Good cholesterol news!

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I don’t often write about my anti-high-cholesterol regime here, although I’ve reviewed a number of cheeses and restaurants under the High Cholesterol category. I had high cholesterol diagnosed a good number of years ago now (2010!), but the doctor gave me sixth months to bring it down, which I managed to do. I have annual blood tests because I’m on a very low-dose blood pressure tablet, and we make sure to test my total cholesterol plus “good” HDL and triglycerides so I can monitor it. I didn’t have this test last year as I had a blood panel as part of an operation I had, so two years without one and JUST after a holiday in Cornwall when the odd scone may have been involved, I was a bit nervous about my results.

According to the HeartUK website:

Total Cholesterol (TC): this is the total amount of cholesterol in your blood.  Ideally it should be 5 mmol/L* or less. mine is 5.3, however, see below, the extra is made up of “good” cholesterol.

HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) should be over 1.2 mmol/L for a woman and over 1 mmol/L for a man. Higher levels confer more protection against heart disease. My HDL level is 1.82 mmol/L, accounting for the extra 0.3 on the total and a bit more.

Non HDL-Cholesterol: this is your total cholesterol minus your HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) and is the sum of all the  “bad” cholesterols added together (including LDL cholesterol) – ideally it should be 4 mmol/L* or less. Mine is 3.48 mmol/L.

Fasting triglyceride levels should be below 1.7 mmol/L for both men and women. Non fasting triglycerides should be below 2.3 mmol/L. My non-fasting triglycerides are 1.00 mmol/L. Hooray!

I have got and kept my cholesterol levels down through a careful dietary regime (gleaned from the Heart UK advice, which is still to eat plenty of brown carbs, fruit and veg (and oats!) and keep the saturated fat down).  My long-distance running also helps promote good cholesterol. This has personally worked for me: there is alternative advice out there talking about low carbs and sugars, however personally this works and has worked for a number of other people. I did write a book about this which has helped a good few people (making it clear to consult a GP first and that this is only one option) and you can read more about the book and my regime, if you’re interested, here.

So if you’re a friend or family member and I make a fuss about what and where I eat, this is why (turns out, if you don’t eat much fat you get really uncomfortable side-effects when you do eat it!) and why I’m comfortable staying with that behaviour. And I’m quite proud of myself for being able to get and keep it down.

Back to the books soon, don’t worry!

 

What do you say? and a review: anti-cholesterol diet bits and bobs

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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.

Book reviews – My Animals and Other Family, Running my Life, and some new lovelies!

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Dec 2013 TBRTwo sporting autobiographies today, almost read in order; I am skipping about a bit but the temptation to put my reads in pairs is pretty overwhelming. Hopefully it all makes sense. I was doing MARVELLOUSLY with my TBR, too, getting it down to two books by the time a Macomber taken from the back had allowed a front shelf book to pop behind and those first three books to the left were read or getting read … then it was the BookCrossing Birmingham Christmas Do last night, complete with Secret Santa, and a new flood of incomers was inevitable. But what lovelies – read on to see those! But first, reviews of two good books read this month.

Clare Balding – “My Animals and Other Family”

(04 May 2013 – Sainsburys)

An impulse buy in paperback for a low price. Sorry, independent bookshops (not that there are any in Birmingham, I found when I was looking into ordering books through Hive). Now, I did check before I read this, as I knew there were lots of animals in it, and I’m not good with upsetting animal stuff. And yes, each chapter is based on a different dog or horse, and yes, some of them do meet their ends. I did cope, because as she’s neither harsh nor maudlin over them, expressing her upset and some on occasion traumatic events, it’s not gratuitous and she is always respectful of her animals and her readers. So if you’re as sensitive to this sort of thing as I am, you’ll probably be OK.

The book takes the author to age about 20. This is absolutely fine: unlike with some other celebrity autobiographies, this is a natural stopping point, when she ceases to be a jockey and embarks upon her university career, and doesn’t feel forced in order to sell two volumes. In fact, the section at the end brings us up to date, so I’m not even sure that a second volume is planned (however, I’d love to read one, and I bet lots of other people would, too).

Famously, now, Clare Balding has a rather odd family. This oddness, and her relationships with them, are told unsentimentally and unsparingly, but never with self-pity. She just gets on with it, much as she appears to have done growing up.  It’s very touching, nonetheless, when she details the few times when her family praise or respect her. Her relationship with her brother is told very nicely, with all the rivalries and conflicts, but pulling together in adversity: like the rest of the book, it’s not sugar-coated, but by no means a misery memoir. She shows us her own mistakes and failings, too, from getting in with the wrong crowd to making riding mistakes, but again clear-headed and with no self-pity.

Basically, she doesn’t disappoint readers who will be looking for the same endearing, straightforward and strong character that she appears to be on the TV and radio. Deeply loving and respectful of her animals, hardworking and persistent and celebrating these values, this is a good read with depth and none of the surface gloss of the standard celebrity autobiography. Lovely line drawings of the animal represented in each chapter complement the good range of photos in the book. I’m glad that I read this.

