This is the third and final installment of my series on cholesterol. Previously, I focused on new and improved tests for cholesterol and problems with cholesterol-lowering drugs. In this piece, I’ll focus on dietary fats.
With a mere 5 percent of the population having a genetic predisposition toward heart disease, we know that most heart attacks and strokes are due to diet and lifestyle choices.
Some of the dietary guidelines put out by the U.S. government actually pose a significant threat to our health. They impact public policies and programs from school lunches to government health programs, yet special interest groups often heavily influence the information they provide.
The biggest and most shocking overturn in diet recommendations coming from scientific studies today is that fat is not the evil villain we’ve been led to believe since the 1950s. Yet, you may have noticed that the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition guidelines found in the “My Plate” diagram—which is intended to replace the grossly misleading and outdated “Food Pyramid”—has no fat on it whatsoever.
Adding fat to our diets is worth considering, but we must do it thoughtfully. If we add in fat, which is calorie dense, without removing other calories, we may find that we gain weight because we’re simply consuming too much.
The fats we eat should come from healthy sources like nuts, seeds, avocados and coconuts. There is evidence that fat from these sources can lower blood cholesterol which we currently believe is linked to heart disease.
There are indeed unhealthy fats found in processed foods. Partially hydrogenated oil is in many, if not most, processed foods. It’s an inexpensive ingredient that has many uses like “mouth feel” and a prolonged shelf life. The Food and Drug Administration gave food manufacturers three years to remove PHO from their products, by June 18, 2018. This came after years of pressure from scientific evidence linking PHO to elevated LDL cholesterol, inflammation, stroke and heart disease.
The truth is though, the more we steer clear of processed foods made in factories, the more this becomes a non-issue.
The best way to know what is right for you, and the health of your heart, is to use yourself as the experimenter and the experiment. Have your blood panel done, eat well for three to six months, re-test and see the results. I doubt there is a single person whose health will decline if they switch to a whole-foods diet—whether it’s vegan or paleo—cut out junk foods and drinks, and exercise regularly.
May you live a long, healthy and happy life!