5 heart health myths exposed

Ann Caldwell, a nutritionist and registered dietitian at AAMC, breaks down five common heart health misconceptions.

Myth #1 Eggs and other foods high in cholesterol are unhealthy and to be avoided.

The cholesterol in foods actually has little effect on most people’s cholesterol levels. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recent finding is that cholesterol in the diet need no longer be considered a “nutrient of concern.” The bigger concern continues to be too many servings of foods high in saturated fats and trans fats, such as fatty meats, whole milk dairy products, fried foods, and butter. Try focusing instead on less processed foods and a more plant-based diet.

Myth #2 If I had high blood pressure, I would know.

High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because you don’t usually know you have it. You may never experience symptoms, so don’t wait for your body to alert you there is a problem. The way to know if you have high blood pressure is to check your numbers with a simple blood pressure test. Early treatment of high blood pressure is critical because, if left untreated, it can cause heart attack, stroke, kidney damage and other serious health problems.

Myth #3 If I don’t have an hour to do cardio, it is not worth it.

Sedentary lifestyle is a major risk for heart disease. Compared with people who exercise regularly, inactive people have nearly twice the risk of heart disease. After checking with your physician, set yourself a weekly exercise goal and start gradually. Do not wait to find time—be proactive by setting aside time for daily exercise.  Being more active isn’t just about heart health; exercise improves our sleep, emotional health, reduces stress, and improves agility and balance.

Myth #4 Drink wine, eat dark chocolate and live forever.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had to eat chocolate and drink wine to stay healthy? Unfortunately, this is not the case. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there is not conclusive evidence that either of these indulgences have any health benefits. Although a few small studies have pointed to some benefit, the fat, sugar and alcohol outweigh the benefit.

Myth #5 I am too young to worry about heart disease.

How you live now affects your risk for cardiovascular disease later in life. As early as childhood and adolescence, plaque can start accumulating in the arteries and later lead to clogged arteries. One in three Americans has cardiovascular disease, but not all of them are senior citizens. Even young and middle-aged people can develop heart problems, especially now that obesity, type 2 diabetes and other risk factors are becoming more common at a younger age.

 Ann Caldwell is a nutritionist and registered dietitian at Anne Arundel Medical Center.
Originally published Feb. 27, 2015. Last updated March 25, 2019.

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