#075 Does Cholesterol Still Matter? The New Nutrition Guidelines

February 15th, 2015 by

Does Cholesterol Still Matter? The New Nutrition Guidelines

Did you see the latest headlines that it is OK to eat cholesterol according to the new nutritional guidelines?  Are eggs now officially considered “healthy” again and how can we make sense of these ever shifting nutritional guidelines?

The New Nutrition Guidelines

To begin with, the guidelines have not officially changed yet.  We are still stuck with the last set of guidelines from 5 years ago.  It should be noted that we get new national nutritional guidelines every 5 years.

All of the stir in the media is because of a leaked report from the nation’s top nutrition advisory panel that will soon be going to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.  The official new dietary guidelines are not expected out until the end of the year.

As there are many powerful lobbyists in Washington DC, not all of these recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will make it into the final draft of the national nutrition guidelines.  These guidelines are very important as school lunches, how doctors counsel their patients, and how food companies advertise their products are all based on these guidelines.

Is it OK to eat cholesterol again?bigstock-Cholesterol-Level-Conceptual-M-51872137

Probably the biggest news leaked from this report is that “cholesterol is no longer important.”  To many this may seem like nutrition guidelines are flip-flopping yet again.

First of all, the cholesterol story is very complicated. Here is what we do know:

1. The plaque that builds up within the arteries of our heart is often comprised of cholesterol.

2. High levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) as well as triglycerides significantly increase your risk of a heart attack.

3. The cholesterol that we eat does not significantly influence cholesterol levels for about 75% of people.

The major cardiology groups in the U.S. dropped the importance of dietary cholesterol in their 2013 guidelines.  The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology both stated that there were not any strong data to recommend cutting dietary cholesterol for most people.  It is expected that the official U.S. nutritional guidelines will do the same.

People Sensitive to Dietary Cholesterol

Does this mean we can now eat as many eggs as we want?  Not quite so fast.  We do know that in about a quarter of people that eating cholesterol rich foods will raise their cholesterol levels.  Also, for people who have already had a heart attack they may want to continue to limit the cholesterol in their foods.

How do you know if you are part of the 25% of people that are sensitive to dietary cholesterol?  Probably the easiest way to check is to have your doctor repeat a fasting lipid panel (blood test) if you choose to eat more cholesterol rich foods.  Dietary cholesterol is only found in animal products like meat and dairy.

Why is my cholesterol high?

You may be wondering what is causing your cholesterol to be high if cholesterol in foods does not matter for most people.  Here are the big causes of why your cholesterol may be too high.

1. Trans fats.

The goal for trans fats in our diets should be zero.  These are man-made fats.IMG_8083

For trans fats you cannot trust labels on your favorite foods.  As long as there is less than 0.5 mg of trans fat then food manufacturers may report “zero.”  This is very deceptive but yet is allowed by food manufacturers under U.S. law.  To help protect you and your family, avoid products that say anything “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” on the ingredient list.

Most Americans eat about 3 grams of this toxic fat each day.  If you eat fried food, fast food, pastries, processed foods, or use the unhealthy vegetable oils you are getting this deadly trans fat.

Any trans fat in the diet can dramatically raise cholesterol levels.

2. Saturated fats

The bad saturated fats are another cause of high cholesterol for many people.  This is why lean animal meats have been recommended for quite some time.

This is another area where new research may change future recommendations.  We still do not fully understand which saturated fats are “bad” and which ones are “good.”  Certainly, the saturated fats in nuts and seeds seem to be cardiac protective.  Stay tuned on this one.

3. You are not getting enough exercise

Exercise can have a profound effect on cholesterol levels. Exercise can raise our good cholesterol (HDL) and lower our bad cholesterol (LDL).

4. You are eating sugar or foods that behave like sugar

As your total cholesterol is also based on triglycerides levels, any sugar or foods that behave like sugar in your body (think refined grains), will raise your triglycerides.  If you want to lower your total cholesterol and triglycerides then avoid added sugars, fruit juices (real whole fruit is very healthy), and simple carbohydrates (99% of breads, pastas, crackers, etc.).

5. You are part of the 25% that are sensitive to dietary cholesterol.

As mentioned above, you might just be one of those people that cannot eat much cholesterol in your diet without significantly bumping your cholesterol levels.

