February is Heart Health Month.heart

Although cancer has now taken over as the number one killer in Canada, heart disease remains a close second. Advances in treatment and knowledge about prevention through diet and lifestyle have greatly improved outcomes of cardiovascular disease.

If you have been following a heart healthy diet, you will know to quit smoking, avoid excess sodium, get some exercise, reduce stress levels and eat a healthy diet. Right?

While all that is true, recent studies have turned some conventional wisdom on its head; in particular, the decades- old advice about reducing saturated fat in order to reduce your risk of heart disease.  A study published in 2010 showed saturated fat was not the main causative culprit in the development of heart disease. See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648 and http://nutritionsavvy.ca/is-fat-the-new-black-2/

So if saturated fat is off the hook, what’s on the hook?

While no health professional is advocating a free licence to gorge on butter and cheese, the studies do show that saturated fats may have a more neutral affect on heart health compared to the perilous effects of refined carbohydrates and sugars. Refined Stack of Pancakes with Syrupcarbohydrates like pancakes, fluffy bread, cookies, and muffins are a triple threat to heart health.

Threat 1:  Refined carbohydrates are quickly digested and absorbed leading to a rapid rise in blood sugar. As our blood sugar skyrockets it stimulates the body to release significant amounts of insulin to drive the blood sugar into cells.  Insulin then stimulates the liver to make fatty acids AND it stimulates our fat cells (adipocytes) to make glycerol. Fatty acids + glycerol = increased triglycerides.

Threat 2: Refined carbohydrates that stimulate the excessive release of insulin and the build up of abdominal fat increase inflammatory markers.  Chronic inflammation is now recognized as one of the key causative factors in the development of heart disease.

Threat 3: Diets high in refined carbohydrates reduce HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol carrier).

What Else is On the Hook?

Trans fats Breaded Onion Rings in a Basket

While we have come a long way in reducing the amount of trans fats in our food, they are still out there. Trans fats are formed from the process of hydrogenation, that is, turning liquid fat into a solid or semi-solid state. They are listed on food labels as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils and are often contained in commercially baked goods like cookies, pastries, pie crusts, crackers, and potato chips. Heating unsaturated oils to high temperatures for deep fat frying also can produce trans fats, therefore, avoiding French fries, onion rings and doughnuts is a sage choice.

Trans fats play multiple deleterious roles on heart health. Firstly, they increase LDL (bad) cholesterol while reducing HDL (good cholesterol). They may also interfere with the body’s use of beneficial omega 3 fatty acids. Further, just like refined carbohydrates, trans fats also increase triglyceride levels and inflammatory markers.

Be aware that our labeling laws allow 0.5 grams or less of trans fat per serving in products labelled as “Trans Fat Free”.  The American Heart Association recommends that we should not consume more than 2 grams of trans fats per day. Therefore, if you consume a lot of processed and packaged foods, even those labelled “Trans Fat Free” you may be consuming above the recommended amount.

Crate of mixed vegetables


Best Advice:  Avoid processed, manufactured and all deep fried food.

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