A cardiologist shares the 5 foods she avoids for a ‘healthy heart’—and what she eats instead

As a cardiologist who has treated thousands of patients, I am often asked what foods I should eat for a healthy heart.

Of course, you don’t have to be a nutritionist to know that you won’t benefit from a diet consisting of cheeseburgers, donuts, and fries. But there are a number of popular options that aren’t really that good for your heart.

Here are five foods I always try to avoid overeating, and choose instead:

1. Bread

Many people are surprised to learn that bread and baked goods they are some of the biggest contributors of sodium in our diets. High sodium intake can raise blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

A plain bagel, for example, can contain 500 milligrams of sodium, which is about a third of what the American Heart Association recommended per day for most adults.

The refined flours in bread can also cause our blood sugar levels to spike. And remember, just because it’s brown, that doesn’t make it better.

For fiber content, I try to look for visible grains and seeds throughout each slice, and my goal is at least three grams of fiber per 100 calories.

2. Margarine

Too much butter isn’t heart healthy, but alternatives like margarine aren’t always better.

There used to be more trans fat, which increases “bad” cholesterol and lowers the “good” cholesterol in margarine before the FDA implemented a ban on partially hydrogenated oils in 2015. But just because trans fatty acids are gone doesn’t mean margarine is automatically good for us.

Many on the market are made with palm oil, which contains high amounts of saturated fat. which can raise your cholesterol.

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Margarine made with olive oil or flax oil are better choices. Olive oil contains only minor levels of saturated fat and no trans fat. Another great butter substitute that I love is mashed avocado.

3. Skim milk

4. Diet soda

It may not contain sugar, but diet soda can still affect your biochemistry. Recent studies have revealed that artificial sweeteners found in diet sodas can affect the production of important proteins in our gut that protect against obesity and diabetes.

For refreshing drink options, I like to go with tea, which is full of heart healthy compounds They help fight inflammation and cell damage. Black and green tea have been associated with a lower risk of heart attack and cerebrovascular accident.

Another great option is a glass of sparkling water with some fresh fruit and mint leaves.

5. Granola bars

While they may sound healthy, most granola bars contain a lot more than just oats, nuts, and fruit that are usually featured on the front of the package.

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Many also come loaded with added sugarsartificial sweeteners and other counterproductive ingredients, such as palm oil.

I much prefer raw nuts as a satisfying snack on their own. When I eat oatmeal, I typically have an oatmeal breakfast, using dried or fresh fruit as sweeteners.

Dr Elizabeth Klodas is a cardiologist and founder of First step foods. Trained at Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins, Dr. Klodas has published dozens of scientific articles throughout her career, she is the author of a book for patients, “Kill the Giant: The Power of Prevention to Beat Heart Disease,” and served as founding editor-in-chief of cardiosmart.org.

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