This is something I recently discovered. And I am one of them. Having taken my first nutrition class last semester, one of the most interesting chapters we went over (in my opinion) was cholesterol because, well, my body makes too damn much of it.
For those who don’t know, cholesterol is naturally produced in the liver therefore attaining cholesterol through the diet is totally unnecessary.
Cholesterol via dietary sources is only found in animal products. So that’s meat, eggs, yogurt, milk, butter, and cheese which are all chock full of the stuff. And it’s saturated af, meaning the high fat content found in these foods have an easier chance of creating plaque build up in your arteries which can lead to heart disease, stroke, and even death.
Of course, as with any food you eat, moderation is key. But due to genetics, I discovered that not only does my liver make too much of the stuff, I absorb way too much cholesterol from the foods I eat as well. After I found this out, I did a lot of research and found out that heart disease is the number one cause of death in America. And that women have a higher chance at attaining heart disease than men…especially if you’re genetically susceptible like me. Studies show that vegetarians and vegans have all around better numbers, and not just for cholesterol levels, but for blood pressure and have improved digestion and lowered risk of diabetes and attaining certain cancers as well.
Learning to eat for my heart health and to support healthy cholesterol levels, was a huge eye opener. I realized that 3 oz. = 1 portion of meat. That was a major shocker. On top of that, I learned that given my lipid levels, I should not consume more than 200 mg of cholesterol a day– which is hardly anything!
I’ve always loved chicken. Turkey. And filet mignon with crumpled bleu cheese. So the first 6 months that I stuck to this new plan of mindful portion and cholesterol control, my whole lifestyle sort of changed to accommodate it. I squeezed my way into the plant-based diet category because of my large consumption of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and minimal consumption of meat. If I did decide to eat meat that day, I had to keep track of how many mg of cholesterol and saturated fat I consumed. It was absolutely exhausting.
Eventually, and due to my innate ability to continue to practice math every single day (seriously tho, it’s my least favorite subject), I decided to eliminate chicken, beef, pork, and turkey. I did stick with the cheese (reduced fat) and the fish (I have an undying love for salmon) because those are two foods that have relatively low total saturated fat and cholesterol contents. Plus they’re delicious. These foods are also in the Mediterranean diet food pyramid which is a highly recommended way to eat to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Since December 18, I’ve been a loose version of what some might call a pescatarian. I eat fish, egg whites, and dairy such as reduced fat cheese and almond milk (which contains more calcium than milk!) occasionally. The rest of my diet includes hearty portions of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as well as minimal portions of healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, and oils. Giving up most animal products hasn’t been all that hard because of the delicious alternatives I’ve created and discovered. Growing up, I even remember enjoying vegetarian or vegan dishes every once and a while because (being the foodie that I am) as long as it tasted good, I was always down.
I’ve found it funny because I’ve chosen a mostly veg, plant-based lifestyle not because I feel sorry for the animals (which I do, don’t get me wrong), but because of personal health. I just didn’t become a plant-based eater the conventional way most people do.
The way I’ve chosen to eat makes me happy because I know that I am fueling my body right. You only get one body and its your responsibility to take care of it. Becoming a loose pescatarian is how I’ve decided to take care of mine.
(PSSST: nobody’s perfect. I still allow myself to indulge on the occasional cup of froyo or lasagna at a family get together as well as sweets and other treats that I see fit. Don’t forget to love yourself and treat yourself from time to time. Because mentally, that’s just as important) 🙂