Today, I want to share an experience that shows the power of ignoring nutritional facts that “everyone” knows – the basic assumptions most people just assume are true, because they are repeated so often, we fail to question their validity.
This is a story about conducting your own “N=1” studies, to find the strategies that work best for you.
“Limit dietary cholesterol”
The USDA recently released the 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, in which they dropped the recommendation to limit daily dietary cholesterol consumption to 300 mg or less, and replaced it with a recommendation to “eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.” This decision led to a lawsuit by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine – a group with an incredibly misleading name that loves to push vegetarian and vegan diets as solutions for everyone.
Anyway, as you’ve probably noticed, eggs have been painted as a nutritional bad guy over the past 50 years. During the War on Fat, numerous government agencies and “respected” authorities have repeated the dogma that eggs – high in cholesterol and fat, especially the saturated sort – are killers, causing high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
What does a lipid panel look like on 5 eggs per day?
Recently, my employer offered a free health screening, which included a finger-stick blood lipid panel test. I jumped at the chance, because 1) they offered a $100 incentive on my next pay check, and 2) everyone should get a full cholesterol panel every five years, beginning at age 20. I was a year behind, and with a family history of hyperlipidemia, I wanted to be sure my serum cholesterol levels were within healthy limits.
Since 2009, I’ve eaten five eggs a day for breakfast. Fat consistently makes up at least 40% of my calories, and is usually closer to 50%. Both habits fly in the face of conventional nutrition wisdom. Assuming that “fats are bad for you” and “eggs raise cholesterol”, combined with my family history of cardiovascular disease, my cholesterol should be well into dangerous territory.
Here is the exact readout from my lipid panel (note: date was not set correctly on the machine):
“CHOL“ is total cholesterol. We want this number under 200 mg/dL.
“HDL CHOL” cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol. We want this number above 40 mg/dL for men and above 60 mg/dL in women.
“TRIG“ refers to triglycerides. We want this number less than 150 mg/dL.
“CALC LDL“ refers to a calculated LDL. LDL is the “bad” cholesterol, and we want this number under 100 mg/dL. “Calculated” means that LDL was not directly measured, but was determined using the Friedewald equation, which calculates LDL using direct measurements of triglycerides, HDL, and total cholesterol.
“TC/HDL“ is a ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. A ratio of 5:1 signifies average risk of heart disease.
“LDL/HDL“ ratio shows your ratio of LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. Ideally, this ratio should be 3.5:1 or less.
“NON-HDL“ refers to non-HDL cholesterol. This number is beginning to be used by more and more healthcare professionals as a way of assessing risk for cardiovascular disease. Ideally, this number is 130 mg/dL or less.
As you can see, all of my levels are within the “normal” range. In fact, nearly all of them fall in the “optimal” range.
“You must have great genetics!”
Shortly after, I had a follow-up with my primary care physician. I shared the test results with him.
“Your LDL is 75? Wow. You must have great genetics!”
I wish. Actually, my genetics are stacked against me. My father suffered a heart attack in 2011, and has been on cholesterol-lowering drugs for much of his adult life. My maternal grandfather’s death was partly caused by heart disease. Heart disease appears in males on both sides of my family. My genetics do not protect me from cardiovascular disease – they are a direct risk for it.
Through a diet low in sugar and white grains, high in vegetables and meat, and exercising 6-7 days per week, I’m fighting with everything I’ve got against my genetics. And it’s working.
I hope this post encourages you to challenge common assumptions. Do your own research, and conduct your own “N=1” studies. This includes the information from the story I shared above. Just because eating five eggs a day has zero effect on my lipids does not guarantee you will have the same results. Try new things, figure out what works best for you, and mercilessly eliminate the things that don’t. This is how you find your prescription for better living.