- Cardiologist Harmony Reynolds said she almost never eats foods like potato chips and snack cakes.
- She opts for healthy swaps like popcorn or fruit, and enjoys less healthy treats like bacon in moderation.
- Research suggests processed foods increase the risk of serious illnesses like heart disease.
It’s not realistic to try to follow a “perfect” diet all the time — but smart swaps can help you keep your heart healthy without cutting out snacks you enjoy.
Reynolds told Insider it can be difficult to give dietary advice as a doctor because nutritional research often doesn’t provide clear answers on how food can influence health.
“We need so much more properly conducted nutrition science. A lot of recommendations we make are based on limited evidence, which leaves patients with the impression we change our minds often,” she said.
Reynolds said based on available evidence, she opts to avoid certain foods and uses strategies to enjoy less healthy food in moderation.
Margarine and coconut oil are linked to worse heart health
Reynolds said she avoids margarine, and vegetable oil, because observational studies have suggested consuming them is associated with higher cardiovascular mortality, although it’s not clear why, since they doesn’t seem to raise risk factors like cholesterol.
Coconut oil is also concerning, because it’s composed of saturated fats, linked to heart health risks.
“I learned to ask patients about this because I was seeing multiple patients whose LDL cholesterol was going up because they introduced coconut oil containing foods,” Reynolds said.
Butter may even be a better alternative when used in moderation.
But olive oil is the healthiest choice, research suggests.
“People should cook with it wherever possible and if they use other fats, to use as little as possible,” Reynolds said.
Potato chips are tricky to eat in moderation
Reynolds said she doesn’t eat potato chips or keep them at home because it’s too easy to eat the whole bag.
“I know myself and know that with all the best intentions of having two potato chips and putting it aside, it doesn’t work that way,” she said.
She said popcorn can be a healthier alternative, or even fresh vegetables if you’re craving a crunchy snack.
Reynolds said that for similarly craveable treats like chocolate bars, she’ll buy preportioned packages to make it easier to enjoy in moderation.
She only eats bacon as a special treat
Extensive evidence suggests processed meat is linked to higher risk of serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease, compelling reasons to limit it in your diet, according to Reynolds.
“I don’t know what is a safe amount,” she said.
However, it’s also a food she enjoys and eats a few times a year for special occasions.
“I think it helps people to know that folks giving advice are humans too. Patients can’t be perfect in following a diet,” she said. “It’s important to recognize that there are times when you want a treat and it’s not really productive to say I’ll never eat foods that I enjoy. It’s better, I think to try to eat less and make swaps where you can.”
Swap processed desserts for dark chocolate to reduce unhealthy fats
Reynold said the final food group she tries to steer clear of is processed desserts like packaged cookies and donuts, because they’re high in sugar and unhealthy fats, which are linked to health risks like diabetes and heart disease.
Fruit, yogurt, dark chocolate, and nuts could be healthier sweet treats. But again, moderation and self-awareness are key to enjoying food while minimizing potential health risks.
“When I’m at parties and there’s something I know isn’t healthy for me and I want to try it, I’ll take one taste and pay a lot of attention. If I love it, I let myself enjoy it. If I don’t love it, I set it aside,” she said.