It was an early morning in corporate America, many of the employees of a large, well-known insurance company were rushing to their departments; some had taken the time to grab a coffee, while others had skipped breakfast that morning to take a health screening test.
I had volunteered for a team that would check the blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels of the employees. As was expected, many of the patients I saw that day were nervous; some were nervous about the small needles we used to prick fingers for a drop of blood, while others had a more deep-seated anxiety about what the results of high blood sugar and cholesterol could mean towards their health.
As I continued to collect samples and as patients saw results, many of those employees saw higher results than the doctor’s recommended levels.
Why the high cholesterol?
What was surprising was when seemingly healthy people’s results revealed high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol. A shocked woman who had just happily told me that she’d climbed almost all the mountains and hills worth climbing in California, had just found out that her cholesterol level did not correspond with her perceived level of health.
She began to ask me why I thought she had higher cholesterol, an otherwise symptomless condition. I asked her to look at her diet to see if foods high in saturated fat, red meats, and dairy were something she ate regularly. She slowly explained to me that she did pay attention to her activity but had neglected her diet, thinking that exercise would keep her healthy.
This past week I visited a beautiful and popular gym in California’s capitol, Sacramento. From the number of people that were there, I saw that they were serious about their health in regards to exercise but I wondered, how seriously do they consider their diet in relation to health?
A focus on diet
The truth is; many are realizing that diet may be being neglected by the health-conscious. Matt Cartwright, a congressman from Pennsylvania, is already calling for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to research a plant-based diet to help reduce strain on the environment and assist with national overall health.
This plan for a novel, plant-based diet—due to be included in the USDA’s 2020 Dietary Guidelines–may be exactly what many people need to understand how diet can work together with regular exercise to maintain overall health.
The plant-based difference
It had been years since I had checked my cholesterol and throughout the morning of the health screening, I began to wonder where my levels of LDL, HDL (cholesterol) and triglycerides were. Coincidentally, my whole team had been wondering about their health too, so as we saw the last patients off, we all underwent the same tests. Many of us were fairly happy with the results with a few exceptions, but when my results began to be read by the nurse who had taken my blood, my colleagues were shocked to hear how my levels were near or slightly lower than the recommended levels.
What made the difference in my levels of cholesterol when compared to that of my colleagues? When my team asked me how it was possible that I had such textbook results, I responded by telling them about my lifestyle of a plant-based diet.
Recommended cholesterol levels:
- Total cholesterol: less than 200 (Ideally under 160)
- HDL (good cholesterol)
- Men: (higher than 40)
- Women: (higher than 50)
- LDL (bad cholesterol) Lower than 130 (Ideally under 70)
- Triglycerides: less than 150 while fasting (Ideally under 100 while fasting)