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  • awarrenfuller

Let Food Be Thy Way To Avoid Prescription Drugs...or something like that

Recently in my clinic, I saw a 26-year-old male patient whose total cholesterol was 250 (normal is below 200) and his LDL (aka "bad cholesterol") was 143 (optimal is below 100). We were both surprised because he was otherwise healthy – he exercised almost daily and was of normal weight. He had originally come in for a routine physical and was experiencing a lot of fatigue, so we decided to do some blood work. This patient’s father also had a history of high cholesterol and heart disease, but when we began talking about his daily diet, it was clear that this was the culprit too.

Genetics often plays an important role in determining our risk for developing chronic diseases such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. But we’re not doomed by our genes – we have a lot of agency over this! Often, chronic diseases run in families because everyone is eating the same way and have similar lifestyles.

My patient, being so young and now knowing this important piece of information about himself, is at a real advantage. He can now make important lifestyle changes that will likely change the trajectory of his life, hopefully helping him sidestep the path of chronic disease his father had experienced. We can’t fix problems that we don’t know exist – so go get your physical and your labs checked!

Ok, so you have high cholesterol or, like my patient, have both high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease. Or maybe you don’t have any of that but want to prevent these problems in the future. Paying attention to the foods we eat and adding some simple ingredients that help lower cholesterol naturally is key to avoiding expensive and sometimes harmful prescription drugs and will ensure that our bodies stay healthy for the long haul.

The best and most simple nutrition advice for preventing, treating, and reversing high cholesterol and other chronic medical problems is what I call the ENM rule, originally said by author, Michael Pollan, who wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

E-N-M. Simple? Yes. Effective? Absolutely! Easy? ...Maybe!

This simple and sage ENM rule acts as a guide to lead us in the right direction toward better health. Answering the questions, “Is this meal considered whole food? Is it mostly plant-based?” and then slowing down and checking in with yourself while you’re eating to mindfully stop when you’re 80% full will put you way ahead of the game and will help establish a solid foundation for a healthier life.

Beyond the ENM rule, I have my "go-to" list of foods and ingredients that can help specifically target high cholesterol. I've not only seen incredible improvements in patients' cholesterol levels after making these changes, but also dramatic increases in energy, lower incidence of constipation, skin problems, joint pain, and hormone problems. Eating this way is like a full-body tune-up.

Our goal in medicine should always be prevention. Helping patients prevent and treat chronic disease with lifestyle change is one of the most gratifying parts of my job. I love talking about food and the amazing properties of plants that work like beautiful magic to keep our bodies in balance and help stave off disease. If this is all new to you, start slow. Maybe start with 2 servings of fruits and veggies daily instead of 5. And don't worry if the 2 cups of legumes give you the toots -- it'll get better with time. And I'll take toots over taking a statin any day.



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