By Phyllis Rozner M.A., R.D., L.D.N.
American Heart Month is an exciting time. The heart is the center of our body and soul. It is what literally brings us life. So each February, try to be mindful of the care you show your heart. As for me, a Registered Dietitian, this starts with my nutrition. Let’s see if you can do the same.
To help you care and celebrate your center, I am going to debunk three common heart-healthy nutrition myths.
Myth 1: Eating a diet low in fat prevents heart disease.
To be honest, this statement is only partially false. Yes, to reduce the risk of developing heart disease we should keep our intake of saturated fat to a minimum. However, some fats actually protect our heart. Studies have shown that consuming monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the bad kind), while increasing the protective, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the good kind). Unsaturated fats also ease inflammation and decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Ultimately, the quantity of fat consumed is not nearly as important as the type of fat we’re eating. So where can you find these heart-healthy fats? Look for them in these foods:
- Chia seeds
- Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, trout and anchovies
- Fish oil
- Ground flax seeds
- Olives and olive oil
- Peanut butter
- Sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- Walnuts and walnut oil
Keep in mind that, while heart-healthy, these fats are still calorically dense. So maintaining portion size is important to prevent excessive caloric intake.
Myth 2: I can eat whatever I want if I exercise.
Yes, exercise is a great way to balance out the calories we take in each day. It also is incredibly effective for weight control and stress management, both of which help prevent heart disease. However, exercise will not necessarily erase the effects of unbalanced eating habits.
If the majority of the food you eat contains added sugar, saturated fats and trans-fats and/or lacks whole grains, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, the risk of developing heart disease, as well as other chronic conditions, increases greatly, no matter how much you exercise. Moreover, fueling your body with these unhealthy foods prevents it from feeling and performing at its best.
Myth 3: Eggs are not permitted on a heart-healthy diet.
For years, eggs have been shunned as a heart-healthy food because of their cholesterol content (one large egg contains about 185 mg of cholesterol found primarily in the yolk). However, we now know they can be part of a balanced, heart-healthy diet. Several studies have found solid results that dietary cholesterol has a much smaller effect on blood cholesterol and harmful LDL levels than originally thought. Instead, a diet high in saturated and trans-fats is known to raise total cholesterol and LDL levels, while lowering HDL levels. As a result, consuming eggs in moderation does not increase your risk of developing heart disease.
What does moderation mean? For healthy individuals, moderation means a maximum one egg per day. For those with high LDL levels or who are taking a blood cholesterol-lowering medication, moderation means no more than three whole eggs per week.
Overall, it is important to remember that the key to a heart-healthy lifestyle is balance and moderation. So as this American Heart Month comes to a close, take some time to think about your heart and the life it brings to you. Then try making one small change to better protect your heart.