Confusion & Misinformation Around Heart Health, Fats, & Misunderstood Carbs
There’s plenty of information out there to help in supporting your heart health through solid dietary choices. This includes details like what to eat more often, what to eat less frequently, and what to avoid entirely. Unfortunately, not all the information is accurate, with hundreds, if not thousands, of “influencers” giving their opinions each day. With free-flowing medical advice and information, it can be difficult to know what is fact and fiction. Most importantly, it’s essential to understand that a single food group is not inherently bad. There are undoubtedly bad choices within that food group, but there are also decidedly good ones.
Myth 1: All Types of Fat Are Bad
Largely gone are the days of no-fat products overwhelming the shelves – avoiding all fats to promote health and lose weight is unnecessary². Fats are an essential nutrient and part of a healthy, balanced diet. It is always recommended to consult with a medical professional before eliminating an entire food group, like fat, from your diet (there are times when it can be therapeutically useful or when food intolerances are being investigated). Healthy fats include those found in nuts, seeds, oily fish like salmon, and avocados. Another primary fat source in the Mediterranean diet is olive oil. This may have cardioprotective factors³ (contributing to protecting the heart from disease).
Myth 2: Low Cholesterol Is Always Better
Not all types of cholesterol are the same. There are two different types of cholesterol in the body: HDL and LDL¹. The “good” kind is HDL, and a certain level of this cholesterol is necessary for normal body functions. Higher-than-normal “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, can be a problem. Individuals with high LDL levels may be put on cholesterol-lowering medications called statins. While high cholesterol levels can be genetic, other factors like heart health, diet, and physical activity often play the most significant role.
Unfortunately, the umbrella term of “cholesterol” has also been vilified. However, patients must understand that cholesterol in food does not necessarily translate to cholesterol in the blood. To be sure, high-fat dairy products that contain plenty of cholesterol can be problematic. Same with red meat. However, cholesterol consumed by eating lean proteins like shellfish or shrimp, for example, is very good and should not be avoided.
Myth 3: Carbs Have to Go
Carbohydrates or carbs probably have the worst reputation in the diet world. There are even diets that eliminate carbs almost entirely. However, carbs give us the energy we need to get through the day. Like with fats, there are good carbs, known as complex carbohydrates, and bad ones, known as simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Simple carbs include the likes of added sugar, white rice, white bread, and many ingredients in highly processed foods. Switching from simple to complex carbs can reduce sugar spikes and even help lower bad cholesterol. And this change is far easier than eliminating carbs.
A low or no-carb diet like keto may also be problematic for some patients and is hard, if not impossible, to maintain long-term. Once again, we preach moderation here. Don’t take drastic measures to improve your heart health, as they can backfire once the diet becomes unsustainable.
Myth 4: Limiting Intake of ‘Bad’ Foods Is the Only Way to Lose Weight
While limiting calorie-rich foods can be a valuable strategy for weight loss in some cases, this is not the only way to achieve heart health. A well-balanced diet is critical for weight loss and adjusting to other lifestyle factors. The ideal diet for heart health should include a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. And we won’t even stop there because long-term weight maintenance is essential too. When we go on healthy diets to lose weight and improve our lifestyle, we often falter and regain weight, sometimes even more than we had before. Cutting out all “bad” foods is not a recipe for success. Instead, cutting out the worst offenders but moderating many of the foods we still enjoy is a great way to stay motivated without feeling deprived.
Understanding the Science of Food and Heart Health
There is lots of research on supporting heart health through diet. The bottom line is that healthy eating begins with making better food choices, nothing drastic. Consider small steps like learning what foods to look for in the grocery store or trying a heart-healthy recipe for dinner. Any action you take toward heart health is a great start!
- Cholesterol Myths and Facts, cdc.gov. (2022, March 8). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/myths_facts.htm
- Some Myths about Nutrition & Physical Activity. (2022, August 29). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/myths-nutrition-physical-activity
- Yu E, Malik VS, Hu FB. Cardiovascular Disease Prevention by Diet Modification: JACC Health Promotion Series. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2018 Aug 21;72(8):914-926. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2018.02.085. PMID: 30115231; PMCID: PMC6100800.