By Nutrition Myth Buster Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS
Experts aren’t sure why people are more likely to have a heart attack during the winter than any other time of year. If Valentine’s Day and Heart Health Month are inspiring you to take better care of your ticker, here’s big news.
A 12-month human clinical study involving 577 participants conducted in Malaysia reveals we aren’t doing our hearts any favors by eating a high-carb diet. Researchers looked at different patterns of eating, from high-fat to low-fat, high-carb to low-carb, and measured the effect each way of eating had on the risk for heart disease. Turns out, fat intake didn’t move the risk needle one way or the other. The higher carb diets, on the other hand, were associated with greater cardiovascular ris.
I wasn’t the least surprised by this study’s findings! I’ve been saying for years that fat has been wrongly demonized. If anything, it’s sugar – not fat – that’s causing us to go off the metabolic rails. In this study, low-carb diets performed considerably better than high-carb diets.
The study found that healthy adults who ate higher proportions of carbohydrates (compared with the amount of proteins or fat they consumed) tended to develop several elevated risk factors for cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure and more plaque-promoting small LDL cholesterol particles. Higher proportions of dietary fat intake were not associated with elevating these risk factors.
A hormone called insulin – and a condition called insulin resistance – are at the core of pre-diabetes, and are turning out to be early warning signs for heart disease. And the results of this study showed that insulin measures were considerably better when people ate diets with a lower amount of carbs, and that was true regardless of the amount of fat consumed.
It’s insulin resistance, not cholesterol, that is the root cause of heart disease and, according to other research, probably many other chronic underlying conditions plaguing our world.
The good news is that insulin resistance is treatable, preventable and mostly reversible by diet alone. It’s time we get off the toxic diets that are causing this condition in the first place! It’s time we understand that saturated fat and cholesterol are not the problems. When you remove that outdated thinking, the current dietary guidelines collapse like a house of cards.
What’s good for the heart is good for the brain, and vice versa. I haven’t found one exception to that case. The right diet for the heart looks exactly like the right diet for the brain. And sadly, the diet we SHOULD be eating is exactly the opposite of the diet we’ve been told is heart-healthy.
Easy, no-fail heart-healthy eating changes
Most attempts to eat healthier fail quickly because the changes are too big and unmanageable. Instead of trying to completely overhaul your diet, start by making a few small changes. Here are a few simple suggestions that may have a healthy impact on your heart:
First, remove these items from your kitchen:
- Corn oil and canola oil. These seed oils are filled with omega-6 which is very pro-inflammatory.
- Sugar. Let’s be realistic. I know you’re probably not going to give up your favorite sweets entirely. But be kind to your heart by restricting those goodies to just a few days a month.
- Canned soups, salad dressings and pasta sauces. These are often loaded with hidden sugars and a ton of sodium. Instead of relying on these cooking shortcuts, do an internet search for simple recipes you can make from scratch.
- White flour and white rice. These are heavily processed and raise your blood sugar almost as much as pure sugar. And – don’t shoot the messenger – products made with ‘whole grains” don’t do much better. Whole grains still raise blood sugar, and still contain gluten, so they may not be the solution for everyone.
Then, add these items to your fridge and pantry:
- Palm oil. You can find this online and in specialty markets. Millions of people around the world use it as their everyday cooking oil. Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil is rich in nutrients such as brain- and heart-healthy vitamin E tocotrienols.
- Butter. This was never bad to begin with! It was banished from our tables because of our ill-advised fear of saturated fats. So we replaced it with something much worse!
- Stevia and monk fruit. These are natural sweeteners that have no effect on your blood sugar.”
- Nuts: People who eat more nuts have lower BMIs. Their diets are higher in magnesium, higher in fiber, higher in poly- and monounsaturated fats, all of which can have a profound effect on your health. But nuts are also easy to overeat and contribute to weight gain, so just be careful about the amount you consume.
- Egg yolks: What a relief that you don’t have to suffer through one more tasteless egg white omelet! The advice to eat egg white omelets is way past its expiration date!
- Dark chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa on the label): Chocolate contains cocoa flavanols; beneficial plant-based phytonutrients that support cardiovascular health.
- Grass-fed beef. Grass-fed beef contains anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and less inflammatory omega-6s. It’s also free of hormones, a very big plus indeed. If you follow this suggestion, you’ll never have to worry about how much marbling is in your steak, or if your hamburger is 70/30 instead of 90/10 or 80/20. It won’t matter.
- Dark meat poultry: The USDA data shows that there are mere milligrams of differences in the nutritional content of white and dark meat.
Here’s more advice: Stick with the basics. I’ve always said that the only rule you really need to follow in nutrition is to eat real food, food your great-grandmother would have recognized as food. Eat from what I call the “Jonny Bowden Four Food Groups”: food you could hunt, fish, gather or pluck. Stay away from overly processed and get back to basics.
That doesn’t mean you can never snack. Get organic (non-GMO) popcorn with minimal chemical processing. Get away from that chemical soup called “butter flavoring” and look for a microwave popcorn that contains palm oil, because palm oil doesn’t burn easily so your popcorn will taste better.
This year, you can finally make commitments to a heart-healthy diet that are easy to achieve. These tips will help you take better care of your heart throughout the winter and may become heart-healthy habits you’ll want to follow all year long.
Biography: Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, (aka “The Nutrition Myth Buster”) is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health, and the best-selling author of 15 books on health. Dr. Jonny — a former professional pianist and conductor — earned six certifications in personal training and fitness, has a Master’s degree in psychology, a PhD in holistic nutrition and is board certified by the American College of Nutrition. He has written, contributed to or consulted on hundreds of articles in publications as diverse as the New York Times, People, Us, O the Oprah Magazine, In Style, Vanity Fair Online, People, GQ, Forbes Online, Clean Eating, the Huffington Post and countless others.
He is the best-selling author of 15 books, including “Living Low Carb”, “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth” and his latest, the revised and expanded version of “The Great Cholesterol Myth” (2020).