Cholesterol and its effects on the body have been the subject of many news articles for many years now, so we should all be pretty well-versed on the topic, right? Test your Cholesterol IQ with this quiz. You might be surprised by the answers!
TRUE or FALSE?
1. Eating dietary cholesterol (such as in eggs and shellfish) raises your cholesterol levels and therefore your chances of heart disease.
2. Cholesterol is bad for you and is found only in foods.
3. The best way to protect against heart disease is to follow a low fat, low calorie diet.
4. Cholesterol can be only affected by diet and drugs.
5. High cholesterol can be hereditary and may not even be a valid indicator of heart health.
Although you may have heard many of the statements above, they’re all FALSE, except number five, which is TRUE. In the 1960’s, when cholesterol research was instigated, it was initially theorized that blood cholesterol values were a valid indicator of fats in the arteries, leading to clogged arteries and heart disease.
Over the last 40 years, new research has shown that cholesterol isn’t as valid an indicator as originally perceived. Unfortunately, an entire revenue source has been created from cholesterol lowering drugs, perhaps explaining why this more recent research has been slow to emerge from the medical community (although it is available over the internet). Let’s take a look:
1. Eating dietary cholesterol (such as eggs and shellfish) raises your cholesterol and chances of getting heart disease. FALSE!
No way. Eggs and shrimp are finally off the hook! There is no evidence that eating foods with cholesterol in them adversely affects your body’s cholesterol levels. In fact, eggs contain a substance called lecithin, which decreases the effects of cholesterol on the body. And eggs are a good source of protein. Shrimp are a delightful treat, full of omega-3 fatty acids. So eat up!
2. Cholesterol is bad for you and is found only in foods. FALSE!
Cholesterol is NOT bad for you. In fact, it is essential for life. Among other things, it’s necessary for brain-cell function, it’s the naturally occurring building block of all hormones, including progesterone, estrogen, testosterone and cortisol, and it provides the body with an effective way to store carbohydrate (sugar and starch) calories. Your body makes cholesterol constantly, and eating cholesterol has little if any effect on that process. About 80 percent of the body’s cholesterol is synthesized from carbohydrates. Getting the picture here? Cholesterol is synthesized mostly from carbs, NOT fats . . .
The body creates two types of cholesterol–HDL and LDL. HDL, known as “good” cholesterol, protects against heart disease. LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol, but it isn’t really bad in and of itself. It just oxidizes more easily. It is the oxidization of LDL that can lead to artery-blocking plaque, which can raise your risk of heart disease. Antioxidants–particularly Vitamin E–protect against heart disease by preventing this oxidization.
3. The best way to protect against heart disease is to follow a very low fat, low calorie diet. FALSE!
Low calorie and low fat diets are typically high in refined carbohydrates, the opposite of what you need for good health. People who eat vegetables, fiber, and moderate amounts of nuts, hormone-free meats, seafood, and healthy fats have far fewer incidents of heart disease deaths than those who eat extremely low fat, high carbohydrate diets. Simple, refined carbs, such as sugar, pasta, crackers, corn, chips, white rice, potatoes and breads, stimulate insulin production. Insulin reduces HDL (“good”) cholesterol and leaves more LDL (“bad”) cholesterol circulating in the body, where it can become oxidized and cause artery-blocking plaque.
So What Should You Eat for a Healthy Heart?
- Unprocessed vegetables, meaning not canned, boxed, or otherwise cooked to death. If you can’t eat fresh veggies, then choose frozen. Lightly steam or stir fry vegetables, or eat them raw. Never boil or overcook. They will lose all nutrition this way.
- Fresh fruit (Avoid fruit with high glycemic index, such as dried fruit, fruit juice, bananas, mangos (darn it!), and sweetened applesauce.)
- Eggs, moderate amounts of meats, such as chicken or turkey, that have been raised without hormone treatments for growth stimulation.
- Seafood, especially Wild Salmon. Farm raised Atlantic Salmon that is commonly found at the local grocery store has very little, if any, beneficial fatty acids. Wild Salmon, especially those from the Pacific (Alaska) are highly preferred for nutrition and taste. Grilled, baked or poached, wild salmon is a life-saving food.
- Nuts, Seeds, Legumes
- Garlic, Onions
- Monosaturated Fats such as olive oil and grapeseed oil (Grapeseed oil is excellent for sauté and stir-fry. It has a higher flash point for quicker cooking than olive oil, is tasteless, and contains the same healthful fats.)
Foods to Avoid
- Refined Carbohydrates (“any white food”)–white rice, white flour, sugar, corn, corn syrup, baked potatoes, pasta
- Too much protein and saturated fats from processed red meat
- Processed or canned food
- Trans-fatty acids (margarine, hydrogenated oils), especially those heated, as in fried foods
- Soft drinks, coffee, hard liquor
- Milk and ice cream
4. Cholesterol can only be affected by diet and drugs. FALSE!
Perhaps you have discovered through routine blood work and physical exams that your cholesterol values have increased, even though your diet hasn’t changed. Or maybe you’ve “improved” your diet and had no change in your cholesterol levels. A sluggish thyroid will virtually guarantee an increase in your blood cholesterol values and more importantly, your LDL/HDL ratio. People who take cholesterol-lowering drugs must have periodic blood tests. Why? To find out if their liver is becoming toxic from the very medicine supposedly prescribed to improve their health!
