If you are like most people, you probably still think that “healthy grains” like wheat are good for you and are “essential for a well balanced diet”. Ever since Kellogg’s introduced cereal for breakfast and the bagel was invented as a mid morning snack, which has captured the tastes of millions, the Agro Industry and the food industry have lobbied to have “healthy grains” in the food pyramid or on your plate. The very thought of “the daily bread” is deeply ingrained in our culture.
Other agencies like the Heart Foundation, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly “American Dietetic Association“) and the American Medical Association have reiterated this statement over and over until both the public and physicians accepted this as the truth. However, the scientific data does not support this point of view! It has been a myth!
We are gradually learning that there has been a big misinformation campaign going on as far back as 1984 (and before) when a consensus panel came up with revised normal values for cholesterol and we as the medical profession were told (myself included) to treat high cholesterol levels much earlier and more aggressively than in the past with statins.
Big Pharma is still pushing for this. Now that I am retired for more than three years I can freely write about what is really going on. The truth has already leaked out, but it is not yet common knowledge.
I like to review the switch from the old school of thought that a high carb/low fat diet would be healthy to the new school of thought that a low carb/high healthy fat diet is healthy. Before you panic, sit back, relax and read what I am saying.
A brief history of the high carb/low fat diet recommendation
It was the Framingham Study, which is an ongoing study since 1948 where a large group of people was followed for decades to sort out what causes heart attacks and strokes and how one could develop a program of prevention. This objective at the beginning of the study was very noble and promising. However, as time went on the results from the Framingham Study that were published intermittently appeared to be more and more confusing.
First there was the lipid theory that was based on the observation that high lipids (called triglycerides) and high cholesterol in the blood would cause heart attacks and strokes. It was assumed that it must have been the fats in the diet that would have caused this. Based on this thinking the lipid theory of arteriosclerosis was formulated, a theory trying to explain how heart attacks were caused.
If this theory were true, a lowering of the blood lipids and cholesterol should have lowered the rates of heart attacks and strokes. Many large trials were done and the statins were developed to lower cholesterol. In a recent blog I have explained that this has not lowered the mortality rates from heart attacks and strokes, but instead of admitting that the researchers made a mistake, many are still doggedly holding on to the dogma of the lipid theory. The truth is that the lipid theory has not been proven to be true; the recommendation of a high carb/low fat diet has also not worked out to save lives by preventing heart attacks and strokes. In fact the opposite is true: older people with high cholesterol live longer and have less Alzheimer’s disease than those with lower cholesterol levels in the blood as Ref. 1 has explained in detail. Dr. Perlmutter mentioned a study from the Netherlands (Ref. 1, page78) involving 724 individuals who on average were 89-year old that were followed for 10 years. Those with high cholesterol lived longer than those with low cholesterol, exactly the opposite of what the lipid theory predicted! Specifically, for each 39% increase in cholesterol there was a 15% decrease in risk of mortality. Think about it: the brain and the heart have LDL receptors on their cell surfaces for a reason. The reason is that both vital organs burn fat and need cholesterol to build up the membranes of the brain and heart cells.
Despite this compelling evidence Big Pharma is in denial and you will still find the lipid theory of arteriosclerosis heavily mentioned on the Internet as the only “valid” explanation for how heart attacks and strokes would be caused.
Inflammation as the alternative explanation of arteriosclerosis
Since the mid 1990’s the first reports surfaced to explain that about 50% of patients with normal cholesterol levels still develop heart attacks. In these patients the C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker, was very high indicating that an inflammatory process likely caused their illness.
Subsequently further research was able to show that the LDL cholesterol, when oxidized by sugar was responsible for clogged arteries in these patients. It also became apparent that diabetics have a much higher risk to develop heart attacks than patients with normal blood sugars. This led to the conclusion by several different research teams that the lipid theory was wrong and needed to be abandoned.
Instead a new theory has developed that explains that heart attacks and strokes develop in patients where free radicals have damaged LDL cholesterol. This oxidizes LDL cholesterol and leads to hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis). Sugar from increased carbohydrate intake has a lot to do with this: it leads to glycation of protein causing glycation end products (abbreviated as AGE’s).
This is an appropriate name as it really is the cause of premature aging, of developing wrinkles, of getting premature hardening of arteries and having a 50-fold risk of free radical formation. This in turn will lead to more tissue aging. LDL used to be thought of as the “bad cholesterol” (I myself have used that term in the past). LDL is now known to be the friendly and important transport form of cholesterol, which is sent from the liver to the brain and heart cells that need it for their metabolism. If LDL is oxidized, however, it becomes useless and the heart and brain cannot absorb cholesterol for membrane synthesis via the LDL receptors. The end result is that vital organs like the heart and the brain do not get enough oxygen and nutrients, which leads to heart attacks and strokes. The free radicals that are released from oxidized LDL cholesterol and that circulate in the blood cause an inflammatory response in the lining of the arteries all over the body, which you know as hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis).
This may sound complicated, but all you need to remember is that sugar and starch consumption lead to accelerated hardening of arteries in your body, which causes heart attacks and strokes.
