5 ‘Healthy’ Habits That Could Actually Be Hurting Your Heart
Not everything you hear about how to keep a healthy heart turns out to be correct.
Let’s assume at this point that you have stuck to your New Year’s resolution and you’ve entered American Heart Month with a new habit of eating right and exercising more. You’re sticking to your decision to take better care of your body, maybe lose a little weight and get all those healthy fruits and veggies in your diet. All of these things you’re doing have to be good for your heart. But it’s possible that some of your “healthy” habits aren’t so good for your heart. Some of them could be hurting your heart and putting you at risk.
Eating Peanut Butter as a Healthy Snack
The peanut butter people would have you believe that their product makes for a healthy snack every day. They aren’t completely wrong, but adding more peanut butter to your diet could be bad for your heart. Nuts are a good diet staple because they contain healthy fats and other nutrients you can’t get with other foods. But you have to be careful with peanut butter because if you aren’t reading the label closely, you’re also eating more than your share of sodium, trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils and all kinds of unnecessary added sugar. All of these things put you at risk for high blood pressure, weight gain, blood sugar spikes and other issues that can lead to heart disease or stroke. Get your nut butter fix (and health benefits) by switching to almond or cashew butters that have no sugar added, but are just butter made from nuts. They taste great, are less addicting and won’t fill you up with sugar you don’t need.
That Hardcore Workout
Exercising and being more active is definitely a great way to improve your health and reduce your risk of heart disease. But there’s a point at which an exercise habit can become more dangerous for your heart than healthful. That point is when you start to overdo it. If you’re the weekend warrior who hits the gym (or the yard work) really hard when you have time for a couple of days, you might be doing more harm than good. If you go at your workout like a person possessed, because it’s the one time all week you have a chance to be in the gym, you could actually be damaging your heart. You should find out what your appropriate fitness zone is and then go for a more slow and steady approach. Regular exercise that isn’t as intense will be better for your heart than one or two extreme workouts a week.
Adding More Whole Grain Flour to Your Diet
Everywhere you look, you’re being told to add more whole grains to your diet. Whole grains do have a lot of fiber and nutrients not found in white flour, but whole grains can be bad for your heart. This is because when whole grains are ground down into a flour-like substance (from which many “whole grain” foods are made) they behave just like sugar in your system and cause spikes in blood sugar levels. Further, if you’ve been reading up on grains and wheat, you know that gluten-free is all the rage. Reducing gluten in your diet, or going gluten-free, can have a lot of health benefits for you, but you have to be smart about it. If you are simply replacing foods with “gluten-free” alternatives made with whole grain flour, you could be putting yourself at risk for heart problems. Again, even though these products don’t contain wheat gluten, you’re eating a whole grain that has been ground down to a fine flour, making it very easy to process, which will then cause blood sugar spikes, inflammation and artery constriction. All of these results can increase your risk for heart trouble.
Taking an Iron Supplement
If your new healthy habits involve vitamin supplements, you’re likely doing yourself a world of good. Many of us are deficient in vitamins we need because our diets don’t have the amount of nutrients we need and the things we eat can block absorption of the nutrients we do consume. For example, being anemic, having low iron levels in the blood, can cause a lot of health issues including fatigue, muscle weakness and a weakened immune system. If you’ve cut out red meat to improve your heart health, you may be concerned about your chances for developing anemia, but don’t start taking an iron supplement until you’ve had your blood tested. Taking extra iron when you don’t need it can cause a host of issues. Not only does iron age you faster, it’s an oxidant and could actually rust you on the inside. Iron can also build up in your blood, as well as trigger your platelets to clot, putting you at risk for hypertension and stroke.
Taking Too Much Calcium
Another vitamin supplement you might be taking for your health, but should be careful with, is calcium. Most of us, especially women, are told we need more calcium in order to protect our bones, muscles, blood vessels and nervous system. But it’s not as simple as just taking a supplement. First of all, calcium from food is absorbed far better than calcium from a pill. Second, calcium leaves deposits and can build up in your bloodstream, putting you at risk for a heart attack or stroke. Third, calcium supplements can block magnesium absorption in your body. Most of us are already magnesium-deficient, so adding a calcium supplement that blocks what little magnesium we do get can be dangerous for the heart. Low magnesium levels cause heart arrhythmias and sudden death. Beyond your heart health, a lack of magnesium will cause migraines, constipation, insomnia and muscle cramps. If you need calcium, get it from your diet, or work with your doctor to make sure you’re also getting enough magnesium to counter-act the effects of calcium.