Cholesterol is a waxy fat that is found in the foods we eat, and also is generated by the body. Although cholesterol is important to the body, too much can damage arteries and contribute to heart disease. Doctors often measure blood cholesterol as part of a routine physical. Individuals with high cholesterol are considered at risk for heart disease and counseled to make dietary and lifestyle changes to improve their health. But how much can a healthy diet impact cholesterol levels? How much could real food really lower cholesterol?
- Better for you – eating real food IS healthier and DOES improve cholesterol levels
- Better for the Earth – more real food has a much lower carbon footprint than process food
- Saves money – controlling cholesterol through diet can save big bucks on specialized medication to do the same
- Tastes great – real food is not boring and bland – it can be super tasty!
- Takes time – preparing real food takes longer than eating something out of a box
- Higher grocery bill – fresh produce and quality meats tend to be a little higher priced
- Lifestyle change can be hard – especially if big changes are required to meet your goals
Heart disease runs in my family. My grandfather died of heart disease in his early 60’s. My father had a serious heart attack in his 40s. We are so thankful he survived, but he has been dealing with the effects of the permanent heart damage ever since. Whenever I give a medical history, I have to talk about these family events and acknowledge that I am at a higher risk for heart disease myself.
Many people don’t realize that heart disease is the #1 killer of women in America. We’ve got to take care of our hearts, ladies! One of the best tools we have for monitoring heart disease is cholesterol testing in blood. High cholesterol has been determined to be a big factor in heart disease, and is caused by poor diet, lack of exercise and sometime genetics.
My company has a healthy living incentive where they will give me $500 off my health insurance if I have a health check-up and health counseling every year. Seems like a win, win to me so I go get weighed, measured, and finger pricked each year. Generally, my cholesterol levels have been at the high end of healthy, with the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol being too high. The nurse fusses at me a little and tells me to eat healthier and exercise more. I’ve generally chalked it up to genetics and continued on as before.
However, over the last year, and especially in the last six months, I’ve been making healthier choices about the food I eat. This is completely unrelated to cholesterol readings, and has more to do with all the green and crunchy blogs I follow along with. The ideas these ladies share about good food choices ring true with me, and little by little I’ve been coming on board. Also, it’s important to me to teach my kids early that fresh fruit and veggies are good, and food that comes in bags and boxes are special treats.
These are some of the healthy switches I’ve made over the last year:
- Weekly meal planning – planning more veggies and healthy foods into our food ensures it will happen
- Cut back on processed food – most of what we purchase is perishable now, with the exception of pasta, rice, beans, canned tomatoes, and a few other things.
- Joined a CSA – for a little while, at least
- Switched out margarine and spread for real butter
- Started using coconut oil in my cooking and baking
- Planted a backyard garden – you eat veggies a lot faster when they start piling up on your kitchen counter
- Cut back on red meat to only 2-3 times per month
- Stopped going out to lunch so much at work (also saves money!)
- Cut out meat for breakfast and lunch – I eat vegetarian and sometimes vegan during the day
I’d noticed lately that my tastes have been changing. You know how your super-healthy-diet friends tell you that they just don’t want that “stuff” anymore when you offer them a cookie or other treat? Personally, I’ve never really believed them. However… it’s true! I’ve found it so easy to pass up processed and high fat foods lately. They just aren’t tempting to me anymore. I’m shocked! (Note that when I do take a taste, I find the treat so amazing that I can barely control myself. So my tastes haven’t changed, just my cravings).
Remember, none of this diet change had anything to do with my cholesterol level. Recently I went in for my annual finger prick and I was blown away by how improved my cholesterol levels were. The nurse was super nice to me, and told me to keep up the good work! My only response was a somewhat stunned “I guess all this healthy eating crap really works!”. Here are my numbers:
|Measurement||Desirable Range||2011||2012||improved by|
|Body Mass Index (BMI)||18.5-24.9||23.9||24.0||(about the same)|
|Total cholesterol||200 mg/dl or less||179||135||25% better|
|HDL (good) Cholestorol||50 mg/dl or more||58||67||15% better|
|LDL (bad) Cholestorol||100 mg/dl or less||110||57||49% better|
|Triglycerides||below 150 mg/dl||57||54||6% better|
Notice that I haven’t lost any weight – I’m actually up a pound from last year. And I certainly haven’t found any time for exercise. But every cholesterol measurement has improved – some by a huge amount! The LDL (bad) cholesterol which was previously too high has been cut in half. I had no idea that a healthy diet could correct cholesterol levels by so much.
Now, I want you to know that I am not bragging here – just sharing what I’ve learned. Also, I do not consider myself a model real foodie by any means. I don’t soak or ferment anything. I don’t really know anything about GAPS or Paleo or the other latest real food diets out there. I’ve never considered eating raw, or gluten free, or sugar free. I’m just a full time working mom doing the best I can with the little time I have to feed my family a wholesome, balanced diet. And that seems to be working well to reduce my risk of heart disease.
What baby steps have you been making to improve your health lately? What differences have you noticed?
P.S. You know I’m not a doctor, right? The information above is just my experience. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease. This information should not be used to replace the examination and recommendation of a real medical professional. Please see your doctor for more information about determining and reducing your risk for heart disease.