Yep, that’s right. Ramen noodles raised my cholesterol. Not the higher quality noodles, but the cheap ones that come in a packet for 25 cents. How did this happen? How did I not notice what was going on?
If you’ve been keeping up with our website, you likely know that several years ago I was into bodybuilding (natural, no drugs). My diet was VERY strict, I ate mostly tuna, grilled or baked fish, chicken breasts, eggs, and the majority of my carbs came from vegetables. I ate around eight to ten meals per day, and worked out daily with weights, followed by cardio. I was in the best shape of my life!
After a stroke, chondromalacia patella, and two emergency surgeries, including a ruptured appendix, I’m not in the shape I was in previously, but I still try to eat healthy. After seeing several doctors and specialists, no one could figure out why I had the stroke. All labs, procedures, and numerous other tests came back fine. My only risk factor was my birth control, so that got changed.
With the post-stroke birth control, I can’t shed fat the way I used to. I can’t take certain stimulants and fat burners, either, because of the risk of stroke. (Plus, those heinous capsules of death make me feel horrific!) So, I really have to watch what I eat and make sure to exercise, or I would probably be extremely obese and have a plethora of health problems.
All the blood work I’ve ever had has been normal and unremarkable. Well, I went to see a new primary care provider because I got new insurance, and my doctor was not on it. I went to a clinic recommended by my friend Misty, a nurse practitioner. I’m really picky about who I see. I don’t like arrogant, dismissive providers, and I don’t like taking medication. When I was a Deputy Coroner, I became even more paranoid about meds because I knew of the complications they can cause.
Well, the new guy Misty recommended was super-duper (thank you, Misty and Billy!). And he’s NOT pill-happy, thank goodness! He ordered routine blood work to establish a base line, as could be expected. When the nurse from the clinic called me with the results, I assumed everything would be fine. Nope, my cholesterol was 223. Say what…?!?! W. T. F.?!?! She said it wasn’t anything to really worry about since everything else was fine, just to increase my fiber and that should take care of it.
Well, I was worried. Rationally, since I live a fairly healthy lifestyle by eating decent food and running a LOT, I knew it was just borderline and not anything to freak out about. But, this was MY body, and it’s the only one I’ve got. And I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why the heck my cholesterol was elevated- this was really disturbing because nothing had changed.
But wait a minute, something had changed. When I started blogging full-time, I started eating lunch by myself at home. Instead of cooking a meal just for me, I went with ramen noodles. Yes, I knew these weren’t healthy, so I would toss the flavor packet, and add my own seasonings. I’d also eat the noodles with veggies and a protein, such as egg or chicken.
Yes, I know the noodles are carbs, but hey, I’m not doing bodybuilding any more so I don’t have to look great, right? And adding protein and veggies helped improve the glycemic index, right? WRONG.
I usually read labels on food, out of habit. But for some reason, I never looked at the noodle labels. Why not? I have no earthly idea. I can only surmise that I knew they weren’t great, but it was just lunch, and I was tossing the bad stuff. Or so I thought…
Upon doing some research, I found a LOT of information on ramen noodles and their link to major problems, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and yes, high cholesterol. All these things can lead to a nasty condition called metabolic syndrome. I really wanted to kick myself in the a$$.
So, I immediately decided to go with a more strict eating plan. Not as strict as when I was doing bodybuilding, but more than what I’ve been doing. I went to the grocery store and bought black beans, pinto beans, oatmeal, apples, anything I could find that would help lower my cholesterol and stave off the dreaded, evil metabolic syndrome.
Again, I don’t like taking unnecessary meds, so I went all out and brought in “the big guns.” One of my best friends from growing up was Angie, a sweet, kind, awesome girl. That fabulous girl went to medical school, and is now a compassionate doctor who is a huge believer in natural habits. Angela Kerchner, M.D., despite being busy with many projects and causes, took the time to provide some fantastic information for me to share with you!
As with the nurse who called me with my results, Dr. Kerchner also said she wouldn’t lose sleep over my cholesterol, but felt it’s a good time to consider making some changes. She agreed that as tasty as they can be, the inexpensive ramen noodles are pretty nasty! Here’s what she had to say:
“They fulfill the body’s desire to quickly get in the salt-sugar-fat combination that is so appealing to the pleasure centers in our brains, and for only a few cents. This leads a lot of people, especially those on a budget or eating alone, to choose them. I have seen patients living on nothing but Ramen present with severe vitamin deficiencies, particularly vitamins A & C, along with metabolic syndrome.
“Adding the veggies was a good call, at minimum. The problem with Ramen and metabolic syndrome is the same problem we see in many pre-packaged, pre-prepared foods on store shelves. It isn’t a Ramen problem alone. These foods are made with high amounts of sugar and unhealthy fats, and when these two things are combined, there is an immediate set up for metabolic syndrome due to the inflammatory cascade that begins in our gut when we eat sugar and processed foods.”
Unfortunately, since these packets were so easy and cheap, I didn’t just eat them once a week. I was eating them four or five times per week. A huge issue with this is that Dr. Kerchner said the more we eat these, the more our body craves them, which leads to over-indulging. And if you’ve heard of insulin spikes, this is the prime scenario. The high carb ratio in ramen noodles leads to spikes in insulin, and over time, insulin resistance. This, in turn, can lead to hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes (Kerchner, 2016).
“Contrary to popular belief, even in much of the mainstream medical community, it is not the fat alone in the Ramen that leads to increased risk of metabolic syndrome. It is the sugar (refined carbs) that is the major culprit. Refined wheat products and other refined grains and starches (i.e. rice starch, corn starch, etc.) lead to blood sugar spikes just as quickly as when eating pure sugar.
“Saturated fat used to be thought to be the cause of atherosclerosis and increases in lipid levels, but researchers from Harvard and other institutions have shown again and again that this is not true. Not all saturated fats are created equally, however; vegetable sources of saturated fat have not been shown to lead to elevated cholesterol or atherosclerosis.
“On the contrary, saturated vegetable fats such as minimally refined coconut oil have many health benefits. Sugar and unhealthy fats, such as high Omega 6:Omega 3 ratio fats (corn oil, soybean oil, refined palm oil- the vast majority of fat used in pre-prepared foods in the U.S.) together cause inflammation which leads to the changes in the lining of our blood vessels that brings on atherosclerosis, or plaque build-up in the arteries.”
When the plaque builds up enough, these blockages can result in heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. All of these conditions are later stages of metabolic syndrome, which again as Dr. Kerchner explains, starts with sugar. On a side note, this occurs even though there isn’t any cholesterol in ramen. Surprisingly enough, the amount of cholesterol in food doesn’t have anything to do with the cholesterol levels in our bodies (Kerchner, 2016).
“The human body makes its own cholesterol from the foods we eat; it does not absorb cholesterol from food. Last thing on Ramen- good for you for throwing away that packet. It is loaded with MSG, and don’t let the ‘MSG free’ labels fool you on certain brands. If you look closely you will find words such as disodium inosinuate and disodium guanylate, or soy protein isolate, all of which contain MSG within them and are a way for food manufacturers to hide the levels in the food for the non-discerning label reader.”
How Do I Fix This?
So, how does one “fix” the problem created by ramen noodles? Dr. Kerchner states that the best remedy is a change of food choices. While drugs can slow down damage and may extend life, there is no prescription drug that can reverse or “cure” metabolic syndrome (Kerchner, 2016).
“Food is the best remedy out there for stopping and reversing metabolic syndrome. The tips I suggest are fairly simple, but one must be committed to making the changes. Number one, cut out the sugar, period. This includes those refined carbohydrates I was talking about above. This alone will cause a huge change in health. Do not bother with “sugar free” foods as the substitutes come with their own plethora of problems.
“Number two, when choosing fats for cooking, choose fats that are the least refined and closest to their natural state, such as minimally processed coconut oil, expeller processed olive oil, or if you need something lighter, sunflower oil. Organic, grass-fed butter is also a much better choice than margarine, which is highly processed and not recommended.”
As the nurse mentioned, Dr. Kerchner concurs with increasing fiber. Her favorite grain is oat bran, which is particularly useful for drawing cholesterol out of the blood. She also recommends nuts and seeds as well as fruits and vegetables (Kerchner, 2016).
“Adult men and women should aim for 10-12 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. We don’t need nearly as much grain in our diets as we tend to believe. While brown rice does contain more fiber than white rice, the difference is quite minimal and many sources of brown rice (or rice in general) are laden with arsenic (varies by region).
“Whole wheat flour and products lead to the exact same blood sugar spikes as white flour. The only reason to use whole wheat is to increase the flavor and natural vitamin content of foods prepared at home, but otherwise isn’t a go-to for prevention of metabolic syndrome.
“When choosing non-vegetable protein sources, go with those that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids: free range eggs, free range chicken/poultry (preferably without antibiotics), grass-feed beef, and of course, wild (not farm raised) fatty fish such as salmon.
“Keep dairy to a minimum and when consuming it, go with whole-milk products, not skim, and organic grass-fed cow products whenever possible. I realize these are expensive, but cutting back on dairy consumption can help counter the increased cost of the product, making what you do take in much better for your health. Anyone sticking to a diet with these basics is going to be well on their way to improving their health, no matter what is ailing them.”
Should I Supplement?
Having been into extreme fitness, I know it’s best to get nutrients from food. But, there are times when supplementation can be beneficial. As Dr. Kerchner says, if you’re not getting a lot of Omega-3 fatty acids, and few Americans do, then you should use a supplement of 1-3 grams daily (Kerchner, 2016).
“Fish oil is absorbed better than plant-based, but check for mercury-free forms. If you are vegan, then flax oil or chia seeds can substitute, but make certain to check on proper use and storage as these break down easily if not stored or used properly.
“The best way to make sure you get enough vitamins is to eat a wide variety of foods, but if you are concerned, taking a multivitamin is a good idea, with a B-12 supplement taken separately as a methylcobalamin (not cyanocobalamin) as a sublingual tab. Other things that can help in metabolic syndrome are n-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and glutathione.”
But I’m Too Busy to Eat Healthy…
Other than price, the thing that attracted me most to those evil packs of ramen noodles was the ease of preparation. Being a blogger is time-consuming. It’s not just about the glamour of testing products. I spend time researching those products along with the (often lengthy) lists of ingredients, taking photos, editing photos, writing reviews, corresponding with brands, etc. And that’s just the blog, not even counting doing videos and working the business aspect! So, convenience is an absolute must.
I decided to go back to doing meal prepping, like I did years ago. I cooked a pot of black beans, and a pot of pinto beans, both high in fiber and nutrients. Instead of using seasoning with a lot of salt, I used fresh garlic, onion, and cilantro, along with several other salt-free seasonings. Since I still lift weights, I did actually cook a pot of brown rice so I can have a few spoons with my protein for post workout.
Additionally, I baked chicken breasts with various types of seasoning to keep from getting bored with the same thing. I packaged individual portions in plastic freezer bags, so all I’ll have to do is take one out to thaw for a bit, then heat it up and eat. It’s important to note that I only used bags because our freezer is very small, and they take up very little space. I don’t want anything toxic from the plastic to get into the food, so I’ll dump my lunch onto a microwave-safe plate prior to heating.
I’m only one person, though, and I work from home. I know many of you work outside the home, so it’s not exactly easy to carry a plastic bag of food with you. Plus, if you have a family, you’re undoubtedly busier than me!
I must say, Dr. Kerchner is an absolute “wonder woman.” In addition to being a full-time doctor, she also spends time in Haiti, and has a family consisting of her husband, three human children, and various non-human children. Needless to say, she’s BUSY, but she’s got this whole “meal thing” down!
“As far as eating on the run, this is my life. I eat many meals away from home because of my work and travel. Over time, I have found ways to make this not only simple, but pleasurable. First step is to get a good supply of glass storage containers that are freezer and heat safe. I use 3-cup Pyrex rectangular dishes for meals typically eaten from a plate. When I prepare meals at home, leftovers (which I make on purpose) go directly into these containers in the proper portions and then into my freezer.
“My go-to for on the run meals, however, is large batches of homemade soups and stews. Chili (loaded up with peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, beans, and grass-fed ground beef), creamy chicken and wild rice (made with coconut milk), tomato veggie bisque and beef stew are some of our family favorites.
“I freeze individual servings of the soups in mason jars, which can then be simply thrown into a lunch box or cooler to go, and reheated. When I make my own food, I know exactly what it contains and can control the sugar/salt/fat content with absolute certainty. It does take a little time and planning, but I try to set aside a day or two per month to make batches of food for my freezer. I have found that we waste a lot less food when we pre-plan this way, and I can keep my family of five happy on healthy food, even when I am away and my husband does not want to cook.”
With the testing available in modern medicine, and the plethora of foods available, there is no reason to live an unhealthy lifestyle. It’s easier to prevent a problem from occurring than to try to correct a major catastrophe later on.
True, since I don’t have any other issues, my cholesterol being 223 isn’t a huge problem, right now. Having had a stroke before, though, I’m going to take this as a warning sign of things to come. I should get it under control now rather than later, because if I have another stroke, I may not get so lucky again.
Now that I’m armed with the information from my primary care provider, along with further food and lifestyle advice from a trusted friend (thanks, Angie!), I have the tools I need to manage my lifestyle and health in a better way. I’m excited to see what my numbers are several months from now, so keep checking back!
I challenge our readers to do the same, and develop better habits. Feel free to try some of Dr. Kerchner’s tips, and keep us posted on your progress. Alternatively, if you already live healthily and have any hacks, we’d love to hear from you also. Scroll down to comment below!
Angela Kerchner, M.D., is the President and CEO at Avalo Center for Integrative Health & Wellness, Inc., in West Branch, Iowa. For the latest in healthy living, be sure to click here and follow her on Facebook.
Kerchner, A. (2016). Personal communication, September 22, 2016. Angela Kerchner, M.D.