Despite being vegan since March 8th of 2016, and eating a whole-foods plant-based no-oil diet (at home) since the summer of 2016, I’m still battling high cholesterol. This is the story of my journey to lower it, hopefully without medication.

Can Vegans Get Heart Disease? Update #2

This is the third blog in the series about my long-term battle with high cholesterol. The first blog goes into great detail about the question, “Can Vegans Get Heart Disease?” and looks at my own diet and lifestyle as contributors to my high cholesterol. The second blog, “Can Vegans Get Heart Disease? Update #1” takes a look at my progress after 1 month of dietary changes. And in this blog post, we’ll look at my progress after 3 months.

If you haven’t yet, you might want to take a look at the first two blog posts for more detail, background and the reasoning for my dietary changes. You may also like to peruse our Best Plant Based Books for the basis behind these changes.

Cholesterol, Triglycerides and Weight after Three Months of Dietary Intervention

First, let’s look at the results from my 3 different blood tests at the start, after 1 month and after 3 months:

Start July 4Month 1Month 3Total Drop
Total Cholesterol22518820025
LDL (Bad) Cholesterol12810711612
Triglycerides29624726135
Body Weight (LBS)18017116614

Not so good, huh? While still lower than the start, my total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides all went back up a little despite losing another 5 pounds of body weight.

I’ve lost a total of 14 pounds, but all of that came in the first two months of the low-fat diet. I lost nearly 2 pounds per week for two months just by cutting out the oil, chocolate and avocados. I also reduced my alcohol (beer and wine) consumption by about 80%, from several times per week to one drink every week or two.

I’m now an even bigger believe in Dr. John McDougall’s quote, “The fat you eat is the fat you wear.”

Last month, we took a 10 day trip to the coast of Ecuador so my eating wasn’t as clean. In fact, I gained 3 pounds over that 10 days from eating out and drinking more beer and wine than usual. However, I lost that 3 pounds within the first 2 weeks of being back in Cuenca.

Villa de Los Sueños La Entrada Penthouse View

Originally, I thought that my ideal weight would be 170, but I’m now 166 and still have a few more pounds to lose. Those stubborn fat pockets around the middle just don’t seem to want to go away. I’m guessing 160 is my ideal weight now. Six more pounds should rid me off my already much smaller spare tire.

Thoughts About My High Cholesterol and Triglycerides

I have to admit that these latest test results are a bit disheartening. I thought for sure that my numbers would be lower, not higher.

We have been eating out a little more than we were during the first two months of this experiment, but still not much, and our favorite restaurants cook without oil for me.

We’re eating a hearty breakfast every day of Raw Rolled Oats with ground flax and chia, which are high in fat, but also high in omega-3’s. Since we don’t eat seafood or take omega-3 supplements, we need to get omega-3’s from somewhere so we’ve selected flax and chia. We’re eating an Easy Garden Salad every day, as well as about 5 servings of fruit per day.

Raw Rolled Oats Breakfast

Easy Garden Salad

Except for an occasional piece of sourdough bread, we’re eating a truly whole-food plant-based no-oil (WFPBNO) diet, so what gives? This is by FAR the healthiest I’ve ever eaten in my life! There isn’t much left for me to eliminate!

My goal, based on recommendations from the plant-based doctors, is to get my total cholesterol under 150, my LDL cholesterol under 70 and my triglycerides under 100. At these ranges, heart disease is unheard of in populations around the world.

However, this may not be possible for me. It’s obvious that my body is super sensitive to saturated fat. Since I don’t consume cholesterol or trans fats, those two common sources that increase blood serum cholesterol in most people can’t be blamed for my high cholesterol.

Additionally, it appears that my body produces more cholesterol than the average person, making it much harder for me to lower my stats to the optimal ranges. However, some studies show that my risk of heart disease and stroke are already substantially lower simply by not consuming cholesterol, animal protein or trans fats.

