In the past little while, I have had a number of patients say they really minimize their salt intake, or, even worse, they avoid it altogether. And, there are still far too many people who are ‘fat-phobic’ – worried about elevated cholesterol and heart disease.
Which means that, although I have written about this in the past, it is time to once again shine a light on these two very important ‘foods’ or substances. Because the right fats and salt are important elements in a healthy diet.
Salt has long been vilified as the culprit in hypertension. Yet a good number of studies refute this. In fact, salt-restriction has been shown to worsen outcomes for people with heart disease. A Canadian study that was published several years ago supports this finding: moderate salt intake plays a beneficial role in cardiovascular health (whereas too low andover-consumption of salt had negative health impacts). Salt provides electrolytes (minerals) that are essential for health, particularly electrical and cellular functioning, as well as fluid movement throughout your body.
However, the type of salt is what you need to pay attention to. With a diet consisting chiefly of processed foods, you are consuming a lot of ‘table salt’, which causes an electrolyte imbalance: too much sodium relative to potassium. With this comes resultant water retention and swelling. You want to avoid ‘table salt’, which extends to iodized salt, kosher salt, and what I call ‘faux’ sea salt – generally found in supermarkets – which is doctored with anti-caking agents such as ‘yellow prussiate of soda, (derived from cyanide). Look for real sea salt such as ‘Celtic’ or ‘fine gray sea salt’ or fleur de sel, all of which you can find in health food stores. A more common and less expensive alternative is Himalayan salt (salmon pink in colour). These naturally occurring salts contain dozens of (over 70) trace minerals.
And then we get to fats:
One of the biggest misunderstandings about fats is that they make you fat and contribute to increased cholesterol levels and heart disease.
There is significant evidence that lowering cholesterol levels does not decrease the incidence of heart disease. In fact, a 2015 paper published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolismexamines a number of studies that strongly conclude an inverserelationship between cholesterol levels and heart health: the higher the cholesterol levels (both HDL and LDL), the lower the mortality levels! And, in the elderly, the higher their cholesterol levels, the higher their survival rate, irrespective of where they lived in the world. These studies looked atall causes of mortality– from cardiovascular disease to cancer.
Even in North America, the Framingham Heart Study (the bedrock upon which our knowledge of heart disease is based) did not find a correlation between cholesterol levels and heart disease.
More importantly, dietary fat does not necessarily increase your cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a by-product of over-consumption – especially carbs: what your body doesn’t use as fuel, is converted to fat and goes into storage, resulting in fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome and general obesity.
I am very partial toward virgin coconut oil. Coconut oil is a very efficient fuel for your body as well as your brain. Virgin coconut oil also increases metabolism, lowers blood pressure and has both heart-protective and renal-protective effects. And, not least of all, it’s safe to heat and cook with coconut oil. Unlike polyunsaturated oils that are transformed into harmful substances once heated, coconut oil’s structure (as a saturated fat) is not negatively altered. Grass-fed (and organic) butter is another fat that is good for you, with its abundance of omega-3 fats (as well as enhancing the flavors of everything it is cooked with). I also like to save duck and chicken fat, which are wonderful to cook with, as they withstand heat without being chemically altered.
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 may read about them – as heating induces the formation of trans fatty acids (which increase your cancer risk). The worst example would be foods that are deep-fried, as these oils are generally super-heated, repeatedly.
Last, but not least are the so-called ‘healthy oils’ such as canola, safflower, soy and sunflower oils. These contain an abundance of omega-6 fatty acids – precursors for inflammatory molecules. These have been strongly linked to fatty liver disease, heart disease, obesity, and bowel inflammation. The bottom line is to avoid any oils made from grains and legumes.