Women should listen. We are having more heart attacks while men are having fewer.
Our headlines and media do not help. They aid in our confusion and really mix up the message. Eat fat, not carbs. Eat low fat and low cholesterol and lots of whole grains. Eat vegetarian or vegan, not animal products. Eat these nuts, not those nuts. Eat fake sugar, not real sugar. Eat chicken, not beef. Eat this fish, but not that fish.
Today, I want to talk about the headlines concerning Heart Disease in America and how to use our common sense to lower our risks based on our lifestyle. We don’t need to chew flax or drink coconut oil or count every fat calorie. It’s much more simple than that.
Because February is Heart Month and the Heart Attack is the number one killer in America, this post is pretty important. Want to pass it on to someone you know? I think that would be a great idea. You never know what might spark change in an individual.
The latest headline: “Sugar Causes Heart Disease, Not FAT”
I am at a very low risk for a heart attack, overall. However, if today’s headline is true, I am making a very big heart health mistake.
Sugar is killing us. Not fat. Not cholesterol.
That’s what they say… today. Hold on a moment, it will probably change again.
JAMA Internal Medicine journal published their 12,000 person study on the subject 2 Monday mornings ago and they say, it’s sugar.
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you probably know I am a self-professed sugar addict. So this news is a little alarming, but it’s not shocking to me.
I am compiling a very detailed blog post about the topic of sugar; you’ll see it later this month. For now, let’s discuss heart disease as a whole and how to keep our preventative health plain and simple.
How do we know what to believe?
I am really plugged in to nutritional topics and I am confused most of the time too. It’s really hard to decipher all the studies, the recommendations, the contradicting guidelines (depending on whether you’re reading a vegan blog or a paleo blog, for instance) and the differing opinions of the different doctors. Sometimes I feel tempted to throw my arms in the air and say “who knows”. How can we figure out anything with all these differing opinions.
The good news is: overall life expectancy in America, no matter cause of death, has risen 6.6 years since 1970. So, at least we are getting better at figuring things out, but sometimes it takes many different news headlines to do so.
As an intelligent American, who reads and researches incessantly about food and exercise, this blog post will tell you what I take away from all this contradicting information and how I apply it in my own life. Sometimes, I change my mind too, based on new scientific evidence. We can only do the best we can do.
Step 1: Let’s think about what we know for sure:
Heart Disease exists. It’s most commonly diagnosed as atherosclerosis (fancy word for plaque building up in the arteries and causing health problems ranging from coronary heart disease to kidney disease).
The number of deaths due to heart disease in America is more than any other cause. The 2010 number attributes 597,689 deaths to heart disease. Cancer is number 2. All cancers, by the way. So heart disease is killing more Americans than ALL cancers combined. That is 1 heart attack DEATH every 39 seconds.
The gap is narrowing between women and men. Men are having less heart attacks and women are having more.
In 1968, heart disease death rate, peaked.
If you are Black American man, you are more likely to suffer a death attributable to cardiovascular disease. Black men have the most risk, white men have the next highest risk, with black women coming very closely behind and white women being the least likely by a pretty large margin (almost half as likely as a black male).
Here are your risk factors:
If you are hypertensive (high blood pressure)
if you are inactive
if you are overweight or obese
if you smoke, if you are exposed to smoke
if you have high cholesterol
if you have diabetes
If today’s alert is correct, add sugar consumption here (which may fall under diabetes anyway)
If you have any of these risk factors, you are higher risk population for a death incident from heart disease. There is a term called metabolic syndrome (combinations of certain risk factors). If your doctor has diagnosed you with this, you are the absolute highest risk American for a death event related to heart disease.
Digress here: why the American Dietary Guidelines are a joke:
Let’s think about what we THINK WE KNOW. And what we teach.
I could bore you with a really detailed chronological order of events here, but will do a very basic, no detailed version instead. My only purpose is to explain why I personally, do not use the American guidelines for my diet. If you don’t care why, or if you already are on the same page. Skip this section.
Back in the 1960’s, the US Senate came up with the very first dietary guidelines for America. The purpose was to respond to Americans not eating enough; malnourishment was the problem. They decided this was because we were unaware of how to balance our diet. So they told us how.
In 1974, the committee switched its focus to combat America eating too much. In 1977, the McGovern Report was born. It’s name was “Dietary Goals for the United States”.
The person who wrote this was not a doctor, nor a registered dietician, but a junior aide to a senator. Who, by the way, turns out, was vegan.
You’ve probably heard a lot of controversy regarding this, primarily in the paleo movement community.
This Dietary Goals for the United States was eventually renamed and morphed into the current day: Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This used to include the pretty little pyramid that we are all used to that has now been changed into a round plate.
The link above can be used to access what Americans are taught. Most of us, do not eat like this. I do use this in my blog because it is what the standard is. BUT I do not eat this way, personally.
There are many reasons why, but the biggest reason I don’t take this dietary guideline seriously, is because the US Department of Agriculture is a HUGE CONTRIBUTOR to this so-called “guideline for healthy eating”. The US Department of Agriculture is made up of elected officials from across our country who have a very skewed view, being influenced by a wide range of corporations and industries. Think Monsanto, fish farms, McDonald’s, chicken farms, etc… These Senate committee members may have a reason to protect large corporate interest, which may explain how GMO grains became the largest piece of our pretty little pyramid in the first place. $$$$$ cha-ching.
So, I would rather rely on my own common sense, advice from nutritionists and doctors, instead of Senate members who may or may not be coming from a genuine place.
Step 2: assess what you are willing to reasonably do:
We can influence our risk factors (see the risk factors above). We all do what we can to limit these. The reason all of us are performing cardio exercise at all, is probably because, we want our heart to be healthy, right?
