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Dr. Jonny Bowden Interview Part One

February 1, 2012 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Today not only marks the first day of February, but also the beginning of American Heart Month. I can’t think of a better way to address the important topic of cardiovascular health than to present a recent Q&A session with one of the leading figures in exercise and nutrition: Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS.

If you’re unfamiliar with Dr. Bowden, I’d like to start by sharing some of his impressive credentials. Jonny is a board-certified nutritionist who holds a masters degree in psychology and a PhD in nutrition. He’s also the author of one of the most sensible and thorough books about a healthy low-carb lifestyle, “Living Low Carb“.

JP – If you were to divide heart disease into a pie chart, how large a role would diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors play in the maintenance of cardiovascular health?

Jonny – All of the things you mention are intertwined and darn near impossible to separate. For example, your relationships affect your sleep which in turn affects your stress which in turn affects everything. In addition, there seem to be people who are so strong in one area (i.e. exercise or spirituality) that it seems to “make up” for deficits in another. That said, I’d divide the pie into three “30%” slices and one “10%” slice. The three 30% slices are exercise, diet and – for want of a better category name – spiritual health, with “spiritual health” comprising everything from community, friendships to family relationships, stress management and sleep. The other 10% we can call “other” and it can include genetics.

JP – Based on your clinical experience and research, what constitutes a “heart healthy” diet? Is there such a thing as a “one size fits all” diet or should menu plans be individualized?

Jonny – Let me preface this answer with full disclosure: I do not subscribe to the conventional view of “heart healthy” diets, i.e. low cholesterol, low saturated fat, no red meat, etc. Cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra, MD and I are now completing a book for June 2012 publication – tentative title, “The Low-Cholesterol Diet Myth” – which will hopefully change the way people look at cholesterol and fat. But, until then here is the executive summary, all backed up by a fair amount of compelling research (though you’d never know it from the mainstream media).

A heart healthy diet does NOT have to eliminate or lower fat, EVEN saturated fat. And dietary cholesterol is irrelevant. A heart-healthy diet should eliminate trans-fats and keep sugar as low as possible. Sugar – or high glycemic carbs which convert to sugar quickly – are a far greater dietary villain and a far greater danger to the heart than fat ever was.

The heart-healthy diet should consist of plenty of clean (not necessarily lean) protein. By clean I mean grass-fed meat, free range poultry and eggs, wild caught salmon and the like. It should contain as many vegetables as you can consume without having to be rolled away from the table. Fruit should be in there as well, though people with blood sugar issues might have to be more prudent with fruit consumption. Great choices are berries, cherries, grapefruits and other low-sugar high-antioxidant choices like that.

A bigger problem than saturated fat is the overconsumption of vegetable oils and other foods high in omega-6’s which are pro-inflammatory. The heart healthy diet would significantly cut back on omega-6’s and significantly increase omega-3’s (fish and flax) and would approach a 1:1 ratio between the two types of omegas.

Finally, the heart healthy diet would be highly anti-inflammatory. Most vegetables and fruits contain powerful plant chemicals like flavonoids and flavanols which are anti-inflammatory.

Virgin Coconut Oil Safely Reduces Waist Circumference

Source: ISN Pharmacol. 2011;2011:949686. (link)

JP – What is your take on the following controversial foods? Coconut oil? Red meat? Soy?

Jonny – Coconut oil is a superfood. It’s a fat which is loaded with anti-microbial fatty acids, like lauric acid and capryllic acid, both of which are good for immunity. The fat in coconut is largely of a kind called MCTs which the body prefers to burn for energy (like carbohydrates), rather than store as fat. Important to get high quality organic coconut oil. My favorite, available everywhere, is Barlean’s Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil.

There’s nothing wrong with red meat but there’s everything wrong with the red meat we typically purchase. Most of our meat is factory farmed, and contains high amounts of omega-6’s (and vanishingly low to zero amounts of omega-3’s). Factory farmed meat is loaded with antibiotics, steroids and hormones. If that’s what we mean by “red meat”, I fully agree – stay away. However grass-fed meat is a whole different “animal”. No hormones, no antibiotics, no steroids, it’s high in omega-3’s and also contains a particularly healthy fat with anti-cancer (and anti-obesity properties) called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).

I’m not a fan of soy, but I also don’t believe it’s the greatest health risk of the 21st century the way some of the anti-soy brigade make it sound. However, it’s also not the health food it’s been made out to be. And most of the soy products we consume here have virtually no relationship to the healthy, fermented soy foods they eat in Asia where no one walks around consuming soy nuts, soy ice cream, soy meat substitutes and other junk food masquerading as healthy. A little soy here and there is fine – the wholesale acceptance of soy as synonymous with “healthy” is a concept that needs revisiting.

JP – What beverages and foods make your personal “best of” list with regard to dietary protection from heart attacks and stroke?

Jonny – I am a daily consumer of pomegranate juice, green tea, dark chocolate with high flavanol content, cherries, blueberries, full-fat yogurt, nuts, and coconut. In heavy rotation are kale, spinach, avocado, grass-fed beef, wild salmon, oatmeal, broccoli, ground flaxseeds (i.e. Forti-Flax), whey protein powder, onions and apples.

In part two of my interview with Dr. Bowden, we’ll address several controversies in the field of cardiology including the importance of cholesterol readings and homocysteine. Until then I urge you to visit Jonny’s website to learn about his new diet program that approaches weight loss in a decidedly holistic manner.

Be well!


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Posted in Heart Health, Interviews, Nutrition

6 Comments & Updates to “Dr. Jonny Bowden Interview Part One”

  1. Rob Says:

    Noce arty’ I agree with everything Dr. JB has said in part one, especially what he says about soy and how its not really that healthy of a food choice and should only be used minimally.

    I wish grass fed beef was more widely available and this cheaper, I still eat farmed red meat but not all the time

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks, Rob. I think Dr. Bowden’s right on the money as well.

    I suspect grass fed products will continue to grow in popularity which should improve availability and lower the price tag. Here’s hoping!

    Be well!


  3. healthy living Says:

    This is a great interview and I have always been a skeptic regarding the Low-Cholesterol diet. We live in Thailand and everything here is coconut based, which is fantastic and as the doctor points out, very high in anti-microbial fatty acids. I was wondering how you and maybe the Dr. feel about consuming goji berries on a daily basis, like the Koreans and Chinese do. Do you know of any studies pertaining to the anti aging and health benefits of goji?

  4. JP Says:

    Hi Billy,

    There aren’t many quality (human) studies on goji berries as of yet. Thus far, what has been published is generally positive, but not as miraculous as some proponents claim.




    Be well!


  5. Rob Says:

    Goji along with Acai are healthy yes but there attirbutes have been overhyped, blueberries, blackberries and other less exoctic berries offer just as much benefits

  6. JP Says:

    Hi Rob,

    I tend to agree. I try to follow the sage advice of the late Dr. Bernard Jensen, “Eat like the rainbow”. Low glycemic, non-starchy beverages and foods that are richly pigmented (such as blackberries and blueberries) tend to be excellent for one’s health in so many ways.

    Be well!


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