TLC for a weak heart

TLC for a weak heart – By Paromita Chatterjee (

titleI remember my mother used to cook such delicious food that we used to look forward to every meal. But one day, it all changed. The day my father came back from the hospital after his first heart attack, we realized things wouldn’t be the same again. Our lifestyles underwent a 180 degrees change as cooking styles and eating habits changed. Physical fitness became the topic of conversations. Medicines were all over the place. Lies were being told by close ones to reduce my father’s stress. But two most important and very different changes happened that I distinctly remember were, there was no more cigarette smell in our house, and we stopped loving food.

According to the World Health Organization, heart disease causes 12 million deaths in the world each year. This disease is responsible for half of all deaths in the United States and other developed countries, and it is a main cause of death in many developing countries as well. Overall, it is the leading cause of death in adults. Yet only the United States acknowledges it and designates a whole month to spread the awareness about it. If only they did it back in India too.

According to doctors, major risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, gender, heredity and age. Other contributing factors include taking birth control pills, stress and alcohol. Almost all these factors can be eliminated or controlled to reduce the risk, except heredity. What do you do when you have inherited a weak heart?

The only thing that can really help is awareness. We lead our lives as we want without giving any thoughts to consequences. One may say, after all life is short and we get it only once, so enjoy. That’s what my father said. He was our idol so we lived by his words. Heavy food, rigorous socializing, hectic studies and careers, no down time, no scheduled time for bed and no exercise, that is what we did. We did not even realize our mistake. If we had known, I am sure things would have been different. After all, we lost most of our male family members to their failed hearts. And then the sudden change which no one really likes, adds to the stress. Is it really wise to wake up one morning with a jolt and make a life changing decisions for the entire family? Family will probably resist at first, but will never complain because they know it’s for their dad and the greater good. But the realization strikes so deep that silent promises are made for the next generation to be healthy against all odds.
self-experienceI know I am at risk of getting heart disease even though I don’t smoke, drink only socially, cook and eat healthy, exercise, get my annual physicals, and try to keep my stress level down (at which I fail at times). I surely don’t want my kids to carry my family inheritance neither do I want to make their lives confined and surrounded by the looming problems ahead. I want their hearts to feel the love of others and be so big that they can embrace the whole wide world not be supported by a pace maker. So, I decided to take control of my life even before I held my babies in my arms for the first time.

Over the years I have learnt few things by self-experience, observation and experiments. I know these practice listed below keep my family’s heart healthy, some directly and others indirectly..

  • I eat everything and anything that I like. I enjoy my food. The only thing I do is I keep portions small. My kids learn from me by observing. This makes them adventurous, less picky and curbs their whining caused by sudden hunger.
  • Drink water, even a sip, anytime you are near a tap. Or carry a small water bottle. This will keep your mouth from getting dry (leading to bad breath), keeps your temper in check by cooling you from inside, reduces the need to snack, prevents constipation, and will enhance your skin texture.
  • Substitute water for soda, tea, and coffee as much as you can. Many of us can’t do without our morning caffeine, but keep it only once or twice a day. Drink red wine if you have to drink socially. Orange or any citrus juice may cause heartburn for some, so be aware of it during consumption especially in some cocktails.
  • Plan weekly meals ahead of time and have a shopping list. This helps eliminate “splurging” on unhealthy foods. Hang the list on the refrigerator door along with a pencil where items can be written down the moment it comes to your mind.
  • Spend more time shopping the outer aisles of the store. These aisles have healthier, less processed foods. Know how to read food labels and make wise choices. Remember that “reduced” and “low” in front of words does not necessarily mean a food is healthy. It simply means that it is different than its original version.
  • If your recipe requires you to put dairy in food that requires heat, do not buy “reduced” or “low fat” for that. Water separates from the fat in reduced or low fat dairy when heat is introduced to food, which results into the final product to have a curdled look. Use the original version. Simply eat a little less of that.
  • Buy white meat without skin to reduce fat consumption. If buying red meat, buy lean red meat. Even though it may cost a little more, there is less waste because there is less fat.
  • Buy small packs of soda cans. They do cost more, but reduces the urge to pour more out of the big bottle and can be stored for later if not used. The big bottles have to be finished soon or else it loses its fizz.
  • Eat breakfast every day and take a piece of fruit to munch on during your commute. Don’t skip meals; it could lead to overeating later. Take packed lunches unless going out for a lunch date.
  • Base meals around vegetables and grains rather than meat. If you are a vegetarian, add protein to your diet. Lentils and legumes are a good source of protein, but they also cause lot of gastric troubles, which can cause heart troubles. Eat nuts in limited amount.
  • Cook in anodized cookware. This is my latest discovery. I used to cook in non-stick pans, but since I use very little oil, the food would get stuck. The worst is you cannot scrub that off the pan properly. So over a period of time, the non-stick became stick-to-everything pan. But anodized is non stick without the peeling Teflon. Use less oil, cook on low or medium heat, cover your food while cooking and turn the heat very high for a little while towards the end, and you will always have a perfect dish. No excuse to use more oil.
  • Cook foods by baking, broiling, or roasting rather than frying. Experiment with old recipes with new techniques. It is adventurous with occasional hilarious results.
  • Order lean or grilled sandwiches rather than fried when eating out. If possible, eat fish. Seafood, like shrimp, is generally is high in cholesterol.
  • Order items without cheese. Cheese is a healthy food and a good source of calcium, but only if eaten by itself. Along with other foods, the calorie content explodes the limit. For a happy heart, stick to non-fat versions. It’s a shame that we can’t say ‘no food, just cheese” in restaurants.
  • Do socialize, but don’t make your hostess cook separately for you. Choose wisely from the lavish spread. Or simply if you know the food will be heavily laden with fat and spice, have a heavy snack before you go. Simply nibble when being entertained.
  • Avoid artificial food, especially those surrounded in controversy. Sugarless sugar for one. Keeping track of what recent research says is time-consuming. Instead keep it simple, natural, healthy and in less quantity. There will never be any controversy about sugarcane that produces sugar, at least not in our lifetime.
  • Exercise in whatever form you choose, just as long as you sweat. I have realized the gym can be boring so now I go to dance classes. Although I must confess I get some raised eyebrows, but who cares, I have fun.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of meditation. This is especially important for the busy mid-thirties generation and upwards. Meditation is not a waste of time, religious, or just the act of closing your eyes and going to sleep. Meditation means concentrating on something else other than your daily routine to keep your mind and heart sane. Even doing a thousand piece puzzle, playing a game of chess, or simply reading can relax you. Let your mind wander and daydream. But don’t think about finances, office politics, the kids’ homework, relationships, and other problems. They will always be there whether you like it or not. So let them go for a while.
  • There is great power in chanting a single syllable like OM. It does have a religious connotation. If you don’t belong to that religion, replace it with another resounding syllable of your choice. Think about your heart. If you can chant this word three times properly, your upper respiratory system will work like a recently oil changed car.
  • Dress your best every single day. This will give you confidence, bring out the glow in your eyes, and make you smile. If you can laugh, you will live.
  • We cannot control everything, but we can control some things. Let’s do what we can to save ourselves and the next generation from broken hearts.
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