Cardiovascular Mythbusters: Getting to the ‘Heart’ of the Matter

heart(MSCC) Kathryn Matthews, February 16, 2016 — We honored the emotional state of the heart over Valentine’s Day, celebrating love, romance and special relationships with chocolate, a good bottle of wine and an indulgent meal.  But it’s also important to be mindful of the physical state of our heart.

After all… the heart is a powerful, muscular organ vital to our existence.  Did you know that our heart beats:


  • 72 times a minute?
  • 100,000 times a day?
  • 3.6 million times a year?

…that our heart creates enough energy to drive a truck 20 miles every day?!

Our heart does so much for us; yet, heart disease is the #1 killer of Americans. It’s never too early to nourish your heart.

Debunking 5 Heart Health Myths

Myth #1:  Heart disease is a “man’s disease”.

Actually, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men (1 in every 4 male deaths) and women (1 in 3 female deaths) in the U.S.  While 70 to 89% of sudden cardiac events occur in men, 90% of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease. For perspective: while 1 in 31 women die of breast cancer, 1 in 3 women die of heart disease.

Myth #2:  Your total cholesterol and LDL are the best predictors of heart disease.

Nope.  It’s your triglycerides, the main form of fat found in your bloodstream.  High trigylcerides are an independent risk factor for heart attack and stroke. The “normal” range for triglycerides is <130.

Also: divide your triglycerides by your HDL to get the Triglycerides/HDL ratio.  According to research published in Circulation and the Journal of the American Heart Association, this ratio is a powerful predictor of heart disease.  Less than 2 is ideal; 4 or more is too high.

Myth #3:  “Vegetable” oils, like canola, corn and safflower are “heart healthy”; traditional saturated fats, like butter, lard and tallow, are “bad for you”.

I know…“vegetable oil” sounds healthy, doesn’t it?  However, the oils mentioned above, along with soy, cottonseed and sunflower, are high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (a.k.a., PUFA), making them unstable. When PUFA oils are stored at room temperature—eg, at the grocery store—they become rancid to some degree. When heated, PUFA oils oxidize, causing inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease. PUFA oils are also processed with high heat and harsh chemicals, like hexane, a carcinogen.

On the other hand, traditional saturated fats from quality (ideally, grass-fed) sources, like butter, lard and tallow, are solid at room temperature and stable when used for high-heat cooking.  They do not oxidize like vegetable oils.

Myth #4:  If you don’t want to get fat or get heart disease, avoid fat, especially saturated fat in foods, like eggs, red meat and butter.

Not true.  Sugar in all of its tasty reincarnations—from soda and candy, to bread, breakfast cereals and brownies—is the real culprit, contributing to inflammation and oxidative damage, increasing risk of heart disease.

According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine (2014), researchers found that, over 15 years, participants who consumed 25% or more of their daily calories as sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets included 10% or less added sugar.  As sugar became a higher percentage of the diet, the risk of dying from heart disease increased significantly—regardless of a person’s age, sex, physical activity and body-mass index.

On the other hand, including saturated fat from quality sources (eg, organic, grass-fed meats, organic eggs or butter from grass-fed cows) in your diet can have protective health benefits.

Nina Teicholz, who spent a decade researching the effects of dietary fats on health, especially saturated fat, for her book The Big Fat Surprise writes: “There has never been solid evidence for the idea that saturated fats cause disease.”  This half-century bias against saturated fat, she says, was perpetuated by “a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.”

In fact, for women, who contract heart disease in a way that is different than men, growing evidence shows that eating a diet low in saturated fat increases their risk of having a heart attack because their “good” HDL cholesterol drops dramatically, says Teicholz.

Myth #5:  Frequent, high-mileage cardio is good for heart health.

While regular aerobic exercise is a good thing, excessive cardio is not.  In fact, endurance athletes, like marathoners, are at increased risk for scar tissue formation in the heart and myocardial injury to the heart, as well as high levels of inflammation (brought on by training), that may trigger cardiac events.

In a study of competitive endurance veteran athletes (a group of men, aged 50+, all of whom had completed at least 100 marathons), researchers found that half of these longtime athletes—particularly the men who had trained the longest and hardest—showed some heart muscle scarring.

For most of us, a focused 45-minute workout should suffice.  Better yet, every 7 to 10 days, engage in High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), short bursts of high-intensity exercise that give you more benefits in less time (eg, 20 minutes).

Be proactive re: your heart health

The good news?  Most of the strongest risk factors for heart disease are modifiable (or preventable) by changes in diet and lifestyle.

1.  Start by scheduling a 30-minute “Healthy Heart” Breakthrough Session with me, where we’ll discuss your vision for your health, challenges and next steps to take. As a member, your special MSCC rate is $57 (Value: $97).  Contact me at 646-470-1797 or

2.  Do you suspect that you have food allergies or food sensitivities?  Continually eating foods to which you are allergic or sensitive can cause inflammation at the cellular level, which, over time, can lead to chronic conditions, including obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. If you live or work in New York City, I offer a food allergy / sensitivity blood test, typically covered by insurance (we check first and let you know). Contact me at 646-470-1797 or to schedule an appointment.

Kathryn Matthews is a Manhattan-based Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach.  Through food and lifestyle practices, Kathryn shows men and women over 40 how to reduce their stress hormones so they lose weight naturally—without feeling deprived.  In addition to her private practice, she is also an active Corporate Wellness Presenter, giving Lunch & Learn presentations at companies to help employees make healthy food and lifestyle choices that increase their energy, focus and productivity.  She also writes frequently about health and wellness at and

Kathryn Matthews, P.O. Box 6265, New York, NY  10022, t: 646-470-1797,