by Laura Krebs-Holm, MS RD LD
February is all about the heart. This time of the year, we see red and pink heart cut outs in almost every store and in ads. It’s that time of year to tell your Valentine how much they mean to you. But that’s not the only heart that matters this month. February is also national heart month.
We all know how we should eat for a healthy heart, right? At times, it can be pretty confusing. It seems like every few months, new research contradicts what we previously thought. We are constantly learning new things about how our body’s cardiovascular system works, what damages it, and what doesn’t. So what do we know? Here are some myths and facts:
- Eggs don’t contribute to cholesterol the way we previously thought. Previously, it was believed that the cholesterol that you find in the egg’s yolk would raise your own blood cholesterol levels. But new research is finding that isn’t always true. Now we believe that having one egg yolk a day is probably fine for most people, even those at risk for heart disease. Egg whites don’t have the cholesterol found in egg yolks, so it is fine to eat more of those.
- Many people think that you should swear off caffeine to improve your heart health. That is because caffeine acts as a vasoconstrictor, meaning it causes blood vessels contract and become narrower. But researchers now believe that having one or two servings of a caffeinated beverage is fine and won’t adversely impact your health. Additionally, some of the natural compounds found in coffee and tea carry other properties, like antioxidants, that are beneficial for your health.
- Beware of a fat-free diet! Not all fat is bad fat. We now know that the fats found plants like in nuts, olives, and avocados are healthy for us. That’s because these oils are unsaturated, and won’t contribute to plaques in our arteries. In some foods, like salmon and flax, the fats also have omega 3 fatty acids, which also contribute to heart health. We actually need fat in our diet to help our body absorb certain nutrients and to help it function properly!
- You should watch your salt and sugar. Sodium does increase our blood pressure, and can contribute to hypertension, which is chronically high blood pressure. We also now know that people who eat a lot of added sugars, like those found in baked goods, candies, sodas and processed foods, are more at risk for heart disease.
- Whole grains are awesome! Grains like brown rice, barley, quinoa, and whole wheat pastas and breads have a lot of fiber. And fiber works sort of like a Roomba; it goes throughout the body and collects the bad cholesterol, LDL, and shuttles it out of your body!
- Mediterranean diet is a good bet. More studies have come out recently that show the a diet that is high if fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and lean proteins and healthy fats like olive oil are probably one of the healthiest “diets” or ways of eating!
So this February, give your loved one a gift they’re sure to appreciate- taking care of their heart and your own!
Adrien Paczosa is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian practicing in Austin, Texas and the surrounding counties.
She is the owner and founder of I Live Well Nutrition her Dietitian practice which started in 2007 and serves clients in the Austin, Texas area in two locations. Fearless Practitioners, the division of her business that offers training to dietitians and wellness professionals.