New Guidelines for Preventing Heart Disease

July 8, 2015
Time Magazine - wrong about fats
Thought of as a man’s disease, heart disease doesn’t discriminate – it is the #1 cause of death in both women & men. In fact, since 1984, more women have died from heart disease than men (Read article in Forbes magazine).


Heart Disease’s Fast Track to #1:

Heart disease hasn’t always been the #1 killer.  In fact, if we look back a little over a hundred years ago – just before the turn of the 19th century – heart disease was virtually non-existant, occurring in a small % of the population.  But by 1921 – it had become the leading cause of death!
How could this have happened, so quickly? Researchers set out to find the answers – and one man by the name of Ancel Keys had a theory.  He believed it was due to consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol. He set out to prove his theory – and published his 7 Countries Study – which showed that for the people living in these 7 countries – there was a correlation between heart disease, and intake of cholesterol and saturated fats.


There were two problems with the 7 Countries Study:

  1. Keys had actually studied 22 countries – but he selected the 7 countries that fit his theory.  Several of the countries that he conveniently choose not to include in his results – actually disproved his theory!
  2. His research was based on correlation, not causation.  This is an important distinction.  Correlation means that there is an association – only.  It does not prove causation.  Kind of like umbrellas are correlated with rain, and band aids are correlated with cuts.   In fact, it could have been an entirely different food or environmental factor that was the real culprit behind the rise – more about that in a sec.


But despite these flaws, Key’s 7 Countries Studies started a nutritional revolution.  The American Heart Association told the public that cholesterol and saturated fats would raise our risk of heart disease, and later, the USDA published guidelines to limit them both from the diet.  And every year after that for many decades – Americans believed that low fat meant healthier and reduced risk of disease.


It is an interesting story. I write extensively about the history behind the “Low Fat Myth” in Chapter Two (“Fix Your Fats”) of my book The Perfect Metabolism Plan. I also I highly recommend this fascinating must-watch documentary featuring a number of doctors and experts that discusses these “dietary villains” – The Heart of the Matter – this is part 1 (approx. 30 mins long).

 Heart of the Matter


Why is Heart Disease Still #1?

So if we have made so many advances in prevention and treatment of heart disease – why is it still the #1 cause of death?  In addition to heart disease, the incidence of diabetes has tripled since the 1980s (the height of the low fat era).   Plus, we are seeing an increase in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cancer, and Alzheimers disease – which is now being referred to as “Type 3 diabetes” (because the plaques in the brain are so similar to the diabetic plaques). All of these diseases do share a common link, more about that later…
Fortunately – the way heart disease is being diagnosed, treated, and prevented is beginning to evolve.  There have been some pretty significant changes in the past few months:


1. Dietary Cholesterol Exonerated

The long-standing recommendation to limit the amount of dietary cholesterol has just recently been officially lifted from the nutritional guidelines.  This is huge, and has been a long time coming. Despite being told that there was good scientific evidence to back it up – the scientific studies actually did not show a causative link between dietary cholesterol and heart attack!  One study looked at 130,000 people and found that nearly 3/4 of patients hospitalized for heart attack had what was considered to be normal cholesterol numbers. In fact, research shows that in the elderly population (over age 81) – lower cholesterol levels actually raised the risk of mortality, and equated to lower memory scores.

What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Heart DiseaseDr. Mark Houston, author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell you About Heart Disease says that “elevated cholesterol is not a sure sign of heart disease, any more than low levels are a sure sign of heart health.”  Dr. Houston says in his book that heart disease begins with endothelial damage or dysfunction, which progresses through 7 different pathways (inflammation, oxidative stress, autoimmunity, dyslipidemia, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and obesity).  The good news?  Many of the above pathways can be affected by nutritional and lifestyle factors. I highly recommend Dr. Houston’s book if you want to understand how to get control of your heart health naturally.

2. Saturated Fats Not to Blame Either

Experts are also calling into the question the recommendations on saturated fats – because like cholesterol, there is a lack of scientific evidence linking saturated fats to heart disease.  But the push to remove the saturated fat limit is still being met with a lot of resistance, so it will likely not be changed in the official nutritional recommendations until the next time they are changed – which is in 5 years.  Don’t believe me about saturated fats not being bad for you?  Read this Time Magazine piece titled “We Were Wrong About Saturated Fats.” (Notice that is Ancel Keys on the left hand cover).

Time Magazine - wrong about fats

3. Trans fats banned. 

Another exciting development that happened recently – is the FDA finally took a stronger stand against trans fats.  Back in 2013, they removed the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) classification, because of the link between trans fats and coronary artery plaque formation.  And just last month they took it a big step further – they banned the use of trans fats in foods entirely.  This is great news, but since there is a 3 year grace period for compliance – we all need to be aware of all the places trans fats are hiding in the meantime.  Basically – the majority of trans fats in our diets come from “convenience foods.”

Trans fats are liquid fats that have been altered by partially hydrogenation, making them solid/more stable at room temperature.  Trans fats extend the shelf-life of a product, so that is why manufacturers love them.  An interesting historical note is that Crisco – which is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil – was brought to market in 1911.  Check out this Illustrated History of heart disease for other interesting facts and historical notes (from 1825-2015). 

