2

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My wife was diagnosed with high cholesterol

Answered on September 12, 2014
Created October 13, 2012 at 10:26 PM

Hello, this is my first post on Paleo Hacks. I'm hoping you can help me a little with my wife and "conversion" issues, plus a new health challenge.

My wife is pretty much the complete opposite of me on fitness ... well, sort of. She does enjoy high quality food, and she does want to live a healthy life. Beyond that she has little interest in working out as I do with CrossFit or the Marine Corps, and she has a marginal interest in my efforts at Paleo.

She has always had a general aversion to meat. A number of years ago she went vegetarian, partially from the previous "general aversion," and partially from an interest in Eastern philosophy. A couple of years ago, she found the vegetarian diet was weakening her. She dropped the tofu and started eating fish, but not all the time (not that you'd want to eat eggs and fish every day to get your protein). She still absolutely will not eat any other type of meat or meat product, claiming it will make her feel bad.

She's also Greek-American, lives in a Greek town, and favors their food (minus the meat). Now for what it's worth, a Mediterranean diet would probably be mostly okay if it wasn't for all the darn bread, rice and pasta. She and mom eat bread almost every day, as well as sugary stuff, and not much protein. They stay pretty active and walk a lot, but the diet is poor. Neither of them are grossly overweight, just carrying a few extra pounds. They might follow a poor diet, but they don't eat much.

The newest development, however, is that my wife's doctor diagnosed her with very high cholesterol in a recent check-up, then recommended vaguely that she "change her diet." So, I'll finally get to the question part. I'm not looking for a hack on her cholesterol diagnosis, because I know I'd have to get a lot more details. I am looking for some suggestions on helping her diet, the theory being that if she eats better, the cholesterol issue may take care of itself. Probably the biggest question is, can she get the right amount and the right quality of protein in her diet without consuming meat, and if so, what are some of the alternatives available? Or, should I be more focused on attempting to slowly reintroduce her to meats (which I think would be a significant challenge)?

Thank you, very much. I'm really enjoying the website.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:09 AM

I'll just have to learn to make some of their traditional coffee cookies or snacks using alternative flours then leave a batch out for their consumption and see what happens. ;)

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:08 AM

That's a good idea about substitutions in place of complete denial. I've been talking to her recently about substituting alternative flours in baked goods. Greeks are very protective of their cooking traditions, which are presumed to have been handed down through a hundred generations or something and therefore can't be changed. So, when I brought up things like almond flour initially it was not really well received. I love to cook and we do that together when I'm home, but for a man to raise that issue in a circle of women who have been cooking for years it was a real case of bad timing.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:05 AM

I agree. And you also get people treating symptom instead of condition, like the old deal about an overweight person being told to cut out all the fat in their diet in the outdated "fat makes you fat" concept.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:04 AM

I'll just have to learn to make some of their traditional coffee cookies or snacks using alternative flours then leave a batch out for their consumption and see what happens.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:03 AM

That's a good idea about substitutions in place of complete denial. I've been talking to her recently about substituting alternative flours in baked goods. Greeks are very protective of their cooking traditions, which are presumed to have been handed down through a hundred generations or something and therefore can't be changed. So, when I brought up things like almond flour initially it was not really well received. I love too cook and we do that together when I'm home, but for a man to raise that issue in a circle of women like to cook was a real case of bad timing.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:00 AM

Thanks, I like the idea and agree with your comments as well as others' suggestions about a subtle approach that is blended with her existing interests. Seems like just a matter of pulling out the bad habits of an otherwise potentially healthy lifestyle.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 01:51 AM

IKARIA, GREECE: The Oldest People On Earth Reveal The Secrets To Living Past 100 Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/ikaria-greece-longevity-secrets-2012-7?op=1#ixzz29QGps1YK

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 01:51 AM

Thank you. I'll have to read more about the ancestral foods concept, but I get the idea. That ties in with what I've been telling her - that her own Greek/Mediterranean diet as actually extremely close to the ideal for Paleo, if you could just take it back a few centuries and subtract all the processed sweets and all the breads and pastries. The oldest people on Earth come from Greece, so I figure it's just a matter of tapping into what they have been doing right, and ditching the bad (non-paleo) stuff as suggested. This was an interesting article we read years ago:

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 01:44 AM

Jake, I want to thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed response. You're feedback is very helpful and I appreciate the recommendations for additional reading. As I mentioned to the earlier commenter, I agree on the need to get my eyes on the blood work. The chart is a great reference for comparison to what the doctor told her.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 01:37 AM

Thank you. Funny thing with docs (who often seem to treat the symptom), is he said you need to stay away from shellfish, shrimp, etc. because those will raise your bad cholesterol.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 01:34 AM

Thanks. I'm a geo-bachelor living away from home at the moment, but I do hope to look at her labs soon and compare to some of the reading. No hypothyroid. She is anemic, but it's the genetic kind typical of the southern med. It's not significant and I don't suspect it's a big factor (doc recently took her off of iron pills because of progress made).

