Which Fat is Best for Heart Health?

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Butter

If you are more confused than ever about dietary fats, you’re not alone. Can a high fat diet help you lose body fat? Which fat is best for heart health – butter, coconut oil or vegetable oil?

What is Cholesterol & Why is it Essential?
Cholesterol is an essential component of all cell membranes and a precursor to hormones, vitamin D and bile acids (needed for the digestion of fat). It is so important that your body regulates cholesterol balance to ensure your cells receive a continuous supply of cholesterol.

How does High LDL Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease?

Though cholesterol is critical for life, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, is considered a risk factor for heart disease because excess LDL can lead to an increase in plaque buildup in your arteries. Think of this process like a garden hose with gunk stuck in it. The gunk interferes with water flowing through the hose. If too much debris gets in there, no water will flow through.  Likewise, plaque in your arteries will decrease the amount of blood that moves through your arteries at one time and a complete blockage could lead to a heart attack or stroke.  Now, this is a simplistic view, especially considering LDL isn’t just one particle but instead, several that contain different amounts of cholesterol. Some research suggests that smaller, more dense LDL particles are more artery clogging. However, in addition to particle size, total number of LDL particles and oxidation of LDL contribute to the disease process.

As LDL particles travel through the bloodstream, excess LDL particles can stick to artery walls (particularly walls that are damaged due to smoking, high blood pressure and other insults). Trapped LDL becomes oxidized and sets off an inflammatory cascade resulting in the development of plaque (gunk) stuck to arteries – atherosclerosis.

Coronary Artery Disease

How Can I Lower my LDL Cholesterol?

Cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol.

Years ago we were told to stay away from shrimp, eggs and other high cholesterol foods. Yet this advice wasn’t based on sound science – cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol levels. So there is no need to take these nutrient-rich foods out of your diet. Shrimp is loaded with protein, and is a good source of iron plus it contains just 80 calories per serving. Eggs are also packed with nutrition – the whites are an excellent source of protein and the yellow color you see in the yolk is from antioxidants – plant compounds that protect plants from disease and protect your body from the damaging effects of free radicals, compounds that are essential but can cause damage as well.

Coconut Oil, Butter and Other Solid Fats are Not the Best Options

Man-made trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are the worst kind of fat you can eat. However, they should, finally, be making their way out of our food supply over the next few years. High levels of *saturated fat, the kind that is solid at room temperature like butter, increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol but not a target of therapy – doctors don’t focus on HDL levels because increasing HDL does not lower heart disease risk) and LDL cholesterol in the blood. In controlled diet experiments where saturated fat is replaced with polyunsaturated fat rich vegetable oils, risk of heart disease is reduced. Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fat, the kind found in olive oil, also lowers LDL but not to the extent that polyunsaturated fat does.

Coconut oil is popular and calorie for calorie it might be better for weight management than other fats. However, coconut oil raises our total, good and bad cholesterol levels. And therefore, it is not the best option for heart health.

Excess Carbohydrate Intake can Increase LDL

Overconsumption of carbohydrate-rich foods can also increase VLDL cholesterol (very low density lipoprotein). Foods with added sugars, in particular, are potent stimulators of VLDL production when the energy (calories) aren’t needed right away for energy or increasing glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate in your liver and muscle).

Best Fats for Your Heart

Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and liquid oils are your bets for heart health. Oils with more polyunsaturated fat have a greater impact on LDL cholesterol than those rich in monounsaturated fat. Make sure you are choosing the right oil for the right cooking application. Many oils can’t stand high heat and they break down, damaging the structure (and function) of the oil.

Fatty Acids in Oils

Conclusion

Many factors contribute to high blood cholesterol levels, including genetics, overweight/obesity, inactivity, smoking, diabetes and age, making cholesterol management a multifactorial issue. Saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol but, as I’ll say over and over, we are all different and, people vary in their response to dietary saturated fat due to intrinsic differences in fat metabolism as well as other factors including obesity, insulin resistance and high triglycerides.

