My Eye-Opening InsideTracker Experience

By Meghan Johnson, August 1, 2022


As a public health and nutrition graduate student, I didn’t think I had much to worry about when I went to have my blood drawn for my personalized InsideTracker analysis. Given my education and resources, having nutrient deficiencies would be not only a surprise, but a bit of an embarrassment. I believe in walking the walk in addition to talking the talk and try to set an example with my diet and exercise regimen. I cook the majority of my own meals, which generally consist of whole grains, vegetables, fish, bean or soy-based proteins and occasionally lean poultry. I typically snack on fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, granola, or yogurt.  Now of course, I sometimes stray from my dietary staples when dining out to celebrate birthdays or promotions, during holiday parties, and for the occasional ‘just because’ dinner with friends. You only live once, right? But I stick to a plant-based, whole foods diet for the majority of my meals. Click here to learn how InsideTracker can recommend personalized diet and exercise plans that will fit your unique physical needs!

I’ve been a runner since I was 14, competing in track (not very well, I might add), cross country, and soccer over the years. I aim to run at least four days per week and have trained for five half marathons, a sprint triathlon, an Olympic distance triathlon, and countless 10ks and 10-mile races up and down the east coast (and one in Texas!). Being a distance runner puts me at risk for certain deficiencies, such as iron. My running, combined with the fact that I’m a woman who avoids many animal products, puts me at the greatest risk for low iron. (Iron is required for the formation of oxygen carrying proteins hemoglobin and myleglobin, and for enzymes involved in energy production, making it essential for optimal athletic performance.)imageWhat’s a veggie-loving, running woman to do?    Unsurprisingly, my ferritin marker was slightly below the target range on my InsideTracker recommendations. (Ferritin is a storage protein of iron and acts as a good marker for the amount of iron in the body.) The site informed me that, “Iron requirements for endurance athletes, especially distance runners, are approximately 70% higher than in the normal population. Iron depletion is one of the most frequent nutrition problem observed among athletes, especially females. A vegetarian diet also has poor iron availability.” I take a supplement, but have known for years that my iron continues to be low. The Red Cross is tired of turning me away for blood donation! I already consume a number of the foods that InsideTracker recommended for me and there are several that I don’t consume (such as ground beef, goat, and liver) for personal reasons.

InsideTracker linked me to an article that informed me that I may be able to reduce the amount of iron depletion associated with long-distance running by adding more cross training sessions to my exercise routine. This has been a goal of mine for months anyway; I have fallen into a bit of a rut with my Boston-based runs. Reading this article inspired me to make an effort to vary my work-outs to prevent loss of iron from supplementation and non-heme (or plant-based) sources. Spin class, here I come!A blow to a nutrition student’s egoWhile the ferritin marker did not come as a surprise, the other marker that was out of its optimal range was nothing short of shocking. What is the last biomarker that you would expect a young, active, quasi-vegetarian woman to have out of whack? You guessed it- cholesterol!

Immediately, I began searching for an explanation. I had my blood taken between Christmas and New Year’s Eve- the greatest binge-eating week of the year. What was I thinking? But blood cholesterol is not something that spikes sharply in a short time period.  To confirm this, I called my doctor, who had tested my cholesterol during my annual screening last May. At the time, she told me that all of my numbers “looked great” but had not specifically shared what those numbers were. Now, I wanted answers!

My current cholesterol reading was 205mg/dL, only 5mg/dL higher than the generic “desirable” range given by most health care providers. This puts me in the “borderline high” bucket, something that may not raise a red flag for a doctor when treating a young, active, and otherwise healthy woman. However, my InsideTracker recommendation, which takes all of my personal characteristics into consideration, is between 100 and 189mg/dL- significantly lower than my current number.

My doctor’s office pulled up my records. Here we go, I thought. This will prove that it was a fluke, fueled by too many butter-soaked cookies and holiday ham! But again, to my surprise, my previous screening revealed a cholesterol level of 211mg/dL! And this was while following my typical non-holiday diet and exercise routine. There was no refuting it now; I had high cholesterol. A lesson in humility brought to you by InsideTracker    In my case, my high cholesterol may be due to genetics. My grandparents and father have high cholesterol, but I had attributed it to the meat-and-potatoes diet of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The foods InsideTracker suggests I eat less of (duck, beef, roe, kidneys, butter, squid, veal, pork, etc.) are already limited in my diet, if present at all. Perhaps adding more physical activity can aid in my efforts to lower my cholesterol along with switching from butter to margarine (plant sterols have been shown to lower high cholesterol).

My main take-away from this experience, however, is the realization that your doctor may not notify you of something that he or she doesn’t think it is a pressing issue. But a service like InsideTracker gives you the power to understand and eventually control your own nutrition profile, making you an informed advocate of your health. My doctor likely did not notify me of my elevated LDL because it is not high enough for medication and I am young and fit, so it likely won’t pose a problem to me for years to come. But if there are dietary and lifestyle changes that I can make now, armed with the knowledge that I may be at genetic risk for developing increasingly high levels of blood cholesterol, isn’t it to my benefit to know that information so that I might make those changes?

I’m grateful for the information that InsideTracker provided me. Now that I am aware of my cholesterol, I will certainly be more mindful of the sources of cholesterol in my diet, and plan to have my cholesterol checked more often so that I can monitor my progress. Even us nutrition nuts are not immune to health risk factors, a humbling lesson taught to me by InsideTracker.

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