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Heart-Healthy Foods: What to Buy and What to Avoid

Foods to Avoid

Nutritionists recommend avoiding some aisles in the supermarket completely. Bypass rows with bakery items, crackers, cookies, and other foods high in saturated fat. Shop the perimeter of the store, where you’ll usually find fresh foods like produce and low-fat dairy. Read food labels. Ingredients are listed by weight, from most to least.

Beware of prepared foods promoting one particular component -- look at the whole package instead. If a cereal calls itself heart-healthy because it contains oats, for example, check how much sugar and fiber the cereal has. Be sure the entire food is fit to eat.

In general, avoid items if any of the following appear high on the food label’s ingredient list:

  • Trans fats: Unhealthy trans fats can be found in packaged snacks (pastries, cookies, crackers) and some types of margarine. Read the nutrition facts to see all the fats in the product. Choose foods with zero grams of trans fats and the least amount of saturated fats per serving. Shop instead for foods with cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as olive and safflower oils.
  • Salt: Try to avoid getting more than the recommended 2,300 to 2,400 milligrams per day. Steer clear of high-salt soups and frozen foods, which can raise blood pressure. When in doubt, read labels. Depending on the brand, one can of soup may contain 500 to 1,000 milligrams of sodium. The flavor of processed foods is often enhanced with lots of added salt or sugar.
  • Sugar: Sugar is added to just about everything, from spaghetti sauce to fast food. One can of sweetened soda contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar and more than 120 empty calories. Here are common added sugars to check for: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, and syrup. Foods that have one or more of those ingredients high on the list may have a lot of sugar.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on September 21, 2012

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