I keep thinking the tide is turning. I read several blogs written by MDs or biochemists who explain why it’s refined carbohydrates that are killing us, not saturated fat or cholesterol. I listen to top-notch doctors and researchers cover the same topics in Jimmy Moore’s podcasts. I watch the number of visitors to this blog tick up steadily every month (and bless you all for that). We’re winning, I say to myself. The word is finally getting around.
And then I do something stupid like check out the health articles on MSN. (That hissing sound you hear is my optimism deflating.) I don’t know what MSN’s audience size is, but I’m pretty sure if you added up the combined audiences for every blog in my blogroll plus every blog in their blogrolls, we’d be barely be the Hong Kong to MSN’s China. No wonder when I tell people saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease, they look at me like I just said, “I actually have three heads, but two of them are only visible when the moon is full.”
This evening after dinner (meatloaf from farm-raised goat and beef, plus cauliflower whipped with butter, feta cheese, sour cream and garlic) I read an MSN health article, followed a link, followed another link, followed another link, then decided I should quit while my blood pressure was still at its usual below-average level. The MSN article, provided by Health.com, was on how to alter your diet to reduce your cholesterol. Here are some quotes with my comments:
Want to cut cholesterol without cutting taste? Most people are afraid that “good for my cholesterol” means meals that are joyless (and tasteless).
That’s because most people have functional tastebuds. The rest are survivors of chemical warfare or vegetarians.
Here are some simple substitutions that you can make to the food you already eat to help fight cholesterol painlessly.
Sprinkle walnuts, skip croutons
Carbohydrates can cause high levels of a type of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol. For a healthier salad, replace your carbo-laden croutons with walnuts, which are high in polyunsaturated fat-a good fat that can lower LDL while boosting HDL (aka good cholesterol).
Uh, wait a second … you’re admitting that carbohydrates raise a “type” of LDL? I’m stunned. The type that carbohydrates raise, by the way, is type B … otherwise known as the small, dense LDL that can actually perforate the walls of your arteries. Hey, maybe I was pessimistic for no reason! This health writer might actually get it right.
Sip red wine, not cocktails
Research suggests that moderate alcohol intake can produce a slight rise in HDL cholesterol (a so-called good cholesterol). But that won’t do you much good if you’re tossing back margaritas or mixed drinks with fruit juice, which contain carbohydrates. Switch to red wine; it has about a 10th of the carbohydrates of a margarita, and you’ll also get antioxidants such as flavonoids that are believed to lower LDL and boost HDL.
I’ll be dipped; she is going after the carbohydrates! Man, I feel like such a dolt … as soon as I saw the Health.com logo, I was preparing myself to yell AAAAAARGGHHH a lot. I can relax now.
Yes to edamame and nuts, no to cheese and crackers
For a pre-dinner snack, skip the crackers and cheese, which are sky-high in saturated fat – one of the prime culprits behind high cholesterol.
AAAAAARGGHHH!!! Do these goofy reporters ever check the latest research? When Christopher Gardner of Stanford conducted a controlled study of three different diets, he reported (reluctantly, by his own admission) that people on the Atkins diet showed the greatest improvement in lipid profiles. Pretty impressive, considering that another diet in the study was the Ornish low-fat plan.
Of course, I wasn’t surprised by Gardner’s results because while I was researching Fat Head, Dr. Mike Eades challenged me to eat all the natural saturated fat I could stand for a month while cutting out sugar and starch. If you’ve seen the film, you know what happened — my total cholesterol and LDL plummeted, while my HDL shot up.
Edamame is low in saturated fat and one cup contains about 25 grams of soy protein, which is thought to actively lower LDL (although the evidence is conflicting). Buy them frozen, dump them into boiling water, and drain after 5 minutes-that’s all there is to it.
The dust-bunnies under my bed are also low in saturated fat, but I wouldn’t eat them, boiled or otherwise. If you think soy is good for you, do yourself a favor and read Lierre Keith’s amazing, beautifully-written book, The Vegetarian Myth. If that’s too much of an undertaking, check out this page or this page from the Weston A. Price website.
