In part two of a response to a question about diet and cholesterol, licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long says most people benefit from eating cholesterol and saturated fat for health!
As you may recall, last week I received a question from Renee about which fats she should avoid and which she should eat because she has high cholesterol. Here is part two of my answer. Last week, I detailed the history of the diet-heart hypothesis, which states that saturated fat causes high LDL cholesterol, which then clogs the arteries and causes heart disease.
I then shared some of the copious data that now exists to show that the theory was wrong: high cholesterol in the blood is not the cause of heart disease. What’s more, we now know that the incidence of metabolic disease, as well as numerous other modern disease states — like obesity, diabetes, cancer, and dementia — have been rising dramatically since the diet-heart hypothesis was introduced.
Heart disease is the second leading cause of death among Canadians today. We got it seriously wrong.
So last week we went into the roots of this mythinformation and why it has been so sticky as a nutrition “fact,” despite being disproved, as well as the five largest meta-analyses of the current data on the issue. If you haven’t read that article, I recommend you do before reading this one.
This week, I want to explain cholesterol from a holistic perspective and discuss what we currently understand on healthy fats. So let’s get started by playing a game. (I borrowed this from a Twitter account I follow: @ketoaurelius.)
Who can tell me the answer to the following questions? The answer is something that many physicians and dieticians fear. It:
Is integral in every cell membrane
Helps build adrenal hormones
Is a precursor to testosterone
Is essential for a healthy immune system
Is critical for the brain, memory, and learning
What is it? If you said cholesterol, you’d be correct. Our bodies actually need it.
Only about 25 per cent of the cholesterol in our blood is from food. The rest is produced ‘in house’ and our bodies regulate this very closely to ensure it is always present in the amount needed.
This is why eating cholesterol does not give you high cholesterol. Eating eggs (with yolk) and saturated fats has not proven to raise blood cholesterol (one study here) except in sensitive individuals and then it raised both good and bad cholesterol and did not raise the risk of heart disease. Moreover, all the nutrients (except protein) are in the egg yolk — 13 actually.
One of these nutrients is a common modern deficiency, essential for healthy neurotransmitter and brain function. It’s called choline and yolks are plentiful in it. Eating saturated fat is far more satiating than eating lean meat. This means we feel more satisfied after a meal for much longer and are less likely to overeat or get cravings shortly after.
Now there are some people who are genetically predisposed to have higher than normal cholesterol, which we call hypercholesterolemia. In and of itself, this is not a marker for heart disease.
And, as mentioned last week, particularly in women, this is not something to worry about. However, taken together with other testing for particle size, family history, risk factors like smoking, lifestyle and blood sugar, we see a more complete picture of risk. However, it’s best that readers learn a lot about this themselves or see an integrative practitioner, as many health professionals still subscribe to the outdated diet-heart hypothesis.
A holistic perspective of cholesterol in the arterial walls is not that cholesterol causes heart disease, but that it is a symptom of a deeper pathology. Cholesterol can accumulate in the arteries and cause blockages and strain on the heart.
But why does it do that? Eating less cholesterol and lowering cholesterol has not stopped cardiovascular disease. And it causes a deficiency in a nutrient important for many things in our bodies.
Furthermore, clinical data suggests that metabolic syndrome and insulin sensitivity is the most important risk factor for heart disease today. We will only touch lightly on that today. It turns out, cholesterol is one of the body’s first responders, along with a protein called fibrin.
These are sent to sites where there are injuries, and the two together create a patch or bandage wherever there is damage to the inner lining of the arteries. But what causes the damage in the first place? This is where lifestyle and diet come in.
We know that processed foods and sugar are not fit for human consumption. Left without insulin to get sugar out of the blood stream it wreaks havoc on the vascular system, as we can see in diabetes that has not been managed properly.
A high carbohydrate diet, which has been promoted for decades since Keys’ research, has caused an explosion in type II diabetes — not only in adults, but now in children, as well. This diet is the prevalent driver of metabolic syndrome and associated heart disease risks.
Back to fat in our diets, readers need to know that eating fats does not make us fat. And eating saturated fat does not increase our risk for heart disease. It does increase our ability to stay satiated and go longer without eating, which is very beneficial for health.
However, it’s important to get our fats from the healthiest sources possible. Free range eggs, pastured animals fed biologically appropriate diets (grass fed cows, pastured pigs, wild fish, etc) are healthiest for human consumption.
This is because the toxins an animal is exposed to are often stored in its fat cells and the type of fat an animal produces is determined by its diet. Natural, grass fed beef has a much higher ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid, whereas those fed grains are higher in Omega 6.
Omega 6 fatty acids are part of a healthy diet, but the ratio of 6:3 should be much lower than it is today. It has increased exponentially with modern farming practices and with the advent of vegetable and seed oils that are high in omega 6’s.
Not only are these seed and vegetable oils very high in omega 6 fatty acids, they are completely unnatural and heavily processed. The crops are also unsustainably grown. We now know an imbalance of omega 6 to 3 causes increased inflammation in the body.
And guess what tears arterial walls, in addition to unmitigated blood sugar? Yep. Inflammation. These vegetable and seed oils: soy, canola, grapeseed, vegetable oil, margarine, sunflower, and more are all very damaging to the body.
By far, the healthiest oils to eat are organic, ethically sourced animal fat and coconut oil or sustainable palm oil. These are stable at high temperatures and do not cause the same damage in the body that excess Omega 6 containing oils do.
Organic or grass-fed butter, ghee, and extra virgin, first cold pressed olive oil are also very healthy oils. Otherwise, I advise clients to get their fat from ethically raised animal products and cold water fish and seafood, or to supplement with quality omega 3’s to keep the balance in a healthy range.
Keeping the ratio of omega 6 to 3 closer to 4:1 or even lower is preferable, as this is what it was in pre-industrialized society. Now it’s closer to 16:1!
For more information on the dangers of vegetable oils I recommend readers go here. As always, I recommend readers eat an omnivore diet, low in carbs and processed foods (like processed oils) for all aspects of health.
Thank you, Renee, for that question! As always, if readers have their own health questions, I welcome them. Just send me an email. And if you’re looking for more specific health information check out my website and while you’re there, sign up for my free newsletter at nonienutritionista.com.
Namaste! Nonie Nutritionista