The Healthy Doctor Cholesterol Challenge: a Mediterranean Diet makeover
I have a confession to make. I have high cholesterol levels. It’s probably genetic, but I did manage to get it to normal levels on several occasions after changing my diet. Unfortunately I have a strong family history of heart disease, so I need to be extra cautious with my heart health.
Anyhow, monitoring my cholesterol levels fell by the wayside with two babies in succession. With my second baby now almost 15 months, I thought it was time to see what those levels were doing. I also wanted to find out how much of an impact exercise makes on cholesterol. I did my test the week after my 15K race and had been running 20-25 km every week for about 6 weeks. I thought my diet was ok, pretty good really, compared to the average Joe’s. Little processed food, lots of vegetables.
One of the perks of being a GP is that you can check your own blood test results before you see your own GP. I log on the evening of having my blood test and see that my cholesterol levels have skyrocketed! The highest they’ve ever been! This made me quite grumpy initially, to be sure. How could this be! For a while, I was in denial and making the excuses that I hear constantly from patients.
I’m a healthy person. I eat well. I don’t eat biscuits or cakes. I take the fat off all meat. I don’t know what else I can change. I do all the right things. I exercise. My diet is really healthy. This is so unfair! My husband/friend eats crap and has no problems with cholesterol/weight/blood sugar. I am a healthy person, dammit!! (cue apoplectic fit).
The thing is, your body doesn’t lie. The weighing scales, cholesterol tests, diabetes tests. You can lie to yourself all you like, but the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. If you’re not happy with the way things are going, something about your lifestyle has to change, no matter how great you think you are doing now. This is where journalling your diet and activity levels can be very insightful.
- Eggs. Lots of them. I developed an egg addiction after my daughter outgrew her egg allergy. I had missed eggs so much that I am now in a two-egg a day habit. I read all the stuff about how eggs aren’t as bad for cholesterol as doctors used to think. But I have a suspicion they weren’t talking about fourteen eggs a week. Or more.
- Red meat. Too much for my small frame. You know how they say eat an amount the size of your palm? I think I was eating the size of three palms.
- Getting lazy with my diet because of my race. In the week before my diet I had cake at morning tea, because I wanted to “carb up”. I had pasta with a cream sauce. And ice cream. And Easter biscuits. Hot chips after the race. Creamy pasta again after the race.
My heart attack risk is actually less than 1% at the moment, mainly because of my relatively young age, and I don’t have any other risk factors apart from family history and cholesterol. Some argue that cholesterol levels may not actually be linked to heart disease at all. I’m not going to be a guinea pig and wait for them to tell me they got it wrong. If there’s a link, I’ll do whatever I can to change. It’s my insurance policy.
So I’m going to adopt a Mediterranean lifestyle. No, not eating lots of pasta, but the diet of Cretan peasants that is linked to low levels of heart disease (and high levels of satisfaction!) I found a great article on the Mediterranean diet which summarises the “Ten Commandments” really well. I can see this extending to a lot of cuisines such as Indian, Moroccan and Mexican. I’ll be on the hunt for family-friendly recipes that can be prepared in less than 20 minutes. Recipes welcome!! Hooray for the wine with meals thing, I say!!