The power of food: Easy, low cost changes improved my health

Food is powerful. It is an integral part of how we feel, flourish and suffer. To what extent you ask?  Let me share a personal story.

“We now know that environmental factors like diet can have a profound effect on the maintenance of health and the appearance of disease.”*

In my cardiovascular interview series on Lp(a) with Dr. Steven Nissen, I shared that I fall within the 20% of the general population that have higher Lp(a) concentrations which are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular events/disease.

I’ve been getting routine (every 3 months) lab work at the request of my family doctor because of this. As there is no treatment available for individuals with high Lp(a) – increased risk for heart incident – my doctor is focusing on us working as a team to stay proactive, closely monitoring my levels and devising a strategy moving forward.

As Nissen explained, Lp(a) levels are genetically determined. “You could eat the best diet in the world and if you have high Lp(a), your blood levels don’t change.”  That’s a heavy statement to swallow, right?  My doctor’s advice was the same – Lp(a) levels aren’t influenced by food, but he suggested I fuel my body with particular foods in an effort to lower my current higher-than-optimal cholesterol level (the so-called “bad cholesterol”) to improve my overall health.

I eat whole, nutrient-dense foods, and am religious about consuming all the food groups. My nutrition plan includes lean proteins, healthy fats (see how I incorporate my favorite almond butter here), green leafy vegetables, bright fruits, low fat dairy (Fage 2% Greek yogurt daily) and slow burning carbs.

The smallest changes in what you eat can propel your health in a healthier direction. Case in point: After a thorough discussion, my doctor recommended I start consuming steel cut oats weekly and ground flaxseed near daily.

To ensure I stayed on track (life is busy), I calendared weekly to eat one serving of traditional (plain) steel cut oats. There is a difference in the 1-minute quick oats, the instant oats with brown sugar, other sweet flavorings vs. steel cut oats. More on that later. 

Oats’ main health benefit comes from the type of soluble it contains – beta glucan – which lowers cholesterol and blood glucose levels. This in turn can serve as a forceful effort to reduce risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Steel cut oats have been identified as having a slightly higher amount of fiber than its counterparts. They are also the least processed of all types of oats. Because of this, they have a lower glycemic index and take longer for our bodies to digest. All good things.

Yes, they do take longer to cook (if you are making it per serving). If you prefer to meal prep – think about making one big pot for the week (like my aunt), or preparing a batch in a slow cooker where you’re more hands-off. I prepare mine per serving and use the 25 minutes my steel cuts take to cook to do some low impact exercising – Pilates.

At least six days a week I have a serving of cold-milled Spectrum Essentials Organic Ground flaxseed. I love it as a topping on plain low fat Fage yogurt. Try it!

“Dietary flaxseed has an impressive and growing research literature supporting its use in a variety of health conditions.”*

“The effects of flaxseed on parameters of cardiovascular disease have become one of the most intensely studied areas with regard to the health-related benefits of dietary flaxseed.”*

“In humans exhibiting symptoms of cardiovascular disease, dietary flaxseed has displayed powerfully protective effects.”*

Other positive benefits are found with gastro-intestinal health, diabetes (blood glucose management), skin health, menopause symptoms, brain health, and more.

So, for the grand finale – i.e. the results – my first 3-month science experiment for my lipid panel and cholesterol were a success by incorporating steel cut oats and flaxseed.

My APOB, total cholesterol, HDL, Triglycerides, and LDL each lowered.  This really made my day and proves to me that small changes really add up to big changes. Here’s to the future months of mindful eating and more successful lab results.

Look at your health as a science experiment. When you find a doctor that you can trust and partner with who truly wants to see you thrive in good health, it’s easy to take their advice and incorporate changes in your lifestyle.

Whether it be health, work, or personal – many things in our lives can be viewed as science experiments. We learn what works and what doesn’t work. It might require a few experiments, but we can identify what mixture isn’t the right mix or what produces a first place ribbon.  (Can you tell I miss science fairs?) Then it’s time to replicate them in other facets of our health and perhaps across the board in our lives. It motivates and inspires us, and hopefully has a domino effect on others.

When I selected a new family medicine doctor awhile back, a few statements from his bio before meeting him really impressed me. He “believes that it is important to help his patients maintain their health and make good choices to help minimize the risk of chronic conditions.”

He focuses on finding a collaborative approach with his patient’s health and “treats the whole person, not just the symptoms.”

I can’t underscore how important it is to be with the right group of doctors tailored to your health needs. I say with sincerity it can make or break your health.

Doctors are experts, educated, but not all are in the same league. Liken it to football – are all the teams in AFC South Division of the same caliber? What about the players? You catch my drift.

I’m rooting for you and the health team you choose to benefit your life!

Has food been a powerful catalyst in improving your health? If so – send me a message here.  


Coming next: Fear is the fuel for pain,” says expert


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