Cuenca Ecuador Bloodwork + High Cholesterol on a Vegan Plant-Based Diet

We recorded this video several weeks ago, but it kept getting pushed down the queue for other, more time relevant videos. We start out with a trip to the Santa Ines lab to get our Cuenca Ecuador Bloodwork done. I get my cholesterol checked regularly to make sure it’s under control.

Since we recorded it, the Nut Wars between Jeff Nelson at VegSource and Dr. Joel Fuhrman that inspired this video have simmered down, but that doesn’t make this issue less concerning for people like me (JP) with a strong family history of heart disease and a long-term battle with high cholesterol.

This video isn’t about the science or the confusion about cholesterol that has been systematically manufactured by the dairy, meat, egg, nut, cooking oil, avocado and other high-fat product industries. I’ll share the science below in case you’re wondering about it. Instead, our video is about MY frustration with the plant-based doctors for not coming to consensus on this very important topic.

Fuhrman, Greger and other doctors say nuts are the key to living longer. Ornish and Esselstyn say they contribute to heart disease and can shorten our lives. Both sides can’t be right and they owe it to those of us in the high-risk heart disease category to put their egos aside and agree on the best recommendation.

If you have total cholesterol under 150 without paying any attention to your saturated fat intake, good for you. Please think of me when you’re chowing down on nuts, avocados, chocolate and coconut oil.

See More: Cuenca Health & Beauty Services

My History with High Cholesterol

When I was 34 years old, I got routine blood work done for keyman life insurance policy for my business. My business partner was 10 years older than me, but his premium was half the cost of mine. That prompted the question: why?

My total cholesterol was 270! If you want to know the truth about cholesterol, just look at the stance taken by life insurance companies. They’re in the business of assessing risk, and they know high cholesterol is a risk factor for sudden death. Some life insurance companies like Health IQ are now giving discounts to vegans due to our lower risk of death compared to non-vegans.

After getting this shocking news, I went to see my doctor to find out what could be done, and he recommended a Mediterranean-style diet with fish, lean mean, olive oil, fruits, veggies and no more than 2 eggs per week. NOW I know that diet is a recipe for heart disease, not a cure for it.

After a few months on this diet, regular exercise and 10 pounds of weight loss, my cholesterol barely moved so he put me on a statin and told me there was nothing else I could do.

That simply wasn’t true.

On the statin, the lowest my cholesterol got was 196. Eating a vegan whole-food plant-based diet without a statin, my total cholesterol has been as low as 188.

Our Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet

Before I share links to the science and my cholesterol numbers, I think it’s important to discuss our diet. For the past 3 years, we’ve been 100% vegan, consuming no cholesterol-laden animal products.

For the past 2 years, we’ve eaten a Whole-Food Plant-Based (WFPB) Diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans) and a few seeds (chia and flax for Omega-3), but almost no nuts or oil.

Almost 9 months ago, after finding out my total cholesterol was still 225 (the exact average cholesterol level of heart disease victims), I cut out all oil, nuts, avocados and chocolate. We even ask our restaurants to cook without oil for us.

We tracked our diet on MyFitnessPal for a month after going truly low-fat, no-oil and I averaged 10% fat, 15% protein and 75% carbs. Amelia’s was a little higher in the fat category because of her chocolate addiction.

Even with this truly low-fat diet recommended by the experts on heart disease prevention and reversal, Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish, I still have high total cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL (good) cholesterol and high triglycerides. That’s 4 for 4 in terms of heart disease risk.

And considering my family has a strong history of heart disease and stroke, I’d say it’s a safe bet that I have heart disease that just hasn’t manifested itself yet.

In the video, I mentioned Amla Powder as a treatment for high cholesterol. It’s dehydrated, powdered Indian gooseberry and has been shown to lower cholesterol in most people as effectively as statin drugs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to work for me.

How Do We Know Cholesterol Causes Heart Disease?

Most people are very confused about cholesterol thanks to the efforts of high-fat food industries like meat, dairy, eggs, oil, nuts, avocados, etc. Some people are even adamant that cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease. They think it has been unfairly maligned by the sugar industry, which is the real cause of heart disease.

While sugar products are no-doubt unhealthy, our heart disease epidemic is due almost entirely to foods that are high in cholesterol and/or saturated fat. The below video by Dr. Greger at is a great review of the science showing how we know, without a doubt, that heart disease is caused by high blood serum cholesterol, especially high LDL cholesterol.

The dairy industry launched a full-scale assault on this science starting back in 2012 to manufacture doubt where none exists because their profits were tanking. They even had me believing their corporate junk science for a while, and some people very close to me still believe it, but it’s simply the best marketing money can buy. Don’t believe a word of it.

What Are the Optimal Cholesterol Levels?

