“Fat Is Your Friend” Pt. 2: Cholesterol and Heart Disease

This is Post 2 in our “Fat is Your Friend” series. 

This post contains valuable information and may turn everything you once thought you knew about diet on its head. If you think you know about cholesterol, read this. If you know nothing, read this. If you have been educated about it by schooling or your Dr. or any vegan, vegetarian, or low-fat book on nutrition, read this!!! This is long, but well worth it… trust me.

First, a history on cholesterol:

The theory– called the lipid hypothesis– that there is a direct relationship between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and the incidence of coronary heart disease was proposed by a researcher named Ancel Keys in the 1950’s. Numerous subsequent researchers have pointed out the flaws in his data and conclusions, but the experts assure us that the lipid hypothesis is backed by scientific proof. Most people would be surprised to learn that there is, in fact, very little evidence to support the contention that a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat actually reduces death from heart disease or in any way increases one’s life span. Consider the following:

  • Before 1920 coronary heart disease was rare in America; so rare that when a young internist named Paul Dudley White introduced the German electrocardiograph to his colleagues at Harvard University, they advised him to concentrate on a more profitable branch of medicine. The new machine revealed the presence of arterial blockages, thus permitting early diagnosis of coronary heart disease. But in those days clogged arteries were a medical rarity, and White had to search for patients who could benefit from his new technology. During the next 40 years, however, the incidence of coronary heart disease rose dramatically, so much so that by the mid-1950’s heart disease was the leading cause of death among Americans. Today, heart disease causes at least 40% of all US deaths. If, as we have been told, heart disease is cause by consumption of saturated fats, one would expect to find a corresponding increase in animal fat in the American diet. Actually, the reverse is true. During the 60 year period from 1910 to 1970 the proportion of tradition animal fat in the American diet declined from 83% to 62%, and butter consumption plummeted from 18 pounds per year to 4. During the past 80 years, dietary cholesterol intake has increased only 1%. During the same period the percentage of dietary vegetable oils in the form of margarine, shortening and refined oils increased about 400% while the consumption of sugar and processed foods increased about 60%.
  • The Framingham Heart Study is often cited as proof of the lipid hypothesis. This study began in 1948 and involved about 6,000 people from the town of Framingham, Mass. Two groups were compared at 5-year intervals– those who consumed little cholesterol and saturated fat and those who consumed large amounts. After 40 years, the director of this study had to admit: “In Framingham, Mass., the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower the person’s serum cholesterol… we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.” The study did show that those who weighed more and had abnormally high blood cholesterol levels were slightly more at risk for future heart disease, but weight gain and cholesterol levels had an inverse correlation with fat and cholesterol intake in the diet.
  • In a multi-year British study involving several thousand men, half were asked to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol in their diets, to stop smoking and to increase consumption of unsaturated oils such as margarine and vegetable oils. After 1 year, those on the “good” diet had 100% more deaths than those on the “bad” diet, in spite of the fact that those on the “bad” diet continued to smoke!!! But in describing the study, the author ignored these results in favor of a politically correct conclusion: “The implication for public health policy in the UK is that a preventive programme such as we evaluated in this trial is probably effective…”
  • While it is true that researchers have induced heart disease in some animals by giving them extremely large doses of oxidized or rancid cholesterol — amounts 10 times that found in the ordinary human diet– several population studies squarely contradict the cholesterol-heart disease connection. A survey of 1700 patients with hardening of the arteries, conducted by the famous heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, found no relationship between the level of cholesterol in the blood and the incidence of atherosclerosis. A survey of South Carolina adults found no correlation of blood cholesterol levels with “bad” dietary habits, such as use of red meat, animal fat, fried foods, butter, eggs, whole milk, bacon, sausage and cheese.
  • Mother’s milk provides a higher proportion of cholesterol than almost any other food. It also contains over 50% of its calories as fat, much of it saturated fat. Both cholesterol and saturated fat are essential for growth in babies and children, especially the development of the brain. Yet, the American Heart Association has recommended a low-cholesterol, low fat diet for children!

