Food and Heart Health in the Era of Covid-19

Recently, Lanie, a close relative, suffered a massive heart attack. Fortunately, she got to the hospital in time. The cardiologist on call performed a masterful cardiac catheterization and placed two stents without incident. Lanie came out of the procedure with minimal difficulty and arrived in the recovery area, only somewhat worse for wear. Thank Goodness!

An hour or so after the cardiac cath procedure, the cardiologist came into her room and helped hold pressure on the incision site. Since he was a captive audience, I brought up the power of WFPB nutrition to decrease the impact of coronary artery disease. His response was a chuckling, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard about that, but I could never give up cheeseburgers!”  

I’ll call that Strike 1.

 About an hour later, the dietary staff brought in a “Heart Healthy” menu so the patient could choose her meals. Please see the image of the menu. Note that every meal features high cholesterol and refined foods. Take a look at Saturday and Sunday dinner descriptions in particular, for example. I’ll call that Strike 2.

Because I couldn’t sit quietly and allow my relative to eat known artery cloggers, I called the dietary staff to see what else was available. When I asked if they had any dinner salads, beans, whole grains, or berries, the person I spoke to said they didn’t really make those kinds of meals.

‘Ok,’ I thought, ‘let me drop back to basics.’ So, I asked, “Do you have any plant milk that the patient can have on cheerios for breakfast?” The employee replied, “You’ll have to speak to the dietary manager to get that answer, and she is gone for the day. I have 20 other calls I have to take before I punch out in 15 minutes. So I can’t give you any more details. I’ll send up a veggie burger and a side salad for your loved one now. Please call back in the morning and talk to the manager.” That was Strike 3, and I was blown away!

Now, I have heard similar accounts from others. I have seen pictures of similar “Heart Healthy” menus. This was the first time I experienced it myself, however. With that as the backdrop, I stood there in Lanie’s room, so grateful for the excellent care she was receiving. The cardiologist, nurses, and assistants worked smoothly together to get past each hurdle, moment by moment. Even as they worked on her, they took my observations and requests into account. As a nurse and family member, it was beautiful to be a part of saving her life, and at the same time, I was in total disbelief about the poor quality food choices available to her once she was cleared to eat. I mean, food is medicine, after all… Isn’t it??

To take it even further, with the fears about the global pandemic, every time we listen to any news reports, we are reminded of the global pandemic, vaccines for stopping the spread of COVID-19 disease. The hospital has strict COVID-19 precautions to protect patients and staff. For example, there is only one visitor allowed per patient per day with sign-in, symptom screening, and temperature check upon arrival. But wait…..we don’t provide healthy food to people in most obvious need? This is a fundamental component of preventive medicine. Can you tell that the whole thing had my head reeling? 

Isn’t it curious that our government and health officials lament the state of American health when this is how we manage patients immediately after a heart attack? How is it that officials throw up their hands, helpless in the face of heart disease being the number 1 killer in America for the last 100 years? But, if we take an honest look, the healthcare industry really isn’t doing all it can to stop heart disease or any other chronic illness. They are still quite literally feeding disease growth. This, even as we confront the COVID-19 pandemic, knowing that people with chronic illness have the highest risk of the worst outcomes and mortality if they get COVID-19 disease.

For me, it comes down to this: People are dying from heart attacks caused by poor lifestyle choices, mainly in the form of food. Just like hospitals banned smoking in 1993 for health and safety reasons, it should be illegal to feed hospital patients food that is proven to make them ill or that complicates a disease process. For the sake of genuine evidence-based health care, every hospital should provide patients with multiple whole food plant-based options, and they should be prominent on the menu. In addition to that, medical providers should actively instruct their patients to adhere as closely as possible to a whole food plant-based diet, especially when the patient is trying to prevent or heal from any disease process.

As the world continues to stumble from the impact of COVID19, and as the national costs spiral higher by the day, wouldn’t it be wise to use every weapon we have proven to protect and strengthen our people?  

 Let’s assume that we are really serious about improving human health and decreasing the burden of acute and chronic illness. In that case, nutrition and food quality must be considered a first-line defense in the fight against all diseases, especially those that take such a toll on human life. Beans, Greens, and Grains? Berries? Anyone?

For more information on how hospitals can play a part in halting, perhaps even preventing, heart disease, please click here.

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