Foods for Heart Health: Facts and Myths

Foods for Heart Health: Facts and Myths

Healthline |
29 March 2017

Many of us have heard that oats lower cholesterol and that chocolate can be good for your heart. But are these statements completely true, partly true, or just urban-food-legends? Learn the truth about the foods that can help or hurt your heart’s health, and foods that can raise or lower your cholesterol levels. 

Having a healthy heart comes from a combination of factors, including your cholesterol levels. Cholesterol travels through the body and helps make the hormones and other substances that assist in food digestion. But there are two kinds of cholesterol, HDL and LDL. HDL is commonly referred to as “good cholesterol,” while LDL is considered to be “bad cholesterol.” Your heart will thank you if you take steps to lower your levels of LDL. Get a head start by making sure that you have accurate information about the foods that are beneficial or harmful to your heart and your cholesterol levels.

In a number of studies on the short-term effects of oats, LDL cholesterol levels were found to decrease in people who enjoyed oat cereal every day, instead of refined grains. Researchers hypothesize that these health benefits come from one key ingredient in oats: Beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber. If you’d like to get enough beta-glucan to potentially improve your LDL levels, you’ll need to eat approximately 1.5 cups of cooked oatmeal or 3 cups of instant oatmeal each day.

Although nuts undoubtedly have high fat content, their creamy, crunchy goodness has the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease. This is because nuts have been found to reduce LDL, which is associated with heart disease. But, the phrase “everything in moderation” is a good one to follow when it comes to nuts. A handful a day will be enough to give you all the heart benefits without any of the unwanted pounds.

Olive Oil
Just like different kinds of cholesterol, there are different kinds of fats. Some of these fats are more helpful in reducing the risk of heart disease than others. Both monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat are important for heart health. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat which has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol levels. So adding olive oil to your diet may help to reduce your LDL cholesterol as well as increase your HDL or good cholesterol.

It seems like every few months people start questioning the health benefits or risks of eating eggs. According to studies noted in the Washington Post, the cholesterol in foods actually has little effect on most people's cholesterol levels. Even when food does affect your cholesterol levels, often levels of both the good and the bad cholesterol rise, which offsets the health risks. Eggs – like nuts – are high in fat, so should only be eaten in moderation. Don’t worry – you can still enjoy them occasionally.

Wouldn't it be great if we could say that we have to eat chocolate in order to keep our hearts healthy? Unfortunately, that's not exactly the case. Dr. Steven Nissen, who is chairperson of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, reports that there isn’t enough evidence to indicate that chocolate is good for the heart. Although a few small studies and experiments have suggested that dark chocolate could have some minor benefits, these positive effects are likely outweighed by the high fat and sugar content in chocolate.

HealthAhead Hint: Stick to the Basics of Good Nutrition
There is no quick-fix food that can guarantee you good heart health. While items like oats and nuts may help, the best way to achieve good nutrition is still to eat a well-rounded diet with lots of fruits and veggies. Do your best to stay away from junkie foods, like chips and cookies, which are loaded with fat, sugar, and sodium. By being mindful of the food you eat, you can work toward keeping your heart strong and your cholesterol levels in check.