Friday, May 8, 2009
In case you were sitting at the edge of your seat, waiting for my last post, the reason it's not here yet and won't be is because finals came, a job application deadline came and went, I got the job I wanted, finals finally finished, I had a job orientation and tomorrow I'm flying to visit my grandparents. So I'll be in Europe for the next 3 weeks and will most likely not feel like posting a blog. I will however compose a post once I get back.
Till then, be good, be safe and have a great May. =)
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Last week I posted little sneak peek of the differences between organic food and conventionally grown food. As the video states, a food is considered organic if it is not genetically modified and is produced without the use of pesticides, fertilizer, sewage sludge and radiation. Consequently this implies that conventional farming employs one or more of these methods. Since we are in a very real sense what we eat—what we put into our bodies is what the body has available to keep us functioning—plants, too are in a real sense what they absorb.
So what impact do conventional farming methods have on the produce we eat? Well for starters all these methods are more or less unnatural, as in they do not offer the ideal environment for the organism to develop. And without getting what they naturally need, the organisms get sick.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been engineered to either produce more, last longer, or be more resistant to pesticides. The problem is that we haven't been engineered along with them to effortlessly adapt to their changes. In some cases, crops like soybeans have been modified for greater resistance to pests by concentrating their natural poisons. So we're eating food that contains more toxins than our bodies would normally have to deal with. (Most plants have natural toxins, but in most food crops they are in such small concentrations that we can easily metabolize them.) You can take a look at my soy blog to get more details about all the cancers and problems in which soy, especially genetically modified soy, is implicated.
Pesticides are used in conventional farming to ensure that the least amount of the crops is eaten by bugs. This yields a greater harvest and thus more products, but the problem is that it also yields chemical residue on our dinner plates. Most pesticides are known carcinogens and are likely to cause cancer especially over years of consumption. And children are more sensitive to getting sick from them than adults.
Fertilizers have to be used in conventional farming methods because, unlike in traditional farming, the same plot of land gets reused year after year without giving the soil any time to recover. Traditionally farmers would rotate different crops on the same plot of land and occasionally not grow anything on there for a while. Conventional farmers don't practice crop rotation and leech all nutrients from the soil and then they add synthetic fertilizers that make the crops look nice. The problem with these nice-looking crops is that they have a fraction of the nutritional value that they would have had they been grown on soil that was still alive. Here is an interview that explains farming methods, their impact on food and consequently on the consumers.
Sewage sludge pretty much speaks for itself. It's crap that's being absorbed by plants and then eaten by us.
Radiation is my most recent and most saddening discovery. Basically to give otherwise perishable fresh fruits and vegetables a longer shelf-life, some manufacturers irradiate the produce. This kills a lot of the microorganism that would normally cause rotting. The problem is that the radiation doesn't discriminate between microorganisms that we need and those we don't. Furthermore it damages the food and creates free radicals as well as URPs—Unique Radiolytic Products. UPRs are free radicals that after being caused by radiation have combined with other chemicals, such as pesticides, and are quite unique in the damage they can do to us. I don't particularly like the way this video is presented, but it's informational and calls attention to the fact that it's not required of manufacturers to label irradiated foods. They're still allowed to call them fresh.
For a while there has been a debate raging between people who claimed that organic farming was just better for the environment than conventional farming and that it made no difference which produce people ended up eating, and people who claimed that organic food itself was better for humans than conventionally grown food. As far as I understand there are still some people out there who claim that conventionally grown food is as good for you as organic food. Well, that's been shown to be a lie. Organic produce is better for your health than the alternative. If you go into a supermarket and hold up a can of conventional black beans next to an organic one, you'll notice that the vitamin and nutrient count is higher in the organic beans. Go ahead and compare any organic and non-organic nutrition labels and see what you'll find. It's very likely that the organic food will also be higher in calories, but these aren't the empty calories that deplete your body of vitamins, enzymes and minerals as you digest them. These are the calories that will give you energy, nutrients and probably help you to stay or become lean.
A Danish study conducted in 2005 shows that rats fed organic food actually had better immune systems and were less obese than their conventionally fed counterparts. To read about that and a lot more information on organic food you can click this link and scroll down to why organic foods are better for health.
