Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans: on average, one person dies every 39 seconds, according to recently published data from the American Heart Association. Along with healthy lifestyle choices, what you eat can have a big effect on your heart health.
Here are 2 of the worst ingredients in our foods.
- Added Sugars
- Too Much Salt Intake
SALT: Americans on average take in 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day. Americans on average take in 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day. That’s a third more than the daily recommended limit of 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon salt) and more than double the 1,500 mg suggestion for adults age 51 and older and for anyone who is salt-sensitive (e.g., people who are African-American, those with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease)—about half the U.S. population. Cutting your sodium intake can help lower high blood pressure and also reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure.
Another way to slash your sodium intake is to replace sodium-laden processed foods with fresh foods. Other tricks: look for “low sodium” or “no-salt-added” labels and rinse canned beans.
One of the easiest ways to cut back on your salt intake is to not add it if you can’t taste it. In other words, don’t add salt to boiling water for pasta or potatoes, but add it to a dish when its impact will be strongest—usually at the end of cooking. A little salt goes a longer way if it’s sprinkled on a food just before serving; you’ll taste it in every bite.
SUGAR: We consume 355 calories—or 22 teaspoons—of added sugars a day, says a recent study. Added sugars are those added to food by consumers or manufacturers. “Reducing added sugars will reduce cardiovascular disease risk,” says Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., chair of the American Heart Association (AHA) writing group for the AHA scientific statement on sugars and cardiovascular disease and EatingWell nutrition advisor. “High intakes of added sugars are linked with increased risks for high blood pressure and high triglyceride levels, risk factors for heart disease.”
The AHA recommends that women limit their added sugars to no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons, and men should eat less than 150 calories, approximately 9 teaspoons. (A 12-ounce can of cola has about 8 teaspoons.)
These recommendations apply only to added sugars, which supply calories but no nutritional value, and not to sugars that occur naturally in healthful foods (fructose in fruit, lactose in dairy). It’s fairly easy to keep track of sugars you add yourself. Added sugars in processed foods are more difficult to track. “Sugars” on Nutrition Facts panels include natural and added sugars. Check the ingredient list for sugar and all its aliases: corn sweetener or syrup, honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, malt sugar and syrup and sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose). In general, the closer sugars are to the top of the list, the more the food contains.