Friday, May 16, 2008

Cholesterol Costs

I went to the doctor recently for a routine physical. (I believe, by the way, in doing this for financial reasons as well as health ones: my insurance covers all but a co-pay, and I'd rather get checked out every couple of years than avoid it and discover that I have some health problem that is going to require more expensive treatment.) The good news is that I seem to be in pretty decent health, but when the results of my blood tests came back, the bad news is that my cholesterol is too high. When I was last checked 3 years ago, it was 200, which is the limit of being considered acceptable. Now I'm at 224. I guess I can take some comfort from the fact that the good cholesterol to bad cholesterol ratio isn't too alarming, but still, at my age I had to see this as a call to action. I need to make some immediate lifestyle changes, even if they're hard to do.

I need to start drinking more red wine!

Okay, only kidding. What I really think I need to do is cut down on butter. My doctor asked if my diet had changed over the past couple of years, and one thing that occurred to me was that a few years ago, I tended to eat yogurt with granola and berries for breakfast, or sometimes oatmeal, but I decided that these were too expensive at the deli and started having the much cheaper bagel with butter every morning. I don't know whether an everyday buttery bagel can single-handedly spike one's cholesterol, but I'm sure it didn't help. The cheap choice was not the healthy choice.

So this week, I've been having yogurt and bananas and oatmeal every day. It's costing me more most days, but I'm just going to have to suck it up. For dinner, I've been trying to incorporate more stir-frys with vegetables and tofu and fish, and it's usually cheaper to eat less meat. I also want to cut back even more on dinners out, or at least try to-- and that could be a big savings.

Of course, many of you will read this and wonder why I don't just bring my breakfast at home instead of buying hot oatmeal in a deli. Sometimes I do eat instant oatmeal-- I keep a box in my office. I also often bring yogurts that I've bought in a grocery store along with my own berries. I could also follow Trent's instructions to make my own instant oatmeal packets, to really save money. But ultimately, there is a certain amount of money that I'm willing to spend on convenience factors. I try to make up for it in other areas of life where it's easier for me not to spend money, but I'll probably always spend more than I really have to on food. And if spending a little more makes it a little easier for me to eat healthier food, I think that is a good investment.

It's funny, if cholesterol was something I could track on a daily basis as I do my net worth, I think I would have an easier time tackling this!


Experts on Credit said...

I think you're on the right track switching back to oatmeal. Your health is more important. The way I see it, fast food is really cheap, but it doesn't mean I should eat it.

Anonymous said...

Good luck with this. Recently my husband also found out that his cholesterol was above normal. It came as a shock. Neither of us are overweight, I prepare almost all of our food from scratch, and my husband gets regular exercise--he bikes to work and back every day. I did a little bit of research. It looks like saturated fat levels raise your cholesterol. Exercise is also key in lowering it. A friend gave us a book called "The China Study" that talks about how bad animal proteins are for you. And then on the USDA website I saw that they have increased the requirements for fruit and veggies that you are supposed to be getting to 4-5 servings of each per day. We have made some minor adjustments to our diet to try to get his cholesterol back down. But I bet you must be feeling as surprised as we did. I thought we were living a healthy lifestyle : ) Good luck to you.

RichC said...

I've been tackling cholesterol for years now and can tell you that sometimes no matter what you do, you'll be dealing with heredity. Certainly lifestyle, diet and exercise will be helpful, but I would get on the phone with dear ol' mom and dad. (it will tell a lot if they have been dealing with cholesterol issues)

For me, 5 years of diet and exercise could not bring my numbers down ... but improved my ratio. I'm a reasonably fit 6'1" 180 lb middle aged male with numbers that rose from a total cholesterol of 220 to 298 over the past 8 years. (my mother's numbers were the same) I worked and worked at diet, Omega3s and "red wine" ;-) and the numbers continued to go up. My DO believed that cholesterol is over blown as a problem and won't consider medication. (which for the most part I liked not rushing to a pill) But, finally after switching to a new MD, he who told me that no matter what I would do, I couldn't fight heredity and wanted to prevent the life threatening consequences rolling the dice with high cholesterol. So, one year ago today I was given a low dose of Simvastatin (trade name Zocor) and my last two blood work numbers were 202 at 6 mos. and 158 at 12 mos. Down from 298 ... what a difference. I'll probably deal with these meds and potential side affects the rest of my life, but might prevent something far worse.

