Don’t Fall for These 7 Myths on Heart Health

By: Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist

February is National Heart Month and a perfect time to clear up the most common myths about your ticker!  Approximately  600,000 people die of heart disease in the US each year, and 720,000 will have a heart attack.  Annual costs for heart disease exceed $108 billion.  Wondering what you can do to keep your heart healthy?

Here’s the truth on the top 7 myths about heart health.


  1. Heart attacks are only something for men to worry about.
    Fact: Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States and the same number of men and women die each year from this disease.
  2. Saturated fat is bad for your heart.
    Fact: Coconut oil fans, rejoice (if you’re not a fan yet, here are 8 reasons to love it!).  Data on dietary fat intake and heart disease risk is continually evolving.  While the jury is still out as to whether all foods with saturated fat – everything from coconut oil to dairy fats to super fatty steaks – are a big NO when it comes to loving your heart, experts absolutely agree that Trans fat is out.  Trans fat is like barbed wire to your arteries, promoting what may be most harmful of all — inflammation and reduced elasticity.   While certain healthy-fat foods may have a new outlook, the numbers haven’t changed.  Total fat should make up about a third of your daily calories and saturated fat about 7%.
  1. Sugar intake raises your risk of diabetes, not heart disease.
    Fact: Did you know that having diabetes or elevated blood sugars (hyperglycemia) increases your risk of heart disease?  In fact, those with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have a heart disease or a stroke compared to those without diabetes.Those with diabetes often have other risk factors related to heart disease like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, obesity, sedentary lifestyle or smoking.  Triglycerides are a type of fat in your blood, in the realm of “bad” fats like LDL cholesterol.  Having high triglycerides, just like high cholesterol, raises your risk of heart disease. Wonder where the excess calories, especially from sugar, refined carbohydrates or alcohol goes?Yup, your body converts this extra energy you don’t burn into triglycerides to store this energy.  However if you don’t access and use it, they stay stored and accumulate into high triglycerides. The best way to lower your triglycerides is to cut down on sugars, refined carbs and choose whole grains and more veggies instead and to limit alcohol intake. To learn more about sugar and diabetes, read this article.
  2. Heart disease kills more African-Americans than Whites.
    Fact: In fact heart disease is the leading cause of death for most ethnicities in the United States including African-Americans and Caucasians.
  1. Symptoms of heart disease are hard to miss.
    Fact: Heart disease is often called the “silent killer” because symptoms are often absent.  About two-thirds of women who die suddenly of heart disease have had no previous symptoms.
  1. Exercise can be risky for your heart.
    Fact: It was once thought that after heart surgery patients shouldn’t exercise.  Boy, have things changed with cardiac rehab programs emphasizing safe exercise as the new norm.  You’ll need to re-condition and work closely with an expert but sitting and resting is about the worst thing to do.
  1. Avoid taking prescription meds at all costs and go a “natural” route instead.
    FactActually one out of every 10 Americans skips taking their prescription medication, not because they believe lifestyle change is better, but because of cost.  Addressing affordable health care is an important topic for all of us, in part because poverty and food insecurity increases risk for many illnesses.  But when your doctor prescribes a medication for your heart, it’s important to have an open conversation to determine if it’s safe or not to delay taking and opt for proper diet and exercise instead.  Think safety first.  Many heart medications are life saving.

 We can all protect our hearts with regular screening and these key behaviors: 

  • Have your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels checked regularly
  • Know the warning signs of chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, upper body pain in the arms, neck, back, jaw or upper stomach, nausea, lightheaded or cold sweats and get help immediately
  • Eat a healthy, plant-based diet
  • Be physically active
  • Don’t smoke cigarettes
  • Avoid excessive alcohol use
  • Take prescribed medications
  • Keep your diabetes in tight control
  • Lose weight with healthy diet and exercise if overweight

Looking for some heart healthy drinks and meals?

Here’s to Your Heart Smoothie

Heartbeet Juice

Cold-Busting Oats

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Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist

Stacy is a Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and an Integrative Nutritionist. She consults for various companies, focusing on health, wellness and innovative strategies to help increase individual’s fruit and vegetable intake. Stacy is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Health Fitness Specialist; she holds a BS degree in Dietetics from Indiana University, completed her dietetic internship at Massachusetts General Hospital, and earned a Masters in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Senior Clinical Nutritionist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School teaching affiliates, in Boston, MA, with more than 20 years of experience. Stacy created and now serves as project manager and lead writer for nutrition services content on the Dana Farber website and the affiliated, nationally recognized nutrition app. Stacy is regularly featured on TV, radio, print and social media on behalf of Dana Farber and other organizations. Together with her husband, Dr. Russell Kennedy PsyD, they have a private practice, Wellness Guides, LLC. Stacy is an adjunct professor in Wellness and Health Coaching at William James College, currently teaching a graduate course in Health Coaching. Stacy is featured in the award winning documentary films, “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” and “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2,” and serves on the Reboot with Joe Medical Advisory Board. Stacy lives in Wellesley with her husband, two sons and three dogs. She enjoys cooking, yoga, hiking and spending time with friends and family. Stacy is also one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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