Seb Coe – “Running my Life”

(11 May 2013, The Works)

A post-dentist Works buy; I must have bought something else at the same time, I can never buy just one. Anyway, this is a good, full, satisfying read that covers his early life, sporting career, political career and the run-up to and progress of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

I was always for Coe rather than Ovett – what about you? Although he was The Northern One, he also seemed to be The Polite One and The Non-Scary One (although I was fonder of Steve Cram than I was of Ovett). These great middle-distance runners define an era for those of us in our mid-30s to mid-40s, don’t they, and it was good to read all about the background to their few encounters on the track.

He obviously has some scores to settle, being at pains to vindicate his dad’s often combative behaviour and keen to explain the details of the professionalisation of athletics and some of the activities of promoters and journalists around the sport. He also gives great descriptions of what it’s like to attend an Olympic Games, which is something I always like reading about. He’s just as detailed and passionate about his political career, too, and I got some insights into the Conservative Party under Hague which were interesting.

Family life in terms of his own wives and children is kind of left out here, but it feels respectful rather than secretive. There are photos, but little narrative to accompany or explain them, which does seem slightly odd. Friendships shine through, which is always nice (I particularly like his relationship with the irrepressible Daley Thompson). It’s excellent on the Olympics bid, with plenty of behind the scenes snippets, and on the Games themselves, with the section on the Opening Ceremony making me cry (of course: add that to brass bands, choirboys and people dancing outdoors to be on the tear-inducing list for ever more). In my opinion, it treats the intertwined story of 7/7 very well, ending with a moving encounter with a Gamesmaker.

With good photographs and written reasonably well (it could have done with the odd edit here and there), this was a genuinely good read that I will keep to read again.

New acquisitions

December 2013 1So, we had the BookCrossing Birmingham Christmas do at Las Iguanas in central Birmingham (and very nice the meal was, too, catering well for our gluten-free friend and for my low-fat requirements, and doing sterling work of tidying away crackers and wrapping paper). We do a secret Santa every year, which is not particularly secret, because we give each other books registered on BookCrossing, so as soon as you catch your haul online, you discover who gave them to you. I was very lucky to have this bumper crop from Julia (we’ve all known each other for around 6-8 years, which makes it all the more lovely): I’d added Elizabeth Jane Howard to my wish list after encountering her at the Elizabeth Taylor day and coming across mention of her books since, but never having read any, and now I have the first of her Cazalet Chronicle, as well as two other novels. I’ve read the first two volumes of Paul O’Grady’s excellent autobiography, so was pleased to find the third one, and then thrilled to open Paul Magrs’ “Diary of a Dr Who Addict”, sadly out of print, I believe, and one I’ve wanted to read for AGES. What treats!

————–

I’m currently reading “Barbara at the Bodleian” by Yvonne Cocking, exploring the Oxford archives of Barbara Pym’s letters and notebooks, and Hunter Davies’ “Behind the Scenes at the Museum of Baked Beans”, which narrates a journey around the maddest museums in the UK. Good reads, both, and reviewed here relatively soon. See, this is why I don’t prepare my Top 10 Books of the Year until the year is over – you never know what you’re going to get at the back end of the year. After all, if I’d finished Daniel Deronda more quickly, it would have been Number One for 2012 as the last book I read that year!

A lovely day

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I’ve been making a real effort to take time out for myself and limit the amount of time I spend working on my business to an acceptable level. Part of this plan involves doing more THINGS and spending more time with the people I care about.

On Friday, I realised that a book that a long-term, regular and very nice client of mine, Jude Rogers, has worked on, was being launched at Greenwich Market on Saturday. I was chatting on Skype Instant Messenger with my friend Emma, and it all came together into a beautiful plan …

taylorI booked coach tickets for £18 return and got on a civilised 8.30 coach in Birmingham. I had bought a Kindle copy of Elizabeth Taylor’s “Complete Short Stories” for this very purpose – I have a lovely copy of the book, given to me by my friend Ali, but that’s a bit unwieldy (and lovely) to be shoved into a handbag. So a back-up Kindle copy was ideal, and I managed to get through loads of them on my two coach trips today. Short stories are in a perfect genre for travelling (as are travel books themselves) as you don’t need long swathes of concentration. So, a pleasant journey down.

I’d intended to take a bus journey through Peckham and New Cross, visiting old haunts, but I worried about the time and after asking a surprisingly cheery member of London Underground staff, found myself zipping over to Tower Bridge on the District Line (after my usual procedure of trying to jam a recalcitrant fiver into an Oyster card top-up machine), trotting round to Tower Gateway and confusing myself thoroughly on the DLR. Although I lived in London for 8 years, I didn’t get the DLR very often, and I always either walked or got the bus to Greenwich, so I became temporarily confused and had to do some urgent texting. What did we do before Smartphones?

