We all want to start each day on the right foot. So snacking on a morning meal that harms your heart is probably not the way to go. Unfortunately, some of the most popular breakfast plates don’t promote a strong, healthy heart.
Here, Kylene Bogden, RDN, co-founder of FWDfuel, shares breakfast foods to ignore (or limit) for long-term heart health.
1. Bacon, Sausage and Ham
Breakfast meats can make your mouth water, but when eaten regularly over time, they can also spoil your ticker.
That’s because foods like bacon, sausages and ham are loaded with saturated fat, Bogden says. Too much saturated fat in your daily diet can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol, which increases your risk of blocked arteries and cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis.
Concrete example: a meta-analysis from July 2015 in Public health Nutrition found that people who ate more red and processed meat had a higher risk of death from heart problems (and cancer).
What’s more, breakfast meats also contain “an abundance of inflammatory preservatives and chemicals that can disrupt gut health and immunity,” says Bogden.
But if you can’t live without bacon, don’t worry. You don’t have to banish breakfast meats from your plate, just enjoy them in moderation. In other words, consider bacon, sausage, and ham as occasional treats versus everyday staples.
You can also opt for alternatives like plant-based “meats” for breakfast. Just choose wisely: “While some brands have less saturated fat than your average breakfast meat, some companies add lots of chemicals and preservatives. [like sodium]“, says Bogden.
In that case, it would be healthier to forego ultra-processed foods and simply choose a leaner meat like turkey, she adds.
For a healthier heart, limit your saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of your daily calories, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Between donuts, muffins and croissants, there is no shortage of salivating pastries. But those baked goods aren’t good for your long-term heart health.
Baked goods are a “triple threat combination of saturated fat, refined sugar, and inflammatory chemicals/food coloring, all of which cause inflammation in the body,” says Bogden.
Over time, chronic inflammation slowly damages arteries and other small blood vessels and can contribute to heart disease, she says.
3. Sweet cereal and granola
Some cereals and granolas can contain as much sugar as a tray of pastries.
“Added sugar, particularly refined sugar, is usually the main ingredient in these products,” says Bogden. The problem is, “sugar may be even more inflammatory than saturated fat when it comes to heart health.”
Here’s why: When you eat too much sugar, your body releases insulin, which stores the excess in your fat cells. In the long term, this can lead to weight gain and insulin resistance, which are risk factors for even more inflammation and certain metabolic conditions, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
“Years of chronic inflammation from diet are now linked to [cardiovascular-related illnesses such as] stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease,” says Bogden.
So if your favorite breakfast is granola or cereal, be sure to choose varieties with less than 4 grams of added sugar per serving.
Even better if it provides a good amount of heart-healthy fiber (aim for 5 grams). A March 2015 analysis in BMC Medicine found that people who ate the most grain fiber were 19% less likely to die from any cause, including heart disease.
While you’d expect to find lots of sugar in sweets like cookies and cakes, sneaky sugars are also lurking in seemingly “healthy” breakfast foods like yogurt.
Many flavored varieties are full of added sugars, says Bogden. This is largely because food manufacturers add large amounts of sweets to enhance the flavor of packaged foods.
But all that unhealthy sugar for your heart adds up. The average American consumes about 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day (which is almost triple the recommended 6 teaspoons or less per day), according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Not to mention, flavored yogurts also tend to have a high dose of food coloring, Bogden says. Although artificial colors can make your food more appealing, they add no nutritional value. In fact, preliminary research has shown that dyes can be potentially harmful to your health.
For example, a November 2013 review in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health has found that certain food colors are associated with carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, and hypersensitivity in animals. Although more studies are needed to corroborate these findings in humans, limiting your food coloring intake could be a safe strategy.
That said, yogurt can be a nutritious addition to your breakfast bowl as long as you stick to plain, low-fat varieties. Plain Greek yogurt and skyr, which are low in saturated fat and high in protein, are particularly good options.
Not a fan of unflavored yogurt? Simply stir in your favorite fresh fruits.
Pancakes are a popular breakfast plate, but they don’t always promote a healthy pump.
That’s because they’re often made with refined carbs like white flour, which have been stripped of essential nutrients. Because refined carbs lack adequate fiber, they raise your blood sugar, causing an inflammatory response, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Additionally, pancake eaters tend to drown their pancakes in high-fat butter and sugary syrup.
But if you fancy cakes à la plancha, you can always taste them and also maintain your heart health. Here’s how: Choose a brand made with whole grains that are high in fiber and free of added sugars, inflammatory oils and excess sodium, says Bogden.
Then, top your pancake stack with antioxidant-rich berries for an added heart-healthy goodness.
While hash browns can be hearty and nutritious (they’re made mostly of potatoes), they’re often made with a plethora of non-nutritious ingredients that cause your ticker trouble. For example, these potatoes are often fried in inflammatory oils or butter.
Likewise, a side of these sprouts is often served too salty. But a daily diet with excess salt increases your risk of high blood pressure, which can contribute to chronic health conditions like heart disease, according to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
To make hash browns heart-healthy, sauté them in a drizzle of heart-healthy olive oil along with other vitamin-rich vegetables.
7. Bottled teas and coffee products
Your morning drink can also be a sugar bomb that sabotages a healthy heart.
In fact, sugary drinks are the leading source of added sugars in the American diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When it comes to bottled teas and pre-made coffee products, the problem of added sugar often comes in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, Bogden says. “Frequent consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has been linked to heart disease,” she says.
Sipping excess sugar is also associated with weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, non-alcoholic liver disease, tooth decay, cavities and gout, a type of inflammatory arthritis, according to the CDC.
Takeaways: Mix bottled teas and coffees in favor of unsweetened varieties that you make yourself. In moderation, tea and coffee (which are high in antioxidants) can benefit your heart.
Want a pinch of extra flavor? Try adding a squeeze of lemon or a pinch of cinnamon.
How to make a heart healthy breakfast
When you prepare your plate in the morning, Bogden recommends including these heart-protecting ingredients:
- A vegetable fat containing omega 3s, which can help lower your triglyceride levels (think: canola or olive oil or unsweetened almond butter)
- At least two forms of colorful produce to boost your antioxidant intake (think: greens in your omelette or berries in your oats)
- 15-25 grams of high-quality, lean protein (think: tofu, eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, protein powder)
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