Numerous surveys of traditional populations show that the lipid-hypothesis is just NOT TRUE. Of course, none of these studies are mentioned by those urging restriction of saturated fats:

  • A study comparing Jews when they lived in Yemen, whose diets contained fats solely of animal origin, to Yemenite Jews living in Israel, whose diets contained margarine and vegetable oils, revealed little heart disease or diabetes in the former group but high levels of both diseases in the latter. (The study also noted that the Yemenite Jews consumed no sugar but those in Israel consumed sugar in amounts equaling 25-30% of total carbohydrate intake.)
  • People in northern India consume 17 times more animal fat but have an incidence of coronary heart disease 7 times lower than people in southern India.
  • The Masai and kindred African tribes subsist largely on milk, blood and beef. They are free from heart disease and have low cholesterol levels.
  • Eskimos eat liberally of animal fats from fish and marine animals. On their native diet they are free of disease and exceptionally hardy.
  • An extensive study of diet and disease patterns in China found that the region in which the populace consumes large amounts of whole milk had half the rate of heart disease as several districts in which only small amounts of animal products are consumed.
  • Several Mediterranean societies have low rates of heart disease even though fat– including highly saturated fat from lamb, sausage and goat cheese– comprise up to 70% of their caloric intake. (Why isn’t anyone on THIS Mediterranean diet?)
  • In Okinawa, where the average lifespan for women is 84 years– longer than in Japan– the inhabitants eat generous amounts of pork and seafood and do all their cooking in lard.
  • The good health of the Japanese, who have the longest life span of any nation in the world, is generally attributed to a low fat diet. Although the Japanese eat few dairy fats, the notion that their diet is low in fat is a myth; rather, it contains moderate amounts of animal fats from eggs, pork, chicken, beef, seafood and organ meats. With their fondness for shellfish and fish broth, eaten on a daily basis, the Japanese probably consume more cholesterol than most Americans. What they do NOT consume a lot of is vegetable oil, white flour or processed food (although they do eat white rice). Also, those who point to the Japanese statistics to promote the low fat diet, fail to mention that the Swiss live almost as long on one of the fattiest diets in the world. Tied for 3rd in the longevity stakes are Austria and Greece– both with high fat diets.
  • As a final example, consider the French. The French diet is notorious for their saturated fats in the form of butter, eggs, cheese, cream, liver, meats and rich pates. Yet, the French have a lower rate of coronary heart disease than many other western countries. In the US, 315 of every 100,000 middle-aged men die of heart attacks each year; in France the rate is 145 per 100,000. In the Gascony region, where goose and duck liver form a staple of the diet, this rate is a remarkably low 80 per 100,000. This “phenomenon” has been dubbed the “French Paradox”. (The French do suffer from many degenerative diseases, however. They eat large amounts of sugar and white flour and in recent years have succumbed to processed foods.)
Most fat in our bodies and in the food we eat is in the form of triglycerides. Elevated triglycerides in the blood have been positively linked to proneness to heart disease, but these triglycerides do not come directly from dietary fats; they are made in the liver from any excess sugars that have not been used for energy. The source of these excess sugars is any food containing carbohydrates, particularly refined sugar and white flour.

Our blood vessels can become damaged in a number of ways– through irritations caused by free radicals or viruses, or because they are structurally weak– and when this happens, the body’s natural healing substance steps in to repair the damage. That substance is cholesterol. Cholesterol is a high-molecular weight alcohol that is manufactured in our own liver and in more human cells. Like saturated fats, the cholesterol we make and consume plays many vital roles:

