Cholesterol with a Side of Dumplings and Dan Dan Noodles

Dinner Table Doctor took a few days off for a much needed long weekend and we spent one of the days preparing a meal slightly out of our comfort zone. To celebrate the Lunar New Year, we decided to try and create pork dumplings and Dan Dan noodles. (Recipes will follow)

Once again we were spending a large amount of time in the kitchen making homemade pasta, which was the one part of the meal IN our comfort zone, and DTD decided to bravely follow up my lesson on menopause with a little primer on cholesterol. In his defense, I was asking a lot of questions. I just received the results of LONG overdue bloodwork, which I put off for a year and a half! Don’t get me wrong – I have bloodwork on a regular basis because of my leukemia diagnosis to ensure my blood is still in tiptop shape, however I kept putting off the fasting bloodwork used to check my cholesterol. It was high the last time I went, and I wanted to stick my head in the sand and forget about it!

Part of my New Year’s resolution, though, was to finally face the music. As I mentioned in an earlier post regarding the fun of colonoscopies, you gotta do what you gotta do to stay healthy as you age, especially when you’re hearing advice from a doctor/spouse every single day. I went for the fasting bloodwork. I’m happy to say the results weren’t disastrous, but I still need to work on leading a healthier lifestyle.

At my request, DTD filled me in on good and bad cholesterol and his take on my situation. He’s not my doctor, of course, but I still value his opinion. A reminder that he’s (probably) not your doctor either, so this is just some general information. If you have questions or concerns about your own cholesterol, please visit your own doctor.

Cholesterol is a substance in your blood. Everyone has it and we actually need it to be healthy. Where we run into problems is if we have too much cholesterol, which increases your risk for a host of health issues such as a heart attack and stroke.

When you get a cholesterol test, you’ll see a few different numbers:

  • Total Cholesterol
  • LDL – This is the “bad” cholesterol, because having a high LDL can lead to a variety of health issues.
  • HDL – Sometimes called “good” cholesterol, when this level is higher people have a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes and other health problems.
  • Non-HDL – This is your total cholesterol minus your HDL.
  • Triglycerides – These are not cholesterol, but another type of fat which often gets measured along with cholesterol. High triglycerides also indicates a larger risk of heart attacks, strokes and other health issues.

Now I know you want the numbers of what is normal and what is high, but I’m not going to give them to you, because everyone is different. When you talk to your doctor about your cholesterol, she will tell you if there’s cause for concern. DTD says that some people with very good, low cholesterol still need to be concerned about heart disease. The theory used to be that the cholesterol was plugging up your blood vessels, but now we know these numbers are a risk but not a cause of unhealthy blood vessels. This is why some people with really high cholesterol live long lives without any heart disease. Think of it this way: being a young driver increases the risk of car accidents, but it does not mean all young people get in car accidents.

There are several other risk factors for heart disease, including but not limited to diabetes, smoking, family history, age, and inactivity. DTD explained that a healthy lifestyle is necessary whether it lowers your cholesterol or not. If two people start an exercise program and one person’s cholesterol goes down and one person’s doesn’t, they still both have the same drop in risk of heart disease.

Many people take a medicine called a “statin” to lower the risk of heart disease. “Statins” is the short name for medications used to lower levels of cholesterol and other fats in the blood. They are called statins because each one of these medication’s name ends with “-statin” (such as atorvastatin, rosuvastatin, simvastatin, etc.) Statins actually help people regardless of their cholesterol level. Taking a statin does prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol, but also seems to work on inflammation inside blood vessels. Patients with low cholesterol but high risk for heart disease still benefit dramatically if they take a statin. Basically, some people take statins because of high cholesterol, and others take them because of different risk factors. Perhaps you’re a heavy smoker and your dad died of a heart attack, but your own cholesterol is already low. Maybe you’ve had a heart attack, but your cholesterol is low. Anytime there is any risk factor, you take a big dose of statin. The benefits of statins in reducing heart attacks and strokes have made them one of the most prescribed medications in the world.

In my situation, my cholesterol level does not warrant taking a medication and I have no other risk factors, but it has gone up since I started menopause and may continue to do so if I’m not careful. (Apparently increased cholesterol is another common effect of menopause, because OF COURSE it is!! What the heck?!?! Menopause screws up everything!)

So what advice does DTD (and my own doctor) have for me? It’s going to sound awfully familiar if you’ve read most of my previous posts. A diet in low saturated fat, low sugar, and low carbohydrates as well as daily aggressive exercise and daily activity will help lower my cholesterol and reduce my risk of a heart attack or stroke. DTD says a minimum of 5000 (preferably far more) steps each day is necessary, plus 30 minutes a day of hot and sweaty exercise with an elevated heart rate. A diet naturally high in omega 3 and fiber is also ideal and better than taking supplements. Yada yada yada….

Do pork dumplings and Dan Dan noodles fit into this healthy diet? NO. But that’s what we were making when we had this conversation. In the future, I will try to follow his advice and eat a healthy diet 99% of the time, though… or maybe 90%. Really I think I’ll be doing great if I could just follow it 80% of the time…

Anyway, I wanted to make some Chinese food to celebrate the Lunar New Year and I was inspired by a recipe for dumplings in Food and Wine magazine. Plus I have been craving Dan Dan noodles for awhile. This is a Chinese Sichuan noodle dish with a spicy ground pork sauce, which we enjoyed for the first time in the Chinatown area of Toronto. We took a food tour which led us to a small restaurant in the basement of a very nondescript building. Honestly, the place didn’t look like much, but the tour guide raved about the Dan Dan noodles and he was so right. We walked into this hole-in-the-wall and saw a man making homemade noodles faster than I thought possible. The dish we had was so good we went again back on our own the next day. I still think of that meal. I figured it would go perfectly with the dumplings.

**As a side note, if you are able to take a food tour when visiting a new city, by all means do so! It is a fabulous way to see and learn about the area and try some of the local cuisine. We have done this several times and have yet to be disappointed. **

DTD and I made our own noodles, but you could just use store-bought spaghetti to save time. There are a ton of variations of Dan Dan noodles online and we actually ended up using a recipe from a South Korean cook, only because it seemed like an easy version to follow and we happened to have some kimchi in the fridge. Our final result was delicious but admittedly not as good as the Chinese restaurant we went to in Toronto. I’m certain the recipe is wonderful, but we are just inexperienced when it comes to Dan Dan noodles. Also, our girls aren’t crazy about spicy foods, so we each added our own chili oil to taste. For a first try, we were proud. The dumplings also were very good, but we used store-bought wonton noodles instead of making our own, and they came apart a bit in the cooking process. We’re going to keep practicing, because I need excuses to eat fun and delicious food the 20% of the time I’m allowed!

Here’s what our finished product looked like: (The links to both recipes are below. Enjoy!)

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