This winter has whisked away many people close to my friends and clients. I have been seeing many more reports than usual about the friends, family members, and pets of people I know “cutting the silver cord” (as someone I know said in a text to me tonight). A couple weeks ago I had an unexpected health scare myself (more on that later). Then my favorite fitness icon, Gregg Plitt (a real life superhero), was killed in a freak train accident. All this happened as I started re-watching The Walking Dead, a show that constantly examines life, death, morality, personal values, human nature, etc. Meanwhile, KITTEH (one of my best friends EVER EVER EVER) is going into his twilight years (he cannot jump as he once did, missing surfaces and falling, and scaring the hell out of me; he seems to be going a bit deaf; and his reflexes are much slower when we play these days).
It doesn’t help that all this is happening when it’s dark and cold outside. I think I am affected to some degree by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
I confess I went into a funk that lasted several days. If Greg Plitt, one of the fittest people on the planet, can be gone in a microsecond, then what can any of the rest of us do? I began questioning why I even bothered to (attempt to) eat clean, work out, or worry about taking care of myself. My mother and sister reminded me that it’s for quality of life, not quantity. So I pulled myself up slowly and resumed my journey. But my blood results came back from my annual physical, and something was just glaringly disturbing…
My cholesterol was 250, and my LDL was 180 on a scale of 0-99. I was horrified and taken completely unaware. My resting heart rate is 58. My blood pressure is 110/70. My body fat is low enough for me to have a visible six pack (on really lean days I even have an eight pack). In nearly all ways I was a text book example of perfect physical health: Even my cholesterol panels were normal. Only the LDL was freakishly high. Everything else was in the normal ranges.
For many years I have been eating large amounts of grilled chicken and lean pork (while keeping beef and lamb to a minimum), assuming they must be low in cholesterol since they are low in fat. This is patently false. Baring in mind that the daily allowance is 300 mg, one small serving of chicken is 1/3 your daily allotment (and the same size portion of pork maxes you out in just a few bites). Depending on which nutrition source you look at, four ounces/one cup/140 grams of chicken has anywhere from 100 – 110 mg of cholesterol. Pork is triple that (and pork loin is six times that!). Beef, to my surprise, was 25-50% LOWER in cholesterol than chicken breast. It seems that when the fitness sites/gurus focus on macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, and protein), they forget to shine a light on the other nutrients (or else they purposefully leave it out to bolster the meat industry?). At any rate, if you are unaware, as I was, now you know.
So when I got my results I began pouring over all the nutritional info for all my food at home, trying to find where the cholesterol was coming from. In vain… I couldn’t find it. Nothing in my home contains this much cholesterol, I don’t eat fried foods, and I already eat fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. I decided to download a macro-tracking app for my iPhone, so that I could start tracking my food. If I can’t get my bad cholesterol levels down (and fast), my doctor is threatening to put me on Lipitor, and THAT I absolutely do NOT want. When I put in my meals yesterday, I saw to my surprise that my cholesterol intake was already at 350 mg…
I did it… finally… I found the source of cholesterol in my diet. It never occurred to me that grilled chicken could be so high in it. I eat at Chipotle regularly, especially after I workout. Yesterday I had a burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, fajitas veggies, double chicken, pico de gallo, and guacamole. That meal alone had over 250 mg of cholesterol… I finally, finally, FINALLY thought to look at their FULL nutritional info on their app.
It’s a disaster.
One 4-oz serving of their grilled chicken has 125 mg of cholesterol, so when I get “double chicken” for the 64 g of protein, it also includes 250 mg of cholesterol for just that one meal alone (and the daily allowance, remember, is only 300 mg). Also, I added it all up, and the sodium in one burrito bowl totals 2,050 mg… And this is “healthy” fast food?
I had no idea… I was looking only at the Chipotle macros (carbs, protein, and fat). I have been eating there multiple times a week for months and months and months, as a “quick, easy, and healthy option” after my workouts… I had NO idea their cholesterol and sodium were so high… I’m aghast that I didn’t consider this sooner. All their talk about organic, sustainable, and free range distracted me from their actual recipes. I’m sorry/not sorry for the dramatics, but I feel a bit betrayed by this chain and their branding.
I also now understand why I cannot get as lean as I want (nor maintain it once I achieve it): All that sodium is making me retain water.
So then… time to again start making most of my own food when I am home. I will do the best I can when I travel. For a long time I was going grocery shopping for my food in the hotels. I admit it: I have been very slack about that lately… It’s beautiful when I make my own food. Here’s a pic to prove it (click to enlarge).
But now I understand what has happened. I will change this immediately. We’ll see how my cholesterol levels look when I get it retested. I tracked all my macros and nutrients today, and (when I make my own food) I got only 70 mg cholesterol for the entire day. That decides that: No more Chipotle.
Moral of the story: DO NOT TRUST ANYONE WITH YOUR FOOD.
I now suspect that many young body builders, porn models, and escorts who die at grotesquely early ages are falling victim not only to wanton steroid abuse, but also to ignorance about the ways the quantity of chicken they consume for protein is potentially clogging up their arteries. I have decided to gradually switch back to being a mostly ovo-lacto vegetarian (a vegetarian who eats egg and dairy products). I will consume meat too, but in greatly reduced portions and with less frequency.
EDIT (Feb 23, 2015): So I just read that dietary intake of cholesterol is no longer a problem… So… I’m at a loss then. It must be genetic. Still, Chipotle isn’t good for, as the NY Times pointed out after I put the restaurant on blast here. (Note: I don’t mean that the NY Times published the article because of what I blogged, but that I had already done the digging on Chipotle, and the NY Times is reconfirming what I wrote here).