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

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Foods to Avoid

Some nutritionists recommend avoiding certain 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, nuts and seeds in bulk, lean meats and low-fat dairy. In some of the aisles you will find desirable whole foods like intact whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, barley etc.), olives and extra virgin olive oil, canned beans, frozen fruit, vegetables and fish.

Read food labels. Ingredients are listed by weight, from most to least, so it’s helpful to focus on the first three to five ingredients.

 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 many grams of sugar and fiber are in a serving of the cereal. 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 extra virgin olive oil and canola oil.
  • Salt: Try to avoid getting more than the recommended 2,300 to 2,400 milligrams per day. Steer clear of high-salt soups, salty snack foods, 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 ingredient list may have a lot of sugar.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD on October 03, 2014
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