Spotting Trans Fats –

Just because a label says “no trans fats” does not mean it doesn’t contain them.  That is a label loophole, and just means that there is less than half a gram of trans fats per serving.  Just know, if it says “partially hydrogenated oil” on the ingredient list – it has trans fats.

Trans fats are found in:

  • Coffee creamer packets – I call these little packets of trans fats. You are better off with a splash of real Foods with trans fatscream, or better yet – go black.
  • Margarine – I remember when I was a kid, all of sudden our butter got really yellow.  How ironic that we were actually told that these sticks of trans fats were actually healthier! Just get back to real butter (go for grass fed).
  • Refrigerator pie dough, biscuits and rolls – Yep, convenience foods.  From scratch made with plain real butter is better.
  • Processed & grocery store bakery items, donuts
  • Many fried/fast foods
  • Canned frosting
  • Some frozen confections
  • Many reduced fat items
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Frozen dinners 

Heart Health Connected to Our Gut?

There is a lot of really exciting research that has been happening about the human microbiome (the bacterial cells in and on our bodies).  With some new research linking  the heart to the microbiome in the gut. Check out these articles to learn more about the connection:

Could Autoimmune Disease be to Blame for Some?

There is emerging research to support a link between autoimmune diseases and heart disease.  It is well-known that there is a link between chronic/systemic inflammation and heart disease.  So it makes sense that having an autoimmune disease, which leads to chronic and systemic inflammation – could be one potential underlying cause/contributing factor for heart disease.  Because of this, it is a good idea for anyone with heart disease to be tested for celiac disease/gluten sensitivity (especially if there are other potential symptoms of autoimmunity – such as psoriosis, eczema, or other skin conditions/rashes, sun sensitivity, thyroid disease, chronic aches & pains/arthritis, stress fractures, slow wound healing, low white blood cell count, etc).

So back to the question – if cholesterol and saturated fats are not the culprits in heart disease, then what is?  

There is a lot of overwhelming evidence pointing to poorly controlled blood SUGAR.

Although not likely the whole picture – excess sugar increases inflammation, and is linked to increased risk of heart attack and death.  Chapter One of my book The Perfect Metabolism Plan goes into detail about how sugar impacts our metabolism and health – and all the sneaky ways it is getting into our diet.

AHA Recommends Added Sugar Limits

Because of the link between sugar and heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to less than 9 tsp for men, and 6 tsp for women.  But with 75% of all packaged foods containing added sugars – this is not easy to do.  Sugar is sneaking into our diets all day long – even in seemingly healthy choices like cereals, yogurts, salad dressings, sauces, snack bars, etc.  You do not have to eat one cookie, one spoonful of ice cream, or one soda to get more added sugar than the recommended limit.  It is no wonder that the average American gets about 3 times more than the recommended amount every day (and I personally think that number is underestimated).

Skip the Sodas & Sweet Drinks

One of the fastest way to get too much sugar is by drinking it. One 12 oz. soda has about 10 tsp of sugar, and a 9 oz. frappuccino has about 8 tsp.  One medium FruiTea (organic green tea from Wendy’s) has 18 tsp!!  That drink alone is 3 times the amount a woman should have all day long!!  And before you run out to buy diet sodas – know that two or more diet sodas a day has been linked to a 30% increase for a heart attack (read this article to learn more).

Read these articles for more info:


One way to stay on top of our heart health is to get some tests run.  But which ones? Contrary to popular belief – just knowing your cholesterol levels is not enough – as more than half of all heart attacks happen in people who have what are considered normal cholesterol levels.

The Spectra Cell Cardio Metabolic test is a comprehensive test to help you assess your risk of metabolic syndrome.  Learn more about the test here  – or ask your family doctor or cardiologist to run these tests for you.

The Healthy Heart Summit – July 13th (it’s FREE)

There is an exciting opportunity to learn from over 30 of the top experts in the area of heart health next week!   The Healthy Heart Summit (begins on July 13 and it is free!!). Register here today, and attend each day for free.

Healthy Heart Summit

In addition to attending the Summit, I also highly recommend the following books:

  • What Your Doctor May Not Tell you About Heart Disease.  – by Dr. Mark Houston, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Director of the Hypertension Institute and Vascular Biology, and Medical Director of the Division of Human Nutrition at St. Thomas Medical Group.  In this innovative and well-written book, Dr. Mark Houston helps readers discover the real causes of heart disease, and how to prevent and treat its debilitating effects via nutrition. He also discusses nutritional supplements, exercise, weight management, and lays to rest to various heart health myths based on numerous scientific studies and medical publications.
  • The Great Cholesterol Myth. By Dr. Steven Sinatra & Jonny Bowden.  This is a fascinating book that dispels some of the common myths of heart health, and many ways to support a healthy heart.  Dr. Steven Sinatra is a board-certified Cardiologist with 40 years of experience.


This article is not to be construed as medical advice.  I highly recommend that you discuss the information presented in this article and at the Healthy Heart Summit with your medical provider.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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