Heart health nutrition myths and mysteries

May 8,2013
By Sara Thomas, registered dietitian

Q. Is dark chocolate really good for your heart?

A. Yes, but moderation is key. The benefits of dark chocolate include reduced risk for heart disease,lower blood pressure, higher healthy HDL cholesterol, less LDL oxidation damage and lower levels ofinflammation. While these are all wonderful for your health, be sure you’re not going overboard. It’simportant to balance all of the health benefits from chocolate with a healthy daily caloric intake.Look for dark chocolate that is 50 percent or more cocoa and loaded with flavanols, the natural plant chemicals that provide part of the heart benefit. Research has found that 30 to 120 mg of flavanols each day can be beneficial. Both Lindt* and Dove* are examples of brands offering dark chocolates that test high in flavanols.

* Brand names are mentioned for educational purposes and do not imply endorsement.

Q. I’ve recently been prescribed Coumadin and heard that eating leafy green vegetables will impact the medication. Do I need to stop eating these types of foods?

A. Avoiding leafy greens may be easier for those taking Coumadin, but avoiding all vitamin Kfoods is never the answer. Vitamin K is important for healthy bones and arteries. And leafygreens also contain a host of nutrients for the eyes, skin, heart and other parts of your body.Coumadin works best when you keep your intake of vitamin K fairly constant from day to day.Keep in mind that the vitamin K levels in a half cup of cooked leafy greens like spinach or kale isaround 550 percent the daily value so small changes can cause big problems. Eating more leafygreens than usual can make your Coumadin too weak to do its job of clot prevention. Or if youeat leafy greens every day but then stop, missing the vitamin K can make your usual Coumadindose too strong, which makes bleeding more likely.

If you do make significant changes in your vitamin K intake, get monitored more often to find anew dose of Coumadin that will rebalance the clotting system.Looking for an alternative to spinach? The following options have vitamin K equal to a half cupof cooked spinach:

1 1/2 cups raw spinach
2/3 cup cooked beet greens
1/2 cup cooked collard greens
3/4 cup cooked dandelion greens
1/2 cup cooked kale from fresh
1/3 cup kale, frozen then cooked
4 1/2 cups raw green leaf lettuce
7 1/2 cups raw romaine lettuce

Q. Do I have to eat fish to get all of the benefits of omega-3 or can I get what I need from fish oil supplements?

A. Getting your omega-3 from fish rather than pills has many advantages. In just 3 ounces of salmon you not only get the omega-3 fats of three fish oil pills but also much more. For example, a 3-ounce portion of salmon also provides almost a day’s worth of vitamin D plus antioxidants, B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and selenium. And while heart disease risk can drop 20 percent with fish oil pills, it can drop up to 50 percent by eating 4 to 8 ounces of fish each week. Bottom line? Get your omega-3 fats one way or the other but eat fish when you can!