6. Bad genes

While most people feel there is nothing we can do about “bad genes” quite the opposite is true.  Through a healthy lifestyle we can “turn off” bad genes and “turn on” good genes.  Just because you were born with bad cholesterol genes doesn’t mean you have to take a “statin” cholesterol lowering drug for the rest of your life.

What other changes are expected in the new U.S. Nutritional Guidelines?

1. Salt Guidelines May Loosenbigstock-Sea-Salt-In-Wooden-Spoon-57830636

Our last nutritional guidelines stated that we should keep our daily sodium intake to below 2,300 mg.  However, recent science has challenged this and the Institute of Medicine recently stated that there are no strong data that we should keep salt below 2,300 mg.  It will be interesting to see if the salt guidelines loosen.

2. Lobby Groups Will Oppose Recommendations to Eat Less Animal Meat (Especially Red and Processed Meats)

While the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is recommending more of a plant-based diet with less red meat and processed meats it is expected that lobbyist groups will kill these recommendations in the final guidelines.

The big industrial meat farms are not helping our health or the environment.  Thus, we will likely continue to see wording encouraging us to eat a lot of animal meat in the U.S.

3. We may have our first sugar guidelines

Due to powerful lobby groups, our government has never set official sugar recommendations.  With mounting evidence building ever higher, our government may be finally forced to create some sort of a sugar guideline.

With the average American child now consuming 250 pounds of sugar each year, sugar guidelines are long overdue.  Bucking intense political pressure from lobbyist groups, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently recommended keeping our added sugars below 5% of our daily caloric intake.

4. “My Plate” Probably Won’t Change

The “My Plate” push from the last set of guidelines isn’t expected to change much.  In some ways this is good as our government will continue to encourage us to eat more fruits and vegetables.

However, the other half of “My Plate” will continue to remain very controversial.  Our government is expected to continue to recommend whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean animal meats.  Emerging scientific data will continue to challenge these later recommendations.

My Views of the New Nutritional Guidelinesbigstock-Fresh-fruits-and-vegetables-ov-14753480

While our government is making some progress on the nutritional front, they are still way behind the scientific data.  Over the course of human kind, we have been very good at adapting and thriving from many different cultural diets.

For example, the Mediterranean people have thrived on the traditional Mediterranean Diet.  Asians have thrived on the traditional Asian Diet.  The Tarahumara Native Americans have thrived on their traditional diet.  This list goes on and on.

The only diet that our health suffers from is the “Standard American Diet” (SAD).  Our bodies simply do not thrive in a processed or prepared food environment loaded with sugar, refined grains, and other “Frankenfoods.”

In my opinion, past dietary guidelines have done far more harm than good.  2 in every 3 Americans are now overweight or obese, based in large part, to bad past guidelines.  Millions of Americans now suffer tremendously from many chronic medical conditions that could prevented or even reversed with a “traditional diet.”

The real enemy isn’t the mg of sodium or cholesterol in our diets but rather processed foods, prepared foods, sugar, refined grains, and other “Frankenfoods and Frankenmeats.”

Let this be my call to return to eating real foods!

Please share with me your views on the new nutritional guidelines.


If you suffer from high cholesterol or are at risk for cardiovascular disease please discuss what diet you should be eating with your physician first before considering any changes based on the content of this article.

#045 Is Salad Dressing Healthy?

November 10th, 2014 by

Is Salad Dressing Healthy?

Eating salads are always your healthiest option, right?  Not so fast.  The 20+ chemicals in your typical highly processed ranch salad dressing could harm your health.

It seems like such a shame to take a healthy food, like a salad, and then smother it in chemicals which may hurt our health.  Can we both make the salad taste great and do our body good?

Unfortunately, most people use commercial salad dressings like the one shown in this photo.  I always worry when any product has more than a few ingredients.  In this article I will answer the question is salad dressing healthy, carefully analyze the 21 ingredients in this popular ranch dressing, provide my personal opinion on these 21 ingredients, and offer much healthier and better tasting alternatives.

The 21 Ingredients in a Typical Processed Food Ranch Salad Dressing

Here are the 21 ingredients, listed in order, of the popular ranch salad dressing shown in the photo. Do you really want to put all of these chemicals into your body?

1. Vegetable Oil

In the past, vegetable oils were felt to be better than saturated fats.  New data suggests that vegetable oils may actually increase our risk of heart disease.

