About five years ago my doctor told me I had high cholesterol. To be precise, my LDL (bad cholesterol) was 175. That's 35 points above acceptable, and 60+ points over the ideal: high risk. My HDL (good cholesterol) was at 36--4 points lower than it should be. My total stood at 231--over 30 points too high. This, and the fact that there is a history of heart disease in my family, put me in the very high risk category.
The news came as a surprise. By most standards I ate well: lots of vegetables, lots of fish, chicken only once a week, and beef once a month. I did eat cheese, eggs and butter. I cut back, thinking this would make a difference, but my cholesterol numbers remained the same. I began jogging four miles a day. This made even less difference.
Nearly everyone I spoke to about cholesterol was either already taking cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) or knew someone who was. Most told me the same thing: diets won't work. The body produces cholesterol, and some people just produce too much. The only solution, they said, was to take statins.
My doctor put me on Lipitor. My bad cholesterol quickly dropped to an acceptable level, but my good cholesterol also dropped: a problem. Worse, I began to experience side effects. Within two months, my muscles ached. My joints hurt. My energy level dropped. By month three, making myself get up off the couch required a good deal of willpower.
My doctor wasn't surprised. These side effects are common. He took me off Lipitor and let me recuperate for several months. The aching stopped. My energy returned. We tried Pravastatin. Once more my cholesterol (including good cholesterol) dropped, but I began to suffer again from muscle pain and fatigue.
We tried other statins. We tried ultra low (10 mg) doses. Nothing worked. When coming out of the third statin-induced misery, I decided to try something different. I ignored what everyone was telling me to do--usually a good idea--and began what seemed at the time a radical diet. I would no longer eat beef, pork, chicken, lamb or any other meat, except fish. Nor would I eat any dairy products, except non-fat yogurt. Essentially I became what my sister, who was living in L.A. at the time, told me was called "pesca vegan."
I began cooking no-meat dishes of all kinds--Korean, Japanese, Middle-Eastern, vegetarian Mexican, and, above all, Spanish. Soon I was enjoying food much more, and feeling better in general. After three months on this diet, my total cholesterol had dropped to 186, just where my doctor says it should be. My bad cholesterol fell to an acceptable level, 125. My good cholesterol rose to where it should be too--something statins never managed, and even made worse. I have now been on this diet for over a year, and physically I feel better than ever. Incidentally, I also lost nearly fifteen pounds, though the food I eat is not low-fat, low-carb, or low calorie in any way.
The tapas and meals you'll find on this blog are now our everyday foods. For the most part they are easy to prepare, simple, good for you, low in cholesterol and saturated fat, and yet very Spanish. Occasionally I will prepare a meat dish, usually venison, which is much better for you than beef, and also in the Spanish tradition: in Spain, game is a delicacy.