Diet Alone Might Do The Trick

Before I filled my prescription, I tried cutting fat and adding fiber

The physical was routine enough, and I thought I was in good health until I received my blood-test results. Total cholesterol was 260, and LDL cholesterol was 187 -- 30% and 43% higher than maximum recommended levels. Oh, and by the way, my doctor wanted to start me immediately on Crestor, the newest cholesterol-lowering drug.

Upset, I called the doctor. "Can't I do this by diet?" I asked. At 52, I had no other risk factors, and it was my first high reading. "It's very hard, and most people can't," he replied. I took that as a challenge, and three months later, I got far better results: total cholesterol, 190, with LDL 124. "Perfect," my doctor scribbled on the report -- and I tossed out the prescription. Even better, I lost 15 pounds.

A FEW SMART STEPS

I admit i wasn't sure if I could avoid medication. I already ate mainly poultry and fish and avoided greasy foods. I was also doing strength training three days a week and cardio-fitness three days, sometimes four. How much more could I do?

Chatting with friends and family yielded mixed signals. A few told me they had failed to lower cholesterol through diet; others asked why I would even try. "I take Lipitor, eat whatever I want, and my cholesterol is fine," one lunch companion confided.

Still, I pushed ahead. I cut out or severely cut back on foods high in cholesterol or saturated fat, such as beef, butter, whole milk, cheese, and baked goods. I still indulge my weakness for ice cream, but less often and in low-fat versions. The bigger change was adding unsaturated fats and foods high in soluble fiber, which are known to cut LDL cholesterol. I began eating non-instant oatmeal for breakfast, sprinkling fiber-rich ground flaxseeds on top. The flax also gives me the omega-3 fatty acids that are in some fish. At lunch or dinner, I have beans or lentils, in a soup, stew, or salad. When possible, I sub brown rice for white and opt for whole-grain breads. And when I snack, I grab dried fruit or unsalted almonds. I don't feel deprived, and I believe I can stick to this regimen -- though the aroma of pizza is still awfully tempting.

Were my results a fluke? Last summer, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that a diet low in saturated fat and high in soy, almonds, and soluble fiber reduced LDL levels 28.6% in just four weeks. A cholesterol test should be accurate within 3% and a person's level may vary by 12% day to day, says Dr. William E. Tarr, medical director for the Quest Diagnostics lab, which did my tests. I'm satisfied my lab results reflected reality.

I was ready to take drugs if necessary. For some people, diet alone won't work. But you won't know unless you try.

By Jeffrey M. Laderman

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