Let's face it—the heart health messages out there are confusing! Wine is good for your heart, but you should avoid alcohol. Chocolate can be a part of a heart healthy lifestyle, but make sure you're not eating too much sugar. With all this competing advice, how do you determine what's actually good for you and what's not?
We turned to Dr. Lawrence Kline, a cardiologist at HonorHealth, to clear up the confusion.
Q: How can I keep my heart healthy?
A: If you want to keep your heart healthy, I would recommend that if you do smoke, quit. Don't drink in excess and get serious about your diet and exercise.
Some foods that are great for a heart healthy diet include:
- Vegetables and fruits.
- Whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa.
- Lean proteins such as salmon, skinless poultry and tofu.
- Healthy fats such as nuts, avocado and vegetable oils.
You'll also want to avoid or limit certain foods that may increase your risk for heart disease. These foods include:
- Red meat.
- Egg yolks.
- Whole-fat dairy products.
- Shell fish.
- Highly salted food.
Q: You mentioned I should avoid alcohol and sugar—but what about wine and chocolate? I've always heard those are heart healthy.
A: They are—to a certain extent! Wine and chocolate, specifically red wine and minimally processed dark chocolate, are high in antioxidants, which increases levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol. HDL cholesterol defends your arteries against damage.
It is important to note that red wine and dark chocolate have a protective effect, when enjoyed in moderation. That is one 5-oz glass of wine per day for women and two for men, or 1.5-3 oz of dark chocolate. Consuming more than that recommendation can actually have the opposite effect.
Wine and chocolate are by no means a necessary part of a heart healthy lifestyle. There are plenty of other foods that are high in antioxidants and have a similar protective affect for your heart.
Q: What should I be on the lookout for as far as heart health goes?
A: You should be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack—if you ever experience sudden shortness of breath, nausea or cold sweats, unusual light-headedness, weakness or dizziness, pressure, squeezing or fullness in your chest or anxiety and these symptoms last for two or more minutes, call 911 immediately. These symptoms tend to be more subtle in women than in men. Women may not feel the crushing chest pain that many of us associate with a heart attack.
Many people with heart disease don't have strong symptoms before having a heart attack. The best way to know if you are at risk is to know your numbers including blood pressure, cholesterol, waist circumference and blood sugar.
Q: Where can I go to get these tests?
A: Talk to your primary care doctor—these are all standard tests that can be done in your doctor's office.