Heart Healthy Diet Part I

By Warren Selkow, Patient and life long overeater

What not to eat for a heart healthy diet

Right after getting the bad news of heart disease the patient is informed of the require-ment of getting on a heart smart diet. Exercise is the other thing a new heart patient is told to start doing. We address all the issues on exercise in other features on this site. We go into great detail about exercise in The Simplified Handbook for Living With Heart Disease and Other Chronic Diseases. Come to think of it, we go into great detail about everything concerning heart disease in that book.

Just what is a heart healthy diet and why should you care about it? You don't have to care if you are not interested in getting and staying well. On the other hand, if you think you would like to hang around for a while longer, then a heart healthy diet is of para-mount importance. We like to get the bad news out of the way first so in this first section on diet we will cover all the main things that go on the do not eat list. Learning all the lessons of heart smart eating was no easy task.

We will follow the advice of Mary Poppins and add a spoon full of sugar to make the medicine go down. Hold on there. We will not use a spoon full of sugar. Many of you might have diabetes with your heart disease and the last thing you will want is a spoon full of sugar. I just happen to have a spoon full equivalent of sugar substitute right here and I will use that instead. No insulin spike is coming. Nor is a sugar high in the offing.

Heart disease and what will kill you

I don't know about you, but I got into the most trouble with my fork and knife. I traveled for a living and I got to eat in a whole long list of very good, and truthfully some not so good restaurants. Once I had developed my taste for all that rich food, I started to eat that way at home. Over the years the pounds came on and the walking stride became a walking waddle. Just a sign of my prosperity, my boy, nothing to worry about, tut, tut. Ri-iight.

Years ago, the very first thing that I was told that must go was fat, especially low-density lipid fat. I was told to stop eating all the junk food and snacks. I was traveling. Junk food and snacks were manna from heaven. No trip to New York was complete without a couple few Sarbetts' and Coney Island Hot Dogs. I had to help all those street vendors make a living. Besides, those dogs only cost a buck. I had two, thank you very much. With mustard, sauerkraut and onions, thank you again. Oh, and don't forget the Dr. Brown's Cream Soda. Yummy. Now, where shall we have dinner? Buuurrrppp!

So, if you are reading this and thinking to yourself you can never give up all that great tasting food, well, think again. Here is a short list of those wonderful foods you must now eschew: hot dogs, pizza, hamburgers, fried anything but especially potatoes and chicken (ouch), chips (almost all), commercial baked goods, ice cream (not ice cream) oh, damn, the list is just too long. The horror, the pain, the torment. It is every person for himself. Women and children last. Us fat people need to get in the boat first. But first, make sure the picnic basket is on board.

The foods all have pretty much the same things in common: LDL fat, more LDL fat and even more LDL fat flavored with sugar or corn syrup and salt. It all tastes good going down. What you can't hear is your blood vessels screaming at you "Save me."

(Let me take just a moment to tell you a quick story about hot dogs, in particular Oscar Mayer hot dogs. The company I worked for did some work for Oscar and as part of our orientation we were given a tour of the hot dog making plant. I had no trouble with what the ingredient mix was for the dogs. I had long accommodated myself to the fact that hot dogs and all sausage for that matter were made from everything left over after butchering. As the joke used to go, "everything but the oink, cluck or the moo" is part of products that are shaped like tubes. I don't think much has changed in the intervening years. If you are the least bit squeamish you don't really want to know what "by-products" are.

The ingredients are finely ground until they become a "paste". The last step before being extruded is the flavorings are added. At Oscar the last step was facilitated by the adding of a huge bag of "stuff" into the meat mix and then the whole mess being mixed until everything was incorporated. Being the inquisitive individual I was I asked what the stuff was. I was told, "the secret" ingredients.

Secret ingredients? Do hot dogs really have secret ingredients? It seems so, or at least at Oscar Mayer they do. If you read the label you will see a whole list of stuff in the ascending order of their amount in the final product. When you look at the label you will find nothing listed as "secret ingredient". This does arouse in me some cause for concern. What was even more curious was the final amount of the secret ingredient in the final package. Oscar Mayer hot dogs come in one-pound packages, or at least they did. You got eight hot dogs. One full ounce in that final package was the secret ingredient. Lip smacking good.

