Myth busting – diet and heart health

By Sarah Noone, Maebh Williams and Katie Abrahams Nutrition News   |   18th Oct 2018

Our expert dietitian Sarah Noone and student dietitians Maebh Williams and Katie Abrahams, tackle some of the myths that surround diet and heart health.

We all need to take plant stanols and sterols.

Plant stanols and sterols are substances added to certain foods such as yogurts, soft cheeses, spreads and yogurt drinks to help reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood. If you have high cholesterol there is evidence they can help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol as part of a healthy balanced diet, but you need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely regarding the daily amount required. However, you should seek your doctor’s or registered dietitian’s advice before you start as they can be expensive and are not a replacement for prescribed medication or a healthy balanced diet. Plant sterol or stanol products are not recommended for adults who do not already have high cholesterol and are not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Red wine is good for your heart

We know that alcohol has an effect on heart health. It can increase heart rate and blood pressure and it also contains a lot of calories which contributes to unwanted weight gain and overweight or obesity – risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Alcohol is also associated with an increased risk of cancer. There is no alcoholic drink, such as red wine, that is proven to be better than others. There are much better ways to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke such as eating a healthy balanced diet and exercising regularly. There is certainly no reason to start drinking alcohol if you already don’t. What research shows is that people in Ireland drink more than the recommended maximum safe level of alcohol. If you do want to have a drink, remember to stick to the guidelines.

Eggs are bad for my heart

In the past, it was thought that we needed to limit the number of eggs we ate due to the presence of dietary cholesterol. However, current research shows that for most healthy people, dietary cholesterol in food, such as eggs, has a relatively minimal effect on cholesterol levels, and it is the saturated fat in foods such as butter, fatty meats, cakes, crisps etc. in our diet that increases cholesterol levels. Therefore, the general healthy population can enjoy moderate egg consumption as part of a balanced diet. Individuals, with a diagnosis of genetically high cholesterol however would still be advised to restrict dietary cholesterol intake and should discuss this with their GP or dietitian who knows their medical history. Eggs are a nutritious food, but you still need to need to pay attention to how the eggs are cooked and the ‘trimmings’ that come with them.


The general healthy population can enjoy moderate egg consumption as part of a balanced diet.

Sarah Noone, Dietitian , Irish Heart Foundation

Salt alternatives are better for my heart than table salt

Sea salt, table salt, kosher salt, flavoured salt, fleur de sel, pink Himalayan salt – which is the best? The truth is, they are all basically the same – sodium chloride – and will all have the same effect on our blood pressure as standard table salt. Although less refined salts may contain more nutrients than table salt, these are present in such small amounts that they are insignificant and can be sourced from other foods in your diet. Replacing salt with reduced sodium salts will reduce the amount of sodium you add, but it won’t change your fondness for a salty taste, so why not try to use dried herbs, spices, black pepper, chili or lemon instead to help reduce your salt intake.

Fruit juice is just as good as a piece of fruit

Fruit juice contains vitamins and minerals and can be an easy way to get in another portion of our 5-7 a-day. However, the juicing process releases sugars from the cells of the fruit, turning them into free sugars – the type we all need to cut down on. The problem is when people think they can drink as much as they like – that is when the sugar levels can become an issue. Keep to 150ml (one small glass) of fruit juice a day. Remember you should not drink fruit juice as if it is water. It is also important to watch out for added sugars in fruit juices. Try to choose pure unsweetened versions where you can. If a juice is labelled as a ‘fruit drink’ this means sugar has been added to it.

I Need to Take Omega 3 Supplements

Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of healthy fat important for heart health. However, there is not enough evidence that taking an omega 3 supplements have the same benefits foods rich in omega 3 such as oily fish – salmon, sardines, mackerel and trout. If you don’t eat fish you can get omega 3 in small amounts from nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, beans, milk and green leafy vegetables. Some eggs, milks, yogurts, breads and spreads are now enriched with omega 3 and this can help to increase your omega 3 intake.



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