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High Steaks vs. High Cholesterol

A Video Blog

By Justin B. Terry-Smith

March 8, 2010

This article originally appeared in Black AIDS Weekly, the newsletter of the Black AIDS Institute, on Feb. 9.

People who take certain HIV medications often get high cholesterol as a side effect of the drugs. Recently my doctor told me that I have high cholesterol. But is it a result of my drug regimen? I had been taking Reyataz, Norvir and Truvada, all of which have high cholesterol as a possible adverse effect. It could be my genes or my lifestyle -- or even a combination. I may never really know. But since high cholesterol increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, it's time for me to make some changes.

Here Comes Trouble

My average cholesterol is 234.1; the average of my doctor's patients is 185. My LDL, or "bad cholesterol," is 143.1, which is borderline high. My HDL, or "good" cholesterol, is 52, which is good. (Learn more about cholesterol levels.) My triglycerides were also high.


High cholesterol runs in my family. For years I have known that my dad has it. Over the holidays I learned that my mother does too. This double shot of high cholesterol means that I really have to be careful, especially since being male and of African American descent may increase my risk of heart disease also. Fortunately I don't smoke.

Living for the Weekend

Rather than immediately change my meds, which is complicated, my doctor decided that we'd first approach the problem by making lifestyle changes. There are two areas that I can take charge of on my own: eating and exercise.

First I had to slow my cholesterol intake. Now that I'm 30, my body doesn't process foods at the same speed that it did when I was 19. This meant that I had to examine my food choices. During the week, my diet was relatively healthy. Here was my diet on a typical day:

Breakfast: Ensure nutritional supplement Snack: ravioli Lunch: Quiznos sandwich, but sometimes McDonald's, pizza or buffalo wings Snack: banana Dinner: pasta, red meat or fish with rice, and wine, preferably red

But the weekend was a whole different story: I love a good steak-and-eggs breakfast; I also eat a lot. Here is an example of a typical weekend day:

Breakfast: pork bacon, ham, pancakes, biscuits, hash browns and maybe some grits (I also smothered foods with butter) Lunch: chips, pickles and soda Dinner: pizza, chicken wings with ranch sauce, or a steak with mashed potatoes

Many of these foods are high in cholesterol (Learn more about foods to eat and foods to avoid). I also used a lot of condiments that were high in cholesterol. And I didn't work out much.

Yet my waist is still a size 28 -- okay, 29 -- so until my doctor said something, I thought everything was okay.

But I realized that I had to improve my eating habits, particularly on the weekend, and head to the gym. Given the choice between big steaks and a healthy life, to me the choice is clear.

A Change of Plans

So I've changed my eating habits. On a typical weekday I now eat:

Breakfast: banana and a cinnamon-raisin bagel Snack: orange juice, an apple, water Lunch: club sandwich without bacon, iced green tea Snack: crackers Dinner: baked fish, greens, rice and wine, preferably red

And on weekends I now eat:

Breakfast: pancakes, muffin with honey, turkey bacon Lunch: tuna fish sandwich with mayonnaise Dinner: catfish, rice, couscous and wine

I also take one multivitamin, fish oil to protect against heart disease, and vitamin D because my doctor has noticed in some of his patients who take it that their T-cell, or CD4, counts have gone up. This is on top of the three HIV meds (six pills) I take every day.

And I've started hitting the gym three times a week to lift free weights. On my off days, I try to run at least one mile.

Just because people look fit on the outside doesn't mean they're fit on the inside. And I may only be 30, with a 29 waist, but I have more than just HIV to worry about.

Send Justin an e-mail.

See Also
An HIVer's Guide to Metabolic Complications
HIV and Cardiovascular Disease
High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need to Know
More on Heart (Cardiovascular) Disease

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Bradley (United Kingdom) Fri., Nov. 5, 2010 at 11:32 am UTC
Hey good luck with that. I hope you can keep the dietary cahnges up - I struggle with that particularly as the winter draws in and i crave my steaks and mash. Perhaps a good climate helps overcome pyschologial barriers?

Allthe best, Bradley
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Comment by: Wendy (Africa) Thu., Mar. 18, 2010 at 3:11 am UTC
I too noticed high cholestrol in the past 8 months, but around here the doctor couldnt figure out why. I too looked into it from a family background (alas!both my parents are prone). Still, i think the drug am on also contributes. I am trying to improve my diet and exercise more.
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Comment by: Alex (Los Angeles) Mon., Mar. 15, 2010 at 7:48 am UTC
Wow ... you take all those meds everyday?

Cutting out totally from your diet would be very beneficial!

Love your smile. :)

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Comment by: Eddie (Houston,Tx ) Wed., Mar. 10, 2010 at 7:15 pm UTC
You are still eating not so good food in terms of what your body needs.But You have improved your diet greatly from what you used to eat. Here is an advice for you: Read about what professional athletes consume and you'll be surprised!. Good luck to you my friend.
Reply to this comment

Comment by: Mico (Washington, DC) Mon., Mar. 8, 2010 at 7:43 pm UTC
My cholesterol was over 400 several years ago then I went off of meds and my cholesterol drops after two years to 199. I still wanted it to get better. My ldl was high and hdl was low. I wanted to reverse it.

I did the fish oil, various supplements. Do you know what did it? At least for me, here is what I did.

Steel Cut Oat Meal that I make from scratch. I use to use two cans of coconut milk, but switched to Wholefoods Coconut Milk Strawberry flavor in the cold food section, by the soy milk which I cannot use because it affects my kidneys. So I use coconut milk which is supposed to help those with hiv.

5 cups of the dried oat meal
1 bottle of Wholefood Strawberry flavored Coconut Milk (4 cups total is what it equals)
1 tea kettle full of hot water (11 cups of water)
Cinnamon to taste (be careful too much and wow)
Ginger to taste (same as cinnamon)
1 cup of frozen blueberries
1 cup of raisins
1/4 cup of Wholefoods glass bottle Sauerkraut juice (in the cold section usually near the pickles). This is important as it helps the flora in the gut.

Add the dry ingredients to a very large pot and toast them, stirring every couple of minutes. Once you begin to smell the oats toasting, add the blueberries and raisins. Toast a couple of more minutes then add the coconut milk and the sauerkraut juice.

Once this begins to bubble, add the hot water. When it starts to boil, turn to simmer and stir every few minutes to keep from sticking and let cook for 35 to 40 minutes.

Another method is to bring to a bubbling boil, turn it off, stir and let sit for an hour.

I make up a large batch and split it into containers, putting in the fridge. It keeps for several days as I eat this for breakfast.

You can take peeled hard boiled eggs and add them to the sauerkraut juice to let pickle for a few days. It helps flush out the liver.

My cholesterol is now 149! It took me a year.

I cut out HFCS, hydrogenated oils, most processed foods.
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Justin's HIV Journal

Justin B. Terry-Smith

Justin B. Terry-Smith

Justin B. Terry-Smith, M.P.H., may be one of the most public African Americans living with HIV: He has his own website, and he's even on YouTube. He is a noted HIV and gay civil rights activist and the creator of "Justin's HIV Journal," a popular blog in which he shares his trials and tribulations of living with HIV. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Justin resides in Laurel, Maryland, with his husband, Dr. Philip Terry-Smith, and their son, Lundyn. Presently, Justin is working toward earning his doctorate in public health. He welcomes your questions.
(Photo credit: Don Harris)

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