Ingredients To Avoid (and Include) For Heart Health

An important first step in creating a heart-healthy kitchen is to read and understand food labels, but more specifically, the ingredient list on the food label. These ingredients are your best reference for deciding whether to add it to your grocery cart or leave it on the store shelf. The list of ingredients below will help you determine whether it's best to find an alternative food product (without the ingredient) or avoid it altogether.  

The "AVOID" list consists of ingredients that contain a high concentration of omega-6 fatty acids, trans fat, and ingredients that raise your blood sugar level to cause an insulin release.

There are two primary families of essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6, and each has different effects on the body. Both types of fatty acids are important, but the real key is to consume omega-3 and omega-6 in a balanced ratio to maintain health. When out of balance, excess intake of certain types of omega-6 fats promotes inflammation, increases blood clotting, and depresses the immune system. Here’s what you may not realize…the modern Western diet has negatively shifted this crucial balance to too much omega-6 on a daily basis (refined vegetable oils, processed foods, meats) and too little intake of omega-3 fats (fish).

The second type of fat that’s nothing but trouble for your heart is trans fat. It comes from foods that contain partially hydrogenated oil and is formed when hydrogen is added to liquid oil turning it into solid fat. Food manufacturers often use trans fat in food products because it is inexpensive and it increases the food’s shelf life, stability, and texture.

Blood sugar levels and insulin drastically increase your risk of heart disease. Blood sugar imbalances are related to imbalanced blood fats in the bloodstream, elevated blood pressure, and more. You definitely don't want to miss reading about Cardio Metabolic Syndrome.

"AVOID" these ingredients:

1. Corn oil: high in omega-6 fatty acids and much corn in America is genetically modified (GMO)

2. Cottonseed oil: high in omega-6 fatty acid

3. Blended vegetable oils: high in omega-6 fatty acid

4. Safflower oil: high in omega-6 fatty acid

5. Soybean oil: high in omega-6 fatty acid and 92% of soy products in America are GMO

6. Sunflower oil: high in omega-6 fatty acid

7. Hydrogenated oil or vegetable shortening: contains trans fat

8. Margarine: contains trans fat

9. Palm or palm kernel oil: contains trans fat

10. Partially hydrogenated oil: contains trans fat

11. Fractionated palm kernel oil: fractionating oil is a process most often used on palm and palm kernel oil that involves heating the oil, then cooling it quickly so that it breaks up into fractions. Fractionated oil is great in preventing the chocolate coating on candy and protein bars from melting, but unfortunately it's not so kind to your waistline or health. Palm kernel oil is about 80% saturated fat and leads to increased LDL (bad) cholesterol.

12. Artificial sweeteners or non-nutritive sweeteners: A recent study found heavy consumers of diet drinks were about 30% more likely to have suffered heart trouble than women who rarely or never had artificially sweetened beverages. Nearly 9% of frequent consumers of diet drinks had a serious heart event compared to about 7% of women who rarely or never indulged.

13. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS): fructose has been associated with an increase in LDL cholesterol (“lousy” cholesterol). This study is one of many showing that, among other heart disease risk factors. 

14. Enriched flour. This is a high-glycemic ingredient, which creates a quick rise in blood sugar.

15. Added Sugar. My frame of reference is 5 grams or less of added sugar per serving. If it's less than 5 grams/serving, I'll usually use it, but there are some exceptions depending on the food and the serving size of the food. If there are more than 5 grams of sugar per serving, I put it back on the shelf.

Here are some GREAT substitutes to replace the "ingredients to avoid":

1. Omega-3-fatty acids support a healthy inflammatory response, normal circulation, and assists the immune system. Boost your omega-3 intake by adding salmon, grass-fed beef, halibut, chia seeds, and walnuts to your diet. If you need additional help, consider a fish oil supplement.

2. If you want to change the type of oil you use, include more of these: walnut oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil, avocado oils, coconut oil, ghee, grass-fed butter.

3. One exception to the omega-6 debacle is a uniquely beneficial type of omega-6 found in black seed oil, borage oil, evening primrose oil, black currant oil, spirulina (blue-green algae), and hemp seed hearts. These foods are healthy to eat.

I know reading labels takes time. You will get better at it as you become more comfortable knowing what you’re looking for. It’s worth it—your heart with thank you!

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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