Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sexy Cholesterol

My Cholesterol is sexy.

In 2008, during my RD internship, I had my cholesterol checked at the WVU health fair.  When I got the results back I was thrilled.  No risk of heart disease!  Little did I know, or so much had I forgotten, cholesterol is about much more than just heart disease.  I didn't realize my cholesterol was actually TOO low.  Sure my weight was fine, and my blood pressure was low 110/60, and I worked out religiously; but was I really "healthy?"


After starting with NW&W I learned that normal cholesterol is actually between 140-220. (140 may even be on the low side)  Ultimately, total cholesterol tells us nothing!  When I told Dar about my exceptionally low cholesterol levels, her jaw about hit the floor.  Very low cholesterol is a sign of autoimmune disease and/or cancer.  Also, women with very low cholesterol tend to die sooner than women with higher cholesterol.  YIKES!  Some endurance athletes also have very low cholesterol, but I wouldn't count my training at the time for a 1/2 marathon as high enough mileage (20-30miles/wk) to put me in that category.  However, during that year I did develop seborrheic dermatitis, to go along with my chronic dandruff.  I already had rosacea like my grandmother, and within a year would develop Reynaud's syndrome in my fingers.  All are symptoms of autoimmune diseases, and are often associated with Lupus.  again YIKES!

High cholesterol does not cause heart disease, elevated cholesterol is a symptom of inflammation.  The cause of the inflammation is what causes the heart disease.  Smoking, excess alcohol, trans fats, high blood sugar, exposure to toxic chemicals, processed carbohydrates, high blood pressure, stress.  Notice that a high fat diet isn't on the list.  Cholesterol increases with inflammation because it floats through our blood stream repairing the damage caused by those inflammation makers. Cholesterol is also used to make hormones (estrogen, testosterone, adrenals...), repair nerves, make bile for fat digestion, it is a structural component of cells, and it synthesizes vitamin D.  Hmmm....all of those sound like things I want to have happen.

Due to my diet of processed carbs and lack of protein and healthy fats, my cholesterol was too low to help repair my body.  This is part of the reason I experienced 5 stress fractures in high school, and never got my period until the age of 16.  More on that and the female athlete triad later.  I didn't have enough fat or protein in my diet to make healthy cells, or cholesterol, or hormones.  I was a train wreck and didn't even know it.  I now believe that for the past 26 years I have been lactose intolerant, and may have a mild gluten sensitivity.  Consuming low fat dairy 3x every day along with cereal, bread, and granola bars began to stimulate autoimmune reactions throughout my body.

 Now that I have been following a lower carb, higher fat/protein, whole foods diet my cholesterol is up!  You don't hear people getting excited about higher cholesterol very often do you?  But I am.  Now my body can make hormones and repair tissues.  Health is about more than weight, or exercise, or physique.  It's about how well the body functions.  My weight is the same, actually it's about 4-6 lbs less than back in 2008.  However, I'm stronger now than I was then and I'm able to recover from my workouts faster.  Today my cholesterol levels are...

LDL= 78
Trig= <45
Total/HDL= 2.18

Those are some sexy cholesterol numbers.  What I think is most amazing is the difference in my Trig/HDL ratio.  This number is typically not printed on any lab results, but it helps indicate cardiovascular disease risk.  A number less than 2 is great, but less than 1 is ideal.  Even though my LDL or "bad" cholesterol is up, there is a good chance it's made up of big fluffy Type A particles.  So all in all, my blood vessels are healthy, and so is the rest of me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fantastic Fermentation

Zymology, the study of fermentation
Ever since starting at NW&W, I've been intrigued by fermented foods and their health benefits.  As nutritionists and educators we encourage our clients to consume more fermented foods (yogurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha).  Why?  These fermented foods contain good bacteria; probiotics, that when eaten on a regular basis populate in our intestines and push out bad bacteria, viruses, and candida.  The United States, is one of the few countries that does not eat a fermented food at every meal, or at least 1+ times per day.  In Korea people eat a small amount of kimchi with each meal.  In Japan, miso broth is served with meals, or is incorporated into the meal.  In Poland, some people consume up to 1 quart of plain full fat yogurt each day.  And what do people in these countries have to boast about thanks to these fermented foods?  Happy digestive tracts and therefore fewer illnesses!  Our intestinal tract houses a majority of our immune system; if bad bugs can't multiply there, we stay healthy.  

Growing up in the midwest I learned to enjoy sauerkraut with my brats and pork chops.  However, I've learned that the canned varieties and even the refrigerated ones packaged with vinegar do not contain probiotics.  These types have been heated to too high of a temp, and this kills off any happy bugs they may have contained.  Instead, you must buy kraut with only three main ingredients: cabbage, water, and salt.  A very tasty brand is Bubbies, they also make great pickles.  Ryan has now become addicted to both.

So how do these happy bacteria get into these fermented foods?  We either add them from previous batches of fermenting, or they enter on their own through the air (think sour dough bread starter).  Instead of going to in-depth, checkout this website for more on how fermentation works.

Just like sauerkraut, not all fermented foods are created equal.  Kombucha is a great example.  Yes, its a  nice effervesant treat, but many brands contain too much sugar, and too few live organisms to really do much good.  Yogurt, including Activia, has become a perverse version of its original self.  Yogurt is supposed to have fat and be tangy.  It's not supposed to be pink, blue, and sickeningly sweet.  Excess sugar in our diets will feed the bad bacteria in our guts.  Instead, choose full fat plain yogurt and add your own fruit and a drizzle of honey.

Maybe you are like me and want to try making your own fermented foods.  Guess what?  It's supper easy!  Even though I have never eaten Kimchi, I've been curious about it, and decided to make my own after reading about it in my Urban Farm magazine.  The recipe they suggested came straight from "Nourishing Traditions"  by Sally Fallon.  After having already made my kimchi, I looked at several recipes online, and I believe Sally may have simplified her recipe and toned down the flavors for American taste buds.  Here are a couple recipes that seem much more traditional and probably pack quite a flavor punch.  All Recipes  and Maangchi

For my first batch I'm pretty happy.  After one day on the counter I could start to see small bubbles, and the cabbage mixture began to rise to the top.  Once refrigerated it dropped back down into the jar.  But it's fun to see how much it "expands"  This batch was salty, not really spicy at all, but very fermented.  I've enjoyed adding a fork full to my salads, using it as a burger topping, and having a few bites with stir-fry.  I now feel confident that I can try fermenting other foods.  Think I'll try radishes next.  The process is very easy, and is a great project for kids.  It will teach them about food science, and give them a chance to incorporate more probiotics into their diet.