Myth busting: Don’t be fooled by these 5 heart-healthy diet claims

Nov 14, 2019
Despite past claims, dairy might not be much of a threat to heart health. Source: Getty

‘Egg whites are better’, ‘cut out meat’, ‘coconut oil is a healthier alternative’ … nowadays there’s seemingly no shortage of advice when it comes to what you should and shouldn’t eat to keep your heart healthy. But are any of these so-called health ‘facts’ true?

For example, the Heart Foundation recently changed some of their dietary recommendations and now say that full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese – which were previously considered bad for heart health – neither decrease or increase the risk of heart attack and stroke in healthy people.

So in an attempt to better understand the complexities of such a prevalent issue, with the help of Sharon Natoli, leading dietician and founding director of Food and Nutrition Australia, we’ve looked at some of the most common myths about heart-healthy foods.

1. Eggs raise your blood cholesterol levels

There’s a big misconception that eggs are bad for your heart due to their high cholesterol content – but according to Natoli, that’s not the case.

Eggs have almost no effect on blood cholesterol levels, Natoli says, explaining that your cholesterol levels are more influenced by the saturated trans fat you eat.

“Eggs are relatively low in saturated fat, containing an average of just 1.7grams per egg (60g), which is why they are a nutritious inclusion in a heart healthy eating pattern,” she adds.

2. Low-fat dairy products are better for you than full-fat

You may think that low-fat dairy products are healthier, but sometimes it’s better to eat full-fat dairy instead.

While low-fat dairy products provide fewer calories than full-fat options, some low-fat foods can contain higher amounts of sugar or salt, which is not ideal for heart health, Natoli explains.

“For example, low/reduced fat cheese slices tend to be higher in salt than the full fat standard cheese and some low-fat biscuits can be higher in sugar,” she says.

3. Red meat should be avoided by those with heart conditions

While evidence shows it’s the plant-based foods that are best for preventing heart disease, it doesn’t mean cutting out meat completely. If you eat red meat, Natoli recommends limiting the amount to 350g per week – which is equivalent to two small steaks. She says it’s best to serve meat alongside plenty of vegetables, whole grains and healthy oils.

4. Egg whites are better for you than whole eggs

Egg whites are cholesterol-free, sugar-free and are an excellent source of protein, but according to Natoli, “most of the egg’s nutrients and nearly half of its protein is found in the yolk.” Which means it’s probably a better idea to eat more whole eggs.

As part of the Heart Foundation’s recommendations, the limit of the number of eggs people can eat as part of a heart-healthy diet has also been lifted and those with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes can now enjoy as many as seven eggs a week without risking their heart health.

5. Coconut oil is a healthy alternative to other cooking oils

“Coconut oil contains more than 90 per cent saturated fat and therefore is not recommended for heart health,” Natoli explains.

She says olive oil is a better choice for people concerned about heart health thanks to its array of vitamins and high levels of antioxidants, particularly extra virgin olive oil which contains even more antioxidants. In fact, studies have found that olive oil may help prevent strokes and protect against heart disease.

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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