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Heart-Healthy Shopping: Foods to Avoid

Most Americans eat too many saturated and trans fats, too much cholesterol, and a lot of salt and sugar.

Nutritionists recommend avoiding some aisles in the supermarket completely. Bypass rows with bakery items, crackers, cookies, and other food 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 in order of amount of weight, from most to least. In general, avoid items with these ingredients listed high on the ingredient list of food labels:

  • Unhealthy trans fats: Unhealthy trans fats can still be found in some packaged pastries, cookies, crackers, snacks, and some types of margarine. Read the nutrition facts label 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: We all need some sodium, but there’s no doubt most of us get far more than the recommended 2,300 to 2,400 milligrams per day. Many fast and processed foods, from soups to frozen casseroles, are high in sodium, which can raise blood pressure. Avoid high-salt soups and frozen foods. When in doubt, read labels. Depending on the brand, one can of soup may contain 500 to 1,000 milligrams of sodium. Remember that the flavor of processed foods is often enhanced with lots of added salt or sugar. 
  • Added sugar: Sugar is added to just about everything, from spaghetti sauce and soda, to peanut butter and fast food. One can of sweetened soda alone contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar and more than 120 empty calories. Here are common added sugars to look for on the ingredients list: 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 be high in sugars. 
  • One-hit wonders: 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 whole food is fit to eat.


Tips for Heart-Healthy Eating

Small steps can yield big rewards over time and you don’t have to change your diet overnight. Adding one piece of produce to your daily diet or switching from whole milk to low-fat milk, for example, can get you started down the road to heart-healthy eating. When you’re happy with one change, make another.

At the same time you’re adding good foods, you don’t need to ban high-calorie favorites. Even “bad” foods can be good -- in small amounts. Enjoying a little ice cream now and then can leave you feeling indulged and satisfied -- vital to just about any well-balanced eating plan.