Reassessment of what a heart healthy, brain friendly diet is
The above-mentioned research findings require a complete re-thinking of what a healthy diet would be. The villain turned out to NOT be saturated fat (meat, eggs, butter and avocado), but rather TRANS fat (margarine, hydrogenated polyunsaturated fatty acids) and I agree with the FDA that this should be abolished. Trans fat is full of free radicals oxidizing LDL cholesterol, which we just learnt is causing hardening of arteries. It is sugar and starches that turned out to be the main villain. Omega-6 fatty acids, found in safflower oil, sun flower oil, grape seed oil and canola oil are bad for you also as they lead to inflammation through the arachidonic acid system in the body. Conversely flaxseed oil, omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) derived from fish oil are very protective (anti-inflammatory) oils, as is olive oil and coconut oil. These latter two are anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fatty acids. Keep in mind that you want to change the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids more in the direction of omega-3 fatty acids, so that the ratio will be between 1:1 and 1:3. Most Americans are exposed to ratios of 1:8 to 1:16 (too many omega-6 fatty acids in fast food and processed foods), which leads to inflammation of the arteries as well.
The new “heart and brain healthy diet” consists of no refined carbohydrates (sugar and starch), but about 45% complex carbohydrates (organic vegetables like broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, peppers, onions, garlic, peppers, Swiss chard, zucchini, asparagus etc.), 20 % protein and 35% saturated and other fats like omega-3 (1:3 mix with omega-6) fatty acids and monounsaturated fats (like olive oil or coconut oil).
According to Ref.1 you can even eat butter, lard and other animal fats provided they come from clean (not antibiotic or bovine growth hormone treated) animals. Dr. Perlmutter (Ref.1) points out that even extreme diets like the Inuit diet with 80% saturated fat and 20% protein leads to longevity with healthy arteries. The patients who died in the many trials including the Framingham Study did so, because of free radicals from sugar, starch and wheat. Wheat contains the addictive gliadin molecule (part of gluten), which makes people eat more sweets and starchy foods. The liver turns the extra calories into visceral fat deposits that in turn cause the release of cytokines like tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) and COX-2 enzymes.
This causes inflammation, heart attacks, strokes and cancer.
Contrary to what Big Pharma wants you to know cholesterol is an anti-inflammatory, LDL is a cholesterol transporter (provided it is not oxidized) and HDL is protective of hardening of the arteries as long as the “ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol” is less than 3.4 for males and 3.3 for females. This is the cholesterol risk ratio used by cardiologists to determine the risk of coronary artery disease. The average risk of this ratio for Americans is 5.0 for males and 4.4 for females. The ideal ratio to strive for is the “1/2 average risk” ratio of 3.4 for males and 3.3 for women (Ref.2).
Paradigm shift in causation of heart attacks and strokes, but also of cancer, and neurological diseases
As pointed out in Ref. 1 there has been a paradigm shift in our thinking about what causes inflammation and what causes all of the major diseases including premature aging. Many physicians are not up to date in this new thinking although it has been in the medical literature since about 1995. In my colleagues’ defense I like to say that they are busy people and they do not always have the time to do their continuing education. However, it is imperative that the public learns about this paradigm shift as it affects literally everyone. In my YouTube video on the home page of www.nethealthbook.com I have talked about this new thinking in the summer of 2012. Now we are learning that there is an anti-inflammatory, cholesterol containing, fat rich diet without refined carbs, but containing ample complex carbs, which is a modified zone diet or a modified Mediterranean diet that will prevent all these diseases. At the same time it is a weight loss diet as cholesterol and fat in your diet stops the liver from producing lipids and triglycerides and helps you to lose weight. Critics will say that it sounds too good to be true, but I agree with Dr. Perlmutter and Dr. Davis, both of whom have provided ample evidence that it is true. Try some of their recipes. Just read Ref. 1 and 2, where recipes are listed in the back part of their books. Or try the recipes I listed for one day in this blog. I am publishing a book entitled “A Survivor’s Guide To Successful Aging” through Amazon.com, which will come out later in early 2014 where you can find recipes for 1 week in the last chapter.
There has been a paradigm shift in the thinking of how hardening of the arteries is caused. Now it is known that an inflammatory process causes it. It is an overindulgence in sugar, starch and wheat products that causes the liver to produce lipids, cholesterol and leads to the “wheat belly” and the “grain brain”. All of this causes cytokines to bring about an inflammatory reaction that affects the lining of arteries causing heart attacks, strokes, but also Parkinson’s disease, MS, autism, asthma, arthritis, epilepsy, Lou Gehrig disease and Alzheimer’s disease (Ref.1). The inflammation does not stop there. If you keep up the high carb/low fat diet, it will lead to various cancers (Ref. 1 and 3). The solution is a diet high in healthy fats (I would call it a low carb/medium high healthy fat diet) as outlined above consisting of 30 to 35% healthy fat, 20% of protein and 45 to 50% of complex carbs, but none of the refined carbs. I have followed such a diet since 2001. I am enjoying that I can now eat a reasonable amount of healthy fats, which I was not aware of being allowed before I read Ref. 1 and 3, but I continue with the antioxidant vitamins and anti-inflammatory supplements to prevent LDL oxidization. I hope that many of you can benefit from prevention so you can enjoy a healthy life without being a victim of illness or disability.
More information on:
2. paradigm shift regarding hardening of the arteries: My book “A Survivor’s Guide To Successful Aging: With recipes for 1 week provided by Christina Schilling” explains the content of this blog in much more detail.
1. David Perlmutter, MD: “Grain Brain. The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, And Sugar-Your Brain’s Silent Killers.” Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013.
2. Life Extension: Disease Prevention and Treatment, Fifth edition. 130 Evidence-Based Protocols to Combat the Diseases of Aging. © 2013
3. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly Cookbook. 150 Recipes to Help You Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2012.
Last edited Nov. 7, 2014