Reader’s Digest had an article that caught my eye recently since I figured if anyone knew what foods to eat and what foods to avoid for good health, a cardiologist would be the best source of information.

No. 1 on their list was the deadly foursome of bacon, ham, hot dogs and sausages. According to Jennifer Haythe, MD, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia Presbyterian in New York City, “These products are literally dripping with saturated fats. And we know that sausage and processed meats have been linked to heart failure and cancer.”

Well, my husband isn’t going to like that one because bacon and ham are considered luxury meals for him when I break down and make them once or twice at holiday time. I doubt if I can convince him that the leafy greens piled high on his plate would taste just as good as a sliced spiral ham.

And as far as hot dogs, processed meat, or meat that has been salted, cured, fermented or smoked to improve its shelf life, they’re off limits because of the chemicals and sodium used in processing them, especially when eaten in large quantities. The article also reminds everyone never to eat hot dogs raw (it must have come up in the survey but I can’t imagine why).

There is only one scenario in my playbook when it would be impossible to refuse a hot dog: sitting in a seat at Yankee Stadium and enjoying a Nathan’s on a bun with mustard, relish, and sauerkraut piled high, but that doesn’t seem to be anywhere on my horizon.

Many people here in Morganton can’t wait for the new steakhouse to open since they demolished a couple of buildings to make way for it on Sterling Street, but Dr. Haythe cautions to limit steak intake to special occasions, or once a month, because of the meat’s saturated fat, cholesterol and salt. And when ordering or purchasing, look for leaner cuts like eye of round, top roast, top sirloin, and sirloin tips

Salt is also the enemy, but I haven’t had real salt in a couple of years. However, every once in a while, late at night, my passion for a Pringle engulfs my brain and we all know you can’t just eat one Pringle. When sanity and willpower prevail, I leave the potato chips and buttered popcorn alone and turn in early for the night. Dr. Haythe says these kinds of snacks can be bite-sized bits of trans-fats, sodium and carbs and we all know that carbs are off limits these days. “Think Keto” is the newest fad among us faithful dieters.

The next one surprised me even though I don’t drink it: diet soda. Sindhu Koshy, MD, a cardiologist at Ascension St. John Macomb Oakland Hospital in Michigan, says even regular soda is better than diet. “The aspartame in diet soda is actually worse for you than sugar or high fructose corn syrup and can make you crave sweet things.”

Sugar is bad for your teeth, waistline and your heart, but other foods that you think are okay are actually starches that turn into sugar once in your body such as white bread, pasta and white rice.

I know how tough it is to give up those three starches. I allow myself one low carb wrap a day and a couple of soda crackers sprinkled with a smidge of sharp cheddar cheese for TV snacking to combat the constant barrage of pizza commercials. As far as pasta, I’ve been trying the squash and other veggie types that look like pasta and they’re not bad. Sure, it takes a lot of imagination, but a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and bit of olive oil seems to satisfy the pasta craving. Sort of. Retraining taste buds takes work.

The article also warned about energy drinks due to ingredients such as guarana and taurine, touted as natural energy boosters, but not regulated. Warns cardiologists: Mix these ingredients with caffeine and you could be setting yourself with a racing heartbeat. I myself stick to bottled water.

The article went on to list items we all know we shouldn’t indulge in such as deep-fried anything, such as chicken, tomatoes, candy bars, to Cheez Whiz, and on to frosting in a can (tempting, but I’d rather see it on a cake).

Even instant Ramen noodles was cited as a no-no and I’ve got a couple of packages in my cupboard. I didn’t know this but the noodles are deep fried first and a typical package is loaded with 875 mg of sodium, which is a big chunk of the AHA recommendation of 1,500 milligrams per day. Bye-bye Ramen noodles.

Dr. Victoria Shin, a cardiologist with Torrance Memorial Physicians Network, says she avoids all these items because they’re filled with preservatives. And it’s her clever quote that I’ll end this column with: “Basically, any food item that has a long shelf life will probably reduce your self life.”

Peg DeMarco is a Morganton resident who writes a weekly features column for The News Herald. Contact her at

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