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Anatomy of a heart attack, Part 5: Grow up and eat your vegetables

This is the last in a series about experiencing a heart attack and recovering from one.
David Sovka and local filmmaker Dave Wallace with a robot patient at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria.

This is the last in a series about experiencing a heart attack and recovering from one.

A large section in the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s excellent Living Well with Heart Disease booklet is devoted to healthy eating, the gist of which is, unfortunately, eat more vegetables. A pretty good case is made for eating a healthy diet to help reduce the risk of heart disease by:

• Improving cholesterol levels

• Reducing blood pressure

• Managing body weight

• Controlling blood sugar

This is achieved by eating a balance of whole foods. Before we get to the specifics of what you should eat (warning: there will be vegetables), here is a helpful analogy to highlight the challenge of switching to a healthy diet:

Imagine that you live on a beef or dairy farm, which means that both your professional life and personal life involve cows. It’s easy to imagine because in the early days, our society was based on the ancient agrarian principle of “lots of cows,” and today, that principle still holds. According to the government of Canada, as of Jan. 1, we have about 11,575,000 cows.

Imagine growing up eating a diet based almost exclusively on cow. Cow is used in quite a few products that people find delicious and irresistible: steak, veal, hamburger, individually wrapped cheese slices, strawberry milkshakes. On your imaginary farm you probably eat cow several times a day, every day, for the first 35 years of life.

Now imagine a large asteroid entering the earth’s atmosphere at 250,000 km/h and barrelling straight into your farm, flattening the surrounding countryside into molten goo and heralding an apocalyptic nuclear winter that sends mankind back to the Stone Age for a thousand years.

That is how it feels to change your diet from what you like to eat to what other people say you should eat. Many of these people promote their “healthy lifestyle” views on Facebook and other social-media, possibly directed to do so by Vladimir Putin. What they generally mean is a diet without any delicious cow parts, bacon parts, Korean barbecue chicken parts. What they mean is that I ought to grow up and eat my vegetables like a good boy.

I’m sorry I got so emotional there. My own doctor suggested I consider a diet of nothing but raw vegetables, “If you can do it.” I’ve never been challenged by a more crappy and unachievable goal in my life. Of course, I can’t do it. More to the point, I won’t do it. Also, I’m pretty sure I should take a closer look at his licence to practise medicine.

According to Amazon, 2018’s most popular book on the subject of diet and healthy eating is Anthony Williams’ Medical Medium Liver Rescue. The book promises answers to — in the following order — eczema, psoriasis, diabetes, strep, acne, gout, bloating, gallstones, adrenal stress, fatigue, fatty liver, weight issues, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and autoimmune disease. I’m not sure what answers we are talking about, unless they are answers to the question: “What are the grossest things to list on a book cover?”

Anyway, for just $27.31 (You save $18.68 from the $45.99 cover price!), you get 495 pages of answers and a very positive back-cover review by Grammy-winning artist and producer Pharrell Williams, who is probably not (but maybe) related to the author.

Author Anthony Williams is not a medical doctor, or food scientist, or health researcher, but he was, according to his official biography, “born with the unique ability to converse with a high-level spirit who provides him with extraordinarily accurate health information that’s often far ahead of its time.” I promise you I am not making this up.

I have not read the book. Also, I would rather take up smoking leftover Soviet cigarette butts than read a book by anybody — even someone backed by Pharrell Williams — who claims a “deep understanding of foods and their vibrations.” That’s a real quote; I am still not making any of this up.

To recap: In 2018 it is possible for a grown man to make a boatload of crazy money by sharing — and keep in mind he does this with a completely straight face — “food vibrational energy information” from a “high-level spirit.” I’m not entirely sure what this says about our society, but I think it goes a long way to explaining why quite a few people still support Donald J. Trump.

The rest of Amazon’s Top Five diet and healthy eating books from 2018 are as follows:

2. The Complete Ketogenic Diet for Beginners: Your Essential Guide to Living the Keto Lifestyle.

I’m not sure the subheading is necessary, especially for a lifestyle that is a lot less sexy than it sounds. The ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that offers many health benefits, such as bad breath and muscle cramps.

3. Keto Comfort Foods

Comfort, as defined by the ketogenic diet, involves healthy food choices such as a giant water buffalo flank steak, or a child-sized handful of peanuts.

4. Low Carb, High Fat

Another ketogenic diet book, this time by an actual medical doctor, and a steal of a deal at $1.49 for the Kindle version.

