Friday, September 18, 2020

High Cholesterol Foods: Healthy or Harmful?

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In traditional societies, high cholesterol foods were regarded as healthy foods.

Our ancestors did not know about cholesterol but they knew that eggs, organ meat (including the brain), seafood, shellfish… were all highly nourishing for the body.

In the natural world, the same foods are valued by animals like lions and tigers. When they kill their prey, the first things they eat are the liver and the brain, both of which contain very high levels of cholesterol.

Yet today, all these foods are regarded as “bad” . Today, practically all doctors and lay persons accept, without questioning, that high cholesterol foods “cause” heart disease.

Were our ancestors, as well as animals in the wild, mistaken about the value of high cholesterol foods? Or are we mistaken about their so-called harm?

One person who dared to question the idea that saturated fats and high cholesterol foods are harmful to health is Dr Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD., author of The Cholesterol Myths as well as over 50 scientific papers – published in mainstream, peer-reviewed journals – debunking the idea that saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart disease.

Among other things, Dr Uffe Ravnskov tells us that:

  • People with high cholesterol levels live longer! Old people with high blood cholesterol are less likely to die from heart attack, cancer and other diseases, compared with those whose blood cholesterol levels are lower.

  • Cholesterol is not a deadly poison, but a substance vital to the cells of all mammals.

  • There are no such things as good or bad cholesterol. A high cholesterol is not dangerous by itself, but may reflect an unhealthy condition, or it may be totally innocent.

  • Many scientific studies have shown that people with low blood cholesterol are just as likely to develop atherosclerosis (plaque build up in the arteries) as people whose cholesterol level is high.

  • Your body produces three to four times more cholesterol than you eat. The production of cholesterol increases when you eat little cholesterol and decreases when you eat much. In other words, the more high cholesterol foods you eat, the less cholesterol your body produces.

  • More than 20 scientific studies have shown that people who suffered a heart attack had not eaten more fat of any kind than other people – they had not eaten plenty of saturated fats and high cholesterol foods.

Of course, it is not just Dr Uffe Ravnskov saying all this and more. What he tells us about saturated fats and high cholesterol foods comes mainly from studying the reports of other scientists. He further tells us that…

The reason why laymen, doctors and most scientists have been misled is because opposing and disagreeing results are systematically ignored or misquoted in the scientific press.

High cholesterol foods nourish the cells

To appreciate why high cholesterol foods are not harmful, we need to understand what cholesterol is, and what role it plays in human health.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance. Yet it is not a fat. In chemistry, cholesterol is classified as a type of alcohol. But this is confusing for the layman because it does not behave like an alcohol.

The special quality of cholesterol is that it is impossible to dissolve in water. They make our cell walls waterproof. And this allows us – and all other animals – to regulate the internal environment of our cells undisturbed by changes in their surroundings.

Thus, our cells need cholesterol in order to function properly.

It is true that the body – more specifically the liver – can produce cholesterol for the body’s needs. But taking cholesterol from high cholesterol foods can be helpful.

When you do not take enough high cholesterol foods – for example, if you take mainly vegetable oils rather than animal fat containing cholesterol – the cholesterol in your blood will the transferred to your cells. As a result, your blood cholesterol level drops. Most people, including most doctors and scientists, consider this to be a good sign. It is actually an unhealthy sign. It indicates that your cells have become weak from lack of cholesterol. For this reason, it is not a good idea to switch from animal fats to polyunsaturated vegetable oils. It weakens your cells. There is scientific evidence that high intake of polyunsaturated oils increases the risks of cancer!

High cholesterol foods for the brain

The fact that cells are waterproof is especially critical for the normal functioning of nerves and nerve cells. Thus, the highest concentration of cholesterol in the body is found in the brain and other parts of the nervous system.

High cholesterol foods therefore nourish the brain. People with very low cholesterol (below 150 mg/dl) are more prone to depression and nervous system disorders. Rather than worry about high cholesterol foods, you need to worry more if your blood cholesterol level is too low.

