Fats and Heart Disease: Not What You Think

The information in this post is taken from the book The Great Cholesterol Myth” by Jonny Bowden and Stephen Sinatra.

The truth about fats and their relationship to heart disease and cholesterol is far different from what we are usually told, which is that saturated fats raise cholesterol, and are bad for the heart  while unsaturated fats, like Canola, Sunflower or Safflower oils, are good.  In fact, it turns out that the opposite is true.

You can recognise saturated fats because they are generally solid at room-temperature.  These fats are most often found in animal products, such as meat cheese butter and eggs, but are also in coconut oil and palm oil.  They can withstand the high heat in frying, whereas vegetable oils are damaged by high heat. Heating unsaturated fats causes the formation of all sorts of noxious compounds, including carcinogens and free radicals.  Even canola oil, which has a reputation as the healthiest oils, is harmful. It’s typically extracted and refined using very high heat and petroleum solvents such as hexane. And it undergoes a process of refining, bleaching, and deodorization using even more chemicals. Bowden and Sinatra say that cold pressed, unrefined, organic  canola oil, might be okay, if you can find it.

A study called “Dietary Fats, Carbohydrates and the Progression of Coronary Atherosclerosis in Postmenopausal Women,” found that women with higher saturated fat intakes had less progression of coronary atherosclerosis. Higher saturated fat intake were also associated with higher HDL levels, higher HDL-2 cholesterol levels, lower triglycerides, and an improved total-cholesterol-to-HDL ratio.  You’ll remember from a former post  that HDL-2 cholesterol particles prevent atherosclerosis.  This study also found that high-glycemic, processed carbohydrates [Breads, pasta, rice, and cereals – except oats, but not quick oats] were associated with a greater progression of coronary atherosclerosis.  High glycemic carbohydrates are those that quickly raise your blood sugar.

One of the main problems with a low-fat diet may be that people substitute these high-glycemic carbohydrates for fats in order to feel satiated. Low glycemic carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes can actually reduce atherosclerosis.

The above study also looked at other events such as heart attacks, coronary revascularization, unstable angina, and deaths from any type of cardiovascular disease. They found that saturated fat intake did not increase any of these events.  They also found that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat in the diet led to an increase in the progression of coronary atherosclerosis.

The Nurses Health Study found that refined carbohydrates were independently shown to be associated with increased risk for coronary heart disease. Another study found that replacing saturated fats with high-glycemic carbohydrates is associated with a 33% increase in heart attack risk.

So, what fats are safe to eat if you want to protect your heart? The authors of The Great Cholesterol Myth,  state that some polyunsaturated fats are required in the diet.   There are two types of polyunsaturated fats,  Omega-6’s and Omega-3’s. Omega-6’s are found mainly in vegetable oils and some plant foods, while omega-3’s are found primarily in oily fish and in certain animal foods, such as grass-fed beef and milk, as well as in some plant foods such as flax and flax seed-oil.

The ideal ratio of omega-6’s to Omega-3’s is between 1:1 and 4:1. This is the ratio foundin indigenous societies and hunters-and-gatherers where heart disease is low to nonexistent. This ideal ratio keeps inflammation in check, and the body running smoothly. But in Western diets the ratio of Omega-6’s to Omega-3’s is between 15:1 to 20:1.  Omega-6’s are inflammatory , while Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory.  We need some inflammatory compounds because they play a big part in the immune system and the healing process, but when the intake of inflammatory fatty acids far exceeds those of the non-inflammatory fatty acids the result is harmful body inflammation which can lead to heart disease.

Another concern with a high intake of omega-6’s is that it reduces the ability of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA (found in green leafy vegetables, flaxseeds, Chia seeds, perilla seeds and walnuts) to convert into EPA and DHA, the anti-inflammatory Omega-3’s.  ALA is an essential fatty acid because it cannot be made by the body, while EPA and DHA can.  EPA is the omega-3 that have the most profound positive effect on the heart.  EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish, such as wild salmon, but high levels of Omega-6’s can inhibit the body’s ability to incorporate EPA into the cell membranes.

So to answer my question above, what are the best fats to include in the diet, the answer seems to be: mono-saturated fats such as olive oil, nuts and nut oils; oily,wild (not farmed) fish such as salmon or sardines, and saturated fats (including organic meat and milk  from grass-fed beef) .  The olive oil should be extra-virgin olive oil, which contains anti-inflammatory polyphenols and antioxidants.  Because many olive oils are highly processed and refined, it is important to buy extra-virgin olive oil, which is made without the use of heat, hot water, or solvents and is unfiltered.

I believe that it is also important that you buy olive oil that is in dark green glass bottles, because light degrades oil.  Also, when oil is in plastic bottles, the PVC (polyvinyl chloride) from the plastic can be absorbed by the oil.  I also believe that, especially if you are recovering from a health condition, it is best to but organic meat and produce whenever possible.  Cost is often an issue here, but you can often find local produce that even if not labelled organic, has been grown without pesticides.

I will be writing one or two more posts based on material from The Great Cholesterol Myth, on foods and supplments you should take. However, if you want to buy the book, you can find it on Amazon at the link below. (This link contains my Amazon affiliate link).

The Great Cholestero Myth by Jonny Bowden, and Stephen Sinatra

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