Saturday, November 21, 2009

Diet that reduced my Triglycerides

Late August this year, my doctor said my triglycerides were acceptable and no more follow-up is required. I was very happy, since I had been battling with elevated triglycerides for over a decade, and bringing that down had a life time positive health impact.

Caution: This is my personal experience, and not intended as medical advice. You should check with your doctor for specific advice to your situation.

Here is a brief history that also explains the chart below:

1997-2003: My first ever blood test showed slightly elevated triglycerides, and doctor suggested I get more exercise, and take more fruit to boost HDL. I didn't pay much attention. Also, I had moved to another city (lazy to find a new doctor) and a boat load of personal issues. Looking back, I think the laziness and the personal issues was due to high triglycerides, making me less energetic.

2004-2007: The triglycerides had shot up past 400 mg/dl. The doctor suggested to get on the treadmill and cut down "transfats", and this brought it down close to 250 mg/dl just in a month - provided evidence that diet and exercise worked. But I didn't continue the regimen giving standard busy work related excuses. It shot back close to 400 mg/dl, and the HDL had dramatically gone down. First, the doctor suggested supplements like Niacin and Omega3 Fish Oil capsules to boost HDL, and finally suggested medication like Tricor or Lopid stating my condition might be due to genetic factors. The medicines helped reduce triglycerides, but made me feel very weak - apparently they work by pulling muscle fat out, so the body builds it back using the excess fat. I stopped the medicines, and I wasn't convinced it was genetic, since my grand parents lived healthy long lives.

After running out of ideas, and running around at work, I decided on something new. This time things worked out very well.

2008: In October, I made use of a company benefit to meet with a health coach. I had blown past all prior readings, now at 573 mg/dl. The health coach, Maia, probed my diet very carefully and made dramatic suggestions that made me sit up and listen:
Maia: "What do you have for breakfast?"
Me: "Oatmeal - that reduces triglycerides".
Maia: "That's not good for you - Oatmeal is carbohydrates, and you need to cut carbs".
Me: "Really - sometimes I take Honey Oat Cereal with low-fat milk - I'll just switch to that",
Maia: "No, cereal is sugar - that's not good for you either. The only thing you can eat is veggies. No fruit, bread, rice, nothing else is good for you!".

I argued that was too harsh, and finally got some concessions - Egg Whites were ok, a little scoop of brown rice, along with a predominantly vegetables diet. We also talked about getting some exercise - and things like meditation that she was excited about.

My wife took her advice seriously, and my diet changed as below:

Breakfast: Egg-white Veggie Omlette with no cheese. Veggies like mushrooms, tomatoes, beans and peas. We bought the egg-white paper packs from Safeway or Costco. Egg-beaters may also work. If I had to have breakfast in the company cafeteria, the chef started the egg-white veggie omlette without cheese, as soon as he saw me in the line!
Lunch: Since the omlette breakfast was filling, I would go for half-order on any of the pasta/noodles/rice with veggie entrees in the company caferteria. Other options were veggie tacos or burritos, personal pan veggie pizza without cheese (also, not eating the outer crust helps cut carbs) or just soup and salad.

Dinner: A lot of salad filled my plate, with a scoop of brown rice and other gravy and vegetables. My wife bought lettuce, green onions, black olives, brocolli, spinach, carrots, beets to make the salad different and interesting each week. She also used Olive Oil, Walnuts to make the salad recipe taste good (check out for her recipes). Instead of yoghurt with rice (thayir sadham), I just took the fat-free plain yoghurt (can't live without "the "thayir"!)
Travel: I stuck to a healthy breakfast routine - many hotels have a full breakfast buffet with eggs, veggies, fruits etc. This allowed me to limit unhealthy lunches out during the hunt. Rarely, I would have pizza, burger, or fries, and a little booze.

Exercise: A moderate 20 minute stair master session to burn around 130 calories, couple of times a week. This, in addition to a 10 minute walk each way to the bus stop and back for commute.

The penance started paying off in just a couple of months. There was a dramatic drop from 573 to 313 mg/dl, a whopping 260 points without any medicines or supplements! The HDL also dropped, but I read an article that explained this can happen initially when someone is losing weight, and then it will move up. After another eight months in Aug, 2009, the results came out close to normal - triglycerides at 179 mg/dl and HDL had indeed moved up to 35 mg/dl. What is also important is that the other numbers turned out to be normal as well - I was concerned something else would go wrong trying to fix triglycerides!

The real cause was the excess rice in the diet. Just a couple of generations back, those who had a staple rice diet, had unrefined rice with the partial husk. The husk was fiber and would fill them up quickly, so they never had excess rice and got into these problems. In our times and our parents' times, we buy refined white rice which has all the husk removed and given a nice glucose coating to look good! We end up eating more rice and less fiber, and excess carbohydrates get converted to fat. The excess fat slowly impacts other organs such as arteries, liver, pancreas and causes things like heart disease, diabetes etc in the long run. So, my case is probably not genetic even if one parent had a medical condition that could have been caused by excess triglycerides. A recent Time magazine article shows that exercise won't make you thin.

It was a lot of learning along the way, and I feel blessed I could fix it with my wife's help, and Maia's advice, before it was too late. Again, all of the above is not specific advice for your situation - consult a doctor before you try anything.

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