Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

What Does it Take to Cut Triglycerides by 75%?

May 25th, 2012 · 24 Comments · My Story

Kimball family

Many of you have been curious to get the full story about how we naturally lowered my husband’s triglyceride numbers with diet alone since I began hinting at his weight loss and lipids numbers back at the first Monday Mission about “Can Real Food Help you Lose Weight?

It’s been a long time since I shared DH’s numbers online, probably because they haven’t been very pleasant.

The last time I did, he had brought his triglycerides down over 100 points in the first year we had switched to “real food.” He was still 70 points over the highest recommended for good health, however. (See the numbers and what we were doing at the time here.)

My Husband’s Story

In fall 2010, we had been completely grain-free for 6-8 weeks when he had his lipids panel done in November. My husband had completed the entire P90X workout series (in 90 days, that’s 6 days/week of strenuous exercise) at the end of August, so although he had not done a ton of exercising during the immediate two months before the test, he was no stranger to fitness.

The recommendations from the doctor scribbled on the test results included “more exercise!” next to the low HDL, and “lower carbohydrate diet” next to the still-high triglycerides. In the past, doc has recommended both low carb and low fat diets for the trigs, which just screams to me that the medical establishment doesn’t know any more than I do about what will really fix high triglycerides.

When my husband went for a physical in fall 2011, they actually forgot to run the lipid panel on his blood. I’m not kidding. And yes, he fasted for it.

I can see God’s hand in that now, although it was immensely frustrating at the time, because two helpful things came out of it:

1. We’re motivated to look for a natural doctor who will actually care about their patients.

2. Since he still was curious about his numbers, we were able to get the test done at the end of Lent, when he was at his “very best I can do” in both fitness and diet.

What My Husband Did

For Lent, my husband counted calories, keeping himself to 2000-2500 per day. He did this NOT by changing his diet, but by simply reducing the amount of food he ate. We also go grain-free for the first half of Lent and gluten-free for the second half, so his grains/carbs intake was significantly different than your average Joe.

Other than simply avoiding sugary junk, he did not “cut carbs” in particular. Even on a grain-free diet, his carbs still rang in at about 35-45% of his total calories. Most of the carbs came from whole fruits and dried fruit, plus some potatoes and corn (in the form of chips and tortillas for Mexican meals).

In other words, calorie counting was simply a way to eating less food.

Breakfasts were often eggs (3 of them), sometimes with sausage added in, oatmeal a few times a week when we got grains back in (although less than usual, I think), or one of my homemade grain-free Paleo pancakes or grain-free pumpkin pancakes (above). He became a bit afraid of my grain-free granola (found in Healthy Snacks to Go, 2nd edition) once we clocked it at 750 calories and 55g of fat per cup!

His snacks were often comprised of nuts, which are very caloric, although he would have a smaller, more conscious serving than what was perhaps his normal casual handful (or two, or three).

Lunch was always one cup of plain, homemade yogurt (whole milk) with frozen fruit, a 2-cup Pyrex bowl of leftovers of some sort, and whole piece of fruit.

I didn’t change a thing about how I served dinner: He just didn’t take seconds, unless it was a high veggie meal and he had the headroom in his count.

He avoided adding cheese to his eggs, opting for veggies instead, and he would use half the salad dressing as usual and add mustard (just two little examples). But he did NOT skip salad dressing altogether, nor did we switch to low-fat dairy or products of any kind.

We still drank whole raw milk.

We still used plenty of fat to cook our vegetables.

His total fat intake ranged from 35-45% of his total calories.

Because of the calorie count, he realized he had ultimately “given up” desserts as well, since he simply rarely had calories leftover at the end of the day. He consumed very little if any refined sugar and far less natural sweeteners than usual. He used stevia to sweeten his yogurt and oatmeal.

He also did not drink any soda pop at all, which is a big change. He has decreased his pop drinking habit over the years of being married to me, but he still would have a few a week if I understand correctly (they’re only a quarter at his work, a terrible temptation!).

On the exercise front, he’s been running for a little over a year now and committed to working out 6 days a week again, combining P90X videos with training for a 10K three days a week.

He lost ten pounds in 7 weeks doing this, and then we had his lipids numbers run again a few weeks later. He did lighten up his eating habits, allowing the occasional gluten and not counting calories anymore, but by and large watching his portions now that he has trained himself to be more aware.

Want to See the Numbers?

There was some serious jumping up and down when the envelope was opened.

I nearly made a poster welcoming him home with the triglycerides number!