SAM_0005Anyway, I managed to meet up with my dear friend Emma and her lovely daughters, Beth and Grace (I neglected to take a photo, so this is an old picture of us all from Christmas, but Beth and Grace look pretty much the same while Em and I have different haircuts) at Cutty Sark DLR stop. We then went straight to Greenwich Market to look for the Smoke: A London Peculiar stall.

SAM_0292After wading through the food stalls we found it, and Jude! I’ve been working with Jude since October 2010, so that’s nearly three years, and I’ve done transcriptions for her almost every month since then. We’ve emailed bits and bobs to each other among the professional stuff, as you do, but I’d never even spoken to her on the phone, let alone met her. I think we were equally excited. She climbed out from around the back of the stall to say hello and have a picture, and we had a lovely chat.

SAM_0297And, of course, there was the exciting book. Plus there were back issues of Smoke: A London Peculiar, which is a brilliant magazine with weird and wonderful writing and pictures about London. I bought the first five issues (usually from Foyles) when I lived in London, and I picked up the remaining back issues at the stall, plus the book, “From the Slopes of Olympus to the Banks of the Lea” which looks brilliant. Watch these pages for a review coming soon!

We had a wander around the rest of the market and visited a favourite stall of Em, Grace and Beth – The Fluffy Cosmo (see card in picture below). Even though they only visit once or twice a year, the stallholder clearly recognised the girls and commented on how Beth and Grace grow taller every time, while she herself only grows older! How lovely to have that feeling of community in a big city (mind you, my friends had already proved that by running into an old friend from North London, now living in the Isle of Man, as they waited for me!).

SAM_0296We were a bit hungry by now, so decided to take advantage of the stalls selling food in the market. Em and I had wonderful packed salad boxes from Return to Shashamane, a vegan food stall. Emilia, the stallholder, was lovely, patiently explaining to me what made up all of the different salads – of course, I’m not a vegan, but I do eat vegan quite a lot as I know there won’t be any animal fats in the food. It was absolutely delicious, with pulses, vegetables and carbs, all packed into a cardboard box with a wooden fork, and really good value. We had a chat about blogging (as you do) and I was so pleased to find a lovely lunch I could happily tuck into.

Once we all had picked up some food, we went and sat outside one of the college buildings and chatted in the sun. Em and I have known each other for 20 years now, so we were full of nostalgia and giggles – lovely to just sit and chat and pass the time, no rush and nowhere urgent to go.

SAM_0295Once fortified, we had a bit of a wander round Greenwich. I was disappointed to see that the Greenwich branch of a remaindered bookshop I like had gone, but we had a good search around Casbah Records and chat about music (do I prefer Blur or Oasis? Well, I prefer The Kinks to The Beatles …) and of course I managed to buy a BOOK … well, it’s by another occasional client of mine, so I couldn’t not, could I?

By now we had exhausted Greenwich, so we got the DLR back up into central London and went, of course, to the Charing Cross Road. We had a cuppa in Foyles cafe – Foyles is moving soon, so this was probably my last visit to the old shop. Lots more catching up and giggling and talking about music and books and all sorts. I had a very nice iced latte and then we whipped through the bookshop in search of loos (cafes, bookshops, loos … what’s not to like on this trip?).

SAM_0293I then said goodbye to my friends and wandered down the Charing Cross Road. Can you believe that I only bought two books at Any Amount of Books? To be fair, I didn’t have that much time … I then had a slightly fraught journey to Victoria, catching a very odd bus in the end which was like a modern version of a Routemaster with two staircases and three doors but the familiar narrow seats and lack of headroom of the old buses (I think it was one of these).

After being compelled to eat my salad crouching in front of the parked coach, I embarked for my journey home – more reading and a good journey, arriving 20 minutes early!

What a lovely day. I’m so glad that I have the schedule and the attitude that allowed me to have this spontaneous and excellent day out in London!

E-book news

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cholesterol coverMy e-book is doing well and selling solidly and regularly – I’m so pleased that it’s helping people! I could do with a few more reviews, of course, so if you have bought or do buy it, please consider placing a review on the relevant Amazon website.

After some chat on Twitter a little while ago, I sent the cholesterol charity, HEART UK a review copy to see what they thought of the book. I am delighted to say that I’ve received the following lovely quote from their dietician, which I have their permission to add to my e-book and mention on this blog:

From HEART UK’s dietician, Linda Main: “Liz provides some practical common-sense ideas and advice which she has tried and tested to lower and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Her results demonstrate how a healthy balanced diet, low in saturated fat and high in wholegrain, fruits and vegetables and containing some cholesterol busting foods such as oats and nuts can be a central part of achieving this.”

Hopefully this will reassure my readers and potential buyers of the e-book that I know what I’m talking about and am giving sensible advice – please do click on the links and have a look at the great resources HEART UK have on offer for those suffering with high cholesterol.  Thank you to the charity for their kind words!

Note: you can buy my e-book all about reducing your cholesterol naturally by visiting these links:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com (note the review on there refers to the first edition: it is now fully updated for the US audience!)

Amazon.fr

Amazon.de

Amazon.it

Amazon.co.jp