While I would love to eat everything organic, I cannot afford it because conventional farming is subsidized by the government and therefore often, though not always, cheaper. However after doing this research, I am no longer wondering how much better organic foods are for me, but I'm beginning to wonder if conventionally grown foods aren't actually flat out harmful. I don't feel that I know enough to make that claim, but the question is in the back of my mind. Meanwhile if you're not convinced by the benefits of organic foods and farming, here are 10 more reasons in favor of organic. Among them one of the best is that unlike conventional farming methods, organic farming is sustainable and conserves the environment. It is the natural way of growing food and it yields living, healthy produce. Since we are what we eat, in my opinion we should aim for healthy and alive instead of chemically contaminated and nutritionally compromised.
But this is the gist of organic versus conventional. I hope that after reading this you'll reconsider some of your shopping practices or at least be more aware of the ways seemingly fresh and good produce can impact your health. Next week I'll be talking about organic animal products and what impact the manufacturing method has on the resulting products, so make sure to tune back in.
“Health is not valued till sickness comes.”--Thomas Fuller
Friday, April 17, 2009
remember that stress reduction is an excellent way to help yourself stay healthy. =)
Friday, April 10, 2009
Like promised I'm back and I hope you took a look at the mini-post I put up during my time out. This blog will be finishing off the sugar debate. So far I've explained that processed sugar is essentially a drug that really shouldn't be ingested and especially not ingested in the quantities in which most of us consume it. The last statistics I found say that today the average American eats about 150 pounds of sugar a year. Historically the American diet has been becoming increasingly more sweet to the point that if you check any processed item in your house now you'll likely find sugar or high fructose corn syrup amongst its ingredients. So with all of that established, what are the sugar alternatives?
Let's look at artificial zero-calorie sweeteners. The key thing to keep in mind is that it's not really smart to replace a drug with a poison. Artificial sweeteners are called such because they don't occur in nature. They are chemicals manufactured in a laboratory and they happen to taste sweet. This isn't to say that everything that's artificially created is necessarily harmful for you, but it's a pretty good heuristic when it comes to food. The human body hasn't evolved to process large amounts of artificial chemicals. Here are a few facts on the two leading artificial sweeteners:
Aspartame (Nutrasweet & Equal)—it is a chemical that consists 90% of Phenylalanine and aspartic acid, two components that immediately enter the bloodstream and act as excitatory neuro-toxins in your brain. That is, they excite the nerve cells in your brain and get them to fire with heightened intensity. If too much of the chemical is present or if it happens too often, the nerve cells die from rapid overuse. The remaining 10% of aspartame is methanol, which is wood alcohol. While wood alcohol is a very potent poison and about 2 teaspoons of it can kill an adult, it's obviously not concentrated enough in aspartame to kill you. The interesting thing that does happen is that when your body is metabolizing methanol it turns into formaldehyde and formic acid, which are embalming fluid and ant poison respectively. In other words, to keep tissues from decomposing, doctors and/or (forensic) scientists put them into formaldehyde. On first thought it might even sound good, like hey my organs will stay fresh, but really that's not the case.
All in all aspartame has not a shred of a redeeming quality, but it's unfortunately in over 6000 products world-wide. To my greatest dismay it's in my flipping gum! Granted only a tiny percentage, but still. I'd like to chew aspartame-free gum, but none is available in any store I've ever looked into. So if any of you know a brand that I wouldn't have to order online, and is aspartame-free let me know. If you're wondering how come aspartame got into the human food-supply despite its toxicity, the story is a book-length scandal and involves lots of money and the over-riding of 6 separate scientific recommendations to not manufacture aspartame. To give the FDA some credit though, they did deny aspartame approval until the new commissioner overruled the final review panel, ... and then he quit to go to work for the aspartame manufacturer. I'm not kidding. On to the next one.
Sucralose (Splenda)—Like aspartame, sucralose is also an artificial chemical that tastes sweet. It was discovered on accident by two researchers trying to develop a new pesticide. Sucralose is a chlorocarbon which essentially means it's related to DDT and other poisons. It contains chlorine which is a known carcinogen. However, to keep the chlorine from breaking free in your body, the manufacturers use a load of other chemicals, including methanol and formaldehyde to produce sucralose. Whether or not that's actually working seems to still be unclear because sucralose hasn't been around long enough to determine any long-term risk of cancers. To be fair it is widely regarded as safer than aspartame. To be realistic, that's like saying insecticides are less harmful than rat poison. Although the jury is still out on the extent of the damages sucralose can cause, here is the sucralose toxicity information center. If you want to know more, here is a pretty good article.
