Cari Oleskewicz, well what can we say, white bread.....tick, soda.....tick etc etc.....tick, but then we get to dairy and it all goes horribly wrong. Bad cholesterol? Really? You must enlighten us on how there are two different types of cholesterol, one bad...boooo!!!! One good, yyaayyyyyy!!!!

    "seven grams of saturated fat", quick everyone run, there's a killer in that yogurt! If you guys keep pushing this tired old unfounded notion about cholesterol and saturated fat people will start to wonder if you have ties to Merck.

    You need to get with the program, as even a cursory look at the subject will quickly shine a very bright light on the fact that cholesterol levels being meaningful, good and bad cholesterol and saturated being bad for you is nothing more than a pharmaceutical fairy tale wet dream that dupes good people into avoiding foods that are essential to health and taking drugs that take them to an early grave. We all get duped from time to time but this is a lie you need to stop pedalling to the good folks out there. Love and hugs! :)

  • This arcticle is full pf broscience and idiotic governmemt propaganda bullshit lol. If youre niave enough to believe this crap you should probably start eating grass and pretend that youre doingbsomething right.

  • Hello,

    Respectfully, I have many problems with this article.

    1. *There are no references, there are no references, there are no references*. I understand, nutritional studies, typically, have very poor methodologies. But, this makes them very easy to weed out and refer to the good ones.

    2. The link between cholesterol levels and saturated fats: This has been proven an incorrect causation within the literature (with good study methodologies) repeatedly in the last 5-years. This is old news, and continuing to state it, makes the layman apprehensive of consuming fats. It also makes the layman afraid of cholesterol, when it is a precursor to many hormones, and is chemically involved in many biological processes.

    A significant amount of the healthy population naturally has high cholesterol levels; similar to how some individuals are predisposed to higher-than-normal heart rates. This is not harmful, nor is it a sentence to a short life. Far too many statins are prescribed too easily in the Americas (which are a host to too many other complications), and making people think that they are going to raise their cholesterol by consuming saturated fats is knocking them back a step into poor health.

    Finally, the link that you referenced between cholesterol levels and arterial stenosis is very vague in the literature. There are many other mechanisms involved in the narrowing of artieries. Cholesterol is one of the "hypothesis", and has never been holistically accepted as the "cause".

    3. "Avoiding carbohydrates that are too easily absorbed into the body" - It is then stated that fresh fruits and vegetables do not fall into this category. Fruits are composed of simple sugars (primarily fructose), which release "easily into the body". The few scraps of fibre you get does help to suppress the absorption, but to no significant degree.

    The vegan community needs to raise the bar. Start using research with good methodologies; and stop hanging onto old, disproven concepts and principals. Become a site to be reckoned with, when it comes to communicating your philosophy, not a site to be scoffed at.

  • greek yoghurt, 7 grams of saturated fat per serving???
    mine has 11 grams for a whole tub which lasts nearly a week ! and its NOT the 0% fat variety either.

  • Hi Cari,

    I thought this was an interesting article! The points were spot on, and the information provided seemed to be accurate. However, only one concern of mine remains. While reading the information related to Soda, I noticed there was one thing you forgot to mention that I believe to be of equal significant importance. You go on to talk about the sugar substitutes in diet sodas and high content of sugar associated with sodas, but what of the sugar substitute known as Aspartame? In recent studies published by over 16 different reputable sources and organizations including The American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Scientific American, and even the Center of Health and Nutrition UT, the sugar substitute has been shown to cause significant amounts of health problems. I was hoping you can shed some light in relations to consumption, health, side effects, etc. Thank you again for sharing this. Cheers!


    • In reply to Jake's comment

      Hey Jake, you're definitely right about the dangers of aspartame. Cari may cover that in a future article, but in the meantime, we do have other articles on the subject that you may be interested in. Feel free to take a look at these and see if they answer your questions: