Learn how I reduced my bad LDL cholesterol 25% in 2 months by following a low cholesterol diet with daily cholesterol intake not exceeding 200 mg.
In the picture below you can see that September 11th, 2012 my LDL cholesterol result was 3.7 mmol/L (143 mg/dl). 2 months later November 9th 2012, I managed to reduce it to 2.7 mmol/L (104.4 mg/dl). My HDL kept at the same level of 1.8 mmol/L (69.6 mg/dl).
My wife during the same period lowered her LDL cholesterol results from 5.0 to 4.2 mmol/L (from 193.3 to 162.4 mg/dl), whilst her good HDL went down as well, be it slightly from 1.8 to 1.7 mmol/L (from 69.6 to 65.7 mg/dl).
Superfoods to reduce LDL strategy: fail!
My first attempt to lower my LDL cholesterol was what I call "the superfood strategy". By having an oats breakfast daily with a cup of green tea, I added not only 1 but 2 superfoods that help to lower LDL. However, in the next 6 months my LDL cholesterol increased 20% from 3.1 to 3.7 mmol/L (from 119.9 to 143 mg/dl).
So simply relying on incorporating 2 "superfoods" in my daily routine, without changing anything else, just didn’t work for me.
Daily cholesterol intake below 200 mg strategy:succes!
My improved strategy to lower my LDL results was to make sure my daily cholesterol intake didn’t exceed 200 mg, as 1 out of the list of lifestyle changes recommended by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), like I described here.
Why didn’t I consider following all the other 5 guidelines being:
- lower intake of saturated fats,
- eat more soluble fiber,
- manage your weight
- eat food fortified with plant stanols and
- increase your physical activities?
Because I wanted to maximize results with minimal effort.
Lowering cholesterol in food was the easiest achieved in lowering my intake of meat and diary products. Hence automatically:
- I lowered my saturated fat intake (fats from vegetables are less saturated) and
- increased my intake in fibers.
(3) Looking at my weight wasn’t a concern since I am not overweight. I am not interested in a low fat diet, as that could lead to lowering both your bad and good cholesterol, and I am quite happy with my HDL.
(4) Why did I opt not to buy food fortified with stanols? Because if I need to buy artificially added stanols, I might as well buy foodsupplements like Cholest-Natural from Xtendlife that contain a cocktail of stanols and other ingredients that could lower your LDL and increase your HDL. I learned from my "superfood strategy" that if you opt for superfoods, then don’t limit yourself to 1 or to, so if I need to add stanols, I will add a whole cocktail of super ingredients.
(5) Why did I opt not to exercise more? Because my wife added exercising in her lifestyle change, so I could have an idea how much impact a cholesterol lowering diet has without extra exercise, compared to a similar diet with exercise.
For my plan B: once my diet wouldn’t have any benefit, I would surely have bought the (4) foodsupplements like Cholest-Natural from Xtendlife and (5) would have gone on the treadmill immediately as well.
What do I think about statins?
Statins are known for lowering LDL cholesterol. If you have high LDL result and you smoke, are diabetic, have a high blood pressure, are overweight, and are as old or older than me (48) without high levels of good HDL, I understand that doctors will tell you to go on statins immediately.
If you are my age (above 45 and male, above 55 and female), but you have a good HDL (above 1.55 mmol/L or above 60 mg/dL) and no other cardio vascular disease risk factors, you should get worried when a doctor tells you that you need to go on statins, like in the example of my wife and her doctor. Simply looking at her LDL, the doctor concluded she had to go on statins, because according to him "she wouldn’t be able to get her LDL down by herself". His added salespitches were:
- you have no clue how big the damage done by to high LDL levels already is, so better act fast
- you can even loose some weight by taking statins
- I even put my father on statins
- statins are the most sold drugs worldwide
- the drugs are much more safe than before: the only side effects of the new statin drugs are only related to the joints
- new research tells you that to be save, your LDL cholesterol now needs to be below 1.8 mmol/L or 70 mg/dL.
However, the complete research statement from the Mayo Clinic, the NHLBI and the American Heart Association clearly states: below 1.8 mmol/L (70 mg/dL) is the optimal LDL cholesterol level for people with a very high risk of heart disease.
We went to another doctor who first looked at my wife’s cholesterol results, then asked about all the other possible cardio vascular disease risk factors to conclude that it was up to my wife to take statins or to continue trying to get the LDL lower with lifestyle changes.
I think statins should be taken if your health is at risk and they are the best or only solution to reduce that risk. I do find it bad and sad practice that some doctors start acting like "statin salesmen", misinforming their patients about the research, findings and recommendations about cardio vascular diseases and just focusing on the cholesterol result of your bloodtest.
What do I think about superfoods like oats?
I was under the false impression that eating oats and drinking green tea – without changing anything else in my diet – would lower my LDL big time.
I now have hands on experience that simply relying on 1 or 2 superfoods, just didn’t improve my LDL results.
