Dear Chicken Nugget,
Heart disease runs in our family, at least my side. I've been diagnosed with a high cholesterol since childhood and it reached its peak in adulthood. The problem, besides my own body's inability to control its cholesterol production, is diet.
Your Grandma Betty is an awesome cook as you will someday discover. But, the Ecuadorian diet typically consists of white rice, a meat, and some sort of delicious sauce (made of corn, plantain, or oils and spices.) It's delicious stuff and will always taste like home to me. But it lacks a variety of vegetables and includes too much white starch and animal fat. Tasty, but not great for a family that is prone to diabetes and heart disease.
I've been battling with high cholesterol for at least eight years. As a young bachelor, straight out of college, and starting to teach, I was told by the doctor that I had a high cholesterol. High enough that I had to go on medication or do something about it - like diet and exercise. First I tried diet, which worked somewhat. Then I tried exercise, which started my life as a runner, and that helped some. But, failing to combine the diet and exercise together made the cholesterol stay high.
It all reached its epic peak in January 2010 when I went in for a routine checkup at the doctor's office. He was a new doctor and hearing about my family's history of heart disease he ran the usual tests. The results were disastrous.
My cholesterol was high and, even worse, there were several other indicators in the blood work that showed that I was at high risk for a heart attack. There I was, 29 years old, having just found out that your mom was pregnant with you and being told that if I was 55 years old I'd be in serious, even deadly, trouble.
I immediately got to work doing research on cholesterol, diet, exercise, and magic potions; anything to ensure that I got my cholesterol down and lived a healthy life for you and your mom. I ended up finding a book called Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. In it he describes what the body does when you eat a diet high in fats and animal products. Essentially, you get heart disease. Although most doctors recommend that your cholesterol be kept under 200, Dr. Esselstyn recommends that you stay under 150. And, the quickest way to do that is through a low-fat plant-based diet.
I started the diet almost as soon as I finished reading the book. I also found out that a friend of ours from Nebraska, Bryan, had started a similar lifestyle change. It went well and the numbers dropped dramatically. I was training for the NJ Half-Marathon, raising money for the American Heart Association, and all was well. I was put on medication as a precaution but the doctor said that if the numbers continued to drop we could try without the meds.
But, slowly, I became overly confidant in my numbers and I started introducing foods that I should have been avoiding. Then, an old running injury prevented me from running the NJ Half-Marathon. Then, summer happened. As the excuses piled up, I lost control of my diet. Then, you came.
For the last 27 days I've been staring at you in awe. You are incredible. I love you tremendously and would do anything for you; including changing my lifestyle so that I can enjoy many healthy years with you.
So, I'm back to my low-fat plant-based lifestyle. I won't say that I'll follow the diet perfectly - there's always a mistake here and there. But, I want those mistakes to be rare. This isn't just about me and my cholesterol anymore. It's also about you and your mom.
Recently, former President Bill Clinton told CNN that he has lost 24 lbs following the diet that Dr. Esselstyn writes about. He's trying to reverse his heart disease and live long enough to see his grandkids grow up.
That's a wonderful goal. It's mine too.