In his book, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, Ornish explains that some of his test subjects were never able to get their cholesterol into the heart attack proof range, but several other biomarkers for heart disease substantially improved anyway.

I’m still not ready to give up though…

Degenerative Disc Disease

Before I go into the next steps that I’m going to take to lower my cholesterol, there’s some new information that I’ve learned since writing the first blog post in this series. Some research suggests that the Degenerative Disc Disease, which significantly contributed to my two spinal surgeries, may be caused by clogged spinal arteries. By age 20, 10% of people have advanced spinal artery blockages.

I’ve had high cholesterol for at least 13 years. That’s when I first discovered it as part of a routine blood test for life insurance. At 33 years old, my cholesterol was already close to 250 and my life insurance premiums were significantly higher as a result. The insurance company seemed pretty concerned that I might die prematurely so they doubled my rate. I went to the doctor that week and he put me on a statin after several months of diet and exercise improvements failed to significantly lower my cholesterol levels.

Given how high my cholesterol was at 33, I think it’s safe to assume it has been high for quite some time. Perhaps since I was in college or even high school. We now know heart disease starts in childhood among those eating the western diet that’s high in animal products and processed foods.

So heart disease isn’t the only concern in lowering my cholesterol levels. I would also like to avoid future surgeries on my neck and back, which means I need to clean out the arteries that feed my spinal discs so they get all the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Next Steps to Lower Cholesterol and Triglycerides

From a dietary elimination perspective, there’s only one change that might make a difference: no more sourdough bread. I don’t eat very much bread anyway, but I’ve reduced total bread consumption even more and I’m limiting it to only whole grain bread.

We’ve also reintroduced walnuts back into our diet since they have been shown to lower cholesterol, as well as total heart disease related mortality.

A lot of the phytonutrients in our Easy Garden Salad are fat soluble, which means we need some fat along with the greens for our bodies to extract more of the beneficial phytonutrients. Walnuts may help lower my cholesterol or at least my chance of developing heart disease, and adding them to my salad may help my body get more bang for my salad buck.

In addition to walnuts, we’ve started adding amla powder to our breakfast oats. In a head-to-head test, amla powder did just as well at lowering cholesterol as simvastatin.

Coincidentally, simvastatin was the cholesterol lowering drug I took for several years back in my 30’s (about 10 years ago). However, the side effects of muscle loss, weakness and general fatigue became too great and I eventually stopped taking it, which resulted in my total cholesterol creeping back up to a high of 270 before we switched to WFPB diet.

Amla powder is made from Indian gooseberries and is the most antioxidant rich food on the planet with more than 100 times more antioxidants than blueberries. It has been used in India for thousands of years to treat everything from fevers to diabetes. “Indian gooseberries have also been found to have cholesterol-lowering and cough-, fever-, pain-, stress-, and diarrhea-suppressing effects.”

We brought a bag of organic amla powder back with us from the states on our last trip, but I wanted to wait and see how low my cholesterol would go with only dietary changes before I started using it.

Now that it appears I’ve reached the lowest attainable point without an intervention, I think it’s time to try this supposed magic powder. Since I’m so sensitive to everything else, maybe this will work wonders for me. I’m skeptical, but it’s worth a try. Fingers crossed.

Clinical trials show that just 1/8th of a teaspoon a day can significantly reduce total and LDL cholesterol to normal ranges in just 3 weeks. We’ve decided to use 1/2 a teaspoon in our breakfast oats for good measure, and since it’s just the powdered remains of dried Indian gooseberries, there are no side effects other than potentially better health.

In case you’re wondering, we can’t taste it in our oats. I even drank a glass of water with 1/2 a teaspoon of the amla powder mixed in. I can’t say I liked it, but it wasn’t bad. It tasted similar to an unflavored fiber powder supplement, if you’ve ever had a glass of that.

Never Give Up. Never Surrender.

After I got these latest test results, it pretty much ruined my day. It’s very disappointing to have a body that seems to be fighting its own existence, but my brain isn’t giving up.

