My Diet Experiment History, Part II

OK, finally (!!) continuing the diet history story …

After abandoning veganism and red yeast rice (an over-the-counter statin), my (calculated) LDL cholesterol (LDLc) fluctuated from 92 to 128, mostly reflecting how often I ate out. Then, after 2 years, in Nov, 2007, I moved in with the woman who is now my wife, but who is also an excellent cook and loves to bake almost-irresistible sweet things.

Over the next almost 3 years, I add dairy, chocolate, Morningstar soy/gluten Frankenfoods, chocolate chip cookies, Sunday morning pancakes, chicken breast now and then, and an occasional restaurant foray to my previously pristine, “heart-healthy” diet. The gym was harder to get to and exercise had gone by the wayside as well.

My LDLc had started creeping up into the red zone almost immediately after I moved in with her, mirroring a more than 10 pound weight gain. By July of 2010, I was 140 lbs, the highest I’d been since the last time I was pregnant and my LDLc was up at 155 mg/dl, almost as high as it had been when I was eating whatever I wanted:

Diet, LP3

It wasn’t as though I wasn’t trying to lose weight, or eat differently; it was just that I was not succeeding at staying away from the cookies, etc. And it wasn’t just small failure; it was total failure. It was like a little demon would take over. It would whisper in my ear that I would just eat one. Nevermind that I had never, ever eaten just one. In truth, I was actually powerless to come anything close to that intention.

About this time, fortuitously, I got into a conversation about diet with a personal trainer at the gym. He mentioned he followed a Paleo diet and since he was actually ripped to shreds, I decided to look into it. A few hours with Google especially looking at the low-carb versions of Paleo, convinced me that it was worth a try, so I started tentatively reducing carbs. Happily, I found out that as I lowered my carb intake, I didn’t get hungry as soon after eating and, so, it became easy to eat less. So easy, in fact, that when I lost the 12 or so pounds I needed to lose, I continued down to my high school weight, 117, just because I could!

But that’s jumping ahead. Early in the weight loss period, I had read in someone’s blog that oatmeal wasn’t all that heart healthy because for many people it raised blood glucose to questionable levels. I bought a glucometer, started testing and sure enough, to my great dismay, my blood glucose (BG) an hour after my morning oatmeal breakfast was up over 160 mg/dl.

A few seconds of consideration of these facts here will produce the inescapable conclusion that the conventional medical wisdom has it all wrong! The heart-healthy breakfast screws with my blood sugar and the calories-in / calories-out prescription for weight loss might work if you can do it, but apparently for some people (myself included), it can’t be done without carb restriction. What does conventional medical wisdom say about recommending that? Zippo, nada and zilch.

I decided to stop avoiding Gary Taubes, read “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, and became a low carb convert.

As I was losing weight thanks to a lower carb intake, of course I had to replace the calories with something, and that something was mostly fat. My diet gradually went from it’s original pre-diet composition of about 20%/20%/60% by calorie (%P/%F/%C) to about 25%/50%/25% by the time the weight was lost.  I focused on low sat fat, high oleic fats, such as avocados, olive oil, cashews and this:

Specrtum High Oleic Sunflower oil

Here’s what my weight did over the course of the year that it was dropping (Jul 2010 – Jul 2011):

Diet, LP4

I’ve also shown my continuing maintenance weight here, as well as when I gave blood (vertical red line) and the non-HLD cholesterol values (vertical blue lines) from my lipid panels. As the weight is coming off, you can see the “bad” non-HDLc dropping too, all the way up to Dec, 2011, where it starts to get interesting.

So, it’s been widely observed that when weight loss is occurring, LDLc and the associated non-HDLc are depressed, and as can be seen, my experience was no exception. In fact, looking at the graph carefully, at each instance where the non-HDLc has risen during this period of general weight loss, the blood draw was from a weight-plateau or slightly rising weight-period. Not recognizing this at the time and encouraged by the good lab results from Oct / Dec, I boldly decide for my next diet experiment to test the (widely promulgated by the cholesterol skeptics) idea that LDLc is unrelated to dietary sat fat. I allow the “bad” fats in my diet to increase by 33%, freely swilling grass-fed derived butter, animal fat, and cream. My macronutrients for the period average 24%/52%/24% (getting up to 55% fat by the period end) and, lo and behold, to my great surprise, my non-HDL cholesterol was measured off the chart at 226 mg/dl in Jan 2012 (total cholesterol was 328). Yes, it’s true! I even had it measured twice to be sure!

So, I backed off on the sat fat and got retested in early March, 2012; the LDLs were back down. Here’s a recap of the diet, weight, lipid profile story:

Diet, LP5

So, what do you know! Not only does conventional medical wisdom have it all wrong; apparently, so does the cholesterol skeptic portion of the low-carb blogosphere. If you disregard the period when weight loss was occurring (plus the trailing few months), and focus on the maintenance period (2012), non-HDL cholesterol seems to track “bad” fats fairly well.

To be fair, it might not be that the extra sat fat was wholly or even partially responsible for the Jan 2012 massive LDLc increase. My exercise was up and carbs were down and I did go hypoglycemic on many occasions while exercising until I figured out what was happening. It is widely accepted that low BG can induce low thyroid problems which will downregulate LDL receptor expression. From this:

When the thyroid slows down (hypothyroidism), it also slows down the body’s ability to process cholesterol. This processing lag is largely explained by a reduction in the number and activity of what are known as LDL receptors. LDL receptors help remove bad cholesterol from the body; when the number of receptors decreases, LDL accumulates in the bloodstream, acting to increase both LDL and total cholesterol levels.

Whichever is the cause, I do intend to find out. Meanwhile, I want these LDL numbers down. My current diet experiment (of 3 month duration) has included reducing “bad” fat to under 13g per day and raising carbs to over 30% by calorie. My next lipid panel will be very soon. It will be very interesting to see the result.

NOTE: Within the context of my spreadsheet calculations, “bad” fat is roughly equivalent to sat fat, however… It excludes the saturated fat, stearic acid, which is considered neutral  with respect to raising LDLc and includes the monounsaturated fats, palmitoleic acid and erucic acid, and all the trans fats, which are thought to raise LDLc.

About Dan Hunter

Retired software engineer wading through the obfuscation, confusion and contradiction that corporate and political funding of medical research along with ego over science has created.
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