I worry about vegetable oils because they are highly processed and contain high amounts of omega 6 fatty acids which have been shown to cause inflammation leading to conditions such as arthritis, asthma, or even cancer.

Also, vegetable oils may be hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated which means they contain the deadly trans fat.  Fortunately, this one is not listed as being hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.  However, as it is not organic, we can assume that it is genetically modified (GMO) which may cause long-term health effects that we are not aware of yet.

2. Water

3. Egg Yolk

As it does not state “pasture raised” or “organic” these may not be the healthiest eggs.  These eggs likely came from chickens fed processed foods (GMO grains), antibiotics, and hormones.  These eggs are also likely to be much higher in the inflammation producing omega 6 fats.

4. Sugar

Why does a ranch salad dressing need to have added sugar?  This is just one of many hidden sources of added sugars in our diet.

5. Salt

There actually is a lot more salt in commercial salad dressings than you might imagine.  The label indicates there is 260 mg for a two tablespoon serving.  The trouble is that for most people two tablespoons is an unrealistic serving size.  If you assume a four tablespoon serving that equates to 520 mg of sodium!

6. Cultured Non-Fat Buttermilk

7. Natural Flavors

This one always scares me.  “Natural flavors” are not natural at all.  It could be MSG or some other man-made chemical.

8. Spices

Once again, we don’t know what spices these are.  Let’s hope they are healthy spices.

9. Dried Garlic

10. Dried Onion

11. Vinegar

12. Phosphoric Acid

Phosphoric acid is the same thing that is in Coke!  This is a corrosive acid that is also used in fertilizers.  It gives food a tangy taste and helps to prevent the growth of molds and bacteria in sugary substances.

Phosphoric acid may be a cause of osteoporosis and tooth decay.  Phosphoric acid may also be a cause of kidney stones.  This is definitely a chemical that our bodies do not need!

13. Xanthan Gum

While xanthan gum is probably safe, there are reports that it can cause life-threatening necrotizing enterocolitis in children.  Here is a link to this report from the New York Times.  Also, in some people xanthan gum can cause digestive problems.

14. Modified Food Starch

Once again this is a bit of a mystery.  Modified food starch could be wheat, rice, corn, potato, or tapioca. If you are gluten sensitive this could be a problem.

The “modified” here could mean many different things.  It could have been heated or treated with a number of different chemicals, emulsifiers, or acids.

15. MSG

MSG is certainly very controversial. It can cause headaches.  Some research suggests it may cause us to gain weight or develop neurological problems such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, or ADHD.

16. Artificial Flavors

Once again this is another mystery ingredient.  These are basically chemicals designed to mimic real flavors.

17. Disodium Phosphate

This is a chemical used in processed foods to stabilize the pH of the product.

18. Sorbic Acid

This is a chemical to keep food from spoiling.  It is a preservative with anti-microbial properties.  This food additive, like so many others in this ranch dressing, is on the list of unacceptable chemicals to be included in food by Whole Foods.

19. Calcium Disodium EDTA

This chemical has been shown to be toxic to animals in high doses.  Once again, it is yet another chemical deemed as an unacceptable ingredient to be included in food by Whole Foods.

20. Disodium Inosinate

This is a flavor enhancer chemical typically used with MSG.  In susceptible people this could contribute to kidney or gall stones.

21. Disodium Guanylate

This is yet another flavor enhancer chemical and is often used in combination with MSG.  Once again, this chemical can cause kidney or gall stones in some people.

Healthier Options for Salad Dressings

When it comes to salad dressings it is best to avoid most commercial salad dressings and make your own.  If you are eating out see if they have olive oil and balsamic vinegar that you can put on your salad.

A better option is to make a large batch of salad dressing at home one or two times a week.  Most can be made in under five minutes and stay fresh anywhere from a few days to a week or two in the fridge.

I especially like the French vinaigrette and lemon olive oil dressings on this page.  If you like a more fruity dressing try one of these dressings on this page.  For an Asian salad dressing try one of these on this page.  Other options could be a Tahini lemon dressing or a roasted tomato maple dressing here.  There are so many different healthy and quick options.

Hopefully the answer to “is salad dressing healthy” rather obvious.  It depends.  If you make your own it could be incredibly healthy and tasty!

Do you make your own salad dressing?  What is your favorite?