i wanna graduate from bovine university


Here’s what I want: some kind of constantly-updating site or app that can tell you EXACTLY WHAT TO EAT IF YOU’RE SUFFERING FROM SOME PARTICULAR PROBLEM. Is that really too much to ask?

Take my issue, for example: I’ve got bad LDL cholesterol numbers (between 130-150) and my insulin number is way too high. Adult diabetes runs on my mother’s side of the family, and they control it with diet and being Mormon. High cholesterol is all around them as well, but as far as I know, nobody’s ever died of a heart attack, and some of them are… well, let’s call them “roomy”.

In essence, my problem is boring. High cholesterol and high sugar issues, just like half the planet, despite being relatively “in shape” and “still sporty” and “not having let myself go”. So what’s a motherfucker like me supposed to eat now?


I got a bunch of books, and I watched a bunch of documentaries about the subject, and now I’m letting everyone chime in with their advice. And you would not believe the level of controversy, paradox, misinformation, and contradiction involved in a simple perusal of your options.

Here’s a sampling: I watched Forks Over Knives on the ol’ Apple TV, which basically says that eliminating meat protein (in favor of plant protein) can do miraculous things with your health. There are lots of testimonials, and by the end, you look at America’s basic diet with profound disgust.

Then a blogger named Denise Minger wrote a very long, and well-versed critique of the movie’s science, which catapulted her into semi-notoriety and hopefully, a book deal of her own.

If you think it should end peacefully there, I don’t recommend any further journey into the online world of raw food, veganism, paleo-diets, or anything sounding like the opposite of humor. But I’ll give you a taste: blogs popped up dedicated to defeat “the cholesterol skeptics, in particular Denise Minger”, prompting others to rush to her defense.

That’s totally fine. Everyone’s got their fiefdom to protect. But I do wish there was some way to find out, via the latest studies, what the overall general recommendations are. Like…

• EGGS. Good in moderation? Bad anytime?

• OILS. Tropical oil bad except for coconut? Even canola oil terrible for you?

• SWEETENERS. Okay, no white sugar, but brown seems just as bad. Switching to honey? Not if you’re pre-diabetic. Okay, then how about Agave nectar, with its lower glycemic index? Well, okay… if you believe in glycemic indices.


The only theory that has made sense to me so far – at least in concept – is Mark Bittman’s VB6 book, which means being a vegan before 6pm, then eating what you want – in intelligent moderation – for dinner. Whether or not it will work seems oddly secondary; what I do know is that I can actually pull that one off.

I mean, you can say “eat way more plants, eat way less meat, don’t eat processed food and get exercise”, but some of us need more granular directions than that. And of course, there’s the doctor over dinner last night, who said, “the recommendation for LDL cholesterol levels simply aren’t achievable by diet and exercise. You can’t do it.”

That’s pretty sobering – you can’t do it – and it makes you think, fuck, I’ll just go on Lipitor for the rest of my life, and it’ll be just one more goddamn drug. But beware the ease with which you can slip into the forever pill, even as all methods ultimately nudge you closer.

Somehow it’s always confusing enough, always too much data or not enough, to narrow your vision to the one pill that can make it go away. I’ve taken that road so many times; instead, I think I’ll take the one Stephen Crane described, with each weed a singular knife. Doubtless there are other roads, but the directions are terrible.


12 thoughts on “i wanna graduate from bovine university

  1. jje

    I watched Food Inc. a little over three years ago and went vegetarian the very next day. Technically, I’m lacto-ovo-pescatarian, though I mostly eat shellfish on limited occasions. I’m trying to learn to like fish – tilapia is not too bad.
    So last night I watched Vegucated (Forks Over Knives is up next) and I’m seriously pondering dropping milk entirely, trying out vegan cheeses (sigh, going to be difficult- love cheese), and taking a harder look at where my eggs come from (getting them through a local co-op, but wondering about the conditions for the chickens that lay them). On the whole,
    I’m just going to try to be more thoughtful about making vegan-like choices. I think this all began for me as a decision to lead a healthier lifestyle, but after watching both docs, I am deeply skeeved out by industrial farming.
    I am also working on cutting out highly processed foods and eating more whole foods (love Charlotte’s Lisa Leakes and her 100daysofrealfood.com philosophy), and I recently completed a 30 day no sugar challenge that I am sticking with as much as I can. Not saying I will never eat a cupcake with my kids or dessert out at a nice restaurant, but just that I will cut out the daily excesses where I can.
    I feel great. Going veggie was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. :-)

  2. noj

    had slightly high cholesterol a couple of years ago and i redoubled exercise efforts and *poof*…high cholesterol gone!

