Awwww … February … Hearts! How’s Your Heart?
February is Heart Health Month, so a good time to think about what we’ve learned about keeping our hearts healthy. I recently returned from a physicians’ meeting in Arizona and it turns out the themes are pretty consistent: if you want a healthy _________ (heart, digestive system, brain, immune system, your choice), the steps to take are remarkably consistent.
First big news item: The steps are consistent, because everything is connected inside. Our brain and immune system are intrinsically connected to the health of our intestinal lining and function, and our heart connects with our brain and our immune system. It makes sense to have a specialized cardiac surgeon to fix heart problems, but for the wisdom of creating heart health, we must take a generalist’s approach and have healthy bodies throughout.
Second: Even the United States Dietary Guidelines have finally learned that dietary cholesterol has little to nothing to do with the level of cholesterol in your blood stream. Eat as many eggs as you want. The federal guidelines are still a little squeamish about saturated fat, but the scientific literature is not. Know your fats: naturally occurring saturated and even trans fats in pasture-raised meat and butter have valuable nutrients and no association with heart disease. Believe me, the scientists have looked because they have told us for so long that butter clogs our arteries; it’s always hard to admit you’ve been wrong, but that’s what progress is all about.
Third: Okay, this isn’t really news to any of my readers, but it’s getting out in the world as common knowledge. Added sugar is really, really bad for you. The naturally occurring sugars in non-starchy vegetables are good for everyone and should be consumed with healthy fats (butter, avocado, olive oil, coconut and more) for best absorption of their nutrients. Starchy vegetables and fruits both have to be considered more carefully. People who are overweight or people tending toward diabetes have to calibrate their intake of both starches and fruits to match their level of activity and personal metabolism. Added sugars in desserts and processed foods aren’t good for anyone and should be on our plates rarely (weekly?) if at all. Dark chocolate (>70%) can satisfy sweets’ cravings.
Fourth: The real double whammy and the reason we feared fats for so long is that lots of fats, even healthy ones, in the presence of lots of sugar, wreak havoc on our metabolism and immune system, leaving a path of destructive inflammation throughout our bodies.
Last one for today: Balance really matters! Balance in two ways: we should all be active and strong enough to balance on one leg, and for that we need to be exercising, wisely exercising. And balance in our nervous systems: balance off your hyper-charged multi-tasking social media scavenging sympathetic nervous system with some quite walks outside, meditation, or yoga. We need healthy parasympathetic connections to digest our food and recover from life’s challenges, to keep inflammation to a healthy minimum. Get enough sleep by getting sunshine in the morning and dim, orange light in your home at night.
When you look at something as complicated as why and how our body might start making plaque that can cause a heart attack, it turns out that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat don’t matter so long as your added sugars are low, you’re relatively fit, and you find quiet time in your life to slow down.
Read more of Dr. Deborah’s healthy insights at www.DrDeborahMD.com.