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Nutrition and heart disease

Published March 08. 2013 05:03PM

Like most health matters, food plays an important role in the prevention of heart disease.

During a recent heart disease "Myth busters" session at Blue Mountain Health System, registered dietitian Nancy Matyas reviewed commonly held beliefs about nutrition and heart disease.

The "Myth busters" talk was part of the hospital's Lunch and Learn series. To prove that eating healthy can be fun and tasty, the hospital offered a lunch with heart-healthy foods, including vegetable bean soup; grilled chicken, walnut and strawberry salad on spinach; and a custard and raspberry parfait.

Instead of busting myths, Matyas tested the group's knowledge by having audience members decide whether each "fact" was true or false. Below is a sample of the "facts" Matyas discussed. Do you know which is fact or myth?

Sea salt is better than table salt.

False: "Salt is salt. One is just as good as the other," said Matyas, noting that the only difference between different types of salt is the way that they are made. However, sea salt does not contain iodine, which is important for thyroid function, which might give table salt a slightly healthier status.

Iceberg lettuce is a healthy green.

Partially false: If you count water as an important part of your diet, iceberg lettuce is a great source it contains 95 percent water, but not much else. A better choice is dark leafy greens, which contain more nutrients.

A low-fat diet prevents heart disease.

True: Saturated fats can increase the risk of heart disease. While we do need some fat in our diets (stick with unsaturated fats, which protect the heart), limit the amount of fat you eat each day.

If I exercise, I can eat anything.

False: "Exercising will not erase all of the effects of an unbalanced diet," said Matyas. "It doesn't work that way." She added that a poor diet, filled with lots of fat and sugar, also won't give you the energy you need to exercise regularly.

Nuts and eggs are good for you.

True: A small handful of nuts can make you feel full, and reduces your risk for heart disease. Nuts are also filled with the "healthier" fats that can reduce your risk of heart disease but because they are high in calories, watch the portion size.

Eggs have an unearned bad reputation for heart health, thanks in part to the amount of cholesterol contained in the yolk. Matyas noted that eggs are unlikely to raise your blood cholesterol, and are also high in protein and vitamins.

"Eggs are the best protein you can eat, and very reasonable in price," she said.

Coffee is bad.

False: Coffee is a good source of antioxidants, which are thought to play a role in preventing heart disease. A cup of black coffee contains just 2 calories, but adding sugar and cream can cause that cup of coffee's calorie count to soar. Drink coffee in moderation, she added.

Chocolate is good for your heart.

True: Good news! Cocoa, a main ingredient in chocolate, is also high in antioxidants. Dark chocolate is higher in antioxidants than milk chocolate and is thought to be more healthful for the heart. Because chocolate is also high in calories, consume it in moderation.

Blue Mountain Health System will host a nutrition health fair at its Lehighton campus on Wednesday, March 27 from 10 a.m. to noon at its Lehighton campus. Registered dietitians will be on site to answer questions and offer product tasting and samples.

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