Your daily diet impacts your health and, over time, an unhealthy diet can lead to diseases such as heart disease and stroke. A diet that is high in unhealthy fats can be harmful as they they can cause fatty plaques that adhere to the insides of your arteries. Arterial plaques can cause a condition called atherosclerosis, narrowing and hardening of the arteries, increasing the risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and kidney damage. Eating certain foods can increase your risk of developing arterial plaques.
If you eat meat and other animal products, you are adding saturated fat to your diet and may potentially increase your levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol and risk of arterial plaques. As the name suggests, saturated fats are solid fats that usually come from animal sources. Foods containing saturated fat include beef, lamb, pork, lard, skin of poultry, dairy products such as whole-fat milk, cream, butter and high-fat cheese. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that some plant fats such as palm oil, coconut oil and butter are also saturated fats. The CDC recommends that saturated fats should only make up 10 percent of your total daily calories.
Trans fats are synthetically made from the process of hydrogenation, or adding hydrogen molecules to vegetable oil, and are used in many processed and packaged foods to keep them fresh longer. Although that might sound appealing, MayoClinic.com warns that trans fats are more harmful than saturated fats as they not only increases LDL, but also decrease healthy HDL, cholesterol. This raises your risk of arterial plaques, atherosclerosis and heart disease. The American Heart Association warns that trans fats should only make up less than 1 percent of your daily diet. Many convenience and packaged foods such as fried foods, cakes, doughnuts, pastries, biscuits, cookies, margarine, crackers, microwave popcorn and pies contain this fat.
Your liver produces cholesterol, which is an important part of the structure of every single body cell and also found in the bloodstream. However, consuming excess dietary cholesterol can increase your risk of high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Foods such as eggs, cheese, butter, milk, fish, poultry and meat all contain cholesterol. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises that adults should keep their daily dietary intake of cholesterol below 300 milligrams.
Eating too much sugar has been linked to diabetes, excess weight gain and tooth decay, but it may also be bad for your arteries and heart. The University of Southern California notes that too much sugar in your diet can raise blood levels of an unhealthy fat called triglycerides. These fats can accumulate on the artery walls causing plaques and increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Foods such as sweets, soda and juices are high in added refined sugar. The National Health Service recommends limiting your intake of added sugars to 10 percent of your total daily calories.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Nutrition for Everyone: Saturated Fat
- Merck Manual: Atherosclerosis
- Mayo Clinic: High Cholesterol: Trans Fat is Double Trouble For Your Heart Health
- American Heart Association: Trans Fats
- National Health Service: How Much Sugar is Good for Me?
- University of Southern California: So Long, Sugar!
Nadia Haris is a registered radiation therapist who has been writing about nutrition for more than six years. She is completing her Master of Science in nutrition with a focus on the dietary needs of oncology patients.