Date: Thu 10 Sep 2015

Debunking Health Myths - Butter Doesn’t Cause Heart Disease, Cholesterol Isn’t Bad and Salt Lowers Blood Pressure!

Some conventional health and food wisdom is, well, not so wise and other eating advice can be confusing. Between e-mail forwards, the Internet and media, and misinformed relatives and friends, it’s become harder and harder to separate health fact from fiction. Misleading health ‘hearsays’ can distract you from wellness habits that truly deserve your time and energy.

Here, P1 SuperStock franchise team manager and esteemed sports nutritionist Stuart McDonald looks at some of the biggest watercooler myths and tells you what’s true, what’s misunderstood, and what’s simply downright wrong.

The inspiration to take a light hearted look at debunking some common health myths came about whilst I was enjoying a coffee in the Ibis Hotel café in Hull with P1’s legendary PR Guru Roy Mantle, I think we had both decided the breakfast was inedible and whilst staring hungrily at our margarine and toast we started to chat.

Many people may be surprised that we are regularly hoodwinked by the food industry, a practice that has been on-going for the past 50 years, since the food industry became industrialised and profits before health became ethos. Take margarine for example; in the eighties we were sold the story that it good for your heart and butter is bad for you, followed by news that saturated fats from meat and dairy should be avoided. When we take a closer look and apply logic, this makes no sense whatsoever - for example butter is a 100% natural food, eaten by humans since the 1st century BC but it spoils after a short time when exposed to oxygen. Margarine on the other hand is the opposite, almost 100% synthetic it is a forerunner of hydrogenated oils invented just before the Second World War to lubricate tanks, and war machines – but it never spoils and can stay on the supermarket shelves for ever. Has anyone ever seen a domestic pet eating margarine?

The real reason for promoting margarine had nothing to do with health or the heart, it’s all to do with food industry policy - ‘shelf life extension ’ ‘reducing food waste’ and increasing ‘margins’ We got hoodwinked because the food industry found a way to create a story of good health vs bad health, put fear into people about getting heart attacks, got a big food manufacturer to fund some convincing studies, link up with a big heart charity, sprinkle lots of money around and bingo! What really gets up our arteries is the fact that clinical studies now prove that margarine eaters have twice the rate of heart disease as butter eaters (Nutrition Week, 3/22/91 21:12.) The actual numbers though are probably much greater. The same commercial selling job was done on us with fish oils - yet dozen of clinical studies, as current as 2013 prove fish oil pills (including cod liver oil) do not promote a healthy heart.

For the keen DIY scientist reading this, here’s some useless information that you could impress your mother-in-law with when you next cook the Sunday roast. Biologically healthy dietary fats cannot be stored as excess body fat and with regards to heart disease; the fact is that no saturated fats (butter, cheese, red meats) can be found in aortic plaque! (Lancet, 1984;344:1195-96) This means that eating saturated fat does not cause heart disease. Roast dinners are one of the healthiest meals you can eat, so go ahead and use butter, lard or goose fat to cook the roast and crisp the parsnips & sweet potatoes.

Roy was half way into his coffee when our discussions moved to cholesterol; I think he was considering cashing in his prescription chips for statins! For years we have been told that there is ‘good’ cholesterol and ‘bad’ cholesterol. Sorry to bust this myth but there is no ‘bad’ cholesterol, the ‘bad ass’ reputation cholesterol gets comes from the type of fats it has to carry. Quick science lesson, key roles of LDL cholesterol (also called low density lipoprotein) is to carry fats in the blood and get them into tissues and cells. Depending on the type of fats you eat or use in cooking will determine what happens to cholesterol and the health of your heart to boot. If you cook with bad fats or wrong fats they will damage the cholesterol molecule, mess up your arteries and give you a higher cholesterol count. So what’s the best advice on cholesterol-use good fats and avoid bad fats?

The best types of fats to use for baking, roasting and hot frying are saturated fats; butter, goose fat, lard and olive oil for stir frying. The wrong fats to use for cooking include; sunflower oil, rape seed oil, corn oil and most vegetable oils. Only use vegetable oils cold for making salad dressing or spreading on foods. Vegetable oils are very unstable when heated, they become trans-fats and create free radicals, these are known to cause cancer, heart disease, hypertension strokes and type 2 diabetes - all modern day lifestyle acquired illness. GP’s will prescribe statins because they are very effective at removing cholesterol from the blood, but we need all our cholesterol to keep us healthy. A much better solution would be to make a statin to remove the bad fats causing the high cholesterol, not the cholesterol itself. If you change your diet and use good fats then your cholesterol count will drop back to normal.

I could see Roy was either fascinated or slightly perplexed and I could also hear him thinking out loud ‘hold on here Stuart, for years we have been told the opposite by our GP’s, NHS and the media’. Well he’s right but remember that GP’s get given information same as everyone which they pass on, same as everyone.

One last myth to bust is ‘salt causes high blood pressure’, this statement is inaccurate, it should read ‘sodium chloride causes high blood pressure’! There’s nothing bad or unhealthy about eating unrefined natural salt from the sea or the mountains. The enemy is common table salt, Saxa to most people, because it is a highly refined product containing mostly sodium chloride and is one of the worst junk foods we can eat. Natural sea salt on the other hand has little or no effect on blood pressure; because it contains lots of natural minerals including sodium, magnesium and potassium, these help maintain electrolyte and osmotic balance. Table salt has high sodium chloride with little or no magnesium to balance it, it is the low-magnesium effect that constricts the arteries and raises blood pressure. If you stop eating all salt because you have high blood pressure, you could be making your condition worse. Salt won’t harm you if you eat natural sea salt and dump the sodium chloride. Again we have been eating unrefined salt for thousands of years as a healthy staple food and I am modern day living proof of this, for most of my adult life I have used lots of natural sea salt on my foods, and my blood pressure keeps a steady 120/72.

By the way I’m still trying to find a myth to bust around Bassett’s fruit gums; a key snack which seems to keep P1’s Operations Director Rob Wicks going during race events, hmm it may take a while.

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