Diet Heart Hypothesis – Part 2

Part 2

Cholesterol as an Enemy of Heart…

Cholesterol is an organic molecule that is essential for the normal function of our cells and our body is capable of making all the cholesterol it needs. We all have heard of LDL (“bad”) and HDL (“good”) cholesterol and how supposedly high LDL is related to the high risk of CVD. So how did the scientist came to this conclusion?

Let’s look at the studies that tried to support the idea of cholesterol causing cardiovascular disease.

In 1986 the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) has published a study that became a standard and is used as a reference to this day. “Relationship between serum cholesterol and risk of premature death from coronary heart disease” by Stamler et al. In this study, scientists came to conclusion that “ 1% higher serum cholesterol level was associated with an almost 2% higher CHD risk”.

But let’s look at the actual numbers in the study and see if this conclusion makes sense.

People with the lowest LDL cholesterol:

99.7% – didn’t die from CHD

0.3% – died from the CHD

People with the highest LDL cholesterol:

98.7% – didn’t die from CHD

1.3% – died from the CHD

So how did the scientist came up with a risk factor for high cholesterol, you ask? If you take the extremes and divide 1.3% / 0.3% you will get 4.13 which translates into 400% risk factor or increase in deaths. Math magic isn’t it?! 

It’s worth remembering an important point: correlation doesn’t equal causation. 1% rate of deaths across the entire range of cholesterol amount is a way too small to be considered a “cause” for any type of disease.

There several other studies, including the ones from the large pharmaceutical companies (the ones that produce statin drugs) that also manipulated data in such fashion. But we also have a few that have some evidence showing LOW levels of cholesterol AND LDL can be linked to the increased risk of CVD.

  1. Familial Hypercholesterolemia: a genetic and metabolic study” by Harlan et al, published in 1966: “no evidence that familiar hypercholesterolemia appreciably shortens the life and affected individuals. On the contrary, they show that high levels of serum cholesterol are clearly compatible with survival into the seventh and eighth decades”.

  1. Cholesterol and all-cause mortality in elderly people from the Honolulu Heart Program: a cohort study” (20 year long study) by Schatz et al., published in 2001: “Our data accord with precious finding of increased mortality in elderly people with low serum cholesterol, and show that long-term persistence of low cholesterol concentration actually increases risk of death”

  2. Lack of an association or an inverse association between low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly: a systematic review”, meta-analysis by Ravnskov et al, published in 2016: “ Since elderly people with high LDL-C live as long or longer than those with low LDL-C, our analysis provides reason to question the validity of the cholesterol hypothesis.

As you can see, the actual studies give quite opposite answers to what we normally hear these days.

The reasons behind cardiovascular diseases are quite versatile and cholesterol DOES play a role but not in the way you probably used to think.

Here are some facts:

  • There are 5 types of LDL and HDL molecules

  • Not all LDL is bad and not all HDL is good

  • LDL-a are “fluffy”, large molecules that are harmless and serve their purpose

  • LDL-b molecules, are very small and “hard’, golf-like molecules that are dangerous for our health

  • Some HDL types do not reduce inflammation that’s why some people with high HDL still develop heart disease

  • At least 50% of people with high total cholesterol have healthy hearts

  • Cholesterol alone is not a reason for heart disease.

Useful to know: Next time you do your cholesterol check instead of simply checking total cholesterol, do the particle test. That’s the only way to know what is actually happening with your cholesterol. Low total cholesterol but a high amount of LDL-b particles are BAD news. On the other hand, over the top high total cholesterol with a high count of LDL-a particles are GREAT news.

Unlike in the criminal justice system, where you are innocent until you are proven guilty; in science, the hypothesis is considered wrong until proven right.

This post is my attempt to bring your attention and to encourage you to think cryptically of anything you hear on the media, literature and even your doctors. As my 7th-grade physics teacher said: “don’t believe everything people say just because they say they know better. Analyze before you come to your own conclusion”.

This post is inspired by the work of many influential people, including Dr. David Diamond, Uffe Ravnskov, Nina Teicholz, Dr. Thomas Seyfreid, and many others. I highly recommend reviewing their lectures and books for a more in-depth understanding of the topic of nutrition.

The “Diet-Heart Hypothesis”

Part 1

The great tragedy of science: the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact” – Thomas Huxley

It all started in the early 1900s when American oil manufactures found themselves in a tough spot wanting to produce more packaged foods with longer shelf life and cheaper production cost. Series of changes in the products manufacture strongly correlated with a rapid increase in a number of heart disease cases which by 1950s became almost epidemic.

