What To Do When Your Doctor is Concerned About Your Cholesterol and is Pushing the Diet From “Forks Over Knives”
Forks Over Knives
We got this question on the blog and I figured I would address it and share it with everyone…
“Hey guys/gals.. I need some help. My wife’s doctor is concerned about her cholesterol and is pushing the diet from the “Forks Over Knives” documentary. While I haven’t gotten my wife to fully embrace Paleo she is open but her doctor is telling her no coconut oil, no bacon, no butter, etc… We are supposed to attend a nutrition talk with her doctor on Tuesday and I have been invited mainly because the doctor knows I’m pro Paleo. I need help with some resources to help argue my case. Any thoughts to this? Thanks in advance.”
Yes…I have many resources and many thoughts. Lets get started…
Problem 1: Your doctor is more than likely operating under the mindset that high cholesterol is what causes heart disease.
Your doctor probably learned this from medical school, as this is what they teach medical students and he/she still holds this belief. If this is the case, then his argument for why you should eat the diet from “Forks Over Knives” (a vegetarian diet) will consistently fall back to this. The problem with this belief is that dietary cholesterol is not causal to heart disease. Cholesterol is a correlate to heart disease but not causal. And correlation does not equal causation. Blaming cholesterol on heart disease is like blaming the fire fighters for the fire…they always show up but they are not the ones who started the fire. The fire fighters are just there to help put out the fire…and in the same way cholesterol acts as a repair mechanism to fix or repair damage in our body. We need cholesterol in order to survive. Every cell membrane is made of cholesterol.
He gives a number of articles, reviewing over fifty years of research demonstrating that:
- High cholesterol is not the primary cause of heart disease.
- Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol don’t cause heart disease.
- Consumption of so-called “heart healthy” vegetable oils are linked to heart disease, cancer and many other conditions.
- Statin drugs don’t reduce the risk of death for most people, and have dangerous side effects and complications.
- He also discusses the latest theories on what causes heart disease and a truly “heart healthy” approach to diet and lifestyle that is supported by both modern science and centuries of traditional wisdom.
If you are more of a visual/auditory learner check out this video by Chris Kresser which goes over the true connection between cholesterol, saturated fat and heart disease.
Here are more resources from others who are explaining how cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease:
Dr. Mercola is an osteopathic physician, board-certified in family medicine and is trained in both traditional and natural medicine. Here is an article he wrote where he states that “Not only is cholesterol most likely not going to destroy your health (as you have been led to believe), but it is also not the cause of heart disease.”
Chris Masterjohn holds PhD in Nutritional Sciences with a concentration in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition at the University of Connecticut.
In the article below Chris discusses the lipid hypothesis (which is what our current conventional medical system holds to be true regarding the culprit of heart disease), and provides plenty of evidence to debunk this hypothesis. Contrary to popular belief the current cultural mindset of “don’t eat fatty foods, especially saturated fat and foods rich in animal fat, because the saturated fat and cholesterol will get stuck in your arteries and cause a heart disease” isn’t quite the case.
Dr. Peter Attia is a medical doctor who received his medical degree from Stanford University. Here is a great video with him discussing “The Straight Dope on Cholesterol”
Dr. Donald W. Miller, Jr is a professor of surgery who teaches cardiac surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine and the Seattle VA Medical Center. Watch the video below where he gives an excellent presentation on why saturated fats are good for us.
I could go on and on with other MD’s, DO’s, researchers etc. discussing this topic. The point is, that there has been a lot of misleading information that we were told about cholesterol, saturated fat, and heart disease and it’s important to get the truth out.
Problem 2: Your Doc thinks a Vegetarian Diet is best for you
So…the next issue that needs to be addressed is your doctor’s proposed solution to your high cholesterol. Likely he believes that lowering your total cholesterol is what will decrease your chances of having heart disease. He is recommending a vegetarian diet or the diet from “Forks Over Knives” because he thinks getting rid of animal products (including animal fats and dietary cholesterol) will lower your cholesterol levels which will prevent heart disease.
I want to first say, that I’m not anti-vegetarian or anti anything, really. I realize that there are people out there who have started eating a vegetarian diet and have had some improvements to their health. But this all comes back to the place these people are coming from.
Let me explain…
So..lets say we have someone who has been eating a typical Standard American Diet (SAD) which is full of refined grains, processed and refined foods (mostly carbs and chemical additives), toxic fats, loads of sugar coming from cereals, candy, soft drinks and juices, lots of artificial sweeteners (which are neurotoxins), not getting enough sleep or exercise, and sitting on the couch all day etc…And as a consequence of eating and living this way, this person begins to gain weight and not feel well. They go to their doctor and they have been told that their cholesterol is high, along with elevated blood pressure, and elevated triglycerides. This person is likely on their way to being obese, having hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or some degenerative disease condition if they don’t do something quick.