Replace fats that raise cholesterol with liquid oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives. Consider your overall diet as well. Eat a plant-based diet including vegetables (non-starchy veggies as well as beans, lentils and peas), fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains (oats, barley etc.). Consume fatty fish ( salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut, sardines etc.) at least two times per week. Limit your intake of foods with added sugars and refined starches as well as your alcohol consumption. 

* There are differences in specific saturated fatty acids and their effects on blood cholesterol. Therefore, some foods high in saturated fat do not raise LDL cholesterol. Also, oils have a different array of vitamins (primarily vitamin E) and plant-based compounds that may be beneficial for heart health.

Fatty acids composition of oils taken from the USDA Nutrient Database.

Avoid Packing on the Pounds this Holiday Season

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If holiday parties tempt your desire to overindulge in mouth-watering creamy dips, comforting homemade casseroles and delectable desserts, you may find yourself panicking by the end of December and ready to crash diet on January 1st. Instead of doing something stupid (crash dieting), try a more sensible approach to avoid packing on the pounds this holiday season while still enjoying yourself. Follow these 3 tips for keeping calories in check this holiday season:

  1. Think “strategic placement” at holiday parties. While other people may worry about locating themselves near the life of the party, locate yourself away from the chip and dip bowl, especially if a meal will be served. Grab a small plate with a couple of appetizers, then walk away. Chances are you’ll get caught up in a conversation which will prevent the temptation to over-indulge in extra calories. Consider strategic placement strategy when filing your plate as well. Make half of your plate fresh fruits and veggies and the other half those higher calorie items that you can’t wait to dig into.
  1. Make smart swaps to traditional favorites. Admittedly, the holidays aren’t the best time to try an entirely different approach to cherished family menus, but you can make improvements. Try swapping reduce fat dairy for regular dairy, broth based soups instead of creamy versions and lighter versions of other ingredients as well. In addition, try adding grated vegetables (zucchini, carrots and onions often work well) in place of some ground meat in meat-based dishes.
    Not only will this enhance the nutrition value of your dish but it will also improve the flavor.
  1. Don’t drink away all your good efforts. No matter how great your strategy is for choosing healthier foods at the holidays, alcoholic drinks can be your calorie downfall. The best solution: alternate your beverages with a glass of water or club soda. You’ll stay better hydrated, keep calories in check and avoid a hangover. If plain water doesn’t sound very appealing, try sparkling water or club soda with a splash of 100% juice and a twist of lime. This simple strategy will help you reduce your calories and help you stay hydrated thereby preventing a hangover the next day. Also, if you are a wine drinker, take out a liquid measuring cup and measure 4 oz. of wine and pour it into a wine glass so you know what one serving of wine looks like. It is considerably smaller than you may think.

Drink Up (Alcohol) and Shortcut Muscle Growth and Recovery

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Alcohol

After making the game winning catch, a leaping single-handed snatch with just a few seconds left on the clock, its time to celebrate and drinks are on the house. And, you deserve a few beers or a little CÎROC® right?

Before you reach for that second (or third) drink, read this: drinking alcohol can interfere with muscle growth and delay recovery from training. In a recent study, men completed a leg workout followed by cycling at a moderate pace for 30 minutes and a set of 10 intervals (the study design was developed to mimic playing a team sport). Immediately and 4 hours post exercise they consumed whey protein, whey + alcohol or whey + carbohydrate. Alcohol plus whey protein reduced rates of muscle protein synthesis (muscle protein synthesis correlates with muscle growth over time) by an astounding 24% compared to drinking the whey protein without any alcohol. When alcohol was consumed without protein (as is often the case when athletes go out and party after a game), there was a 37% reduction in muscle protein synthesis. This study shows that alcohol interferes with muscle repair and recovery.

