Friday, October 14, 2011

No, I don't want your heart-healthy diet, thank you

In August I spent five days as a patient at Cleveland Clinic, which advertises itself as "#1 in heart care since 1995." Following open-heart surgery for a congenital valve problem, I was put on their "heart healthy" diet. I didn't expect gastronomic delights from a hospital food supplier, but meatloaf? white bread? sugary yogurt? caffeinated coffee? And that was just my first meal.

I am now attending cardiac rehab exercise sessions three days a week. As we pedal or row or walk or lift weights, someone lectures us on how we should be eating. This morning she told us how to estimate correct portion sizes of, among other things, canned spaghetti.

What planet do these people live on?

"My Plate" - would you
want a lifetime of this?
They are, of course, following recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who periodically replaces one set of wrong-headed guidelines with another equally perverse set. The most recent is My Plate, simpler than the now passé Food Pyramid, but equally removed from the way anyone would want to eat. Dry whole wheat bread? Canned mandarin oranges? Canned green beans? A glass of milk? And what is that perfectly revolting slab of meat, anyway?

Granted, it is possible to follow USDA recommendations and still prepare an attractive plate. It is even possible - though often difficult - to follow their advice and serve food that is, in fact, heart healthy. (I am not sure why the USDA does not improve their suggestions, but certain farm subsidies and lobbyists may be involved.) Unfortunately, it was not possible for me to get a tasty, healthy meal at the hospital - except by sending my husband across the street to Cedarland, a wonderful storefront Lebanese restaurant, and ordering take-out.

Or would you prefer this?
(Add raspberries for dessert.)
"My Plate," though, doesn't have to be disgusting. Trade the bread for whole-wheat couscous with onions and raisins, for example. Top the couscous with a few thin slices of oven-browned chicken, if you like, or go vegetarian and give yourself a scoop of lentils (red lentils with curry seasoning are nice). For vegetables, think color: lightly steamed fresh broccoli, or wilted baby spinach or chard with garlic and lemon. If it's tomato season, put a few wedges in that upper-left quadrant. Drink the milk, if you like it, but realize that the dairy industry has a lot to do with the USDA's recommendations: it's OK to have a glass of water or wine instead. And for dessert, how about a bowl of fresh berries, topped with a spoonful of Greek yogurt and a handful of sliced almonds?

"Heart healthy" should not be identified with endless grim plates of gray fuel.

Folks, we can resist.

I'm not a doctor. I'm not a nutritionist. I don't know your particular medical condition or needs. Please follow your doctor's advice regarding food, drink, and medicines. If your doctor's advice doesn't sound right, do your own research and discuss your findings with him or her. You'll probably learn from each other. If not, change doctors.

1 comment:

Richard said...

LN, you should have gone to CDH. They actually have good food. The last time I was there I hoped that I could stay one more meal so that I could order something from the menu I hadn't had yet.