t h e m a y f i l e s is foremost a family blog, chronicling everyday life. Life including natural, healthy eating (with recipes thrown in at random), home educating (with ideas popping up sporadically), an attempt to homestead on .2 acres (with very meager yields), raising 3 of 4 children with a rare genetic disorder, and lots of highly personal family triumphs and failures. You may also find an eclectic array of musings on politics, exercise, sewing, emergency preparedness, backyard chickens, and religion. This blog isn't a campaign to glorify anyone or anything. Just simply a record.


The Cholesterol Myths: Book Review

All this talk about food. More fruits and vegetables. Less Meat. Is it an ongoing rant by myself?


I do not claim to come to subjects without bias. I have an ingrained dietary bias both personal and religious. From, the moment I walked into the Bilmar Turkey Slaughter House in Southern Michigan, as a fourth grader I was biased. Something spoke to me in my gut, this was not right. My little mind processed it as "gross" and "wrong." More recently, my study of LDS church history and the Word of Wisdom, and several other books, have biased me to extreme moderation for my entire family in animal product consumption.

This is exactly what it looked like in the "kill-room." The turkeys came in upside down, squawking their heads off. From there they entered a shock chamber to stun, and stop their hearts. The belt continued to move, their throats were slit by line workers. The turkey then entered another chock chamber to restart their heart so the blood would pump out of their systems.

Becoming more committed to this belief system, I had a good opportunity to add some balance. My friend Jessica brought to my attention a few books offering an alternative view point. It provided great quest for me.

I tried to set aside my bias and be objective. Frankly, I have many family members, friends, and nearly all Americans for that matter, who disagree with our dietary practices and interpretations. My objective was to try to see diet from a different perspective, and then evaluate and modify my current beliefs if necessary. And so I researched. Scoured the internet. Read. Read. And read some more. Reread a bunch of books (or portions of them). I chose one particular book to read and study in-depth.

The Cholesterol Myths

The book I chose to expand my horizons was one I researched and felt it may have truth in it, The Cholesterol Myths is by Uffe Ravnskov. Dr. Ravnskov is a Swedish Family Practitioner and PhD. He has spent a copious amount of time researching and analyzing the research, past and current, related to the premise that saturated fat/cholesterol are causes for heart disease.

It was fascinating to read Dr. Ravnskov's book side by side with Dr. Campbell's book The China Study. Their backgrounds differ. Dr. C is a researcher and not a medical practitioner. Most of his conclusions are built on his own laboratory and field-based studies. While Dr. R's conclusions stem from detailed analysis of a vast breadth of research.

I expected the two book to be in opposition on most fronts. What I discovered was surprising.