And then, lets say they wake up one day and say “I want to get healthy!” So they start looking into resources and then come across this book called “The China Study” or watch a documentary called “Forks Over Knives.” What type of actions to you think this person would typically make? Well…they start making positive changes right?! They put down the sodas, the candy, junk food, and start eating more vegetables and fruit. They also ditch the McDonald’s hamburgers, sausage pizzas and corndogs because that stuff has meat. They may even decide to do a little exercise and take time to manage stress with this lifestyle change. And hey…what do you know!….They see improvements! They lose weight, the cholesterol gets better, they feel better etc…
So they get really happy about this, all their friends are applauding their efforts and the conclusion that comes out of this is that a vegetarian diet turned their life around.
Hold on a sec…
The question should not be whether a vegetarian diet is better than a Standard American Diet…of course it is. Anytime you move away from processed crap and start eating whole foods you’re more than likely going to see improvements in health. If I’m smoking 5 packs a day and then cut back down to 1 that’s certainly better but not ideal. The questions we should be asking is “is it optimal?” Is it the best? And the latest research that keeps coming up is telling us NO…a vegetarian diet is not optimal at all and in fact is quite inferior in nutrient density when compared to a whole-food Paleo type diet.
Here are a couple of former vegetarians who switched over to a whole food Paleo type diet. Listen to what they have to say…
The video below is Denise Minger critiquing “The China Study.” If your Doctor is recommending the diet from “Forks Over Knives” then he will more than likely be using “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell as resource for his presentation on why you should be eating a vegetarian diet. Denise offers the most extensive critique of “The China Study” and discusses why the science behind this book is very poor. You can find a number of articles she has written on this topic here.
Another person you might want to learn about is Lierre Keith who, like Denise Minger, is a former Vegetarian. She wrote a book titled “The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability” which is an examination of the ecological effects of agriculture and vegetarianism. While she passionately opposes factory farming of animals, she maintains that humans require nutrient-dense animal foods for good health. She also feels a grain-based diet is the basis for degenerative diseases we take for granted (diabetes, cancer, heart disease) – diseases of civilization.
Problem 3: Your Doctor may feel a vegetarian diet is more dense in nutrition than a whole-food paleo diet.
It is a common misconception that fruits and vegetables are the most nutritious foods we can consume. Quality meat, organ meats and animal products are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Mathieu Lalonde, Ph.D argues that the current method of measuring nutrient density in food, the ANDI score, has a strong plant-based bias and leads us to believe that animal products are inferior foods. In the video below he proposes a new methodology of measuring nutrient density. He compares the nutrient density of meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds (a Paleo Diet) to that of grains, legumes and vegetables (frequently seen in vegetarian diets and promoted in “Forks Over Knives.”)
(Mathieu Lalonde is an organic chemist with a genuine interest in human metabolism, nutritional biochemistry, health and athletic performance. He holds a PhD in Organic Chemistry from Harvard University.)
Problem 4: Your doctor has not looked at the history of heart disease as it relates to our food supply.
Because of this he is not seeing that heart disease was extremely rare in the early part of the 19th century….a time when we were consuming large amounts of saturated fat and animal based products. It wasn’t until we started consuming toxic industrial seed oils and refined sugars that we start to see our incidence of heart disease begin to rise. This accelerated even more with the advent of high fructose corn syrup. He also may not fully understand the history behind how we came to fear fat and the poor science behind the studies of Ancel Keys. The flawed research of Ancel Keys is one of the main contributors to the current lipid or diet-heart hypothesis and why the current cultural belief is one that asserts that the consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol is linked to developing heart disease.
For a breakdown of the history of heart disease in our country please go here.
Another great resource on this topic is: “The Oiling of America” by Sally Fallon which presents the history of the diet-heart hypothesis, exposes behind-the-scenes manipulation and industry propaganda, reveals the vital role of cholesterol and saturated fats in human biochemistry, enumerates the considerable dangers of cholesterol-lowering drugs and explains how a return to old-fashioned animal fats can help us solve a health crisis that threatens the very fabric of the civilized world.
Problem 5: Your Doctor may recommend that you eat “whole healthy grains” being that he’s promoting a vegetarian diet.