After discussing the test results with Amelia, I told her the steps I planned to take next. She told me she was proud of me for not giving up. She said that most people would stop trying under the same circumstances, but that didn’t cross my mind. I’m determined to coax my body into the heart attack proof realm with natural methods, not statins. Maybe it’ll help my aching back, too.

Stay tuned for next month’s update. Let’s see if amla powder lives up to the claims.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.
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Can Vegans Get Heart Disease? Update #1

Last month, I wrote about my long-term battle with high cholesterol in “Can Vegans Get Heart Disease?“. Despite going vegan nearly 2 and a half years ago, eating WFPB (Whole-Food Plant-Based) for over 2 years, and cooking without oil for the past year and a half, I still had high cholesterol at my annual checkup.

Since sharing my story with you last month, I made a few changes to my diet in yet another attempt to lower my cholesterol without medication.

Dietary Intervention to Lower Cholesterol

No AvocadosThe first change I made was to stop eating avocado toast for breakfast every morning. Instead, we started eating heart-healthy organic oats most morning. While avocados are a healthy food overall, they are high-fat and high-calorie. According to some research, it doesn’t matter where the saturated fat comes from if you’re worried about heart disease.

Dr. Esselstyn recommends avoiding high fat plants like avocados, nuts and coconuts if your goal is to reverse heart disease. Since I have a strong family history of heart disease and stroke, and since I’ve been battling high cholesterol since my early 30’s (even after eating WFPB for 2 years), I think it’s safe to assume my ticker isn’t in top condition.

The second and probably the most significant change, was to cut out all oil. While we rarely cook with oil at home, we didn’t make much of an effort to avoid it when eating out. And we were eating out 3 to 5 times per week. During the last month, I’ve been able to avoid nearly all oil by asking the restaurants we frequent to cook without it and they were happy to oblige.

No Cooking OilNamaste, our favorite Indian restaurant here in Cuenca, Ecuador, even omitted the coconut milk for me. They’re a vegan friendly restaurant, with the vegan/vegetarian dishes occupying the first two pages of their menu.

When I asked them to cook without oil or coconut milk, they warned me that the dishes wouldn’t taste the same. They wanted to lower my expectations. However, I like their food better without the fat. It’s not as heavy and doesn’t deliver what Amelia calls the “Namaste Knockout Punch” that we used to feel on our walk home. It made for a good night’s sleep, but wasn’t so good for our arteries.

Our good friends at Fratello Vegan are also on point to help us cut the oil. After looking at the research and learning more about the WFPB diet, they had already cut way back on oil in their dishes even before I talked to them about my cholesterol issues. Now, they’re extra sensitive with me and they’re careful to point out which items still have oil so I can order something without it. They also told me to let them know ahead of time when we’re coming and they can make something special for me sans oil.

The third change I made was to drastically reduce the amount of alcohol I was consuming. Beer and wine are my bebidas favoritas (favorite drinks), and I drank them several times per week. I had intended to cut them out completely, but I’ve had a couple of beers in the past month. We can’t get Guinness (my super favorite beer) in Ecuador, so I drank a couple while we were in the states in late July.

The fourth change was cutting out the chocolate. I had been eating a lot of delicious Ecuadorian chocolate, which is high in saturated fat. Chocolate is also loaded with antioxidants, but when you’re battling high cholesterol and the potential for heart disease, you’re better off getting your antioxidants from fruits and veggies instead of high-fat processed foods like chocolate.

The fifth change I made was to cut back on the whole grain bread consumption. I’m still eating it, just not very often; only a couple slices per week.

Spinach SaladThe sixth change was to increase my intake of dark leafy greens in colorful salads. I was eating salads a few times per week before my last cholesterol test. Since then, I’ve been eating a salad with lunch and dinner almost every day. Dr. Esselstyn explains how dark leafy greens cause our arteries to produce nitric oxide, which helps clean them. I love salads anyway, so no complaints from me.

