It seems every day there’s a new diet trend to follow: forgo the fat; steer clear of carbs, eat like our hunter-gatherer ancestors did—but is there a downside when it comes to heart health? You bet. Here’s why you should skip what’s trending and follow the Love Your Heart Eating Plan:
The Low-fat Dilemma
Low-fat diets have been widely recommended for the reduction of heart disease risk because saturated fats increase LDL cholesterol. The problem is that low-fat diets often become high-carbohydrate diets, which have been linked to a reduction in HDL cholesterol, higher triglycerides, and increased levels of small, dense LDL cholesterol, all of which have been shown to increase heart disease risk.
When low-fat diets were first recommended back in the 1970s, food manufacturers simply started to replace fat with carbohydrates to keep foods tasting good. Unfortunately, the result of the low-fat, high-carb diet craze has been an unprecedented increase in obesity, diabetes and heart disease—the exact opposite of what was originally intended.
Dissecting Low-carb Diet
While the low-carbohydrate diet has some heart health benefits, there are big drawbacks. Many low-carb diets are also low-fiber diets—in large part because low fruit and vegetable intake—but fiber is an important component in a heart-healthy diet (Brenda Watson recommends at least 35 grams each day). If you follow a standard low-carb diet, you likely won’t be getting the important benefits of high intake of dietary fiber.
Another downfall of the low-carb diet is the initial stage of the diet. It involves severe carbohydrate restriction—often under 20 grams daily—which rapidly puts the body into a state of ketosis, whereby fat is burned for energy in the absence of available glycogen (the stored form of glucose, or sugar, in the body). This kind of strict carbohydrate restriction requires special monitoring of ketone bodies in the urine to ensure excessive ketones do not trigger ketoacidosis, a dangerous condition common in undiagnosed diabetics.
The Problem with Paleo
Although high in fiber due to the emphasis on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, the modern Paleo diet tends to contain insufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D due to the absence of dairy foods and the low sun exposure of modern people and (hunter-gatherers lived outdoors and thus enjoyed plenty of sun exposure). Further, the Omega-3 content of modern meats is not what it was in Paleolithic times, so to obtain enough Omega-3s, high amounts of cold-water fatty fish are recommended. However, high fish consumption today may not be safe due to methylmercury contamination.
Finally, the Paleo diet does not limit fruits or starchy vegetables such as potatoes. Fruits contain high amounts of fructose, which does not raise blood glucose levels but can have many detrimental effects. Fructose is processed in the liver and contributes to increases in LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and apolipoprotein-B (a protein linked to arterial plaque and heart disease). Starchy vegetables rapidly break down into sugar, which contributes to increases in blood sugar levels.
The Love Your Heart Solution
Think of the Love Your Heart Eating Plan as a hybrid between a low-carb diet and the Paleo diet—taking the positive attributes from each while removing the negative attributes to create a heart-healthy diet rich in nutrients, full of flavor, and without the characteristic hunger pangs and carb/sugar cravings of the conventional low-fat, high-carb diet. Get started today with these delicious Love Your Heart recipes!