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Low-carb diets have been all the rage for a while now. Diets like paleo, keto and carnivore all tout the health benefits of eating few to no carbohydrates and forcing your body into ketosis, a mode where the body begins to burn fat instead of carbs. People who follow these diets believe they help with weight loss and improve inflammation, cholesterol, blood sugar and insulin levels.
However, many health professionals are concerned about the high level of saturated animal fat in these diets. The keto diet, for example, recommends getting a staggering 80 percent of your calories from fat and only 5 percent or less from carbs. There is a proven link between a high-fat diet and certain types of cancer, including colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer. Diets high in fat, particularly saturated and trans fats, also can lead to heart disease, metabolic syndrome and an unhealthy gut environment.
The impact of a high-fat diet on the heart has been the subject of much research. One team recently identified a particular cellular mechanism set off by a high-fat diet that can damage the heart….
High-fat diet and abnormal heart cell growth
A study found consuming a high-fat diet may activate a certain heart response that causes destructive growth of heart cells, leading to a greater risk for heart attack.
In the study, researchers fed mice a high-fat diet and examined its effect on the oxidative stress levels of heart cells. The mice received 45 percent of their calorie consumption from fat, 20 percent from protein and 35 percent from carbohydrates.
They discovered the heart cells had twice the amount of oxidative stress, which led them to grow up to 1.8 times bigger as a result of cardiac hypertrophy, an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle. Hypertrophy is a condition associated with heart disease.
The study focused on a key protein known as Nox2, which researchers believe is associated with increased oxidative stress in the heart. Dr. Sunbal Naureen Bhatti from the University of Reading, named first author of the study, says the research indicates a cellular switch was flipped when the mice were fed a diet high in fat that caused this normally harmless protein to become overactive. They are still researching exactly how Nox2 goes on to cause oxidative damage and trigger cardiac hypertrophy.
“We are really just scratching the surface of how the protein Nox2 responds to diets, but our research clearly demonstrates that high-fat diets have the potential to cause significant damage to the heart,” Dr. Bhatti says
In the study, the mice fed a high-fat diet had twice the amount of Nox2 activity, and that led to a similar amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS), a free radical associated with damage to the body.
To confirm whether Nox2 was involved in causing cardiac stress, the researchers compared these results with those from a group of mice bred specifically to “knock out” Nox2 and stop the protein from activating. Even though these “knock out” mice were also fed a high-fat diet, they showed little to no raised levels of oxidative stress.
Also, the researchers used three experimental treatments known to lower Nox2-related ROS production and found all three to have promise in reducing the damaging effect of ROS on the mice hearts.
Low-carbing the healthy way
While it may not be wise to follow a diet like keto or carnivore long-term, there are ways to incorporate some of their healthier aspects into your own eating plan.
For instance, one thing all low-carb diets have in common is that they get rid of the very foods nutrition experts say are the worst for our health: processed, packaged foods like fast foods, crackers, cookies, chips, sodas and candy that are high in sugar, salt and preservatives. In the standard American diet, 63 percent of calories from these very foods.
It may seem overwhelming to cut all of these foods out of your diet at the same time, so try eliminating one category (like sodas) to start, then add another every two weeks or so. Try having a replacement food on hand to make the transition easier. You can substitute seltzer flavored with lemon or lime for soda and try eating raw vegetables with hummus or a low-fat plain yogurt dip instead of chips.
Also, instead of banning all grains, try avoiding processed grains and eating moderate amounts of beans, legumes and whole grains. These foods are rich in fiber, which is essential for good gastrointestinal health and balancing blood sugar. And make sure you get plenty of low-carb vegetables and fruits, which help keep you full and give you a wide variety of essential nutrients including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
When it comes to fatty diets, some research indicated that the antioxidant resveratrol might be helpful. That doesn’t mean it’s ok to eat a high-fat diet as long as you supplement resveratrol or other antioxidants, but previous studies, including research into the French paradox — the phenomenon that asserts that part of the reason the French seem able to enjoy fatty foods often is that the damage is countered by resveratrol from red wine consumption — have demonstrated the antioxidant to be a powerful defender against oxidative damage.
When choosing meats, it might be better to replace high-fat red meats with poultry and fish. Eat red meats only occasionally and keep the portion sizes small.
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High Fat Diets May Over-Activate Destructive Heart Disease Protein — University of Reading
Fad diets: The false promise of keto — Step One Foods
Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet — Mayo Clinic