The food you eat can play a major role in your risk of heart disease. Here's what you need to know to avoid popular misconceptions.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
To reduce your chance of heart disease, you should avoid eggs and take an omega-3 supplement. Right?
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. And a potent weapon to keep it at bay is to eat a healthy diet that gives you the vitamins, minerals and energy you need while keeping your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check.
But beware of these popular nutrition myths that could steer you down the wrong path.
The argument: Coconut oil is extremely high in saturated fat — about 50 percent more than butter, even.
But despite that saturated fat is known to raise cholesterol levels, linked with heart disease risk, proponents believe that some saturated fats in coconut oil (called medium-chain triglycerides) are less harmful and may actually raise levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol.
The reality: Coconut oil has been shown to raise cholesterol levels — the good and the bad kinds — more than other plant-based oils like olive or canola. And in truth, medium-chain triglycerides make up only a small amount of the fatty acids in coconut oil.
Plus, while other heart-healthy fats like olive oil, canola oil, or omega-3 fatty acids in nuts and seafood have been supported by a large body of evidence, coconut oil's supposed benefits still haven't been proved in large-scale human research.
The argument: Egg yolks contain lots of cholesterol. So, logically, eating cholesterol leads to high cholesterol. Right?
The reality: Most of the cholesterol in the body is made by the liver, not delivered through diet. And while diet does matter, research has found that cholesterol levels have more to do with the fat you eat, namely saturated and trans fats, than cholesterol.
And eggs contain healthy nutrients, including vitamins A and D, as well as protein. Long-term population studies show that eating an egg a day hasn't been linked to higher rates of heart attack or stroke. But beware the side of bacon and cheese, which can raise your risk.
The argument: Eating fish may lower your risk of dying of heart disease thanks to the unsaturated fatty acids in seafood, which may reduce inflammation and lower levels of blood fats called triglycerides. But if you don't eat fish regularly (or at all), reaching for an omega-3 or fish oil supplement seems like a good shortcut.
The reality: A major review of studies including nearly 80,000 patients found no link between omega-3 supplements and heart disease. The takeaway: While supplements probably aren't harmful, you may be better off getting your omega-3s from your diet, rather than from a bottle.
April 24, 2019
- Heart disease facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. Accessed April 23, 2018.
- The American Heart Association's diet and lifestyle recommendations. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/The-American-Heart-Associations-Diet-and-Lifestyle-Recommendations_UCM_305855_Article.jsp#.Wt4m68gh1Z0. Accessed April 23, 2018.
- Lockyer S, et al. Coconut oil — A nutty idea? Nutrition Bulletin. 2016;41:42.
- Eyres L, et al. Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans. Nutrition Reviews. 2016;74:267.
- Questions and answers on cholesterol and health with NHLBI nutritionist Janet de Jesus, M.S., R.D. NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/2015/questions-and-answers-cholesterol-and-health-nhlbi-nutritionist-janet-de-jesus-ms-rd. Accessed April 23, 2018.
- Mozaffarian D. Dietary fat. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed April 23, 2018.
- Frie KS (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 8, 2018.
- Mohebi-Nejad A, et al. Omega-3 supplements and cardiovascular disease. Tanaffos. 2014;13:6.
- Aung T, et al. Associations of omega-3 fatty acid supplement use with cardiovascular disease risks. JAMA Cardiology. 2018;3:225.