Almost everyone knows that fat is bad for you. For many years we have been trained and taught by the media, health professionals and even our friends and family that one of the most important things we can do stay healthy and disease free is avoid saturated and trans fats. As we get older, often the first warning sign of cardiovascular disease that is discovered by our family doctors is elevated cholesterol. For a moment, let us imagine that fat was not the horrible enemy that we all are led to believe. How would this affect the way we approach our health and our diet?
The fact is that cholesterol is NOT the ultimate enemy that we have been led to believe is so detrimental to our cardiovascular health. Let us consider the fact that the French population eats more fat then any western (including Canada and the United States) country but their incidence of heart-related death is less than half of that in America. This would seem to suggest that dietary fat is not the main cause of heart disease. The question becomes what is it about the standard American diet (S.A.D. diet) that promotes heart disease? Experts now are starting to see that it is not the fat or cholesterol intake that is the main cause of heart disease but rather a diet that is high in refined sugar and low in antioxidant rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Even though the French people consume more fat then Americans they also have a diet rich in fresh foods and low is refined sugars and carbohydrates. Cholesterol in itself is not harmful to our cardiovascular system. On the contrary, it is essential to our natural production of hormones and vitamin D. It becomes harmful only once it becomes deposited and oxidized in blood vessel walls. A diet high in antioxidants from fruits and veggies prevents this key transformation.
Knowing this fact, we can often do much more to promote cardiovascular health by focusing on keeping our diet high in antioxidants and avoiding the damaging effects of high blood sugar by skipping those sweet snacks. In fact the real heart health enemy is not fat but rather sugar. Ironically, the foods often highest in sugar are those labeled “low fat” in our supermarkets. A high sugar intake has a well established connection to obesity and diabetes which in turn have a harmful effect on your cardiovascular system. A number of recent papers have solidified the deleterious effects of sugar in promoting diabetes, obesity and ultimately cardiovascular disease. In 2010, Jakobsen and colleagues showed that replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates further increased the risk of heart attacks (1). One of the biggest and most damaging threats to multiple body systems is high fructose corn syrup. Recent research is showing that it has a broad range of negative effects by promoting uric acid production, fatty liver, insulin resistance and ultimately diabetes (2).
Unfortunately, fats get an overall bad reputation. There is no doubt trans and saturated fats have an negative effect on multiple body systems including the brain and heart. However, many good fats with wide ranging health benefits are over looked. Olive oil, fish oil and nuts and seeds all contain extremely health omega 3 fats that are anti-inflammatory and cardio-protective. This month, do your heart a favour and avoid sugar and refined carbs, increase you fresh fruits and vegetable intake and give fat a break, it has been wrongly accused for quite some time.
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- Jakobsen MU, Dethlefsen C, Joensen AM, et al. Intake of carbohydrates compared with intake of saturated fatty acids and risk of myocardial infarction: importance of the glycemic index. Am J Clin Nutr 2010; 91:
- Johnson et al. Fructose as a Cause of Type 2 Diabetes. Endocrine Reviews, February 2009, 30(1):96–116
Dr. Paul Hrkal is a board certified Naturopathic physician and is an active member of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors. He graduated from McMaster University with a degree in Kinesiology and then went on to complete his medical studies at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto. Dr Hrkal is an expert in nutrition and supplemental therapies and has additional training and certification in intravenous and injection therapy and functional medicine. He has a special interest in the application of research based nutritional and supplemental medicine in providing high quality, patient centred care. He also is strong advocate of integrative medical education and lectures regularly to both healthcare practitioners and public audiences. He currently is a medical advisor for Advanced Orthomolecular Research and maintains a part time clinical practice at an Integrative health clinic in the Toronto area.