Based on decades of legitimate, irrefutable science, the optimal cholesterol levels to avoid heart disease are total cholesterol below 150 and LDL (bad) cholesterol below 70. In populations around the world, with cholesterol levels below these numbers, heart disease is almost non-existent.

What Are MY Cholesterol Levels?

Here are the results from my last blood test.

Total Cholesterol: 195

In the medical profession, a total cholesterol below 200 is considered “normal.” But nearly 1/3 of all heart disease patients have a total cholesterol between 150 and 200, which means “normal” is actually abnormal. Ideally, my total cholesterol should be below 150.

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol: 109

In the medical profession, LDL cholesterol below 100 is considered normal. But the optimal level is below 70. Again, in populations around the world with LDL below 70, heart disease is unheard of.

HDL (Good) Cholesterol: 42

The medical profession likes to focus on the good HDL cholesterol. They say having an HDL above 40 is optimal, but in reality, HDL is almost meaningless. That’s because if your total and LDL cholesterol are low enough, in the optimal range, HDL doesn’t matter. This measure is unimportant in terms of heart disease risk.

Triglycerides: 219

The optimal range for triglycerides is below 100, but the medical profession says anyone with triglycerides above 150 is at elevated risk of heart disease. My blood test from 9 months ago when my total cholesterol was 225 (before we went truly low-fat) showed triglycerides of 296, so that has improved, but it’s still not good enough.

Based on these test results, which are actually quite a bit better than past tests, I’m at high risk for heart disease. Considering my long-term battle with high cholesterol and a strong family history of heart disease, I think it’s a safe bet I have undiagnosed heart disease.

Additionally, heart disease might actually be the cause of my degenerative disc disease, as well as my struggle with breathing at high altitude here in Cuenca, Ecuador.

UPDATE: What Does Dr. Esselstyn Say About My Numbers

After posting this video, one of our subscribers shared this video from Dr. Esselstyn talking about people just like me who eat a clean, WFPB diet but still have cholesterol in the 200 range instead of below 150.

Nut Wars 2019 Between Jeff Nelson and Dr. Joel Fuhrman

The motivation for this video came from what I call the Nut Wars 2019 between Jeff Nelson at VegSource and Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Here are the videos I’m referring to.

You may notice that Dr. Fuhrman isn’t featured in any of these videos, yet he suggested in his interview with Plant Based News that Nelson’s criticisms were directed squarely at him. A case of guilty conscious or maybe extreme narcissism? ?

Nuts Won’t Save Your Life (Part 1 of Nuts)

Nuts Studies Are a Hoax (Part 2 of Nuts)

You Don’t Need Added FAT to Absorb Nutrients (Part 3 of Nuts)

Nuts and Heart Disease – Dr. Esselstyn (Part 4 of Nuts)

More Nut Industry Lies Exposed (Part 5 of Nuts)

Dr. Joel Fuhrman Loses His Mind in Plant Based News Interview

Dr. Fuhrman accuses people like Esselstyn, Ornish and Jeff Nelson of trying to protect their legacy despite contradictory science. However, this appears to be a severe case of projection.

He has a long legacy of recommending nuts, even to heart disease patients. He also sells nuts and nut butters on his website. If anyone is attempting to protect a legacy, I think it’s Fuhrman. Jeff Nelson has no legacy to protect. He’s simply trying to determine what the truth is.

You can also read Dr. Fuhrman’s rebuttal on his website: The Attack Against Nuts and Seeds—Getting Nuttier All The Time. Rather than refute Nelson’s review of the science, Fuhrman resorts to name calling and ad hominem attacks while insisting that studies funded by the industries that benefit from positive results have no impact on the findings.

If you think industry funding doesn’t affect the outcome of studies like Dr. Fuhrman suggests, you should consider reading Unsavory Truth by Dr. Marion Nestle.

Unsavory Truth Nestle

She has devoted her entire professional career as a scientist to studying corruption in the food industry and she has proven without doubt that the funding source affects the study methodology, the outcomes and the conclusions. In fact, she calls industry funded studies “marketing studies” because their sole purpose is to sell more products, not discover scientific truth.

Dr. Fuhrman needs to read Nestle’s book before suggesting that funding source doesn’t matter.

Heart Disease Experts Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish

For the time being, I’m going to continue to trust the advice of Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Ornish when it comes to heart disease prevention and reversal. If you have heart disease or a history of high cholesterol, I suggest reading both of their books:

To reiterate, I don’t care WHO is right! I only care WHAT is right! This is a serious issue for people like me with genetically high cholesterol and a strong family history of heart disease. The experts in the plant-based community need to put their egos aside, stop protecting their legacies, and come to consensus on this issue to prevent more unnecessary premature deaths.