My Discoveries in a Nut Shell...
  • Selective Interpretation: The majority of researchers selectively interpret and publish results to cater to their bias. A portion of this is natural. In fact many of the graphs I thought could legitimately be interpreted more than one way.
  • Disease's are Multifactorial: The authors agree that diseases are not caused by a single factor. In fact, their is a multitude of probable causes. Trying to "cure" one risk factor like lowering cholesterol to prevent heart disease, for example is ineffective.
  • Lifestyle Makes a Difference: How we live our lives directly correlates to our tendency toward degenerative disease. Smoking, exercise and stress all become factors. It is great how Dr. Stephen Brynes in his Myths of Vegetarianism, uses "The Mormons" as an example of how you can be free of many debilitating health concerns by abstaining from drugs, alcohol and caffeine. Oh yes, the religion also advocates "meat sparingly in times of winter and famine." It also prescribes early to bed, early to rise, fruits and herbs, wheat and grains, and fosters peace and contentment by following its tenants. But none of this is mentioned. Only that it is proof you can eat as much meat as you want.
  • Diet Makes a Difference: Dr. R may disagree with my interpretation of his book on this one! He vehemently opposed the diet-heart connection. But I felt as he tried to disprove the connection he made a strong case for it. Let me explain. Dr. R aptly and concisely exposes the gross misinformation of the diet-heart movement. The movement preaching to Americans to eat low fat has been disastrous. Think margarine, and transfat laden lowfat goodies and processed foods. More recently think of the cereals, yogurts, crackers, anything you can dream up which are now "high fiber." One word, ridiculous. Americans choose to get vitamins, minerals and fiber from processed breakfast cereal instead of whole fruits, grains and vegetables. Single nutrients, (like chicory root extract for fiber) added to food are not the same as consuming them in their natural state.
It is unethical and deceptive to market this product as "zero guilt." The artificial coloring aspartame, and extremely processed dairy will wreak havoc on anyone. Adults and children alike.
  • Medication is Not the Answer: Both authors agree that medicating for risk factors is not making a difference in our fight against disease. Cholesterol medications do in fact reduce cholesterol but do not prevent heart disease.
  • Saturated Fat isn't the Big Culprit: The research clearly shows simply reducing saturated fat intake make no difference in disease prevention. Olive oil consumption appears to do the same thing. I thought Dr. C did not do a good job of presenting this in his book, but he brought it out strongly in the lecture I attended. Do not add additional fat to your diet, except in very small amounts. I loved the example Dr. R gave of how saturated fat couldn't be to blame for heart disease and high cholesterol. He used the islanders and coconut oil (a saturated fat)! This was perfect. He described their excellent ability to withstand disease and how it can be attributed to their high consumption of saturated fat in the form of coconut oil. Clearly all my coconut oils in the food storage are keepers.
  • Indigenous Cultures are Difficult to Draw Conclusions From: I have come to believe differently than both Dr. C and Dr. R about the value of drawing conclusions from indigenous cultures. Dr. R's favorite example was the Masai people. Their main diet consists of milk, blood and meat. Their days are spent running across the country chasing cattle. They are extremely fit. They also have the shortest life span of any other people. They don't have heart disease.
Some difficulties with drawing conclusions on the benefits of eating a high meat diet from this society are many. First, they eat the bones, and organ meats and of the animals. All raw. Thereby attain vitamins and minerals not a part of the standard American meat diet. Secondly, they spend their days exercising. Third, the use medicinal herbs extensively. Fourth, they consume no processed or sugar laden foods.

Dr. C of course prefers the Chinese as the example of health. Again they are not pillars of health, and do not have enviable lifespans. They do not have heart disease, cancer etc. Dr. C does not address the severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the rural Chinese diet. Things aren't all roses. I believe we can learn lessons, but must exercise extreme caution in using a single society to base lifestyle on. Especially when that society differs so dramatically from our own.

My next post about this book (and all of my research into this topic) I will detail my main hang ups, and what I changed about our diet because of reading about the meat-lovers perspective :)

I will also tell you about the Weston Price Foundation. The organization publishes most of the books and articles pushing meat, and decrying the evils of vegetarianism. They also mounted the only real attack against The China Study. But wait....they actually aren't all that bad. I know everyone will be on pins and needles until then.

By-the-way, I love to read your comments. What are your opinions? Am I off the deep end? How have you been guided to nourish your family? What makes you cling to building each dinner around meat? And don't be afraid to descent! That is how I learn. I love to hear different ideas.


Erin said...

I am interested to hear your perspective on the Weston Price Foundation. I have not read their books - seems Nourishing Traditions is a main one), but I've read all about it on the Internet over the last several months. Same thing with China Study. Have not read them myself. I really think I should, because I am left pretty confused myself. But I have been gathering things that I like about both of them. I love how they promote sprouting grains and things like that. I don't believe it's necessary to go completely raw, but it does seem cooking veggies to death is obviously not the best way to prepare them. NT cooking methods are good, I think.

