About eight years ago we discovered that Anthony had very high cholesterol. Not just high, but over 300. Average for Americans, just for a point of reference, is 200. Anthony and myself, as well, we also edging more and more into being overweight (knocking seriously on obese for me). This was in spite of the fact that Anthony rode his bike to work often while I rode around our neighborhood quite a lot.
We started making some food changes. For a while, we ate the Ornish way, which is a good and healthy way to eat, but, for whatever reason, some known and some unknown, we didn't stay with it. For one, I didn't become a convert - a zealot. It seems you have to in order to go so against the stream of popular culture.
Popular culture says to send your kids to school. I'm a homeschooling zealot. Popular culture says to eat plenty of fast food, or, if you're choosing healthy stuff, go with chicken and fish. I'm now most certainly a zealot about that, too. Without the fanatical belief that what you're doing is right, it's hard to go against the stream.
Still, dabbling in the Ornish method still got us moving in a healthier way. We, over the years, started to explore being vegetarians and then vegans. I started to think about how much fat I added to dishes sometimes - yes, even olive oil is fat. I started thinking about how much sugar/corn syrup/total junk I was eating.
Our health got better. Anthony and I both lost weight. His cholesterol became only really high, instead of really, really high.
Mind you, we still wallowed in unhealthy food from time to time, sometimes for months, even, but the overall trend was toward more and more healthy choices.
Three and a half years ago, Anthony's cholesterol was measured at 219. This is a huge improvement from what it was, but is still high. Yes, the average for Americans is 200, but half of all Americans die of a heart attack, so being average is still unhealthy.
A few months later, I stumbled across Eat to Live. This time, I became a believer. I don't know if I was primed by earlier experience or if the material was presented in such a way that it was right for me, but I read it and I though, "Holly Cow! This makes so much sense! We've got to try to eat this way!"
I also learned that to be safe from risk of heart attack, your cholesterol must be 150 or below. This isn't undo-able. In fact, in areas of the world where people eat mostly plant based diets (rice, veggies and fruit, for example), the average cholesterol is less than that - about 125. And, no, it's not genetic. If you take someone eating traditional Chinese foods and move them to America where they start eating the standard American diet, their cholesterol will soar.
Anthony, Davan and I dove headfirst into Fuhrman's way of eating. Due, though, to Anthony's high level of exercise (two hours of bike riding most days) and Davan's being a growing kid, we used Fuhrman's book Disease Proof your Child as our guide. We did it for six weeks no cheats. Then the holidays were upon us, as well as Max moving in, and things slide a bit. Still, we kept the principles in our minds and certainly made healthier choices overall.
Over the next few years, we had a lot of stress and challenges to our eating habits and we did a lot of back sliding. My weight started creeping back up.
Then, a great thing happened. I realized I was unhappy with that situation. I threw myself more and more into educating myself about diet. I discovered many more great books, each of which helped my resolve. My mom lost her job. This wouldn't be considered great, except that it kind of was. She turned out to be glad to be done with her job and is going into retirement. She started cooking for her family. She dove headfirst into nutrition, as well. Having that mutual support system has been great.
For most of the last year, we've been about 90% on plan - that is vegan, whole grain, not much sugar or fat. Additionally, we've been 100% in the last four weeks with our challenge. We decided to get our cholesterol checked. My mom, my step dad, Anthony and I all got blood draws yesterday and the results came this morning.
My mom went from 199 just over a year ago to 163. My step dad, who is on cholesterol lowing drugs, went from 144 about a year and a half ago to 136. Anthony's is down to 176. And me? 147. Not too shabby.
Regardless, most of us were a little disappointed. After all, 150 is heart attack proof. I'm there, but, being the one who's been the most true to this method of eating for the longest, it's not a change for me. My numbers are the same as they were two and a half years ago. My step dad is there, but with meds. We're curious to see what will happen when he stops taking them, which is in his future. My mom's and Anthony's are both down, but not down enough.
There are few things to think about with this, though. One is that there's been a life time to accumulate cholesterol over the years and it takes a while for it to go away. Another is that Anthony is one of those people who is just good at making cholesterol. This is a genetic thing for him. It's not that he can't overcome it, but it is that he needs to be extra vigilant.
That said, there are even more changes we can all make. Nuts and seeds are popular with both families. Olives are a favorite of Anthony's. These things are high fat and only add to cholesterol (although there is some debate about walnuts and almonds, of which a small amount may reduce cholesterol, even though they're high in fat). We can totally ban oil from the house. Anthony can stay vegan when eating out. All things to consider. I can't make these choices for others, other than what I serve, but I can make them for myself and encourage the other. (My step dad would call it badgering, but, hey, whatever works, right?)
I encourage you to get your cholesterol checked. Even if you're young, if you've been eating like most Americans, you most likely have elevated cholesterol. It's not too late, though, to do something about it. It's not inevitable. Let's all take charge of our own health!
(See - a zealot, what can I say?)