If you're one of the 102 million Americans with elevated cholesterol, you need to change your lifestyle.
But probably not in the way you think...
In a recent Health & Wealth Bulletin, I discussed how many doctors are too quick to prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication before treating the likely underlying cause... too much inflammation in the body.
For many people with high cholesterol, the most critical change you need to make is to your diet. But unlike what most doctors will tell you... you don't need to say goodbye to your steak and eggs.
One myth needs to be smashed against the rocks forever: Dietary cholesterol does NOT raise your blood cholesterol.
For decades, it's been common for doctors to tell patients to avoid foods with cholesterol. Even today, lots of health care professionals still spew the nonsense spun to them by drug companies and old textbooks.
But eating (or avoiding) eggs won't change your numbers. In 2016, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that healthy men eating four to six eggs a week had no increase in their blood cholesterol levels.
Only the cholesterol produced by your liver influences your blood-panel numbers. But your liver will make too much cholesterol (especially the highly inflammatory triglycerides) if you eat the wrong foods.
Instead, carbohydrates and processed foods lead to excess insulin and elevated "bad" cholesterols – like lipoprotein(a), as well as elevated triglycerides.
A 2015 article in the journal Cell shed some light on how this works. Eating processed foods with trans fat triggers a protein in our livers called PGC1-beta. This protein sets off a chain reaction that makes your liver produce more bile acids. That makes sense – you need more bile to break down these foods. And guess what our bodies use to make bile? LDL cholesterol.
In other words, eating processed foods that include trans fats will increase your body's own production of LDL cholesterol.
Similarly, eating simple carbohydrates (like the "white killers" – white bread, white rice, and white sugar) increases your triglyceride levels.
And keep in mind, these same foods trigger chronic inflammation. So cutting down on these foods not only helps lower your numbers, but keeps your heart healthy, too. Here's a guide to help you get started...
If you want to attempt a diet, see how it lines up with this list. For instance, Atkins recommends cutting out most carbs. That might help you shed pounds at the start, but you'll miss out on whole grains and their benefits.
Similarly, the popular Paleo diet will help you lose weight by avoiding processed foods, sugars, and carbohydrates. But it often involves eating a lot of fat. If you eat too much saturated fat, that can also put your liver into overdrive. Plus, you'll miss out on the benefits of whole grain foods.
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The main issue I have with fads like the South Beach diet or even Weight Watchers is how much they push their own processed foods. These brand-labeled meals are packed with artificial sugars – a huge no-no for heart health.
Using your own common sense is better than one of these "cheater" diets where you buy all its branded products. In fact, I recommend going with whole foods and trying something like the Mediterranean diet instead.
I've often written about the Mediterranean diet... It focuses on lean cuts of meat (like chicken), fish, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and red wine. Studies have shown this diet also protects against cognitive decline and might even promote good gut bacteria.
As I've said many times, changing your diet is the first step toward better heart health. And it's a first step you can take today.
What have you done this year to improve your health? Share you stories with us... [email protected].
What We're Reading...
- Did you miss it? Don't be a lab result.
- Something different: Amazon gets closer to robot deliveries.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
June 11, 2019