I could go on and on and talk about other artificial sweeteners, like Sweet 'n Low, which is the chemical known as saccharine. The story is the same though. It's bad for you. It's been shown to cause cancer in test animals. You get the drift, ... eating artificial chemicals isn't good for your health.
Aside from being carcinogenic poisons, artificial sweeteners have another interesting side effect when it comes to diet soda. Namely studies show that drinking diet soda increases your chances for obesity. Ironically it seems that the artificial sugar makes your brain think that you're eating sugar so it decreases your blood sugar and makes you hungry. People who drink a diet soda before a meal have been shown to eat more calories during the meal than a non-diet soda drinking control group.
But enough about artificial sweeteners. Let's look at natural zero-calorie sweeteners. The by far best zero-calorie natural sugar substitute I've come across is derived from the stevia plant. It's a plant native to South America and it is about 300 times sweeter than sugar. A major advantage that it has over all artificial sweeteners, other than not being a compound that doesn't appear in nature, is that it's been in use for over 200 years. It doesn't mess with your blood sugar, and it's not cancerous. There is a ton of politics involved in this, but luckily it's been gaining a foothold on the American market to the point that in the upcoming years Coca Cola will launch a line of Sprite that's been sweetened with a stevia plant extract.
There are several different stevia plant products commercially available:
There's the brandname Stevia. I've never tried it nor have I ever seen it at a store, but it's available in liquid forms with tons of different flavors, so that's a plus. You can check it out here.
There is the brandname Purevia. I actually did try this and it's available at your average supermarket. It's in powder form and resembles finely granulated table sugar. I wasn't too fond of its taste though. It's hard to explain, but it tasted somewhat like the root of a plant. It was sweet, but weird. That's just my assessment though and if you'd like to, check it out here and try it for yourself.
Then there is brandname Truvia. I tried this one, too and got hooked on it. It's also available at average supermarkets. They say that they use the sweetest part of the stevia plant, called rebina, to make this sweetener and I think that's what made the difference for me. Truvia has the consistency of regular table sugar and you can check it out here. My testimonial is two thumbs up. I've been baking with it, putting it in my tea and oatmeal and it's never disappointed me. It's also the cheapest of the non-carcinogenic alternatives. Here in Boston it's about $3.49 for 40 packets that can last me 1-2 weeks depending on how much baking I do.
To be fair I am wondering whether natural zero-calorie sweeteners also have the brain-tricking effect that promotes hunger, but I haven't been able to find anything that indicates that so far. If you do find sources which deal with that aspect, please let me know. I'm curious.
All right, on to the caloric sugar substitutes.
The two major healthy ones that I stumbled upon are raw honey and agave nectar.
Raw honey, unlike processed honey, is a living and breathing food with great immune benefits. Because it hasn't been heated it still retains enzymes that help your body recover from stomach ulcers, sore throats or other infections. Furthermore unprocessed, raw honey retains its complex chemical structure which means that your body will actually have to digest it and that it won't go straight into your bloodstream and give you a sugar-high and then a crash. It's incredibly sweet which means you won't need much of it to sweeten your tea or whatever else you need sweetened, so the caloric intake won't be immense.
Agave nectar also has immune benefits similar to honey in that it can soothe inflammation and kill bacteria. Apparently the Aztecs used it on wounds to prevent and/or reverse bacterial infection. It's a viscous liquid that, has a low glycemic index, even slightly lower than raw honey, and won't spike your blood sugar.
There of course are other good and other bad sugar substitutes I didn't mention here, but I hope that the ones I did cover give you a good overview and a decent range of options for curbing or eliminating your refined sugar consumption.