Here’s a breakdown of what alcohol can do to your performance and recovery:

  1. Alcohol interferes with the muscle growth and repair.
  2. Drinking alcohol can affect the way an athlete eats after a workout or game. Think about it – how often do you make healthy food choices after you’ve had a few drinks? “I’ll have another Long Island Iced Tea alongside the chicken and steamed vegetables platter with a side of mashed sweet potatoes.” Yeah right.
  3. Alcohol decreases blood testosterone levels in men in a dose dependent manner. The more you drink the more your testosterone decreases.
  4. Alcohol makes you dehydrated. That pounding headache you woke up with the last time you drank too much? Part of that is the result of dehydration.
  5. Alcohol impairs memory, focus, reaction time, accuracy and fine motor skills.Drinking alcohol before a competition or game may decrease your focus, coordination, and reaction time, all of which are crucial for good performance. This loss in focus can also increase your risk for injury. Drinking alcohol after a training session or game can also impair memory, which can affect the way that you remember training strategies or game plans.

Overall, drinking alcohol before or after exercise is not a good idea. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes avoid alcohol 48 hours before a game or performance. Additionally, they recommend drinking plenty of water and eating well after a game. And though it’s tempting to go out and party to celebrate, think before you drink and drink responsibly.

References:

Bianco A, Thomas E, Pomara F, Tabacchi G, Karsten B, Paoli A, Palma A. Alcohol consumption and hormonal alterations related to muscle hypertrophy: a review. Nutrition & Metabolism 2014;11(1):26.

Parr EB, Camera DM, Areta JL, Burke LM, Phillips SM, Hawley JA, Coffey VG. Alcohol ingestion impairs maximal post-exercise rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis following a single bout of concurrent training. PloS one 2014;9(2):e88384.

Kozir LP. ACSM current comment: Alcohol and athletic performance. American College of Sports Medicine. Internet: http://www.acsm.org/docs/current-comments/alcoholandathleticperformance.pdf?sfvrsn=5 (accessed 13 November 2014).

You Booze, You Lose. How Alcohol Can Wreck Your Athletic Performance

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It’s called a beer gut for a reason. But, over drinking will do more than just cover up those abs you’ve been working so hard for. Take a close look at how it will wreck your athletic performance:

Athletic Performance & Recovery

Alcohol has a number of effects on the body that can impair performance and delay recovery by:

  • Impairing muscle growth in the short-term – decreasing gains you’ve worked for in the weight room and on the field
  • Disrupting your sleep cycle, which impairs how you learn and retain/recall information (slowed reaction time on the field several days after consumption)
  • Decreasing blood testosterone levels for up to 24 hours after consumption which decreases aggression, lean muscle mass, recovery and overall athletic performance
  • Causing nausea, vomiting and drowsiness for several days after consumption

Body Fat

  • Alcohol interrupts your sleep cycle, which decreases your body’s production of HGH (human growth hormone). HGH promotes muscle mass while decreasing fat mass, is critical for recovery (by stimulating protein synthesis) and is important for immune system functioning.
  • Alcohol suppresses testosterone production.
  • Alcoholic drinks are high in calories and metabolized first, before food so extra calories from food are stored as body fat. Because your liver is busy processing alcohol, fat metabolism is delayed.
  • Alcohol also inhibits your body’s absorption of vitamins B1, B12, folic acid and zinc.

Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic that leads to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. And, dehydration can increase one’s risk of muscle cramps and other muscle injuries.

For all of the younger athletes reading this who feel peer pressure about drinking, think about this, the effects of 3 drinks will last a few days. Drink on Thursday and your reaction time on Saturday will still be impaired (and it may be impaired on Sunday too). Need an out? You just got one. Need another out? Use my all time favorite response when someone asks if you want a drink, “That’s a Clown Question, Bro.”

References:

  • J Clin Endocrin & Metab 1980;51:759-764.
  • Firth G. Manzo LG. For the Athlete: Alcohol and Athletic Performance. University of Notre Dame; 2004.
  • J Am Acad Dermatol 43(1 Pt 1):1-16.