I had intended to increase my swimming to 5 times per week, but I actually went swimming only a few times in the past month. That’s partly because we spent 2 weeks in the states, and I didn’t have access to a swimming pool for much of that time. Additionally, the heater broke in the pool at La Universidad de Cuenca where I swim here in Ecuador, and the water felt like it was just above the freezing point according to a friend. I still have extreme sensitivity to cold temperatures following my spinal cord damage so swimming in cold water isn’t an option for me.

To review my dietary intervention, I stopped eating high-fat foods like avocados, nuts and cooking oil. I cut out most of the alcohol I was drinking. I stopped eating chocolate, reduced my bread consumption and increased my dark leafy green salad consumption.

So how did all of this affect my cholesterol? I’ll get to that in one minute, but first, I want to share where I got the basis for these dietary changes.

Resources for Lowering Cholesterol with Diet

In the past month, I read 4 more books on nutrition:

Suffice it to say, all of these books reference legitimate, unbiased, non-industry funded studies to support their claims that a low-fat, high-complex carb diet can prevent and even reverse heart disease.

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Dr. EsselstynDr. Esselstyn’s book provides the most compelling evidence from his 2-decade long study of patients with advanced heart disease. The “walking dead” as they were called by their cardiologists, were told to go home and get their affairs in order; they were not candidates for further heart surgeries. But instead of throwing in the towel on life and sitting at home waiting to die, they joined Dr. Esselstyn’s program to see if their condition could be reversed with a low-fat, WFPB no-oil diet.

Twenty years later, all but one of the subjects was still alive. After being given less than a year to live following conventional treatments of surgery and medication, their heart disease improved so dramatically from eating a low-fat diet that they kept on living for two more decades after their “death sentence.”

Blue Zones Dan BuettnerIn Dan Buettner’s book, he investigates the “Blue Zones” around the world where people “forget to die.” It’s common in these areas for people to live over 100 years, while remaining active and mentally sound.

The main common denominator among all 5 Blue Zones is their largely WFPB diet. Many of the longest lived people eat an almost entirely vegan diet with very little to no animal products or oil. Some in the Mediterranean region do eat olive oil, but since they aren’t eating processed foods loaded with every other kind of oil, their oil intake is low compared to the western diet.

The people being studied by legitimate, non-industry funded researchers consistently find that people eating a low-fat, vegan diet live longer, more vibrant lives. They aren’t overweight or taking lots of medications. They don’t have heart disease, cancer, diabetes or any of the other preventable diseases that kill Americans and western eaters. They are living healthy, active lives for an average of 7 to 14 years longer!

All of these books should be required reading for doctors and other health professionals. The diet-related diseases that kill millions of people every year and reduce the quality of life for millions more do not need to exist. These books reinforced what I already knew and gave me some guidance for how to implement cholesterol lowering changes in my own diet.

You can read my full reviews of these books and others in our Recommended Books section….

Cholesterol, Triglycerides and Weight after One Month of Dietary Intervention

My doctor wanted me to wait 3 months to get my cholesterol checked again, but Dr. Esselstyn recommends getting your numbers checked every month for 4 months following the start of a dietary intervention. So I convinced my doc to send me for more blood work after one month.

Here are the results from eating a truly low-fat diet for one month:

  • Jul 4
  • Total Cholesterol
  • LDL (Bad) Cholesterol
  • Triglycerides
  • Body Weight
  • Jul 4
  • 225
  • 128
  • 296
  • 180
  • Aug 7
  • 188
  • 107
  • 247
  • 171
  • Drop
  • 37
  • 21
  • 49
  • 9

All of my levels dropped…considerably! A total cholesterol drop of 37 points puts me in the healthy range according to the US government guidelines. However, nearly 1/3 of all heart disease patients have total cholesterol levels between 150 and 200. But with a total cholesterol below 150, heart disease is virtually unheard-of. That’s the range that’s been labeled “heart attack proof” by the plant-based scientists and doctors who spend their lives studying nutrition.

