This week our contributing writer Doctor Gifford-Jones talks about the misconceptions regarding cholesterol free foods which contain high amounts of sugar and fat.
Today the word “cholesterol” has become as familiar to Americans as motherhood and apple pie. But unlike these two it’s unloved and meant to be avoided. So if you’re a marketing whiz kid, would you try to increase sales with a red label stating your product is “cholesterol free”? Unfortunately, life is never so simple and there are several marketing conundrums for both promoters and unsuspecting consumers. And do cholesterol-lowering drugs (CLDs) exchange one devil for another?
Dr. Khhursheed Jeejeebhoy, professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, reported in The Medical Post that consumers don’t realize that many cholesterol-free foods contain large amounts of sugar and trans-fatty acids .
This is not a healthy combination. Too much sugar and excess calories of any kind are linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. And trans-fatty acids have been associated with cardiovascular problems.
But not only advertising companies have befuddled the public about nutrition. What researchers claim to be gospel one day is not the whole truth the next. It’s no wonder that many people are confused about cholesterol, fats and other dietary proposals.
The first misconception occurred when blood cholesterol level became the be-all-and-end-all as the cause of heart disease. Some researchers questioned that. They discovered that almost 50 per cent of patients with coronary artery disease had normal blood cholesterol levels. In fact, Dr. Jeejeebhoy points out that some East Asians with severe coronary disease were found to have either normal or low levels of blood cholesterol.
Another study showed that men in Scotland and Sweden had the same blood cholesterol levels, but Scottish males had three times the number of heart attacks as the Swedes. Obviously something else was happening. Were the Scots drinking too much of their own scotch? Or not eating enough vegetables and fruits which are harder to get in Scotland?
Later researchers concluded that saturated fats were the bad guys on the street increasing blood cholesterol. This is when consumers began to use margarine with polyunsaturated fats and started cooking food in corn oil rather than butter.
Recently scientists discovered that there are also good and bad polyunsaturated fatty acids. The bad ones, Omega-6 fatty acids present in cookies and packaged foods, promote inflammation and blood clots. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish decrease the risk of inflammation and heart attack.
Today another factor has been found to play an increasing role in heart disease. It’s called insulin resistance. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic problem in which too little insulin is produced by the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes occurs when there are sufficient amounts of insulin but the cells refuse to accept it. It’s like having a tank full of gas, but the engine won’t use it because of obesity.
Today obesity causes 90 percent of diabetes. And 50 per cent of diabetics are destined to die from heart disease. What a sad commentary on our way of life!
I don’t have a crystal ball to predict the outcome of all these studies. At the moment millions of people are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs (CLDs). A recent report published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows what happens when larger doses of Lipitor, the most popular of the CLDs, are prescribed.
As suspected it decreased the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases. But they increased the risk of dying from other diseases and failed to show an overall reduction in deaths. In effect, patients were exchanging one way of dying for another. This is not an enticing trade.
I wish I could be convinced that the billions spent on cholesterol-lowering drugs is a good bargain. But I’ve always been concerned that it’s questionable to push for lower and lower levels of cholesterol, a vital substance for many bodily functions. Particularly, when we know that CLDs have been associated with liver inflammation, muscle degeneration and death.
I believe history will show that more lives would be saved if people paid more attention to the numbers on the weight scale, and stayed away from packaged foods loaded with calories, sugar and the wrong fats.