In part one of this series on four things you should know about your heart, we explored 1) how women experience heart disease – and heart attack – different from men and 2) uncovered that our emotional health has a very big effect on our heart.
Today, we examine some foods that had been linked to heart disease, and others previously thought to prevent it. After reading, I’m hoping you can be more curious about how you view your next lipid panel or simply how you view cholesterol.
3) Good news: the foods we thought led to heart disease…they don’t.
Foods are not the problem leading to heart disease. Your genetic makeup, age, and habits (smoking, drinking, and stress) are the driving force behind cholesterol levels. In fact, Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steven Nissen, M.D., says the body creates cholesterol in much larger amounts than what you can eat so avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol won’t affect your blood cholesterol levels very much.
Your body would not survive without cholesterol, but too much can lead to a buildup of plaque in our arteries. As Mark Sisson, author of Primal Blueprint, teaches, “Cholesterol is one of the main building blocks used to make cell membranes. Beyond cholesterol’s role in allowing cells to even exist, it also serves an important role in the synthesis of vitamins and steroid hormones including sex hormones and bile acids.” So, we all need cholesterol to live.
According to Dr. Peter Attia, M.D., most of the cholesterol we eat is not absorbed by our gut and is excreted by our gut. He adds boldly, “Eating cholesterol has very little impact on the cholesterol levels in your body. This is a fact, not my opinion. Anyone who tells you different is, at best, ignorant of this topic. At worst, they are a deliberate charlatan. Years ago, the Canadian Guidelines removed the limitation of dietary cholesterol. The rest of the world, especially the United States, needs to catch up.”
In sum, dietary cholesterol is a necessary lipid in our systems. According to Drs. Mazaffarian, Rimm, and Herrington, among many other purposes, dietary cholesterol is important for maintaining the health of the intestinal wall and preventing leaky gut. In their study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition whose objective was to investigate associations between dietary macronutrients and progression of atherosclerosis among postmenopausal women, they found:
“A 2004 study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard School of Public Health showed that in postmenopausal women, the more PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acids such as from vegetable oil] they ate, and to a much lesser extent the more carbohydrate they ate, the worse their atherosclerosis became over time. The more saturated fat they ate, the less their atherosclerosis progressed; in the highest intake of saturated fat, the atherosclerosis reversed over time.”
4) The foods you thought were good for us…they aren’t.
Are there some foods that we should avoid? Absolutely! What you should worry about in terms of the foods you eat are foods high in trans fats. Trans fats are formed through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes the oil to become solid at room temperature.
Partially hydrogenated oil is less likely to spoil, so food made with it have a longer shelf life. Foods like baked goods, or anything with shortening or vegetable oil, chips, packaged popcorn, fried foods, refrigerator dough and biscuits, creamer, margarine, and frozen pizza to name just a few.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is no longer recognized as “safe” and therefore should be phased out of production over the next few years.
In this series, we have found some really cool new research on the heart. Living in this amazing country, we have access to super smart people who are on the cutting edge in the medical field. I hope you can now think a little different about how you approach your beautiful heart.