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Funny how when you turn 50 you suddenly pay closer attention to your heartbeat. Maybe it’s because you’ve noticed friends and family not much older than you starting to have heart issues. Or maybe you’ve read somewhere that heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization for adults over 65. According to the American Heart Association, the 50s and 60s are often when people accumulate more weight, especially around their midsection, and heart disease risk factors appear.
Rest assured, you have time to turn things around for your heart health, doctors say. Assuming you don’t smoke, the how-to advice is very straightforward and specific: eat less unhealthy foods.
You know this prescription already. The question is: are you filling it?
We guess not because you’re reading this article. You probably need some motivation and direction, so here it is: a list of the unhealthiest foods for your heart, according to dietitians. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss The #1 Best Juice to Drive Every Day, Says Science.
“If you want to keep your heart healthy after 50, it is time to take a serious look at your saturated fat intake,” says Rebecca Schilling, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist for USA RX. “Most of my clients over 50 struggle with this recommendation. They were raised on red meat and fried chicken and the thought of becoming just like their vegan nephew scares them.” But there’s no getting around the truth that following a diet high in saturated fat and low in fruit, vegetables, and fiber contributes to developing heart disease.
“Foods high in saturated fat create a perfect storm by clogging arteries, raising bad cholesterol, and contributing to high blood pressure,” Schilling says. “My recommendation is to limit meat consumption at meals to a 3-ounce portion (about the size of your palm), treat highly marbled red meats and fried foods as a rare treat, trim the fat from all cuts of meat, choose low-fat dairy and increase the number of fruits, vegetables, and fiber you eat daily.”
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Those lunch and gameday staples, potato chips and soda, provide a hat trick of bad news for your heart health: sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar. “Bagged snacks (and cookies, too) are not only very high in sodium,” says Melissa Mitri, RD, a registered dietitian for Wellness Verge, “but they also encourage overeating and increase the risk of weight gain because they are so highly palatable.”
Sugar also plays a key role in poor heart health. “Soda is very high in added sugar, which is a risk factor for diabetes, obesity, and heart disease,” Mitri says. “You can avoid that risk by choosing healthier soda alternatives like flavored seltzer or carbonated waters.”
Switching from sugar-sweetened beverages to diet sodas to cut calories and sugar may sound like a smart move, but it’s counterproductive when it comes to heart health. “Artificially sweetened drinks are associated with an increased risk of cardiometabolic diseases,” says Arika Hoscheit, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Paloma Health.
A study in Diabetes Care found that people who drink diet soda daily have a 36% greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome and a 67% greater risk of type 2 diabetes when compared with non-diet-soda drinkers.
How is less sugar correlated with greater diabetes risk? Hoscheit says the artificial sweetness of low and no-calorie diet drinks make it hard for your body to gauge caloric density, “increasing appetite and disrupting your microbiome, which can result in glucose intolerance, and increased cravings for sugary, energy-dense foods and drinks.”
To protect your heart, choose water most of the time and minimize your intake of artificially sweetened beverages. “Decreasing your intake of diet soda may help lower your appetite, improve weight management, and improve your overall health,” says Hoscheit.
The poster child of foods that should be avoided by men and women over 50 concerned about their heart health is the delicious doughnut. “Not only are doughnuts deep-fried, which dumps a lot of unhealthy fat into your system, they are also loaded with refined carbohydrate and sugar, which can lead to weight gain and increase your risk for heart disease,” says Susan Bowerman, RD, a certified specialist in obesity and weight management and senior director for worldwide nutrition education for Herbalife Nutrition.
“Refined carbohydrates and sugar also test the body’s ability to process them, and as people get older many become insulin-resistant or pre-diabetic, which increases heart disease risk,” she says.
Now that you’ve boned up on the foods to avoid for good heart health, start filling the void with these Best Foods That Can Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease.
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