I don’t know about you, but I grew up believing I should eat very little fat and very little cholesterol—both of which were thought to cause heart disease—and instead load up on whole wheat everything, as well as natural ingredients writ large, including things like maple syrup. This was certainly the gospel in California, where I was raised and where many health trends and crazes still get their start. And though the book Sugar Blues, with those classic and cautionary ‘before’ and ‘after’ (quitting sugar) pics of its author on its back cover, had taken off, fat and cholesterol were still considered enemy #1 by most who were health conscious.
That’s changed considerably in recent years as researchers have re-evaluated the relationship of sugar, fat and cholesterol to metabolic syndrome and heart disease. In one significant study, researchers found a correlation between consumption of added sugars and increased risk for mortality from cardiovascular disease. This is consistent with the general consensus that if you eat a lot of added sugars, you’ll have low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL)— the “good” cholesterol that is active in the blood stream—and high levels of the triglycerides believed to thicken artery walls, raising the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease).
Thus, it’s not surprising to find growing evidence, on the positive side of the equation, that eating a low-carb diet, not a low-fat diet, improves cholesterol as well as metabolic risk factors. This has led to a general reassessment of the impact of cholesterol in food on cholesterol levels. Since most cholesterol that causes plaque in the arteries is created internally, rather than absorbed, it’s even more important to avoid sugars, which prompt its creation. However, over the three years during which I lowered my blood sugar from prediabetic to normal, my HDL (the good stuff) went up, but so did my LDL (the bad stuff) that is stored as excess energy, even though my overall cholesterol stayed in the normal range.
So even if dietary cholesterol is not much of a culprit in cardiovascular disease, and saturated fats are not the evils we once thought they were, there is still evidence that too much saturated fat is not a good thing. Since I may have gone overboard with the sat fats to the point that they’re having an impact, I’ll test this hypothesis by reducing my over-reliance on meat and replace my high-ish consumption of butter, cheese and cream with good fats—especially since HDL soaks up LDL. Since everyone reacts to dietary changes differently, individual tinkering is needed regardless of scientific results. If I can keep my sugar low while also cutting my LDL to its knees, I’ll have finally arrived at the right formula. The still-debated question of the role of sat fats aside, if you needed another reason to lower your blood sugar besides avoiding diabetes, protecting your heart is an excellent one.