February is Heart Health Month and I love the idea of taking a whole month to educate ourselves about what things we can do to be heart healthy. Unfortunately, many recommendations are behind the times and may actually doing your heart a disservice.
Old school recommendations such as eat low fat, avoid cholesterol and consume lots of “healthy whole grains” have been shown via recent research to provide no cardiovascular health benefits and, in fact, may contribute to heart disease.
Nutrition recommendations from the American Heart Association are as seen on the left. According to this guide, we should be eating more canned and dried fruit. This is absurd considering the fact that canned peaches in 100% of their own juice still contain 18g of sugar per serving and no fiber. You don’t even want to know how much sugar is in canned peaches in syrup. You might as well be eating 4 full sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. At least those would also have 2g of fiber.
While making no distinction amongst canned, dried or fresh fruits and veggies they do tell you to limit your oil/fat intake to only 3 T of monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats per day. They also tell us to avoid saturated fats. This is disappointing seeing as there is now no research-based connection between fat consumption or cholesterol consumption and elevated risk of heart disease. The most recent review of the literature that came out in January showed “Higher intakes of SAFA (saturated fatty acids) were not associated with higher risks of CHD or stroke.”
One of the fats that they recommend 3 tablespoons of daily called polyunsaturated fatty acids can be super inflammatory on the body. Polyunsaturated fatty acids contain pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids. Elevated consumption of omega 6 fats compared to the anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats
can lead to joint pain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions and inflammatory bowel disease. These fats are vegetable oils such as soybean oil, corn oil and peanut oil. So, it’s recommended that we eat 3 T of GMO, processed, oxidized soybean oil daily but we must avoid high quality, pastured butter which is chock full of amazing nutrients and we must avoid organic extra virgin coconut oil full of anti-inflammatory, soothing fats simply because we were wrongly taught that saturated fat is bad.
When we wrongly limit the amount of high quality fat in our diet, we have replaced it with sugar instead. Trends from the early 1990’s onward show that as food manufacturers removed “bad saturated fats” from foods, they added sugar in its place. And look where it’s gotten us, this reduced fat consumption.
Instead of avoiding fats as recommended by the American Heart Association, we need to embrace high quality fat consumption as a main source of daily calories. High quality fats are pastured butter, pastured ghee, coconut, coconut oil, avocados, avocado oil, fatty wild caught fish, olives, olive oil, 85-90% dark chocolate. Not only do these fats keep us satiated and our taste buds happy, but they also confer some great health benefits. Omega 3’s found in fatty fish are linked to a reduction in cardiovascular disease as well as reduced inflammation. Coconut oil contains monolaurin which has the ability to keep our important gut bacteria healthy. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids that “is associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and mortality” even in “individuals at high cardiovascular risk.” Even dark chocolate has been shown to reduce inflammation and help in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
See? Fat is very heart healthy.
That being said, it is the quality of the fat that makes all the difference in the world. Low quality, butter from grain-fed cows does not have the same health benefits as grass-fed cow butter. There are very poor quality olive oil on the shelves that will not reduce your cardiovascular disease risk and may even be oxidized which would promote inflammation.
When shopping for high quality fats, look for the following:
Butter that is from cows that are 100% grassfed and grass finished
Coconut oil that is organic, extra virgin
Olive oil that is cold-pressed, extra virgin in dark green bottles
Organic dark chocolate that is 85% or darker
Adding plenty of high quality fats such as these provide amazing nutrients for the body including vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K2, conjugated linoleic acid, butyric acid, polyphenols, flavonoids and other antioxidants. In fact, you can get a double dose of nutrients by steaming your vegetables and adding butter, coconut oil or olive oil at the end. Top them off with a pinch of nutrient-rich pink Himalayan sea salt for essential minerals and you have an amazingly nutritious meal.
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