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Before Step One was Step One

Before Step One was Step One

When I was a resident in cardiology at Mayo Clinic, I ate Total Raisin Bran for breakfast every morning. With all it's extra vitamins and fiber, it seemed like it was good for me. And I definitely didn’t have time to whip up an egg-white omelette in between rounds.

Until one day, in 1992, I opened a fresh box of cereal only to discover that the raisins were covered in sugar! I remember thinking as I picked them out, “It must have been a really bad batch of raisins to use so much sugar to cover them up!”. But the next box was the same. As was the next. And the next. Tired of picking out sugared raisins and adding in my own, I wrote my first – and only – customer complaint letter to a company, telling General Mills that they’d ruined a perfectly good cereal.

I was even more indignant when I couldn’t find a decent replacement.

Casting around for a new, quick-and-easy breakfast option, I remembered something I’d seen on a trip to Italy: Fibré (FEE-bray). It was basically wheat bran and raisins milled together into a gooey paste. On its own it was awful; with yogurt it was passable. But the concept seemed genius: a healthy concoction you could add to foods to make them better for you. So I started experimenting with the bran and raisin paste, adding different ingredients to make it less gooey. Over many years I came up with a sprinkle that tasted so good and was so versatile my friends started requesting it. When one of those friends suggested I market it, I said, “Oh, OK!” And Step One Foods was born.

Of course, it wasn’t nearly that easy. In truth I had no idea what I was getting myself into. After some initial success at selling my Fibré sprinkle at Kowalski’s in the Twin Cities and Whole Foods in New York City of all places (!) (and under the name Klodas Foods) around 2010, the individuals in charge of what those stores carried changed and the product was discontinued. This was a valuable lesson on how grocery retail works - unless you have a big budget to incent stores to carry your products you won’t be on their shelves for long.  (As a side note, many of the original Kowalski’s and Whole Foods purchasers remain loyal Step One customers today.)  

By the time this all happened, my practice was focusing more and more on heart disease prevention and I started hearing more and more patients complain about statins. They would describe their aches and pains – some so bad they could no longer exercise! This surprised me, since no one had mentioned these side effects during training. In retrospect the long-term trials were flawed: The participants who decided not to stick with their statin regimen -- likely the people who were experiencing muscle side effects -- were dropped from the study. Their aches and pains were never noted!  Turns out, a lot of people can be affected by statin-related muscle aches. It’s estimated that as many as 20% of people taking statins get achy.

I’d already been learning about nutrition on my own (remember how many hours of nutrition training you get in med school?), and I knew that good health follows good food. And cholesterol is one of the markers of health. So I started wondering: Could I formulate my Fibré to be cholesterol-lowering?

Next week: The Origin of the Step One name.

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