Next week I'll be talking about organic food. Like what's the difference between organic versus conventionally grown food? Is it really better for you? Or is it better for the environment? Or both? And why is it more expensive? So tune in next Friday for that post, but meanwhile if you choose the raw honey or agave nectar go for the organic ones. =)
"So many people spend their health gaining wealth, and then have to spend their wealth to regain their health."--A.J. Reb Materi
Sunday, April 5, 2009
So as I said, my little sister was visiting me and she expressed interest in becoming healthier because her physical activity has decreased dramatically now that she's no longer swimming regularly like she did when she was on the swim team. We determined her metabolic type (surprise, surprise we have the same type) and I put her through the motions of eating every 3-4 hours, keeping her metabolism up, eating the proper balance of macronutrients, etc. etc. And then, on Friday, I took her to town to see my school and friends and right about 6 pm, she became absolutely lethargic and tired while I was feeling like I could run a marathon. But looking at her, a 16-year-old on vacation with plenty of sleep, yet her eyelids were closing—it made me sad. I remembered that I too used to experience that late afternoon crash, which is right between lunch and dinner for us. The thing was that my sister didn't have any processed sugar while she was here, but like I used to be and like millions of people are, she is addicted to sugar. Sugar addiction is when you body learns to function with the incredibly sugar load you put into it through snacks, so that when you don't provide the sugar, your blood glucose drops and you become lethargic.
When it was happening to me, I'd just run across the street and buy my favorite chewy chocolate chip cookies. Heck, I didn't even have to wait to feel the fatigue. I was in tune with the first signs of sugar cravings. In my previous blog I said sugar is a drug. Today I watched a video that I had to share. It's about sugar withdrawal and what to do about it. But the quote that got me the most is that “if sugar were to be put on the market for the fist time today, the FDA would likely not approve it.” That made my day. Speaking of day, it's beautiful outside, so I'm off for a walk. Watch this video and pass it on. And have fun making educated, aware choices.
I'll be back next Friday.
“One should eat to live, not live to eat.” --Moliere
"I don't want anything else in life. But you are forcing me to look at wealth and at horizons I have never known. Now that I have seen them, and now that I see how immense my possibilities are, I'm going to feel worse than I did before you arrived. Because I know the things I should be able to accomplish, and I don't want to do so."--Paulo Coelho from The Alchemist
This is just to clear up misunderstandings (thanks for the heads up, Britt). I don't want people to stop using sugar. I want them to make educated decisions, even if that decision is to eat fast-food every day. Unless you're practically my family, I don't care what you're doing with your body, and even if I care, I won't expect change. I know probably better than most that you can't change people. They'll change when a myriad of semi-idiosyncratic factors lines up for them. But what I sure as heck can do is spread information, so that when eventually someone gets sick of being lethargic, addicted and on the verge of developing life-threatening illnesses, they'll remember the video and blog and have an idea about where to start with the change.
Friday, March 27, 2009
In my last blog I mentioned that sugar is one of the factors involved in diabetes (which most people already know) and that it's also a factor that increases risk for heart disease (which fewer people know). I will mostly address the latter point because it is indeed so little known, but before I begin I'd like to explain that when I say “sugar” I'm referring to table sugar. No adverse effect mentioned in this blog applies to sugar in its natural, non-refined state i.e. in fruits and vegetables. Most fruits and veggies are low on the glycemic index* and our bodies can handle their sugar content with ease. As soon as you process it and thereby concentrate it, you get into trouble. I'm pretty sure no one claims that sugar is good for you, but I think you may be surprised just how bad for you it is. So this blog entry won't be so much about clarifying misconceptions, but rather about expanding awareness.
During my sugar research I came upon a very fitting “analogy” and I encourage you to remember it because it pretty much sums up the gist of this whole blog—sugar is a drug. It's addictive. It gives you a high. It produces withdrawal symptoms/cravings when you don't have any for a while. And it destroys your health. Here is a list of 76 negative effects of sugar including interference with mineral and protein absorption, causing of varicose veins, messing with your DNA structure, causing headaches and migraines, causing depression, aiding emotional instability, contributing to obesity and degenerative disorders etc.
