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Healthy Living

Inflammation: The Greatest Health Enemy

The tide is turning. Doctors are increasingly embracing the idea that inflammation, not cholesterol is the cause of heart disease. Not only that, but inflammation, and its two main contributors, trans fats and sugars, are linked to of a whole host of health problems, not the least of which are cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

About 30 years ago, we were all told that cholesterol caused heart disease and made us all overweight, and that we needed to stop eating fat. America responded by demonizing bacon and eggs, butter, steak, anything containing dietary fat. In their place, we ate fat free salad dressings, fat-free cookies, low fat breads, pastas, and other carbohydrates.

As a result our nation's obesity epidemic skyrocketed and so did our incidence of heart disease and other ailments.

What went wrong?

It appears that the fatty foods we gave up were actually good for us, and the foods with which we replaced them were bad.

At first, researchers said all cholesterol was bad. Then they realized there are different kinds of cholesterol, and that the HDL cholesterol is actually good for us. LDL is raised by eating Omega-3 fats like olive oil and fish, so doctors encouraged us to eat those types of fats, but told us LDL cholesterol is still bad.

Now, however, it appears there are different types of LDL cholesterol, based on the size and density of the particles, and that the large, fluffy LDL particles are actually good for us. That type of good LDL cholesterol is raised by eating natural saturated fats like coconut oil, butter, meat and cheese.

There is one type of LDL cholesterol that is bad, very bad, and those are the small, dense particles. That type of cholesterol is raised by eating trans fats and sugar. In short, there is just a very small type of cholesterol that is bad for us, the kind that comes from inflammation. Other than that, cholesterol is very beneficial to our bodies.

So the newest thinking is, go ahead and eat natural fats and don't worry about your cholesterol. High cholesterol, even high LDL cholesterol, is largely a sign of good health. But please don't forget about the other side of this coin.

By all means, stop eating the foods that cause inflammation. Inflammation is nicknamed "The Silent Killer" because we can't see it or feel it while it destroys our bodies from head to toe.

Trans fats cause inflammation because these fats were created in a lab by infusing hydrogen into a regular fat, creating something that is very similar, on a molecular level, to plastic. Therefore, trans fats are completely foreign to our bodies, and they don't know how to process it.

What ends up happening is the trans fat accumulates on the cell membrane and begins to distort it and weaken it. This means things that shouldn't be getting into our cells are getting in, things like viruses and toxins, and things that should be kept in the cells are getting out, like nutrients.

Trans fats have been linked to Alzheimer's disease. A University of Oregon study showed seniors who at a lot of trans fats had a higher incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Brain cells can't communicate effectively if their membranes are corrupted with trans fats. Now scientists suspect trans fats may be linked to ADD, ADHD and Autism.

We have witnessed an explosion in the incidence of these conditions in the last 30 years, at the same time we witnessed an explosion of the consumption of trans fats.

Sadly, most processed foods contain trans fats. Don't judge whether a food item contains a trans fat based on the label. Food manufacturers have figured out a way to trick consumers into thinking a food is trans-fat-free when it really isn't. The way to know for sure, is by looking at the list of ingredients. If you see the word "hydrogenated" it contains trans fat. Vegetable shortening and margarine are trans fats as are most packaged baked goods like cookies and crackers.

Another highly inflammatory fat is Omega 6 fat. Actually Omega-6 fats are necessary for good health, but only in equal amounts as Omega-3 fats. Here in America, however, most of us consume 15 times the amount of Omega 6 fats compared to Omega-3 fats and that imbalance is highly inflammatory. So cut way back on Omega-6s such as vegetable oil. Substitute olive oil or coconut oil whenever a recipe calls for vegetable oil.

Another massive inflammatory agent is sugar. By sugar that means table sugar of course, but also all the different types of sugars, like high fructose corn syrup. Most Americans consumer 150 pounds of sugar a year, and it's estimated that more half of that comes in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Little more than 300 years ago, in 1700, people only at 7 1/2 pounds of sugar a year. Our bodies are simply not equipped to handle that massive overload of sugar, and the end result is extreme inflammation which kills.

Like trans fats, high fructose corn syrup is manufactured in a lab and is added to just about every processed food, not just the sweet ones, but things like pasta sauce and bread, too.

In addition to sugars, carbohydrates are also inflammatory, especially the refined carbohydrates, the ones that have been processed, and have had the fiber removed, leaving behind only the starch. This extra-starchy carbohydrate evokes the same dramatic insulin response as straight sugar.

In other words, to your body, eating refined carbohydrates are just like eating plain sugar. Refined carbohydrates are white grains, such as white bread, bagels, rice, pasta, English muffins, hot dog buns, hamburger buns, tortillas, rice, cereal, crackers, etc.

It may take a while for America to get the message that what we've heard for the last 30 years - that all fats are the enemy and carbs and sugars are okay - is backwards. The truth is, some fats are excellent for our health, like Omega 3, such as fish oil and olive oil, and like natural saturated fats like coconut oil and butter.

Other fats are extremely inflammatory, however, and must be avoided. Those are Omega-6 fats such as vegetable oil and trans fats such as margarine. We also need to avoid sugar and carbohydrates because these foods, eating in excess (which is what most Americans do), are highly inflammatory.