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Heart Health is always connected to a person’s cholesterol level, or so my science teacher in the late 1970s said. My dad, mom and brother all had heart disease so I paid good attention to this serious Lower Your Cholesterol message.
The heart disease deaths in my family are a big reason for my holistic health coaching career.
Like lots of people who have lost loved ones to heart disease, I’ve heard the “Statins for Everyone!” claim. These drugs are a 20 Billion Dollar industry for drug makers. The makers of drugs have built fortunes on lowering cholesterol for heart health. My doctor thought my heart health required statins throughout my 40s, and she agreed with what my science teacher taught.
I can’t really blame them. It was the health meme of their day. They both told me that eating saturated fat always raises blood cholesterol. In my late 40s, as my Health Coaching Education progressed, new research contradicted the earlier messaging. I was taught, and I believe, that lowering carbs and increasing fat in my diet is the best way to improve my heart health. This belief turned into action, and those actions have indeed reduced my risk of heart disease.
As these things do, the expert advice from different schools of thought can overlap. The advice to eat low carb and high fat overlapped the eat mostly carbs and little fat advice. This is confusing. We were being told that if we cut out carbs and replace those calories with fat and protein, we’d damage our hearts. Quality research, loved by those who believe in the health benefits of a lower-carb lifestyle, continue to debate the low-carb/higher fat position.
Many Americans create heart disease with lifestyle choices, but science no longer supports the idea that it’s all about cholesterol. The fear of Saturated Fat is often an important part of the fear of high cholesterol like it was for my teacher and parents. Now the controlled carb advocates praise a diet that includes plenty of healthy fats, and they do this with their own goals of heart health.
And besides, researchers on both sides of this conversation know that humans have eaten lots of fat for at least 200,000 years. Perhaps we have evolved to eat it and thrive?
Let me back up a bit. The clients I coach want to solve their Prediabetes and avoid Type 2 Diabetes. Many experts are now teaching all of us that instead of only focusing on the dreaded cholesterol/saturated fat advice of the past, we need to understand what happens to our body when we do not manage our blood sugar. Instead of focusing on cholesterol, we need to know what happens when we walk around with excess insulin in our system.
I’d like to share with you a simple version of the impact on a human body when unmanaged (ignored) blood sugar levels are high. High levels of blood sugar cause a high release of insulin (except in those with Type 1 Diabetes, who have to add insulin to their body). Excess insulin stays in the bloodstream and impacts many other parts of the body.
Heart health advice changed in 1994. Elevated cholesterol, saturated fat consumption, and heart disease are no longer the Trifecta of Fear. Do we have to find a new fear? Or could we just empower one another?
Before we choose fear or empowerment, let’s revisit my beloved family for a moment. My mom used to tell me that her cholesterol had always been low. She was proud of this. It meant she didn’t need statins like my dad or brother(s) did. She and I both avoided the statin over-medication of America. What she didn’t avoid was heart disease. The new heart health advice from 1994 underscores how my mom–even in her low cholesterol position–was still at higher risk for heart disease.
What can we learn from this and where is our power? The research on nutrition and the human body is a never-ending story. As new developments make their way to households around the country, the names change for our food villains and heroes. A healthy heart is now known to be better protected when we can balance our blood sugar, enjoy–instead of fear–healthy fat in every meal, and prevent inflammation. If my family knew then what I know now, improving their food and activity habits could have greatly prolonged their lives.
I am a person who believes in practicing what I preach. I’m sure that you are, too! Whenever my doctor orders blood work at an annual physical, I want my food and activity lifestyle to be validated. I look for that validation in specific blood work readings. While I may always have genetically high cholesterol numbers, like my dad, my healthy heart habits reduce my risk of heart disease.
I eat more fat, for instance, than my parent’s generation did. My prediabetes clients and I shoot for daily fat consumption in the range of 20%-35% of the total food we consume in a day. One of the fats we focus on is coconut oil. We take prebiotics and probiotics for our gut health. We eat lots of low-starch produce and fiber. We severely limit artificial sweeteners, antibiotics, and processed foods. We stay off of the Sugar Roller Coaster by eating a Controlled Carb diet, and this prevents excess insulin damage. To this, we add daily activities like long walks, bike rides, Zumba, playing with kids, and body-weight exercises. This also helps us to stabilize our blood sugar and feel energetic.
Does your family include folks who have suffered heart attacks, strokes, people who wear pacemakers, or have high blood pressure? Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., so likely, you’ve seen it up close and personal. Did you know that the symptoms of a heart attack in women are different in men? I’d like to support you in knowing what female heart attacks look and feel like. When we take action at the right time, our medical community can help us to survive. Click the button below and it’ll take you to my free downloads. Open a Heart Health for Women info sheet to Print and Share.
Just like we keep up with the latest science about how our bodies work, we can also feel empowered–not frightened–about heart disease. Please let me hear from you if you have any questions about this heart health blog!