Transformation of a Cardiologist

As a cardiologist, like all my colleagues, all I was ever taught to do was to prescribe drugs.  High cholesterol?  Here’s a pill.  High blood pressure?  Here’s 2 pills.  High blood sugar?  Here’s a pill and an injection.

But what I realized over time is that no matter how many pharmaceuticals I put my patients on, no matter how perfect I made their “numbers”, my waiting room never changed.  It continued to be full of individuals who still looked awful and felt terrible.  In fact, many of my patients were telling me that the medications I had put them on actually made them feel worse!  They weren’t just experiencing effects – they were also having side effects.

Something was not adding up.  All my years of medical training as a cardiologist were not yielding any cures – only a revolving door of follow-up visits.

One day I started asking people what they ate.  And what they reported was eye opening – for 2 reasons.  First, it became abundantly clear that no amount of medication I could put people on could possibly make up for the counter-productive food choices my patients were inadvertently making.  Second, and more stunning, was that most of my patients were reporting that I was the very first physician to even ask the question.

Now I suspect that most readers of this article will not be able to recall a time that their doctor took a detailed dietary history.

And isn’t that shocking?

We eat 3, 4, maybe even 5 times per day – and the trusted care provider that’s dolling out all the pills has never bothered to really delve into something that is affecting our health in such a profound, cumulative way?

I had assumed someone had already done this.  After all, as a cardiologist I’m way down the care stream. Most patients I see have seen multiple physicians prior to seeing me.  Yet for most of my patients this central component of care had not been addressed anywhere along the way and had been left, literally, on the table.

So I started teaching my patients what to do.  I explained the importance of consuming lots of fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, plant sterols and antioxidants, and detailed which whole food sources were especially rich in these nutrients.

And here’s the best part!  The patients who followed my advice experienced transformational health changes.  Medication lists shrank.  Diagnoses melted away.  They were CURED.  They literally became non-patients – which is the goal!

The problem?  The vast majority of my patients couldn’t do it.  Turns out, dietary advice is not always easy to follow, and the adjustments needed are not necessarily straightforward.

So after years of advising my patients about what to eat and watching them fail, I realized that people don’t sabotage their diets on purpose — they just don’t have the right tools to make good on the counseling they have received.  What was needed was a way to make changing diet as easy as taking a pill.  No one had solved this – so why not me?

The culmination of my life’s work is Step One Foods, a company I started to make food as easy and effective as medications.  At Step One, instead of asking people to “take these pills twice a day”, we ask them to eat these foods twice a day (as a substitute for something they were eating already).  That’s it!  No other changes required.  Because just two servings of Step One Foods deliver the critical levels of those four nutrients (fiber, omega 3s antioxidants and plant sterols) documented to help lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health in general.

And not just by a little – by a LOT.   I’ve been seeing health changes similar to those seen with pharmaceuticals – like lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol by nearly 40 points – yes, forty – in just 30 days!  The results have been so spectacular that the foods are now in clinical trials to see if they could be a formal treatment alternative for patients who can’t tolerate statin drugs (medications like Lipitor and Crestor).

It’s important to point out that Step One Foods are not supplements. This is REAL FOOD formulated from whole food ingredients – because the research that has shown measurable health benefits comes from studies of whole foods, not supplements.

It’s also important to underscore that you can try to do this on your own – without using Step One.  I always encourage my patients to do this themselves if they can.  The magic of Step One Foods comes from the ingredients – and we all have access to these at our grocery store:  chia, oats, walnuts, almonds, flax, dark chocolate, pinto beans, blueberries… Get enough of these ingredients into your diet and you will get similar results.

And to be clear, this does not mean you should just stop taking your medications!  Achieving better health is a process and the medications that were prescribed for you were prescribed for a purpose.  My big point is that requirements for medications can decrease over time if we address the reason we need them in the first place.  Always work with your physician to determine the best medication regimen for your particular situation.

And even if you can’t get off of all your pills, know that eating better is yielding a health benefit. Studies have shown that nearly 50% of all deaths due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes can be attributed to our diet – not to a lack of medication – but simply to eating the wrong foods.  By modifying the inputs – even slightly – you are affecting outcomes.

If someone had told me in medical school that one day I would start a food company, I would have said they were crazy.  And yet, here I am – helping my patients reduce their need for my services.  Food IS medicine.  And best of all, it comes with no side effects.

About Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC:

Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC, is a cardiologist and founder of Preventive Cardiology Consultants in Minneapolis. She is also the founder and chief medical officer of Step One Foods, a company dedicated to helping patients minimize their dependence on medications through strategic dietary changes.

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