Heart Disease and the deadly group

It is impossible to list all the foods you need to limit with heart and other chronic diseases. Having said that, it is possible to list those things that are usually ingredients in everyday foodstuffs. The list (it is rather short):

  • Salt or more precisely, sodium. Salt is a real threat for people over forty. The older you get, the more of a threat it becomes. Salt raises you blood pressure and, over time, causes the kidneys to start to malfunction. The maximum amount of sodium a day a heart patient may eat is less than 2400 milligrams. This is less than one teaspoon full.
  • Low Density Lipid fat. LDL causes most all heart disease. LDL is the thing that causes arterial blocks. On other pages we write more about this subject.
  • Processed flour.
  • Processed sugar and corn syrup.

As a group the above four things are all the things that make food taste good. And are the exact four things that will kill you. If you have both diabetes and heart disease, you are at double jeopardy, if that is even possible.

At great pain and expense (read that as I stole it from some other place) I am including what some group has determined the very worst foods for us to eat. I have no real opinion about best or worst foods other than I think about food as I do art: I know what I like. Here is that list and I left the links in (warning, this is very depressing for us food over-eaters):

Heart disease diets and the worsts

Worst breakfast

Bob Evans Stacked & Stuffed Caramel Banana Pecan Hotcakes

  • 9 g trans fat
  • 1,543 calories
  • 77 g fat (26 g saturated)
  • 109 g sugars
  • 2,259 mg sodium

These problematic pancakes keep popping up on our worst lists for a reason: They have more calories, sugar, carbs, sodium and fat than nearly any other breakfast in America. Add to that list 4½ days' worth of trans fat and you begin to wonder why Bob Evans doesn't make you sign a waiver before applying the syrup. When ordering from Bob's breakfast menu, stick with items labeled "Fit from the Farm"—aside from scrambled eggs or a plain bowl of oatmeal, they're the only healthy breakfast foods Bob Evans offers.

Worst lunch

Boston Market Classic Chicken Salad Sandwich

  • 5 g trans fat
  • 800 calories
  • 41 g fat (7 g saturated)
  • 1,900 mg sodium

Chicken and tuna salad sandwiches might not be the models of health some purport them to be, but even we were surprised to see how bad this Boston Market sandwich really is. Where do they possibly find the room to cram 2½ days' worth of trans fat into chicken, mayonnaise, lettuce and bread? The answer lies somewhere in the murky ingredient list, which, as with too many of their dishes, runs at more than 40 items long. Boston Market has a swath of solid entrées—from rotisserie chicken to slices of sirloin—and healthy sides on their menu. Get a sandwich stacked with lean white meat, minus the trans fat, with Boston Market's line of open-faced sandwiches.

Worst snack

Pop-Secret Kettle Corn (4 cups popped)

  • 6 g trans fat
  • 180 calories
  • 13 g fat (3 g saturated)
  • 150 mg sodium

The only secret here is that the popcorn purveyor uses partially hydrogenated oil to pop their kernels, turning a reasonable snack into a nutritional nightmare of heart-wrenching proportions. This box has three bags of popcorn, which means every time you buy it, you're bringing 54 grams of dangerous trans fat into your house. There's not an easier—or more important—swap to make.

Worst dinner

Denny's Double Cheeseburger

  • 7 g trans fat
  • 1,540 calories
  • 116 g fat (52 g saturated)
  • 3,880 mg sodium

There's nothing redeeming about this atrocious cheeseburger—stacked between two buns is nearly three times your daily limit of trans fat, three-quarters of the calories you should consume in one day, and the sodium equivalent of 118 saltine crackers. Oh, and did we mention the 59 bacon strips' worth of saturated fat? Aside from the Fit Fare Boca, you're not going to find a reasonable burger on the Denny's menu, so it's either this or a grilled chicken sandwich.

In heart disease and diet part II we will discuss what you can eat that will make mealtime more enjoyable.

The Simplified Handbook for
Living with Heart Disease
and Other Chronic Diseases

This comprehensive, doctor reviewed and approved book explains heart disease from a patientís perspective. Without complicated medical mumbo-jumbo, this blunt and hilarious book is a total lifesaver.