Food Is Not Your Enemy


The Real Cause of Heart Disease

For years, dietary cholesterol was thought to raise our risk of cardiovascular disease. We were told to limit such high-cholesterol foods as red meat, butter, eggs, and shrimp because there was an assumption that the cholesterol in these foods would increase our blood serum cholesterol levels—and high LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. But in a report released in February 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) of the United States government stated, “Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day. The 2015 DGAC will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum (blood) cholesterol, consistent with the AHA/ACC (American Heart Association / American College of Cardiology) report. Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

Yes, this means what you think it means—you can eat omelets without worry! Shrimp cocktail? Yes, please! It turns out that only 15% of circulating cholesterol in the blood comes from what we eat, according to Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, who was interviewed by CNN.com after the government’s report was published.

The newer theory about what leads to increased risk of heart disease, according to a report from Harvard Medical School, is chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a necessary immune response to infection or trauma, and is a good thing when it occurs in connection to problems like sprained ankles or if we eat a contaminated food and become sick. But stress, lack of exercise, and eating unhealthy foods on a regular basis–foods that contain chemicals, additives, damaging fats, and refined sugar, for instance–can lead to chronic low-level inflammation in our bodies, which results in slowly damaged organs, poor functioning of our organ systems, rapid aging, and heart disease. Inflamed arteries cause cholesterol in the blood to “stick” and gunk up the works, and this can eventually lead to a heart attack.

The key culprits in the American diet that lead to inflammation? Sugar, refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta, and low-quality fats that are too high in omega-6 fatty acids, like soybean, corn, and “vegetable” oil. Choose whole grains rather than white stuff; and get your fats from olive oil, seeds, nuts, fish, and avocados (which are all high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids) rather than from the omega-6 oils that are used often for commercial deep frying and in processed foods.

You’ll be doing your heart a huge favor.

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“Unhealthy” Foods That Are Actually Healthy

Nutritional science changes—often. One day we’re told a food is good for us, the next day we’re told it’s bad. The opposite is true as well—sometimes a food that we’re told to avoid turns out to be quite good for us. Here are four such foods we need to remove from the nutritional “doghouse” based on the latest scientific findings …

Butter. If you grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s like I did, then you likely kept margarine in your fridge rather than butter. Everyone knew that butter was bad for you, and that margarine was better for heart health. Unfortunately, it turns out we were dead wrong.

Margarine is made up of trans fats, and we now know that trans fats are way worse for our hearts than saturated fats. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, your risk for developing heart disease increases by 30 percent if you regularly consume trans fats as opposed to butter (or even lard).

And butter—especially butter from grass-fed cows and raw milk butter—contains many important nutrients, such as vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K, lecithin, and trace minerals. So throw out those tubs of margarine and spreads made from overly processed vegetable oils and use butter!

Eggs. Stop tossing out your yolks. The most recent research finds that the cholesterol in egg yolks raises our levels of good cholesterol, not bad cholesterol. And egg yolks are extremely nourishing—they are one of the few foods that contain a good amount of vitamin D, as well as vitamin A, the beneficial long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA, choline, and many micronutrients. Some people pass on the yolks thinking that eating just the whites will help them lose weight. But an egg only has about 70 calories.

Beef (from pasture-raised cows). While we shouldn’t necessarily gorge ourselves on lots of red meat every day, there is a place for beef in an omnivore’s diet, especially if that meat comes from pastured animals as opposed to those raised on factory farms. There is a ton of protein in beef, and many other nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and magnesium. But grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fat and higher in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and conjugated linoleic acid than grain-fed beef (a.k.a. “regular” beef in your supermarket). Grass-fed cattle are generally pastured on smaller farms where they’re not pumped full of steroids and antibiotics, which is better for our health as well.

Dark chocolate. Studies have shown that dark chocolate containing a high percentage of cocoa (70 percent or more) has many health benefits. Thanks to the flavonoids and antioxidants found in cocoa, chocolate not only has the potential to lower blood pressure, but it also can reduce diabetes risk and improve cardiovascular health. This doesn’t mean that you should feel free to down a king-size bar, however. Even high-quality dark chocolate is full of calories. Savor just a few squares.



Four Tips to Help You Lower Your Cholesterol
February 21, 2010, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Beans, Chronic Disease, Drugs, Eggs, Fruits, Grains, Oils, Vegetables | Tags: , , ,

Cholesterol research is an ever-evolving thing: One day we’re told that eggs are an absolute no-no if we have high cholesterol, and the next we hear that it’s actually okay to eat eggs. Doctors have been prescribing statin drugs like Lipitor left and right for patients with high cholesterol, but then recent research has shown that following a Mediterranean-style diet is just as effective at lowering cholesterol as these drugs. What to do?

Here are four tips to help you reduce your cholesterol without resorting to prescription drugs:

  1. Fiber, fiber, fiber. Fiber helps rid the body of cholesterol, and is crucial for overall good health as well. Beans are a terrific source of fiber, as are fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
  2. Cut out the white stuff. Refined carbohydrates–white breads, white pasta, white rice, white sugar–are wreaking havoc on our health, including our cholesterol. Replace these processed products with whole grains.
  3. Eat antioxidant-rich foods. Berries, dark chocolate, red wine, green tea–all of these are high in antioxidants and will help lower your cholesterol.
  4. Eat as the Cretans do. The model Mediterranean diet is the traditional diet of the island of Crete, a place where, until the recent influx of fast-food chains, heart disease was virtually non-existent. Their diet is rich in fish, olive oil, green vegetables, and whole grains.


Olga’s Vegetable Soup

I want to share this recipe for Olga’s vegetable soup–I’ve been making it for a few months now and it’s a truly great dish. Not only that, but it’s super good for you, packed with leafy greens and other veggies. Don’t fear all the olive oil–it’s part of what makes this soup so hearty and satisfying, and it will help lower your cholesterol!



Eggs: Safe or Scary?
June 11, 2009, 10:31 am
Filed under: Eggs, Food/Health Blogs | Tags: , , ,

Eggs are very high in cholesterol, there’s no question about that. But does that automatically mean they’re bad for you? And what about the salmonella issue? Read my latest column on AOL’s ParentDish to find out whether you should be dropping eggs in your frying pan — or the garbage can.



Deepak Chopra Defends Oprah

While I recently expressed concern on my blog about Oprah recommending that her viewers go get themselves some free KFC grilled chicken, which is marinated in trans-fats and MSG, in general I do believe that Oprah’s heart is in the right place when it comes to health and wellness.

Deepak Chopra writes a nice defense of Ms. Winfrey in the Huffington Post this week, which is worth checking out because he goes into some depth about what’s wrong with our health-care system and the critical role that nutrition plays in preventing illness. I believe so strongly in what he’s saying, and will, as I often do, point to this fact, which I think sums up our problem: studies have shown that following a Mediterranean-style diet reduces cholesterol levels much more effectively than statin drugs (Lipitor and the like), and yet doctors continue to prescribe these drugs rampantly. This is something that has got to change.