The NEW Track Your Plaque Diet: Part 1
How is it that, as a nation, we’ve dissected
our diet, sliced it and diced it into its component saturated and
polyunsaturated fats, complex and simple carbohydrates, analyzed it down
to its flavonoids, polyphenols, and micronutrients, yet still emerge
overweight, diabetic, and generally unhappy? How can populations
consuming their traditional cultural fare, cultures with dietary habits
as wildly different as the Japanese, the Inuits, the southern French,
and Cretans, live longer with less heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and
obesity, following eating habits arrived at by tradition rather than
Over the last 50 years, an unprecedented amount of information has
poured into our lives about diet, nutrition, the right and wrong ways to
eat. We’ve experienced broad systematic campaigns of information on
“proper” nutrition delivered to us by the Surgeon General’s office, the
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Federal Drug Administration
(FDA), the American Heart Association (AHA), the American Diabetes
Association, the American Cancer Society. They all pretty much agree on
several principles: Eat low-fat, eat plenty of whole grains, and include
abundant fruits and vegetables. The mantras of these “official” diets
are surely familiar to everyone by now.
But what if they proved wrong on several basic points? What if the basic
precepts that form the basis for advice to eat low-fat, for instance,
originated with misinterpretations or limited observations? What if the
advice somehow morphed into a style of eating and shopping that had
little to do with health, but sprung from the considerable financial
opportunity that appears when an “official” agency like the American
Heart Association endorses a particular food or group of foods? What if
the “culprits” in diet were replaced with foods that were worse health
offenders than the original?
That is precisely what has happened. The original well-intended advice
accomplished precisely the opposite of what it set out to do: Rather
than reducing the burden of disease, an increase in conditions like
diabetes and pre-diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart disease has
The diet advocated by the AHA is a fat-restricted program designed to
lower LDL cholesterol by 10%. Absent from the conversation is any
mention of using diet to facilitate coronary disease control or
reversal, tailoring diet to genetic or blood patterns, or weight loss.
The AHA approach is simply meant to reduce cholesterol and it hardly
even achieves that. Likewise, the USDA Food Pyramid advocates a diet
that, in our experience, causes obesity, pre-diabetes and diabetes,
fatigue, abdominal symptoms like cramping and diarrhea, and fuels heart
disease. Surely we can do better. “Official” diets tend to be guilty of
a one-size-fits-all and a people-really-can’t-stick-to-diets-anyway
How about an ultra low-fat diet? In years past, I prescribed the Ornish
diet, a vegetarian program with no added oils and less than 10% of
calories from fat sources, compared to 40% in the average American diet.
People following this diet showed two varying responses: A few (a
minority) did well - reducing LDL cholesterol, losing weight, and
apparently slowing their heart disease. Others - the majority - enjoyed
little or none of these benefits. The larger second group gained weight,
dropped HDL cholesterol and increased triglycerides, and increased blood
sugar into near-diabetic or diabetic range. When lipoproteins were
examined, there was increased small LDL. These are all changes that
encourage growth in coronary plaque. Low-fat diets, including the ultra
low-fat variety, do not represent a solution.
For further proof of the misguided consequences that result from
conventional diet advice, you need only take a look at the American
Heart Association “Check Mark” Program stamp of approval on boxes of
Cocoa Puffs®, Count Chocula®, and Berry Kix® to understand that
marketing and financial motivations lie behind much diet advice, rather
than nutritional wisdom.
Throw into the mix all the varying opinions on how to best lose weight,
reduce cholesterol, reduce risk for cancer, the dizzying explosion of
health claims issuing from food manufacturers and the result is . . .
In search of the perfect diet
zig-zagged through countless variations, the American obsession with
diet has amounted to a nationwide experiment. America leads the world in
diet experimentation. Despite millions of “casualties,” every diet fad
has taught us something new. If we look back at all the mistakes made,
we should be able to take a few lessons and extract some wisdom. There
will surely be some areas of nagging uncertainty, even issues we differ
on. But we should emerge from this 50-year national diet experiment with
some practical, healthy strategies for our Track Your Plaque efforts, as
well as overall health.
Can we construct a perfect diet?
There are undoubtedly many variations on the healthy eating theme. Every
iteration on diet has pluses and minuses, strengths and weaknesses.
Reductions in fat reduce LDL cholesterol but raise triglycerides.