Year Total Cholesterol (goal is <200) HDL
(good, goal is >40)
LDL
(bad, goal is <130)
Triglycerides (goal is <150)
2006 177 31 74 360
2007 169 35 96 169
2008 182 36 80 331
2009 196 50 102 221
2010 181 32 91 291
2012 169 56 96 83

Notes:

  • 2006 was totally a Standard American Diet.
  • 2007 included cutting some pop to try to get trigs down and trying to eat more healthy fats, like avocado, to work on HDL. But we didn’t really know what we were doing, and you can see the conventional recommendations for HDL didn’t really work.
  • 2008 was at the end of the summer when Leah was born. Three times a week we had meals from someone else, with lots of pasta in there.
  • 2009 was the first year we were eating a traditional foods diet, at least somewhat. We were thrilled to see that all the new fats and better fats in our diet had improved the HDL considerably for the first time!
  • Note that his actual cholesterol, as well as the “bad” cholesterol levels, have always been within the “normal” acceptable range.

I followed a similar diet in quality although not quantity, eating no refined sugar and the same grains/gluten sacrifice during Lent, but eating whatever else I wanted in plenty large quantities. I managed to shave off about 5 pounds of baby weight, although I do feel I have a bit more to go. That darn sweet tooth…

What was the Key?

Since we were already grain-free and he was pretty active as of 2010′s test, we are left wondering what did the trick:

  • Remaining low gluten long term?
  • Losing 10 pounds?
  • Cutting calories?
  • More activity?
  • Less sugar?
  • All of the above?
Vitamin D

While I’m looking at these documents from the lab tests, it’s worth mentioning that my husband’s Vitamin D levels have been low the past two years. After last year’s result, he made more of an effort to take his fermented cod liver oil regularly, but I’m thinking he needs to take more. In capsule form, there’s just not all that much in each one, so you have to take 4-10 in order to get the recommended 2000 IUs of Vitamin D the doctor wrote on the lab test this year (up from 1000 IUs last year).

I check out the test data from Green Pasture products, and it looks like the FCLO could range from 650 IUs/mL to over 2000 IUs/mL. That’s where I got the number 4-10 capsules, since 2 capsules = 500 mg, and 1/2 teaspoon on the liquid bottle = 2.5 g = 2500 mg = 2.5 mL. Therefore, if I can still do math, 2 capsules would be 0.5 mL. Got all that? I think DH has been taking about 4-6, so hopefully if we increase that to 10 a day (phew!) he can get his D levels up.

Of course, sun exposure is the best way to make Vitamin D in the body, so we’re also trying to get him out of the office midday for a 10-minute walk in shorts and short sleeves, but that can only last a certain number of months here in Michigan!

By the way, unflavored FCLO is on SUPER sale right now, down to $26 from $44. If you can add your own flavoring or just knock it back, this is one of the best deals you’ll see all year! (Some other products are also on sale, although not quite as low.) Shop HERE.

Katie’s Weight Loss Journey?

I’ve never been truly overweight, barring perhaps mid-college when caf food was not kind to me.

But anyone who’s had a child has a weight loss story, even if it’s just, “I nursed off the pounds,” which is pretty much my tale with each of my three pregnancies.

I just tried on my shorts from two summers ago (as I was pregnant last summer), and some of them fit. Not all of them. Do I have a bit more weight to lose? I’d like to tone up my middle, for sure, even though the scale is pretty close to where I’d like to be (within a few pounds of pre-pregnancy weight, but still about 7-8 pounds shy of where I have been since baby number one).

One pair of shorts that is uncomfortably tight, although it would fasten, I know for certain was purchased when I was a waitress the summer after my freshman year of college. I’m pretty sure I weighed what I do now, or maybe even a pound or two more. So you see, weight isn’t everything. I like the idea of not even having a scale like the reader who commented in the real food weight loss keys post.

While I’m talking about pants sizes, I have to vent.

I think it’s demeaning and ultimately harmful for clothing companies to continue to lower their sizing so that people can feel good about themselves because they fit into a certain pants size. My size “6 medium” from the college waitressing job are too tight, yet the few size 4 petite and 4 regular jeans that I bought in January are literally falling off me. I don’t have to unbutton one of them to go to the bathroom! (Handy when baby is fussy, but not ideal for modesty on the backside!! And yes, I should have waited another month or two to shop for jeans, clearly.)

What’s the deal with pants sizes? At this rate, when I’m 60, I’ll be in a size zero and some rather obese people will be strutting around, happily sporting size 8 jeans so they feel better about themselves and the clothing companies’ pockets get lined!

