Warning...this blog entry is actually a bit educational in nature. It is based on my own research as well as discussions with people I know and trust..namely, my doctor, my friend and ex coach Suzanne Atkinson, M.D., the drive thru guy at Dunkin Donuts and others too numerous to mention. I am not posting this blog as advice to anyone..it is merely my opinion after doing my own research...and unfortuantley the conclusion I come to is not what I wanted.
So after my doctor advised me to become a vegetarian and forgo meat and cheese I started to do a little research regarding what exactly constitutes healthy eating. I especially wanted to know what is "heart healthy" eating. You would think that this would be an easy question to find an answer for..but it isn't.
My doctor had indicated that cutting out saturated fats and cholesterol was the answer to stopping my arteries from becoming as clogged as I-70 on Sunday nights during ski season. This made sense since I had been hearing about low-fat diets for the last 20 years and how a heart healthy diet was one that limited fats in the diet.
However, do a google search for saturated fat and heart disease and the first 50 items will have articles about how saturated fat is not the enemy and there is no proof showing a correlation between saturated fat and heart disease. Some of these articles are from physicians but a good number of the articles are by authors pushing a Paleo diet agenda..crossfit..or some similar diet or philosophy. In fact, many of these authors have no issue with eating as much cheese and bacon as you want. Well I know for a fact that the saturated fat is not your enemy theory is wrong. The mere fact that I want it to be correct automatically makes the theory false. So what is the answer?
Well there are a few things that everyone agrees on. The first is to avoid Trans fats. Trans fats are most likely found in products made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, like
stick margarine, many commercially prepared baked goods, and deep-fried
foods. Trans fats elevate harmful LDL cholesterol, depress beneficial
HDL, and increase inflammation. So..Trans fats should be avoided..good bye fried foods.
The second thing is to lose weight if you are carrying anything over and above what you should be. A healthy BMI (Body Mass Index) is 18.5 to 24.9. Overweight is 25 to 29.9 and Obese is anything over 30. At my current weight and height 6'1" 235 my BMI is 31. Yes the Obese category..however the calculation does not take into account the extraordinary amount of muscle I carry as well the weight of my thick skull. However, I know that to be healthy I need to start getting taller. You can calculate your BMI here..BMI Calculator.
The third thing that most of my research indicates is that the low fat diet should be thrown out. It seems to be agreed that we should take in more polyunsaturated (Foods high in polyunsaturated fat include a number of vegetable oils,
including soybean oil, corn oil and safflower oil, as well as fatty fish
such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout. Other sources include
some nuts and seeds such as walnuts and sunflower seeds) and monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocados and peanut butter). The debate is still whether saturated fats should be minimized or not.
So what about saturated fat. I went through numerous articles, blogs, studies etc..and I found this article to be the most helpful in trying to sort everything out. Fats and Cholesterol - Harvard Health Click on the link and take a read...it is well worth your while. In fact the Harvard Health Publications Website was filled with interesting and very well written and researched articles.
The article actually reviews the new claims that saturated fat is not bad for your heart health and comes with this conclusion.:
...some of the media and blog coverage of these studies would have you
believe that scientists had given a green light to eating bacon, butter,
and cheese. But that’s an oversimplified and erroneous interpretation.
Read the study and subsequent studies more closely, and the message is
more nuanced: Cutting back on saturated fat can be good for health if people replace saturated fat with good fats, especially, polyunsaturated fats. (16,25)
Eating good fats in place of saturated fat lowers the “bad” LDL
cholesterol, and it improves the ratio of total cholesterol to “good”
HDL cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease. Eating good fats in
place of saturated fat can also help prevent insulin resistance, a
precursor to diabetes. (26)
Cutting back on saturated fat will likely have no benefit, however,
if people replace saturated fat with refined carbohydrates—white bread,
white rice, mashed potatoes, sugary drinks, and the like. Eating refined
carbs in place of saturated fat does lower “bad” LDL cholesterol—but it
also lowers the “good” HDL cholesterol and increases triglycerides. The
net effect is as bad for the heart as eating too much saturated fat—and
perhaps even worse for people who have insulin resistance because they
are overweight or inactive.
