Heart Healthy: It’s Never Too Late!
“Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.”
Jim and I will both turn 65 this year. We’re officially old! This hit us in a dramatic way when Jim suffered a heart attack a month ago. As I’m sure most of you can understand, the heart attack scared the “bejesus” out of us. While Jim was in the hospital, we had visits from various specialists who all told him that he must adopt a new lifestyle that included a “heart healthy” diet.
This advice was not a surprise to me. I’ve been trying to get Jim to eat healthier foods ever since I met him nine years ago. After years of little success, I decided that it was futile and I stopped giving him a hard time. It is, after all, his life. I do find it a little spooky that about three months ago, in a conversation with a friend, I predicted that I’d come home from one of my volunteer activities and find Jim dead of a stroke or heart attack. Jim, whose ancestors are primarily German, is obsessed with hot dogs and all other types of processed meats. His favorite restaurant is a local deli that specializes in Boar’s Head Provisions. The night before his heart attack, he had eaten four (yes, four!) uncured hot dogs from this deli. Do you know how much sodium is in a hot dog? It’s pretty scary!
So, in a way, Jim’s heart attack was the best thing that could have happened. It was a major wake-up call for him. To be fair, Jim is not the only one in our house who needs to eat a more healthy diet. My friends, as well as my husband, know that I can’t keep ice cream in my house. No matter what size the container, it will disappear quickly. So, in order to lose weight myself and support my husband, I am changing my eating habits also.
Over the last week, two friends have asked me how and what I am cooking for our new heart-healthy diet. The first tip I shared with them is to roast fresh vegetables. I’ve discovered that one can roast almost any vegetable in a shallow pan and it will be delicious. Over the last week, I’ve roasted zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, onions, celery, cauliflower, sweet ppottoes, and little red potatoes. Spread large “chunks” of the veggies on a foil-lined sheet pan, dribble with olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with an everyday seasoning blend. I love Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasonings. I’ve also added thick slices of smoked turkey sausage to the pan to satisfy my meat-loving mate.
What else do we follow on our heart-healthy diet?
- Control portion size. Jim is a big guy and he’s accustomed to eating big portions, especially at dinner. We’ve cut way down on portion size, but I allow Jim to eat as many veggies as he wants. Of course, we now eat little, if any butter.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. I now keep a large stock of fresh fruits and vegetables available for meals, desserts, and snacks. The new rule is :
- Only fruits for snacks between meals. Jim’s favorites are apples, pears, and oranges. We don’t eat bananas anymore – they are too fattening. My favorite fruit is blueberries – they are often described as the perfect food! We stay away from canned fruit entirely. We substitute fruit for buttered popcorn, which in my opinion, should to be considered an addictive drug!
- Use low sodium canned vegetables and beans only. If I can’t find a low-sodium version, I rinse the contents thoroughly.
- Only fruits for dessert. Sometimes, I will eat a small bowl of non-fat yogurt with blueberries or strawberries. Yummy!
- Eat whole grains and eliminate white, refined flour. We now only eat whole-grain bread and brown rice. Absolutely no more chips and dip!
- Change the ratio of meats to vegetables. I have a spouse who refuses to eat chicken or fish. Yea, don’t get me started… Anyway, my strategy to limit unhealthy fats is two-fold:
- No more than three dinners in a week’s time that include any form of meat or poultry. I usually eat chicken for myself at least once a week. I will serve Jim organic, lean ground beef, often chopped and served with TJ’s Everyday Seasoning over salad. Turkey tenderloins are a good substitute for chicken and my husband will eat turkey occasionally. Go figure.
- Vegetarian main dishes that include beans or lentils. I’m learning how to make main dishes with beans. Last night we had home-made bean burritos. I also make a couple of different Indian dishes that include lentils for protein. I make sure to use light coconut milk in my Indian dishes.
- Use olive oil and canola oil for cooking. These are monounsaturated fats and can help lower total blood cholesterol. Speaking of fats, we’ve eliminated bacon, gravies, and cream sauces or salad dressing. Jim likes low-fat Italian salad dressings, especially French’s Zesty Italian.
- No more processed foods. Significantly reducing the amount of sodium has been the most important change in our diets. This translates into more fresh foods and fewer boxed or canned items. We have not had a pizza in a month and I will probably make my own in the near future. The deli is now “off-limits” for me and Jim. When we do have sandwiches, it is usually tuna fish salad or egg salad with low-sodium, light mayonnaise.
Our progress so far? As of today, I’ve lost 9 lbs. Jim has lost 13 lbs. We feel better and already we have noticed increased energy. If you have any tips or recipes, please share!
by Maya Angelou
No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
And Brussels in a cake,
Carrot straw and spinach raw,
(Today, I need a steak).
Not thick brown rice and rice pilaw
Or mushrooms creamed on toast,
Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
(I’m dreaming of a roast).
Health-food folks around the world
Are thinned by anxious zeal,
They look for help in seafood kelp
(I count on breaded veal).
No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
Zucchini by the ton,
Uncooked kale and bodies frail
Are sure to make me run
Loins of pork and chicken thighs
And standing rib, so prime,
Pork chops brown and fresh ground round
(I crave them all the time).
Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
For smoking carnivores.