Diets and Weight Loss, Health and Disease

HWA-Sugar, Not Fat, is Responsible for Heart Attacks

Sugar, Not Fat, is Responsible for Heart Attacks

Dr. Ken Walker, also known as W. Gifford-Jones, MD, launched a weekly medical column in 1975 and has been going strong ever since. His common-sense approach to healthy living is simple: “Don’t smoke, drink moderately, exercise, and eat a balanced diet.” Yet, he’d probably be the first to tell you that most people just can’t bring themselves to follow this common-sense approach.  In an article published on The Wallaceburg Curious Press’ website, he goes over how sugar, not fat, is responsible for heart attacks. We’ll review some of his conclusions here, as well as provide additional research backing up his claim.

( types of sugars, then there are goods that turn into sugar)

In the 1970s, scientists suggested that sugar and low intake of fiber were major factors in heart disease. But around the same time, the belief that excess intake of saturated fatty acids was the key factor took over this idea. It was a view that stuck around from 1974 to 2014. Research indicates that the claims around saturated fat were exaggerated.

Sugar And Heart Disease

Dr. John Yudkin published a book in 1972 that concluded sugar was connected to many diseases, but most importantly to heart disease. But the evidence was not strong, and the studies didn’t find a clear link between sugar and heart disease. Because of this, Dr. Yudkin’s hypothesis didn’t gain traction or acceptance. Around the same time, the sugar industry paid researchers to publish papers that pointed to saturated fat as the cause of heart disease. The scandal came out in 2016.

But in 2014, Dr. Frank Hu and his peers found an association between a high-sugar diet and a greater risk of dying from heart disease. The 15-year study found that people with 17% to 21% of calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from compared to those with lower amounts.

“Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease,” Dr. Hu told Harvard Health, “How sugar actually affects heart health is not completely understood, but it appears to have several indirect connections. For instance, high amounts of sugar overload the liver. Your liver metabolizes sugar the same way as alcohol, and converts dietary carbohydrates to fat.”

Eventually, this leads to excess and accumulated fat, which leads to fatty liver disease and diabetes, and raises the risk of heart disease. Too much sugar increases blood pressure and inflammation and leads to weight gain.

Research Scandal

The scandal came out in 2016 with a paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine about the influence of food industry-funded research. The analysis shows that a sugar group paid Harvard scientists, who are no longer alive, to publish a review on sugar, fat, and heart disease. The studies chosen minimized the link between sugar and heart disease and focused instead on saturated fat. The analysis called for policymakers to give less weight to these industry-funded studies.

“They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades,” Stanton Glantz, one of the paper’s authors, told New York Times.

The Sugar Association responded to the claims with a statement saying they should have exercised greater transparency. They said the review was published when medical journals didn’t typically require funding disclosures.

In 2018, other papers came out that challenged these claims about the industry. The writers suggested that there was “no smoking gun” or conspiracy that implicated the industry in the funding or suppressing of its effects on heart disease. They’re careful to stress that they’re not defending the sugar industry, but suggest the claims do not factor in regards to the research standards of the time.

Whatever the involvement of the industry, it is now clear through science that sugar, not saturated fat, causes heart disease.

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You Can Reverse Heart Disease



You Can Help Reverse Heart Disease


In medical school, I was taught that coronary artery disease (CAD), or the blockages that can choke blood flow to the heart and cause chest pain and heart attack, progresses from minor “fatty streaks” in youth to plaques or early narrowing’s in young adulthood, and on to complicated plaques later in life. The arrows always pointed toward the disease advancing and never reversing. This one-way street toward worsening was shown to be incorrect in 1990 by Dean Ornish, MD.



Dr. Ornish prescribed a plant-based diet without added fats to patients with proven heart blockages. He also recommended walking, social support, and stress management to help their hearts. He demonstrated that the patients who adhered to his “lifestyle program” felt better and showed reductions in the amount of narrowing’s in their arteries. Dr. Ornish followed his patients for longer periods of time and, with further testing, showed even more improvements, avoidance of hospitalizations, and reduced costs.


Since those first reports, the data that heart disease can be reversed by intensive lifestyle changes emphasizing a plant-based diet low in added fats has become so robust that the Ornish Lifestyle program was recognized by Medicare in 2010 for reimbursement as a therapy of CAD. A similar program, based out of the Pritikin Longevity Center in southern Florida, received the same Medicare designation for intensive therapy and reversal of heart disease with dietary therapy.


Because both the work by Dr. Ornish and the original site of the Pritikin Center was done in California, it could be argued that the plant-based dietary reversal of heart disease is only a “West coast thing.” Fortunately, a similar research program at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, led by Caldwell Esselstyn, MD, identified the same types of clinical improvements (shrinking and reversal of heart blockages) in patients with advanced heart disease who converted to totally plant-based diets without added oils.



True Health Initiative (THI), of which I am a member, has a mission to create a culture free of preventable chronic disease by demonstrating and disseminating the global consensus on the fundamental, evidence-based truths of lifestyle as medicine. Plant-based diets for heart disease reversal and as a lifestyle practice for overall health fit squarely into our goal.


Foods With Special Abilities to Reverse Plaque

Although researchers like Drs. Ornish and Esselstyn did not emphasize particular plant-based foods to promote reversal of heart disease, subsequent studies suggest that certain foods may have special abilities to reverse CAD and can be added to any diet as a protection against heart disease.


Garlic and Onions


The ability of garlic to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood clotting has been recognized for some time. There have actually been a surprising number of studies testing the ability of aged garlic extract to halt heart disease progression.


For example, in a study published in early 2016 that used baseline and follow-up CT angiograms of heart arteries, aged garlic extract reduced areas of plaque in heart arteries at the one-year follow-up.



Additionally, onions, like garlic, provide a source of sulfur in the diet that may be crucial for maintaining optimal amounts of antioxidants.




Pomegranate juice and seeds both have powerful antioxidant properties that may improve the function of HDL cholesterol. This protective cholesterol may boost the reverse cholesterol transport, or “vacuum cleaner” function in arteries, that may reverse CAD.


In studies of mice, pomegranates can reduce atherosclerosis (although we can’t always reliably translate animal research results into implications on human health). In people with increased stress at risk for CAD, pomegranates can reduce evidence of arterial damage. Another, albeit small study on humans using pomegranate juice for three years found that the degree of narrowing in carotid arteries of five study subjects was reduced.




The bergamot is a citrus fruit that is native to the Calabria region of Italy. It has powerful antioxidant components that lower blood sugar and cholesterol. In a study of subjects with thickened carotid arteries, those given bergamot supplements had a marked reduction in carotid intimal thickening after six months of therapy.


Green Tea


Green tea is comprised of many bioactive compounds that may lower oxidative stress (rusting of arteries), inflammation, and cholesterol fractions leading to improved arterial health. In a study using angiographic analysis, the more green tea that was consumed, the lower the risk of heart attack. A relationship between tea intake and lower cardiac mortality risk in men has also been reported. This said green tea can not be consumed in large amounts, more than 8 ounces/day, by women.


The Power of Lifestyle Medicine to Treat CAD

The optimal goal of therapy for patients with CAD should be the reversal of disease with intensive lifestyle related measures, not just disease management. Indeed, in the Lifestyle Heart Trial organized by Dr. Ornish, participants managed with medical therapy alone demonstrated progression of their CAD in follow-up.


Diet and lifestyle can be powerful additions to the standard therapy of heart disease and may be even more powerful than medications in promoting the reversal of long standing blockages. The great news is that you have the power control your health outcomes by using whole foods as a nutrient-rich fuel source.


A Word From Dr. David L. Katz

Senior Medical Advisor and True Health Initiative Founder


Studies have shown impressive prevention of cardiovascular events and other major chronic diseases with other variations on the theme of healthful dietary patterns emphasizing minimally processed, predominantly plant foods. In particular, the traditional Mediterranean diet has been associated with a wide array of health benefits. Based on vast and diverse scientific evidence, the basic theme of optimal eating is quite clear. It is also clear that we have choices among the variations on this theme, empowering us all to love the food that loves us—and our coronaries—back.


Please share with family and loved ones.  If you need help in making your health plan, in reversing or preventing diseases or health conditions,  please call us


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J Kahn