An important first step in creating a heart-healthy kitchen is to read and understand food labels. They’re your best reference for deciding whether to add it to your grocery cart or leave it on the store shelf. The ingredient list below will help you determine when to look for an alternative food product without that ingredient(s) or avoid it altogether.  

The majority of these ingredients contain a high concentration of omega-6 fatty acids or trans fat.

Omega-6 fatty acids are considered pro-inflammatory and therefore unfavorable to a heart healthy diet. There are two families of essential fatty acids: omega-3 and omega-6, and each have different effects on our body. Both 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 omega-6 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 by the availability of too much omega-6 on a daily basis from refined vegetable oils, processed foods, meats, and too little intake of omega-3.

A 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.

If the product contains one or more of these undesirables, don't buy it!

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. 

Here are some good substitutes to replace the ingredients listed above:

1. Omega-3-fatty acid is anti-inflammatory, increases circulation, and enhances 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. Change the type of oil you use and include more walnut, flaxseed, olive, or canola oils.

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

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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