“Clean” diet vs plant-based power – How Greg left statins in the dust!


A colleague at work sent me the following email a few months ago…

“Hi Timaree,

You probably have many examples of how people can benefit from a plant based diet, if so feel free to hit delete.  I thought I should share my story because my doctor told me that a plant-based diet would NOT have the effect of improving my cholesterol levels enough to get off of statins.  He told me that I would have to take statins for the rest of my life or risk a stroke or heart attack.

In November, I had a lipid panel done to establish my baseline cholesterol levels without taking statins.  My diet was what many would consider “clean.”  Lots of fruits and vegetables, oatmeal every day, mostly chicken and fish, with red meat every now and then.  No fast food, very little processed foods.  My weakness was burritos; I still ate them regularly. I also used butter and cheese liberally in my diet.

I started a mostly vegetarian diet at the beginning of the year. My activity levels were the same; I try to exercise most weekends but no exercise regimen. I attended one of your presentations of Forks Over Knives, which inspired me to experiment with a whole food, plant-based diet in February (no meat, no dairy, no processed foods). After eating this way for three weeks, I had a lipid panel done.  Below are the results.  I am now completely off statins and my cholesterol levels are in the normal and safe range.”

Baseline-“clean” diet, no medications

Total Cholesterol                264

LDL                                         201

HDL                                         45


Plant based diet, no medications

Total Cholesterol                165

LDL                                         102

HDL                                        45


“I should have mentioned that I had been on statins for about 8 years with some unfortunate side effects.  Another benefit was losing 17 pounds WITHOUT reducing the amount of food I ate, just changing the food I ate. I shared my results with my brother who also has high cholesterol and he and his family are considering going “plant-based.” This really hits home for our family because we are in the midst of taking care of my parents, who are struggling with cognitive issues and other health problems. I want to break the cycle, so that my wife and I don’t burden our children as we age.”

First Update: “I’m down from 185 pounds to 163 pounds, am riding 70 miles round trip to work a few times each week and 40-50 miles on sat/sun. I also ride my dirt bike for 2 hrs/wk. I was even recognized by the City of Davis, as the employee who put in the most miles during “Bike to Work” month in May.” When I asked about a message to share, this was his response: “While my initial motivation was get off medications, I couldn’t believe that I was losing weight effortlessly. I had always ‘kept my weight in check’ by eating less, but I felt like I was starving and the pounds always came back. Now, I can eat as much as I want. I also had to get used to people making comments about my appearance on a regular basis. They say, “I want to look like you –by this time next year.” Many, however, are on the same path that I was, with their version of “eating clean” including fish and chicken. It wasn’t until I transitioned to plant-based, whole foods, was I able to eat as much as I wanted and get healthier with every bite.”

Second Update: “I am doing well on my quest for health.  The last time I weighed 160 lbs. was 16 years ago and it was the result of 5 straight weeks of starvation. I was counting points using the Weight Watchers method and although I thought I was ‘successful’ at reaching that goal weight, I was hungry all of the time. I have been listening to Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How Not To Die, and it has been life changing. I have been sticking to, and actually embracing, a whole food, plant-based diet, because of all of the health benefits, not to mention the sustained weight loss. I eat as much food as I want, I do not go hungry and I am still losing weight by eating the right things. This morning, I weighed in at 157 lbs.  I have not weighed 157 lbs. for the last quarter century. I feel good, and have lots of energy, also still riding my bike to work 1 or 2 times a week (70 mile round trip to Davis from Elk Grove). After my brother heard about me getting off statins, he committed to a plant-based diet in April. His doctor has now taken him off statins, too!”

From Timaree: This is why I do what I do. I echo Dr. McDougall’s call to action: Take control of your health destiny! We know that all medications have side effects and most are designed to target symptoms, not the root cause of the problem.  Greg wasn’t suffering from a statin-deficiency, he was consuming food that raised his blood cholesterol levels. The choices that you make with your fork have more power than you realize, and/or are often lead to believe. Dr. Dean Ornish describes the simple spectrum approach – the more changes you make, the more benefits you get to enjoy. The benefits that Greg is experiencing are pretty amazing! When you love the food that loves you back, it tastes great, you feel great, save $ and positively impact our planet… no downsides! Here is a recipe that Greg and his wife, Tamara, wanted to share.

Mahoney’s Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

When you cook a pot of brown rice and bake a bunch of sweet potatoes over the weekend, you can enjoy them all week. With those on hand, this recipe comes together very quickly and is fancy enough for entertaining!


4 large Portobello mushrooms (cleaned and stemmed)

1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice

1 large sweet potato (baked and chopped)

2 stalks celery (chopped small)

3 green onions (green and white parts, chopped small)

1 bunch Swiss chard (chopped small)

2 cloves garlic (chopped)

Spices (amounts to taste)



Onion powder

Chili flakes

Salt and pepper


  1. Make the filling: Over medium heat, cook celery, onion, garlic, and Swiss chard until Swiss chard has wilted, adding a few tablespoons of water or vegetable broth, if needed.  Add all spices to taste, and cook for 5-10 minutes, before adding rice and potatoes.
  2. Fill the mushrooms: Place mushrooms in an oven safe dish and add filling to each (you may have extra filling).   If desired, sprinkle with whole grain panko bread crumbs, crushed walnuts and/or green onions and bake at 350F° for 20-30 minutes, until mushrooms have softened.

Timaree Hagenburger, a registered dietitian and certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health, loves working with students and colleagues, as a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College. Timaree also conducts local events, corporate wellness work, has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV and published her first cookbook – The Foodie Bar Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy. available at www.FoodieBars.com – where you will also find details about Timaree’s upcoming events (cooking demos, book signings and talks about the incredible power you yield with your fork!).

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