In response to the skyrocketing number of heart disease cases, scientists began a frantic search for the reason, which eventually led them to a hypothesis: a diet that is high in saturated fats causes heart disease.

A hypothesis became an accepted truth before there was any evidence to support it and Ancel Keys was the one of the main reasons for that.

Ancel Keys was a very smart, charismatic and influential individual, with BA in economics and political science, Ph.D. in zoology and human physiology, he became the main driving force and a father of “Diet-Heart Hypothesis”. In 1961, Mr. Keys appeared on the cover of the Time magazine with the main article stating that Americans eat too much of saturated fat, which leads to the increase of blood cholesterol, which leads to the damage of the arteries and causes coronary disease. Keys advised to cut saturated fats to 4% of the total calories and reduce total fat intake to no more than 15%.

This article became the base of the recommendation for the entire U.S. nation (and many other countries) that is used today by the majority of doctors.

So what is wrong with it, you ask?

The problem is that all studies on the diet-heart hypothesis had a very high failure rate, but due to the series of chronological events, greediness of big corporations and political interests, these result had to be rationalized and altered in order to fit the hypothesis that became a matter of institutional credibility.

Majority of American society, including doctors, sincerely believe that low-fat diet is beneficial and can prevent heart disease. Ancel Keys had such a powerful influence that American Heart Association still follows the guidelines Keys provided in 1961.

There were several big-name scientists who were strongly against such dramatic changes in dietary guidelines for the entire nation, but their voices were not heard until the recent years. How could that have happened, you ask?

The explanation is very simple actually, in today’s world it is easy to express ourselves and therefore being heard with a help of internet and social media. Regardless of your beliefs, associations and/or support from big names your opinion can be heard by millions of people with just a “click of the button”. The internet gave us the power we never had before. Back in the 20th century, on the other hand, your opinion could only be heard if it aligned with the opinion of highly influential subjects of the society. While today we don’t need anyone’s permission to publish our opinion or a study, back in the day, you needed the approval of people in power. Ancel Keys, American Heart Association (that was given a check for 1.2 million by the Oil Company in the exchange for the support. Talk about conflict of interests) and other big names of that time, had no interest in being proven wrong. So the truth had slipped through the fingers for quite some time.

Since the scientists that disagree with Keys’ theory were a minority, they were not favored by big companies who funded research, they were pushed out of the publications and generally didn’t get any light outside of the science community, which means general public was greatly unaware of their existence.

Over the years, more and more scientists from all over the world were piling up the evidence against diet-heart hypothesis and in 2015 the Time magazine had published another article stating that saturated fat doesn’t cause an increase of cholesterol and/or risk of cardiovascular disease.

To be continued…

Eating Out – Tips

Let’s be honest, a lot of people simply don’t have an opportunity to food prep on daily or weekly basis due to work/travel schedule. The good news is that you DON’T HAVE TO eat homemade food in order to stay in shape year round. All you need to do is to be mindful of yourchoices. Let’s look at some points.

  • Mindfulness with EVERY Choice 

Before you order your next meal think about what you already had through out the day. Your choices should depend on each other. Did you have enough protein in the morning? Did you have too many carbs at lunch? Chose accordingly.

  • Keep it Simple

It’s great to be able to enjoy something special once in a while, but when you eat out on regular basis, balance is the key. Keep your meal choices as simple and customize accordingly. For example, you can always ask for the salad dressing on the side, refuse an extra serving of bread or rice. Eat for your goals!

  • Portion Control 

This one could be really hard to do especially if the food is very tasty and/ or you are too hungry. Drink plenty of water before eating and eat SLOWLY. The faster you eat the greater is the likelihood of you overeating. It takes about 20 min for your stomach to give the signal to your brain that you are no longer hungry.

Being mindful of your choices while eating out will help you stay on track with your fitness goals. Instead of using restaurant meals as an excuse, make them a part of your health plan.

Artificial Sweeteners and How they Affect our Bodies

Most people on the diet avoid or at least decrease the amount of sugar they consume and substitute it with artificial sweeteners. Some fitness “gurus” are against artificial sweeteners because they believe in their harmful effects. As for me, I think moderation is the key. Ideally, you should stick with natural calorie-free alternatives like Stevia and Monk fruit, but consuming “artificial sweet” few times a week is better, in my opinion, that consuming an all natural sugar, and definitely not going to kill you.

