If you think this is about how you can deep-fry yourself into the emergency room with a heart attack, it is not. Would I do that to you? No way. This is about how I have tried to avoid an encore of my own ER trip.
In 1987, in my late forties, I followed my older brother in the family tradition. Two years earlier he had had his heart attack in his forties; 26 years prior to that my dad died of a heart attack when he was 46. Two other brothers along with the first would all die of repeat heart attacks in their sixties.
I lay in the Cleveland Clinic looking up at the ceiling, interrupted by the floating faces of most of the hospital’s Cardiology Department. They were platooning in to tell me why I was so wrong in refusing a triple by-pass operation. I had lost 20 percent of my heart and had 70 percent blockages in three arteries but I stuck with my stubbornness. It’s a habit of mine. After my brother had his by-pass I had read a lot on the operation that said how dangerous it was and the damage it could do along with the sketchy longevity results. A year after his by-pass my brother had another, more crippling heart attack.
I’m sure that by-pass surgery is much more successful today and I know it is a lot less debilitating. Now they get people up the next day to walk. I remember my brother, with tubes running in and out every which way, beckoning me down close and rasping in my ear: “If they tell you it’s either this or you die, tell them you want to die.”
My attitude led me to join a study at the Cleveland Clinic using diet, exercise and emotion control to reverse heart disease. I was in it for a year until I moved down here. We recorded everything that went into our mouths. We ate zero fat. Zero. That included vegetable fat. We had blood tests every week. (I started giving grades to the nurses taking blood there.)
A couple years later I was given another heart cath in Akron. All my arteries and my heart showed that that although I had some blockage, a by-pass would be optional. Through the years I have had several caths in Troy with the same or even better results.
I have stuck with the same diet with some modifications over the last 30 years. Over the last 10 years I have added elements of the Mediterranean Diet — some olive oil, a few nuts, more chicken and fish.
Here it is: My simple five-step diet: Picky-Picky, Read and Shop, Substitutions, Hardly Evers and No-Nos.
No-Nos: Never again even think about anything deep fried. Nothing. Nothing with hydrogenated oils in it. They are worse than just eating spoonsful of lard. No butter and no margarine with hydrogenated oils. No red meat with the exception of very lean pork or 2-percent-fat hamburger.
Hardly Evers: Sugars. I control sugars by using Aspartame or other artificial sweeteners — Meijer’s has a good inexpensive brand in bulk. I also buy pop containing it. (Diet Rite has the bonus of also not having sodium or caffeine.) Sugars are simple carbohydrates — very bad for you. Here you can cheat but just a little.
Sodium. Your body needs some but you have to control it. It’s dumped in everything, even raw chicken. Read labels — some soups give you two days’ supply. My wife and I compensate for all the salt-drenched foods by using “No Salt” at home. My wife makes all our soups from scratch, even using dried beans. You just have to soak them a while first. Most processed foods are out.
Substitutions: Egg Beaters or the like for whole eggs. Nonfat yogurt or apple sauce for butter or oils when baking. Flavored vinegars for salt. Don’t fry — bake, broil or grill everything. Skim milk for whole milk.
Read and Shop: Lots of non/low-fat and low-salt foods are on the market, both in restaurants and groceries. You just have to read the menus and labels. I spent many hours going through cans and boxes in stores. They have developed fat-free ice creams, salad dressings, cereals and all manner of foods. Go look for them. Most are tasty but watch for sugars.
Picky-Picky: Choose carefully in restaurants. I have had waitresses hide under tables when they see us coming. But you are the customer and go with the assumption that they can cook for your needs. Tell them what you want and the way you want it. “I have heart disease and this is what I can’t eat.” Be a pain.
And tip well.
Jack Robinson is a freelance writer who lives in Piqua with his wife, Sharon. His blog is Voiceforthe99%.blogspot.com.