I'd particularly like to address the fact that sugar suppresses your immune system for hours after you consume it. The effect starts less than 30 minutes after consumption and can last up to five hours afterwards. What happens on the molecular level is that sugar interferes with your white blood cells and decreases their ability to kill germs. Drinking two soda cans (which contain about 20 teaspoons of sugar) can reduce your white cell efficiency by 40% (if you're really interested in the nitty-gritty details this site and this site are pretty reader-friendly). So with this in mind consider “health foods” like Vitamin water. It has vitamins and minerals that are supposedly going to help you stay healthier, but it also contains 8 teaspoons of sugar (4 g = aprox. 1 tsp) that are going to suppress your immune system and block your mineral absorption. Keep this in mind and it will help you make genuinely healthy choices. And also keep in mind that this immune suppressing effect does not occur with starches and complex carbs, that is whole foods that naturally contain sugar.
So in addition to making you more susceptible to infectious disease, sugar also causes inflammation which is its key link to heart disease. Basically the more sugar you consume, the more your body makes C reactive protein (CRP). CRP is an excellent inflammation marker. The more inflammation markers you have, the greater your likelihood of heart disease and consequently heart attack. This research is fairly new (2005 and on) and prior to this pretty much everyone in the medical community thought of cholesterol as a predictor of heart disease. However, you can have high cholesterol and as long you have low inflammation markers, you are unlikely to develop heart disease. More and more medical professionals seem to be catching on to the idea that cholesterol really isn't the tell-tale sign of heart problems. But even before this new research came out, doctors had some inkling about sugar's role in coronary heart disease albeit they couldn't pinpoint the problem. Here is an American Health Association statement from 2002 if you're like me and like to smile at gradual changes.
All right, so refined sugar is pretty much horrible for your body, but there is actually something worse than sugar—high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I learned that there are actually TV commercials advertising that HFCS is made from corn and is just fine for you in moderation. I looked up a couple of the commercials and have to admit that they're ingeniously structured and executed, but they are also misleading just short of outright lying so that, I'm guessing, they can't get sued. HFCS is made from corn in the same sense that your car tires are made from rubber trees. And it's not made from sweet corn, but from inedible corn that is chemically processed with three different enzymes, broken down and concentrated into something that is even sweeter than sugar and is nowhere to be found in nature.
The first problem with HFCS is that it has a higher amount of fructose than glucose. Glucose is the sugar that gives you energy. Unlike glucose, fructose is digested differently and doesn't trigger insulin. Because insulin signals to your brain that you're full, you don't experience the feeling of satiety when you consume HFCS so you are not only consuming a concentrated drug, but you have to consume far more of it to feel like you've had enough. In short, it enables you to consume far more empty calories by circumventing your body's natural responses to too much food intake. The effect is absolutely worst when you're drinking HFCS (in pretty much every soft drink and most juices) because there is also no fiber to tell you you're full and should stop. So it's no wonder that HFCS is blamed for America's obesity epidemic amongst other factors (like the low-fat food craze).
The second problem with HFCS is that it has high levels of reactive carbonyls. Table sugar, because it has a solid molecular structure, while HFCS is liquid, doesn't have those reactive carbonyls. In gist reactive carbonyls are similar to free radicals and cause tissue damage that becomes a factor for diabetes. The levels of these molecules are worst in carbonated drinks though they are always present in HFCS regardless of its source. And speaking of source:
The biggest problem with HFCS is that it is everywhere. I challenge you to go to your pantry and pick up any box or can of something and check its ingredients list. I am willing to bet that unless you're a strict health fanatic (like I've become after a bit of this research) you'll find HFCS in your house. It's in breads and ketchup and foods that you'd never think would have sugar in them. I mean it's everywhere. So unless you don't eat processed foods, how are you supposed to eat HFCS in moderation like their ad recommends? Of course you shouldn't be eating HFCS at all though it won't kill you if it slips in now and then, (like small amounts of rat poison won't kill you either) but the problem is that it really is everywhere.
My main goal here is really just to make you aware that you're consuming far more sugar than you might think you are. The USDA says that we should not consume any more than 10 teaspoons of refined sugar a day. That's about 40 grams. If you're up for a challenge, I challenge you to see if you can manage to eat less than 40 grams of sugar a day. If despite reading all this you still aren't up for that challenge, I ask you to just wake up tomorrow and keep track of your sugar consumption. Don't even try to limit it, just observe it and see if you're surprised.
