Along with various other factors like your activity level and blood pressure, your diet plays a central role in your cardiovascular health. While cooking for yourself at home using nutrient-packed, antioxidant-rich whole foods is always the best way to go to keep your heart healthy, you may not always be able to do that–in fact, sometimes you may find yourself pulling up to a fast food restaurant. It likely goes without saying that this is never the healthiest option, but there are a few menu items in particular that health experts say you should steer clear of if you care about your heart–including one fried, cheesy option.
To discover the worst fast food side you should avoid at the drive-thru to keep your heart healthy, we spoke to cardiologist Anjali Dutta, MD, FACC from Morristown Medical Center at Atlantic Health System. She told us that you should skip the fried cheese curds due to their high sodium content. Learn more about the health risks associated with this side and find some advice for healthy alternatives below!
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Fried cheese curds
No one thinks “healthy” when they think “fast food.” However, there are some options that are definitely worse than others when it comes to heart health–and as far as sides are concerned, Dr. Dutta says it doesn’t get much worse than some deviously deliciously fried cheese curds. “Fried cheese curds are likely to be the most dangerous fast food items for your heart,” she says.
This is the case for several reasons, but one of the biggest issues with fried cheese curds (along with many other fast food menu items) is the fact that they’re loaded with salt. “Due to the fact that fast food dishes are typically high in sodium to begin with, sides that are high in sodium, such as French fries, should not be consumed frequently,” Dr. Dutta explains. Cheese curds, in particular, offer up 1,000mg of sodium in just one order–and that’s just the average! Considering the fact that your daily recommended intake is 1,500, a large order of cheese curds (which sometimes contains as much as 2,100mg of sodium) could easily put you over the limit. “The high sodium content mixed with additional saturated fats makes for the perfect storm of cardiovascular risk,” she warns.
In fact, Dr. Dutta says that cheese curds might just knock every fast food menu item out of the park when it comes to heart health risks, noting that their sodium content could make them “not only the most unhealthy side dish, but the most unhealthy dish on the entire menu.” Yikes!
So, what will all that salt and fat do to your heart, after all? Dr. Dutta breaks it down for us: “An ongoing and excessive intake of sodium has been scientifically proven to affect blood pressure,”she says. “When someone has too much sodium in their bloodstream, their blood vessels absorb more water which can cause elevated blood pressure.” This puts you at risk of cardiovascular issues like heart disease, stroke, and more.
What to order instead
Let’s be honest: sometimes you’re going to find yourself in a situation that calls for a quick stop at a fast food drive-thru. So if you’re looking out for your heart health, what should you order? Hopefully by now it’s obvious that you should skip the cheese curds–but Dr. Dutta says there are still options. “Many fast food restaurants do, in fact, offer heart healthy side options,” she says. “One of the heart-healthiest foods a person can consume are ‘leafy greens’ (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.).” As long as you choose a salad without high-fat toppings like creamy dressing or a ton of bacon, you’ll be making a healthy choice when you order a salad. And if that’s not an option, a side of fruit is another great way to go.
Of course, fast food will never be the healthiest thing you can eat–and if you’re really craving a salty side, a few cheese curds won’t kill you. However, if you’re trying to keep your heart health in check, remember that making healthy diet choices whenever possible is always the best way to go.