Disclaimer Alert: I am not a Doctor of any type, just a guy who has experienced a marked change in health as a result of modifying the way we eat. Please consult your local medical professional before modifying your diet or doing anything else that may impact your health.
Now that we’ve dispensed with the legalese we can get on with the post.
The following post isn’t really photography related but I think it’s important that I get some information out there as it relates to a different way of looking at your diet and how it could potentially improve your health (which could definitely give you more time to enjoy photography). Hopefully some of you who read this can benefit like Pam and I have.
Pam got the results of her latest blood work, which checked all of the regular stuff but mainly was to see what the “almighty cholesterol numbers” were. Well, as we expected, they came out very good, actually more like AWESOMELY EXCELLENT!!! Here’s what the numbers looked like:
Pretty impressive, huh? If you look at the numbers (highlighted) they are actually fairly incredible, especially when you hear how she achieved them (which is probably the exact opposite of what you’ve heard from your Dr and other so-called experts). Before I reveal her secret (and mine as well) let’s look at the numbers and try to put some perspective on them.
Cholesterol Is King
If you have paid any attention at all to the world of health/nutrition you have heard time and time again that your “Cholesterol Panel” is one of the most important indicators of health, especially the health of your heart. Many people see out of control cholesterol as one of the primary indicators of heart disease. In the last 30 years or so there has been a concerted effort to maintain a healthy cholesterol level, whatever that is. Some of the most prescribed medications in the world are Statins, which are used to lower cholesterol levels, often with serious and sometimes deadly side effects. The government has even prescribed dietary controls that are supposed to help us maintain a healthy cholesterol level. We are told over and over to “watch what you eat and be sure to consume plenty of healthy whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat food”. Our obsession with cholesterol has reached epic proportions, and a growing number of people (Pam and I included) believe that we are going about it in the wrong way. More on that later in the post…
Most medical Doctors want to see some specific numbers and ratios when they look at a lab report. Here’s a summary of the “generally accepted” ranges for these various numbers and ration along with Pam’s results.
The number you will see for total cholesterol on most lab reports is <200. Pam’s number was 204, which is right at the top end of the range but is practically a meaningless number when taken whole with the other numbers.
HDL (The “Good”) Cholestrol
HDL is often cited as “The Good Cholesterol” but isn’t actually cholesterol at all but rather a lipoprotein. A higher HDL number indicates that you have more of the good stuff floating around in your blood. For women, the number seems to be “46″ or higher. For men I think the number is “60″. Pam’s number was 102, which is super, super high.
For triglycerides (basically fat particles), lower is better. The standard is normally less than 130 for both men and women. Once again Pam’s number was way outside the norm (in a good way) at 37
LDL (The “Bad”) Cholestrol
LDL is short for “Low Density Lipoprotein” and is the stuff in your blood that can cause problems. The current thinking is that LDL can accumulate on the artery walls, thus narrowing them and potentially leading to a heart attack. The standard for LDL is 130 or less. Pam’s LDL was 95 which is definitely lower than most people.
Total Cholesterol to HDL Ratio
This is the ratio of your total cholesterol to HDL. The lower the ratio the better. The accepted “healthy” ratio is 5 or less, meaning your total cholesterol is 5 times your HDL or lower. Anything less than 3 is considered excellent. Pam’s ratio was 2, (which is calculated by taking her total cholesterol # of 204 and dividing that by her HDL # of 102). That is a fantastically low number.
Why This Is So Important
The reason I’m putting out this long post (on a photography blog no less) is because of the fact that Pam’s cholesterol has improved dramatically in the last 15 months because of some fairly radical changes we’ve made in the way we eat. Back in March of last year Pam’s cholesterol numbers (particularly the LDL and triglycerides) were continuing to creep up just like her Father’s had at about the same age. That was surprising to us as we had been very careful of what we were eating by following the recommendations to eat low-fat and high carb diets for a long time. Pam’s Dr suggested she try to increase the amount of protein in her diet as a way to help improve her cholesterol numbers. We did a lot of research into the Dr’s sugestion and came across a couple of things that basically turned our view of what is a “healthy diet” on its ear. The two websites/blogs that caught our attention were:
The Primal Blueprint - A book as well as a full website by Mark Sisson devoted to the idea that we are designed to eat meat, fruits and veggies instead of processed oils and grains.
