The land of coconut milk and honey

In the six months since I made the conscious effort to become a vegetarian, I’ve spent every day ready and anxious for what finally came this week: my annual blood work appointment.

OK, I feel 80 years old for even bringing this up and blogging about it. But it’s truly a very big deal for me. At 35, I’m just three years away from the age my dad was when he first had open heart surgery. Years ago, I had resigned myself to at least be on Lipitor by the age of 25, and when I first started getting my blood work done — only to realize I was already taking the appropriate steps to fight my genes — I found myself monitoring the changes yearly just to stay on top of it.

Becoming a vegetarian was the natural next step toward really giving the middle finger to my genetics.

Now, it’s not like my blood levels were bad in the first place. At one point, my cholesterol was hovering around 200, which bugged me. But for the most part, it stayed in the 180s. At its lowest, I had a cholesterol of 177 and when my doctor saw the look of nervousness on my face, he told me, “Your cholesterol is that high because your good cholesterol level is high. If we put you on medication, your good cholesterol level couldn’t get any higher. So calm down. You’re going to give yourself a heart attack by freaking out about it.”

Ahem. Good point. I’m trying to not get my chest cracked open here.

On Tuesday, I scuttled my way over to my health screening, feeling completely optimistic and practically bursting out of my skin with anxiousness.

My weight was up, which I blame on the ridiculously delicious bread I baked and couldn’t stop eating over the weekend. My waist circumference was down, which I blame on roller derby and the fact that sometimes I only eat a Luna bar for dinner. And my cholesterol? Holy moly, guys. My cholesterol was 159.

ONE-FIFTY-FREAKING-NINE, PEOPLE! I nearly made out with my nurse right then and there. I wanted to dance and do cartwheels and weep and roll around on the floor. But instead, I mumbled a, “Oh, cool!” and kept listening to the rest of my results.

My HDL (“good” cholesterol) was 55 — a good range, but a tad bit lower than I was expecting. I blame this on the fact that I’m probably not getting quite as many Omega 3’s since I’m not eating fish.

However, my LDL (“bad” cholesterol), which comes from meats, was in the tank at 87. Anything below 100 is considered optimal.

My triglycerides were 86, and anything below 150 is pretty rock and roll. Plus, my blood pressure was 111/69, which really isn’t anything new, because as a runner, I’ve always had insanely low blood pressure.

I don’t want to say that I was skeptical about this diet, because I wasn’t. But my grandma had a heart attack when I was in high school, and her doctor convinced her that a vegetarian diet was not the best thing for her to try. I’ve since realized why: protein is important for repairing muscles, and when a giant muscle like your heart has been damaged, it’s important to load up on protein to help it heal. She was encouraged to eat plenty of fish and poultry to get back on track. In my case, however, because my heart is strong, I truly believe a vegetarian lifestyle is the perfect supplement to my 3-4 hour roller derby practices and endless miles of running.

So in case you were wondering, yes, I’m sticking with this lifestyle. We are getting along quite famously.

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BONUS RECIPE! Sometimes I get an insane craving for comfort food, and here’s one of my favorite recipes that I’ve been able to adjust to provide heart-healthy fats and fewer calories.

Wretched’s Sinfully Deceitful Egg Salad Sandwiches

Hard-boil, peel and chop 10 eggs (last time, I made mine with local duck eggs… YUM!) and place them in a bowl. Dice a couple of shallots, about 2 Tbsp., and add them to the bowl with the egg. Mix in 1/4 cup of either olive oil mayonnaise or Spectrum organic mayonnaise, which have less calories and heart-healthy fats, as well as 2 Tbsp. of mustard. Chop and stir in 2 Tbsp. of fresh dill (more if you’re feeling froggy), as well as freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste.

Serve the egg salad on artisan bread. I love it on freshly baked sourdough rye bread, making it a sandwich that’s loaded with whole grains, the right kinds of fats, lots of protein, and a whole lot of comforting flavor.

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