5. The Complete Ketogenic Diet for Beginners

Yes, this is the same book that is also No. 2 on the list. I have no explanation for this, but I admit to currently being distracted by mouth-watering thoughts of giant water buffalo flank steak.

Given that the ketogenic diet single-handedly kept the publishing industry afloat in 2018, you’re probably thinking, surely there is more to life than raw vegetables? Unfortunately, no. You’re wrong and this just highlights your lack of a medical degree and/or not being born with the ability to converse with a high-level spirit about food vibrations.

Vegetables and fruit are the backbone of eating healthy, because they are a good source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. We are supposed to eat 10,000 servings of vegetables and fruit every day. Sorry, sorry, that’s a typo. The actual number is seven to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit per day, which still means you are eating better than the average, garden-variety monkey.

In addition to eating a lot more vegetables and fruit, here are a few other heart-friendly changes you can make to your diet.

1. Drink water if you are thirsty. Seriously! Actual water like what animals drink. Doctors believe that water provides 100 per cent of your body’s daily water needs, so you should drink water like a Bactrian camel about to cross the Gobi desert.

2. Use less sugar, salt and fat when preparing meals. Basically, cut out all of the things that make food taste good. You’ll know when you are cooking right when your family stages France-style walkouts every night you are on supper duty.

3. Choose foods high in fibre. This is a sneaky suggestion because it can involve more vegetables and fruit, and we’ve already covered that depressing nonsense. But there are other sources of fibre, including whole-grain bread, flax seed and carpet underlay. Word to the wise: Add fibre to your diet slowly to prevent what happens when you add fibre to your diet quickly. Plan to spend about half your day chewing fibre, and the other half in the bathroom.

4. Eat fewer processed foods. This means foods that have had the good things taken out, such as vitamins and minerals, and had bad things added, such as flavour.

We don’t have the time to get into saturated and unsaturated fats. Nor do we have the time to discuss the biochemical consequences of sugar and sodium on cardiac health, nor what the grocery store means by Omega-3 eggs. And when I say we don’t have time, of course, I mean that I don’t understand any of those things.

What I do understand is the fear that lies at the dark heart of heart health: You don’t want to die. You’ll do, say or eat almost anything to stay alive. If you like kale, then by all means, fill your boots or gizzard or whatever is appropriate for people who like kale. But don’t think that you are going to live on this earth forever.

Yes, what you eat is important to your health. But good health is dependent on more than just a bunch of made-up and fickle food pyramid rules, unpleasant deprivations and cauliflower. At the end of the day, there will be an end to your days. You should enjoy them before that happens. For me, that includes eating the occasional cheeseburger. I can’t help it; I HEART cows.

The Island Heart to Heart program

When I was a boy, my grandfather used to tell me that getting old was not for the weak of heart. Ha ha! Irony is a punch-you-in-the-face version of truth.

Of course, he meant the metaphorical heart, the pedestal of the soul that the brain now occupies in 21st-century western culture. He smiled when he said it, taking some of the sting out of my future, a picture painted not with violent red, but rather in cold, sick grey tones. I guess you make the attempt to warn kids of coming danger because you love the uncomprehending little dopes.

Now it makes better sense to me, because liver-coloured spots appear on my hands and forehead after 10 minutes in the sunshine, and it hurts to get out of bed after eight hours of erratic sleep, and I won’t bother you with the list — which grows longer by the day — because you already know exactly what I am talking about.

One way to cope with all this gloomy business is to stop thinking about it. I’m just kidding, that never works. A better way is to be thankful for what you have. And for 99 per cent of Vancouver Island heart-attack survivors, that might best be accomplished in the Island Heart to Heart program — seven good sessions that cover heart medications, stress, exercise, healthy eating and more.

The volunteer-run program is full of local people who have just survived way worse stuff than you: sinoatrial misfires and valve crap-outs and congenital thingamajigs that at first gave me a stage four case of the heebie-jeebies. There is a lot that can go wrong with your heart.

Eventually, my fearful reaction mellowed to just being thankful for what I have, and thankful for what I don’t have. Mortality is not catching, but it is a powerful reminder to cherish the many good gifts in life.

I can’t help it; I HEART you.


• Island Heart to Heart program:

• Heart healthy recipes:

The series

Part 1: 'Every part of me felt really awful'

Part 2: 'Exceptional medical talent' at Royal Jubilee hospital

Part 3: Risk factors and the French Paradox

Part 4: Stress test and a sweaty gym visit

Part 5: Grow up and eat your vegetables

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