It is worth noting that Nathan Pritikin, one of the strongest advocates of a low-fat, no-cholesterol diet during the 1980s, developed cancer and committed suicide. He died in the prime of his life!

Other followers of the low-fat diet had a host of other problems, including low energy, difficulty in concentration, depression, weight gain and mineral deficiencies.

High cholesterol foods for babies

And because cholesterol is needed for the brain, babies and children need high cholesterol foods for brain development.

One of the richest high cholesterol foods is, in fact, human breast milk.

And one of the worst foods to give to babies is soy infant formula, because it contains zero cholesterol.

High cholesterol foods and heart disease

What about heart disease? Doesn’t cholesterol “cause” heart disease?

Here, we need to understand the difference between “cause” and “association”. Many scientific studies have found an association between cholesterol and heart disease.

But this does not meant that high cholesterol foods cause heart disease – because there are people who eat plenty of high cholesterol foods and do not develop heart disease. And there are also people who develop heart disease even though they avoid high cholesterol foods.

Another way of looking at the association between cholesterol and heart disease is this:

Other factors cause both high cholesterol and heart disease. For example, being overweight causes cholesterol levels to rise. And being overweight causes heart disease. Likewise, stress, smoking and other lifestyle / environmental factors cause high cholesterol. And they also cause heart disease.

When you understand high cholesterol from this perspective, you will realise that high cholesterol may indicate the presence of heart disease. But it is not the cause. The causes are other factors in the diet, lifestyle and environment.

Click here to read more about the causes of coronary heart disease.

High cholesterol foods vs high cholesterol

It is also important to understand that eating high cholesterol foods will not automatically lead to high cholesterol levels in the blood. Nor will it automatically lead to heart disease.

The Masai is an African tribe whose members eats only meat, blood and milk. Their diet has plenty of saturated fats as well as high cholesterol foods. Yet they have one of the world’s lowest levels of blood cholesterol.

George Mann, one of the scientists who studied the Masai, described the idea that saturated fats and cholesterol cause heart disease as “the greatest scam in the history of medicine.”

In India, North Indians, eat more meat and used mainly ghee (clarified butter) for cooking, compared with South Indians who were mainly vegetarian.

The North Indian diet had 17 times more saturated fat than the South Indian diet. Plus, of course, the North Indians ate plenty of high cholesterol foods.

Yet a 1968 study found that North Indians had seven times less heart disease than Indians in the South.

This was because, by the late 60s, South Indians had started the switch from coconut oil, which contains about 90 percent saturated fats, to margarine and other polyunsaturated vegetable oils.

More recent studies show that North Indians are finally begin to catch up with the South in heart disease rates – because North Indians have started to use less ghee and more margarine and vegetable oils.

High cholesterol foods – large scale studies

One of the biggest studies to establish saturated fats as the causes of coronary heart disease was the 1968 International Atherosclerosis Project, in which over 22,000 corpses in 14 nations were cut open and examined for plaques in the arteries.

The study found roughly the same degree of plaque in all parts of the world – among people who ate a lot of meat and high cholesterol foods, as well as those who ate little or no meat; among people with high rates of heart disease as well as those with little or no heart disease.

In a long term British study involving several thousand men, half of them were asked to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol, stop smoking and increase the amounts of unsaturated oils such as margarine and vegetable oils. The rest continued to eat their usual amounts of saturated fats and cholesterol, and also continued to smoke.

The study results, reported in The Lancet in 1968, were startling: After one year, those following the ‘healthy’ diet and lifestyle had 100 percent more deaths than those on the supposedly unhealthy diet and lifestyle.

The Framingham Heart Study, started in 1948 and still on-going, is one of the biggest research projects on heart health. In 1992, study leader Dr William Castelli wrote in Archives of Internal Medicine:

“In Frammingham, Massachusetts… the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories, weighed the least and were the most physically active.”
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May Ling
Macrobiotics & natural health practitioner of Chinese decent. May Ling provides a Yin-Yang perspective to holistic health and natural healing. Contact: mayling@cleanseplan.com

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