Foods Bad for Your Heart Include Starchy Snacks, Research Shows

And, as it turns out, the timing of your munching matters, too.

  • When fuelling up for your next run, you may want to veer away from starchy snacks like potato chips, especially too close to your last meal.
  • These types of snacks and the timing of when you eat them may raise your risk of heart diseasenew research shows.
  • Anti-inflammatory foods—such as citrus, berries, bell peppers, nuts, and legumes— are best for snacking on, but it’s okay to consume starchier snacks in moderation.

When fuelling up for your next run, you may want to veer away from starchy snacks like potato chips, especially if you ate your last meal recently. According to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, these type of snacks, particularly when consumed after main meals, significantly raised cardiovascular disease risk.

Researchers looked at just over 21,000 participants in a large nutrition survey in the U.S. that spanned from 2003 to 2014. Analyzing their dietary patterns, they assessed what type of food was consumed at each meal, as well as snack type and timing throughout the day.

People who ate starchy snacks—rather than snacks derived mainly from grains, fruit, or dairy—had up to 57 percent increased risk for cardiovascular-related death. Those who snacked on fruit and vegetables showed a reduced risk not only from heart issues but also cancer.

The timing of the participants’ eating also proved notable, the researchers suggested. Poor cardiovascular health seemed to be highest for those who snacked on a high-starch choice soon after a meal, especially a meal they categorized as a “Western-style” meal—one that’s high in processed grains, cured meats, solid fats, and high-fat dairy. 

That’s because these foods tend to raise blood sugar, and eating a starchy snack within a few hours of eating can keep that blood sugar elevated, raising inflammation levels. Over time, that’s problematic for your heart, said William Li, M.D., president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation and author of Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.

“Diet is always a major contributor heart health, in the same way that exercise can be,” he told Runner’s World. “Inflammatory cells gather around plaque in the coronary arteries and release enzymes that cause further damage, creating a chain reaction. As you keep eating foods that raise inflammation, this becomes an ugly cycle.”

That’s one of the reasons anti-inflammatory foods are so helpful, he added. That means foods like citrus, berries, bell peppers, nuts, and legumes, since they have been shown to reduce coronary plaque and reduce inflammation, he said.

That doesn’t mean potatoes need to be off-limits completely. Previous research has highlighted the nutritional value of potatoes, particularly their high amounts of dietary fiberpotassium, and vitamin C—which are all beneficial for runners. In fact, Runner’s World has called it “the perfect carb,” especially since it makes a great base for protein like Greek yogurt or low-fat chili.

Similar to certain types of grain, though, pay attention to how your spuds are processed—for instance, a bag of potato chips you buy at the store has stripped out most of the potato’s nutrients, and added salt and unhealthy fat into the mix. Homemade chips are a much better option!

Your best bet? You’ve heard it before: Load up on the whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and moderate your consumption of Western-style choices, especially those found in the snack aisle.

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