Let’s take a look at some facts

Saccharin

This compound was found in 1878 by researcher Constantin Fahlberg. In 1978 studies in rats linked this sweetener to a bladder cancer in rodents. For a while, saccharine was claimed to be harmful to humans but numerous human-based studies have shown that cancer in rodents doesn’t translate into cancer in humans. In 2000, FDA cleared saccharine as a generally safe substance to consume within daily dosage limits.

While saccharine is a calorie-free sweetener, it does raise blood glucose levels to some degree. It can also cause GI distress in some people, allergic reactions and headaches.

Aspartame

Despite the loud claims of the opponents of aspartame who claim it causes cancer, there is no actual evidence to support such a conclusion. To this date, the only “evidence” we have is several studies in rats showing that in some cases, extremely high dosages of aspartame were linked to the development of the brain tumors. That being said, there is no evidence that supports such claims in humans. Agencies in the US and in Europe evaluated aspartame and found it safe for use.

There is only one case in which aspartame presents a risk to health, Phenylketonuria is a rare genetic disorder (present at birth) in which the body can’t break down phenylalanine (one of the amino acids that make up aspartame).

Sucralose

The most well-known brand that uses sucralose is Splenda. Sucralose is a zero calorie, artificial sweetener. Over 100 studies have been analyzed by FDA and European Union Scientific Committee on Food, no evidence of carcinogenic properties was found in the process. Sucralose is safe for consumption by humans.

These are just a few, most common artificial sweeteners that we can find in almost any processed food. While I always support the idea of eating whole foods, I also support the notion of not being paranoid about small things. 

When it comes to artificial sweeteners it’s worth to note that while they don’t have any calories they do give a signal to brain similar or in some cases, identical, to the one that is produced by sugar or other carbohydrates. This sometimes translates in craving extra portion of calorie dense food later throughout the day. That all being said, I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying occasional diet soda here and there as long as you are mindful of your overall dietary targets.

Have a beautiful week, my friends!

GymKat

Sweet Tooth Cravings

I haven’t met a lot of people who don’t like sweets. In fact, I’ve had a horrible sweet tooth myself, for the most part of my life. Things have changed for me when I switched to a ketogenic diet. It wasn’t an overnight process, though, it took some time, but eventually, I lost my “thing” for sweets. A ketogenic diet is not for everyone, so even if you are on a regular carbohydrate diet there are ways to battle the sweet tooth. Here are some tips:

  1. Clean your palette

From experience and research, we know that a human brain is wired to want/ crave something that we eat on regular basis. The tastier is your food – the more you want it. Sometimes, in order to stop craving different foods, including sweets, all you need to do is to clean the palette. Sweet foods also tend to be the most calorie dense, which is a plus from an evolutionary perspective but a big problem if you are trying to lose body fat. So when you remove all sweet products for some time, your brain literally forgets the taste of it and no longer craves it. The period of time will depend on the individual. In general, I would say 15-30 days would do the trick.

The trick here, however, is to remember is that this process is NOT a punishment and that you CAN, in fact, eat the sweets, you just CHOSE NOT to. If your mental state is not on point, you are risking falling off the wagon and binging.

  1. Find a substitute

One of my favorite tricks is to eat something salty or spicy when I crave something sweet. It totally confuses the brain and kills the craving. Give it a try!

  1. Emotional Dependence

Comfort Food” can take different shapes. Some love pizza, some pasta and some devour a pint of ice cream in one seating. Many people use comfort foods, alcohol, and drugs as a way to relieve emotional discomfort. The key to battling the problem is, first of all, to recognize the problem, and then find a substitute. Make a conscious choice to do something not related to food when you are under stress or other emotional problem. YOU have the power to change the outcome by changing your actions – one at a time.

  1. Your diet is not balanced

It doesn’t matter if you are on a ketogenic diet or on a regular carbohydrate diet, if it is not structured properly you will crave “something tasty”. To balance it out, make sure to eat enough protein and fibrous veggies. This will keep you full for a while and provide you with all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Only then, add your carbs (if you are on a regular diet) and make sure that at least 80% of your daily carb intake comes from whole food sources (rice, potato, beans, etc.). Last, add fats to fill up the remainder of your caloric needs.

Of course, there could be more reasons for your cravings but these are the most common. That’s why it is important to have an individualized approach to the diet and exercise program.

Stay healthy and fit,

GymKat