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We’re following Medichecks doctor Emil Hodzovic on his plant-based experiment.
Like all good experiments it's important to have some before-and-after data to see if any meaningful conclusions can be drawn - other than how our subject feels (terrible incidentally, but that’s less to do with his diet than the effects of an intense 2 months’ stint of night shifts in A&E…) and how difficult he’s found it (pea protein shake anyone?).
We asked Emil to take our Diet Check UltraVit to get his baseline readings and the results are in. Not only is Emil a qualified doctor, he’s also a competitive body builder and a trained nutritionist. It would be hard to find someone better qualified to “know themselves inside out”; body builders are the original quantified-selfers, measuring their macro and micro nutrients to the nth degree as they get competition-ready. But, like many 30 year olds, Emil had never had a blood test and he was in for a few surprises!
The Diet Check UltraVit is a comprehensive test focussing on blood health, liver and kidney function, cholesterol as well as many vitamins and minerals that can be affected by a restricted diet. It also includes a fatty acids profile, measuring the ratio of omega 6 to 3 fatty acids in the blood. Before he began his plant-based challenge, Emil was a self-confessed carnivore - so what would his blood test results tell him about his baseline health?
Well first off, the good news. Emil has a very healthy cholesterol profile with low levels of LDL cholesterol and high levels of protective HDL cholesterol. In fact, his HDL cholesterol makes up over 45% of his total cholesterol giving him low risk of heart disease.
So where were the surprises? “As a nutritionist I am very conscious of my intake of nutrients, and make sure to supplement with higher-than-normal doses of vitamin D and magnesium. While both of these were in the normal range, they aren’t what I would consider to be optimal. I have been consistently taking between 2,000-3,000IU of vitamin D for years and my levels came back at 78 nmol/L. I am personally aiming for 90+ and would be pretty pleased sitting at around 120. It just goes to show that you have to measure – without a blood test I would have had no idea that I wasn’t reaching my targets. The same goes for magnesium where I am aiming to have levels well over 1 nmol/L but my result was only 0.89. Again, not bad, but certainly not what I expected”.
The biggest surprise for Emil came with his omega 6:3 ratio which was far from optimal. It is thought that in our paleo days, when we were eating far more offal and omega-3 rich parts of an animal as well as fish, and far less in the way of processed foods and vegetable oils, our omega 6:3 ratio was almost 1:1 – i.e. we ate equal amounts of both. Nowadays, unless you eat a lot of oily fish or vegetable sources of omega 3 fatty acids (like flaxseeds) or you take supplements, you are highly likely to have a ratio of well over 10 – i.e. 10 times as much omega 6 fatty acids in your blood than omega 3. In Emil’s case his ratio was 16:1 – far more omega 6 than omega 3, and while this isn’t a surprise to us (we see results like this every day) it did come as a surprise to Emil. “I’m going to have to take a long hard look at my fat sources to see how I can cut down on my consumption of omega 6 fatty acids. As a nutritionist, I know that these fats are inflammatory, yet it didn’t occur to me that I could be so out of balance, especially as I take omega 3 supplements. I think that this is one area that is going to be even harder on a plant-based diet. But again it shows the value of testing – if you try to adjust your diet without knowing your starting point it’s impossible to know what changes to make.”
Emil is over halfway through his plant-based challenge and he’ll be taking the same blood test at the end. Will his results have changed? Watch this space!