  • along with saturated fats, cholesterol in the cell membrane gives our cells necessary stiffness and stability. When the diet contains an excess of polyunsaturated fatty acids, these replace saturated fatty acids in the cell membrane, so that the cell walls actually become flabby. When this happens, cholesterol from the blood is “driven” into the tissues to give them structural integrity. This is why serum cholesterol levels may go down temporarily when we replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated oils in the diet.
  • acts as a precursor to hormones that help us deal with stress and protect the body against heart disease and cancer; and to the sex hormones like androgen, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone.
  • is a precursor to vitamin D, a vital fat-soluble vitamin needed for healthy bones and nervous system, proper growth, mineral metabolism, muscle tone, insulin production, reproduction and immune system function.
  • Bile salts are made from cholesterol. Bile is vital for digestion and assimilation of dietary fats.
  • acts as an antioxidant. This is the likely explanation for the fact that cholesterol levels go up with age. As an antioxidant, cholesterol protects us against free radical damage that leads to heart disease and cancer.
  • needed for proper function of serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is the body’s natural “feel-good” chemical.
  • maintains the health of the intestinal wall. Low-cholesterol vegetarian diets can lead to leaky gut syndrome and other intestinal disorders.
Cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease but rather a potent antioxidant weapon against free radicals in the blood, and a repair substance that helps heal arterial damage (although the arterial plaques themselves contain very little cholesterol). However, like fats, cholesterol may be damaged by exposure to heat and oxygen. This damaged or oxidized cholesterol seems to promote both injury to the arterial cells as well as buildup of plaque in the arteries. Damaged cholesterol is found in powdered eggs, powdered milk (added to reduced-fat milks to give them body… not to mention so many packaged foods) and in meats and fats that hae been heated to high temperatures in frying and other high-temperature processes.
High serum cholesterol levels often indicates that the body needs cholesterol to protect itself from high levels of altered, free radical-containing fats. Just as a large police force is needed where crime occurs frequently, so cholesterol is needed in a poorly nourished body to protect the individual from a tendency to heart disease and cancer. Blaming heart disease on cholesterol is like blaming the police for murder in a high crime area.
The scientific evidence, honestly evaluated, does not support the assertion that “artery-clogging” saturated fats cause heart disease. Actually, evaluation of the fat in artery clogs reveals that only about 26% is saturated. The rest is unsaturated, of which more than half is polyunsaturated.
So what is the probable cause of heart disease?? I will tell you what has not caused it: animal fats and cholesterol! Rather, a number of factors inherent in our modern diets, including excess consumption of vegetable oils and hydrogenated fats; excess consumption of refined carbohydrates in the form of sugar and white flour; mineral deficiencies (especially low levels of protective magnesium and iodine); deficiencies of vitamins, particularly of vitamin A, C and D, needed for the integrity of the blood vessel walls, and of antioxidants like selenium and vitamin E, which protect us from free radicals; and finally, the disappearance of antimicrobial fats from the food supply, namely, animal fats and tropical oils. These once protected us against the kinds of viruses and bacteria that have been associated with the onset of the plaque that leads to heart disease.

Prevention of heart disease will not be achieved with the current focus on lowering cholesterol– either by drugs or by the diet they recommend– but by consuming a diet that provides animal foods rich in protective fats and vitamins B6 and B12; by improving thyroid function through daily use of natural sea salt (good source: Real Salt), a good source of usable iodine; by avoiding vitamin and mineral deficiencies that make the artery walls more prone to ruptures and the buildup of plaque; b including antimicrobial fats in the diet; and by eliminating processed foods containing refined carbohydrates, oxidized cholesterol and free-radical-containing vegetable oils that cause the body to need constant repair.

“Fat Is Your Friend” Pt. 1: [Saturated] Fats Are Good For You

This post is Part 1 in the “Fat is Your Friend” series. 

I have heard so many say, “fats are good for you, you just have to eat the RIGHT kinds of fats.” When they say this, they are most of the time referring Olive Oil and nuts and avocados, but they are almost NEVER referring to Saturated Fats.

Well, I am here to say: Nevermind popular opinion… Saturated fats are good for you!” Good for you and your heart! Do your own homework and you, too, can find the same conclusion. Here is my homework in a nutshell: (most of this is taken from the book, Nourishing Traditions and the book, Eat Fat, Lose Fat.)

Fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet; they also provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. Fats as part of a meal slow down nutrient absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Dietary fats are needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption and for a host of other processes.

There are three types of fatty acids:

  1. Saturated- These do not normally go rancid, even when heated for cooking purposes. They form a solid or semi-solid fat at room temperature. Found mostly in animal fats and tropical oils. Your body also makes them from carbohydrates.
  2. Monounsaturated- Your body makes these from saturated fatty acids and uses them in many ways. Tend to be liquid at room temperature. Like saturated fats, they are relatively stable, do not go rancid easily and hence can be used in cooking. The monounsaturated fatty acid most commonly found in our food is oleic acid, the main component of olive oil as well as the oils from almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts and avocados.
  3. Polyunsaturated- The two most frequently found in our foods are omega-6 and omega-3. Your body cannot make these fatty acids and hence they are called “essential.” We must obtain our essential fatty acids or EFAs from the foods we eat. These remain liquid, even when refrigerated. They are highly reactive, go rancid easily (particularly omega-3 linolenic acid) and must be treated with care. They should never be heated or used in cooking.

