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A few years ago, my heart stopped functioning properly. A cardiac artery was blocked, and I felt some strange and scary symptoms. The blockage was relieved with a stent, and the hospital that installed it included a detailed lecture to all such patients. They don’t want to see us again. Heeding that information has kept me healthy, and I want to share what I’ve learned.
Heart patients are routinely told to severely limit their intake of saturated fats. I’ve mentioned the handy rule of thumb, to buy foods only if they contain two or fewer grams of saturated fat per serving, regardless of total fat or cholesterol. This guideline has served me well.

Or so I thought. If you Google 'fats and heart disease,' first up is a typically thorough New York Times article from last March. It leans on a megastudy, or study of studies, published in Annals of Internal Medicine. The authors analyzed “nearly 80” studies that, combined, followed over a half-million people. And guess what? They found that eating saturated fat appears to have no relation, by itself, to heart disease. They also found no beneficial effect from higher use of “good fats,” such as olive oil. What was that? Say that again?

They don’t mean stop eating extra virgin olive oil and lay on the butter; they’re just saying you don’t have to be fanatical about it, as long as the fat is unprocessed. In fact, we are told yet again that we should stick to a Mediterranean diet as much as possible, and bring on the nuts, fish, avocados, high-fiber grains, and yes, extra virgin olive oil.

Speaking of olive oil, let me put in a word for F. Oliver, a store on the Commons that sells absolutely orgasmic olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I use an organic extra virgin olive oil from BJs for cooking, but for salads, pasta, popcorn, and dipping, where heat won’t kill the top notes of the flavor, get a bottle from F. Oliver. No, the Commons isn’t a pleasure to navigate right now, if ever, but yes, treat yourself to the best. You’re worth it.

Another surprise from the megastudy: Milk and other dairy products contain margeric acid, which appears to lower your risk of heart disease. So cheese in moderation is OK?

Of course, we know about the good old omega-3 fatty acids in fish such as tuna, sardines, mackerel, and salmon. That fishy flavor is the taste of protection.

But forget taking fish oil. As with virtually all supplements, it’s a waste of money. To absorb good nutrients, you have to eat good food. Your body seems to ignore manufactured supplements. Well, they are processed foods, after all. We still don’t know precisely how all the elements and compounds in unprocessed foods seem to act as catalysts to supply the nutrition we need. However, we know enough to know that real nourishment comes only from real food.

The idea seems to be to keep our triglycerides low and our HDL high. The foods to avoid are especially those with excess carbs, such as sugary desserts and snacks.

So you know what DOES help your heart, for sure? You're not going to like this. Here’s the secret: Sustained Physical Movement. (I’m avoiding the E-word to minimize allergic reactions.)

As my wonderful cardiologist says, we all want a magic pill that will make it all better, but the closest thing we have is at least 30 minutes a day of walking vigorously enough to get you breathing hard.

Much of the above supports the Paleo diet fad, but we don’t have to be quite that strict. What the megastudy really supports is that ancient saying, 'Moderation in all things.' And abstinence is not moderation.

Before ordering a rack of spareribs and cheesecake for dessert, though, get your doctor’s opinion on the results of this megastudy. Not checking with your doctor is like doubling or cutting out medications on your own. Not smart.

Please direct comments and questions for this series to me This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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