The Muddy Waters of Nutrition

I first started studying nutrition and health coaching back in 2016 when I got an unexpected redundancy from a company and found myself with a few months time out from the normal 9-5 grind. I signed up to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) to qualify as a health coach (a relatively unheard of term back then). I completed that course and really enjoyed it but did not feel in anyway ready to start taking on coaching clients.

My interest in the area of nutrition, performance and self improvement continued to grow and in 2018 I decided to undertake a Diploma in Nutritional Science to qualify as a nutritionist from the Irish Institute of Nutrition and Health (IINH). Why they all call themselves institutes I do not know but anyway…

I am in the middle of Year 2 currently and this weekend just past we were focused on Cardiovascular health, a topic that is very dear to my heart (boom boom!) with my own dads history in mind. We studied the entire anatomy and physiology of the heart and cardiovascular system and the dysfunctions and disorders that can arise in this area and how to treat clients with these issues.

Now to the muddy waters…

We have all been taught that cholesterol is an important bio marker for good heart health. If it’s too high, you are at a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes for example. We also know now that it’s not just the total cholesterol level that is important, but also LDL and HDL levels and their ratios to total cholesterol which matter also.

To build on this then we now have research emerging that claims that cholesterol is not an important bio marker for good heart health at all. There are quite a few other markers involved in an assessment and it is claimed that some of those (tryglcerides, fibrinogen etc..) are in fact the true markers of good heart health.

Underpinning this is the fact that the dietary requirement for cholesterol is zero, in other words our bodies make all the cholesterol it needs itself and it does not need to get this from our food.
In terms of food, cholesterol only comes from animal foods, plants foods do not contain it. Another argument that is raging on is that consuming cholesterol in the form of animal foods does not impact on the cholesterol levels in our blood as our bodies and liver in particular is adept at removing excess cholesterol from our bodies. So there is no problem with eating foods that are high in cholesterol.

This is a huge statement to make and part of me can’t help but wonder if it is in response to the rise and rise of plant based and vegan diets and their impact on peoples buying habits – less meat and dairy and more fruits and vegetables. Plant based diets are often touted as being far healthier than those who consume meat and dairy regularly and this trend is no doubt hitting the bottom lines of these producers and industry as a whole.

This might be a skeptical viewpoint but when you look at things from the position of “who benefits” or cui bono this can help you see the wood from the trees. And the world of nutrition is full of trees. Certain theories are now “debunked” apparently and holes have been poked in nearly every viewpoint, which all leaves the consumer confused and in a state of no change. Cholesterol and it’s role in good heart health is just one example of the muddy waters of nutrition.

So the lesson for me from this weekends lectures are that sometimes, it will come down to me as a nutritionist to make up my own mind, based on the evidence out there balanced with my own life experience and intellect and coupled with the clients point of view to decide what I believe to be the best recommendations.

I should note that cholesterol is not the bad guy here, it plays an super important role in our bodies in cellular membrane structure and forms the base component of steroid hormones like cortisol, testosterone and oestrogen. It gets bad press due to it’s role in plaque build up in arteries which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Yours in health and happiness,