There is nothing more you can do with your diet.
You exercise enough.
It may be time to try a statin drug.
Would you like me to write you a prescription?
These are all things I have heard from healthcare professionals regarding my cholesterol levels. I have battled alarmingly high cholesterol since I first had it tested as a teenager. Although I cleaned up my diet over the years, the numbers weren’t budging. By all standards, my vegan, plant-based diet was healthy. You can read more about my food journey here. Although my physician and dietitian didn’t believe my diet could be improved upon, I wasn’t convinced. I felt there had to be something more I could do. I knew I wasn’t ready to give up, so I had to find the answers myself.
I researched high cholesterol and how to lower it naturally. In the process, I came across Dr. Esselstyn’s 20 year study proving changes in diet and nutrition can actually cure heart disease. The studies showed amazing reductions in cholesterol levels compared to the minuscule change statin drugs boast. You can read the studies for yourself and check out his book here.
I want to make it clear that what I am about to share is what worked for me. I’m not a medical professional. I had plenty of critics when I started this journey, and still do. However, it worked! My cholesterol is in a healthy range and I did it naturally.
Inherited high cholesterol doesn’t budge easily; simple diet adjustments just don’t make enough of a change. This process would require a drastic change. Based on Dr. Esselstyn’s studies and his book How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, I was already on the right track eating a whole food, plant-based diet. However, now I would need to cut out all major sources of fats. Avoiding fats means I cook without butter and oil. It also means I limit plant-based sources like avocado, nuts, and coconut. I have found that I get sufficient fat from naturally occurring sources in plant foods.
I have found so many amazing ways to sub oil and butter for baking and cooking. It’s shocking how many foods we impulsively add oil or butter to because we assume that is the only method of preparation.
Here are some of my favorite substitutions:
egg: Use flax “egg”
saute vegetables: Saute dry and add water if they start to stick to the pan.
baking (muffins, cakes, cookies, etc.): To replace fat in a recipe, I usually try to use a combination of at least two substitutes. Examples are applesauce, banana, nut butters, and simply adding water or nut milk to desired consistency.
The possibilities are truly endless! Thanks for letting me share my story with you.
I still cringe when I see the word diet. As a noun, diet is simply the foods we eat. As a verb, diet entails the restrictive approach to losing weight. Today, I’m sharing with you my eating lifestyle and approach to food.
Over the past decade, I’ve slowly transitioned from a standard American diet to a whole foods plant-based diet. A whole foods plant-based diet refers to a diet centered around unprocessed food from plant sources. This means eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. I focus on eating little to no processed foods. That means you won’t find boxes of cereal, granola bars, pop tarts, or chips in our pantry.
It isn’t about restricting foods to meet an end goal, though this diet has in fact allowed me to lose weight and feel better. In some cases “feel better” can’t be quantified but here are my victories:
- Decreased cholesterol
Alarmingly high cholesterol that I have battled since I first had it tested as a teenager, was drastically lowered by a plant-based diet. A vegetarian or even vegan diet didn’t cause my cholesterol levels to budge. My physician and dietitian suggested statin drugs. They were sure I was doing all I could based on my “healthy” vegetarian diet. I was not convinced that this was the case. It took a drastic change in diet. You can read more here.
- Reversed auto-immune inflammation
Several years ago, I had an autoimmune reaction that could not clearly be diagnosed. I was referred to a rheumatologist whose plan of action was to put me on immune-suppressing drugs with some pretty serious side effects. I opted out and through a long journey of learning what foods truly nourish and heal my body, I no longer have any of those frightening symptoms.
- Stronger immune system
This is an area where a difference won’t come over night but is more of a gradual shift. From adolescence, my immune system has always seemed weak and overworked. The chronic sinus infections I have had my entire teen and adult life are now gone and I feel great. I am rarely sick and my body functions optimally.
I do not say any of this to brag. I am incredibly thankful for the gift of health. However, we are all stewards of the body we have been given and I hope to encourage you to care for yours better by sharing my journey.
In the trendy world of food, diets come and go. You can choose to agree or disagree with my food choices. However, there is no denying the fat content and carcinogen risk of eating a meat-centered diet. What foods are most nutrient dense, providing loads of vitamins and fiber? Plant-based sources. It’s pretty much a no brainer decision for me but I haven’t always been so confident. With so many mixed messages in the media, I have done my research. I’ve read hundreds of diet and nutrition books, textbooks, taken courses, and listened to well-known speakers and experts in the field of nutrition. It’s easy to get confused with so much contradictory information. Now, when I read scientific studies and the latest “research”, I dig a little deeper. Who funded this study? What exactly are the amazing results compared to? There are lots of resources to help you but I recommend starting with www.nutritionfacts.org. Dr. Michael Greger runs this non-profit organization to share nutrition facts with the general public. His book, “How Not to Die” is a great resource as well. He, by the way, donates all of his book proceeds to charity.
Even though I have been a vegetarian the majority of my adult life, it wasn’t until five years ago that I began shifting to veganism. I had read enough studies to know the harm in red meat and animal protein in general. It wasn’t until two years ago that I considered the fact that my diet still needed cleaning up as I shifted into a whole food plant-based diet. I now choose not to eat any animal products including eggs and dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream).
It’s important to recognize that vegan eating is not synonomous with healthy. Vegans can still load up on processed foods. French fries? Vegan. Peanut butter brownies with coconut ice cream? Vegan. The real change comes when we shift our focus to a diet centered on plants. I want to eat life-giving foods. If all of this sounds a bit overwhelming, keep in mind that this was a gradual shift. Do not compare the beginning of your health journey with my middle. Instead, remember what success will look like for YOU. Choosing success isn’t one, grand decision but rather all the teeny tiny choices throughout our day. Success means choosing what you want most over what you want right now. For me, that meant radically changing my eating habits.
An important note about supplementation: I believe a well-rounded plant-based diet provides me with sufficient nutrition. Since many supplements are not FDA approved, I am weary of their effectiveness and safety. In fact, some supplements in isolation have actually been shown to cause harm in the body. However, since I do not eat any meat I take a vitamin B12 supplement. I also make sure to include 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed into my day as a source of omega-3s.
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- Decreased cholesterol