My own goal, getting back to topic, is to get out walking more often (I biked son to school this Wednesday and walked to pick him up, logging a few miles in the process), do some 8-minute ab routines on YouTube with the hubby, and (ahem) get better at sticking to dark chocolate instead of other junk when I need a sweet tooth fix, and focusing on real food for late-night snacking instead of junk. (Yes, even the Kitchen Stewardship lady eats junk.) Winking smile

I’m going to be reading along with Mandi’s Break the Sugar Habit series at Life Your Way, which will be introduced next week and kicks off formally with a “no sugar” (at all) challenge the first full week of June. She’s pulling in lots of blogger power to help you kick that sugar habit, and I think it’s going to be one to keep an eye on.

For now, the Real Food Weight Loss and Exercise series is closing down with one more post, one that will prove why this post perhaps should have been titled “The Kimball Family Stays Healthy” and forget about the “weight loss.”

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24 Comments so far ↓

  • Chelsea

    Congratulations! It’s such hard work to loose weight. It is so true how eating right can help tremendously with weight loss. I’m scared by the documentary “Super Size Me”, and I’m totally motivated not to eat like that, and only eat the best possible things!
    Great job again!
    Keep up the good work!

  • laura

    Pants sizing aren’t getting smaller because of vanity sizing. It is because the population is getting bigger. A size ten is supposed to be the medium side for a line of clothes. If the target customer gets larger,then the size ten will get larger. http://www.fashion-incubator.com/archive/the_myth_of_vanity_sizing/

    That is great about your husband.

    Sharon Reply:

    Works out the same, though, doesn’t it? As it is, there aren’t many stores where I can afford to shop that carry any pants my size (0/2, depending on the cut). And are the manufacturers going to start producing negative number sizes as the 10 gets bigger?

    Laura Reply:

    Yeah i’m in the same boat. I end up buying children’s pants often–and sew my own clothing as well. Unfortunately sewing a pair of pants is super difficult and I have yet to master it. But there now exists sizes 0 and 00 where they didn’t exist before. Probably because the range of sizes in the population has become larger. I think the key for smaller people is to find a brand that targets a smaller population and vice verse for the opposite.

    Lauren Reply:

    how sad is it that having a healthy weight is becoming a liability?

  • Jessica

    Thank you so much for posting this!!! I have similar triglyceride/cholesterol problems, and have slowly been trying to incorporate more whole foods into my diet. This really makes me sure that I need to make more of a change. I know not everyone is the same, but seeing the improvements just reinforces my gut feeling about what I should be doing over the generic suggestions of the doctor. Keep up the good work.

  • lexee

    yeah!!! that’s exciting to see! congratulations to your husband. :)

    without changing anything to our pretty healthy diet, both my husband and i have lost inches (not sure about weight since we don’t own a scale) simply by switching our workouts to interval training. i read several articles on mercola.com about interval training and weight training using the super slow method. we seriously only work out 2 or 3 times a week (and with interval training, you definitely SHOULDN’T do more than that). this form of exercise gets you in better shape than training for a marathon – literally. we both have better endurance because of interval training. and the workouts are only 20 min long! seriously, this has been such a sweet find for us… we’re in better shape than we’ve ever been!

    sarah Reply:

    Can you recommend some sites with example workouts?

    lexee Reply:

    yes! here are the articles from mercola.com that have a few videos and TONS of info on why and how it works.

    the great thing about peak fitness is that it is SO adaptable… you can do these workouts on an elliptical, bike, outside, etc. and obviously the slow method with either free weights or weight machines!

    http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2012/05/11/benefits-of-super-slow-workouts.aspx?e_cid=20120511_FNL_art_1

    (at the end of the top video dr. mercola demonstrates slow weight training… the others demonstrate peak cardio)

    http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2010/11/13/phil-campbell-on-sprint-8-exercises.aspx

    here’s a summary of how it works:

    “Here’s a summary of what a typical Peak Fitness routine might look like using a recumbent bike (although you can perform this on an elliptical machine or treadmill, or with any type of exercise you prefer):

    -Warm up for three minutes
    -Exercise as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should feel like you couldn’t possibly go on another few seconds
    -Recover for 90 seconds
    -Repeat the high intensity exercise and recovery 7 more times”

    give it a try… 20 minutes a few times a week is definitely doable! :)

  • Dawn

    Regarding taking CLO for Vit D. I have had really low D levels and had to seriously supplement to get them up, to the tune of at least 10-15,000 IU a day of the liquid versions. I noticed that when I added CLO, my levels were significantly higher. My theory is that there is a synergistic effect of some sort with CLO, and you get a much greater rise per IU of Vit D. YMMV.

  • Lauren

    Yay for progress! I’d be thrilled to see my cholesterol numbers move so nicely in the right direction.

