Q: When are "heart healthy" foods not heart healthy?
A: When "heart healthy" is just a marketing claim with no real basis in reality or science.
In an ideal world, a food label proudly bearing the claim "heart healthy" truly would be heart healthy.
But, no, Dorothy, it's not a perfect world.
I'm not talking about foods that are obviously unhealthy. You know these: fried foods, greasy cheeseburgers, French fries, bacon, sausage, etc. Nearly everyone knows that the fried oil content, sodium nitrite for "curing" in processed meats, low fiber, and overall low nutritional value of these foods are behind heart disease, hypertension, and a variety of cancers.
I'm talking about foods that people eat because they view them as heart healthy¾but they're not.
Five heart unhealthy foods:
1) Low-fat or non-fat salad dressings-With rare exceptions, low-fat or non-fat or lite salad dressings are made with high-fructose corn syrup or corn syrup as one of the main ingredients. What does high fructose corn syrup do? Triggers sugar cravings, makes triglycerides skyrocket, slows blood clearance of after-eating digestive products (a potent cause of carotid disease), increases uric acid (a possible coronary risk factor and cause for gout) and causes diabetes. The average American now ingests nearly 80 lbs of this evil sweetener per year. You're far better off with olive, canola, soy, or flaxseed oil-based salad dressings.
2) Breakfast cereals - If you've been following these discussions, you know that the majority of breakfast cereals are sugar. They may not actually contain sugar as sucrose, but they contain ingredients that are immediately converted to sugar in your body, ingredients like whole wheat flour and cornstarch. By the way, wheat flour and cornstarch raise blood sugar higher and faster than table sugar. Even if a breakfast cereal is low in sugar but made with wheat flour and cornstarch (as nearly all are), blood sugar skyrockets. These products may be cleverly disguised, bearing as "heart healthy" claims. Some, like Cocoa Puffs and Count Chocula, may even bear the Heart Association's Check Mark stamp of approval based on their low-fat and low-saturated fat content. Don't fall for it.
3) Pretzels - "A low-fat snack." It sure is. Pretzels are a low-fat snack that raises blood sugar like eating table sugar from the bowl. If you munch on pretzels as your between-meal snack, you are having an effect on your body no different than having a high-sugar candy bar.
4) Margarine - Most readers already know that margarine's made with hydrogenated, "trans," fats are unhealthy and should be avoided. They increase LDL, reduce HDL, and cause cancer.
But how about the new margarines with "no ‘trans' fats" and "heart-healthy" claims because they contain added sterols to reduce LDL cholesterol?
Sterol esters are an additive that do indeed reduce LDL cholesterol (at least transiently). However, several studies now report that greater intake of sterols is associated with greater heart attack risk despite the lower LDL. Heart healthy? I don't think so.