You’ll also notice I’ve lost 9 pounds in about 5 weeks. That’s almost 2 pounds per week! Did I starve myself to achieve this goal? Did I double the amount of exercise I was doing? Did I take a magic weight loss pill?

Nope. In fact, I’ve been consuming more volume of food than I did before. It’s just healthy food without calorie dense fats. And I haven’t increased my physical activity, either. If anything, due to the two weeks of travel, I did LESS physical activity than I normally do. The weight has just dropped off, and surprisingly fast!

People constantly blame carbs for weight gain, but once you stop believing the Big Food and animal ag propaganda, you’ll realize that carbs don’t make you fat. Calories make you fat and fat has more than twice the calories per gram as carbs or protein.

That’s why vegans, and especially people eating a WFPB diet, are the only group of American eaters with a healthy average body weight and BMI. In fact, you’re 4 times more likely to be overweight or obese eating a non-vegan diet!

Those who blame supposedly high-carb foods like doughnuts, cookies and potato chips for weight gain are accusing the wrong culprit. Almost 50% of the calories in a doughnut comes from fat, almost 52% of the calories in a chocolate chip cookie comes from fat, and almost 60% of the calories in potato chips comes from fat. These aren’t high-carb foods! They’re high-fat foods!

Junk Food High Fat

One of the great things about eating WFPB no-oil is that you don’t have to count calories or keep track of what you eat. If you eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, with avocados, seeds and nuts sparingly, you can eat until you’re not hungry without worrying about your weight.

When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m not hungry anymore, I stop eating. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

With that said, I have been keeping track of my food consumption using MyFitnessPal since I started this dietary intervention. This is more for experimental reasons than weight loss. I wanted to know with certainty, what I was eating in terms of fat, carbs and protein. That way, I would have more context for my next round of cholesterol test results, regardless of whether they improved or got worse.

To show you that carbs don’t make you fat, here are my daily macro nutrient ratios for the past two weeks:

July 23 to July 29 Macro Nutrient Ratios

July 30 to August 5 Macro Nutrient Ratios

As you can see, I’ve been eating close to 80% of my calories from carbs and I’ve lost 9 pounds! My fat and protein intake have averaged about 10% of total calories. All of these stats are in-line with the recommendations from plant-based scientists and doctors like Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. T. Collin Campbell, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. John McDougall and others.

JP Weight Loss

And here is a chart of my weight loss over the past year eating a WFPB vegan diet. I’ve lost 24 pounds total, with 9 falling off over the past 5 weeks just by cutting back on fat.

We’ve been brainwashed to believe that we need more protein and fat than we actually need, and less complex carbs and fiber than we really need. The result is a growing population of people who are fat, sick and nearly dead.

Eating a high-carb, low-fat WFPB diet is not only healthy, it’s the only diet proven to prevent and reverse heart disease. It’s also the diet that’s eaten by the world’s longest-lived people.

My next cholesterol check is in a month. I’ll share my update with you so you can keep track of my progress.

Can Vegans Get Heart Disease? Update #2 Now Available…

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And please share with your friends to help spread the word about healthy plant-based eating.
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Can Vegans Get Heart Disease?

Yesterday, my mom had a stent put in her heart to fix an 80-90% blockage in one of her arteries after eating a mostly healthy Mediterranean Diet most of her life. She’s doing ok now and should be able to go home today. I also found out yesterday that my cholesterol and triglycerides are still high, even after 2 years of eating a whole-foods plant-based no-oil  (WFPBNO) diet…well mostly. More on that below. My mom’s heart disease and my horrible cardiovascular numbers have left me wondering, can vegans get heart disease?

My Mom

JP’s Mom and Child

My mom is now in her mid-70’s. She has always been active and a healthy cook, at least according to American standards. I remember as a kid, dad and I would WATCH the :20 Minute Workout while she actually DID the :20 Minute Workout. It’s still more fun to watch it than to do it!

