The Heart Healthy Diet
Our choice of food, the way we choose to cook it and, especially, the amount we eat do indeed affect our
health. The wrong eating pattern over a period of time combined with other bad habits such as smoking,
drinking to excess and insufficient exercise, can lead to disease and early death. The most striking correlation
between what we eat and illness is between saturated fat (found almost entirely in meat and dairy products) and coronary heart disease. The connection is made through that infamous and much maligned intermediate
mentioned earlier, cholesterol.
Cholesterol lies at the center of the great diet-disease debate. Speaking in general terms, the more saturated fat you eat, the more cholesterol will be found in your bloodstream, and the higher your (serum) cholesterol
level, the greater the risk of an early death from coronary heart disease. However, serum cholesterol is only one of several risk factors in coronary heart disease, and our cholesterol level is mainly determined by cholesterol manufactured inside the body.
In coronary heart disease, the build-up of fat in the lining of the coronary arteries (atheroma) gradually narrows them and consequently the blood supply to the muscles of the heart is reduced. A heart attack happens when one of the major coronary arteries is completely blocked by a blood clot (thrombus) forming in a matter of hours around a particularly prominent fatty deposit on the lining of the artery wall. Some people experience severe chest pains (angina) in the weeks preceding a heart attack; others get no early warning.
The important point is this: there is a wealth of data, accumulated over decades, to support these findings -
namely that the level of cholesterol in the bloodstream is our best indicator of the risk of coronary heart disease. This is not the same thing as saying that cholesterol causes heart attacks. Few scientists are satisfied that cause and effect has been proven. Even if it is entirely free of blame, however, as an indicator, high levels of cholesterol tell us to cut down on our dietary intake of fats – particularly saturated fats – because this will reduce our risk of heart disease. This is the simple and vital take-home message.