One of my original incentives for pursuing a plant-based, whole food diet was to reduce my cholesterol, in a natural and sustainable way (without prescribed drugs). On May 16th (2018), I had my cholesterol checked and all three readings had improved, and by 22% for total cholesterol! This was great – I was pretty darn stoked that a slight alteration in my diet could have some sizeable impact.
Following are my cholesterol levels from my 2017 and 2018 blood work, along with medical “standards” of “Good” to “High” cholesterol values.
Not bad for about five months, and no meds. If you haven’t read my previous article on this topic, the formula is simple – I removed meat, eggs, and dairy from my diet, and coupled this with an increased consumption of fresh organic fruits and vegetables and natural whole foods (quinoa, steel cut oats, etc). This is the plant-based whole food eating methodology.
I’ve had a few meals along the way with meat (mainly sushi, about twice a month), and I didn’t completely cut out dairy until about two months ago (I had a hard time finding a replacement for my morning Greek yogurt, but ended up going with sweet potato (or yam) and peanut butter.
You Don’t Have To Be Perfect
Just start, knowing you can have “cheats” along the way – there’s really no issue if having some of your favorite foods allows you to maintain a healthier diet for the long run. Just minimize less than ideal foods to a few times per week. Eventually you may be able to eliminate them completely.
Conduct your own due diligence on what “less than ideal” or cheats would even be – this definition likely varies depending on each person’s situation (age, medical conditions, activity level, gender, etc).
There Is No One Best “Diet”
It’s a tempered and balanced approach that will provide optimized benefits based on a person’s environment, ethnicity, family history, current health situation, fitness level, etc.
Just removing processed foods from your diet, and reducing sugar, meats, eggs, and dairy – you’ll likely realize improved well-being.
Heck, just remove processed foods from your diet (which in turn will likely reduce a significant amount of sugar) and you’ll be making significant strides toward improved health and well-being.
I should mention that I’ve also supplemented my diet with a few different vitamins. I take each morning after breakfast. I’m not certain if or how much these vitamins influenced my cholesterol, however from what I’ve gathered, these vitamins are a good idea regardless of effect on cholesterol, especially if you’re vegan. When available, I purchase vegan or natural version of vitamins.
- D2 (2400 IU)
- B12 (1000 mcg)
- K (45 mcg)
- Omega 3 (DHA & EPA) sourced from marine algae
- BioPro-50 Probiotic (50 billion CFUs)
Mix It Up!
If your cholesterol is high, or borderline-high, consider mixing things up when it comes to what you eat. Hopefully you can find an alternative approach to correcting your cholesterol before starting down the path of medications.
My next phase of diet alteration will be more closely associated with the flexitarian, or perhaps flexegan.
Flexitarian’s have been described as a vegetarians with benefits, and in that same vein, flexegan’s are vegan’s with benefits.
I view both similarly, and a compromise on how I’ll approach my diet for the next six months.
My revamped approach to eating meat (fish, beef, turkey, and chicken) will allow it two to three times a week, and it will be free range, organic fed and/or wild caught.
I’ll be maintaining the dairy delete, and continue eating an abundance of whole foods and fresh (organic) fruits and vegetables. This would align me more to the flexegan approach.
My plan is to check my cholesterol again in six months to determine the effect of increased meat in my diet.
I suspect that at least a portion of the reduction in my cholesterol can be attributed to no dairy, as well as the benefits of eating a diverse amount of nuts, oats, fresh fruits, and vegetables, thus why I’m maintaining this portion of my diet.
December 2018 Update
I had my cholesterol checked again on December 1, 2018, and as somewhat expected, it did degrade overall. However HDL (the “good” cholesterol) actually improved, and I remained under the overall rating considered “High” (240 or greater).
The following updated chart highlights the changes from my May 16, 2018 Cholesterol numbers to my December 1, 2018 numbers.
IMAGE MATIRX HERE
The Right Foods = Improved Health
Don’t just take my word and experience for it, check out this article from Harvard Health, 11 foods that lower cholesterol, as it provides some great insight on food groups that can help reduce your LDL levels. They include:
- Barley and other whole grains.
- Eggplant and okra.
- Vegetable oils.
- Apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits.
- Foods fortified with sterols and stanols.
- Fatty fish.
- Fiber supplements.
Beyond the improvement in my cholesterol, I’ve experienced other changes. I continue to drop weight as mentioned in my 2 month check-in post. I’m now at 165 lbs. I can see and feel that this is both muscle and fat. I believe this is attributable to both diet (less protein), but also an increased focus on cardio workouts in preparation for the Spartan Super, and less focus on weight training. Of course age may be a contributing factor also, as I approach 45.
For some different prospective on the role protein plays in maintaining health and muscle, check out this great interview with Dr. Valter Longo from the Rich Roll podcast on longevity. The podcast is a great entry into better understanding longevity, and Dr. Longo’s take on the “pillars” of a healthy diet to live a long, energetic, and enjoyable life.
For the next six months I’m planning to reduce cardio and increase resistance training in order to build back strength. We’ll see if the additional meat protein further assists building back muscle and mass.
My sleep and energy levels continue to be great. I’ve drastically reduced my caffeine intake, and energy throughout the day is more stable and consistent (no more feeling like I need a siesta around 1:00!). Beyond removing my dependence on caffeine, I feel the reduction in sugars also helps stabilize blood sugars and energy levels.
Based on my December 2018 cholesterol check, I see myself most successfully following a “flexegan” diet based on current lifestyle, as it will allow me to remain focused on consuming fresh and organic whole foods, but with some occasional fish, a burger, etc. My goal will be no more than 2 to 3 times per month.
For me, moderation is key to sustainability. I feel the “flexegan” approach will allow me to maintain an overall healthy diet that’s also beneficial for the environment. I will continue to monitor my cholesterol to ensure I’m staying on track and under the “high” cholesterol category (240 or higher).
You Are What You Eat
What you eat can have a influence on your cholesterol (as well as health in general), and I’m ecstatic I was able to reduce mine by 20% through foods I choose to eat!
Healthy foods can be amazing “medicine”!
What’s been your experience with battling high Cholesterol?
Are you using prescribed medications? Have you tried diet and exercise? I’d love to hear your story!
Stay Strong, Be Focused!
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