There are two main reasons why it not wise to consume grains….especially in large quantities and especially without proper preparation
Grains can provoke an inflammatory response in the gut. Grains contain lectins which are specialized proteins that are found in high concentration in grains (particularly wheat), legumes (particularly soy), and nuts and seeds. They are thought to provide the plant or grain with a protective mechanism that might keep predators…us…from eating them. The most common lectin is called “gluten” but various types of lectins can be found in other grains as well. Consuming foods with high concentrations of lectins can cause inflammation even if consumed in moderate amounts. Basically, what ends up happening is that these lectins destroy the cells that line your intestines which leads to “microperforations” or tiny holes in the intestinal lining. The integrity of the gut gets compromised and foreign proteins are now able to make their way into the blood stream. This is a very big deal considering your gut comprises at least 70% of your immune system and is responsible for allowing the good stuff (broken down food, vitamins, minerals) into your bloodstream and keeping the bad stuff out (improperly broken down food, pathogens, etc.) When foreign proteins are allowed into the bloodstream, the body does not recognize them and thinks it is under attack. This can provoke an immune response and the body will attack the foreign invaders. Many of these proteins can be similar in structure to your own body’s tissues which causes confusion and the potential for your body to begin attacking itself. This is the basic mechanism for how auto-immune diseases manifest in the body.
The other negative aspect of eating grains is that they spike insulin levels. Two slices of whole wheat bread will spike your blood sugar more than a whole Snickers bar. It gets broken down extremely rapidly as glucose in the blood stream, thereby forcing the pancreas to produce a lot of insulin in order to clear the blood stream of glucose. When this occurs meal after meal (as it is for most Americans eating a Standard American Diet where grains are at the base of the food pyramid) the body will become insulin resistant….this is a BAD place to be. The body will now be in fat-storing mode because the individual cells within the body can no longer accept the glucose molecule to be used as fuel…it’s now in storing mode and will store that glucose molecule as fat. The larger problem with insulin resistance is that it leads to metabolic derangement (high blood pressure, high triglycerides, obesity, type 2 diabetes, etc…)…and it’s these precursors that we consistently see in patients who have cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and heart disease.
Check out Dr. William Davis (Formerly an interventional cardiologist, he now confines his practice to prevention and reversal of coronary disease), author of “Wheat Belly” telling us how the wheat of today is not the wheat of our mother’s or grandmother’s generation. Modern wheat is the product of genetic manipulations that have transformed its properties. Modern wheat is now a 2-foot tall, high-yield semi-dwarf strain, different in both appearance and multiple biochemical features from traditional wheat. Introduction of this new strain of wheat was associated with the appearance of a long list of health problems, along with weight gain and diabetes.
According to Dr. Davis, saying goodbye to all things containing wheat provides outsized and unexpected health benefits, from weight loss, to relief from acid reflux and bowel urgency, to reversal of diabetes, migraine headaches, and learning disabilities in children.
Below is one of his presentations on this topic.
Problem 6: Your doctor may not educate you enough about what’s really causing heart disease if he truly believes that saturated fats and animal based protein are the enemies.
Because of this he may not go into detail about the harmful effects of high sugar consumption and how that relates to heart disease. According to Dr. Robert Lustig, MD (UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology), sugar is TOXIC to our bodies and a key player in the epidemics of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. We agree! We see this every day. We treat people with these various diseases and the majority of the time their kitchens are full of sugar!
For more detailed information about the toxic effects of sugar listen to Dr. Lustwig’s presentation, Sugar: The Bitter Truth below:
Problem 7: Your doctor may believe that eating red meat causes cancer and is bad for the environment
Myths regarding protein
- Meat causes cancer and increases mortality. These claims are based on poor research and observational studies that do NOT come close to proving this claim to be truth. Go here and here and here where this is discussed in great detail by Chris Kresser and Denise Minger.
- Protein consumption causes gout. According to Chris Kresser, “More likely to cause gout are the common American dietary staples such as sugar-sweetened beverages, industrial seed and vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates, and excessive alcohol (beer in particular). The Western diet pattern is a risk factor for gout; a nutrient-dense Paleo diet is not.” The foods consumed in the SAD or Western diet promote systemic inflammation and thus create a body susceptible to inflammatory conditions such as gout. Go here to read the full article, A Paleo Diet Causes Gout?
- Meat is bad for the environment. If it’s a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) then yes…but not for an animal that is raised on pasture, allowed to roam freely and graze on grass..it’s not bad. It’s actually going to be good for the environment. For in an in-depth look at how animals raised on pasture and in their natural habitat is good for the us and the entire symbiosis of our ecosystem, check out this presentation by Joel Salatin:
Problem 8: Your doctor may insist on you eating a vegetarian diet and you don’t want to.
There are other doctors out there that understand the benefits of saturated fats, animal based protein, and dietary cholesterol. They also understand that a diet high in refined carbohydrates, toxic fats, grains, legumes and processed/homogenized dairy can be very toxic to the body and lead to heart disease along with many other diseases.
At the end of the day this is about YOU and a decision YOU have to make about YOUR health. There are going to be biases on both sides of this story. I often suggest to people who can’t seem to make up their mind is to try a whole-food Paleo diet for 1 month and then try a vegetarian diet for one month…then see how you look, feel, and perform and decide from there. Nothing beats self-awareness and self experimentation.
Hope that helps…
Chad Walding, DPT