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Today we’re going to talk about how your diet impacts your risk of developing heart disease. If you haven’t read yesterday’s post on The Origins of Heart Disease, you might want to start there, as it’ll help all this information make more sense. The two basic goals for a heart healthy diet are to lower your levels of chronic inflammation, and to keep your lipid profile in a good range. Thankfully, inflammation and cholesterol levels are both highly influenced by what you eat, so your diet is a great place to start in lowering your risk for what is now the number one killer of Americans.
Dr. Barry Sears is known as the guru of the anti-inflammation diet. He has some good points and some not so good points, but we can learn a lot from what he has to say. He blames the epidemic of silent inflammation on three main things: 1) Increased refined carbohydrate consumption that leads to high insulin levels, 2) increased consumption of vegetable oils that are high in omega 6 essential oils, and 3) the decreased amount of omega 3 essential oil consumption, down an estimated 90-95% over the last 100 years. So how do each of these three things lead to increased inflammation?
High Insulin Levels
Without their natural fiber, fat and other nutrients, refined carbohydrates hit your blood stream rapidly, basically like a fire hydrant without a hose. Your body responds to this dramatic increase in blood sugar by secreting high levels of insulin in order to prevent your brain, your nerves, and your blood vessels from being damaged by the excess glucose. You can tolerate that every once in a while, but if you are consistently eating a lot of sugary foods or refined carbohydrates, you’re going to have chronically elevated insulin levels. The insulin causes increased fat deposition (especially in your abdomen) and leads to increased cortisol and increased inflammation. And guess what? Patients with elevated insulin levels are 6 times as likely to develop heart disease than those with normal insulin levels. How’s that donut look to you now?
High Omega 6 Consumption
What about vegetables oils? Aren’t they supposed to be better for you than saturated fats? Well, that’s what we’ve been told, but it hasn’t proven to be true. Vegetable oils like canola, corn, and soybean oil are high in omega 6’s. You’ve probably heard all about omega 3’s and how important they are for your brain, but they’re also very important in lowering inflammation. Omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory, and omega 6’s are pro-inflammatory. You need both, as its important for your body to be able to mount an inflammatory response as well as be able to shut it off. The problem is that since these industrialized foods have been promoted for so long as heart healthy, we’ve been using them way too much. We’ve got too many pro-inflammatory omega 6’s in our diet, and not enough anti-inflammatory omega 3’s. The result has been an increase in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, increasing numbers of autoimmune conditions, and of course, higher rates of cardiovascular disease.
Low Omega 3 Consumption
So, what happened to all the omega 3’s we used to eat? Well, for that we need to look at our food supply. We used to raise our cattle on grass and catch our fish from the ocean, but now we feed our cows grains in unhealthy CAFO operations and get our fish from equally unhealthy fish farms. We’re eating sick, inflamed animals, and because of that, we’re becoming more sick and inflamed. Karma sure does come back to get us, doesn’t it? Did your grandmother ever try and force a spoonful of cod liver oil down your throat when you were sick? Well, Grandma was onto something. Kids used to take cod liver oil as a supplement because their mothers knew that it made them healthier. As I’m sure you’ve probably heard by now, cod liver oil is high in omega 3’s, and is probably one of the best supplements you could ever take. The ideal ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 is about 1:3, or 1:1.5. The Japanese, some of the healthiest people in the world, have a ratio of about 1.5. They have the longest life span, and the lowest rates of depression and heart disease. What is the average American’s ratio? A dismally depressing 15. No wonder we’re dying of heart disease and suffering from depression.
I think that’s probably enough for today, so we’ll leave the cholesterol discussion for tomorrow. Hope you’ve enjoyed this post and learned some new ways to protect yourself. Sign up via RSS feed, email, facebook or twitter to make sure you don’t miss anything!
B. Sears, M.D.; 2011 NIWH Whole Health Education curriculum streamed video: Inflammation and Disease.