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 .