Is the American Heart Association Confused?

Metabolic syndrome, sometimes referred to as syndrome X, is made up of five characteristics that are risk factors for heart disease. If you possess at least three of the five then chances are much higher that you are on your way to having or developing the chronic condition.

As we examine the list of characteristics, one thing becomes plainly obvious. Contrary to what we have been told for the last 50 years, fat intake is not negatively associated with any of them. Yet the American Heart Association (AHA) continues to recommend lowering fat intake to prevent heart disease. They tell us that lowering your LDL, or bad cholesterol, should be a priority. To accomplish this goal, they encourage consumption of “healthy” whole grains and, if that doesn’t work, they have a statin to do it for you. Interestingly enough, LDL is not even listed as a risk factor on their own list!

Several organizations around the world have defined metabolic syndrome with slight differences. For the purposes of this post, the AHA guidelines will be referenced.  Metabolic syndrome consists of:

  • High fasting triglycerides- these fats made by your liver are a direct result of carbohydrate intake. Lower your carb intake and watch this number drop. Standard recommendations are to keep the reading below 150 but 100 or below is a much better goal.
  • Low HDL- Exercise will help raise this number but consuming healthy fats will make this “good” cholesterol number reach even more desirable levels. Unfortunately, eating a high carb diet in lieu of fats will keep this important protein to a minimum. General guidelines say to stay above 40 for men and 50 for women but, realistically, these should be at least 50 and 60, respectively.
  • High blood pressure- decreasing your carb intake will signal your kidneys to dump sodium which will, in turn, lower your plasma volume. The result is a natural diuretic effect that will lower blood pressure.
  • High fasting glucose- keeping blood glucose levels down and maintaining stable blood sugar is easily accomplished with a decrease in carbohydrates. Protein and fats don’t contribute to blood sugar spikes which, long term, can increase cells response to insulin.
  • Elevated waist circumference- high carb intake and glucose spikes lead to increased insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone associated with fat storage.

There you have it.  The American Heart Association risk factors for heart disease, of which all are negatively influenced by eating a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet. Yes, the same diet the group specifically recommends for preventing heart disease.