Cbdc8318738324492f2d5918868ce4c9

(1211)

on October 15, 2012
at 01:03 PM

Maybe cholesterol is fine. Conventional docs may think normal cholesterol levels are high. It might be helpful to post lab values, including trigs. Any other symptoms like hypothyroid?

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on October 14, 2012
at 03:53 PM

Yeah, a wide variety of seafood, especially shellfish, eggs, maybe add some bone broth as a cooking staple- should be no problems. Pescaterian can be very healthy.

2436f4e6d010656b346629a77e9599dd

(270)

on October 14, 2012
at 05:26 AM

For eating raw, I love coconut butter. It's expensive (about $10 for a nice-sized jar at whole foods) but delicious and uses the whole edible part of the coconut.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on October 14, 2012
at 03:44 AM

Sure, coconut oil (and other saturated fats) will act better alone, but even combined with PUFAs from fish or marine products they'd still possess protective effects.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41757)

on October 14, 2012
at 01:45 AM

Only if you substitute it for other fats in the diet as well as lower overall carbohydrate consumption. Otherwise, you end up in an even worse position.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 13, 2012
at 11:28 PM

Thanks, Rob. I read the NY Times article. Luckily my wife wasn't prescribed anything yet. Like I said, she just got some vague suggestions about dietary change. I'll have to check on her mother's prescriptions though. At 69 she's taking a fair amount of medicine that's been prescribed over the years, wrong or right.

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10 Answers

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3
00cd3b6f51530a6832fcda1712edbec3

(2411)

on October 13, 2012
at 11:57 PM

The clich?? "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" exists for a reason. You can't force a grown woman to do anything she isn't convinced is good for her or thinks will make her feel unhealthy. The latter consideration is at least as important as the former, since we all use our thinking to justify our feelings on core issues of belief and direct experience. That's part of being human. I hope that as her husband, you have some ideas about how to approach her based on your concern for her health.

From an informational standpoint, it's important to determine if her cholesterol level justifies the doctor's concern. Why don't you review this chart of all-cause mortality vs. total cholesterol levels compiled from WHO data? If her level is between 220 and 240, though, the data doesn't support the doctor's concern. If she's above 240, then the most compelling information you could present her with would probably come from her doctor, but the danger is his that his advice will be to eat more "healthy whole grains," which will worsen her triglycerides, as another commenter said.

If you want to present some intellectual evidence for your case, you could find examples of prominent Buddhists who eat meat for their health (the current Dalai Llama (I think) and Jack Kornfield come to mind). If you want some arguments that vegetarianism is bad for health and the environment, you could present arguments from the books Against the Grain, The Vegetarian Myth (though this book has been shown to contain many serious factual errors as well as being a personal political manifesto) or The Whole Soy Story. Don't Die Early is a personal account of one man's journey from serious health problems to serious health via a low-carb/paleo way of eating.

If she won't budge on the meat issue, then she needs to eat more eggs, fish, seafood, and fat (as another commenter suggested). Coconut-milk-based curries are a tasty (well, to me) way to boost fat intake, but your wife will need some education to reduce the fat phobia that all Americans have been inculcated with.

If you can't make any inroads about her diet after a few tries, then I don't think additional efforts will do anything other than strain your marriage. You'll have to decide whether that's worth the risk.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 01:44 AM

Jake, I want to thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed response. You're feedback is very helpful and I appreciate the recommendations for additional reading. As I mentioned to the earlier commenter, I agree on the need to get my eyes on the blood work. The chart is a great reference for comparison to what the doctor told her.

6
3491e51730101b18724dc57c86601173

(8395)

on October 13, 2012
at 11:33 PM

Meat may not be necessary if she would increase the fish and seafood and eggs, add in MORE fat in the form of coconut oil, keep eating eggs, and most importantly lose the grains. Fat, especially Omega 3's, is vitally important. Saturated animal fat is helpful, but she'll get some from the eggs.

Elevated triglycerides are DIRECTLY related to carbohydrate intake--and absent more sophisticated testing (NMR), that's the crucial number to bring down. Dropping the grains will lower carbohydrates naturally, that will probably help a lot.

518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on October 14, 2012
at 03:53 PM

Yeah, a wide variety of seafood, especially shellfish, eggs, maybe add some bone broth as a cooking staple- should be no problems. Pescaterian can be very healthy.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 01:37 AM

Thank you. Funny thing with docs (who often seem to treat the symptom), is he said you need to stay away from shellfish, shrimp, etc. because those will raise your bad cholesterol.

4
Dc6407193ba441d1438f6f0c06af872b

on October 14, 2012
at 03:47 PM

Robb Wolf couldn't even get his parents to change! All you can do is model good behavior and, if you think it will do more good than harm, present the data as you know it. Either it will take or it won't. Anyway, to answer your question, fish and eggs are fantastic. You don't need a ton of protein anyway. If she ate the same protein level she eats now, but replaced all the non-paleo stuff with sweet potatoes and other paleo foods, she'd be fine. So food quality first, and if she's not bought in then there are no magic bullets (or pills) that are going to fix everything despite a problematic diet.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:00 AM

Thanks, I like the idea and agree with your comments as well as others' suggestions about a subtle approach that is blended with her existing interests. Seems like just a matter of pulling out the bad habits of an otherwise potentially healthy lifestyle.

