Everyone knows that eating healthy is good for you, but did you know how much that eating healthy affects your heart health? Let’s take a look at the connection between ultra-processed foods and heart health!

Salty snacks mini pretzels

What are processed foods?

A processed food is a food item that has undergone a series of mechanical or chemical operations to alter qualities of or preserve the food. That can include canned, freeze-dried, frozen, or packaged foods! Not all processed foods are bad, however. Certain processed foods like yogurt, nut butters, cheese, and almond milk are very nutritious! The key is to avoid ultra-processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods are foods that contain ingredients that you can’t make at home—think high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, protein isolate, etc.) Ultra-processed foods are ready-to-eat as well! For example, a tomato is totally unprocessed, but a frozen pizza is very heavily processed!

The kicker with ultra-processed foods is that they’re often marketed as healthy! Low-fat foods like crackers and cookies are loaded with extra salt and sugar to make up for lack of fat. Whole-wheat breads are full of preservatives that let them sit on the shelves for weeks. Breakfast cereals are really just glorified candy!

Vintage photo, Heart of oat flakes

What are the effects on your heart health?

An article in science daily explained the effects of processed foods on health. Studies done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found: “for every 5% increase in calories from ultra-processed foods a person ate, there was a corresponding decrease in overall cardiovascular health.”

The study went on to say, “Adults who ate approximately 70% of their calories from ultra-processed foods were half as likely to have “ideal” cardiovascular health… compared with people who ate 40% or less of their calories from ultra-processed foods.”

An epidemiologist at the CDC explained that a healthy diet plays a huge role in maintaining a healthy heart and healthy blood vessels!  Zefeng Zhang said, “Eating ultra-processed foods often displaces healthier foods that are rich in nutrients, like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, which are strongly linked to good heart health. In addition, ultra-processed foods are often high in salt, added sugars, saturated fat and other substances associated with increasing the risk of heart disease.”

Healthy vegetaria

How can I have a less processed diet?

The bottom line: you’re going to have to work a little harder. Processed foods are easy and super convenient. Unprocessed foods take a lot more work to make into a hot meal.

Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Most of the highly processed foods are stored there! Stick to the outside of the grocery store—that’s where you’ll find fruits and vegetables, meats, and dairy.

Try adding some delicious heart-healthy foods to your diet:

  • Avocados
  • Berries
  • Citrus
  • Cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
  • Leafy greens
  • Nuts
  • Olive Oil
  • Seeds

Conclusion

Now that you know the connection between ultra-processed foods and heart health, you can make better decisions to keep yourself healthy!