Five foods that can booby trap your heart disease prevention program

There are several foods that commonly come up on people's lists of habitual foods that are truly undesirable for a heart disease prevention program. Curiously, people choose these foods because of the mis-perception that they are healthy. My patients are often shocked when I tell them that they are not healthy and are, in fact, detrimental to their program.

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 high saturated fat content, low fiber, and low nutritional value of these foods are behind heart disease, hypertension, and a variety of cancers.

I'm talking about foods that people say they eat because they view them as healthy--but they're not.

Here's the list:

1) Low-fat or non-fat salad dressings--Virtually all brands we've examined have high-fructose corn syrup as one the main ingredients. What does high fructose corn syrup do? Triggers sugar cravings, makes your triglycerides skyrocket (causing formation of abnormal lipoproteins like small LDL), and causes diabetes. The average American now ingests nearly 80 lbs of this evil sweetener per year. You're far better off with olive, canol, grapeseed, or flaxseed 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, but they contain ingredients that are converted to sugar in your body. They may be cleverly disguised as healthy--Raisin Bran, Shredded Wheat, etc.

3) Pretzels--"A low-fat snack". That's right. A low-fat snack that raises blood sugar like eating table sugar from the bowl.

4) Margarine--Forget this silly argument about which is worse, butter or margarine. Which is worse, strychnine or lead? Both are poisons to the human body. Who cares which is worse? Fortunately, there are now healthy "margarines" like Smart Balance and Benecol that lack the saturated fat or hydrogenated fat of either.

4) Bananas--Bananas are not all that intrinsically unhealthy. The problem is that people will say to me, "Oh sure, I eat fruit. Two bananas a day." What I hear is "I don't really eat fruit with high nutrient value, fiber, and reduced sugar release. I reach for only bananas which yield extreme sugar rises in my blood and are low fiber." Aren't they high in potassium? Yes, but there are better sources. Cut back if you are a banana freak.

Why the mis-perceptions? A holdover from the low-fat diet days and marketing from food manufacturers are the principal reasons. Of course, foods are meant to be enjoyed, but be informed about it. Choose foods for the right reasons, not because of some cleverly-crafted marketing campaign.