So now you realize how bad sugar is and that its uglier cousin has infiltrated all your food and you're wondering what your alternatives are. Well, I'll address sugar substitutes in my next blog, but as a little spoiler I'll tell you to stay away from aspretame and sucralose (Splenda). If you realized you're addicted to sugar and would like to get it under control here are a few tips by one of my favorite nutritionists. And I'd like to end this blog by saying that if you're frustrated about sugar being so bad, I completely understand. I know no one who has a bigger sweet tooth than I do. I mean I could eat half a pound of fudge and not get sick. Pretty bad. About 6 weeks ago, I stopped eating sugar/refined carbohydrates and have not craved it since I got over the withdrawal period. I feel that if I can stop eating sugar and be happy about it and not miss it, then I'm sure that the rest of the population can at the very least limit their sugar consumption.
My little sister is coming to visit me next week, so I'm taking that week off and won't be posting until Friday after next. But tune back in for some suggestions how to satisfy your sweet tooth and not risk diabetes or heart disease.
“Every patient carries his or her own doctor inside.”--Albert Schweitzer
*The glycemic index (GI) indicates how quickly foods raise your blood sugar/blood glucose levels. Foods are assigned numbers relative to table sugar and white flour, both of which are 100 and go practically directly into your blood stream because they are so highly processed that they don't need digestion. The result of eating foods high on the GI is a sugar high/energy rush followed by a crash. Foods lower on the GI are better for your overall health. There are few exceptions to this, like watermelons for example because although their GI is high, they are a nutritious and vitamin-rich food. But if you eat them by themselves, they'll cause the energy spike and crash nonetheless.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I've had a wonderful break and am now ready to talk about cholesterol. In gist—please don't get a heart-attack over this—all you've heard about cholesterol through mainstream media is pretty much very wrong. Cholesterol does not cause heart attacks or indicate a greater risk for cardiovascular disease. That's almost the whole story, but to be fair, I'll offer some more explanation. Let's start with what cholesterol actually is and what it does in the body.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is technically something between a steroid and alcohol and is therefore designated as a sterol. It is manufactured primarily by our liver though the intestines, adrenal glands and reproductive organs synthesize some of it, too. As you can figure now, considering our body actually makes its own cholesterol, it is a highly important substance. Cholesterol performs a host of vital functions that amongst others include, building and maintaining cell membranes (the average human has 100 trillion cells), ensuring the semi-permeability of cell membranes so that the right substances can cross into the cell, manufacturing hormones, and it also functions as an inter-cellular mode of transport for other substances. If you remember from the last blog, 60% of our brains are made of fat. Well, cholesterol's role in that is to coat nerve fibers (myelin sheath) to ensure the speed of nerve impulse conduction that we enjoy. And all of these are just some of the functions. Finally, if your cholesterol is too low, you die.
Knowing this, you may wonder why cholesterol is vilified so much as the demon that will give you cardiovascular disease and clog your arteries. Or even better, you may not be convinced by my off-hand list, in which case I highly encourage you to look up all of these functions I've listed (and get back to me if you find me to be wrong). Because I don't like to deal in conspiracy theories, the explanation for cholesterol's bad reputation that I'll offer hinges on a severe and gross misunderstanding. Here is an analogy I like which original source you can find here: Imagine you're walking down the street and you see that a fire has burned a house down and that there is a fire-truck next to the site. A week later you come upon a different location, but it's the same sight, namely a smoldering ruin and firetrucks next to it. And a few days later, the same thing. So you conclude that firetrucks are causing fires!
You don't need to be a mathematician to see the flaw in logic here. It's a cause attributed to a correlation. It's the first thing you learn not to do when you begin studying any science, but because we don't live in an ideal world there actually is some bad science out there, and some of it concerns the role of cholesterol in disease. So what would you say if I told you that cholesterol is around when heart-attacks happen because it was trying to fix the inflamed cells? In other words, it was trying to do the things it does (repair and maintain cells etc.) and protect your body. Well, by now we've realized that this alternate explanation is a very likely scenario, but the reason it doesn't reach mainstream America is because pharmaceutical companies and certain food manufacturers spend billions on advertising for cholesterol lowering drugs and foods, while, on the other hand, scientists finding out that the medical establishment is perpetuating an error depend on grants that don't leave them much extra money to buy some prime-time commercial spots. But if you'd like to spread the news and possibly inform some loved ones that they might be potentially harming themselves because they're on cholesterol lowering medication, this is a very balanced, down-to-earth, comprehensive video explaining the implications of cholesterol.