Today’s sugar headline has been in the works for about a decade. I’ve seen it coming since I first heard a doctor tell me what sugar does inside your arteries. It took so long because they have to run research studies, with control groups, that last a certain length of time, before they can link a cause to a disease. It doesn’t seem very common sense to think sugar would cause heart disease, does it? That might be why scientists and doctors have overlooked it and / or forgotten about it. Fat always seemed so conclusive as a heart enemy. BUT what if I told you your body converts sugar into body fat?
This information has always been my number one motive to limit the sugar in my diet. I could be doing all this stuff: eating veggies, running regularly, lifting weights, refraining from smoking, keeping stress levels low, etc… only to find out that I was completely overlooking the real heart enemy: sugar.
None of us want that. So we have to weed through the data and the recommendations and do a lot of it “just in case”. That’s how I live my life: “just in case”. Is this a good philosophy? Who knows. All I know is that I want to do what I can to make my body as healthy as it can be. If my goal is to be healthy, I want to do reasonable measures to get there.
In other words, pick what works for you. If chewing flax seems a little excessive, don’t do it. BUT don’t overlook the definitive links. The risk factors that we KNOW. And don’t overlook the risk factors that we are pretty darn sure of.
Does it make sense to eat all meat and no carbs? I mean common sense would say? =No. But droves have been doing it for years. Think Atkins. The paleo movement, in my opinion, is a bit of an improvement upon this concept, but it doesn’t make sense to me either. To each his own. But officially, I would never personally go on a diet that said DO NOT EAT BEANS. That is just not sensible to me. That is just silly.
So, let’s just look at what I DO do. Maybe some of these will make sense to you too and you can figure out what you should be doing to protect your heart, reasonably.
Step 3: Try these suggestions:
Besides the obvious things you should do according to the risk factors listed above, you should control your diet FIRST. It’s the number one problem. There are simple, common sense steps. You don’t have to count every calorie (unless you need to lose weight) or do anything drastic like stand on your head and drink fish oil.
Just try some common sense approaches, such as these:
1. Choose fructose over glucose. Simply put: if you need sweet items in your diet, eat a whole piece of fresh fruit. Another note: FIBER, which is not in fruit juice, is a heart healthy agent. It ushers cholesterol out of our arteries. Why would we ever choose juice? Common sense says we wouldn’t.
I know, it doesn’t take the place of the candy bar. I’m not saying you can never have a candy bar. BUT limit yourself and stick to it.
2. Try to choose unsaturated fat over saturated fat. Simply put, good fats help protect and repair arterial damage, keeping your heart healthy. Choose nuts, avocados, vegetable oils, fish and lean meats.
3. If you must eat bread, make it the best quality. Sprouted whole wheat berry bread over regular whole grain wheat is a great choice. I am not a huge believer in the body and wheat relationship. BUT most dietitians will tell you to eat it, so if you must, choose high quality. Stay away from super processed and high fructose laden bread products.
4. Choose color. The best way to protect the heart is to eat a large variety of quality whole fruits and vegetables. The more color per day, the better. Each vegetable and fruit delivers a different and unique set of nutrients that your body needs. Let’s get the whole spectrum. It will aid in energy metabolism, help with digestion and gut inflammation and keep you feeling satisfied. Who says you must have meat for dinner? Start a whole and raw vegetable dinner night, once per week! See how much color you can get onto your plate.
Also, I don’t refrain from natural foods. If it grows, it’s mine and I feel great about it. Limiting potatoes or bananas or nuts is your choice for your own body, but I’m not a fan of saying you cannot have something that is natural. Choose for yourself. If you are healthy and a healthy weight, eat the potato once in a while. I’m not saying eat them nightly.
5. Put down the Soda, please! If you haven’t read my COKE posts, start there. Take a look at this simple moment with my own daughter (she is 7) where I showed her what she was doing by drinking one can of Coke. She was totally shocked:
6. Eat your fruit servings before you workout. Remember when I said that sugar is converted into fat, above? Well, there is a moment when you can truly enjoy a piece of fruit without any worry about where you will store it: just before a workout. That will be the first choice of fuel for your body. I try to consume most of my fruit servings before a run or before lifting weights. Just a small step, but every little bit helps.
7. Consider eliminating processed foods entirely. A lot of people think this isn’t possible or realistic for them. For those of you who are willing to take a total health leap, try it for 30-days. Nothing out of a box except high quality choices of the following (meaning organic when possible and limited natural ingredient list and grass-fed/uncaged): broths, dried beans, canned tomatoes, cheeses, milk, yogurt, humus, salsa, Triscuits, corn tortilla chips, rice cakes, rice, oats, quinoa, etc…, nuts, certain bars, no sugar cereals, eggs, meats, fish, frozen vegetables or fruits, butter, olive oils, vinegar.
8. Stop SUGAR addiction. Look for a very detailed and shocking look at sugar later this month. I’d love to get into it here, but it’s an entire blog post on its own. Just know, sugar is 1. addictive 2. fattening 3. artery clogging 4. weight loss blocking 5. hidden everywhere. Are there enough reasons here? It’s terrible and it’s causing an obesity epidemic. Please limit sugar in your diet to 6 teaspoons per day or less (this is about 100 calories or 30 grams). Check every label (it’s hidden in everything) and don’t allow it to overwhelm you. Don’t allow it to sabotage your weight loss journey or heart health attempts either.
February is Heart Month. So pass this on. Especially if you know an African-American Male who might need to read this (remember, they are at highest risk of death by heart attack).
Go forth. Try harder each day and remember, improvement is good enough!