I think putting these two perspectives side by side is the perfect example of moderation in all things. I have people say, "Erin, remember moderation in all things" all the time (mostly my mom!). But I don't think moderation in all things means I should be consuming white flour and sugar all the time. I don't think being moderate means eating what everyone else in America eats. I don't think it means I need to eat some bad things some of the time to be healthy. I think it means: yes, raw food is good for you, but you don't need to be totally raw. Yes, grains, or veggies, or whatever food group you focus on are good for you, but you need to be eating other things as well. And I think it even means, no aminal-filled diets aren't good for you, but it doesn't mean animal products are totally bad for you, either. I think when it comes to animal products, moderation and sparingly are the words to remember. But I do think it can be good to be vegetarian, even vegan, if you want to, if you feel good doing it. But some people I know, have tried being vegan. One lady I know went vegan. She noticed her children started getting low muscle tone. So she added meat back in. Now she totally follows Nourishing Traditions and they eat plenty. Another friend, this one LDS (the first not), went vegan, but found she didn't feel as good as when she ate a little bit of cheese and eggs. And she eats just a little. I personally believe that the diet God designed for our bodies is for all vitamins and minerals to come from food. Since, as I understand it, vitamin B12 is not available in animal foods, maybe sometimes some animal foods are good. The first lady who tried being vegan, it didn't work perfectly for her family, so she went the other way. Is meat bad or good? I think that's the way everyone tries to think of it. I think it is good in little tiny (sparingly) amounts. I see myself probably following a similar diet pattern as you in a a little while (takes me a while to get it down), little to no meat, and occasional dairy. Eggs seem alright. We don't eat a ton of them or anything.
I actually do have hang-ups over coconut oil. It seems everyone in the nutrition field eats it. Mostly it's just my own observation, but almost all Islanders I know are quite over weight. My friend, who lived in Hawaii for a while said the same thing. She said coconut oils was everywhere, and so were the extra pounds, really. But there must be a reason everyone is saying it's great. I just haven't been able to get passed my own eyes on this one. I read and read, and the only things I really believe are 1. the scriptures, 2. how my body feels. Everything else, I love to hear perspectives. But in the nutrition world, it seems to be a lot more opinion than science. All the time I hear people say, "I heard on the radio x is good for you." So what. Someone will say it's good, someone will say it's bad. Obviously, this is not you. You read around, and judge information next to the word of wisdom, which is the main reason I love your blog. But that is one thing I've seen about people (the average non-health guru). They think if they heard it, it must be true. Ha.

Erin said...

That was the longest comment I've EVER put on a blog, but I have one more thing to say. The way they raise and kill animals - well, animals may be ordained for the use of man, but they are to be used with thanksgiving. I don't think they way they raise and slaughter animals, and they way we hop into a drive through and snarf down a burger, is anything close to thanksgiving.

Rebecca said...

Erin, thanks for your comments. I totally understand the pacific islander thing. I agree, most of the culture is not at an ideal weight. I had an evolutionary biology teacher in college explain why it was this way. He said their genetic makeup has adapted them for their particular climate. He said is the tropics it was a genetic advantage to have extra body fat, because food was sporadic. ??? I don't know. The first question my husband always asks is "Do they pass the eye test?" He has a hard time taking anyone serious who doesn't look like they practice what they preach. Moderation is right.

I also understand the "moderation in all things" line. I get it all the time as well. In eating, in schooling, in television. I agree with the statement wholeheartedly. In fact I have a post started with just that title. We just cannot judge what moderation is to someone else. I don't like it when people question my moderation, just as I know my Mom doesn't like it when I question her moderation in meat eating! It puts us immediately on the defensive. Which is why I always try to keep in a mode of constant evaluation. Is what I am doing still congruent with what I know and the position my family is in.

My thoughts are we have so many choices. If I chose to have no television in my house that is my choice. It is not being extreme. We have a computer. Our family has access to appropriate media. My kids don't need Dora in moderation. They don't need Dora at all. Just my own feelings for my family.

I love your comment about the way animals are raised and slaughtered and consumed. You nailed it on the head. Nothing close to thanksgiving. Thanks so much for your insights.

Jennifer said...