However, I keep on reading what is supposed to be good and healthy and I try to incorporate anything delicious that fits into my daily 200 mg cholesterol diet.
For now I’m eating 3 superfoods daily as my breakfast consists of rolled oats in almond milk (soaked overnight, freshly peeled and blended) with a mug of green tea, all prepared with lots of love by my dear wife.
Why did I lose 25% of LDL and my wife 16%?
We more or less eat the same things, unless we go and eat out. Other differences are:
- I snack on nuts, my wife snacks on cookies
- I add freshly made almond milk from peeled almonds (a so called cholesterol lowering superfood) to my oat breakfast, my wife only eats oats.
The good news is that we both lost LDL and it clearly shows that a similar diet that works for one, doesn’t have to give similar results for somebody else.
What amazed the both of us was the HDL levels that didn’t increase because of exercising: my wife almost every day runs on the treadmill, but I don’t. I do swim occasionally, but sometimes not even once a week, yet our HDL levels are similar.
The challenges of a new diet
The diet itself sounds easy: count your cholesterol, know that plants don’t contain cholesterol, and you will get the hang of it: at day 3 our daily intake was already below 100mg.
- some incomplete food labels don’t mention the amount of cholesterol content (+ at my (49) age above 45 having an added risk factor because of getting old, my old eyes aren’t ideally equipped to read the small print…double trouble…)
- eating out is "terrible" as you don’t have much of a clue how big a portion is you will get served, if cream, eggs, butter… is added, and some restaurants love to dish up humongous amounts of meat. In other words: eating out becomes a nightmare when you want to count your daily intake.
- going on holidays = eating out 3 times a day. Added challenge is that trying out new food is part of the holiday experience.
- you need to spend more time sourcing ingredients (reading food labels), looking for new recipes and cooking new dishes
- due to the new dishes: some meals make you hungry pretty fast, so you need to have a healthy snack available all the time.
The solutions and work arounds:
- * When food labels aren’t available, try another brand or use estimations online.
* The good news is that anything sourced from a plant is cholesterol free.
* Avoid everything that has names on the package your grandmother doesn’t understand as food. Don’t buy anything that contains trans fat.
- * Some restaurants are "cholesterol friendly" than others. e.g a Japanese restaurant offers fresh sushi fish cuts and their salads are without mayonaise. Of course Japanese restaurants aren’t the cheapest (although some set lunches with fish are very good value for money), but: if you discipline yourself to go out less, your restaurant budget will be able to let you dine in restaurants that serve delicious and cholesterol friendly alternatives.
* A good, healthy yet "more expensive" dish once in a while could be still cheaper than having to pay daily for statins for the rest of your life.
* Foods to avoid on the menu list: do know that 100 mg of organ-food, squid, eggs and cuttle fish exceeds 200 mg of cholesterol. Make sure you eat big portions of egg free salads, rice, noodles and go easy of the meat. By all means buy yourself fish in stead of meat, as fish in general contains much healthier oils and fats than meat.
* Peas, nuts and lentils contain proteins as well. Just don’t eat too much beans at once, or your digestive system gets overly bloated with air.
* Cholesterol free thosai should be your favorite "bread" of choice when you go out eating Indian food.
* Last but not least: when you know that your cholesterol daily intake shouldn’t be higher than 200mg, you can plan your other meals to be vegetarian or very extremely low in cholesterol.
- * Make sure not to throw in the towel by deciding: "let’s eat all I can and once I am back home, I will go on a diet again".
* Know that a daily intake of 300 mg cholesterol is recommended for people who don’t need to lower their LDL, that’s 100 mg per meal: so at least try to aim for 200 hoping that you wont go over 300, so at least you keep a status quo.
* If you love to eat and try out new food like we do: try small portions. No need to finish all the cockles, especially when they are not overly delicious.
- * Source for fresh produce with little shelf-life and:
* Make more time for cooking. Fastfood is unfortunately part of the cause of diabetic and cholesterol related diseases.
- * My favorite snacks of choice are nuts (without fried coating of course). It is another challenge to find nuts that don’t have anything added to them, but once you sourced a few supermarkets and organic shops, you will be good to go.
* I do carry a packet of nuts with me where-ever I go. For those who know that nuts contain 50% so called healthy fat (macadamia nuts even 75%): I take peanuts and pistachio nuts: as the cracking and peeling of the nuts makes sure you don’t gobble down a package in less than a minute. As an added bonus, I lost 1 kg (2 pounds) in 2 months, so the overall diet keeps my weight stable.
I managed to lower my LDL cholesterol 25% following a diet consuming less than 200 mg cholesterol a day and without trans fats. Since my wife’s LDL is still not in the recommended range and my LDL cholesterol is just above the reference range, we will continue for another 2 months to see what the new results will be.
Main challenges are:
- eating out without busting the diet and
- finding new, delicious recipes that are fast and easy to cook
- making sure eating during holidays can be both fun and healthy.