By Al Sears, MD
We’ve been taught to believe low-calorie, low-fat diets are the way to go if you want to be healthy and live longer.
But, why do women still continue to die in record numbers from heart disease?
Don’t expect the American Heart Association to give you the answer. Their new guidelines for women sound like they came directly from the mouths of drug companies and processed food makers.
Their advice is to avoid nutritional supplements… take aspirin… eat more low-fat foods… and have your doctor “monitor” your cholesterol.
This advice is troubling. Here’s why:
The True Story About Low-Fat Diets and Why They’re Particularly Dangerous to Women
At any given time in America, 44% of women are actively dieting. Many go from one fad diet to the next.
The problem is, diets don’t work for the majority of women.[i]
According to mainstream dietary folklore, a low-fat diet is key to good heart health. Researchers thought they found a link between fat consumption and heart health. It turns out they were really noticing the effects of new chemically altered fats (trans fat) on people’s health. It took decades for doctors to figure this out.
This false belief is still putting people at risk today. Especially women.
Women are more likely to be vegetarians, replacing valuable sources of protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients with empty carbohydrates like pasta and bread.
The Real Effect the Food Pyramid Has on Women’s Health
In 2005, the government updated the food pyramid. I was hoping it would show how important good protein and healthy fats were, but I was disappointed once again.
The food pyramid still recommends grains as the foundation of healthy eating. It neglects the benefits of good fats, too.
The Harvard School of Public Health followed more than 85,000 women for 14 years. They tracked what they ate and how it affected their weight.
On average, these 85,000 women ate 38% less red meat and 43% less dairy over the course of this study. And they ate more calories from grains.
So a decrease in red meat, dairy, and fat… and an increase in grains – exactly what the food pyramid tells you to do. These women should have been slim and healthy.
But they weren’t.
The amount of overweight women grew by 38%! These so-called “healthy” diet changes went hand-in-hand with dramatic weight gain.[ii] Women need more protein – not less. Women need better fat – not low-fat. And, they need fewer processed foods like grains.
I came across another study of 80,000 women that looked at the link between the amount of protein you eat and heart disease. They found that as protein intake goes up, so does fat.
And according to popular standards, heart disease risk should have also risen. Instead, women with the highest intake of protein had a 26% lower risk of heart disease than women who consumed the least.[iii]
How to Make Healthy Food Choices for a Woman’s Heart
If you follow mainstream dietary ideas, you won’t get the nutrients you need as a woman. You’ll gain weight and won’t get enough protein. This can cause major health issues.
Insulin controls fat production. And too much insulin can cause heart disease.
When you eat a lot of starchy carbohydrates, you increase the insulin in your blood. This can eventually cause insulin resistance that makes it difficult to regulate your blood sugar.
According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, poor fasting blood sugar is a major concern for postmenopausal women and contributes to heart disease risk. (The NCEP got this one right.)
Ideally, protein should be the main course of each meal. Eat 3 to 5 servings of vegetables (the ones that grow above ground), 1 to 2 servings each of fruits and nuts, 1 to 2 servings of dairy, and less than one serving total of grains each day.
Here’s one more tool to help you make healthy food choices for your heart. Because rising blood sugar levels are damaging to a woman’s heart, choosing foods with a low glycemic load is important.
So what does that mean?
In short, if a food has a low glycemic load, it has fewer carbohydrates per serving. Those carbs also take a longer time to turn into glucose in your blood. Food with low glycemic load will help you keep your blood sugar and insulin levels low.
The One Fat Women Should Avoid
I know this is hard to accept, but natural fats are good for you. And I’ll prove it in a moment. But, first you should know there’s a type of fat you should avoid.
Trans fat isn’t a natural fat. It’s chemically altered, and manufacturers use it in processed foods. In a 20-year study of 79,000 women, trans fat consumption increased the relative risk of heart disease by 50%.[iv] Trans fats pose a greater risk to women as they age, so remember, it’s never too late to cut them out.
In this same study, researchers also looked at the effects of natural fats on a woman’s health.
Polyunsaturated fat proved to reduce the risk of heart disease especially in women who were younger (pre-menopause) and in women who struggled with weight.[v]
Even saturated fats don't harm your heart. They do raise the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood, but they also raise the level of HDL cholesterol. The ratio of the two is more important that LDL alone, which means that saturated fat has very little impact on your overall cholesterol levels.[vi]
Heart disease isn’t just a man’s disease anymore. It's the greatest threat to a woman’s health, too. And while heart disease levels have begun to steadily fall in men, they continue to rise in women. Women also appear more susceptible to many negative consequences of aging. This includes aging on the heart, lungs and blood vessels.
Fortunately, women (mothers especially) are more receptive to preventive measures. They tend to listen and act on health advice more than men do.
By making a few simple changes, you could be saving your life. And… you’ll feel better than ever!
Dr. Al Sears, M.D. is a board-certified clinical nutrition specialist. His practice, Dr. Sears' Health & Wellness Center in Royal Palm Beach, Fla., specializes in alternative medicine. He is the author of seven books in the fields of alternative medicine, anti-aging, and nutritional supplementation, including The Doctor's Heart Cure.
[i] Pick, Marcelle OB/GYN. Weight Loss for Women. Women to Women. 7/5/2005.
[ii] Hu FB, et al. “Dietary protein and risk of ischemic heart disease in women.” Am J Clin Nutr 1999; 70(2): 221-27.
[iii] Liu S, Willett WC, et al. “A prospective study of dietary glycemic load, carbohydrate intake, and risk of coronary heart disease in US women.” Am J Clin Nutr 2000; 71(6): 1455-61.
[iv] Oh K, Hu FB, et al. “Dietary fat intake and risk of coronary heart disease in women: 20 years of follow-up of the nurses' health study.” Am J Epidemiol 2005; 161(7): 672-9.
[v] Taubes, Gary. “What if it's all been a big fat lie?” Low Carb Research and Studies. 7/5/2005.
[vi] “Metabolic Syndrome,” Heart Healthy Women. (http://www.hearthealthywomen.org) 7/7/2005.