There is still so much misconception and mis-education about heart disease treatment and prevention. It seems that we still haven’t let go of the ‘healthy low-fat’ attitude to nutrition, which as I’ll explain below has actually done much more harm than good.
In recent years, research has shown that the real cause of heart disease is inflammation. It is not how much cholesterol is moving through your blood vessels, but rather how much inflammation is occurring in the vessels which causes the cholesterol to stick. Without inflammation, cholesterol would move freely through the body.
Inflammation in the blood vessels is caused by the following:
- High intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates – high blood sugar and insulin levels cause stress on the blood vessels and this is highly associated with the development of heart disease.
- A diet high in omega-6 fats (vegetable oils such as sunflower, corn and soybean oils) – our diets are extremely out of balance in terms of an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, where most of what we consume are vegetables oils. Omega-6 fats promote inflammation, whereas omega-3 fats (from fish oils) are anti-inflammatory.
- Excess body fat, especially stored around the abdomen. Extra abdominal fat itself produces pro-inflammatory chemicals that further increase inflammation.
The long-standing recommendation of a low-fat diet has created epidemics of obesity and diabetes, since we have loaded up on too many carbohydrate foods instead. In many cases, when people adopt a ‘heart-healthy diet’, they are doing more harm than good – almost all foods labelled as low-fat contain far too much sugar, and without some healthy fats in your diet, it is difficult to feel satiated from a meal.
Dietary recommendations still require some common sense though. I’m not saying to go back to a diet high in bacon, fried foods and fatty meats, but rather to include sufficient olive oil in your diet, and not be afraid to include some fats from avocado, coconut oil, nuts and seeds. What you will find, if you focus on reducing sugar and minimizing foods made with grains (especially flour) in your diet, is that your cardiovascular and blood sugar markers both improve.
If you have a family history of heart disease, and would like to discuss prevention, please book an appointment to discuss further as nutritional recommendations have certainly changed in the past ten years to focus on inflammation rather than cholesterol.