Italians Don’t Die From High Cholesterol

The Internet is in many ways a life saver. It offers you access to a plethora of information, helping you make more informed decisions to improve your health and overall quality of life. With that being said, the Internet also serves up a lot of false information, making “healthy” choices confusing. What was “good” for you last year, may not be showcased in the same manner this year. Without truly understanding the research, it’s tough to be sure that you’re making the right choices — which leads me to one of the most recent trends. Considering over one-third of Americans now suffer from high LDL cholesterol, the cholesterol craze is concerning.

Where did the cholesterol craze come from?

When you look at public health in the United States, there’s a clear decline. Although there are a number of factors involved, the largest culprit is diet. With obesity on the rise, many individuals are aiming to reduce their intake of fat and cholesterol, in the hopes of reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease.

When the low-fat, low-cholesterol craze came out, the public began reaching for foods that were marketed as such. The thing is, in order to replace fat, refined grains and sugar were introduced instead. Of course, based on what we now know, this only further contributed to the health complications which we’re experiencing today.

When it all boils down, it’s not about how much fat you’re consuming or even how many calories, it’s about the quality of food you put into your body. You need to be more concerned with what you’re eating, in comparison to how much. When you eat a balanced, whole food diet, counting calories isn’t necessary to maintain a healthy weight. It’s all about eating real food that provides your body with the nutrients it requires.

Related: The Big Fat Calorie Myth

In order to stress this concept, there’s no better population to look at than those who live in the Mediterranean, such as the Italians and Greeks. Among these individuals, those who follow a Mediterranean diet are not facing the severe health consequences of those consuming a Standard American Diet — and they’re not scared of fat.

Italians do not die from high cholesterol

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Those who follow a traditional Mediterranean diet do not eat junk food on a daily basis. Fast and processed foods are not something that these individuals consume — meaning, they’re living off more natural, whole foods. They enjoy the things they love — wine, fruit, bread, you name it.

Not being shy of fat, you would think that these individuals would experience higher levels of cholesterol and overall mortality, but this is simply not the case. How is it that Italians can eat pizza and pasta, yet not experience the same obesity rates and chronic health issues?

It all comes down to quality, home cooked meals, and a culture that focuses on dining leisurely, enjoying the company of others. As they eat fish, beans, and vegetables, they socialize with loved ones. Getting together to eat is not only a way to nourish their bodies, but also relax their minds.

When they make pasta sauce, for instance, it does not come from a jar, packed with refined sugar. Instead, a lug of olive oil goes into a pot, along with fresh onion, pepper, tomato, herbs, and other fresh ingredients. Far too many Americans work hard to diet and lose weight, but it doesn’t need to be that complicated.

Research on the Mediterranean Diet

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In more recent years, the Mediterranean diet has become the target of extensive research. It’s a diet rich in olive oil, fruit, nuts and vegetables. It includes a moderate intake of poultry, fish, and wine. There’s a low intake of dairy, red meat, sweets and processed meats.

Within one 2013 study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, 7447 participants were examined over the course of five years. These individuals were aged 55 to 80 years old, with 57 percent being women. None of these individuals were at high risk of cardiovascular disease during enrollment and were randomly assigned to one of three groups.

The first group consumed a Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil. The second consumed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts. The control group was advised to consume a reduced fat diet. Researchers were primarily concerned with the combined risk of stroke, heart attack and death from cardiovascular disease.

Researchers found that those who consumed a Mediterranean diet, supplemented with olive oil, experienced a reduced risk by 30 percent. The Mediterranean diet, supplemented with nuts, experienced a reduced risk by 28 percent. Impressive, right?

Differences from the ‘Standard American Diet’

There’s no denying that this type of diet protects your heart and your overall well-being. To recap, these are the largest culprits within the Standard American Diet, which differ from a more traditional Italian diet:

  • Sugar intake — including high fructose corn syrup, sucrose and fructose
  • Pro-inflammatory foods — from hydrogenated oils to processed frozen dinners, these types of foods are leading to chronic inflammation. Fewer families are eating whole food, home-cooked meals, opting for these highly processed alternatives.
  • Imbalance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids — Italians consume plenty of fish, nuts, and olive oil. The average American is consuming a 1:20 ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s. It should be closer to a 1:1 ratio.

Instead of focusing so much on the minor details, look at the bigger picture. Healthy, wholesome foods will do your body a world of good. Low-nutrient, processed foods will lead to the opposite effect. Focus on eating quality ingredients and remember, when in Rome…

— Krista Hillis

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