Heart disease is the cause of death for one-third of the world’s population. This makes heart disease the number one cause of death worldwide. The truth however is that the risk for heart-related diseases can be reduced through lifestyle changes. Scientific research shows that dietary changes and increasing the amount of daily exercise are the keys to reducing this risk. Processed foods are a huge culprit when it comes to food items that lead to heart disease. Processed foods are any food items that have undergone extensive chemical or mechanical processing.
Interestingly, many highly-processed foods are advertised as being healthy.
In one study, researchers found that consumption of highly processed food items or “ultra-processed” foods led to a higher risk for cardiovascular, coronary heart, and cerebrovascular (blood vessels in the brain) disease. These ultra-processed foods have also been linked to certain cancers.
Why do ultra-processed foods cause an increased risk of heart disease? Which foods should you eliminate from your grocery list? What can you do to protect your heart health? We discuss that in this post.
Common ultra-processed foods that are in your home RIGHT NOW
In the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Latin American countries, ultra-processed Foods represent 25% to 60% of daily dietary intake. This is especially concerning because of how these foods are regularly marketed as “healthy”, even though the evidence suggests the contrary.
Ultra-processed foods include:
- Bread and buns
- Sweet and savory packaged snacks
- Cereals – even the ones that have been advertised to lower cholesterol and heart disease
- Poultry and fish nuggets
- Instant noodles and soup
- Frozen or shelf-stable ready meals
- Processed meats like sausages and deli meat
What makes these foods so dangerous for your heart?
Hydrogenation, hydrolysis, extruding, molding, and reshaping are all industrial processes used in food processing. These require special machinery and formulations.
To make the mechanical processing efficient, foods must contain high amounts of oils, sugars and additives such as flavoring and coloring, non-sugar sweeteners, and other cosmetic additives. These additives contribute to the negative effect that processed foods have on your heart. While sugars and fats, for instance, are still important nutrients for a person’s health, excess intake of these nutrients can lead to health problems. Processed foods make it easy for you to consume excess amounts of sugar, salt, and fats without even realizing it!
Foods that are high in fats and oils, for instance, can lead to the formation of plaque in blood vessels. This plaque will narrow the blood vessels. With this narrowing, comes the tendency for the heart to work harder to pump blood to all the regions of the body that need blood.
Think of your blood vessels as a pipe and your heart as the tap that turns on the water in the pipes. When those pipes are blocked, it becomes harder for your heart to do its work.
Excess sugars are also stored in the form of fats in our bodies. These fat deposits contribute to weight gain. Weight gain is associated with conditions like diabetes and stroke.
How to reduce processed foods in your home
Work schedules and family responsibilities may make it harder and unrealistic for most people to do this. And arguably, it is a more expensive venture to try to make everything from scratch at home.
So what’s the way around it? Here are a few tips to reduce these foods in your home.
- Include more fresh foods on your grocery list.
- Replace processed foods with no-processed or low-processed/fresh foods. For instance, instead of buying canned vegetables that likely contain high levels of salt and sugar, buy fresh vegetables.
- Read ingredient lists. The clue to seeing how processed a food item is to look at the ingredient list. While not every single ingredient on there is harmful to you, the long list indicates how many processes the food has undergone. Replace that item with one with fewer (and easier to understand) ingredients.
- Include exercise in your daily routine. Exercise is a powerful and proven way to reduce your risk of heart disease.