Heart Health

A recent article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ)[1] puts to rest a decades-old myth: Saturated fat is NOT bad for the heart. This is news I’ve long suspected! And we now have science to prove it. Fat is not the enemy when it comes to cardiovascular disease, weight gain, brain health, and so many other issues. It turns out that sugar—in all its many guises—is the real culprit for making you fat. What it also means is that because sugar causes inflammation throughout the body, it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease—and just about everything else! We’ve all been sold a bill of goods about so-called healthy low-fat foods like cookies and muffins. When you begin to read labels, you’ll quickly see how much sugar is added to just about everything, especially to low-fat foods. When the fat is removed, so is the flavor. To make it more palatable, sugar, sugar substitutes, and salt are added in its place. And as you continue to read labels, I think you’ll be surprised by how much sugar is also in so-called healthy foods, like yogurt, tomato sauce, many fruit juices—even some salad dressings. I can tell you without a doubt, it’s the sugar that so many of us struggle with, not the fat. Think about it. It’s NOT the burger with cheese and bacon that’s the issue. It’s the ketchup, the bun, and the fries. These are all carbs that instantly raise your blood sugar, because they are higher on the glycemic index than plain old table sugar. This is what I mean by sugar in all its guises. Foods with little fat and loaded with sugar don’t leave you satiated after a meal—at least not for long. We need the fat to feel sated. Without it, we crave more sugary foods—until we learn to switch to or at least incorporate better food choices. It’s like being on a blood sugar rollercoaster. Your body is subjected to the blood sugar highs and lows, and you literally NEED the sugar to feel OK when you’re in one of the lows. So let’s not kid ourselves anymore about what’s really making us fat. Sugar is the leading culprit today in causing inflammation. Here are some specific stats from an article printed on February, 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA][2], which are worth sharing:

  • Sugar is connected to an increased risk of heart attack and dementia, as well as other inflammatory diseases, such as insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, obesity, liver problems, arthritis, reduction in beneficial HDL cholesterol, increase in triglycerides, and cancer.
  • Those with the highest sugar intake had a 400% higher risk of heart attack than those with the lowest intake of sugar.

Note—the current recommendation by the American Heart Association: One’s daily intake of sugar should be only 5–7.5% of one’s total caloric intake.

  • It takes only one 20-ounce soda to increase your risk of heart attack by 30%.
  • If you consume 20% of your calories from sugar, your risk of heart attack doubles.

These statistics were determined after adjusting for independent risk factors for heart attack, such as smoking, high blood pressure, alcohol intake, and other factors. If that’s not bad enough, it is sugar, not fat, that creates abdominal fat. Did you know that the average American consumes 138 pounds of sugar a year? And the rise in sugar intake in recent years has played a key role in the increase in the cellular inflammation—and the soaring obesity and diabetes rates? So the right kind of diet for your heart (your brain and every other part of your body) is one which obviously includes lots of healthy vegetables and some fruit, plenty of protein, and high-quality, unprocessed, gluten-free carbs in moderation. Quinoa is one good choice. And yes, I’ve watched the documentary Forks Over Knivesand was featured in another documentary on healthy eating called Hungry for Change.I realize that we all need more healthy greens and veggies—and less meat. We also need a good deal of healthy fats, like coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, and yes—saturated fat from animal sources. The best sources of animal fat are eggs, grass fed and organically raised chickens and beef, buffalo, and wild-caught fish. You can still be a vegetarian, of course. Just make sure you are no longer eating under the influence of the “low-fat police.” Because the lack of satisfaction you get from low-fat foods will almost certainly turn into a sugar binge somewhere down the road. Aseem Malhotra, cardiologist and lead researcher on the study “Observations from Your Heart: Saturated fat is not the major issue,” told the BMJ that we have scientific evidence which shows that lowering our intake of saturated fat “has paradoxically increased our cardiovascular risks.” I’m glad that people everywhere are learning the truth about sugar and low-fat diets. Were you surprised to learn that sugar is more harmful to your heart than saturated fat? I’d love to hear your impression of this blog, too. Please leave a comment, and LIKE or SHARE on Facebook if you think this news is important or can help others. [1] Aseem Malhotra, et al. Observations from the heart: saturated fat is not the major issue, BMJ, October 2013;347:f6340. [2] QuanheYang,PhD, et al. Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults, JAMA Intern Med, published online February 03, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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  1. debbie
    7 months ago

    I think sugar is like any other food,and is a gift from God.we have turned certain foods into targets to explain away bad health,and this time its sugars turn to be villinized.our families down through the years ate all kinds of foods in moderation,and lived normal lives.sometimes disease just happens and we may never know the reason why.i think more of the food problems stem from the chemicals and GMO,not the foods themselves when eaten in moderation.

  2. Christine
    9 months ago

    Dear Dr Northrup I have a daughter that has been diagnosed with the following PCOS – HYPERINSULEMIA – She had two thirds of her thyroid removed – incapsulated malignant tumor nine years ago – is always tired – has belly fat – inflammation throughout her body – you name it and now she has been told she has The Fat Gene – I have tried to encourage her to follow the Paleo Program -

  3. Debi
    9 months ago

    Dear Dr. Northrup, I have been an advocate for years against the low fat diet. I watched my Dad go through three by-pass surgeries and eventually succumb to his cardiovascular disease at age 73. He was on the typically recommended low-fat diet ever since his first triple by-pass at age 52. I am convinced this diet did not help reduce his cholesterol levels and in the end was actually harmful. Reducing sugar intake should be our focus.

