Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Nutrition Debate #34: Foods that Raise HDL

“HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU ALL,” my doctor, an internist and cardiologist, wrote in an email that he broadcast, I assume, to his friends and selected patients. I replied with a similar wish and a request of him for fresh ideas for subjects/titles for my blog,, which he reads. To my delight he replied with four pithy subjects, the first of which was “Foods that raise HDL.” HDL is “the good cholesterol” in your blood lipid profile.

Actually, I was not surprised by this suggestion. My HDL has almost doubled from 43 average to 78 average since I began eating the way I do. And it was my doctor who suggested that I start this Way of Eating 10 years ago in 2002.

Before I started Low Carbing, my HDL was, in reverse order, 48, 44, 61, 53, 50, 42, 41, 39, 38, 37, 38, 38, 39, 41, 39 & 42 (average of 16 HDL’s over 22 years: 43). The desired range for men is ≥40mg/dl, and for women ≥ 50mg/dl. My recent HDL values, again in reverse order: 67, 92, 78, 71, 78, 81, 86, 91, 98, 67, 57, 63, 79 & 86 (average of 14 HDL’s: 78). I don't know what has caused my HDL to go up since I started Low Carbing. I wish I did. But it's gotta be the foods I eat, right?

The other lipid test that has dramatically improved over the same period is my triglycerides. Before I started Low Carbing, my triglyceride average of 21 previous lipid tests was 137. My triglycerides average for the last (most recent) 21 lipid tests has been 54. I attribute this dramatic improvement primarily to taking fish oil supplements (4 grams daily initially, down to 2 grams a day today). I also eat a can of sardines packed in olive oil almost every day for lunch.

For breakfast I eat 2 fried eggs with 2 strips of bacon and a big cup of coffee with full cream and two Splenda. For lunch I usually eat a can of sardines packed in olive oil and some Splenda sweetened ice tea. Water would be a better choice, of course, but the critical point is: for breakfast, no juice or fruit or bread or cereal or jelly or milk or sugar. They are all high in carbohydrates. And worse, table sugar, and the sugar content of fruits, including whole fruit and fruit juices, is at a minimum fifty percent fructose, which is a liver toxin when taken in large amounts over a long period of time (see #30).

For these two meals, every day, I eat a very small meal of just fat and protein. I eat no snacks whatsoever mid morning or mid afternoon. I don’t need them. I’m not hungry. The fat and protein provide satiety and support my muscle needs. My body is running on fat, my fat, both the fat I eat and my body fat. I am a ‘fat burner,’ not a ‘sugar burner.’ The body (the brain mostly) gets the small amount of glucose it needs from the small amount I eat and from ketone bodies from the breakdown of fat cells, and from gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogenesis occurs when the amino acids from the protein I eat that is not taken up by muscles, etc. is stored in the liver and is then reconstituted as glucose when the body calls for it.

For dinner I eat a small portion of protein (roasted, baked or broiled), a selected vegetable, and sometimes a glass or two of red wine. With rare exception I don’t eat carrots, peas, corn or beets. They all contain too much sugar. And, of course, I don’t eat pasta or starchy vegetables like potatoes and winter squash or grains like rice and couscous. I also try to avoid anything fried or cooked in vegetable oil, -- any seed vegetable oil. The oils I use liberally are olive oil, butter and lard. I own a jar of coconut oil, a very good (for you) medium chain triglyceride, but I haven’t worked it into my diet yet. It’s a saturated fat, but because of its chain length, it ‘burns’ quickly and easily for energy, instead of being stored.

I intentionally select fatty meats and fish, eat chicken with the skin on (the skin is mostly monounsaturated fat), and like to slow cook (braise) grass-fed cuts of meat (brisket, osso bucco, shanks, hocks, etc. I do not limit dietary saturated fats or cholesterol. I eat all the shrimp and liver and (free-range, pastured) chicken eggs I want. And the result? Well, look at the beginning of this column. My HDL has gone from 43 to 78 and my triglycerides from 137 to 54 as a result, on account of what I eat. My LDL cholesterol and Total Cholesterol have both remained essentially constant, and both within range.

So, my answer to your question, doc, is that I really don’t know what SPECIFIC foods have raised my HDL. My answer is it’s the Way of Eating YOU SUGGESTED way back in August 2002 after you had read Gary Taubes’ “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie” in The New York Times Sunday Magazine July 7th cover story, and tried the diet yourself (and lost 17 pounds).

© Dan Brown 1/1/12

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