Reductions in carbohydrates exert another series of effects but many
people complain about the limited food choices. Eating in a state of
calorie deprivation vs. calorie excess causes the same foods to exert
different effects. Genetic differences, such as apoprotein E variants,
cause us to respond differently to the same diet. A diet that reduces
one person’s LDL cholesterol 30 points and weight 10 lbs. could cause
someone else to increase LDL and gain weight.
The strength of the Track Your Plaque approach is that it is not a
one-size-fits-all diet. There is no such thing. Nor do we want to get
bogged down micromanaging every aspect of food choice.
The Track Your Plaque approach is to start with several basic principles
that should be a part of every diet, regardless of genetic type. We then
add the important variations that are necessary to accommodate several
genetic and physiologic types. The result is a more rational approach
that borrows from lessons learned over the past 50 years, but can also
be tailored to suit specific genetic and lipoprotein patterns.
Are humans omnivores?
Does the ideal diet include animal products like meat, fish, cheese,
eggs, and dairy products? Or should the ideal diet be devoid of all
animal products - a vegetarian diet?
We can find proponents of both extremes. The Atkins’ diet, for instance,
advocates unrestricted intake of animal products, regardless of
production methods or curing (sausage and bacon). At the opposite
extreme are diets like Ornish (Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversal of
Heart Disease) and the experiences of Dr. Colin Campbell, articulated in
his studies and book, The China Study, in which he lambastes animal
products, including dairy, as triggers for cancer and heart disease.
So which end of the spectrum is correct, but more importantly, ideal?
Putting aside philosophical questions (like not wanting to eat animal
products because of aversion to killing any living being) or ethical
concerns (inhumane treatment of farm animals, cruel slaughtering
practices, etc.), does the inclusion of animal products provide any
advantage? Any disadvantage?
The traditional argument against animal products has been its saturated
fat content. But, let’s put aside the saturated fat question for a
moment. Beyond saturated fat, several questions emerge:
- If humans were meant to be vegetarian, why do omega-3 fatty acids
(mostly from wild game and fish) yield such substantial health benefits,
including dramatic reduction in sudden death from heart disease?
- Why would vitamin K2 (from meats and milk, as well as fermented foods
like natto and cheese), obtainable in only the tiniest amounts on a
vegetarian diet, provide such significant benefits on bone and
- Why would vitamin B12 (from meats) be necessary to maintain a normal
blood count, prevent anemia, keep homocysteine at bay, and lead to
profound neurologic dysfunction when deficient?
Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins K2 and B12 cannot be obtained in
satisfactory quantities from a pure vegetarian diet. The consequences of
deficiency are not measured in decades, but in a few years. The
conclusion is unavoidable: Evolutionarily, humans are meant to consume
at least some foods from animal sources.
It pains me to say this, since I’ve always favored a vegetarian
lifestyle, mostly because of philosophical concerns, as well as worries
about the safety of our factory farm-raised livestock and rampant
inhumane practices. But, stepping back and objectively examining what
nutritional approach appears to stack the odds in favor of optimal
health, I believe that only one conclusion is possible: Humans are
omnivorous, meant to consume some quantity of animal products in
addition to vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other non-animal products.
Let’s take this argument a step further: If humans were meant to consume
the kill of the clan of wild Stone Age hunters, what role is there for
cultivated grains? Grains, of course, had no role in the diet of
hunter-gatherers, who were nomadic by necessity, never staying put long
enough to till a field and plant seeds.
Vocal proponent of this “Paleolithic diet” concept, Dr. Loren Cordain,
and author of the book, The Paleo Diet, has pointed out that the profile
of human disease (judging by analysis of fossilized remains of primitive
humans, examination of their last meals from stomach contents, and other
such piecing-together-of-the-puzzle) shifted dramatically 8,000 years
ago (a mere second on the evolutionary time scale) - just at the time when
humans learned to cultivate wheat. While earlier hunter-gatherer
predecessors died of trauma and infection, the grain-consuming humans
that followed began to develop cancer, diabetes, and heart disease,
diseases previously rare
Fast-forward to the 21st century and the “healthy whole grain” craze has
seized everyone from the USDA and AHA, to Kelloggs and General Mills,
all the way down to the grain-consuming obese pre-diabetics or diabetics
on Main Street, U.S.A. While this grain-crazed phenomenon seized us to
replace calories lost with the low-fat mistake, surely we’ve taken yet
another wrong turn in the national nutritional experiment.
The new thinking on diet
Want to read the rest of this Track Your Plaque Special Report?
Already a member? CLICK HERE to log-in.
Want to become a member? CLICK HERE
Want to learn more about the benefits of membership? CLICK HERE
Copyright 2008, Track Your Plaque.