Eight years ago I passed a medical milestone; I became the first male of my family that turned 50 without having suffered a heart attack. I am living proof that you can overcome the odds of having heart disease … even if they are hereditary. And it is possible to achieve this without subsisting on the basis of soybean sprouts and mineral water, and without the need to run eight kilometers every day.
When my father was only 48 years old, he had a heart attack. He was also a doctor, and he knew that fat plates had clogged arteries, the caliber of noodles, that carried oxygen to his heart. But at that time, nobody knew why that happened. Most physicians believed that heart disease was just the way nature took away the lives of the old.
Every two years, since 1948, more than 5000 patients go to a study center to check their pulse, review their diet and observe their habits, in an effort to discover the risk factors that favor heart disease. His blood undergoes dozens of tests; the body fat is quantified and the rhythm and structure of their hearts are recorded.
Thus, this center has been able to identify up to 200 factors related to an increased risk of heart disease, among which are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels and smoking. A statistic that almost leapt from the pages of our research reports was the average cholesterol number of those who had suffered heart attacks: 240. The risk of having a heart attack is greatly increased when this number rises to more than 200. These numbers terrified me; my cholesterol count reached 270.
Of course, there is a big difference between knowing something and acting accordingly. Patients continue to eat the same amount of high-cholesterol foods as people in other populations. And I was no exception, despite knowing that a healthy diet and regular exercise are vital. I did not know how, but I had to find a way to modify my habits without taking away all the taste of life.
Over the years I have found many solutions. I still treat myself with sweets, I do not refuse red meat, and I’ve always been interested in finding methods to exercise less; however, my cholesterol is now below 200. Here’s how you can achieve this:
1. Think of fat; not in cholesterol. Many people who believe they follow a low cholesterol diet are not really doing it, as some seafood, for example, are relatively high in cholesterol, while many baked goods and potato chips do not.
However, if you eat more crabs and shrimp, and less of these prepared foods, you can lower the cholesterol figure. The reason is that prepared foods frequently contain tropical oils (coconut, palm and palm seed), whose saturated fat content is high; What constitutes a problem is the saturated fat of the foods that are ingested, more than the cholesterol. (The egg yolks and meats of various viscera, incredibly rich in cholesterol, are the exception.)
Most of the body’s cholesterol is produced in the cells. Saturated fat tells the cells that they must produce more cholesterol and acts as a raw material for their production. If the saturated fats in the diet are decreased, the blood cholesterol concentration automatically decreases.
2. Replace the bad ingredients with good ones. Most people do not need courses to lose weight, but cooking classes. The food we eat comes from “oral recipes” – which are passed on from generation to generation without having been written in any book: macaroni and cheese casseroles, eggs with bacon, hamburgers with French fries, lasagna and fried chicken.
Many of these recipes originated in a very different era from ours, when people devoted 12 hours to manual labor, six days a week. His body needed a diet with a lot of fat; ours, no
In theory, any member of a family can change their diet; but, in practice, almost nobody is willing to prepare two sets of different dishes, day after day. However, it is possible to suppress saturated fats from the family’s favorite recipes.
Many diet books suggest that all family favorite recipes be discarded. My willpower would never survive this cataclysm, much less the first bite of wheat roast with gluten. Therefore, my wife and I thoroughly review our oral prescription and replace the ingredients rich in saturated fats with low-fat equivalents. We change the butter for soft dietary margarine; whole milk by skim milk (and we remove 20 grams of fat per liter!); whole eggs for pure white; sour cream for low-fat yogurt; the white bread ground by whole wheat ground bread, and the pastry fat by vegetable oils.
It is easy to suppress fat. In the meal, instead of eating 250 grams of loin with French fries, peas and a slice of cake, serve a portion of 170 grams of lean meat, a baked potato and seasoned with soft dietary margarine, peas and, for dessert, some oatmeal cookies, whose fat content is negligible. It will consume eight grams of saturated fat instead of 37. Few people will feel dissatisfied after this meal.
3. When you eat out of the house, improvise. With some effort, you can eat away from home without consuming more fat than you should. A good restaurant can offer excellent salad options. But avoid dressings, which often contain two grams of fat per tablespoon. Lime or lemon juice is a good substitute; Another alternative is the sauce for seafood cocktails.
If you ask, the cook will probably prepare the vegetables without butter, sour cream or cheese sauce, and boil the chicken instead of frying it. With the baked potato, try the cooked and chopped broccoli, fresh tomatoes cut into cubes or a fat-free dressing for salads. If they do not offer fat-free entries, improvise them.
In a restaurant I found a turkey sandwich club, which I ordered without mayonnaise and without bacon. In the menu appeared a “sandwich to the Reuben”, which is served with sour cabbage, so I requested it as a side dish. Finally, I ordered some simple spaghetti, with tomato sauce.
4. Go for a walk. If you exercise, you may worry less about diet. Exercise stimulates the production of a protein called HDL, which removes fat from the blood and can shed fatty deposits that form plaques on the arterial walls.
I like to run, but the problem is finding time to run, or swim or play tennis. That is why I have acquired the habit of leaving the car in the farthest part of the parking lot, going up the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator and walking to buy the newspaper.
Most of the benefit of exercising – running, brisk walking, biking or aerobics – is obtained with very little effort. Therefore, with half an hour of walking, four or five times a week, even the most hardened sedentary can halve the chances of dying of a heart attack.
5. Check your situation. Have your cholesterol level measured. According to your age, weight and clinical history, your cholesterol figure should be below 200, with the limit maximum between 200 and 230. If your total cholesterol number is above 200, you may have enough HDL to counteract it.
Divide your total cholesterol between your HDL account. The result must be less than 4.5. Your doctor will help you do these calculations. Two months after limiting saturated fats in the diet, have your blood cholesterol measured again. If you have not descended to a healthy level, set a minimum daily limit, and check your cholesterol again after 60 days. If the figure is not acceptable by then, see your doctor. You can start reducing the chances of having a heart attack or stroke, if you take the steps I’ve outlined. The proof? I am alive!