Little-known dietary contributors to heart disease

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Red meats, hydrogenized oils — these are the foods we associate with heart disease and high cholesterol. But a few other things many people eat rather frequently could be contributing to future heart problems.

White pasta and breads

Researchers have found that eating a diet high in refined grains, including those in most store-bought pastas and white breads, can double the risk of heart disease. These foods are those that have a high glycemic index, or GI. Foods with a high GI quickly release sugar into the bloodstream. Doctors have found a correlation between high GI and heart disease, mainly in women, according to research at the University of Milan. The study questioned 32,578 women and 15,171 men. Those who consumed the largest concentration of high GI foods were 2.24 times more likely to develop heart disease than those with the lowest.

Nutritionists advise that, when choosing grain products, it is important to select those made from whole grains. Not only do these products provide the nutritional benefits of whole grains, including fiber, they also help reduce cholesterol and the risk for heart disease.

Sugary items

While many people associate sugary snacks, beverages and sugar itself with dental decay or unnecessary calories, these items also impact cholesterol levels.

The average American eats the equivalent of 21 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which is two to three times the amount they should, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers found that individuals who consumed the most sugary products had the lowest HDL, or good cholesterol, and the highest blood triglyceride levels. Eating large amounts of sugar can then be a major risk factor for high cholesterol and heart disease.

In its 2010 guidelines, the American Heart Association recommended limiting added sugar in the diet to no more than 100 calories a day for most women and 150 calories for most men. That’s 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men. To put those guidelines in perspective, consider that a 12-ounce can of soda has between 8 and 10 teaspoons.

In addition, many processed foods contain sugar even if sugar’s inclusion seems foolish. Some restaurants and food manufacturers have admitted to adding sugar to foods — especially those geared to children — to make them taste better and be more appealing.

Therefore, sauces, ready-made dinners and other items may have sugar, and the consumer may not know it without reading the nutrition label.

Also, it’s important to note that beverages are the leading supplier of added sugar for many people. Simply reducing the amount of juices, sports drinks and sodas in your diet can greatly reduce sugar consumption.