    Have you seen this about VitD? http://www.mommypotamus.com/why-vitamin-d-supplements-cant-replace-sunshine/

    High LDL can also be an indicator of lingering infection or nutrient imbalance. The Jaminets talk about this in a few posts (which can get long, but are worthwhile) – try starting here: http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2011/04/how-to-raise-hdl/ Otherwise, there’s a lot of chatter about various cholesterol numbers, what they mean, and how to adjust them, on PaleoHacks.

    More on why interval training is a better investment than cardio: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/case-against-cardio/#axzz1vurzG4rv

  • Rebecca

    According to traditional food bloggers, we should not be so worried about cholesterol counts? Do you not agree with that? Are tryglicerides more “dangerous” than cholesterol? I had a similar discussion with someone the other day and I couldn’t answer the question.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Rebecca,
    I definitely don’t know all the answers to that one either, but I do think triglycerides may be a bad deal – they’re fairly strongly linked to early heart disease, esp. when paired with low HDL…
    Katie

  • Holly

    That is so true about the changing pants sizes! I have had the very same experience – old pants insize 6 that no longer fir, but now I wear a 2. Crazy!

  • katherine

    I have a suggestion for the salad dressing thing – my stepmother started doing this years ago after a suggestion from a friend and it makes a pretty drastic change for a salad’s calorie count (though making potentially a little extra waste…)

    instead of covering your salad with dressing, you just put a little puddle of it on the side of the plate. then you just swish your fork tines in the puddle before you pick up each fork-full of salad. it is usually just enough flavor to the salad and if that bite does not have enough dressing, well, you already have it in your mouth and you can figure it out with the next one :] you can go from using like an ounce of dressing to the most negligible bit.

  • Alison

    My husband had a similar panel to your husband for years (they are probably about the same age). We have been switching over to a whole foods diet for a few years now in baby steps. This past year he lost 70+ pounds simply by counting calories. If he wanted something he ate it, but he made sure to watch the daily calories. As a result, all of his numbers are now normal too. (I did a happy dance too!)

    Like you, I am puzzled by what was the trigger particularly on the triglycerides – for him it could have been weight loss, moderate exercise 3x per week, only good fats, less junk overall… We definitely do not eat grain or gluten free, though my husband tries to keep his carb intake less than 40%.

    Congratulations to you both, I hope many years of good health follow!

  • Kathryn

    Um, i think those triglycerides are a bit too low. Congrats on the good work and sticking to it, but the goal isn’t zero! And having them too low can be a problem.

    Not to be negative. He did a great job, as have you all. Good work! :)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Kathryn,
    It was quite a change – I wonder what the risks of “too low” are…I was thinking mine were like 29 or something, but maybe that’s not right either! I just know I didn’t have any issues, so I didn’t have to get them done again for a while… :) Katie

  • Valerie

    So glad to hear about your husband’s progress! I have similar problems with cholesterol and triglycerides, with a family history of heart attack and stroke. Being now 45 years old (the same age my uncle was when he had his FIRST massive heart attack resulting in a quadruple bypass), I’ve been working on this for several years. But I’ve only started the Real Food direction seriously this year. I don’t think I’m as 100% Real as you all, but I’m making good progress. Hoping my numbers go the same way your husband’s did! Thanks for sharing!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Valerie,
    Good for you! My husband’s uncle had a near-fatal heart attack at 31, which is his age. Yes, scary!

    Keep up the good work! :) Katie

  • J in VA

    Vit D3 in 2000IU and 5000IU gel caps are available without great difficulty for those that need them.

  • Gary in L.A.

    Great website! Thanks. One thing I’ve noticed that nobody is mentioning is stress. Could it have been a stress factor during those periods your husband had raised levels? Americans continuously ignore the massive impact that stress has on our bodies. If only we had the Laissez faire attitudes over here. We’d be stress free like the French. Keep up the good work!

  • Nora@ The Dollar Holllering Homemaker

    got a gift card to Walmart and was looking at getting a new bath robe. My current robe has marker stains on it and who knows what else. In things like robes and winter jackets I usually upsize. It’s nice to use the same robe when pregnant. Anyway, they didn’t have the color I wanted in XL so I went over to the plus size area to see if the 1X might work. When I compared the regular sizes to the plus sizes. I noticed that the XL in regular is actually bigger than the 2XL in Plus size. I never thought that a medium might be going up a size for me. I’m 5’11 with a 38 inch, inseam and have never been a small in anything. It’s never bothered me that I wear a L. My build is bigger than my 5’0 friends. I used to say- I could never be a healthy size 0–maybe with the changes in sizing – I might be!

  • Natalia

    Congratulations to your husband, but unfortunately one size doesnt fit all. My mother has been on Gaps for a year (7 months on Intro with no fruits or other sweetener but honey) and her triglycerides are still very high (500) but they DID go down from almost 3000.

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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