Apologies for what you are about to read. It’s boring (not to me!) but I’m on a roll and I can’t be stopped! Kudos if you make it through.
I was vegetarian for half of my life. Most people are already aware of this and are also aware that I had to depart from my beloved diet for health reasons. For a brief period of time, all I could tolerate was ground meat and potatoes. My refeeding phase after the great starvation of 2012/2013 was a free-for-all. Eating healthy food was not helping me gain weight, so I ate junk tempered with healthier foods for a year. My doctor encouraged me to chow down on PB&J’s and slam soda and milkshakes – something she claimed she wouldn’t say to any other patient. At 84 pounds, I needed those extra junkie calories that would stick. And stick they did.
I floated around 125# for a bit after many months of what was actual physical torture. I certainly looked ‘better’ – doctors and family agreed. Nothing like a little edema to fill out those sunken eyes. My labwork was not in agreeance. My inflammation sky-rocketed and my kidneys kept shutting down. I spent 80% of my time in the bathroom and I was tossed into the hospital repeatedly where I eventually had my million dollar work up, to include a kidney biopsy that was long overdue.
I had bile acid malabsorption – quite common in IBD, so I was given a powdery drink called cholestyramine which tastes like horse-dookie, if horse-dookie were made of chalk. It was originally designed to sequester cholesterol in people with hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), but it also does a good job of sequestering bile acid when the small bowel isn’t doing its job. In the normal-gutted population, it causes constipation. In people with IBS-D and IBD, it helps slow diarrhea and prevents a burning ring of fire.
Before I could start chugging this nasty concoction, I had to have my cholesterol checked. Also known as a lipid panel. It didn’t come back the way I expected it to. It seems that a year of eating out of a dumpster completely jacked up my cholesterol, or I assume it did. It was the first time my cholesterol was checked. My total cholesterol was high, my HDL (good cholesterol) was low, and my cholesterol to HDL ratio was over 7, putting me at a high risk of cardiovascular disease.
One of the jerkface medical students told me I should eat better and exercise more. What a dick! I wasn’t spending two weeks in the hospital for the fun of it! If I could eat ‘better’, I would and there’s nothing like a good long run to exorcise the demons, but no, that was not an option either. I was only able to tolerate the cholestyramine for about a month and had to stop when my stomach refused to comply.
For the past two years, I’ve been thinking every time I have a twinge of pain in my chest, it’s butter filling up my arteries. Really, all I’ve eaten in the past year or so is guacamole, sour cream, potato chips, and anything with a giant hunk of butter or coconut oil on it. The fat to other food ratio is easily 3:1. Whether I meant to or not, I was eating a high fat, low-ish carb diet. I did try the ketogenic diet but after a while, even thinking about eating an egg fried in two tablespoons of butter made me want to ralph. Yech.
I happened to notice that the lab work ordered by my PCM a couple of months ago included a lipid panel. Crap. This means I get to beat myself up all over again for “eating” junk (I’m not a fan of the tube feeding formula) and being forced to sit on my ass 23/7. Uncool, dude. Despite all of the life-threatening, serious shtuff that’s wrong with me, I found myself freaking out over this cholesterol test. If it’s high, he’ll try to put me on statins. No thanks. Hugs, not drugs.
I expected that this test would be worse than the last one, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.
I’ll be damned. Better. VLDL was halved, along with triglycerides. My total cholesterol is now normal (it was never that high, to begin with), and my HDL, the desirable cholesterol that shuttles “bad” cholesterol out of the body, multiplied itself by nearly three! It says high on the lab result, but levels over 60 mg/dL are considered protective and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.
No one argues that avocados are filled with the best type of fat – unsaturated. But what about coconut oil? Most of the fat in it is saturated, which many people claim is bad (including a new study). I bake and fry exclusively with coconut oil because it’s stable at higher temperatures and is less likely to burn than butter.
Does coconut oil increase LDL (“Bad”) cholesterol? Based on my lab results, yes it does. But when you break down LDL into subtypes, VLDL is worse than LDL. Also, whether a cholesterol balance is “good” or not really lies in the cholesterol ratios and not so much the individual numbers (total:HDL, LDL:HDL, and HDL:Triglycerides).
Old test ratios:
Your Total Cholesterol/HDL ratio is: 7.17 – (preferably under 5.0, ideally under 3.5) AT RISK
Your LDL/HDL ratio is: 2.414 – (preferably under 5.0, ideally under 2.0) GOOD
Your triglycerides/HDL ratio is: 4.448 – (preferably under 4, ideally under 2) HIGH RISK
New test ratios:
Your Total Cholesterol/HDL ratio is: 2.15 – (preferably under 5.0, ideally under 3.5) IDEAL
Your LDL/HDL ratio is: 1.023 – (preferably under 5.0, ideally under 2.0) IDEAL
Your triglycerides/HDL ratio is: 0.628 – (preferably under 4, ideally under 2) IDEAL
My LDL did increase, but my VLDL and triglycerides decreased. An LDL under 100 and VLDL under 40 is optimal. Since 70% of my diet was a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats, some of which included plenty of dietary cholesterol, one would expect these numbers to be much higher. But they aren’t. Why? Because I kept my carbs under 80 grams a day more often than not (a rough estimate). High levels of glucose encourage the liver to produce “bad” cholesterol because a high sugar/high carbohydrate diet is more difficult for the body to process and the result is that the liver pumps out more triglycerides so it can process all of the sugar.
As I talked about at length in my rant about the falsely vilified fried potato, these studies lack the level of detail and control to reach any sort of definitive result. They’re also looking at a single cholesterol type and not the entire ratio profile. This means that it’s taken out of context.
If you eat a “normal” Western diet, yes, it’s probably a good idea to limit the amount of coconut oil you consume and stick to those bitchen’ avocados (unsaturated fats – oils that are liquid at room temp are mostly unsaturated) instead. Does this mean coconut oil isn’t healthy? Absolutely not. At the same time, I don’t believe that coconut oil is the magical cure-all that some people claim it is – although it does make an awesome moisturizer. Coconut oil IS delicious and can be part of a HEALTHY diet. Take that, American Heart Association.