Politically Correct Nutrition is based on the assumption that we should reduce our intake of fats, particularly saturated fats from animal sources. Fats from animal sources also contain… da da dum… cholesterol, presented as the twin villain of the civilized diet. (I will talk about cholesterol in a later post… for now… FAT!)

The politically correct guys tell us that polyunsaturated oils are the ones we want- the ones that are the best for us- and that saturated fats cause cancer and disease. This misinformation has caused profound changes in western eating habits. At the turn of the century, most of the fatty acids in the diet were either saturated or monounsaturated, primarily from butter, lard, tallow, coconut oil, and small amounts of olive oil. Today, however, most of the fats in the diet are polyunsaturated, primarily from vegetable oils derived from soy, as well as from corn, safflower and canola. Bad, bad, bad. But do you notice that you still hear about heart attacks ALL THE TIME? Usage of animal fats and saturated fats in general has gone down, but heart disease has increased. So does it make sense that they keep blaming saturated fats? Let’s use our brains (and start nourishing them with healthy saturated fats!).

Excess consumption of polyunsaturates has been shown to contribute to a large number of disease conditions including increased cancer and heart disease, immune system dysfunction, damage to the liver, reproductive organs and lungs, digestive disorders, depressed learning ability, impaired growth, and weight gain. One reason they cause all of these problems is that they tend to become oxidized or rancid when subjected to heat, oxygen and moisture as in cooking and processing (extraction, hydrogenation, homogenization).

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that most polyunsaturates in commercial vegetable oils are in the form of omega-6 with very little omega-3.  Deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with asthma, heart disease and learning deficiencies. For the optimal production and balance of prostaglandins (hormones that act locally, within the cells), you need a good balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, with no more than 2-3 times more omega-6 than omega-3. In the modern diet, the ration is more like 20 to 1, as a result of the high consumption of vegetable oils containing mostly omega-6 fatty acids. (Good sources of Omega-3’s: Wild Salmon, egg yolks (from pastured chickens) and flax oil in small amounts.)

But back to saturated fats, which Americans are always trying to avoid. They are not the cause of our modern diseases. In fact, they play many important parts in body chemistry.

Fats and Your Brain

60% of the brain is composed of fat. Phospholipids (which contain about 50% saturated fats) help make up the brain cell membranes. They contain 2 fatty acids and one protein-like component. Thus you nourish your brain cells when you eat saturated fats, and when you don’t eat enough saturated fats, the chemistry of your brain may be compromised. In a recent study, rats given vegetable oils low in saturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids had more strokes and shorter life spans.

Fats in the Cells

Every cell membrane is ideally made up of about 50% saturated fat. When we eat too much polyunsaturated oil and not enough saturated fat (or carbohydrates that the body turns into saturated fat), our cells don’t function correctly. The cell membranes need to be saturated for the cell to have the necessary “stiffness” or integrity and to work properly. If they don’t get enough saturated fat, they actually become “floppy” and cannot work properly.

Fats in Your Bones

For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of dietary fats should be saturated. This is one of the reasons osteoporosis has become such a problem these days.

Fats and Your Liver

Saturated fats protect the liver from toxins like alcohol and Tylenol. Today liver problems have become more common.

Fats and Your Heart

Saturated fats provide energy to the heart in times of stress. Saturated fats are the hearts preferred food and there is a concentration of saturated fat in the tissues surrounding the heart.

Fats and Your Lungs

Lungs cannot work without adequate saturated fats in the diet. The fatty acids in the lung fluid are normally 100% saturated. When people consume a lot of partially hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils, trans fatty acids and polyunsaturated oils are put into the phospholipids where the body normally needs saturated fatty acids. As a result the lungs cannot work effectively. Notice the rise in asthma, especially in children.

Fats and Your Kidneys

Omega-3 fatty acids, saturated fats, and cholesterol all work together synergistically to maintain normal kidney function, which is critical for managing blood pressure and filtering toxins from the body.

Fats and Your Hormones

Hormones are the body’s messengers, acting on the brain, nervous system, and glands and affecting thousands of bodily functions. They require the right kinds of fats. Your body cannot make stress and sex hormones without vitamin A, provided exclusively by fatty animal foods such as liver, shellfish, and cod-liver oil. In contrast, the wrong kinds of fats (trans fatty acids, etc..) inhibit the production of stress and sex hormones, leading to problems with glucose balance, mineral metabolism, and reproduction.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the “Fat is Your Friend” series: Cholesterol and Heart Disease