Will an unhealthy diet increase my chances of heart disease?

Robert S. Kaufmann, MD
Internal Medicine
An unhealthy diet can raise your risk for heart disease. For example, foods that are high in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Thus, you should try to limit these foods.

Saturated fats are found in some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods. Trans fats are found in some fried and processed foods. Cholesterol is found in eggs, many meats, dairy products, commercial baked goods, and certain types of shellfish.

It's also important to limit foods that are high in sodium (salt) and added sugars. A high-salt diet can raise your risk for high blood pressure.

Added sugars will give you extra calories without nutrients like vitamins and minerals. This can cause you to gain weight, which raises your risk for heart disease. Added sugars are found in many desserts, canned fruits packed in syrup, fruit drinks, and non-diet sodas.

You also should try to limit how much alcohol you drink. Too much alcohol will raise your blood pressure. It also will add calories, which can cause weight gain.

This answer from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. Robert S. Kaufmann.
Overall a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol has been shown to increase risk of heart disease, but there are other factors that also increase risk. These include, being overweight, sedentary lifestyle, and genetics. Unfortunately you can't do much to alter your genetic tendencies, but you can do a lot to make changes to your diet, activity level and overall weight. A healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, along with at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day can not only help prevent heart disease, but also a variety of other chronic diseases.
Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
When it comes to heart disease risk, you are what you eat. A poor diet contributes to elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. A number of major studies provide compelling evidence that diet also affects the likelihood of progressing to full-blown coronary artery disease and having a heart attack.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.