The supermarket foods that threaten your heart

For decades, dietitians have insisted that no individual food is so bad for you that it can’t be included, in moderation, in a healthy diet. But they never reckoned with the invidious ingredient that endangers your heart.

A study at the ETH Zurich’s Institute for Molecular Health Sciences shows that the concentrated fructose added to our processed food, whether as high fructose corn syrup or even in sucrose, can seriously damage the heart muscle.

“Walk through any supermarket and take a look at the labels on food products, and you’ll see that many of them contain fructose, often in the form of sucrose (table sugar),” says researcher Wilhelm Krek.

Krek’s research shows that a process that starts in the liver, where fructose is processed, is a key stimulant for out-of-control growth of heart muscle. And that can result in fatal heart failure.

If you’re already taking statins for heart issues, your heart muscle may face a double danger whammy (see this post to learn why). In that case watching your fructose intake is even more important.

The fructose in processed food initially drives this development by encouraging the liver to produce more body fat, which, in turn, increases blood pressure. The increased blood pressure causes the heart to work harder. And, as the heart struggles, the presence of fructose fuels an unhealthy increase in heart size that wouldn’t occur if fructose wasn’t available from processed food.

The researchers note that the fructose in fruit doesn’t present the same danger as the fructose in processed, nutrient-depleted foods like soft drinks and cookies.

“Besides fructose, fruit contains plenty of important trace elements, vitamins and fiber,” says researcher Peter Mirtschink. Those extra nutrients help the body retain its homeostasis and avoid the kind of imbalance that distorts the size of the heart.

But processed food offers an overload of fructose without balancing the sugar with natural substances the body needs for cardiovascular health.

So the next time you hear a dietitian insist on moderation, remember that fructose is the ingredient that links all of the so-called “empty” calories in processed foods. As this Swiss study shows, these calories aren’t so empty after all – they’re filled with consequences for your heart.


Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.