Cardiovascular or Heart Disease remains the number one killer in U.S. In fact, heart disease, not breast cancer is the number one killer in women. Coronary Artery Disease, the cause of heart attacks, does not happen over night. The process known as atherosclerosis takes place over many decades and ultimately results in a decrease in blood flow to the heart leading to a heart attack. Although heart attacks can be and are often deadly, there is much more we now know about preventing them. Given how long it takes to develop narrowing of our arteries, there are many opportunities for us to change our habits and prevent this deadly disease.
In addition to smoking and lack of regular exercise, one of the major contributors to heart health is our diet. For over 30 years, the American Heart Association advocated for a “Low Fat” Diet. Although well intentioned, this policy led to many low fat food products that contained sugar instead of fat. This same time period saw a huge increase in processed foods to form the largest portion of our diet at over 60 percent, this being the Standard American Diet (SAD). As part of SAD, the ugly truth is that most people did not avoid sugar but avoided fat. Unfortunately, heart disease rates did not go down and in fact went up. Additionally, more people became diabetic and obesity rates rose as a result of avoiding fat and eating too much sugar and processed foods with refined carbohydrates.
New research and new interpretations and insights into old research now shows that we were wrong to avoid fat and instead gorge on sugar. In fact, sugar not fat is the greatest contributor to weight gain, diabetes and heart disease. Excess sugar without fiber in the form of processed foods is truly the “Bad” when it comes to heart health. One of the first things we can do for a healthy heart is to avoid refined sugar and instead add back good fats. Good fats are essential to a healthy heart. There are diets like the Mediterranean Diet which have been well studied with research showing them to be able to prevent and treat heart disease even better than statin medications. So, we have, the “ugly” reality of heart disease as our number one killer and we have our SAD diet which includes the excess Sugar is the “Bad.” And in the next part of this blog, I will explore the “Good,” good fats and good dietary patterns to keep our hearts healthy and happy.