Is The Harcombe Diet OK for someone with high cholesterol?

Q) Is the Harcombe Diet OK for someone with high cholesterol?

A) Wow – there is almost a book’s worth to answer this question – I’ll try to give the headlines:

0) There’s a point before even getting to point (1), which is that we don’t actually have cholesterol freely floating around in our blood. Hence it is not even strictly accurate to say we have a blood cholesterol level! Cholesterol is not water soluble, so it is carried round the body to do its many functions in things called lipoproteins. We measure these as Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High Density Lipoproteins (HDL). LDL is called bad cholesterol – it is not. It should more accurately be called the carrier of fresh cholesterol, as LDL particles transport fresh cholesterol from the liver out to the parts of the body. HDL is called good cholesterol – it is not. It should more accurately be called the carrier of recycled cholesterol, as HDL particles transport residual cholesterol back to the liver to be recycled.

1) Cholesterol is a vital substance in the human body – so much so that it is actually made by the body (in the liver). Every cell needs cholesterol to survive and repair itself. Our muscles need cholesterol, our sexual functioning requires cholesterol and so on. This is why some of the side effects of statins (drugs designed to mess up the body’s own process by which it makes cholesterol) are muscle fatigue (and even wasting) and sexual problems. I would not allow any doctor to try to lower my body’s natural production of cholesterol for any reason – that’s my personal position – each of you need to have your own, but do your own reading and research to come to your own opinion. Don’t just take the view of your GP – or at least ask them if they receive any funds for performing your cholesterol test (they do – from the government of all places) and see if they or the surgery receive any funding or perks from pharmaceutical companies that make statins.

2) I do not believe that we even have a consistent and reasonable definition of “high cholesterol”. Doctors used to only even look at cholesterol levels in excess of 7, then it became 6 and now 5 is deemed the magic number beyond which everyone shall be put on statins and told to eat man-made, likely hydrogenated margarine. There is no science behind the number 5 – it has been driven down by pressure from pharmaceutical companies over the years. They would happily have the number at 4 – at which level almost everyone in the UK would need to be on statins. How can it be that a ‘normal’ reading is one that would require virtually every adult to be taking drugs?

3) I am one of the growing minority who do NOT believe that cholesterol causes heart disease (why on earth would the body make a substance that kills us? This defies everything logical about evolution). Even if you believe that cholesterol does cause heart disease, the next massive assumption is that anything we eat can have any impact on cholesterol. It is widely accepted (but not widely known) that eating cholesterol (in eggs and other animal products) has no impact on a human’s cholesterol levels. Eggs have been exonerated of any crimes they were alleged to have committed but no big announcement was made to tell people this.

4) The next allegation is that eating saturated fat causes cholesterol. The Food Standards Agency have admitted to me in writing that the study to prove this has not actually been done but, from a number of  studies of association, it is believed that eating saturated fat causes heart disease. I liken this to – we have observed a number of people in the bath who are also singing, so we will claim that taking a bath causes singing! To jump from association to causation is a school boy error and we have made it time after time with fat, cholesterol and heart disease.

Again – I do not believe that nature would put anything in real food that would kill us. I have no idea what sugar, emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated margarines, transfats and so on could do to us – I don’t put them in my body, so I don’t take the risk of finding out. (*)

5) The whole body functions better at normal weight. Hence you have are significantly more likely to have ‘normal’ cholesterol, ‘normal’ blood pressure, low risk of Diabetes etc when you are within the normal weight range. The single most important thing you can do for your overall health is to not smoke. The second most important thing is to eat well (real food, not processed food) and to be in the normal weight range.

Given that 98% of calorie controlled diets will fail (Stunkard & Hume 1959) and given what we know from the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, The Harcombe Diet has to be good for someone with ‘high’ cholesterol (whatever that means) because it gives you a high chance of losing weight and maintaining a normal weight. The other diets that will do this (if you can stick to them) are the extremely low carb diets (like Atkins). Interestingly, a study for the 2004 Horizon programme on Atkins found that not only did people lose more weight on Atkins than on low fat/low calorie diets, they demonstrated a 10 fold improvement in cholesterol vs the low fat group! So, this study alone showed that eating fat will neither make you fat nor raise cholesterol – quite the opposite.

I personally think that The Harcombe Diet can only help with your health, weight and body tests. There can be no doubt that humans are better off avoiding processed food – we have simply had no time to evolve to adapt to the massive number of unfamiliar ingredients that go into our body every day, if we eat processed food. You may like to have more carb meals than fat meals (you will lose weight more slowly if you do this) and you may like to have lower fat versions of protein (lean meat, fish etc). If I tell you that the main fat in lard is monounsaturated fat, would you start to realise how much misinformation you have been given and how you shouldn’t worry about ‘fatty meat’?! The only meat you need to avoid is processed  Pepperamis and other manufactured horrors.

