6 critical things I wish I knew three years ago about how to reduce cholesterol
After my diagnosis with Familial hypercholesterolemia in 2011 I spent three years searching for effective natural methods to lower cholesterol and gain heart health. I actually felt a little bit like a crazy outsider for much of this journey because most of the research I uncovered advised eating foods and making lifestyle changes that were the complete opposite to what is being distributed by most well meaning but misinformed doctors, healthcare practitioners and media outlets.
Below are the 6 critical facts I wish I had had on day one of my journey towards heart health. It would have saved me years of searching and improved my health all that much more quickly.
1. Almost everything we’ve been taught about how to eat to improve our heart health and reduce cholesterol is wrong
- The low fat approach to eating does not, for most people, help control weight or make us healthier. We need to be eating fats that are good for the heart like omega 3 oils, olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, nut oils, and grassfed butter. Detailed research—much of it done at Harvard—shows there is no link between the overall percentage of calories from fat and any important health outcome, including cancer, heart disease, and weight gain.
- Carbohydrates are more damaging to the arteries than fats like butter or cream, and encouragingly Sweden has just become the first western nation to develop national dietary guidelines that reject the low-fat myth, in favour of low-carb higher-fat nutrition advice.
- The latest research shows that cholesterol is not a great indicator of your heart disease risk, and low cholesterol levels are often much more dangerous than high ones! A large epidemiological study published in 2012, which tracked 52,087 Norwegians for ten years, found that their total cholesterol levels did not predict heart attacks–or any other kind of death.
- Statins have not been shown to prevent heart disease or heart attacks. This is shocking considering that half of men, ages 65 to 74, and 39% of women, ages 75 and older) are taking Statins to try to improve their heart health.
- Statin drugs have dangerous side effects. If you find that you are in the rare minority of people that could benefit from statins then you need to make sure you are taking these supplements to support your heart health.
- Most people should avoid statins. There is little evidence that statins provide any positive benefit for almost all types of patients, and no evidence for women who have never had a heart attack.
- Heart disease is completely preventable and reversible–today–in at least 95% of people simply by changing our diet and lifestyle.
- Genetics are relatively unimportant when it comes to heart disease. Many experts suggest they play only a 1% – 5% role in heart health.
2. Focus on adding positive foods, not subtracting negative ones.
- Vegetables and fruits are the most underrated and highly powerful substances that can halt and reverse heart disease. For every extra apple, orange, green salad, and stir-fry that you eat, you are protecting yourself from heart disease by an additional 4%. It adds up quickly.
- You need a specific eating programme to increase heart health. There are perishable and non-perishable ingredients that you can add to your diet to move the needle on your health.
- For a bare minimum effort, you can add a “Polymeal” to your daily foods, to add 5 to 7 years to your life. The polymeal however in my opinion does not contain nearly enough vegetables, which as noted above, are powerful tools to improve your overall health.
- Soluble fibre will naturally reduce your cholesterol. Foods like oats, apples, pears, barley, prunes, oranges and kidney beans work by trapping dietary cholesterol in the colon and sweeping it out of the body.
- Recently Swedish researchers Dr Kristina E. Andersson and Per Hellstrand, found that oats not only reduce LDL or “bad cholesterol”, but they also have a positive impact in easing inflammation which can cause heart disease.
3. Fats are good, sugar is toxic and grains cause inflammation
- Sugar is more toxic than alcohol and is the most deadly thing you can eat when it comes to heart disease and health in general. Avoid white granulated sugar as a rule.
- Grains are the number one contributor to most diseases today due to the inflammation that they cause in our body. When eating for heart health (or health in general) you need to choose grains very carefully to avoid inflammation. While everyone tells us to eat “more whole grains” this is in fact terrible advice. Avoid them unless they are heart friendly grains.
- Saturated fats are good for your heart (and as a side note – all the hype about saturated fats was invented by a sugar-promoter in the 40’s.) Recent studies have found no significant association between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular risk.
4. Instead of exercise focus on simply any motion that is “not sitting”
- Sitting is killing you. If you sit at a desk for more than four hours a day, you increase your risk of death from any cause by nearly 50 percent and boost your risk of heart problems by 125 percent.
- Japan is the world leader when it comes to the number of people who reach 100 years old or more. They do not take on rigorous exercise regimes rather they simply have more habits around moving their bodies in small ways. They walk everyday, they sit on the floor, they get up, they reach for things, etc. They are always engaged in light movement.
5. Don’t focus on lowering your cholesterol. Instead focus on avoiding and reversing heart disease. These are two different things entirely.
- Green smoothies are the easiest thing you can do to dramatically boost your health, reduce cholesterol, increase heart health indicators, increase your energy and get your skin glowing.
- Use failure in a powerful way when trying to create a more healthy lifestyle. You will fail. Don’t worry about it. Small daily steps trumps everything. You need to just keep taking small steps forward, failing, and then moving forwards again.
- We’ve lost the connection between our desires and our food. We think we love packaged items, fried foods, sugary foods, and yet ultimately we don’t feel good when we are “on” these edible food-like substances.
6. You need to have systems, tools and cookbooks that support your new lifestyle. Build these up over time, and keep learning.
- Make a cholesterol lowering shopping list each week and create your meals using the incredibly yummy and guilt-free foods from this list.
- There are 3 key steps to health and healing. For 99% of us, they do not involve doctors. Going to a doctor is not about becoming healthy or treating the root cause of your condition. It’s about removing the original symptom you present the doctor with. Doctors have 2 main “hammers”: drugs and surgery. Neither are pathways to “great health”, and neither will be there for you as a “health safety net” should you decide to eat poorly now.
I hope these 6 things save you some time in your own health journey. There are several new books about cholesterol that have come out in the last couple of years that are really cutting through the myths and helping to spread the real research about statins, cholesterol and heart health in general. If you are interested in the backstory then I highly recommend the read. Other than that the very first thing I woul