Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Cuckoo for Cholesterol

As in "even the word cholesterol lately is driving me a tad cuckoo." I'm not talking about my own (actually, I need to get it checked; it's always been okay, though); I'm talking about Dave's. And if he's got a problem to deal with, there's no other way but than to tackle it as a team. That's how we roll. So, most of the dietary changes we're making apply to both of us.

And since I'm the solitary meal-maker 98% of the time, I feel to blame. I shouldn't, he says, since he's actually had issues since he was quite young (heredity, you're a...bad word), but it's hard not to feel more than a twinge of guilt and responsibility for the issue.

The toughest part of the whole thing is that, when we got the letter, we had just stocked up on stuff that his new doctor wants him OFF, immediately. We both appreciate the fact that she's against statins (his last doc wanted him on them and, um, yeah...he left the guy; not because of the diagnosis, but because statins do crazy things to people). So, it's finally time to buckle down.

The thing is, we're real food eaters now. Always will be. But a handful of thoughts in the real food world totally contradict what the "traditional" medical community dictates for lowering one's cholesterol.

Like whole milk and butter. Yes, they're full-fat. There are studies that say, however, that individuals who consume year products (vs. lower fat versions) are actually less overweight with fewer cases of health issues than those who consume the low fat stuff. It's perplexing, to say the least, and tough when you know it's as much heredity as it is the milk on your Cheerios.

I'm also unclear as to how to wrap my head around the reduction in sugar in the diet. Like. Okay, does this just mean anything with refined sugar (like in coffee, which he doesn't use) or processed products with hidden sugar (we try to limit this, too, and Dave's actually better at this than I am)? Or does it mean ALL sugars; even the natural, known-to-provide-good-things sugars like maple syrup and raw honey? Dude loves his teensy bit of raw honey in his tea.

To an extent, the rest of the diet restrictions (cross through) changes I can get behind. 

Our biggest issue is how carb-based out diet is. I'm not sure I've ever heard of a need to reduce carbs when trying to lower one's cholesterol, but she requested that he do it for now. Pasta is usually a once-a-week occurrence for us, as is an all natural pizza. The occasional side of organic macaroni and cheese, or panini sandwich for dinner add up to lots of carb-based food intake. Blah. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the roadblocks that change sets before us, huh?

But, I take a deep breath and look to my old friend, Real Food, for answers. What aren't we doing enough of that we can adjust without totally turning our backs on our fundamental food philosophies? What are we doing "right" already that we can piggyback on? Here are a few thoughts...

- Less processed, more fruit n' veg. I'm the first to admit that pasta and sandwiches and a dozen other meals I'm forgetting right now, no matter how organic and minimal the ingredients, aren't necessarily "healthy." We don't sit down with a stack of carrot sticks (that picture's taunting me) for a snack. I only bring apples to work (hence my consumption of them over the summer lessens). There are many days that I'm making lunches and have grown to ask Dave if he needs an apple; the reply is often, "Nope. I've got one from yesterday that I didn't eat." So, yeah. There's the first step right there. Make fruit and veggies a) more available (ie buy a crapload more of them; I had found my "right weekly amount" to finally know that I wouldn't be throwing any out, so I'll have to change my thinking) and b) a bigger part of our eating experience.

- Nuts to you! Speaking of snacks, nuts have the "healthy" types of omega-3 oils and fiber that help the body rid itself of the bad cholesterol. So, I'll have to stock up on the right kinds.

- Salads, salads, salads. Side note: Dave's a salad guy. He'd eat it every night, so we've got that goin' for us. I know a lot of people will say "but oils!" when it comes to salad. Since we only ever use oil and vinegar (or the occasional homemade vinaigrette), it's not like we'd be dousing the thing in thick, super fatty, super unhealthy dressings. Plus, the extra virgin olive oil (high quality) is actually helpful for your good cholesterol. Remember: Our bodies don't work without SOME fats. It's also not like we're chugging the stuff; portion control. I recently grabbed a bottle with a little pour spout and I tell ya that thing's lasted twice as long as a usual bottle. 

- Prep is the key. What makes packaged convenience foods (chips, granola bars -- not always bad, but y'know, sugar -- cereals, etc.) the thing that we ALWAYS turn to? Other than the tastiness...convenience, of course. It's there. Ready. Waiting. So, taking time to prep the veggies ONCE (rather than when you're already hangry and not willing to take the time) to provide yourself with several days worth of snacks is a good idea. Same goes with a fruit platter for the fridge (pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, etc.), air-popped popcorn in an air-tight container or baggies, and any healthier alternatives that might make stuff more palatable (can you say "greek yogurt dip"?).

