There is more and more discussion on how an anti-inflammatory diet is a strong weapon in reducing the risk of heart disease. A few decades ago a heart healthy diet focused mainly on avoiding saturated fats by replacing them with partially hydrogenated oils. Butter gave way to margarine.
Partially hydrogenated oils introduced trans-fats. So in an attempt to reduce heart disease we actually began consuming less tasty margarines full of heart damaging trans-fats.
We learned our lessen and began substituting vegetable oils like corn and safflower for saturated fats. Was that a better idea?
Well… perhaps not. Most vegetable oils we use in the West are high in omega-6 fatty acids. And while omega-6 fatty acids are essential to health they do present their own serious side effects.
As it turns out a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promotes inflammation, and therefore heart disease. We are continuing to learn.
So have we arrived? Apparently not. The focus of heart disease prevention still often centers on lowering LDL cholesterol and reducing saturated fat intake. The problem with this approach is that the proof that saturated fat raises blood cholesterol skates on thin ice. And the so-called ‘science’ demonstrating that saturated fat causes heart disease is also weak.
And to make matters worse we have freely consumed foods that promote inflammation while avoiding fats and cholesterol that have not been proven to cause heart disease.
Here is another case in point. (The first case in point is the butter to margarine example).
During the most recent ‘low-fat’ movement many of us were eating anything that stated ‘low-fat’ on the label…even though the other ingredients were usually highly processed simple carbohydrates (sugars) and any number of preservatives. In effect we were avoiding less harmful fats while getting more and more pro-inflammatory sugars and preservatives.
So what now? For years – perhaps our whole lives – we have followed guidelines that are ineffective and even injurious. Now the focus is on reducing the inflammation that has been implicated in most serious chronic diseases. And one primary element of that focus - over which we have much control - is an anti-inflammatory diet.
The wisdom we have been following – namely diets low in fat (especially saturated fats) and high in polyunsaturated fats and carbohydrates – is not working. In fact it is adding to the cardiovascular damage.
One reason for this (as hinted above) is the copious amounts of highly processed simple carbohydrates that the modern person eats. Not only do sugars promote inflammation but the higher the glycemic index the more they seem to do so. Cutting fat out of your diet while eating simple carbohydrates is a recipe for disaster. What do simple carbohydrates include? Obviously sugar. But also pasta and different types of flour. Especially highly processed flours that are stripped of most of their nutritional value.
Maria Gomez - scientist at Lund University Diabetes Centre (LUDC) – suggests that high blood sugar damages blood vessels because of a protein called osteopotin. Elevated levels of this protein set off a cascade of inflammatory events that injures the blood vessel walls.
Whether osteopotin is the only culprit or one among many, it does not change the fact that high blood sugar promotes inflammation which – in turn - damages blood vessels. Cutting out unnecessary sugars and simple carbohydrates is an important component of your anti-inflammatory diet.
Another important step is cutting out the…
We felt so proud of ourselves didn’t we? We stocked our pantries with ‘heart healthy’ vegetable oils thinking we were doing ourselves a favor. No more saturated fats for us. But in reality we were (are) storing up liberal amounts of omega-6 rich oils. As mentioned above, too much omega-6 counteracts the positive (anti-inflammatory) effects of omega-3. In fact the imbalance becomes pro-inflammatory.
Olive oil contains little omega-6 and is relatively low in saturated fat. Coconut oil has very little omega-6 and a very low omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. It is considered a very healthy oil to use though it is high in saturated fat. In fact is has more saturated fat than lard. Of course saturated fat is not the enemy it was once thought to be. Lard, palm oil, and butterfat are also low in omega-6 fatty acids. Flaxseed oil has moderate amounts of omega-6 but is very high in omega-3.
Canola and safflower oils have moderate amounts of omega-6. Canola oil has healthy amounts of omega-3. Peanut oil is fairly high in omega-6.
Soybean, sunflower, cottonseed, and corn oils all have very high omega-6 to omega-3 ratios. Unfortunately these four oils are found in so many products today. And are very common as cooking oils. Avoid them. And avoid products that contain any of them.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid the deadly four and use olive and coconut oils.
For more detail on particular oils and their health benefits please use the link below. (A new window will open)
An anti inflammation diet does have something to say about meat. But it is not the same song about avoiding saturated fats. Instead the concern centers around how the animals are fed.
Most commercially raised animals are fed highly processed and genetically altered products like soybeans and corn. These products are high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 promoting inflammation as discussed above.
Additionally the overuse of antibiotics and artificial hormones makes most meats pro-inflammatory.
Another factor that makes commercial meat unhealthy has to do with the preservatives used to prolong shelf life.
A study published in BCM Medicine helps shed some light on why meat eaters are at higher risk than their non-meat eating counterparts.
The large research project (featured in the above mentioned published study) - the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) – investigated the effects of diet over 10 European countries including nearly half a million participants. In that project the data distinguished between people who consumed meat containing preservatives and those eating meat without preservatives. Both red meat and poultry were included in the study.
The data showed no significant association between intake of unprocessed red meat and coronary heart disease (CHD). But there was a significant association between eating processed meat and higher incidence of CHD.
As a general rule an anti-inflammatory diet focuses on avoiding anything artificial. That includes avoiding foods treated with antibiotics, preservatives, or hormones… or fed processed or genetically altered grains.
Additionally it means increasing nutrient intake including supporting gut health so the body can use the nutrients you supply through your diet and taking supplements. It also requires eliminating allergenic and addictive foods.
Balancing blood sugar is essential because of the inflammatory damage caused by high blood sugar. Additionally blood sugar increases cause glycation which thins the skin and causes wrinkles.
Finally supporting the elimination organs is essential to an anti-inflammatory diet. The body works hard to eliminate toxins. However, our bodies become overwhelmed and even damaged due to environmental toxin build-up. Eating foods free of toxins is a start. Keeping toxic products (like many commercial cosmetics) off your skin is another. However, periodic detoxing is also helpful in removing inflammatory stress.
A Challenge For You!
People are making great improvements in their heart health.
How... are they doing it? By challenging themselves to change the way they eat. Really!
I have a challenge for you. It is my double dog dare.