We all know by now we should be looking after our hearts - they do keep us alive, after all. Some of us do it better than others but the formula as we know it is to eat well, steer clear from fat, exercise often and stay away from cigarettes. We do this and we avoid heart disease, cancer and other scary things we'd rather not have.
This was the strategy until now. However, doctors now believe this thinking is outdated and needs to recalibrated to keep up with our changing bodies. One of the doctors spearheading this mission is the world-renowned heart surgeon, Dr Dwight Lundell.
"We physicians with all our training, knowledge and authority often acquire a rather large ego that tends to make it difficult to admit we are wrong. So, here it is. I freely admit to being wrong. As a heart surgeon with 25 years experience, having performed over 5,000 open-heart surgeries, today is my day to right the wrong with medical and scientific fact."
What is usually done (and what has been for decades) is to give patients medication that lowers cholesterol - statins - and prescribes a diet that severely restricts fat intake - usually in the shape of not eating carbs or staying away from processed foods in general. These rules were so stellar that Dr Lundell himself says " deviations from these recommendations were considered heresy and could quite possibly result in malpractice." This, however, isn't the case today.
"These recommendations are no longer scientifically or morally defensible," Dr Lundell argues. After a recent study claiming that high cholesterol isn't the leading factor in heart disease - rather it's the swelling, the inflammation, of artery walls around the heart that cause the problem. The expert thinks we need to change how we think about approaching this.
"The long-established dietary recommendations have created epidemics of obesity and diabetes, the consequences of which dwarf any historical plague in terms of mortality, human suffering and dire economic consequences."
In English, how we've been treating the problem has been negatively affecting our lives and our wallets. Lundell says that inflammation is the cause of the rise in cholesterol and we should be treating that instead of the cholesterol.
"Simply stated, without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that cholesterol would accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes. Without inflammation, cholesterol would move freely throughout the body as nature intended. It is inflammation that causes cholesterol to become trapped."
This isn't to say you should completely forget about your low cholesterol diet and start shovelling pizza and onion rings. Stopping chronic inflammation is the key to reducing heart disease mortality. "Foods loaded with sugars and simple carbohydrates, or processed with omega-6 oils for long shelf life have been the mainstay of the American diet for six decades. These foods have been slowly poisoning everyone." Why? Because they cause inflammation.
"Extra sugar molecules attach to a variety of proteins that in turn injure the blood vessel wall. This repeated injury to the blood vessel wall sets off inflammation. When you spike your blood sugar level several times a day, every day, it is exactly like taking sandpaper to the inside of your delicate blood vessels." While you may not be able to see it, rest assured it is there.
So what are Dr Lundell's specific orders? "Returning to foods closer to their natural state." This means eating fresh, whole foods and upping your intake of complex carbs (sweet potatoes, brown rice etc). You should still watch what you eat but pay more attention to foods that will help reduce inflammation: tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables. Doing this "you will reverse years of damage in your arteries and throughout your body from consuming the typical American diet." I stress again, the tomato sauce on pizza does not count.