- Consider your meat intake. We're not HUGE meat-eaters, but we've been known to eat a burger or *gasp* nitrate-free hotdog from time to time. And it's summer, so I don't see not cutting it out 100% (see below). But, by trying to find some more vegetarian recipes that the THREE of us can eat (I'm not one for making 3 separate meals, folks), or finding new ways to incorporate less meat, more veg into our diets, I think it'll benefit all of us. Plus, I hope to stock up on all-natural (if not organic...that's one place Hannaford falls short) boneless, skinless chicken breasts and more fresh fish (ALWAYS checking for sourcing) options. 

- As with all diets, it's key to not beat yourself up. For example, since I haven't been shopping yet and Dave didn't have any alternatives, AND he had done an awesome job on his first cholesterol-attacking weekend (even when we went to a BBQ joint with his parents for a meal, he made super wise selections AND didn't even haphazardly eat the dinner roll), he guiltily asked if I thought a small bowl of ice cream would be alright. We pondered it and discussed it, and I told him to set a limit for himself. Like, if he wants a treat from time to time, allow it, but say that "a small bowl of ice cream is okay once a week." It feels far less like a black hole of deprivation (you know what I'm talkin' about!) that way. Plus, now I know that he might benefit from some frozen greek yogurt treats in the freezer that will help him feel a tad less naughty.

Do you guys have any experience with a quasi-limited diet? Got any good advice? What are your eating habits, restrictions or not? As I talk to other people who deal with this, I find myself often saying, "Yup, we already do that. Hey, we hardly eat that, cool!" so it's not as if we have super unhealthy habits to begin with. It's just finally time to turn the focus back to ourselves. Oh, and you better know there's gonna be more walking and exercising up in here. ;-) Apparently you can change your own genetic makeup by breaking a sweat. Who knew?    


  1. Are you guys trying to do this completely drug-free? i.e. no Lipitor, etc. I know several folks on those that have done very well and have a moderate diet. I'm guessing yes. In that case, it sounds like you are doing what you can and what is reasonable. Is he not a sorbet kinda guy? Hagan Daaz makes three or four all-natural fruti sorbets that Men's Health even recommends because it's essentially pureed fruit that is frozen. So, low fat and just as satisfiying as ice cream. If you haven't checked out the series of books that Men's Health puts out called 'Eat This, Not That" it can be very informative. Lots of things you can substitute without feeling like you are settling. I have a couple at home, if you are interested in checking them out and I know you can get them pretty cheaply at Ollie's or B&N, too.

    1. We're a drug-free family as much as possible, yup. :-) Thanks so much for the ideas! I'll see if he's into the sorbet -- I know I'd eat it!! LOL. I'm familiar with the 'Eat This, Not That' although they don't usually have "real food" options. As always, I appreciate your wealth of knowledge!

    2. Thanks, Meg! I know it's tough, though. I give you guys credit for doing all you do to try and stay 'free' with your diets. Not something I could really pull off unless I really had to (and thankful that I don't have to). I still try to make healthier choices (opting for whole grains vs processed and lower fat options when they are available), but always enjoy reading your adventures! :-)

    3. You're welcome, and thanks for the credit! I know we both appreciate it greatly. ;-) (And thanks so much for reading!!)

  2. We've been eating a vegetarian diet for the past few months and honestly, it's be a great challenge. We've learned a lot about new and delicious ways to cook vegetables, legumes, etc. to "fake" the meat intake. Also, we've been doing research on specific kinds of soy- or plant-based "meats" to include into our diets. We've been limiting our carbs (a bit), increasing nuts and beans. It's actually been really fun and it's become the norm in our house. We load up on veggies from the market for the week and have started becoming really creative with the combinations of things we really like - i.e. we both really like southwest flavors so we've been finding a lot of ways to incorporate those seasonings into our meals. For example, we made grilled romaine salads last week with black beans, corn, red peppers, tofurky chorizo crumbles (non-GMO, organic) and a greek yogurt-lime-ranch dressing (that we made). There's a lot of great stuff out there that you can experiment with!

    I also find that when we prep things ahead of time, I'm much more apt to eat and snack on the healthier options. We're both total snack people so we have to have things on-hand that we can snack on at a moment's notice. We've been making our own black bean dip and hummus. Just puree chickpeas and black beans with plain greek yogurt and add seasonings - AMAZING! We've made our own granola (they were supposed to be granola bars but they didn't stick together - trial and error, I suppose! but they're still delicious).

    It's not easy but the challenge is worth it. Plus since you and Dave will be working on it together, it'll be fun!

    1. Wow, good for you, Cara!! That sounds like a great adventure!! I'm hoping to implement some of your ideas, and I won't feel as badly if I make the munchkin a lunch that he's not a fan of now that we're home for the summer together. (I have old stand-bys that I have vs. Grandma having nothing else to give him in case he HATES what I send.) Dave, on the other hand, is a tad less adventurous -- well, I suppose Hadley is, too, but that's the way of a toddler. So, when I asked if Dave'd like hummus on his sandwich (vs. mayo or anything else), he declined. :-\ Bummer. We're working on it! And you're right; it does have a sense of fun to it, at times!