She walks almost every day and does physical therapy for her knees and hips, which are still hers. Overall, she has always been very active and a mostly healthy weight.

In addition to regular exercise, she has always eaten lots of fruits, vegetables, dark leafy greens, nuts, legumes and whole grains. She’s never been a big meat eater, but she does eat some lean meats despite my efforts to get her to give it up.

She also likes cottage cheese and skim milk for breakfast, and the occasional egg. Oh, and she cooks with olive oil, but not a lot and much less these days. Excluding eating at restaurants, her diet is almost textbook Mediterranean without the fish and wine (she hates fish and alcohol doesn’t agree with her).

Over the course of her life, she has probably eaten a 70% WFPB (Whole-Foods Plant-Based) diet, with it being closer to 80% over the past several years. By commonly accepted American dietary standards, she should be healthy. So why is she in the hospital sporting a brand new heart stent? Of all the people in my family, she’s the last one (besides me) that I would expect to have cardiovascular disease.

Despite her active lifestyle and “healthy” Mediterranean diet, she still has high cholesterol, which is probably the reason for her current heart condition. But if she’s eating a healthy Mediterranean diet, how can she still have high cholesterol?

Before you say, “But cholesterol and saturated fat don’t cause heart disease!” I’m sorry to say, yes they do. We’ve known this for decades. The plaque in our arteries is literally made of oxidized cholesterol. The confusion on this topic was manufactured by the meat, dairy, egg and cooking oil industries with studies designed to create doubt where none existed. They simply can’t afford to have you stop eating their products, even if it kills you.

My Battle With High Cholesterol

Like my mom, I’ve always been pretty active and eaten a Mediterranean-style diet. That is, until 2 years ago when I went WFPBNO. I was a very picky eater as a kid, but I still ate healthier food than most adults did thanks to mom’s cooking.

As a new adult cooking on my own, I ate veggies and lean meats at most meals. Breakfast was usually eggs or oatmeal. I didn’t eat much fruit, legumes or whole grains (except oatmeal), and I’ve never been a processed food eater.

JP in 2009 after P90X

In the 2007 to 2009 timeframe, I did P90X with Tony Horton pretty religiously. I was in the best shape of my life. I ate an almost strictly Mediterranean diet with some whey protein shakes thrown in because, you know, protein (cue eye-roll).

Despite being in my 30’s, in great shape and eating what is commonly accepted to be a healthy diet, I still had high cholesterol. In fact, my doctor put me on a statin to bring it down.

Without the statin, my cholesterol was in the mid to high 200’s. With the statin, I got it down to 196. However, it had one irritating side effect: Despite the amount of time I spent working out, I wasn’t able to add much body mass. I was also ridiculously tired and sore all the time. I was thin, but I wanted to be bulkier. And more protein shakes didn’t help.

After a couple years of my cholesterol being in the “normal” range (now I know better than to think 196 is normal), my doctor agreed to take me off of the statin. I was able to maintain the roughly 200 cholesterol levels for awhile before they started creeping back up again.

By the time Amelia and I went vegan in March of 2016, my cholesterol was back up to 258. I had also gained 20 pounds mainly due to my back issues, immobility and the resulting depression. Food was my medication of choice. My doctor was threatening to put me back on the statins again. Ugh…

Going Vegan Didn’t Fix It. Neither Did Going WFPB.

A Typical WFPB Haul

Within 3 months of going vegan, I had lost 7 pounds and my cholesterol had dropped from 258 to a respectable 208. A 50 point drop in 3 months! I thought I’d found the cure to my high cholesterol! Stop eating cholesterol!

It was around this time, 3 months into veganism, that we learned the difference between vegan and WFPB (Whole-Foods Plant-Based). We assumed they meant the same thing when we first went vegan, but they don’t.

Veganism is an ethical lifestyle that seeks to eliminate animal suffering by excluding the consumption of all animal products in any form: food, cosmetics, clothing, testing, etc. You can be a junk food vegan and drink soda and eat potato chips all day. Not a problem, unless you don’t want to die of a heart attack.