  3. Joanna

    Dr. JoJo says, “Eat whole rye.” Good for insulin and cholesterol. http://www.nutritionj.com/content/8/1/42 Whole Foods carries Mestemacher Whole Rye bread.
    JJE, I hear you. I recently read in disturbing detail about the lives of dairy cows and have switched to vanilla unsweetened almond milk. It’s so sickening that we are shown images of cattle grazing, when in reality most of those animals never step outdoors.

  4. m.e.

    Both my cardiologist and my Internist are less concerned about my LDL and total cholesterol numbers than they are about the ratio which, because I have great HDL numbers, is good.

  5. Caroline

    Well, this sucks and you just have to embrace it. And I think statins are fine if you can’t fix this by natural means. I would give yourself a time frame to do it with diet and exercise and see how you do. Not that my advice is worth anything.
    I think everything in moderation. I know that’s a bit trite and easy to say but it’s just so true. Realistically you should be able to have cake at birthday parties. Not 4 pieces, but maybe even two. But generally abandon dessert. You have friends in town and you want to have a decadent steak meal — do it. If you spend 5 of 6 days really watching what you eat, a 6th pretty much watching it and a 7th not sweating it (which doesn’t mean be a freak) then you should be OK.
    I feel like it’s the same rule of dieting. You have to watch what you are doing but if you aren’t allowed to break the rules once in a while you can’t begin to follow them in the first place because they are too oppressive.
    I’ve been on a diet forever and am struggling with the last few pounds. I get a wicked sweet tooth at about 5pm. If I bought cookies I would eat the whole bag — I have zero self control about a few special things — so I have to be really careful about what I buy. So I bought some dark chocolate squares, pre-wrapped. I get to have one and if I’m dying for it I get two. And, yes, I’d like the whole bag but I’m ok with one or two. If you have some stuff you think you just can’t give up find a version of it that you can make work for you.
    My useless advice.

  6. Lee

    I’m trying the same new diet and having similar frustrations. Like raw cacao (which we call crackao)… OMG, it’s good. But you read about it and there’s all this conflicting info. Is it good for you or not? If you haven’t had raw chocolate mousse and don’t want to be an addict, don’t try it.
    Can’t wait to hear more! Thanks, Ian.

  7. Caitlin

    I can’t keep up with all the conflicting information out there, and it’s confusing. For example, women used to be told to take calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis. Now there’s some new research suggesting that calcium supplements are associated with harm, and don’t reduce fractures either. And it’s so hard to study diet because people who eat well usually do a lot of other good things for their health.
    I don’t think you need rules, you basically already know what you need to do. Obtaining more conflicting info doesn’t help with that. Do you enjoy cooking? I like to focus on the pleasure of cooking and eating wholesome food, not just food-as-medicine, which can feel kind of grim and not sustainable for a lifetime. The Mediterranean diet seems appealing for this reason: veggies, fruit, fish, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, red wine, yum.
    We just signed up for a CSA, maybe that’s something to consider. I hate coming home at 6 PM and finding there isn’t much to cook with.

  8. Kevin_In_Philadelphia

    Ian, have you looked into the paleo diet/lifestyle? It’s kind of the opposite of vegan, but it is effective for me and the goals I am pursuing. Down almost 20 lbs since January, more energy, clearer skin, and my levels are better as well. It’s worth checking out.

  9. Emily

    I’ve gone from animal products at every meal (with consideration to price rather than quality) to 30% vegan meals, 60% vegetarian, and 10% complemented by well-sourced, carefully chosen meat products. This took 5 years. And I enjoy cooking and meal planning to a nerdy extent. It’s not easy, but the biggest thing I’ve learned is that when I’m prepared, I do well and feel good about my choices. When the fridge is empty (like it was today), I eat Starbucks muffins, goldfish crackers, and the horrifying teriyaki chicken that I cook for the kids I babysit.
    What I’m trying to say is that the best defense is a good offense: be ready for all the insane cravings (because they will come, especially when you’re drastically changing your diet) and have a plan. Be prepared for the times when you NEED salty or sweet. Or a beer. (I try to limit gluten, and you would be amazed at how satisfying a can of cold soda water can be on a bad day when you pop the tab and chug it like a Natty Light.)
    I love Bittman (buy How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian, it’s ah-may-zing!) and VB6 is interesting but I don’t feel the need to restrict my diet that way at this point in my life. It may come with time, but not right now. You will find that if you can get to a point where you enjoy those obnoxiously healthy foods, you will start to crave them instead of Cheetos. I’ve even *gasp* become totally grossed out by Twizzlers, which were a serious diet staple for about 23 years. If you drink enough spinach smoothies for breakfast, eventually that Starbucks muffin is going to taste like shit.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *