Is it a coincidence that Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month are both in February?
No doubt you’re seeing hearts everywhere-in the gift card section of all major department stores, in advertisements for everything from jewelry to appliances, and of course in the food industry (chocolate and oysters anyone?). Since we all have hearts on our minds, I think it’s a perfect time to talk about heart health!
It’s no secret that heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, both male and female. In the fifty years or so that we’ve been given dietary advice from the medical community the problem only seems to have gotten worse. Why is that? Here are some ideas:
We have not been eating enough fat, or the right kind
That may seem counterintuitive for many of you, since we’ve been told for so long that fat (particularly saturated fat) is bad for our hearts and makes us fat. In reality, the fat/heart disease theory was not based on sound science. For more information and studies on this subject visit https://authoritynutrition.com/5-studies-on-saturated-fat/ The fact is that fat (including saturated fat) is a vital nutrient for the whole body, INCLUDING the heart! Another problem is that we have been eating fats that truly are unhealthy-like hydrogenated fats (margarine and shortening) and highly processed seed oils (soybean, corn, and canola).
We have been eating too much sugar and processed carbs
What do sugar and processed carbs, especially those that are high in carbohydrates like bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes, have to do with heart disease? A LOT! When we eat too much of this kind of food our blood sugar rises. In response, insulin floods the blood stream to deal with all of that blood sugar and if it can’t get it all into the cells for energy, guess what happens to the extra sugar? It’s turned into fat in the form of triglycerides and stored. Hello love handles! High levels of triglycerides are very closely associated with heart disease-more so than cholesterol. Cholesterol is not the enemy, but that’s a topic for another post. Why has sugar and carb consumption gone up so much? Because when we were told that fat is evil, food processors started adding sugars to foods in place of fat so that it would be more palatable to the masses. Here is more information about sugar, heart disease, and the sugar industry. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2548255
We have gotten too far away from the sources of our food
If you ask a typical American kid what chicken nuggets are made from, they might not be able to tell you that they come from an actual chicken. To a kid, it’s a silly question-it’s just a nugget! In fact, the road from a chicken to a chicken nugget is a very long and convoluted one, and involves a whole slew of ingredients and additives that don’t resemble food at all (what’s BHA, BHT, and TBHQ?), and mechanical processes that look like a car manufacturing assembly line. This is sadly true for the majority of the food-I use the term loosely-in the average grocery store. I highly recommend a book by Melanie Warner called Pandora’s Lunchbox, How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal. It’s quite eye opening!
We have forgotten how to cook
As a chef, this is a subject near and dear to my heart (pun intended of course). I love to find real food-and by that I mean ingredients that don’t come in packages with nutrition labels, like fresh meat and vegetables-and treat it with the respect it deserves with my own hands in my own kitchen. This means using a knife, stove, and oven, and using age old techniques, and ending up with delicious food that makes me feel healthy and happy! With the rapid rise of convenience and prepared foods, cooking has become far less necessary than it was in previous generations. And the health woes of our modern society-not just heart disease but cancer, diabetes, and obesity-have risen in tandem.
So take the month of February to give your heart some love! Go to a farmer’s market and buy meat from a local farmer, try a new vegetable or cooking technique, or sign up for a cooking class.
I leave you with this thought from Harvey Wiley, pioneering chemist and father of the Food and Drug Administration:
“I have always stood for food that is food”
Happy American Heart Month!