I have this little factoid that I’ve developed:

“If we have been eating food in the form that nature intended for 24 hours, agriculture (large scale access to  carbohydrates) developed four minutes ago and sugar consumption has increased twenty fold in the last five seconds. I wonder which food is more likely to be responsible for obesity, diabetes, or indeed any modern disease…”

(*) I consume no more than 10g of sugar a day in a 85/90% cocoa bar of chocolate. I don’t consume any sweeteners, emulsifiers, transfats, hydrogenated fats etc .

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Website Comments

  1. avatar Kate

    This ‘diet’ has been brilliant! I’ve shifted the 2 stone I’ve carried since starting to be perimenopausal – something Weightwatchers and low GL couldn’t (or rather, the deprivation got so intense I couldn’t stick them). BUT, I’m concerned that I’ve got ‘hooked’ on fats – cheese/cream/all those lovely things that I’ve been told in the past are ‘bad’ for me. Can I overdo the fat thing? I have noticed recently little white nodes appearing (round the eyes) so is this an indication I’m overdoing it? Am I quietly clogging up the arteries whilst enjoying blueberries and cream?!

    p.s. this has been a great way of getting my student daughter to eat well (by helping her lose the ‘partying pounds’!). She now really thinks before eating pizza, ice cream, cheese and pasta (was her fave quick meal). Thanks so much 🙂

  2. avatar JC

    Just thought it was only fair to let you know that thanks to the Harcombe Diet I have gone from size 12 to size 6-8, which is perfect for my small frame. I have to admit I do have one small cheat each day, but I think I get away with this because I am basically always on phase 1. I find phase 1 is simple, healthy and see no need to come off it! I have tonnes of vegetables and meat and fish, 50g of brown rice and if I want an ice cream, I’ll have it!
    The only criticism I would have is that the Harcombe Diet isn’t really a diet. A diet suggests being hungry or eating less. That isn’t the case with the Harcombe Diet – I’d call it a food plan, as you are simply never hungry on it.

    • avatar Zoë

      Hi JC – thanks SO much for sharing this – what wonderful news! I’m so delighted that this has helped you so much – I went from more like a 14-16 to a 6-8 and I’ve stayed here for 20 years, so long may this continue for you.

      You’re not the first to make the point about it not being a diet. It’s a lovely thing that a number of people say. I’m happy that people think of it however works for them – anything that describes how people eat is technically a diet (vegetarian diet, Mediterranean Diet, Gluten-free diet etc so let’s think of it as ‘how we eat’ rather than being ‘on a diet’!
      Keep up the great work
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  3. avatar Zoë

    Hi Jo – your body makes cholesterol. I trust my body to make the cholesterol that it needs. Has your requirement for cholesterol gone up since the last test? Any surgery? injuries? stress? increased exercise requiring more cell repair? Have you had much sun recently? Sunshine synthesizes cholesterol on the skin to make vitamin D. If you don’t get enough sunshine your cholesterol levels may be high – this is not a problem per se – the problem is that you haven’t optimised your vit D!

    There are so many books you can read on this – you will need to take your health into your own hands and read widely. I know that I will never, ever, ever let a statin pass my lips. Your doctor will put you on statins at the drop of a hat not even knowing how exactly they ‘work’.

    I highly recommend:
    The Great Cholesterol Con by Dr Malcolm Kendrick
    Fat & cholesterol are good for you by Uffe Ravnskov
    How statin drugs really lower cholesterol and kill you one cell at a time by Yoseph and Yoseph

    This may also help you to realise that the higher your cholesterol the lower your chance of dying! (

    Best wishes – Zoe

  4. avatar Jo

    Hello Zoe,
    I’m fit, slim and eat a good natural diet; don’t do synthetic or processed. Have been told that my cholesterol level is 7.5 and that is after the last test five years ago being very low.
    Now then, my new Dr banged on about statins if my levels aren’t lower next time I see him. I’ve done some research and my daughter sent me this article of yours to stop me worrying. She said that because my diet is good I shouldn’t be anxious. However that leaves me worrying about why it’s high. Apparently the HDL is 1.5. What do you think?
    Kind regards,

  5. avatar Sherri

    I lost 8 pounds in the first 5 days doing phase 1. I have now been doing phase 1 for 10 more days and have not lost one ounce. I find this very difficult to understand as I am a runner, and have been running 5 km three times a week. I think that this way of eating is not for everybody

  6. avatar Sue Wilkins

    Going back to the gall bladder problem first. I lost a lot of weight about 6 stone over 40 years ago. Mostly eating cheese, meat and salad etc. Not enough though. However had my gall bladder out about 12 years ago. I had to stay on low fat rubbish until after the op as the pain was knock out. Since then I find I can eat low carb, usually with no problem. Do not let no gall bladder put anyone off low carb food.

