My father while on vacation in Mexico recently experienced chest pains that turned into a grueling medivac experience to Chicago and quadruple bypass surgery. This came as a chock to the entire family as my father, even at age 79, was regarded as one of the most fit in the entire clan--near perfect cholesterol and blood pressure and an exercise routine that included walking four miles every morning. His own mother lived to 103.
I, on the other hand, definitely take after the other side of the family: high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, too much belly fat and an aversion to exercise unless it involves gardening or walking around the neighborhood. I was already on high alert for heart disease. Three years ago I altered my diet to go low on fat and eliminate any hint of saturated fats. I avoid refined flours in favor of whole grains. Essentially, I was following the South Beach Diet, right down to the daily dose of Lipitor, the cholesterol lowering drug. (My wife would say I was doing everything right, except eating portions that were too big.)
So along comes my fit and hardy dad with major blockages in four arteries to completely rattle my concept of how to avoid heart failure. How does all this square?
I just happened to be in the middle of reading Nina Planck's book, Real Food: What to Eat and Why. Yesterday I finished reading it a second time, wearing out two highlighter pens marking up the very compelling case Planck makes for ditching the cholesterol hypothesis and embracing foods like whole milk, farm-fresh eggs and meat from pastured animals, foods that often are high in cholesterol and saturated fats.
Entering Planck's world is like visiting a parallel universe. Everything we've been taught about fat, cholesterol and heart disease is turned inside out. The reason is simply this: after reading all the scientific literature, Planck has concluded that cholesterol does not cause hardening of the arteries. The real villain is our industrial diet full of processed corn and soybean oils, processed foods based on powdered milk and eggs from livestock raised on corn and soybeans, refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, salt and hydrogenated fats such as margarine.
Planck makes the case that heart disease was virtually unknown prior to the 20th century, yet by the 1950 after just two generations of industrial food, it had become this nation's number one killer. An industrial diet that favors unhealthy refined fats from corn and soybeans--previously unknown in the human diet--completely unhinges a lipid balance that should be equally weighted toward Omega-3 fats,. the kind found in wild-caught fish.
Eventually we hear the story of Kilmer McCully, then a young pathologist at Massachusetts's General Hospital, who in 1968 published ground-breaking research showing that the real culprit in arteriosclerosis was not cholesterol but an excess of an amino acid called homocysteine, caused by a lack of B vitamins and folic acid. But while McCully's research was initially hailed, he was quickly blackballed by the medical profession because his work ran counter to the ascending medical/pharmacological orthodoxy that heart disease is caused by cholesterol.
Today the sale of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs is a $16 billion business. Meanwhile, Kilmer McCully now is chief of pathology at the Veterans Affairs Medicals Center in Boston and supervises something called the Homocysteine Study involving some 2,000 veterans.
I won't go into all the details. I just wanted to warn readers that a shift in thinking was underway here at The Slow Cook and that I will probably be returning to this topic more frequently and in greater depth in the future.
Since starting a subscription with a local dairy I've been drinking unhomogenized ("cream top") whole milk, making bacon and eggs for breakfast, occasionally ordering grass-fed steaks and including very dark chocolate as part of my daily diet. I've almost eliminated consumption of alcohol and I take fish oil capsules three times a day for the Omega-3. I am trying to avoid any kind of processed foods, even if it means saying no to ice cream from the local gelati joint when they can't tell me what's in it.
Remarkably, I am losing weight and I feel healthier than ever. My blood pressure is coming back down. It makes me want to run out and have liver and onions for lunch....