Feb 27, 2017

You’re probably aware that when eating a heart-healthy diet, you should try to avoid fried foods and red meat in excess. But did you know that too much salt and sugar can also lead to heart disease? 

Salt traps

Eating too much salt causes the body to retain water and dilute the amount of sodium in your body. This increases blood volume, which puts pressure on the heart and blood vessels. This can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. It can also lead to heart failure.1

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting no more than 2,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day, but less than 1,500 mg a day may be more ideal for some people.2 Talk to your doctor about the right amount for you. 

Many don’t realize that most of the salt you take in comes from processed foods such as canned soups and frozen dinners. Because of the high intake of convenience foods, most Americans eat more than 3,400 milligrams daily.2

Check the Nutrition Facts label on the food package, and try to limit ingredients that contain sodium, salt, or soda; which include sodium bicarbonate, baking soda, sodium nitrate, and monosodium glutamate. These are all hidden sources of salt.

Sugar shock

Sugar can also wreak havoc on the cardiovascular system, even if you are not overweight. According to a recent study, you have a 38% higher risk of dying from heart disease if you get 17–21% of your calories from added sugars, compared to those who only get 8% of their calories from the same.3

Added sugars are those that do not naturally occur in food, such as in fruit or milk. There are different types of sugar—white sugar, brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, syrup, honey, fruit-juice concentrate, malt sugar, and molasses—added to such foods as pasta sauce, yogurt, canned fruit and granola.4 So what you believe is healthy may not be that healthy when all those sugars are added. Be sure to check the Nutrition Facts label to see how many grams of sugar is in the food and if any of the ingredients above are at the top of the list of ingredients.5

According to the AHA, women should have no more than 6 teaspoons, or 100 calories, of sugar per day, and men should have no more than 9 teaspoons, or 150 calories, of sugar a day.3

A can of regular soda contains about 35 grams of added sugars. There are 4 calories in a gram of sugar. To see how many calories of sugar there are in a can of soda, multiply 4 with 35 to get 140. That’s 140 calories of added sugar per can—more than the recommended daily amount for women! Avoiding sugary sodas can go a long way in protecting your heart. Too much sugar can harden the arteries and stress the heart.6

DASH diet

A good way to reduce salt and sugar intake—and improve heart health by lowering blood pressure and bad cholesterol—is to follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.7 This diet was ranked as the overall best by the U.S. News and World Report.8 Check first with your doctor before starting a new diet. He or she can help you set the right amount of salt and sugar that you should eat.

Whole grains: 6 to 8 servings a day. Brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain bread instead of white bread. Look for products labeled "100% whole grain" or "100% whole wheat."

Vegetables: 4 to 5 servings a day. Fresh and frozen. If canned, check for sodium levels on nutrition label. You want to make sure you take in less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day.

Fruits: 4 to 5 servings a day. If canned fruit or juice, check for added sugars. You want canned fruit that’s in its own juices, not in syrup.

Dairy: 2 to 3 servings a day. Choose products that are low-fat or fat-free. Cheese should be eaten in moderation (even low-fat or fat-free) because it can be high in sodium (salt).

Lean meat, poultry, and fish: 6 servings or fewer a day. Trim skin and fat from meats.

Nuts, seeds, and legumes: 4 to 5 servings a week. Soy-based products, found in tofu and tempeh, can be a delicious alternative to meat.

Fats and oils: 2 to 3 servings a day. Avoid trans fat, found in processed foods such as crackers, baked goods, and fried items.

Yummy healthy recipes

You can find heart-healthy recipes from the Mayo Clinic.


This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional. You should consult with your doctor to determine what is right for you.