This month, February, is Heart Health month. An awareness campaign to get people to make lifestyle changes to lower their risk of heart disease.
I am all in favour of this, we need to make sure people aren’t ill unneccessarily or dying for the sake of some good information. And that is really where I have a problem with this campaign. The mantra still being touted is to increase wholewheat grains and reduce cholesterol and fats in the diet.
This isn’t really the answer and some refinement of the message and the reason why would be much more useful.
Here are some interesting facts about fat consumption in 1910.
Did you know that the lifetime risk of type II diabetes was 1 in 30? The lifetime risk today is 1 in 3 (according to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta.
Also that butter consumption in the USA was 18lbs per person per year. In the year 2000 butter consumption went below 4lbs. When butter was consumed liberally, mortality from heart disease was below 10%. Now the mortality from heart disease is 40 to 45%.
Whilst butter was being liberally consumed, pork lard (from outdoor reared pigs) was also the number one choice as a cooking fat. It was the best source of vitamin D and an excellent source of palmitoleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fatty acid that kills bacteria and viruses.
Our main consumption of cooking fat today comes from the highly processed soybean oil. It has 70% of the market and no vitamin D. The importance of vitamin D to our health cannot be overstated. There is a rising incidence of children with rickets as their bones are too soft and weak to support their growing bodies. Don’t even get me started on sun exposure…that’s another story for another time!
In 1911 Proctor & Gamble introduced ‘vegetable shortening’ to the American housewives. This trans-fat was declared as the answer to all their problems from cost, taste and health. Crisco adverts were deliberately anti-animal fats. This hydrogenation process was new and had been developed by an English company trying to make candles out of artificially hardened fats. Proctor & Gamble bought the patent and transferred it to the food industry ultimately pushing harmful trans-fats on the unassuming public for many years.
So why is this so bad? Well until this time heart disease didn’t really exist, there was no name for it, obesity was rare and diabetes as I’ve shown was not the common disease it it today. What then has caused this unstoppable increase in girth, blood sugar and heart attacks? The answer? An introduction of vegetable and seed oils and over use and over processing of them. Isn’t is strange how when we were consuming animal fats our weight and blood sugar was manageable and now we are encouraged to eat ‘heart healthy sunflower oil’ cooked foods we are the sickest we have ever been?
In 1948 for example vegetable fat consumption was 28lbs per person, per year. By 1976 it was 55lbs. As obesity and diabetes became greater public health problems, consumption of highly processed vegetable fat, including trans-fatty acids were climbing steadily and our intake of animal fats declining.
Despite the declarations from the British Heart Foundation website, eating natural saturated fats and cholesterol rich foods will not raise your cholesterol levels and having a high cholesterol level will not increase your risk of heart attack.
So what are the risk factors?
- Eating too many processed foods containing vegetable oils.
- Having too many refined grain and sugar based carbohydrate rich foods (cereal, bread, pasta, bagels, fizzy drinks, chocolate, sweets, crisps, snacks, crackers etc) will make you fat and increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
- Smoking will increase your risk.
- Chronic stress will increase your risk.
- Don’t take drugs. Cocaine has been shown to seriously impact the heart.
- Feeling out of control of your life (no support, poor career, bullying partner or boss, dissatisfaction with one’s life – all increase stress levels and lead to heart disease)
So how can you avoid it?
- Don’t smoke.
- Use high quality animal fats or coconut oil to cook with.
- Avoid heat treated vegetable and seed oils in processed foods, crisps, fast food, takeaways etc.
- Don’t fall for the marketing rubbish about ‘heart healthy’ or ‘cholesterol lowering’ margarines, spreads, cooking oils. It’s marketing. That is all.
- Use cold pressed olive oil on your salads.
- Reduce your consumption of sugar and processed grain based foods like bread, pasta, pizza, sweets etc.
- Eat more vegetables.
- Do exercise that you enjoy.
- Have a support network of friends or family, church/club or group members that you can be part of.
- A little alcohol regularly is not a problem. If you are overweight, drink ½ a bottle of wine each night, drink to get drunk or save your drinking for the weekend binge. That is a problem.
- Choose to be happy despite whatever other other crap is going on.
One final story…
In 1955 President Eisenhower suffered with a heart attack at the age 64. His cholesterol was 165 ml/dl at this time. He was put on a very highly publicised low fat, low cholesterol diet. This poor man was told to lower his cholesterol and eat dry toast and drink decaffeinated instant coffee for breakfast and eat only one egg per week. However, guess what? His cholesterol continued to climb on this regime until it reached 259 ml/dl the day he left office. He had several more heart attacks and eventually died of heart disease.
This is one of many hundreds of stories of people who when told to follow a ‘heart healthy’ diet, end up getting more ill and more at risk of what they are trying to avoid.
I use a lot of eggs, grass fed butter, duck and goose fats, coconut oil, lard in my roasting and cooking. You know what? It tastes good! It doesn’t make you fat and it’s healthy. Enjoy!