Cholesterol Wake Up Call

Yesterday, I popped online to check the wellness screening results from when I last donated blood.

After reviewing my blood type and future eligibility information, I clicked over to the cholesterol tab…and my jaw nearly hit the floor.

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My cholesterol was 275?

How was that possible? How can a vegetarian have such high cholesterol? I don’t eat butter and rarely eat cheese or eggs, I get plenty of fiber and I exercise fairly regularly – so where’s the problem? How on earth is my cholesterol 75 full points higher than it should be?

While high cholesterol can be genetic, I am looking to naturally reduce my count through nutrition before turning to a prescription.

What I’m Going to do about my High Cholesterol

Because of my new piercing, I can’t donate blood again until six months to a year have passed. I do, however, plan to schedule a cholesterol screening within two months. Since cholesterol levels can be significantly lowered within six weeks, waiting eight weeks from my high cholesterol discovery should give my body adequate time to respond to the changes I plan to implement.

  • Reduce my consumption of animal products.  Shortly after becoming vegetarian, I decided to try a vegan diet. I saw a marked difference in how I felt, but although I knew I felt better with fewer animal foods in my system, I reintroduced cheese and eggs into my diet because I felt like I was missing out on things I desperately wanted to eat. For the next eight weeks, I’d like to reduce my dairy and egg consumption to a maximum of one serving a day.
  • Get more omega-3’s. These can help increase the LDL’s (good fats) and for vegetarians, omega-3’s can be found in flax seeds and walnuts. While I typically place flax seeds in my smoothies, I’ll be bumping up the quantity to at least 2 daily servings, or, if necessary, investing in an omega-3 supplement.
  • Increase my fiber. It seems like a no-brainer – especially considering my current whole foods-based diet, but I plan to strive for more soluble and insoluble fiber in the form of oatmeal, beans, millet, wheatberries, etc…rather than the more processed grains like toast, tortillas and pasta. That’s not to say I won’t enjoy them – they just won’t be primary components of my diet.

oatmeal fiber

  • Skip the afternoon snack. You know the drill – 2 pm rolls around, quarters magically appear in your hand, you wind up with butterfingers or Sunchips from the vending machine. That’s gotta stop. If necessary, I’ll bring unprocessed snacks from home to ward off the 2 p.m. munchies: apples, which are high in pectin, a cholesterol-reducing compound, or carrots, for example.
  • Hit the gym 5 times a week. This one may be the hardest for me. I love the gym and I love exercising – don’t get me wrong…but making it consistent has been a major struggle for the last several months. I’ve been averaging 2-3 times a week, which is absolutely better than nothing – but in the interest of dropping my cholesterol, I’ll have to increase the frequency of my workouts.

In light of the new changes, I made a breakfast that included plenty of fiber (at least two grams of insoluble fiber), omega-3s, fruit and a small serving of healthy fats.

oatmeal parfait

As I cooked 1/4 cup of steel cut oats, I dropped into the blender:

  • 1 banana
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 3 tablespoons ground flax seeds
  • 1/2 scoop chocolate soy protein powder

cholesterol lowering breakfast

It came out far more voluminous than I’d expected! I’d planned to drizzle the topping over the oats…but instead, I drowned the oats in the smoothie!

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Topped the whole shebang with some berries, cinnamon and flax seed for a tasty cholesterol-lowering breakfast!

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I’m hoping to see a drop of at least 15 to 20 points in my cholesterol by the time of my next test. Let’s see how this goes!

Have you ever been blindsided by the results of a medical test?

How’s your cholesterol? Ever had to lower it? When was the last time you got it checked?


Vegan Broccoli Cheese Soup

Learning that Panera’s broccoli cheese soup was not vegetarian had to be one of the saddest moment of my life.

Exaggeration aside, when I came to the realization that this soup that I’d adored for years was not going to work for me anymore, I had to step up and make a version that was not only vegetarian, but vegan.

vegan broccoli cheese soup

Oh, yes. I went there.

A healthy broccoli cheese soup recipe? Yes, my friends, it’s possible! It’s also possible to enjoy this soup without any animal products or actual dairy (and yes, the cheese really does melt!)

broccoli cheese soup with daiya

Thanks to Daiya, I managed to create a bowl of this classic soup that was just as ooey-gooey, melty and delicious as the version with real cheese and heavy cream.

The relatively high proportion of broccoli to soup also makes each bowl pack in two servings of veggies. How can you say no?

healthy broccoli cheese soup

Vegan Broccoli Cheese Soup

Serves Two

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 cups milk substitute (I used Unsweetened Plain Almond Breeze)
  • 1 cup Cheddar-style Daiya shreds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

  • In a vegetable steamer (or in a colander over a pot of boiling water), steam your broccoli.
  • In a medium saucepot, bring almond milk to a light boil and stir in Daiya shreds. Stir continuously over medium heat until “cheese” is melted.
  • Drain the broccoli and slice into small pieces; stir into soup.
  • Add in spices and continue to stir for 3-5 minutes. Soup will thicken if it boils – if it seems too thin, crank the heat up a bit; if it seems to thick, add a dash more almond milk and reduce heat.
  • Serve warm!

broccoli cheddar

Take that, Panera!

Have you ever found out that one of your favorite foods did not fit into your diet? What did you do?


Chickpea and Blueberry Barley Salad

On Friday, I received an email with a recipe for blueberry chickpea burgers. The combination was just odd enough to be intriguing, and just unique enough to stick in my head all weekend.

Instead of taking the burger route, I combined the two featured elements in a light, refreshing, simple spring salad.

chickpea and blueberry barley salad

Chickpea and Blueberry Barley Salad

Vegetarian (with Vegan option)

Serves two

Ingredients:

    • 1 cup cooked/rinsed chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
    • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
    • 1/2 cup (dry) pearled barley
    • 1/2 cucumber
    • 2 teaspoons honey (vegan substitution: agave nectar)
    • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
    • 1 t/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Directions:

    • In a medium pot, bring 2-3 cups of water to a boil. Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the barley, cover the pot, reduce to low heat and allow to simmer until fully cooked and tender.
    • While the barley cooks, shell the chickpeas, rinse the blueberries and chop the cucumber into small slivers.
    • In a small cup or dish, combine the honey/agave, olive oil and lemon juice.
    • Drain and rinse the barley and combine with blueberries, chickpeas and cucumber.
    • Drizzle the dressing over the top, stir and chill.

blueberry chickpea barley

The dish was sweet, light and packed full of vegetarian protein and fiber – exactly what spring lunches call for!

chickpea barley salad

Have you ever been so intrigued by an odd-sounding ingredient combination that you just had to try it?