Heart health myths busted

When it comes to looking after the health of your heart, there are plenty of conflicting facts floating around, which can leave you asking: Is it ok to eat eggs every day? Is pink Himalayan salt actually better than regular salt? And is that glass of red wine helping my heart?

Our dietitians Anna and Alex from The Biting Truth are here to answer your questions, busting 6 common heart health myths.

Myth 1: You shouldn’t cook with Extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil has many myths associated with it. One that we hear a lot is that you can’t cook with extra virgin olive oil.

The truth is that not only can you cook with it  – it is the healthiest oil to cook with!

Extra virgin olive oil is much more stable than other oils. It has a high smoke point, which means it does not break down into harmful compounds like other oils when heated at high temperatures.

It is extremely versatile and can be used cold in dressings and for drizzling, as well as in almost all cooking applications. Extra virgin olive oil is not only safe and beneficial to our health, it also delivers exceptional flavour! So do as the Mediterranean countries have traditionally done for hundreds of years and enjoy cooking with your extra virgin olive oil.

Myth 2: Eggs are off the menu

Eggs are one of the richest sources of dietary cholesterol, which for many years has led to the belief they’re detrimental to heart health.

Most of the cholesterol in our body is made by the liver, not delivered through diet. And while diet does matter, research has found dietary cholesterol has minimal impact on blood cholesterol levels, especially when consumed as part of a healthy diet.

Given eggs have minimal impact on blood cholesterol and are not linked to increased heart disease risk in the general population, there is no limit on egg intake for healthy adults. Eggs contain essential nutrients, including vitamins A and D, as well as protein. Long-term studies show eating an egg a day isn’t linked to higher rates of heart attack or stroke.

For individuals with increased risk of heart disease, the recommendation is to consume a maximum of seven eggs per week.

Myth 3: Pink Himalayan salt is a healthier choice

Pink Himalayan salt is just one of many varieties of table salt alternatives currently on the market. It may be true these alternatives contain minerals that aren’t found in regular table salt, however, in negligible amounts.

Too much of any type of salt can lead to high blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart disease. The recommended maximum daily intake of salt is equivalent to about one teaspoon.

Myth 4: Dairy is bad for our heart

The dairy food group includes milk, yoghurt and cheese, which are good sources of calcium, protein, vitamins and other minerals. The research into dairy and heart health is mixed, although overall milk, yoghurt and cheese are thought to have a ‘neutral’ effect on heart health. This means these foods don’t increase or decrease the risk of heart disease.

When it comes to choosing the type – full fat or reduced fat – it’s entirely up to the individual. At this stage, the evidence is mixed on which is best, if either. For people who don’t have any risk factors for heart disease, your best bet is selecting unflavoured products as part of a varied, healthy eating pattern. And for those with heart disease or high cholesterol, who are more sensitive to dairy fats, the recommendation is to choose reduced-fat varieties.

Myth 5: Red wine is good for your heart

Red wine can form part of a healthy, balanced diet when consumed in moderation and in line with the alcohol guidelines. However, there is no evidence to indicate enjoying a glass or two of red wine benefits your heart.

Alcohol causes a temporary increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, regular, excessive alcohol intake can lead to ongoing increased heart rate, high blood pressure, weakened heart muscle and irregular heartbeat, which can ultimately increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Red wine is not markedly different from other types of alcohol and should be consumed in moderation.

Myth 6: Low fat is always healthier

A heart healthy diet doesn’t need to be low in fat. Simply cutting back on all types of fat does not necessarily translate into a diet that lowers cardiovascular risk. The key to heart health is eating more healthy (unsaturated) fats, which lower cholesterol levels, and less unhealthy (saturated and trans) fats, which raise cholesterol levels.

Instead of getting bogged down in the fat profile of individual foods, simply eating more whole or minimally processed, plant-based foods will naturally lower your intake of unhealthy fats.

Bottom line

When it comes to diet and heart health, there are lots of myths floating around. Remember, no single nutrient or food will cause or prevent heart disease on its own. Eating for a healthy heart is about the food choices you make over time. Be critical of where you are getting your information from and speak to your doctor or Accredited Practising Dietitian for individualised dietary advice.

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