I recommend you read the book Healthy at 100 by John Robbins. He looks at four of the longest-living societies on earth. The basic take-away is they eat little meat, a lot of fruits and veggies and whole grains, and physical activity is a huge part of their day.
I think diet is individual, that's why the Word of Wisdom isn't more specific. I know I need different things at different times. I've made it a matter of prayer and know what I need to be eating now for my best health is mostly raw fruits and vegetables, with some cooked whole grains. It's a bit different for my children, as they need way more fat than I do and even some dairy. But nobody needs refined sugar!
About coconuts and Islanders - there's a difference between eating whole coconuts and eating coconut oil. The oil is not a whole food. And many Islanders are eating Western foods like canned meat and sugary foods which is why they are overweight. See Dr. McDougall's info about Japanese people in Hawaii.
Nourishing Traditions is good for the info it has about grains and veggies. I do not agree with the amount of animal products they advocate. The WoW says sparingly and that's my guide.

Rebecca said...

I am anxious to read the John Robbins book. Your point about our needs changing is a really good one. Dr. Campbell, when I spoke with him mentioned the same thing about coconut. He thought you couldn't go wrong if you are eating it as a whole food. But isolating to oil, was different. I do like to use coconut oil however. I prefer it over olive oil. And it makes great lotion. Thanks for your comments.

Jessica said...

I was going to ask if you have tried coconut oil for little Emmett's skin.....I am guessing you have from your comment above- hmm. Poor little guy. Just wanted to comment that your ability to read and assimilate that information is incredible. That is a gift.

Jo Lynn said...

Wow, very interesting! I admire your diet and wonder how you manage at any social gathering or if you guys ever go out to eat with friends or family? There's bad food everywhere you turn and I wonder how you abstain from all of it? That picture of the slaughter house breaks my heart, Casey learned all about veil in college and NEVER will he ever eat veil. From your blog it sounds like you don't eat eggs very often? You don't eat any dairy, does your protein solely come from nuts, lentils, whole grains and little fish? Sorry, this isn't really me telling you about my beliefs, more of asking about yours. I've tried different ways of cleansing our diet and ridding ourselves of the unnecessary foods, but it's hard to keep up with protein feeling like your eating the same things over and over again and I seem to struggle with lentils..to much of lentils I guess. Rebecca you are amazing, I'm sure your body feels great and I would love to do what you do, but it intimidates me as well.

Rebecca said...

Jo Lynn,

We aren't "vegan" or "vegetarian" strictly. We do eat our eggs, and have a limited amount of raw dairy and fish on occasion. I rarely bake with eggs or dairy, as of the last 6 months or so. From my research there is a misconception about the amount of protein our bodies actually need. Protein is readily available from all plants sources. So yes, our protein is mostly from grains, nuts, and seeds.

My children each eat 1/4 cup of raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds everyday. Both of these are very high in protein and essential fats, vitamins and minerals. It isn't as hard as you think once you have the knowledge.

As far as eating with family and friends, when we go to stay, we often bring our own food and supplies (blender...). Out to dinner...we rarely go. We just don't prefer hardly any of the foods available. We like to eat at home. We aren't very social anyway :) Homebodies actually. The "junk jar" has been a miracle worker for helping to control the exposure to the highly offensive foods with my girls. A bit expensive :) but I don't pinch pennies when it comes to our health. I spend what it takes to eat right.

Dinners are the biggest adjustment. I serve a "maindish" as simply a side dish after my family has just about filled up on fruit, vegetables and seeds. They are very fussy about my "maindishes," in fact the kids won't eat most of them. Thankfully they love fruit and veggies and faithfully eat their seeds and nuts.

Jo Lynn said...

Wow, that's awesome! I'm so impressed your children doing so well with eating their nuts and grains. Savannah barely eats and I feel it a constant struggle to get t eat an anything let alone nuts and grains. Thank you for answering my comment. I feel like between church functions (dinners and what not), work parties and being invited over by friends and ward members...I can't imagine balancing that diet. I'm guessing you just choose not to eat at church dinners? I'm going to the library to read the book you recommend and quote from, you've inspired me to learn more about our foods and what we're putting into our bodies. I wish I would have found your blog long ago. :)