WFPB is a diet consisting of only whole, unprocessed plant foods: fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes and whole grains. We were already eating mostly WFPB as new vegans, but we stepped up our game even more once we learned the difference. We thought surely that would slash my cholesterol into the heart attack proof range!

About 6 months later, we learned WFPB also means no oil, which makes sense because oil is a refined product like sugar. The only difference is that oil is 100% fat while sugar is 100% carbs. You’ll sometimes see this called the WFPBNO diet, with the NO meaning “no oil.” So we cut oil from our cooking, too!

Only 2 months until my next cholesterol check! I was sure to make Greger, Campbell and Esselstyn proud!

NOT!!!

After cutting all animal products, processed foods AND oil from our cooking, my total cholesterol went UP to 229!!! W-T-F?!!!

After all of the success stories and all of the documentaries and all of the books showing how well WFPBNO works at preventing heart disease, why was I in worse shape?! What the hell was going on?! Can vegans get heart disease?! Seriously?!

Weight Loss Didn’t Help. Neither Did More Exercise.

JP Doing Stairs

Determined to figure this out, I decided to lose more weight. I was still carrying an extra 25 pounds despite eating WFPBNO. That’s a myth about the diet. If you need to lose 100 pounds, it’s hard to eat enough calories on a WFPBNO diet to maintain it without losing weight. But if you only have 20 or 30 pounds to lose, it won’t magically fall off of you. It’s easy to eat enough calories to maintain an extra 30 pounds. And apparently I was eating enough.

So, equipped with renewed motivation, I lost 15 more pounds. Most of the weight came off with 5:2 Intermittent Fasting. I only ate 600 calories on 2 non-consecutive days of the week for two months. In other words, I lost the weight with calorie restriction like everyone does.

I also got more active by brisk walking 4 to 6 miles per day. Swimming twice per week. And lots of physical therapy for my back to strengthen my core.

During the two months leading up to my next cholesterol check, I even started deep breathing meditation and I got a weekly massage to help with back pain and to help lower my stress level, which is thought to increase bad cholesterol and triglycerides.

Surely, the weight loss, exercise and mental health would send my cholesterol plummeting! I mean, how could it not?

Total cholesterol: 225. The exact average cholesterol level of coronary artery disease victims.

Down a measly 4 points. But that’s not the worst of it. My HDL (good) cholesterol dropped a point to 38 (good is over 40) and my triglycerides shot up 102 points to 296 (good is under 100)! That puts me in the danger zone for a heart attack! A vegan at risk of heart attack?! Again, W-T-F?!!!!!!

I guess vegan can get heart disease, after all….

It’s Time to Be Honest With You (and Myself)

110 Pounds of Lean Amelia

Amelia and I eat pretty much the same things. We rarely eat apart. We cook together and we eat at restaurants together.

She does more intense cardio than I am able to, she has more lean muscle mass than I do, and she is at her ideal weight…she doesn’t have 10 pounds to lose like I do. But for the most part, our diet and lifestyle are very similar.

She had her cholesterol checked a year ago and it was in the 150’s.

I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that I have a genetic predisposition to elevated cholesterol and triglycerides. In addition to my mom’s current condition, I also had a grandma and great-grandma who died from strokes. Not a good sign.

However, I think it’s time to be honest with you and with myself. While we eat a WFPBNO diet at home most of the time, we don’t always eat at home. In fact, we eat out at restaurants quite a bit…probably 3 to 5 times per week.

French Fries & Beer

While we only eat vegan food, that’s still a lot of oil, sugar, refined grains, french fries, cheese-less pizza, bread, desserts, etc. We also drink beer and wine several times per week.

We know the owners and the employees of our favorite vegan restaurants so we really enjoy frequenting them and supporting them. It’s more than food; it’s a social outing and it’s helping the vegan cause.

