Is the Paleo diet Heart Attack Proof? It’s a provocative question, but it’s not original. It was prompted by this article, and by this video, which I encourage you to watch before reading on:
What we’re seeing here is a classic example of “received wisdom” at work. Everyone knows that cutting fat, meat, eggs, and dairy out of the diet is good for the heart, don’t they? It’s obvious that filling our bodies with nutritious plant-based foods will clear away fatty deposits in our arteries and liver, and send that pesky cholesterol level plummeting, yes?
Actually, no. On a number of counts.
It’s interesting that no mention is given of what Sharon Kintz was eating before her heart attack. We’re simply told “Kintz has given up the food she loves – like butter and cheese” as though it’s a foregone conclusion that those foods were the culprits which caused her heart disease.
The evidence would suggest otherwise.
Recently, a massive scientific review showed that the conventional advice to reduce or change fat intake does not reduce heart disease. Dr. John Briffa, a UK-based supporter of a low-carbohydrate, paleo-centred diet, writes about the results of two studies reported in the British Medical Journal:
Many studies of this type have been conducted over the last few decades. These were reviewed back in 2000 by a group of British researchers. This review was actually a ‘meta-analysis’ (grouping together of similar studies) of 27 individual studies. The results revealed that modification of dietary fat did not lead to a significant reduction in either deaths due to cardiovascular disease or overall risk of death.
This meta-analysis was recently brought up-to-date by the same group of researchers. Another decade’s worth of data was added in the form of another 21 studies.
– Reduction of dietary fat, modification of dietary fat, or both did not reduce the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.
– Reduction of dietary fat, modification or dietary fat, or both did not reduce overall risk of death.
Interestingly, less than a year earlier, he reported on the fact that evidence was growing that a higher saturated fat intake is actually found to be associated with a reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
In that article, which centred on a study involving 58,000 Japanese adults, he writes:
…the authors of the study compared risk of death with intakes of saturated fat. Here’s a summary of what they found. Compared to those eating the least saturated fat, those eating the most were found to be:
– At NO increased risk of death due to heart attack, heart failure or cardiac arrest.
– At NO increased risk of death due to subarachnoid haemorrhage.
– At REDUCED risk of death due to intraparenchymal haemorrhage (52 per cent reduced risk)
– At REDUCED risk of death due to ischaemic stroke (42 per cent reduced risk)
– At REDUCED risk of death due to stroke (all types of stroke lumped together) (31 per cent reduced risk)
And, wait for it….
– Higher intakes of saturated fat were found to be associated with a REDUCED RISK OF DEATH FROM CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE (18 per cent reduced risk)
So, whilst we may be able to agree with Dr. Esselstyn’s assertion that heart disease “is a food-borne illness”, we may have to beg to differ on which foods are the ones to avoid.
Of course, scientific literature is littered with conflicting study results. My intention here is not to claim that these studies are definitive. But what study was used to help Ms. Kintz decide to heal her heart disease by cutting out healthy animal fats, and load up on starchy vegetables and refined carbohydrates? Did anyone discuss other options with her? Was she shown evidence of the claims that she has so willingly bought into?
I wish her well, and hope that the plan she’s chosen really does improve her health. It may well do. If her initial diet was full of processed foods, and she’s moved onto a diet rich in whole, fresh foods – that can only be to the better. But will it work long term, given that it contains refined carbohydrates (increasingly implicated in heart disease) and is now devoid of nourishing animal fats?
So – is the paleo diet heart attack proof? It’s not a claim anyone can make, when so many other factors (genetics, circumstances, stress) have a role to play. Increasingly, however, evidence indicates that the core elements of the paleo diet – good quality, properly reared animal products and nourishing saturated fats which are essential to the human body’s many functions – are far from being the problems we’re still being led to believe.
When received wisdom is so firmly entrenched in one camp, we can be sure that hundreds of thousands of people are accepting that “wisdom” unquestioningly. I write about the paleo diet not because I believe everyone should be on it – I’m well aware that no one size fits all – but because I want to ensure that everyone is fully informed of the possible benefits of this way of eating, disentangled from received wisdom, and liberated to make a positive choice in full awareness of the full range healthy food options that are truly open to them.
If you found this article useful, please click the ‘LIKE’ button below to share on Facebook. We also invite you to leave comments, and join the Paleo Diet News discussion!
Brian Cormack Carr is a professional life and career coach, writer, and advocate of a real foods diet.
His home on the web is www.cormackcarr.com where you will find more articles, a free newsletter, and information about his online career-creation programme www.vitalvocation.com. You can follow Brian on Twitter: @cormackcarr