Foods for Heart Health: Facts and Myths
Myth Versus Fact: Eating Right for Your Heart
Many of us have heard that oats lower cholesterol and that chocolate can be good for your heart. But are these statements completely true, partly true, or mere urban legends of food? It’s hard to believe that tasty food can also be really good for you and your ticker. Learn the truth about the foods that can help or hurt your heart’s health, and foods that can raise or lower your cholesterol levels.
Having a healthy heart comes from a combination of factors, including your cholesterol levels. Cholesterol travels through the body and forms the building blocks for hormones and other substances that assist in food digestion. But there are two main kinds of cholesterol: HDL and LDL. HDL is commonly referred to as “good cholesterol,” while LDL is considered to be “bad cholesterol.” Your heart will thank you if you take steps to lower your levels of LDL. Get a head start by making sure that you have accurate information about the foods that are beneficial or harmful to your heart and your cholesterol levels.
Oats Aren’t Just for Horses
In a number of studies on the short-term effects of oats, LDL cholesterol levels were found to decrease in people who enjoyed oat cereal every day, instead of refined grains. Researchers hypothesize that these health benefits come from one key ingredient in oats: oat beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber. If you’d like to get enough oat beta-glucan to potentially improve your LDL levels, you’ll need to eat approximately 1.5 cups of cooked oatmeal or 3 cups of instant oatmeal each day.
Let’s Go Nuts!
Although nuts undoubtedly have high fat content, their creamy, crunchy goodness has the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease. This is because nuts have been found to reduce LDL, which is associated with heart disease. They contain fiber, vitamin E, omega 3 fats, and more healthy micronutrients. It is important, however, to use moderation when it comes to eating nuts. A handful a day will be enough to give you heart benefits without any of the unwanted pounds.
Love that Olive Oil
Just like there are different kinds of cholesterol, there are different kinds of fats. Some of these fats are more helpful in reducing the risk of heart disease than others. Both monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat are important for heart health. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol levels. Adding some olive oil to your diet may help to reduce your LDL cholesterol as well as increase your HDL or good cholesterol.
It seems like every few months people start questioning the health benefits or risks of eating eggs. According to studies noted in the Washington Post, the cholesterol in foods actually has little effect on most people's cholesterol levels. Even when food does affect your cholesterol levels, often levels of both good and bad cholesterols rise, offsetting the health risks. Whole eggs are high in fat and should therefore only be eaten in moderation.
Wouldn't it be great if we had to eat chocolate in order to keep our hearts healthy? Unfortunately, that's not exactly the case. Dr. Steven Nissen, who is chairperson of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, reports that there isn’t enough evidence to indicate that chocolate is good for the heart. Although a few small studies and experiments have suggested that dark chocolate could have some minor benefits, these positive effects are likely outweighed by the high fat and sugar content of chocolate.
Stick to the Basics of Good Nutrition
There is no quick-fix food that can guarantee you good heart health. While oats and nuts may help, the best way to achieve good nutrition is still to eat a well-rounded diet with lots of fruits and veggies. Do your best to stay away from junk foods like chips and cookies, which are loaded with fat, sugar, and sodium. By being mindful of the food you eat, you can work toward keeping your heart strong and your cholesterol levels in check.
- About Cholesterol. (2013, May 1). American Heart Association. Retrieved June 14, 2013, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/About-Cholesterol_UCM_001220_Article.jsp
- Consumers Union of the United States. (2013, May 13). Eggs, even with their cholesterol, are a good source of protein for most people. The Washington Post. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-05-13/national/39220769_1_egg-consumption-cholesterol-hdl
- Daou, C. & Zhang, H. (2012, July). Oat Beta-Glucan: Its Role in Health Promotion and Prevention of Diseases. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 11(4), 355-365. Retrieved June 15, 2013, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1541-4337.2012.00189.x/full
- Department of Health and Human Services. (1997, January 23). Food Labeling: Health Claims; Oats and Coronary Heart Disease. Federal Register, 62(15), 3584-3601. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-1997-01-23/pdf/97-1598.pdf
- Kane, J. (2012, February 29). Top 10 Myths of Heart Health. PBS Newshour. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2012/02/the-top-10-myths-of-heart-health.html
- Monosaturated Fats. (2010, October 29). American Heart Association. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/FatsAndOils/Fats101/Monounsaturated-Fats_UCM_301460_Article.jsp
- Nuts and your heart: Eating nuts for heart health. (2011, February 4). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nuts/HB00085