We also have mostly non-vegan friends and a lot of our social activities are centered around food and drink. That means we’re often stuck eating the only vegan thing on the menu: french fries (saving vegans from starvation everywhere) and beer/wine.

While we tell people we eat a WFPBNO diet, that’s not really true. We eat a WFPBNO diet at home 95% of the time. Amelia makes the rare dessert with sugar and coconut oil, we occasionally have chips and salsa, and we nibble on chocolate (probably more than I realize).

But even worse, we eat out roughly 15% of the time. That means we’re only eating WFPBNO about 80% of the time.

Could that other 20% of food with processed oils, sugars, grains, saturated fat and alcohol be driving up my cholesterol and triglycerides? Could my genetic predisposition to heart disease be magnified by eating out and drinking beer and wine? Could I lower my cholesterol and triglycerides by improving my diet…EVEN MORE?

Mic the Vegan would probably say: YES, DUMMY!

There is one positive possibility for why my cholesterol and triglycerides are high right now: weight loss. Over the past 6 months, I gained 4 pounds, but over the past two weeks, I lost 2 pounds. When we lose weight, our bodies release fat into our bloodstream, which can temporarily increase both our LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Let’s hope this is the cause of my poor results on this test, but the trend doesn’t look good. I hadn’t lost any weight prior to the last test, which wasn’t substantially different.

My Next Steps…

My worst fear isn’t dying of a massive heart attack. That’s the easy way out (at least for me). My worst fear is laying in bed for years like my grandma did after she had a stroke. That would be my hell on Earth. I want to avoid living like that, and if that means I eat out less, stop drinking and exercise more, then so be it.

After consulting with my doctor, he’s willing to give me 3 more months before we talk about statins. I REALLY don’t want to go on those again. That gives me 3 months to clean up my diet and intensify my exercise.

So here are my next steps to try to control my cholesterol and triglycerides with diet and exercise:

  • Lose 10 more pounds with calorie restriction and some 5:2 Intermittent Fasting again. That will put me at 170, which is inside the healthy BMI recommendation for a 46 year old male at 5’10”. That’s a picture of me in college (with hair) weighing in at 165. I’m not sure I want to be skinnier than that at my age.
  • Stop drinking beer and wine. Period. No more alcohol. Done. Finito. Pfttt. Not a big deal. I go long spells without drinking anyway.
  • Reduce eating out to special occasions. When I do eat out, order a salad or other healthy, non-fried, non-processed, low-fat, low-sugar option.
  • No more chocolate. That’s really Amelia’s vice anyway. Oh yeah. The chocoholic has the low cholesterol. Grrrr.
  • Reduce my bread intake. I’ve been eating more whole grain bread lately with my Avocado Toast, but Greger says that can also contribute to higher triglyceride levels if you’re really sensitive.
  • Increase my dark leafy greens and nut intake. Greger says the nitric oxide that our bodies make from plants help treat heart disease. I used to eat a big salad with nuts and beets on it every day, but I’ve gotten out of the habit. I’m going to bring that habit back.
  • Increase my swimming from two times per week to five times per week. Swimming is also relaxing for me so maybe that’ll help reduce my stress level, too.

This all may sound extreme, but so is laying in bed for years from a stroke or getting a stent in your heart or having open-heart surgery or dropping dead of a heart attack.

My grandma laid there in a hospital bed after she had several strokes with tears running down her cheeks, unable to speak…for 3 years. I felt immense sorrow for her and still do. No one should have to live like that, especially when it’s preventable.

After my mom’s sudden and unexpected heart problems, and getting my unpleasant blood work results on the same day, I think the universe is trying to tell me I need to take this more seriously. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

As I take this journey to improve the condition of my cardiovascular system, I’ll post more updates about my progress, weight loss, blood work, exercise, thoughts, feelings, etc. I’ll share them on social media so be sure to follow LottaVeg on Facebook.

Thanks for reading. Now it’s time to exercise!

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