    Both my father, daughter, son, and husband are type 2 diabetic and my daughter can now not tolerate any carb at all even with insulin!. She was too obstinate about low carbing. However the endochrinologist at our local hospital has told her, her body cannot tolerate any carb. This has proved to be the case in the last 3 weeks.
    Her weight is at last coming off. Thank goodness. Please everyone with Type 2 diabetes, follow a low carb proper food diet.

  7. avatar David Grogan

    Hi Zoe

    Zoe, you say you eat 10g of sugar per day but how much could you eat without significant negative effects on your dietary approach? I love home-made cake but do not wish to undermine my diet. Also, what do you consider to be a “normal weight? Do you think that BMI is adequate? I have read somewhere that people who are a little overweight by that measure tend to live longer – as do those with higher cholesterol levels.

    Thanks for you help

    Dave G

    • avatar Zoë

      Hi there – sadly there are no rules for everyone when it comes to weight and health. I’m in Phase 3 – so I’ve been maintaining weight easily for 15 years. My 10g comes in a 100g bar of 85-90% cocoa dark chocolate each day! Many people can lose weight in Phase 2 having some sugar in dark chocolate. Others are so carb sensitive that they struggle to lose weight even with the carb content in dairy foods.

      BMI is a useful guide but by no means the be all and end all. If you are in the healthy range (19-25), the chances are that you are a healthy weight. You can have a BMI in the range 25-30 and still be a very healthy weight. Waist measurement would be the guide to this one. Former athletes (especially rugby players) can have a BMI above ‘normal’ and a very healthy waist measurement and no fat to pinch. Current athletes (again, rugby players being great examples) are often obese according to BMI but are pictures of good health. I define natural weight in my books as the weight that you find easy to maintain – going above it takes some serious falling off the wagon and going below it takes an illness or personal upset. Then you tend back to this natural weight quite easily – eating real food with the occasional cheat.

      Slightly overweight people do live longer – reserves are useful for the body. So – if you are happy at your current weight and your measures indicate that you are right to be happy – stay happy!

      As for cholesterol – there is a clear association between HIGH cholesterol and LOW death rates – check out this blog and ask why we are being lied to?!
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  8. avatar Hilda Rhodes

    Hi Zoe

    I am normally fit and healthy but seem to have naturally high cholesterol i.e. about 6.4. Following an accident and not being able to exercise for a couple of months due to a broken pelvis, I was wanting to shed a few kilograms so started you diet. I was really pleased after phase 1 having lost two kilos and started on phase 2. A couple of weeks into phase 2, I was diagnosed with a gallstone and spent five days in hospital. The consultant says that my gallbladder is diseased and I have to have it removed around March 2011. I have been eating more fat since starting your diet but have now been told to minimise any fat in my diet. I would appreciate your thoughts. Best Wishes Hilda

    • avatar Zoë

      Hi Hilda – I’m so sorry to hear about your pelvis – that sounds horribly painful and debilitating. I wish you a speedy recovery on that.
      The rest of your experiences in your comment make me want to shoot a few so called health professionals!
      You’ve got the headlines on cholesterol in the blog:
      1) cholesterol is so vital you’d be dead instantly without it. It’s up there with oxygen in terms of how important it is to the human body
      2) the power that be (e.g. drug companies that profit from millions of people unnecessarily taking statins) shifted the goal posts to keep moving downwards how little of this seriously vital substance we should have helping to repair our bodies and keep us super healthy.
      3) I am one of many sensible people who do not believe that cholesterol has anything to do with heart disease. (The Great Cholesterol Con by Dr Malcolm Kendrick) is a must.

      On the gall bladder – you will be able to see our club posts and can join the club if you want to comment. Here’s one on an operation due the next day. Personally, I would do anything I could to fight to keep my gall bladder – we need it to digest the fat that we are supposed to eat. Without it, you will be advised to eat a low fat diet (which has to be a proportionately higher carb diet unless you go a dangerous high protein route). Now that you know that carbs are the secret to weight gain and weight loss, you don’t want to let your gall bladder go without a fight. The Australian public health advice is the same as our eatbadly plate – they think you should be eating low fat carbs all the time anyway, so they don’t care much about your gall bladder. People who think humans should eat food – real food – do care about it!

      Sorry this is not an easy answer but you have to own your own health – I would be seeking alternatives to removing my ability to digest real food. If you do let them remove your gall bladder, follow the advice in the club post on bile salts and fat soluble vitamins.

