February is All About the Heart

Welcome to American Heart Month! Two dates in February referencing the heart come to mind.

American Heart Month is a time we focus on love by celebrating Valentine’s Day. Many people celebrate Valentine’s Day by going out to a nice restaurant for dinner or fixing a special dinner at home or giving gifts of chocolates or sweet treats to our sweeties. Love is in the air!

February is also “National Wear Red Day” (February 2nd) which brings attention to the sobering statistic that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. 

What a contrast!  One is celebrating with loved ones and the other may include remembering loved ones we have lost. But is it really a contrast or rather an extension of one event flowing into another? February 14th we’re celebrating in the company of loved ones over a “special meal” that may look something like a glass of the bubbly, steak along with a small lobster tail dipped in butter, a baked potato with sour cream, followed with a slice of decadent flourless chocolate torte. February 2nd we’re bringing attention to the fact that heart disease is the #1 killer in the United States – most likely from too many “special meals.”

Why the disconnect? Why is Valentine’s Day celebrated with a meal that may be high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, knowing one in five of us will die from heart disease?

Here are the facts from the CDC regarding heart disease:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. 
  • One person dies every 33 seconds from cardiovascular disease and accounted for 1 in every 5 deaths in the United States in 2021.
  • Heart disease cost the United States about $239.9 billion each year from 2018-2019.

Yet, we’re reminded of the quote by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, “Coronary artery disease need not exist, and if it does, it need not progress.”  In other words, having a coronary artery event or other heart diseases need not occur because of our dietary choices. We can make better choices!

How sad not to acknowledge it’s our lifestyle – what we eat, how we move, how we manage stress, abstain from tobacco and alcohol, experience healthy relationships, and have adequate sleep that are the leading causes heart disease, and we do little to correct it.  Many people simply don’t know. Others chose not to take the steps necessary to prevent or reverse heart disease. Some would benefit from a support group to help them adhere to life-saving modifications in lifestyle.

Our hearts are an amazing organ. Our heart is about the size of a fist and weighs between 7 – 15 ounces. It beats about 100,000 times a day about 2,000 gallons of blood, delivering nutrients and oxygen to each of our 36 trillion cells. Its job is also to carry away metabolic waste. A heart attack or stroke occurs when cholesterol, along with fat and other substances gradually build up inside our artery walls creating plaque that can eventually block the flow of blood and prevents oxygen from reaching the heart. This causes muscle tissue to die. More often however, the fatty substances building up inside our artery walls break off, and a clot forms to repair the injured wall. Again the blocked artery prevents oxygen from reaching the heart, causing tissue to die. If the blockage is in an artery that supplies blood to the heart, it is a heart attack.  If the blockage is in an artery that supplies blood to the brain, it is a stroke.

Here is another scenario of a “special meal.” A glass of pomegranate juice mixed with sparkling water, 2 individual-sized mini meatloafs baked in muffin tins, baked potato topped with salsa, green beans with sliced almonds, and finishing off this meal with a luscious chocolate raspberry parfait.

Our first “special meal” is 1,590 calories, 85g fat, 40g saturated fat, 514g cholesterol, 33g fiber, 97g protein, and 539mg sodium. 

Our second “special meal”  is 753 calories, 12g fat, 0 saturated fat, 0 cholesterol, 24g fiber, 33g protein, and 301mg sodium.

Which would you chose for yourself and your loved ones knowing these facts? The second “special meal” is an obvious choice for those who are trying to eat healthier.

I bring this up because sometimes we need to remind ourselves why we choose this lifestyle.  It’s not alway an easy road to travel and can come with a few road blocks. Improved health is one of the reasons people choose to adopt a WFPB lifestyle.  Another is sparing animal suffering.  A third is sparing our planet from the harms of animal agriculture. A WFPB approach is a kinder, more loving approach to all three of these reasons.

We can celebrate Valentine’s Day in a “kinder” manner while being kind in sharing what we do know to those who may not. Food is a great way to start a conversation. 

Below are links to the recipes for your enjoyment in the second “special meal” – Meatloaf Bite and Chocolate Raspberry Parfait.

https://happyherbivore.com/recipe/meatloaf-bites/
https://www.forksoverknives.com/recipes/vegan-desserts/chocolate-raspberry-healthy-parfait/

This plant-based meatloaf recipe is real comfort food that I think omnivores would equally enjoy. The recipe makes eight individual meatloaf bites. Leftovers freeze well. The meatloaf bites would work great to serve anytime as well as on special occasions. They’re a great dish to bring to a potluck too.  Our non-plant based friends would be surprised to learn they are eating tofu (it’s a source of protein!) while enjoying the creamy parfaits. They can also be served in smaller cups and brought to a potluck. Both of these dishes are great conversation/education starters when asked, as we often are, “what is that?” or “what’s in this?”  

Let’s remember to be kind and not be critical of what people chose to eat for their “special meals.”  The public is told so much inaccurate information by manufacturers in an attempt to protect their profits, and it can be confusing. One the of goals of National Wear Red Day is to spread awareness.  So let’s do just that, and continue doing what we’re doing – sharing our knowledge of a WFPB diet with one person, one family, one group at a time.

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