4
F9638b939a6f85d67f60065677193cad

(4266)

on October 14, 2012
at 12:53 AM

High cholesterol isn't a diagnosis. It's not a disease. Studies show that women with higher cholesterol live longer.

It's probably not worth it to try to change another person's ideas. It doesn't usually go well. I know from personal experience.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:05 AM

I agree. And you also get people treating symptom instead of condition, like the old deal about an overweight person being told to cut out all the fat in their diet in the outdated "fat makes you fat" concept.

3
F5f742cc9228eb5804114d0f3be4e587

(7660)

on October 14, 2012
at 10:41 PM

Pescatarians can be very healthy. I think another angle not mentioned here would be to focus on nutrient-dense foods, which means you can't fill your plate with bread, pasta, and rice. Or if she has close ties to her heritage, explore ancestral Greek ways of eating and traditional foods that would be nourishing to your wife. I'm thinking olive oil, grapes, olives, yogurt, lemons, herbs, lamb, fish, etc. If she loves, for example, spanokopita, explore some recipes that Paleo-fy it, maybe with thin ribbons of zucchini in place of the pastry layers. If she loves to cook, she may welcome the new challenge to add in more nutrients and may find that in time, she looks and feels better.

Good luck!

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:04 AM

I'll just have to learn to make some of their traditional coffee cookies or snacks using alternative flours then leave a batch out for their consumption and see what happens.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:08 AM

That's a good idea about substitutions in place of complete denial. I've been talking to her recently about substituting alternative flours in baked goods. Greeks are very protective of their cooking traditions, which are presumed to have been handed down through a hundred generations or something and therefore can't be changed. So, when I brought up things like almond flour initially it was not really well received. I love to cook and we do that together when I'm home, but for a man to raise that issue in a circle of women who have been cooking for years it was a real case of bad timing.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:09 AM

I'll just have to learn to make some of their traditional coffee cookies or snacks using alternative flours then leave a batch out for their consumption and see what happens. ;)

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 02:03 AM

That's a good idea about substitutions in place of complete denial. I've been talking to her recently about substituting alternative flours in baked goods. Greeks are very protective of their cooking traditions, which are presumed to have been handed down through a hundred generations or something and therefore can't be changed. So, when I brought up things like almond flour initially it was not really well received. I love too cook and we do that together when I'm home, but for a man to raise that issue in a circle of women like to cook was a real case of bad timing.

2
Medium avatar

(10611)

on October 14, 2012
at 03:45 PM

Fish, mollusks and crustaceans cooked with garlic in olive oil. Calamari and octopus should be her ancestral foods. Filling up on these should help push some of the starch out of her diet.

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 01:51 AM

Thank you. I'll have to read more about the ancestral foods concept, but I get the idea. That ties in with what I've been telling her - that her own Greek/Mediterranean diet as actually extremely close to the ideal for Paleo, if you could just take it back a few centuries and subtract all the processed sweets and all the breads and pastries. The oldest people on Earth come from Greece, so I figure it's just a matter of tapping into what they have been doing right, and ditching the bad (non-paleo) stuff as suggested. This was an interesting article we read years ago:

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 16, 2012
at 01:51 AM

IKARIA, GREECE: The Oldest People On Earth Reveal The Secrets To Living Past 100 Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/ikaria-greece-longevity-secrets-2012-7?op=1#ixzz29QGps1YK

1
11838116de44ae449df0563f09bd3d73

(655)

on October 13, 2012
at 11:42 PM

Research krill oil. Some people have dramatically improved bloodwork adding this supplement.

1
Cf416725f639ffd1bb90764792ce7b8a

(2799)

on October 13, 2012
at 11:22 PM

If you haven't yet, google "do statins make people stupid".

583159c8df4177d0761206b06c25b1bf

(50)

on October 13, 2012
at 11:28 PM

Thanks, Rob. I read the NY Times article. Luckily my wife wasn't prescribed anything yet. Like I said, she just got some vague suggestions about dietary change. I'll have to check on her mother's prescriptions though. At 69 she's taking a fair amount of medicine that's been prescribed over the years, wrong or right.

0
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on October 14, 2012
at 12:20 AM

Unprocessed coconut oil will help, I think. I myself use it for cooking and sometimes for eating raw, and I also recommended it to my relatives with age over 60. They greatly improved their lipid profiles and blood pressure with it.

77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on October 14, 2012
at 03:44 AM

Sure, coconut oil (and other saturated fats) will act better alone, but even combined with PUFAs from fish or marine products they'd still possess protective effects.

2436f4e6d010656b346629a77e9599dd

(270)

on October 14, 2012
at 05:26 AM

For eating raw, I love coconut butter. It's expensive (about $10 for a nice-sized jar at whole foods) but delicious and uses the whole edible part of the coconut.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41757)

on October 14, 2012
at 01:45 AM

Only if you substitute it for other fats in the diet as well as lower overall carbohydrate consumption. Otherwise, you end up in an even worse position.

0
6740dafba461017475a12c17410960ec

on October 13, 2012
at 11:30 PM

She needs to start eating meat.

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