salt and fats | The weekly news of the district

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Lately I’ve had a number of patients say they really minimize their salt intake or, worse, avoid it altogether. And there are still far too many people who are “fatphobic” — concerned about high cholesterol and heart disease.

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That said, while I’ve written about them in the past, it’s time to revisit these two very important “foods” or substances. Because the right fats and salt are important elements of a healthy diet.

Salt has long been vilified as a culprit for high blood pressure. However, a number of studies disprove this. In fact, salt restriction has been shown to worsen outcomes for people with heart disease. A Canadian study published a few years ago supports this finding: Moderate salt intake plays a positive role in cardiovascular health (while too little andexcessive salt consumption had negative health effects). Salt provides electrolytes (minerals) that are essential for health, particularly electrical and cellular functioning, as well as fluid movement throughout the body.

However, you need to pay attention to the type of salt. On a diet high in processed foods, you’re consuming a lot of “table salt,” which leads to an electrolyte imbalance: too much sodium relative to potassium. This is accompanied by water retention and swelling. You want to avoid “table salt,” which extends to iodized salt, kosher salt, and what I call “fake” sea salt — which is generally found in supermarkets — laced with anti-caking agents like “yellow soda water.”(derived from cyanide). Look for real sea salt like “Celtic” or “Fine Gray Sea Salt” or fleur de sel, all of which you can find at health food stores. A more common and less expensive alternative is Himalayan salt (salmon pink in color). These naturally occurring salts contain dozens (over 70) of trace minerals.

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And then we come to the fats:

One of the biggest misconceptions about fats is that they make you fat and contribute to high cholesterol and heart disease.

There is significant evidence that lowering cholesterol does not reduce the incidence of heart disease. In fact, a 2015 paper published in the Annals of nutrition and metabolismexamines a number of studies that draw a strong conclusion vice versaLink between cholesterol levels and heart health: The higher the cholesterol level (both HDL and LDL), the lower the mortality rate! And for older people, the higher the cholesterol, the higher the survival rate, no matter where in the world you live. Consider these studiesall causes of death– from cardiovascular diseases to cancer.

Even in North America, the Framingham Heart Study (the bedrock on which our knowledge of heart disease is based) found no correlation between cholesterol levels and heart disease.

More importantly, dietary fat doesn’t necessarily raise your cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a by-product of overeating—carbohydrates in particular: what your body doesn’t use for fuel is converted to fat and stored, leading to fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, and overall obesity.

I am very partial to virgin coconut oil. Coconut oil is a very efficient fuel for your body and brain. Virgin coconut oil also increases metabolism, lowers blood pressure, and has both cardio-protective and kidney-protective effects. And last but not least, it can be safely heated and cooked with coconut oil. Unlike polyunsaturated oils, which are converted into pollutants when heated, the structure of coconut oil (as a saturated fat) is not negatively altered. Grass-fed (and organic) butter is another fat that’s good for you, as it’s high in omega-3 fats (and enhances the flavor of anything it’s cooked with). I also like to save on duck and chicken fat, which are wonderful for cooking as they can withstand heat without being chemically altered.

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Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. These include olive oil, avocado oil, hemp oil (omega-3 rich), and nut oils. These should not be heated, despite what you read about them, as heating induces the formation of trans fats (which increase your risk of cancer). The worst example would be fried foods, as these oils are generally repeatedly overheated.

Last but not least are the so-called “healthy oils” such as rapeseed, safflower, soybean and sunflower oil. These contain plenty of omega-6 fatty acids – precursors for inflammatory molecules. These have been strongly linked to fatty liver disease, heart disease, obesity and intestinal inflammation. The bottom line is to avoid oils from grains and legumes.

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