  4. Tracy Minnis
    9 months ago

    The saturated fats(important for brain & immune function) that are healthy are made without hormones & antibiotics-from animals that are free to roam on ample acreage, eating grass etc. Many people feel overwhelmed by all the information about “diets” and they simply give up on how to eat healthy. When a doctor or book tells people to not eat an entire food group such as carbs(carbohydrates), they are mistaken. Our bodies need protein, fats & carbs during each & every meal.

  5. Denise
    9 months ago

    This is nothing new especially if you are at all familiar with Dr. Atkins and his healthy weight loss program that has been around for 30 years. All this info and much more is in his book if you read it and not just skip to the program part or only use the first 2 weeks induction portion as so many have done. Even Dr. Oz is jumping on the band wagon on how fat is not bad for you. He should read Dr. Atkins’ book too !

  6. Sharon
    9 months ago

    Refined sugar does have its issues, but you cannot discount the damage that saturated fat has on a body. Donuts are full of saturated fat, do you really believe they do not contribute to heart disease and a lollipop does?

  7. Bill Burchard
    9 months ago

    You had me convinced at “It’s NOT the burger with cheese and bacon that’s the issue.”

    (Psst! Will you be my primary care physician?) ;)

  8. Jill
    9 months ago

    Just last week I made the commitment to stop eating sugar, wheat and dairy – I felt better after just 2 days. I am 45 and way overweight and have been feeling BAD for the past 7 years. I finally realize it was sugar (including bread) that was killing me.

    I now have NO cravings and while psychologically I *want* bread/cheese,I don’t feel hungry ever. I’m down almost 10 lbs without trying & even my rosacea is going away. Thanks for the post

  9. Vikki
    9 months ago

    I totally get that sugar is not good for us, especially in excess. It’s not good for your heart, or any other part of our bodies. But I don’t see that saturated fat is good for us either. I don’t think I’m going to be healthy because I stop drinking cola and start eating bacon. Truth is, to be healthy we need to avoid both.

  10. Judith Nourse
    9 months ago

    I have felt concern for years about the huge infiltration of artificial ingredients into our “food” system, and the propaganda against healthy fats. As an RN and practicing reflexologist, I am seeing a huge rise in cancers and recurring illnesses, and can’t help but wonder how much the chemicals fed to these bodies as building materials plus microwaving are responsible. Eventually there must be breakdown in the body’s ability to protect itself.

  11. Mary
    9 months ago

    I am living proof of too much sugar and weight gain. I have gained 25 pounds in the past few years and find it very difficult to loose the weight and keep it off, no matter how much exercise I incorporate into my routine. I have spent the last year really reading labels closely and found exactly what the research is showing. The food industries marketing tactics are very deceiving and sugar is everywhere in one form or another. Thank you Christiane for this blog!

  12. Karla Mortensen
    9 months ago

    So when the recommendation by the AHA for sugar is 5%-7.5% of our calorie count, does that include the sugars found in fruit, or is it in addition?

  13. Yav
    9 months ago

    I am not surprised to hear this because I have been reading about it in different sources. I think more and more it will become mainstream thinking.. I also think this is why diets like the Paleo tend to do so well at making people feel better besides helping them lose weight. Thanks for writing this, it is very helpful.

  14. heather
    9 months ago

    Thanks for tackling this controversial topic. I’ve been saying this for years, and it is wonderful to see this kind of news hit a mainstream audience as well as have supportive scientific evidence. It’s one more step toward completely debunking the cholesterol myth. Enjoy your butter!!! (on veggies, of course!)

  15. Vanessa
    9 months ago

    I live in South Africa and a prominent sports scientist, Dr Tim Noakes is drawing a huge amount of negative reaction here for saying what you have stated in this blog. He also says to cut out carbs altogether. My husband has recently started this way of eating, we’re looking forward to seeing how it affects his blood sugar – he is type 2 diabetic, his energy levels and his weight.

  16. Peg PT
    9 months ago

    I totally agree. Sugar feeds inflammation and infection. It is dangerous. Fat fortifies all the organs and tissues of our body. I am not afraid of fat (love coconut oil, avocados, meat, olive oil). I eat sugar only occasionally in high quality treats. No to daily dollops from bottled dressings and sauces. Yes to a weekend homemade cookie or piece of pie. This has helped me bring severe asthma under control, and avoid or curb colds and flus. Thank you Dr. Northrup!

  17. angela
    9 months ago

    Sugar and corn are everywhere killing us. I have fibromyalgia and run a support group where I cite alot of studies and read from what you have read. Fibro is difficult to exercise due to the pain, yet, sugar and corn is the inflammation. What it comes down to is there isn’t a whole lot out there to eat with the exception of produce. I am very frustrated with what is in or not in what we eat. Monsanto is not making optimum health acquirable.

  18. Ale Hinojosa
    9 months ago

    Dear Dr. Northrup, loved your blog post!! Thank you for sharing the message!! I continuously find myself trying to get my friends and family to eat more healthy saturated fats … I will be definitely sharing your post with them :)

  19. Lise
    9 months ago

    I cut down alot on sugar and lost 25 lbs in a year. I have put 7lbs back on after the holidays and am now losing again. The only culprit right now is wine. I do not consume more than 7 glasses a week but believe it is still to much. Also, my father had Alzheimers and loved to eat sugar, so I really believe the research concerning sugar and its effect on the body is finally coming front and center.
    Thank you so much for your website and your wisdom.

  20. Kay Griffith
    9 months ago

    Does saturated fat clog arteries?
    In regards to someone who has had a quad by-pass and both carotid arteries reopened and termed to have degenerative heart disease. Thank you.

    For a person who has none of the above, does saturated fat clog arteries? Thank you.

    Bill & Kay Griffith…78 & 71

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