Fathead -A fantastic, and entertaining, movie and blog by Tom Naughton that delves into the history of our “fat phobia” and shows how to improve your health by cutting out the carbs and grains from the diet. Its available o Netflix streaming as well as on DVD and is highly recommended!
In addition, there is a book that deserves reading. That book is Wheat Belly and it details how an increasing number of people are being negatively affected by grains in general and wheat in particular.
There are a lot of other resources out there on the subject, but you will get a good start with those.
I won’t go into all the gory details (you can read about/watch them yourself) but suffice it to say that there is a growing body of evidence that suggests we are killing ourselves slowly by eating a high carb, low-fat diet. Instead of fat being the enemy, its actually the carbohydrates and sugar that comes from the digestion of those carbs (including whole grains) that causes inflammation which leads to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Have you ever wondered why childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes have increased so dramatically, even with all the emphasis on “healthy eating” and low-fat diets? The answer to the problem might be to eat more fat and protein and less low-fat milk and cereal.
What We’ve Changed
As a result of our research we drastically changed our diet in March of 2011. Almost overnight we went from eating lots of bread, pasta and low-fat foods to eating nearly zero grains, full-fat dairy and meat, butter, bacon, and a lot of leafy green veggies. We almost never eat food out of a box and one of our favorite snacks is shredded cheese fried in coconut oil (thanks Fathead for that one!). Basically we’ve gone from a grain (and carb) heavy diet to a higher fat, very low carb diet of minimally processed foods. Here’s a short list of what we now eat and how much we eat it:
As much as we want:
-all types of uncured meat like steak, sausage, chicken, pork, fish, (with the fat and skin)
-butter, milk, cream, full-fat yogurt, cheese
-all kinds of vegetables like spinach,romaine, broccoli, green beans, peppers, onions, eggplant, collard greens, chard, tomatoes, eggplant, squash.
-olive and coconut oil
-nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews and peanuts
-cured meats like bacon (yum!!)
-dark chocolate (more than 75% cocoa mass)
-potatoes, white rice, sweet potatoes
-quality craft beer & wine
-wheat or products made with wheat, oats, barley, or corn
-any processed food that comes out of a box
-any “manufactured oils” like vegetable, corn, canola, safflower
-sweets such as cookies, cakes, pastries
If we were to break down our calorie intake by the percentage of carbohydrates, protein and fat here’s some before and after numbers:
As you can see, we’ve pretty much flipped everything upside down. We don’t really worry about the amount of fat that we are eating, we just eat until we’re full. If a typical nutritionist took a look at the foods we eat they would probably freak out. Compared to the USDA Guidelines, we eat more than 2x the saturated fat and cholesterol that are recommended and less than 1/3 the amount of carbohydrates that are suggested. We do follow their guidelines,however, by limiting our intake of sugar.
The results of this change in our diet have been impressive. Both of our cholesterol numbers have improved dramatically, all while eating plenty of “artery-clogging saturated fat”. Our energy level is much better and we no longer get the mid-afternoon blahs that we used to when we were eating a high-carb diet. Our mental clarity has improved as well, which seems to be tied to cutting out the gluten found in many grains. We’re not completely obsessive about sticking to the plan 100% but we do our best to stay consistent over time by following the 80-20 rule. My concession to the “old ways” is my love of good beer (which is made with barley malt) and both of us have been known to have a cookie or slice of pizza from time to time.
Remember To Exercise
All of this “dietary radicalism” is great but it needs to be supported by regular physical activity. You don’t need to run a marathon but you do need to get out and move a little as well as do some basic strength training. Pam goes to Curves and walks while I am into road cycling and running and use a basic home gym to get my workouts.
The Bottom Line
I guess the bottom line is that we have come to believe that the generally accepted dietary guidelines of “low-fat, high carb” may be hurting us more than helping our health. I would urge you to do your own research, keep an open mind, and come to your own conclusions. Everyone is different but I can tell you that we have noticed a dramatic, positive improvement in our general well-being by cutting out the grains and carbs and eating more fat and minimally-processed foods.
Besides, doesn’t eating steak, cheese, bacon and fresh veggies covered in butter sound better than a low-fat chicken patty on a bun with steamed broccoli? It does to me!!