We were just back from our barbeque tour of the Houston area when my husband’s latest cholesterol results arrived in the mail. We were hoping for an improvement on two years ago, when his low-density (LDL) cholesterol came back at nearly 190, an eye-popping value given that he was in his mid-thirties and regularly running ultramarathons. The doctor suggested he alter his diet, warned that if the levels didn’t come down, he would risk premature heart disease. Cholesterol meds might be in the cards.

Obviously that was pretty scary, but we both thought we knew what the matter was. His commute then involved an airplane, so he was living in hotels and subsisting on restaurant food. That changed. These days he works in downtown Seattle, runs to the office (he’s crazy that way), and I cook most of what we eat. He sometimes packs a homemade lunch for work.

He lost seven pounds just by changing jobs, and he wasn’t exactly overweight to start.

We didn’t really make any drastic changes. We might have switched to drinking red wine, but both of us really enjoy a beer with dinner. We might have increased our fish consumption for the high-density lipid (HDL) boost. We continued eating a fair amount of beef and pork, and the half-hog we’re working through now, from Wooly Pigs, was bred for tasty fat. Because the flavor is so good I sometimes cook with cured fatback instead of vegetable oil, even though the scientific evidence tells you that poly-unsaturated fats are always better. So we really had no idea what would happen with the lab tests.

Well, this time his LDL was 155, a much safer number. The doctor’s no longer talking medication and we’re delighted. What was the difference? I’m sure that our food played some role; we’re eating more vegetables and legumes ever since getting clued in to local foods, where the quality of the ingredients is noticeably better. But diet isn’t everything — my LDL was 72 eating the same stuff, and I’m no ultrarunner.

I’m just happy to know we can continue eating what we like, at least in our own kitchen. And who knows, maybe the fat in pastured meat might really be different than in CAFO animals and industrially processed oils. Time will tell.

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