      The likely damage to the gall bladder in the first place, by the way, is low fat diets. The gall bladder thinks it’s redundant and crystals form (gall stones) and that’s the first sign that the gall bladder has not been used to digest fat as much as it should do. It is common for people on meal replacement/liquid diets to lose weight and then their gall bladder and then to regain the weight but not the gall bladder.
      Good luck!
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  9. avatar Jo J

    Thank goodness someone is finally talking some sense. I have tried all diets and on the Weightwatchers low calorie diet managed to lose 2 stone. It was great but then I blew it and stopped smoking which was also great but now I am 2 stone heavier again. Grr. It is now so obvious where I have been going wrong all of these years. I have almost always avoided refined carbs but now realise I still have been eating carbs in the wrong quantities and the wrong way. All thanks to successive governmental agencies!!! They should all be made to stand up and say “Sorry but we got it wrong.” And what is it with food manufacturers and their sponsorship of these agencies? How can that be kosher!!

    • avatar Andy

      Hi Jo – I do think we will see the day when people sue diet advisors for making them fat. The cigarette companies hung on too long knowing that cigs were bad for us and ended up in class action suits. Someone in government must have worked out that we changed our advice and obesity increased nearly 10 fold and maybe it wasn’t a coincidence!
      Fortunately, the average punter – like you – has far more (not so) common sense!
      Very best wishes – Zoe
      p.s. it is Zoe – for some reason I’m permanently logged in as my hubby – I should be so gorgeous!

  10. avatar Laurel Blair, NTP

    What a great article! You have done a beautiful job of explaining the basics of cholesterol in a way that is easy to understand. I get so frustrated when I hear people talk about “good” and “bad” cholesterol….its all the same cholesterol! Cholesterol is a healing and repair substance, so having elevated levels simply indicates that your body senses a need for lots of healing and repair. It can indicate health problems, but the cholesterol itself is not the problem, and trying to lower your levels is silly. Tackle the root of the problem instead!

    • avatar Andy

      Hi there – sweeteners is the most FAQ: here’s the answer:
      Generally I hate them! The faster we catch on to one being seriously bad for our health e.g. aspartame, the sooner they bring out another. They just perpetuate our taste for unnaturally sweet things which is what the food manufacturers want!
      Please check out our club as well as we don’t answer questions here much anymore:
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  11. avatar monica

    ho sentito parlare di questa dieta ,,ma non si potrebbe averla in italiano.

  12. avatar Christina Costanzo

    Can you tell me (asap as I’ve started Phase 1 today!) whether it’s safe to carry on as I’m epileptic.

    • avatar Zoë

      I think that eating real food as provided by nature and avoiding processed food, as provided by manufacturers can only be good for anyone’s health, but I am not qualified to make any comments about epilepsy.
      You can get some support in our club forum: Look forward to seeing you over there!

  13. avatar John C

    A EVRY interesting article, giving a lot of food for thought!
    I too am type II diabetic and would really like to know the question and answer as Italian is a language I also don’t speak! Any chance of a translation, Zöe??

    • avatar Zoë

      Hi JC! I know you! We both obviously managed to work out what Maria was saying – for everyone else it’s: she’s got type 2 diabetes and she can’t keep her blood sugar balanced because she is eating during the night sometimes! And then she is asking if The Harcombe Diet is OK for her problem.. and my lovely friend Andrea did the answer for Maria – I’ll do one for you…

      The gist is – yes! Every human being has got to be better off eating real food, as nature provides, and not processed food, as manufacturers provide. Diabetics especially are best avoiding sugar, white flour, refined carbs etc as they cannot keep their blood sugar stable on things that may cause too much/not enough insulin to be released (for Type II’s) and Type I’s only have to inject the insulin that they need so I think their doctors should be giving Diabetics (especially overweight ones) fewer carbs and less insulin and they would be far healthier, slimmer and have more stable blood sugar levels.
      Hope this helps – Zoe
      Come and see us in the club! We need more men – the ones in there are having a field day with all the women!

  14. avatar maria

    Ho il diabete di tipo 2 e non riesco a trovare un equilibrio nei valori glicemici, perché a volte mangio di notte. Questa dieta andrebbe bene anche a me ?

    • avatar Zoë

      Hi Maria – I’m so sorry it took a while to get back to you – I don’t speak Italian! I found one of the diet fans who does and here is the answer:

      ciao Maria! Si la mia dieta e’ adatta per il tuo problema perche’ seguendo il mio programma alimentare starai benlontana dai carboidrati negativi come pane riso o pasta bianchi o zucchero! Il tuo problema, la ipoglicemia, e’ una delle tre cause del problema obesita’. le altre sono l’infezione di candida e le intolleranze alimentari. in bocca al lupo da Zoe. ciao

      Hope this helps! X
      p.s. add Andrea Specchio as a friend on Facebook and he can help you! x


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