Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be thy medicine,” and that applies to heart health: Diet is incredibly important, noted Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, and a member of the American College of Cardiology’s Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Section Leadership Council.
“If you go to parts of the world where they have not been exposed to a Western lifestyle, meaning a sedentary lifestyle and eating processed foods, heart disease is in very limited existence,” Freeman told TODAY.
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Still, it may not always be possible to eliminate problem foods, so moderation and portion control are key.
“There isn’t a food that will save your life … And there isn’t one that’s going to kill you. It is about balance,” said Dr. Sharonne Hayes, professor of cardiovascular medicine and founder of the Women's Heart Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
“So the occasional Cheeto or piece of cheesecake isn’t going to kill you, but it really is what you eat and how much you eat that’s so critical.”
TODAY asked Freeman and Hayes to share some of the top foods they try to avoid or limit for optimal health. Here are eight of the items on their lists:
1. Bacon, sausage and other processed meats
Hayes, who has a family history of coronary disease, is a vegetarian. But even before she stopped eating animal protein some 25 years ago, she avoided processed meats because they’re high in calories, saturated fat, salt and have added ingredients like nitrates.
It’s not only heart health that may be affected by overindulging in hot dogs, salami, bacon, ham and jerky: The World Health Organization has determined eating processed meats causes cancer, Freeman pointed out.