Thursday, November 05, 2009

Five Steps to Better Heart Health (Or, How I Lowered My Cholesterol Levels By More Than a 100 Points in Two Months!)

I've been meaning to post about my recent health scare for some time. But didn't want to commit pen to paper (or rather finger to keyboard) until some kind of milestone in my battle to lower my cholesterol levels had been reached.

It all started at the end of August this year. I went for a routine medical check-up, given free, as part of my women's health insurance package. I didn't expect anything unusual as medical tests have always been routine for me. At least, up until a couple of months ago. Did the usual battery of tests, or so I thought.

It wasn't until I received the medical report several days later that I discovered a) I'd never had my cholesterol levels tested before, and b) they were hideously high. Like fat-Texan-smoker-businessman-John Goodman-type levels of high. (I apologise from the outset if you are a corpulent person born in Southern USA. I mean you no insult. It's just the immediate image that comes to my mind.)

Before my check-up, I never even understood nor cared about cholesterol numbers. But when I saw that the Pathologist had written on my medical report in bright red ink "your LDL cholesterol is very high and needs management from your regular doctor. Please see you doctor for advice", I experienced a huge jolt.

My numbers read thus:

Total cholesterol = 319 (very high)
HDL Cholesterol = 61 (optimal)
LDL Cholesterol = 234 (very high)
Cholesterol ratio = 5.2 (very high)
Triglycerides = 122 (desirable)

An immediate Google search confirmed my fears that my numbers weren't just post-rich meal kind of high, but really way out into the stratosphere type high. More research (while Jordy thankfully napped) flooded my brain with a kaleidescope of information. Still reeling, I headed straight to my GP that evening, and was advised to change my diet to a low-fat one and exercise regularly. I was to return in three months for another blood test and if my numbers were still high, the GP suggested cholesterol-lowering medications.

Shaken, I resolved to develop a plan of action and stick to it, and return in three months as advised. I was also determined not to take any cholesterol-lowering meds if possible. That night, I wrote down my five step plan:

1. Limit intake of bad fats, i.e. saturated and trans-fats.

2. Increase intake of good fats, i.e. fat found in fish, olive oil, nuts, canola oil etc.

3. Increase intake of fibre, especially rolled oats, a "super food" for the heart.

4. Exercise five times a week.

5. Keep a meticulous food diary.

I knew that 2, 3, and 5 would be no problem. Number 1 would be particularly difficult for me, as I really did love my deep fried chicken, chocolate cake, cream biscuits and "bah kwa" (for those unfamiliar, that's the yummiest roast pork delicacy we eat during Chinese New Year). And Number 4, try asking most stay-at-home-mums (with no helper or grandparents living at home) if they even have time to wash their face in the day, and most will give you a derisive snort! So I wasn't that confident I'd be able to make the five times a week target for exercise.

I decided to go easy on myself regarding the exercise, and try to fit in short bursts of any kind of activity with Jordy. I would count walks to the parks and supermarket, and even short sprints when I chase after him anywhere.

I also decided that in order to maintain the plan, a whole overhaul regarding what I bought in the store, and chose to put in my mouth would have to take place! So I started reading labels. And researching low-fat recipes that hopefully wouldn't compromise on taste (so very important!). And I came up with about five or six staple recipes for dinners and lunches, which would be easy to modify and adapt based on what ingredients I had.

A sample day's menu would look like this:

Rolled oats (cooked in water)

Fruit salad

Thai fish cakes
Steamed broccoli

Wholemeal cajun chicken pizza, with mushrooms and peppers (sardines or anchovies and peppers also go nicely on this pizza base)

Olive oil chocolate chip cookies

I also took the GNC Cholesterol fish oil and plant sterol supplement, as well as garlic supplements daily.

I pretty much cooked my own food for 90% of meals, eating out only during the weekends.

I'll post more about my recipes in a while, but just wanted to share with everyone that I just got my latest blood test back and in two and a half months, my cholesterol readings have now reduced to:

Total cholesterol = 214 (borderline high)
HDL Cholesterol = 44 (desirable)
LDL Cholesterol = 143 (borderline high)
Cholesterol ratio = 4.9 (high)
Triglycerides = 137 (desirable)

I am beyond happy and am very inspired by my own body! Am going to persevere with my new low-fat diet and try to maintain as active a lifestyle as I can. My next blood test will be in another three months. I hope to get my cholesterol levels to the desirable range of 100+. Woo hoo!


maree said...

Well done Dora!!!! What an achievement. I am very proud of you. Often, young Mum's forget about their own bodies as they take on the exhausting tasks in raising wee ones. I am sure Dalmeny Street diet won't screw you up too much - we defianately do oats!!! Send me a wee list of staples that you have & we can all have.

JY said...

So proud of you! What discipline and self-control! Looking forward to your recipes