Monday, February 26, 2007

Book review: Cholesterol Down by Janet Bond Brill

In Cholesterol Down, Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN has produced a diet plan with the aim of lowering cholesterol without drugs. Copiously documented, the book outlines nine diet and one lifestyle change that sound easy to adopt and lead to cardiovascular health.

The diet steps include eating oatmeal, almonds, flaxseed, Metamucil, beans, apples, margerine with phytosterols (plants' version of cholesterol), soy, and garlic. The lifestyle change is walking 30 minutes a day. Each chapter begins with a testimonial of someone who has used the diet and lowered their cholesterol. Many of these people are on cholesterol-lowering drugs and used the diet in conjunction.

Each of the elements of the diet have scientific studies to back up the claims to their cholesterol-lowering effects; Dr. Brill's innovation is this combination of them. She developed the approach to combat her own high cholesterol (which she developed despite eating well and exercising). Being a dietician, part-time academic, and lifestyle coach, she has the training to be able to design such a plan.

The book has a few preliminary chapters that explain the basic science of cholesterol, including the different between "good" cholesterol (HDL) and "bad" cholesterol (LDL). I was interested in it because my own total cholesterol was a bit high at my last physical, and I would like to avoid taking drugs if I can. In my case, I have very good HDL and a healthy HDL/LDL ratio but a slightly elevated total. I took the surveys she includes in the appendices and determined that my risk of heart disease is still quite small, which is reassuring.

Still, I was happy to hear suggestions for dietary changes I could make, and most are completely reasonable and easy. I already was eating almonds, which are now in vogue for their health qualities, and Cheerios (since I don't care for oatmeal), but I don't mind adding an apple a day (who could argue with that?). Some of the other suggestions, such as taking Metamucil and eating beans and garlic every day, seem like a stretch (not to mention having some social consequences!). Dr. Brill has no answer for smelling like garlic but advises that adding fiber slowly and using Beano can help alleviate any diet distress.

I found the science part, which in the introduction the author says one can skip, a bit repetitive, and I got tired of reading the zillions of reasons the recommendations work. The book could have been organized differently to avoid these issues. Regardless, it is an informative and relatively accessible read and includes a sample eating plan with accompanying recipes, which look good and sound pretty mainstream. (A few examples: curried lentil and potato soup, roasted asparagus with garlic, eggplant lasagna.) Product recommendations are very specific when appropriate, an most items can be found in regular grocery stores.

Only trying the diet will tell if it really works, but it sounds well-thought out and easy enough to adopt. What's there to lose in trying, but a little cholesterol?

Cross-posted to Blogcritics.

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