Hopefully you enjoyed our video, and if you did, please LIKE, COMMENT and SHARE it, and SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel. ¡Muchas Gracias y Hasta Luego!


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5 replies
  1. Solon Peres
    Solon Peres says:

    I do go to the doctor to get lab work done 2-3 times per year to check on my high cholesterol as I have family history of high cholesterol and heart related problems. I was also a meat eater until November 2014 when I became a Vegetarian as I embraced the cause as I was really thinking about environment, animal life, and my well being.

    Before the switch, I was on cholesterol medication for 7 years and my results were not that bad. Here were my average results:
    – Triglycerides: 92
    – Total colesterol ranging from 130-163
    – HDL around 47
    – LDL averaging 97

    On Thanksgiving 2014 my wife and I gave up on meat in general but we kept eating fish, eggs, and cheese. We then reintroduced fish after a couple of years but we seldom eat fish as we leave this to special occasions.

    Anyway, after the switched to ovo-lacto/pescetarian, this is how I tracked my average results in the past 5 years ( resulting from 7 lab tests):
    – Triglycerides: 157 (70% increase)
    – Total Cholesterol: 185 (42% increase)
    – HDL: 49 (4% increase)
    – LDL: 104 (7% increase)

    Our diet is pretty much… no sugar, very little salt, no saturated fat, natural yogurt made of yam with organic cereal, vegetable omelet, home made breads, all sorts of beans, lentils, rice, quinoa, vegetables, fruits. I drink 2 ounces of milk per day in my coffee. We use the air fryer all the time and never fry anything with oil. We eat more nuts and a little more avocado than what we did prior to switching our diet.

    The good news is that my wife stayed the same along all these years. No noticeable changes in these parameters but we both lost muscle and feel a little bit more pain/aching when we run or do extraneous exercises.

    Anyway, I wanted to share our situation as I am also puzzled on why the results just escalated after we switched. There must be something in my case that this diet does to contribute as the culprit. I did not think about nuts or avocado. I will study more now.

    Thanks for posting this cool video and for searching for a truth and/or solution.

    We appreciate it.
    Solon & Monica.

    • JP
      JP says:

      With your numbers, I’m guessing if you completely cut out animal products, your total cholesterol might go below 150. Eggs and cheese are the two worst things you can eat for cholesterol. Even worse than meat. All animal products contain both cholesterol and saturated fat, and when they’re consumed together, they have a compounding effect. Saturated fat by itself is worse than dietary cholesterol, but when consumed together, they’re both worse than saturated fat consumed by itself without dietary cholesterol. Unlike true carnivores and omnivores, humans just aren’t designed to handle cholesterol or high amounts of saturated fat.

      Here are a bunch of useful videos and info on cholesterol:

      Please stay in touch and keep us posted on your progress!

  2. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    So great to find your website. Like JP, I’ve had high cholesterol my whole adult life. I went on Dr. Esselstyn’s diet for two months, strictly, i.e. vegan, low fat, no oil, nuts, avacado, etc. Before this my cholesterol was 275 and after the two months on Esselstyn’s diet it was on down to 253. I am devastated by this, but I will try to keep at it for another two months, but it is so discouraging. I keep telling myself at least I’m not harming my endothelial. I lost 15 pounds, but I was only 130 pounds before, but that was actually overweight for me so 115 is my normal weight, so that’s a plus. I have tried Dr. Fuhrman’s LDL Protect several times now and it lowered my cholesterol more but I can’t tolerate the pills–they always constipate me for some reason–maybe the hard tablets, I dunno. Sure wish there were a solution for people like me where it’s a mystery why I have high cholesterol.

  3. Cate
    Cate says:

    Your cholesterol is EXACTLY like mine. Finally got to 183 and frustrated I contacted Dr. Esselstyn who told me that as long as nothing passes my lips that damages my endothelial the cholesterol number doesn’t matter. I also watched a video of Dr, Klaper’s who explains that the cholesterol number is only a rough estimate of CVD risk and there are other tests that can tell much more

    • JP
      JP says:

      Thanks Cate! It’s nice to know I’m not alone, but I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. It’s so frustrating to continue battling this after eating so clean for so many years. I saw a video interview with Esselstyn shortly after he responded to one of my comments on Instagram. In his comment to me and in the interview shortly afterward, he said the same thing: If you don’t eat anything that causes damage to the endothelial lining, you should be ok even if your numbers are higher than recommended. He said some people have a higher cholesterol “thermostat” and they don’t know enough about those of us who do to say whether it’s harmful or not. The only thing we can do is eat really clean and live a healthy lifestyle. Stressing out about it (like I’ve been doing) only makes it worse. Thanks for sharing the video! And best of luck to you!


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