Keep the meds as a solution as you get older ... especially if you are unable to gain control through diet and exercise. (although that Red Wine solution might be worth trying?)

Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

Before you start modifying your diet, you might want to read Gary Taubes' book "Good Calories, Bad Calories". Taubes, an award-winning science writer, spent five years reviewing the research and the studies that influenced medical thinking on heart disease, cholesterol and mortality. You will be shocked by what he reveals--essentially, the research was biased, studies that didn't show what the researchers hoped they would were left unpublished or discredited.

It's a hefty tome, but Taubes' writing is clear--anyone with some college shouldn't have trouble with it. It's a compelling story.

Madame X said...

@ RichC-- oh yeah, the heredity thing is definitely a factor, my mom has been on cholesterol meds for a while. Fortunately, there doesn't seem to be much history of heart problems on either side of my family... but there's enough other stuff like diabetes that I am now having to take this stuff seriously!
So thanks for the info about medications, I'll definitely keep that in mind if things don't improve.

Hazzard said...

I kind of have to wonder if you are picking up a lot of this cholesterol from restaurants. I think people would be amazed to see how many calories and fat/cholesterol there is in restaurant food. After all, the primary mission of a restaurant owner is to get you to come back again and again so he can make money. Unfortunately, that means there is usually a bit more butter, oils, transfats etc in the food than you'd prepare at home.

Just my two cents.

Escape Brooklyn said...

My husband had the exact same problem. Here's what he did:

1) Fish oil supplements every day
2) Oatmeal with raisins and flaxseed every weekday (he cooks it at home so it's cheap)
3) Tofu cream cheese with multigrain bagels on the weekends
4) Egg whites or egg substitutes instead of whole eggs
5) Soy cheese instead of real cheese (including soy cheese pizza and soy cheese enchiladas, which I'm getting used to)
6) Long walks/runs a few days a week and biking every day
7) Olive oil for all cooking (no butter)
8) Soy margarine for baking cookies and cupcakes

Yes, it's been hard not eating real cheese and I do find myself craving eggs at the strangest times, but it got his cholesterol down from 224 to 180 in two months.

Whitestone said...

My hubby has rotten cholesterol numbers. His HDLs are nil. His LDLs are off the wall. Neither drugs nor diet help. About 22 years ago he suffered a mild heart attack. Twenty years ago had balloon angioplasty. We went vegan for awhile. Eat vegetarian a lot. Eat oatmeal every other day at least. Quit the cholesterol meds. Nothing helped his readings. All this to say that at age 73 he is in excellent health. Does pretty much what he pleases except that he does not lift extra heavy objects. Everyone thinks he looks and acts ten years younger than his age. Walks daily at a decent cllp.
I think we have become too glued to the cholesterol frenzy.

Sicilian said...

I am the cholesterol queen. . . . 10 years ago 180. . .I was a vegetarian. . . . each year since it has gone up. . . . I begged the doc to give me a year last year to change my diet and exercise more. . . no change in the numbers. . . I gave in to the drugs. . . dropped like a rock. . . 246 to 170.
I didn't want to start drugs to lower it, but nothing I did could change the numbers. . . .every person in my family has it. . . not even diet could save me.

mOOm said...

I have high cholesterol despite a pretty good diet. The problem is thyroid deficiency which I take medication for but still doesn't completely solve the problem. Did they check your thyroxine stats? Get ti checked if not.

Mary said...

I echo Clean Clutter Free Simple - there is so much focus on animals fats as a direct corollary to cholesterol level, but in fact the bagel, not the butter, could be the problem. Taubes is definitely a guy to follow.

Laura said...

I actually just got diagnosed with high cholesterol about a week ago. Not high total, but high LDL (bad cholesterol). I'll make an effort to start tagging my related blog posts with "cholesterol" so you can read just those if you want, but right now I'm just trying to be very, very careful when I go out to eat and being picky about what I order (I normally hate being that person, but now I have a medical reason to do so). I'm also hoping to set up an appointment with a nutritionist sometime soon. Good luck with yours!!!

Madame X said...

Thanks for all this great advice, everyone. I will definitely be trying to look into this more, and eating much more carefully in the meantime!

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