​We figured that since you read our "10 Super Foods Good for Your Heart" article (click the link if you haven't), you'll also be interested to know what to AVOID as well!

Assistant Professor Huang Zijuan, Consultant from the Department of Cardiology at National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), a member of the SingHealth group, shares more below.

The latest data on diet and heart disease risk has delineated some of the most effective dietary means to cut our coronary heart disease risks.

Comparing the average SG diet1 to the ideal heart healthy diet (as supported by current evidence)2,3, we in SG take too much saturated fat, trans fat, sugar sweetened beverages, refined grains/carbohydrates, processed meat, red meat, and too little vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, fish and whole grains.

If we swapped out the bad and put in the good instead, it has been shown in predictive models created from international data3 that we would gain years of life!

Based on predictive modelling, if a 40-year-old man from US started eating a typical western diet at 40 years old, he would have another 39.4 years of life ahead of him, whereas if he switched to the optimised diet at 40 years old he would instead have another 51.1 years of life. That’s adding 11.7 more years of life just by a change of diet (the numbers are rather similar for an individual from China or Europe, with minor differences).

We do care about healthy life years rather than just total lifespan and indeed, though the model shows total lifespan, healthy lifespan is correlated with total lifespan as well.

So now you know how much changing your diet can help, let’s learn what we should swap out in our diets (and to replace them with better things).

Foods to avoid or replace in your diet

1. Red meat (lamb, beef, pork)

Data shows that a person who takes one serving per week of red meat would have 10% lower stroke/heart attack death rate than another individual who takes four servings a week.

2. Processed meat (sausages, ham, bacon, luncheon meat, salami)

A daily serving of 50g per day of processed meat is associated with a 27% to 44% increase in stroke/heart disease incidence.

It would be advisable to replace these with fish or plant protein (beans, tofu, soya bean, nuts) where possible. Low fat yoghurt is an alternative source of protein too.

3. Sugar sweetened beverages

Data shows that a daily consumption of one serving (250ml) of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) is associated with a 15% to 22% increase in heart disease. There are similar results for stroke, stroke-related death and heart disease-related death.

As for low-calorie sweetened beverages (LCSBs), they contain sweeteners, such as sucralose, acesulfame-K and aspartame. In the data, there is a statistically significant increase in the incidence of heart disease, stroke and related-death associated with regular consumption (1 serving per day) of LCSBs.

Hence, it would be advisable to replace such beverages with plain water where possible.

4. Trans-fat

Consuming foods containing trans-fat, often found in deep fried food and chips, is associated with a higher risk of heart disease/stroke and related death, and this association is stronger than for any other type of fat. A 2% increase in energy consumed from trans-fat is associated with a 23% risk increase.

5. Saturated fat (from animal fats, e.g. butter, cream, tropical oils like coconut and palm)

Lowering saturated fat intake and replacing it with unsaturated fat (like PUFA) reduces coronary heart disease by 29%.

When saturated fat is replaced by MUFA or PUFA (unsaturated fat), bad cholesterol or LDL has been shown to be reduced as well.

Substituting saturated fat like butter with olive oil, or other better oils like soybean, corn, safflower, canola oil has been found to decrease blood pressure, increase insulin sensitivity (reduce diabetes risk), reduce inflammation.

6. High GI cereal foods (like white rice, white bread, cakes, biscuits and also starchy foods like potatoes)

Daily consumption of 98g of carbohydrate consumed as high GI cereal foods (e.g. 80g of white bread plus 50g of rice) is associated with a 66% higher coronary heart disease risk.

Replace with whole grain foods (e.g. oats, whole grain low GI bread, brown rice, barley). A decline in heart attack/stroke risk can be achieved already for a daily consumption of one or two daily servings of both low GI (pasta, tortilla) and whole-grain cereal foods in substitution of high GI refined cereals.

Also don’t forget to take lots of fruits and vegetables! (Most optimally 400g a day of each)

7. Salt

Studies showed that those who were asked to restrict sodium had a 25% to 30% lower risk of strokes/heart attacks 10 to 15 years later.

Currently, an average intake of below 5g of salt per day is recommended for healthy adults – about 2.3g sodium which works out to be about a teaspoonful.

1. Dietary Data by Country | Global Dietary Database. Accessed July 26, 2022. https://www.globaldietarydatabase.org/our-data/data-visualizations/dietary-data-country
2. Riccardi G, Giosuè A, Calabrese I, Vaccaro O. Dietary recommendations for prevention of atherosclerosis. Cardiovasc Res. Published online July 6, 2021. doi:10.1093/CVR/CVAB17
3. Fadnes LT, Økland JM, Haaland ØA, Johansson KA. Estimating impact of food choices on life expectancy: A modeling study. PLoS Med. 2022;19(2). doi:10.1371/JOURNAL.PMED.1003889


Ref: J22

Check out other articles on heart health:

3 Best Exercises for the Heart

6 Great Ways to Lower Triglycerides

11 Ways to Strengthen Your Heart