The #1 Worst Food for Your Heart (HINT: It’s Not Sugar)

Americans on average take in 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day. That’s a third more than the dietary guidelines daily recommended limit of 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon salt) and more than double the 1,500 mg suggestion for adults age 51 and older and for anyone who is salt-sensitive (e.g., people who are African-American, those with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease)—which is about half the U.S. population. (The American Heart Association’s recommendations differ, though: they advise everyone to cap their sodium at 1,500 mg each day.)

Cutting your sodium intake can help lower high blood pressure, and also reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Consuming too much sodium has also been linked with kidney stones, gastric cancer, osteoporosis, and asthma.Butter. Full-fat sour cream. Regular mayonnaise. These foods—as well as fatty cuts of meats—are high in saturated fats. And although how much you need to limit fat seems to have relaxed ever-so-slightly in more recent years, and conflicting research has been published on the association between eating saturated fat and risk of heart disease, if you have high cholesterol, you should still be cautious about how much saturated fat you eat. That’s because saturated fat elevates “bad” LDL cholesterol, which leads to plaque buildup in arteries. The American Heart Association says to limit saturated fats to 5 to 6 percent of your total calories if you have high LDL cholesterol. Everyone else should cap their saturated fat at 10 percent of your daily calories. So, for example, if you’re eating a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s 11 to 13 grams a day, or 22 grams, respectively.

“Trans fats should be avoided,” says Donna Arnett, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky and Past President of the American Heart Association. “Trans fats have been removed from some common foods, such as French fries, but there can be trans fats in highly processed foods still as they help to extend the shelf life of the product.”

When in doubt, read the label, Arnett advises. Even if a package claims “zero trans fat,” the amount per serving may be less than 0.5 g and could have been rounded down to zero, so the only way to be sure you’re getting a product without trans fat is to read ingredient lists. If you see “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient lists, the food contains trans fat.