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Matters of the Heart

This month we celebrate The Big Heart Appeal and World Heart Day. It’s an opportunity ‘for everyone to stop and remember that cardiovascular disease is something that matters to every beating heart’ – and, keeping your heart healthy is something you can work on every day.

But knowing what’s right for you can be confusing, especially when it comes to a heart-healthy diet. There are a plethora of ‘healthy food’ myths disguised as facts on the internet and in magazines.  So, here we share some of the common food and heart-health myth busters, courtesy of the Heart Foundation:

Myth 1:
Butter is healthy for your heart  

Butter is not a healthy food, and is something that should be limited in a heart-healthy diet because it raises both good and bad cholesterol levels – with the rise in the bad outweighing the benefit of the rise in good cholesterol. In fact, if you already have high cholesterol, butter can raise harmful cholesterol levels even further.

Swap butter for foods that reduce the risk of heart disease – like avocado, olive oil, nut butter, and spreads made from canola or olive oil.

Myth 2:
Sugar is toxic for heart-health 

In recent years, sugar has been under attack, with some people aiming to eliminate it from their diets – but there is no scientific consensus that sugar, as a nutrient, causes heart disease.

However, high intakes of added sugars and refined carbohydrates are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Too much sugar may also increase weight gain, another risk factor.

The bulk of the added sugars in Australian diets come from junk foods and sugary drinks. Limit or avoid these foods and drinks as part of your overall heart-healthy diet. The Heart Foundation reminds us that our whole diet matters, not one single nutrient like sugar.

Myth 3:
Dark chocolate and red wine are good for my heart  

Unfortunately, says the Heart Foundation, this is a classic case of it being a bit too good to be true!

While red wine contains a variety of polyphenols (a category of chemicals that naturally occur in plants), the amount varies greatly between each bottle, and there’s a lack of consistent evidence that red wine is a good source of antioxidants for preventing heart disease.  The quantity of alcohol we drink is more important than the type of alcohol.

The good news, however, is that consuming high polyphenol cocoa/chocolate can reduce risk factors for heart disease, but most manufactured chocolate is low in these substances – and  ‘dark’ chocolate doesn’t necessarily mean the presence of high amounts of polyphenols. On the other hand, raw cocoa powder does have high levels of polyphenols and is recommended for drinks and cooking.

Myth 4:
Reduced-fat milk is healthier 

You have a lot of choices when it comes to milk. But is reduced-fat actually healthier for your heart?

According to The Heart Foundation, there isn’t enough conclusive evidence to recommend one over the other. It’s up to you whether you choose to have reduced-fat or full-fat milk – as long as it’s unflavoured. The fat in dairy raises cholesterol, which for most healthy people is not an issue. However, if you have existing heart disease or high LDL cholesterol, then it’s best to choose reduced-fat milk products. Beyond whether you choose reduced-fat or full-fat milk, a heart-healthy diet is about the combinations of foods you eat over days and weeks.

To separate fact from fiction, make sure that you always get your information from credible sources – such as the Heart Foundation, government, or peer-reviewed scientific publications. And remember that leading a healthier life is all about balance.

Find other myth busters  (saturated fats, olive oil, pink Himalayan salt), more heart-healthy eating tips, and how to get active and manage your cholesterol on the Heart Foundation website: www.heartfoundation.org.au, or by phoning 13 11 12 – calls are answered by a qualified health professional. You’ll also find a wide range of healthy and easy recipes and free e-books which you can view or download at: www.heartfoundation.org.au/recipes.

Always remember: the best way to reach your care goals and enjoy the benefits of better heart-health is to follow the advice of your GP or primary health carer.

Source: The Heart Foundation


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