A few years ago when I began to really dive deeper into nutrition and wellness, the same theme continued to pop up: What we had been told to eat for the last 40 years or so to be healthy was not based on sound science. When you look at how much sicker we are today than in the 70’s for example that becomes very clear. Diabetes and all manner of chronic auto-immune diseases are reaching epidemic levels. Carbohydrates and cholesterol have both played a critical role in the mess we find ourselves in. Are they good or bad for us?
Although many diet fads have come and gone in that time, (and many more are sure to follow) in general it has been recommended that we eat much less fat and cholesterol in favor of a lot more carbohydrates. Again, it’s quite clear this is not working. Even in the 70’s there was real evidence showing that basing ones diet in whole grains and other carbs was not in our best interest from a health perspective. Especially in relation to diabetes, inflammation and weight gain. One big reason this data was ignored was because it didn’t make anyone a lot of money. It didn’t fit the governments nor farmers agendas very well. Its much more profitable to grow grain and corn in excess (and put it in everything…I mean everything) than fruits and vegetables.
Cholesterol and fat have been blamed for everything from obesity to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers never winning a Superbowl. Again this is based on flawed science and big business. The evidence is there for anyone who wants to look at the available science that high levels of cholesterol in our blood have very little to do with the cholesterol we eat in our food. It’s also very clear there is no hard proof supporting the fact that higher cholesterol levels means a greater risk of heart disease and other coronary problems. An excellent read on the subject is “Cholesterol Clarity” by Jimmy Moore, but there are countless other books and sources of information on the subject.
My Dad took a Statin drug to lower his cholesterol artificially like thousands of others. After doing my research and completing relevant coursework in my studies, it became obvious that based on his numbers this was totally unnecessary. Even my brother, a Harvard trained physician now agrees with me. Statins, like antibiotics and pharmaceutical drugs in general are over prescribed to an alarming degree. Studies link this behavior to modern-day health issues like poor gut health, neurological problems, allergies and many, many more). Luckily, Dad was on a low dose statin so has hopefully experienced fewer side effects, if any, but that may never be fully known. He doesn’t take them anymore.
A little over a year ago the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology issued new cholesterol guidelines essentially declaring that millions of more healthy Americans need to start taking statins. An article from the New York Times quotes both the above associations, although non-profit are heavily supported by drug companies. The connection here is obvious and is nothing new.
So if basing our diet on carbohydrates is a bad thing and cholesterol is not nearly as bad as once thought what is the plan of action? Not surprisingly it comes back once again to just eating real food, but in ratio’s that better suit most people. Carbs are not inherently evil, far from it. They provide glucose which is fuel for energy. However, they need to come from clean sources and in conjunction with activity levels. Refined, processed, simple sources of carbs (most cookies, crackers, chips, pastries, cereals, breads, etc.) should be drastically reduced along with sugar (all carbs turn to sugar).
Look to sweet potatoes, yams, squash, plantains and green veggies instead as some healthy complex carbohydrate sources. Even whole grains, while much better than refined grains tend to be inflammatory for many. If not prepared properly they can also inhibit absorption of other nutrients. Then of course gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye can be very troublesome as well. Lastly, if you are not very active be careful as those excess carbs have to go somewhere. If you don’t use them for energy they tend to make your butt, thighs and belly expand.
It is shocking that cholesterol ever got such a bad rap. Its found in every cell of our body, forms the building blocks for our hormones, is part of the myelin or sheathing that protects our nerves, is vital for vitamin D production, our brains are full of it…need I go on? So eat those egg yolks, that grass-fed butter and beef and clean animal products in general! The latest science is connecting too much carb intake with high levels of LDL pattern B cholesterol, high triglycerides and low HDL which is a very ugly trifecta you do not want. Yes, you read that right, eating too many carbs (especially the processed, refined kind) very well may be a big reason we are fat, sick and heart disease is rampant.
So the takeaway message here? Eat the right kinds of carbohydrates in conjunction with how active you are and do not “base” your diet on them. They should occupy about 20% of your plate on average with plants taking up 65-70% and protein the last 10-15%. Oh and eat lots of cholesterol, if you are like most people it will do wonders for you!
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