Vinegar and lemon juice beats salad dressing
As everyone knows by now, drenching a salad in high-fat salad dressing is like smoking cigarettes while jogging: It totally defeats the purpose. A low-fat alternative is a step in the right direction, but the best option for lower cholesterol is drizzling your salad with balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.
I can hear my favorite journalism professor from college yelling across 30 years of time: “Never, ever, use phrases like ‘everyone knows’ to make a point, because there’s nothing that ‘everyone’ knows!”
If you’d prefer to avoid absorbing most of the nutrients when eating a salad or vegetables, then yes, using a high-fat salad dressing will totally defeat that. Most important nutrients are fat-soluble, so without fat in a meal, they’ll just pass through your body and eventually fortify the health of whatever critters live in your local sewage system.
If the purpose of eating a salad is to amuse your friends with your wacky pucker-face, definitely go for the lemon juice and vinegar.
Ditch the butter for margarine spread
One tablespoon of butter contains more than 7 grams of saturated fat-that’s more than a third of the recommended daily value. It also contains 10 percent of your daily value for dietary cholesterol, which, though it isn’t as harmful as was once thought, is one of the main sources of high cholesterol (and atherosclerosis).
Hmmm, that would explain the sky-high rate of heart disease in 1900, when Americans consumed four times much butter per capita as we do today. The French still consume four times as much butter as we do, but have a far lower rate of heart disease — even though they have a higher rate of smoking. If only we could import that paradox thing …
Switch the butter with a vegetable-oil-based spread such as Smart Balance or Olivio (which also contains olive oil); you’ll be replacing a bad fat with a good fat.
Yes, because Mother Nature has no idea how to produce good nutrition for humans; all the best health-enhancing foods were created in a lab. Here’s a little gem from the Smart Balance web site:
Smart Balance uses natural saturates (palm fruit oil) and balances it with polyunsaturates from soy and canola oils. This comprises the patented, heart-healthy Smart Balance blend that we believe to be superior to other methods of avoiding trans fatty acids.
That little balancing-and-blending act would involve extracting the oils with hexane, mixing them with sodium hydroxide and passing them through a centrifuge, mixing them again with hydrated aluminum silicate to bind to and remove the unwanted speckles, passing them through a steam distillation chamber to deodorize them, then adding artificial color and flavor. My advice: never eat food that has a patent number attached to it.
And instead of using butter to grease the pan while cooking, try olive oil or white wine vinegar.
“Honey, I can’t get the low-fat cookies unstuck from the pan!”
“Who cares? They taste like vinegar anyway.”
Use ground turkey, not ground beef
Red meat is a source of both saturated fat and dietary cholesterol-two of the main sources of blood cholesterol. Ground turkey contains half the saturated fat of 85 percent lean ground beef, and it can be substituted easily for beef in most recipes.
Ground beef: 40% of the fat is monosaturated (like olive oil), and most of what’s left raises HDL. It also raises LDL, but only the harmless, fluffy kind — i.e., not the same type raised by carbohydrates. And even “Dr. Lipid Hypothesis” Ancel Keys eventually concluded that dietary cholesterol has no effect on the amount of cholesterol in your blood, as have several clinical studies. Yes, I can certainly see why we’d want to avoid ground beef.
Skip the fatty sour cream, choose fat-free Greek yogurt
Whether it’s used as a garnish or in a sauce, sour cream adds a shot of saturated fat to otherwise heart-healthy meals. To cut out that excess fat without sacrificing taste or texture, swap the sour cream with no-fat Greek yogurt-one of the world’s healthiest foods.
Since you’re a professional health writer and all, did you happen to notice either of the studies published this year that concluded there’s no association whatsoever between saturated fat intake and heart disease? Have you seen the many other studies published over the years that reached exactly the same conclusion … like this one, from the European Heart Journal:
The commonly-held belief that the best diet for the prevention of coronary heart disease is a low saturated fat, low cholesterol diet is not supported by the available evidence from clinical trials.
And if you believe swapping sour cream for fat-free yogurt doesn’t sacrifice taste … well, then I’m sorry about the chemical-warfare attack and I sincerely hope my government wasn’t involved in any way.
Now I’d better go listen to one of Jimmy Moore’s podcasts to preserve my sanity.