I haven’t talked much about cholesterol-beating-diet matters on this blog for a while; the book‘s still going strong and helping people and I’m keeping my cholesterol levels down just fine (last results in January – doctor still happy with me).

I’ve recently read an article by my friend Sandy (warning, it has explicit details about ulcerative colitis which aren’t ideal dinnertime reading). which gets across very clearly the trials of living with a medical condition that requires you to have a special eating regime. Even though she has a named illness which gives her an immediate and unpleasant reaction if she eats anything to which she’s sensitive, she still struggles to get people to understand what she can eat and why she can’t eat the things she can’t eat.

It’s trickier in some ways (while acknowledging of course that my immediate health condition is not as serious as having UC or diabetes, coeliac disease, peanut allergies, etc.) having the kind of condition that is not immediate – eating one doughnut isn’t going to immediately fell me (although it will have a reasonably unpleasant effect – see below), but putting saturated fat back in my diet is likely to let my cholesterol rise again and put me at a higher risk of stroke and heart disease – and, more immediately, will have the doctor sticking me straight on the statins, drugs I don’t want to take if I can help it. So it is important for me to stick to the regime I’ve been on for five years now, and I’m constantly trying to refine and improve the way I explain it.

Like Sandy, there are various common comments which I experience regularly – and I’m sure anyone else who’s on a cholesterol-controlling diet will get them, too. They include

  • Oh, I couldn’t give up chocolate / cheese – if it’s the choice between them and some drugs that are not always side-effect free, and your heart health, you might well do, plus dark chocolate is OK in moderation and you can get cheese with low saturated fat, you just can’t eat cheese in public unless you take it with you.
  • How can someone like you have high cholesterol? (I’m fit and have a decent height/weight ratio) – you can inherit this tendency to high cholesterol and the doctor thinks that’s what happened.
  • Are you on a diet / haven’t you reached your target weight yet? – I’m not on “a diet”, I don’t do weight-loss diets although I’m a big fan of eating healthily and exercising regularly, this is a specific item cut from my food intake to control my cholesterol. I know many dieters avoid fat in general; I avoid saturated fat in particular.
  • Ooh that avocado’s full of fat, are you sure – Yup, it’s the saturated fat I avoid. Some foods are high in the “good” fats and fine for me.
  • Should you be eating that plate of meringues if you’re on a diet? – In my case, and with lots of people I’ve come across, sugar and carbs don’t affect our cholesterol levels. As I’m not on a weight-loss diet and very few treaty dessert foods are low sat-fat, I treat myself to what I can have (and my dentist confirms this has had no effect on my teeth).
  • Go on, treat yourself – Problem is, keeping rigorously to this plan and not ingesting very much saturated fat means that I can’t actually tolerate it any more – and I would assume (please let me know) that other people who do this are the same. An example: the other night I had a muffin in Starbucks. They do a skinny muffin with very low sat fat (made of unicorn dust and magic, obviously), and I was so looking forward to it that I didn’t really check properly when they said the unlabelled muffin was “a skinny one”. I thought it was a bit iffy, but I will admit that I had it anyway. By the time I got home, I had a bad stomach ache, and felt pretty unwell for a good few hours. Not worth it. I have IBS as well, triggered by stress, and I don’t want to provoke that. So I’ll only treat myself to treats I know I can have (see meringues, above).

Do you get comments about your cholesterol-beating diet, and how do you counter them and explain to people? I’d love to know!

A good dining experience at “The Four Oaks”

We had a family meal at The Four Oaks in, um, well, Four Oaks near Sutton Coldfield the other weekend. Looking at the menu beforehand, I could find one thing that I could possibly eat if I asked them to tweak something. That felt a bit worrying, so I called them and checked in advance, spoke to one of the owners, and they were very helpful. I was able to explain what I needed (using the initial explanation that I had a dietary requirement and was struggling to find anything I could eat at a family party, adding that I was on a low-fat diet for medical reasons ). They had advised the chef and our server before we got there, and had a very good, no-nonsense attitude – none of that “oh, treat yourself”, just checking that what they sent out was OK for me. I was able to have a nice piece of grilled fish, a jacket potato without the butter and a tasty salad, which came out to me with no dressing  (that doesn’t always happen). Oh, and they had lovely sorbets on the pudding menu. All of this process was helped by them providing full nutritional information on their website.

It is part of a small chain, and I think those and independent gastro-pub places are probably better than the big chains in this respect (for example, they cook their food from fresh, rather than reheating pre-prepared meals), although Wetherspoons pubs have good nutritional information and a range of things low-fat folks can eat. You also have to be vigilant – I thought IKEA was OK, as they cooked everything in rapeseed oil, went back there confidently the other week, only to discover they’re back to generic “vegetable oil”, nothing was suitable and I had to walk out of the whole shop (no mean feat!) to find a sandwich in a supermarket.

Do you have a special way to explain your cholesterol-beating food regime that works every time? Do you need help countering particular questions or comments? Do comment below and let me know.

And if you’ve found this article because you’re looking for advice, you can find information on my book about how I lowered my cholesterol naturally and kept it down here.