Another day, another headline about the superheroes for heart health. Dark chocolate is good for it. A drop of red wine will reduce your risk of heart disease. Omega-3 supplements will prevent heart disease. Coconut oil is healthier for your heart.
But are any of these claims true? We put the questions to the Heart Foundation and the responses were, well a bit disheartening – at least for those of us with a sweet tooth or a taste for a tipple.
Some evidence has suggested that chocolate high in polyphenols can reduce the risk factors for heart disease. Polyphenols are compounds that we get through certain plant-based foods like fruit and vegetables. They are found naturally in fruits, particularly berries, vegetables, especially spinach, broccoli, red onion, nuts and seeds – all of which are encouraged in a heart-healthy eating pattern.
According to the Heart Foundation, not only is most chocolate low in these substances but manufacturers don’t even have to display the polyphenol content on their nutrition information panels.
The Heart Foundation is firm on the question of red wine, insisting it’s not a good source of antioxidants for preventing coronary heart disease (disease in the heart’s main blood vessels) or maintaining cardiovascular health (the health of your heart and blood vessels). Indeed, it warns that alcohol, especially at high levels, can increase the risk of cardiovascular conditions including stroke and blood vessel disease.
“Despite it being the subject of ongoing scientific debate, there is a lack of consistent evidence to confirm that the antioxidants in red wine can either prevent cardiovascular disease, offer a cardioprotective effect, or be beneficial after a heart attack,” it states.
The Heart Foundation also busts the myth that omega-3 supplements reduce the risk of heart disease including heart attacks and strokes, or deaths from cardiovascular disease. It states that a comprehensive research review found that omega-3 supplements, also sold as fish oil supplements, do not benefit heart health.
However, the Heart Foundation says they can be of value in people with high triglyceride levels – often caused when you eat more kilojoules than you burn, and there is also some evidence for considering their use in heart failure.
However, it’s worth noting that fish (as a food, rather than a fish oil supplement) is still considered to be an important part of a heart-healthy diet, and the Heart Foundation recommends eating 2-3 servings of fish (including oily fish) a week. Fish and seafood are rich in protein and a good dietary source of the omega-3 fatty acids.
So, that’s a ‘yes’ to putting fish on your dish for heart health, but don’t bank on supplements as a worthy substitute – in this case they are no match for the food in its whole form.
Coconut oil has enjoyed its place in the sun thanks to its promotion by influencers, but the Heart Foundation is not a fan. It recommends using healthier cooking oils made from plants, nuts and seeds including olive, canola, avocado and sunflower oils.
Evidence supports reducing saturated fats in your diet and replacing them with unsaturated fats to reduce the risk of heart disease. Coconut oil contains 92% saturated fat and even if it is slightly different to that found in animal products, it doesn’t necessarily make it a healthy option.
Separating the facts from the fiction around heart health can be challenging but it’s important at a time when heart disease is one of the biggest killers of women in Australia, just behind dementia.
“When you are looking at information on the internet, check the author or the organistion producing that information,” says Julie Anne Mitchell, the Heart Foundation’s Director of Health Strategy.
“Always go to credible sources like the Heart Foundation or Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. They will be giving you evidence-based information. They are doing the due diligence on fact checking for you as a reader.”
Good heart health is about the choices you make every day. Forget the fads and the trends; instead, focus on getting the all-important basics right.
In our next article, experts from the Heart Foundation take us straight to the facts, explaining what women need to know about heart health and ways they can protect their ticker.