5. High cholesterol can be hereditary and may not even be a valid indicator of health. This is TRUE!
You can inherit naturally occurring cholesterol values that are higher than the 200 maximum value recommended by medical groups. In fact, studies have shown that there is no correlation between cholesterol values and longevity, and there is even little valid evidence that high cholesterol levels lead to heart disease.
And now, here’s an extra credit question . . .
Which of the following people do you think is more likely to develop heart disease?
A. Someone eating tofu-broccoli salad because he’s feeling guilty and he knows it’s good for him.
B. A parent sharing his favorite ice cream with his much adored children.
Are you surprised to learn the answer is B?
Researchers at the Ohio State University inadvertently discovered that happy eaters are healthy eaters. Rabbits were genetically bred to develop hardening of the arteries and coronary artery disease. Then they were all fed a high-fat diet to speed up the process.
At the end of the study, a select group of rabbits were discovered to have clean, healthy arteries, while the rest developed artery disease as expected. The difference between the two groups? It turned out that the young students who’d been feeding the group of rabbits with clean arteries had petted and played with the rabbits before giving them their food. (This study has since been replicated, suggesting a link between happiness and good digestion!)
Of course, eating ice cream for every meal isn’t a great idea. But remember–for a healthy heart, be mindful when you eat and enjoy your food!
Sources: “Commonsense Guide to a Healthy Heart” by John. R. Lee, M.D.
“Healthy Hormones, Healthy Life” by Dr. Eric Berg
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup, M.D.
Hi! I hope you’re all enjoying a diet filled with fresh seasonal vegetables, low glycemic fruits, protein predominately from fish, turkey, chicken, wild game and some clean red meats, whole grains and nuts in moderation (eaten separately from other foods), healthy fats such as avocados, olive and grapeseed oils, and occasional clean cheeses. In this newsletter and the next, I’m going to take a look at what I mean by clean meat. Be aware–this information isn’t all pretty, but I think you’ll agree it’s worth knowing what you’re putting in your body!– Dr. Robin
Many of you have probably seen hormone-free labels on beef at local grocery and health food stores. You’ve probably also noticed that this meat is considerably more expensive! Some of the labels at other markets may say “grown without antibiotics” or “free range,” but that may not necessarily mean the meat is hormone-free unless specified.
Do you know what hormones are used in meat and why they’re used? Have you wondered what these hormones might do to us when we eat them?SEX HORMONES
U.S. farmers have been giving sex hormones to cattle to fatten them up since the 1970s. The hormones increase the amount of meat the cattle produce without requiring extra feed. Cows are given six hormones, including estradiol-17 (a powerful estrogen), progesterone, and testosterone, as well as additional synthetic hormones that mimic testosterone and estrogen. These hormones are very stable and are not broken down at high temperatures, meaning that they are still in their complete form when we eat the meat.
This use of hormones for artificial growth stimulation has caused quite a stir Europe. In fact, due to concerns about early puberty, tumors, cancer risks, and genetic problems, the European Union has banned hormone use in cattle. The FDA has said there is no evidence these hormones are dangerous. However, Europe’s scientific committee found in three separate studies that no acceptable safe daily intake could be established for any of the six hormones. (I guess we don’t need a daily intake of synthetic testosterone, after all!) It also found substantial evidence that estradiol 17 is a complete carcinogen, meaning it shows both tumor initiating and tumor promoting effects!
Girls in the US are reaching puberty at younger and younger ages, often menstruating as early as age 8. Breast size in young adolescent girls, and even some boys, is increasing. Obesity, due to estrogen dominance created by the hormones we eat unknowingly, is of epidemic proportions in the United States.GROWTH HORMONES
An additional hormone, called rBGH, or rBST, is even more controversial. Given to as many as 30 percent of the cattle in the U.S., rBGH is a genetically engineered growth hormone designed to increase milk output. rBGH causes slightly higher levels of an insulin-like growth factor in cows’ milk. This protein–found in milk and dairy products from cows treated with rBGH–has been linked to cancer, and it is possible it could lead to diabetes in people prone to the disease.
The FDA approved its safety in 1993, after reviewing a 90-day-study of rats fed the growth hormone.
Six years later, Canadian scientists used results from the same study to reject the use of rBGH in Canada. These scientists were disturbed by the fact that the hormone was absorbed into the rats’ bloodstreams and that it weakened their immune systems! In addition, they noted that U.S. farmers were forced to give antibiotics to cows to counteract rBGH’s tendency to cause udder swelling. (More on antibiotics in meat in the next newsletter!)SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
Although there are differing views on the safety of hormones in meat, what it really comes down to is whether you want to risk introducing synthetic hormones into your body. For your body to be healthy, it needs to find balance–particularly endocrine balance! I encourage you to avoid all sources of synthetic hormones, including hormone-riddled meat and dairy. WHAT TO KNOW WHEN YOU SHOP . . .
Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry, so your main concern will be in buying beef.
Many dairy products contain labels indicating that they come from rBGH-free farms.
Hormone supplementation is not currently an issue with U.S. fish. Although farm-raised fish are not fed hormones, wild fish are superior. Always choose wild fish if possible for the better taste and the higher fatty acid content. (Do check labels when shopping for fish. Fish in China and Cuba are being genetically engineered to produce enormous “super fish.” Although genetically engineered fish haven’t been approved for consumption in the U.S., they are sold here!)
On beef, look for the specific label “No Hormones.” Farmers can use this label only if they prove their meat is hormone free. The terms “Natural” or “Organic” don’t necessarily cut it; neither of these labels ensures your meat is hormone free.
Try to restrict most of your red-meat consumption (which should be moderate anyway) to home, where you know what you’re getting!