You’ve probably seen the news – the US Government is soon to remove all warnings about dietary cholesterol and saturated fat being harmful. Does that mean you can have eggs and bacon for breakfast every day and steak for dinner? Yes, sort of, if you chose your eggs, bacon, and beef properly.
Why was cholesterol demonized?
Lets take a look back at history. Researchers back 40 years ago found that the plaque in arteries, which could cause a heart attack, had LDL cholesterol in them. So the conclusion was made that the LDL cholesterol is what caused plaque and heart attacks. Then came Pfizer’s Lipitor and other statin drugs to reduce cholesterol and 40 years of cholesterol phobia.
Looking at just one little fact raised my doubts about this logic many years ago – That is over 50% of those people admitted to the ER for heart attacks had normal or low cholesterol levels. So if high cholesterol caused heart attacks, then you should see very few people with low cholesterol levels having heart attacks, but that really had little to do with it.
If you also look at where the source of cholesterol in your body comes from, it isn’t so much the food you eat, but what your body makes. Cholesterol is a critical molecule in your body and if you reduced cholesterol too low you’d die. Cholesterol is what most of your hormones, vitamin D, CoQ10, and other necessary compounds are made of.
The real culprit, which was never communicated to the public nor doctors was that it was inflammation in the arteries which oxidized, and damaged, the LDL cholesterol and made it sticky. (Oxidation is what causes a car to rust or an apple to turn brown) When it became damaged and sticky that caused it to form the plaque. So what causes inflammation? simple rule of thumb is almost anything white, so sugar, flour, rice, potatoes, etc. These foods are very quickly converted to glucose in the blood stream and this increased glucose causes the oxidation. One way to identify the bad foods is too look up their glycemic index. This is measure which indicates how quickly a food will raise your blood sugar. 0 means it doesn’t raise blood sugar at all and 100 is eating pure table sugar. You want to stick to the low glycemic foods which which have a GI of less than 55. (an apple is 39 but a banana is 62. A baked potato is 111). This doesn’t mean that there are a number of websites which list the GI of different foods. Here is one http://www.glycemicindex.com
Saturated Fat was Demonized too.
Another dietary change which took place a few decades ago also was the reduction of fat in foods. When you reduce or eliminate fat, sugar was added to make it palatable. We know sugar isn’t good, but if you tasted a fat free yogurt without sugar, you’d probably never buy it again. People were looking for that “Fat Free” banner on the label, they bought it, and it tasted good, but few turned the carton around and read the ingredients and saw how much sugar was added to make it taste good.
Healthy Omega 6 vs Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) Ratio
You also need the right balance of Omega 6 and 3 fats in your diet. The ideal ratio is 1:1. In the typical western diet that ratio 16:1 so far too much omega 6 EFA. This excess is oxidizing and causes the same oxidation of cholesterol as too much sugar. Some people will take fish oil, or eat fish to get the healthy omega 3 EFAs, but nobody looks at omega 6. So where does that excess of omega 6 come from?
Corn and Soy beans cause an excess of omega 6 when fed to animals (including us). So you say “Great I don’t eat corn or soy that often, so I’m good!” Not so fast. You don’t have to eat the corn and soy, it can also come from what you eat or drink eats. Chickens, cattle, pigs, farm raised salmon, tilapia, shrimp and other farmed animals are fed a diet very high in corn and soy meal. When a cow eats this commercial diet it causes an unhealthy excess of omega 6 EFA in their flesh and milk.
When you eat that steak, egg, or drink a glass of milk you are getting a very unhealthy level of inflammatory omega 6 essential fatty acids. So eating that plate of eggs and bacon or a nice juicy steak is oxidizing that cholesterol and setting you up for a heart attack. If you buy that Atlantic salmon fillet, look at the ingredients. It will say Salmon & food color added to the feed. Why? Because farm raised salmon, which is fed corn and soy meal, is white, not pink. Does that mean you have to go back to a kale and quinoa diet? No. Read on.
Where to find Healthy Beef, Fish, Eggs, and Milk
So how do you find beef, fish, eggs, and milk that has a healthy 1:1 ratio of omega 3 & 6 EFAs? Simple, go to the farm or hop on a boat. When animals eat what they’ve eaten for thousands of years they’re healthy and when they are healthy you are healthy. If you lived on a farm you’re cattle would graze on grass in the pasture. Chickens would scratch the ground for seeds, grubs, insects, and anything else they can get. Pigs would eat what they could find too. You could also hop in your boat and head out to sea, or to the lake. Salmon eat krill which gives them their natural pink color, same with other common fish, and shrimp.
Next time you go to the store look for the grass fed beef, milk from grass fed cows, wild caught fish and shrimp, and pasture raised chickens and eggs. Don’t fall for the “Free Range” label on the eggs. They are still fed corn and soy meal, but have access to the outside, but no natural foods there. They are more expensive, but it is worth the price to get real food that is good for you vs cheap unhealthy meats.
Blood Tests for Oxidation
The level of oxidation in your body can change daily based on what you eat and do. There are two tests though which can measure a couple markers of inflammation:
- CRP – C-Reactive Protein. You want this to be less than 1.0. They’ll say normal is 1.0 to 3.0, but that is what the average of the population, you want to be better than average!
- Homocysteine – This is a highly reactive molecule which tears into the artery walls like sandpaper, then if you have oxidized LDL cholesterol it will take hold in these tears. You want this to be less than 9.0 and ideally less than 7.0. B12 and Folate help to lower homocysteine.
Don’t Buy Organic
Well, do buy organic produce, but organic milk, beef, eggs, etc are just fed organic soy and corn. Yes they won’t have hormones and other additives and far superior to conventionally raised, but they will have far too much of the inflammatory omega 6 EFA and will lead to the oxidation of cholesterol. Sometimes you can find organic grass fed beef and pasture raised eggs and chickens, then that is the best of the best, but if cattle are roaming the open fields eating the naturally growing grasses, and the fields aren’t being sprayed with pesticides, then you are good. When in season try to find locally raised beef, chicken, and pork where you know the farmer and see the fields.
There is nothing harmful with cholesterol, it is the oxidation of that harmless cholesterol which makes it deadly. To live a healthy life you can ignore the cholesterol levels, but you must reduce those foods which lead to the oxidation of the cholesterol. So eliminate sugar, flour, rice, bread, potatoes, etc and eat only grass fed beef and milk, pasture raised chickens and eggs, and only fresh caught fish.