There is plenty you can do to keep your ticker in tip-top shape – as long as you’ve got your facts straight! Lite n’ Easy Dietitian Ashleigh Jones helps bust some myths about heart health that might be holding you back from living your healthiest life.
Back in the 90s, when low-fat diets were all the rage, eggs had a bad reputation for causing high cholesterol. While eggs do play a role in blood cholesterol, we now know that a healthy diet is about more than one food or one nutrient. We know that the only people who need to limit their egg consumption are those with type 2 diabetes and those who require cholesterol-lowering medication. But eggs still aren’t bad news for those people – just limit your eggs to less than 7 per week and focus on getting plenty of heart-healthy fats. For everyone else, eggs are a great source of protein and other nutrients and a worthy addition to your diet.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you’re in the habit of choosing red wine over other beverages “for your health”, think again. It’s well reported that Australians drink far more alcohol than we should, and it’s having an impact on our hearts as well as our livers. With Australian attitudes to drinking, what we drink is less important than how much we actually drink. The best alcoholic beverage for your heart will be one you can sip slowly and keep your quantity under control. All the antioxidants in red wine won’t make up for the impact it will have on your heart and liver if you polish off the whole bottle (unfortunately).
Heart disease is often thought to be the domain of men. But shockingly, it’s actually the leading cause of death for women. Women have a reputation for being more on top of their health than men, but research shows that they are less likely to attend cardiac rehabilitation. In addition to this, women are also less likely to take their medication regularly and are less likely to make the lifestyle changes necessary for good health. To make things worse, the signs we typically associate with a heart attack – chest pain, shortness of breath, and nausea – are not always present in women. In fact, only half of women who have a heart attack report chest pain! Because we don’t know what symptoms to look out for, we might delay treatment or not get treatment at all, meaning we have much worse outcomes. So ladies, learn your symptoms – tightness or pain in the back, neck or jaw, a burning sensation in the chest (similar to heartburn), discomfort in the chest, dizziness, vomiting, fatigue, light-headedness, nausea, shortness of breath and sweating is a sign to call 000.
The most consistent finding in all studies relating to heart health is that improving your entire eating pattern has a far bigger impact than altering one nutrient (e.g. cutting out carbs or avoiding dietary cholesterol). We need to focus on the big picture, people! Following a dietary pattern that is rich in vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and healthy fats, while being low in discretionary processed snacks and sugary drinks and alcohol is the best way to look after your heart. Instead of spending your energy trying to avoid certain foods, think about what foods you could add to your diet to promote heart health – think about avocadoes, olive oil, oily fish, nuts, grainy bread, legumes, and a colourful range of fruits and vegetables to tick all those nutritional boxes.