Take Charge of YOUR Health
Updated: Mar 12
OR Sometimes you can just say NO to drugs!
It happens to the best of us…a lifetime of small cheats, continuous weakness for baked goods or fried foods all of a sudden catch up to you. You may be a fairly healthy weight, life a fairly healthy lifestyle but suddenly you get the dreaded call from the doctor – your cholesterol is elevated and 'we' need to deal with it.
Disclaimer: There are many opinions on North American vs Europe standards of what is acceptable. The formula for total cholesterol is pretty complex. I am not getting into all of that here; there are many people who are so much better qualified to do that! I'm sharing our experience here with a list of micro-changes that had a significant effect.
It is a fact that most prescription drugs simply block a body system to deal with the “symptoms” – rather than deal with the core of the matter. In the case of statins, the most common cholesterol lowering drug, a naturally occurring liver enzyme is blocked, inhibiting the production of cholesterol. And we need cholesterol for many other body functions. My belief is it’s best to fix the underlying cause of the problem, if it is within your power. When a drug blocks a body system, and said system obviously has a purpose, there will be implications in our health in other areas; they may not show up for some time...but they are happening behind the scenes. And for the majority of individuals with high cholesterol, lifestyle is the culprit so you can fix it if you are committed!
With all that said, I want to share how my husband and I worked together to reduce his cholesterol significantly in just 3 months. He is not quite at the ideal level yet, but we are getting there. I say ‘we’ as it’s been very much a team effort but he gets huge credit for making the lifestyle changes!
This is a multi-step process so be patient and keep reading.
First off – look at and adjust your diet. Here’s what we did:
1. Reduce saturated fats (primarily found in red meat and full fat dairy products). We cut out red meat (had a steak on Christmas day) and converted to about 90% vegetarian meals. We will have fish or skinless chicken perhaps 2-3 times a month. I also give him huge props for cutting out cheese. We don’t have a lot of dairy products in our house but cheese (so delicious) was a favourite of Ian’s and he basically stopped eating it. Previously he would eat cheese 3 or 4 times a week. Yes, once again I KNOW cheese is delicious!
2. Eliminate trans fats (primarily found in baked goods). We rarely eat that kind of food any more, except for special occasions. I know he’d fallen into a habit of grabbing an apple fritter when he happened to pick up a coffee, possibly 2 or 3 x a week – not anymore!! He also mostly gave up chicken wings, a favourite of his after hockey. It wasn’t a weekly thing but perhaps every 2-3 weeks. I can proudly say he has only had them a few times in the past 4 months – and had just a few, versus the unbelievable amount he could put away in his ‘previous life’. It was quite impressive I must say.
So – that's the first phase -- ‘eliminate’…that is, what NOT to eat. Many people will try this and have no success in lowering that nasty LDL. In my humble opinion, what’s lacking is what we need to ADD to our diet and lifestyle to effectively lower it. There are certain things that literally pull cholesterol from your blood.
What you may ask is this magic?
3. LOTS & LOTS of fibre! A mostly vegetarian diet will naturally include lots of beans and lentils as your source of protein. This is perfect as they are full of fibre, low in calories & nutrient dense. Your body may take some time to get used to these foods. If you are experiencing bloating, cut back a bit or check with me for a very effective digestive enzyme that will deal with this annoying symptom. You are NOT sacrificing flavour - We have been making a vegetarian chili that is the most delicious chili ever - I'd never go back to adding meat (message me for the very simple recipe!).
4. Even More Fibre. Incorporate a high quality fibre supplement such as Fibergy into your daily routine. Be wary of some brands as they may contain sugar or aspartame. You want to reduce sugar as well (see #4 below) and aspartame is just nasty! We mix a small amount of Fibergy into our daily protein shake or whisk into a small glass of warm water. Try cooking oats a couple of times a week for breakfast. Steel cut oats are the best option, large flake are second best. I make a big batch that will feed us for a couple of mornings. You can soak them overnight to speed up the cooking. Top with fruit, nuts, seeds and a splash of maple syrup and it’s like dessert for breakfast. These products literally help pull cholesterol out of our system.
5. Add Whey Protein to your daily regimen. This has a few benefits - Studies have shown that whey protein given as a supplement lowers both LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol as well as blood pressure. Here’s what we use MySmart Whey – again be wary of the big bucket/low price products. Remember you are trying to clean up your diet here – many of those have lots of fillers, sweeteners and who-knows-what-else. It’s a poorly regulated industry so buy from trustworthy companies. It’s no secret that my fave is USANA Health Sciences. I like to say ‘don’t sell your health to the lowest bidder!’
6. Add in the good fats. Fats that don’t harden at room or cold temperature are the ones you need – olive oil for example. Our olive oil budget has increased substantially (but then our wine budget has decreased, so offset!) Avocados are another cholesterol healthy fat - so stock up. I used to have a system of ripening avocados for my daily half avocado on my salad. He messed up my system but I figured it out ;) – now it’s a new formula as we both eat half an avocado daily. His lunch went from aforementioned cheese on bread to tomatoes sautéed in olive oil topped with avocado. (Bonus tip: Studies have found that the content of uber beneficial lycopene increases when tomatoes are cooked, as compared to raw tomatoes - BOOM!
7. Now the fun stuff - I know...my idea of fun is different than many - get some type of exercise daily. This hasn’t been too challenging as we have always been very active with running, hiking, hockey and just plan walking. It’s known that moderate physical activity can help raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol. If you find it difficult to make the time, break it into a few little chunks each day. Walk 30 minutes at lunch, ride your bike whenever possible, chase your kiddos around the park. Just going out for a walk after dinner instead of plunking down on the couch has multiple benefits: less time for snacking, calories burned, it’s great for mental health and if you walk with your partner or spouse, it’s a time to chat about your day with no distractions. WIN-WIN!
8. Alcohol – we had slipped into the moderately bad habit of enjoying a glass of red wine every night. And I probably should admit that our glasses aren’t the 3 oz ones my mom used. So yes, it was a big ass glass. Wine has a double whammy as it’s typically fairly high in sugar. We now limit our alcohol nights to weekends and have also looked for extra dry wine. You want to look for something that has 5 or less g/litre of sugar. Just check the label in the LCBO – right beside the price you’ll see the sugar content. I didn’t even know it was still there – I remember that from the old days.
10. Finally – lose weight. But here's the really great news – if you adopt a few of the habits above, it’s pretty likely this is just going to happen! It’s a beautiful side effect of eating less fat, more veggies, drinking less, gorging on beautiful multi-coloured foods and moving your body! You just may be amazed at how quickly you drop a few pounds. I think I can also PROMISE that you will feel better, even if you thought you felt ok before! When you treat your body with respect it rewards you in beautiful ways.
SO to summarize, any single improvement may make a difference, but doing only one thing - like cutting out butter or red meat, just may not be enough. If your doc is concerned you may need to go on meds for a time but I suspect that if you make several or all of these lifestyle changes, you may not be on them for long!
My message is always pretty consistent - you are worth it! Sure these changes may not be your favourite thing to do initially, but I'm hoping you'll be surprised that it's easier than you expect. We tend to fall into habits of eating the same things, doing (or not doing) certain activities. It really just starts with mindset, taking responsibility for your own health, and taking a single first step. Choose health!