In short, according to the article saturated is bad and should be cut out of the diet..but it needs to be replaced with good fats or carbs. Replacing it with "bad" carbs might be worse than the saturated fat itself. I was actually amazed that eating simple carbs seem to have just a bad an affect on the heart as saturated fats. I knew that simple carbs were bad for your health..but honestly thought the heart was one thing that was not affected. According to the same article.
One problem with a generic lower fat diet is that it prompts most people
to stop eating fats that are good for the heart along with those that
are bad for it. Another problem is that when people cut back on fat,
they often switch to foods full of easily digested carbohydrates—white
bread, white rice, potatoes, sugary drinks, and the like—or to fat-free
products that replace healthful fats with sugar and refined
carbohydrates. The body digests these carbohydrates very quickly,
causing blood sugar and insulin levels to spike. Over time, eating lots
of “fast carbs” can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes as much
as—or more than—eating too much saturated fat. (16-18) That’s why it’s important to replace foods high in bad fats with foods high in good fats—not with refined carbohydrates.
In my opinion some of the people who are starting to believe that saturated fat is ok for you may be looking at individual cases where people have gone on a paleo type diet where the person is eating more saturated fat but has basically gotten rid of all the "fast carbs" thus showing a possible health benefit as far as cholesterol and heart health are concerned. If the person was to also cut out the saturated fat they may show even better gains in health.
So..what does this mean to me? I will be cutting back on the saturated fats as well as the "fast carbs". Why wouldn't I? Much like Pascal's wager wouldn't it be better to cut out the saturated fats as well as the carbs instead of risking that the saturated fats may be ok? (Yes I put a link in for the uneducated lot of you..lol).
Also..for those of you who still argue that eating bacon and pastrami in large doses is ok...here is another article condemning processed meats. New study links L-carnitien in red meat to heart disease "In the bigger picture, we do have pretty damning evidence about the
harms of eating a particular type of meat. “Processed red meats—bacon,
sausage, salami, deli meats—are associated with much higher risk of
heart disease,” Dr. Mozaffarian says."
Lastly..I can only look to my friend Cliff and his experiment with veganism to show that cutting both the simple carbs and unsaturated fats help with controlling heart disease. He also cut out the "fast carbs". Cliff is much like me..same height..weight..from Wisconsin..although he definitely is not as good looking. Here is his experiment in his own words:
story with personal information that is worth sharing. I have been
doing the reverse of the Morgan Sperlock documentary - "Super Size Me".
I started with a cardiac risk of 8.01 with 3 being high risk. My
triglycerides were over 600 even being on the strongest dose of trilipix
for 3 years. Taking a beta blocker to slow my heart rate to prevent
PVCs while getting exercise mainly from volleyball
once a week and maybe work around the house. My resting heart rate was
83 and my BP was 134/89 (even on a beta blocker). Blood sugar was 20%
high and my cholesterol was not a number that could be calculated. I was
pre diabetic and seriously felt awful.
5 weeks on an almost exclusive vegan diet and here are the results:
Lost 12 pounds without starving - actually ate rather good. Found out
there are a lot of foods I wouldn't try before that I actually like.
Triglycerides are below 100, blood sugar normal, heart rate is at 56 and
BP is at 108/64. Work out 3 times a week and still play volleyball once
a week and my cardiac risk is at 1.9 or average. You say you would
rather die than give up your steak and beer? I say you just might if you
don't. Don't care? Ask your friends and family if they do."
Now I don't think I can ever become a vegan or even a vegetarian but it is becoming more and more clear to me that to be healthy I have to eat more fruits and vegetables..cut out the saturated fats..add in some good fats..get plenty of protein and most importantly cut out all of the quick processed carbs we have become accustomed to...and which I love. Hopefully this post gets some people doing their own research and finding out what works for them. Honestly I wish the best diet was a chili cheese dog on a pretzel bun with tots and a large coke..but apparently that is about the worst thing I could have.