On August 11, I received an email from “Bert,” a 76 year old male reader wondering what kind of diet would help him lower his cholesterol so he could avoid taking a statin.
Between August 11 and the 25th, Bert and I “talked” and learned a lot. There were other concerns for Bert, such as his need to gain weight. I don’t often hear from someone who needs to gain weight.
And there were limitations. For example he doesn’t cook and doesn’t want to. Plus cost matters to him, not an uncommon issue for seniors.
My observation was that he was severely under-eating protein to his detriment, thinking that not eating meat would reduce his cholesterol. So the first thing I had to explain was about cholesterol and protein. Following is a short version of my explanation.
Your body uses cholesterol in many ways; it’s needed. Typically, your liver makes most of the cholesterol you need and some comes from meat in your diet. And if you don’t consume any meat, your liver will make all the cholesterol you need. The body balances this cholesterol making thing. Technically most of the cholesterol you eat isn’t absorbed and is disposed of in your feces.
So, when you are concerned about your cholesterol, it is tempting to try to eat less cholesterol. because, after all, the body will make all it needs. However, you MUST HAVE protein and vitamin B12.
Meat (including seafood) and meat products are the only source of vitamin B12 and meat is the best, most absorbable source of protein – cholesterol just comes along for the ride. This helps explain why the liver adjusts the amount of cholesterol it makes based on how much you eat.
Cholesterol and fat don’t mix with water and thus they both travel in your blood stream inside lipoprotein boats. The lipoprotein boats “dock” with your body cells thru the walls of your blood stream and deliver their cargo. Any possible danger attached to the cholesterol in the lipoproteins is twofold, the degree to which the boats themselves or the blood stream walls are damaged.
In other words, it isn’t the cholesterol itself that is the problem.
Doctors are understandably into risk reduction. Risk reduction thinking causes the medical community (and the folks selling drugs) to focus on reducing the number of boats, particularly those small, dense ones, that might be slamming into your blood stream walls. By reducing cholesterol production, a statin reduces the number of boats required to carry it.
People with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, uncontrolled blood pressure, high triglycerides, etc. etc. have damaged blood streams.. While Bert’s overall cholesterol is somewhat higher than considered ideal, his triglycerides and HDL are excellent and he does not have any of these chronic conditions.
That does not guarantee, however, there is no damage. The whole body’s design expects and responds to damage. A lot can happen in 76 years. Our bodies have the ability to repair/replace damaged cells. But as we get older, damage repair diminishes.
Protein and Calories
On normal weekdays Bert lunches at a senior center. The daily menu’s are a bit low on protein and quite high in carbs. If protein were not a concern, the menu works for an underweight person with no chronic conditions. Not so much for the overweight.
Otherwise, at home, Bert eats salad which, by the way, requires no cooking. When the senior center stopped serving lunches during COVID, a lot of salad and very few calories got eaten. The amount of protein and calories in salad vegetables is extremely small. All of the plants containing significant protein and calories require cooking.
Being underweight can be a problem. The older we get, the more we need some extra fat on board to protect us when we might be ill with the decline of body repair. Salads can be a good thing but ONLY salads are not helpful for maintaining body fat..
In my opinion Bert needed to eat breakfast with a substantial amount of protein. He settled on a Premier Protein Shakes for breakfast because they have 30 grams of protein and no added sugar. Ensure and Boost contain very little protein and a lot of sugar. And he will be adding a banana and peanut butter with the shake for extra good calories and a touch more protein. His doctor’s nurse gets credit for this idea.
Bert wanted to use frozen dinners (microwave not being considered “cooking”) as an alternative for his night meal.
I did a pretty deep search on frozen dinners to find ones that would contain real food as opposed to a long list of nonfood ingredients, a substantial amount of legitimate protein, didn’t have a lot of sugar, AND would be in a price range Bert would find acceptable. Lots of options, some pretty expensive.
Bert agreed with me that protein, vitamins, and minerals should come from real food when possible, not be added chemically. In the interest of simplicity, I suggested he get any dinner that has 20 or higher grams of protein, at a price he was willing to pay and if it tasted good. Healthy Choice has several dinners that met those criteria. Banquet, the cheapest possible, does not.
And to augment his salads, he settled on adding meat, cheese, and eggs – all for the same reasons.
I think Bert is satisfied with the results of our work, although I could not tell him a diet guaranteed to reduce his cholesterol. There is no such diet. These dietary changes should make a difference for his health as he continues to age and might reduce his cholesterol. When it comes to “high cholesterol” it’s still between him and his doctor to decide if a statin is warranted.
Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book available on Amazon, Bob’s Food City (Mt. Ida, Arkansas), the Mount Ida Pharmacy, and Turtle Cove Spa. that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Profits from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. Her website is http://www.allaboutthefood.org/ She can be contacted at email@example.com, 501-605-3902. Her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/patsmithbooks.