Furthermore, the notion that LDL is “bad” cholesterol and HDL is “good” cholesterol is simply false. I'm even tempted to say that it's absolute nonsense. If you look at the acronyms more closely you will find that LDL stands for “Low Density Lipo-Protein” and HDL stands for “High Density Lipo-Protein.” As the names clearly tell you, these are proteins. LDL and HDL aren't even cholesterol. Cholesterol, as explained earlier, is a fatty substance called a sterol, while LDL and HDL are proteins—two completely different molecules. Cholesterol is just cholesterol and because it's not water-soluble it needs the help of LDL and HDL to be transported to all the cells where it performs its vital functions. LDL transports cholesterol from the liver to the cells, and HDL transports the cholesterol that has been “used up” by the cells back to the liver where it either gets recycled or discarded. (The fact that our body actually recycles cholesterol is another indicator of just how important of a substance it is).
If cholesterol is regarded as the villain, then it makes sense why LDL—the protein that brings cholesterol to the cells—got the bad rep. Although, the human body is immensely complex and placing the blame for major disease on a single protein is ridiculously over-simplified, there is one instance where LDL causes harm. In its normal state LDL is an essential transporter for cholesterol, but when it becomes damaged LDL actually is a risk factor contributing to inflammation and potential heart disease. If you recall from my last blog, damaged molecules are called "oxidized." So when there is a greater occurrence of oxidized LDL, there is a greater risk for heart disease. To keep LDL oxidation in check, your antioxidant intake should be high. (Amongst other sources, they can be obtained in fresh fruits and vegetables. For greatest protection and overall health, people should eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables of all colors in order to obtain many types of antioxidants [and of course nutrients] available.)
Several studies have shown that high cholesterol levels are not indicative of heart disease, but rather that damaged LDL together with inflammation factors is a far more accurate predictor of disease. If you think about it, cholesterol is a substance your body makes itself and transports where it wants it. If you have elevated cholesterol, it's likely there “on purpose” so to speak. For a great in-depth explanation of the LDL vs. HDL misconception, here is a comprehensive article with about a hundred sources illustrating the role of oxidized LDL in heart disease as well as the issues involved with cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Finally, eating cholesterol-rich foods will NOT impact your cholesterol levels. I hope that understanding what I've explained to you so far will make this statement only sound logical. But to reiterate; it is your body that makes and uses cholesterol as it sees fit. If you eat more cholesterol, your body makes less, if you eat less, your body makes more. So eating eggs, unless you're allergic, is a great idea. Eggs, that is egg yolks, are a great source of nutrients**.
There, however, are studies that indicate a correlation of elevated cholesterol and trans-fat and saturated fat consumption. As explained in the previous blog, trans fats are oxidized fats and are loaded with free radicals (particles that wreak havoc on your cells and cause damage that eventually leads to heart disease). So cholesterol likely goes up to fix the damage. As for saturated fats causing elevated cholesterol levels, the only thing I have read about is that eating red meats is very hard on your body to digest, and cholesterol plays a function in bile creation which digests fats for absorption. Red meats are the meats highest in saturated fat content (poultry has up to 70% unsaturated fat) which doesn't mean you shouldn't eat them, it just means you shouldn't eat them all the time.
All in all I hope I've explained that cholesterol is not the demon that will hit you with a heart-attack. In general, I find that whenever a single factor is identified as the ultimate villain or the ultimate hero, the information is just plain incomplete or sometimes, as in this case, completely wrong. So now that cholesterol is off the hook, you may be wondering what actually does increase your risk for coronary heart disease and the answer is that one of the highest risk factors leading to heart disease as well as diabetes is sugar. But more about that next Friday.
"As I see it, every day you do one of two things: build health or produce disease in yourself."--Adelle Davis
*Antioxidants are molecules that keep other molecules from getting oxidized/damaged and can thereby treat and/or prevent disease.
**If you like eggs, I highly encourage you to buy free-range, organic eggs because they have far more nutrients, but I'll likely talk about the difference between organic vs. conventional foods in an upcoming blog.