Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Explaining my Cholesterol Numbers - More Brad's

I continued working to improve my cholesterol numbers today with a half slab of good old "Memphis average" ribs at the Brad’s Bar-B-Q in the suburban speed-trap town of Oakland, TN. I’d had a physical recently and I  got my cholesterol numbers back today.

The last time I had my cholesterol checked was in the fall of 2008. Back then I was 20 pounds heavier than I am now and trying to be healthy by eating the kind of diet you’ll hear recommended by “the experts.” My normal breakfast was a bowl of cheerios with one percent milk and a glass of orange juice. A normal lunch was something like a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with reduced-fat “mayo,” American cheese and some kettle chips on the side. For dinner we tried to cook healthy by using plenty of canola oil, olive oil and Smart-Balance margarine. We routinely ate things like grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast. My cholesterol reading then was 164.

I’ve tried to eliminate as much processed food as possible from my diet over the last couple of years. My standard breakfast almost every morning is several fresh eggs from the farmer’s market, cooked in either real butter or coconut oil, with a side of either bacon or sausage also from the farmer’s market. I also have a glass of farm-fresh whole milk that’s unhomogenized so there’s plenty of cream floating at the top of it. I frequently top my eggs with some homemade guacamole. As any regular reader of this blog knows, a typical lunch is barbecue pork with beans and slaw. For dinner we’re more likely to cook bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs than breasts these days. You won’t find any canola oil or Smart-Balance in our house (How did the processed food industry ever get people to believe that healthy foods are created in labs and bear patent numbers?). We still use the olive oil, mainly for salad dressings, but we mainly cook with real butter, coconut oil and pork lard. I eat whenever I’m hungry and make no attempt to count calories or limit fat intake, although I do try to keep myself under 100 grams of carbohydrates a day and severely limit the sugar and corn syrup I consume. My last cholesterol reading was 197.

Plenty of people would just look at those two cholesterol numbers and say that my current diet has made me less healthy, but let’s take a closer look. In 2008, my “bad” LDL cholesterol number was only 76 but my “good” HDL was a mere 35. HDL levels under 40 are said to promote heart disease while levels over 60 actually protect against it. My HDL is now at 61. My “bad" LDL did go up to 113,  but my ratio of LDL to HDL still dropped from 2.18 to 1.87. A ratio less than 2 is considered ideal.

This is the heart-healthy lunch I enjoyed today. Brad's uses 
a slightly different sauce  for their ribs than they do 
on their pulled pork, but both are excellent.

Also, the hard science suggests that we’re paying too much attention to cholesterol anyway. As stunning as it may seem, there is NO actual research supporting the hypothesis that an elevated total cholesterol number increases your risk of heart disease. The “healthy limit” of 200 is mainly a a creation of pharmaceutical companies pushing statin drugs. On top of these drugs' damaging side effects, there is no clinical evidence that they will actually increase the average person with “high” cholesterol’s lifespan.
The biggest real-life indicator of potential heart disease is your ratio of triglycerides to “good” HDL cholesterol. A ratio under 2 is considered ideal, over 4 is bad and over six indicates a serious risk. In 2008 I had a triglyceride level of 264 that divided with my then-HDL level of 35 to create a horrifying ratio of 7.5. I was headed towards a future of heart disease partially because of, not in spite of, my low cholesterol. My triglyceride levels were down to 111 on my last test, which divides with my current HDL of 61 to give me a ratio of 1.8. So I drastically improved my health by replacing Cheerios with eggs and bacon.

Processed vegetable oils cause HDL levels to drop while healthy, natural fats cause them to go up. Triglycerides levels go up in response to carbohydrates, particularly the fructose that is abundant in cane sugar, fruit juice and high fructose corn syrup. Carbohydrates also raise insulin levels, and insulin is the hormone that tells our body to store fat. That’s why my current way of eating caused me to effortlessly drop 20 pounds. If our government is serious about getting sky-rocketing healthcare costs under control, the solution is simple and obvious. Stop subsidizing the crops like wheat, corn and soy that are making people sick. And stop telling people that a healthy diet is based around 6 to 11 servings of grain per day. That lie is what gave us a nation full of people who are simultaneously overweight and malnourished.

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