When my husband was diagnosed with heart disease, it was a complete shock to us. He had been an avid exerciser, had never smoked, and had always kept his weight under control. In addition to that, we knew that there was no history of heart disease on his father’s side of the family, although his mother’s family history was less clear.
Our pre-heart disease diet:
Before my husband’s diagnosis, our diet had been a typical American one with some “southern” thrown in. We ate lots of beef and chicken and rarely ate fish. We ate out 1-2 times a week, favoring sit-down restaurants over fast food joints, and I cooked very basic meals on the other days, such as spaghetti, tacos, baked chicken, pork chops, and creamy casseroles. Cooking is not one of my favorite things so I stuck to the simple foods on which I had been raised. I have always eaten a wide variety of vegetables and fruit (having been raised on collards, squash, green beans, brussels sprouts, and okra, among other things), my husband, less so. He had two or three favorite vegetables and fruits and was not very adventurous otherwise.
Of course, we both had our indulgences…mine was ice cream, his was sugary sodas. If you had asked us before this event whether or not we had a healthy diet, we would have said, it was healthier than 75 percent of Americans.
Our post-heart disease diet:
The day we found out about my husband’s first blockage (we didn’t find out about the other blockages until a couple weeks later), our immediate gut reaction was to completely change our diet. I searched the recesses of my brain, which contained years of information gleaned from books, magazine articles and chats with health-concious friends, on the components of a healthy diet, and determined that we should probably be vegetarians or vegans, although I didn’t really know what that would entail. We later settled on adopting a whole food diet with as little processed food as possible, and also stocked up on “superfoods” touted for their antioxidant and health sustaining benefits. I instinctively knew several things: I knew that we should incorporate more fish into our diet. I knew that we needed to “up” our vegetable and fruit consumption. I knew that we needed to switch permanently to whole grains, which I had already experimented with off and on over the years, and generally increase our fiber intake. And I knew we needed to completely cut out sugar and white flour. Another change we made was to eschew red meat completely and to relegate chicken and other white meat to a once-in-a-while main dish. We embarked on a shopping trip to the local wholesale club and loaded our cart. Our wholesale store had a variety of organic and vegetable-based products that looked healthy, as well as, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. We have since learned that a low sodium diet is also important for heart health so we began limiting the amount of salt we added to our food and became more discriminating about the salt content listed on food labels.
The reaction that led us to change our diet was based on the fact that we could think of no other reason my husband would have 4 seriously clogged arteries. And whether or not our diet was the cause of my husband’s heart disease, there is little doubt that the change in eating habits would benefit all of us!
Risk factors for heart disease:
According to the American Heart Association, risk factors for heart disease other than poor diet, include: obesity, inactivity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, excess alcohol consumption, heredity, and stress. My husband’s cholesterol was 140 according to his last blood work, which is not high at all, and none of the other risk factors applied to him.
After contacting some of their extended family, my husband’s sisters discovered that there was definitely some heart disease on their mother’s side, so we realized that heredity most certainly played into the equation.
Shortly after my husband’s surgery I came across an article written by a physician from the Cleveland Clinic regarding the connection of high sugar consumption with heart disease. As my husband and I discussed the article, it became apparent that his daily intake of fountain drinks (non-diet sodas), which had gone on for years, may very well have played a part in his disease.
Another heart disease risk factor that we came across in our research is sleep apnea. It just so happens that my husband, who has always snored really loudly, had gone in for a sleep study 8 or 10 years ago. The study concluded that he had severe sleep apnea. It was suggested that he get a CPAP machine – a device that forces air into your nasal passages to keep them open while you sleep. He had never done anything about it. We were very disconcerted to hear about this risk factor and so sorry that we had let the problem go for so long. As you know, most men are not known to be very pro-active about their health or seeking out doctor’s advice and my husband was no exception. He especially disliked having blood work and other procedures done and delayed doctor visits as long as possible (which is why it took him several years to look into the increasingly frequent heart palpitations he was having at night).
We know we may never find the exact answers to why my husband developed heart disease and that’s ok. There are many times in life when things happen that we cannot explain. God knows…and he has a purpose for it all. Going forward we plan to reduce as many risk factors as possible and continue to thank God for this wake up call and second chance at life that was given to my husband.
I hope as you’ve read this article you have learned some things about heart disease risk factors that you may not have known and that our experience might help you in your own health journey. Thanks for reading!