Archive for the ‘cholesterol’ Category

Curried Red Lentils and Sweet Potatoes (over rice)

I knew I wanted lentils, I knew I had to do something with my sweet potatoes.  So… THIS!!!

I loved it and more importantly, so did Don and Emily (Audrey hates most things, so no, she was not a fan).

Ingredients

3 1/2 cups water

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 medium or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into bite-size chunks

1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced

1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp curry powder

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup coconut milk

2 generous Tbsp brown rice syrup or light brown sugar

1 ½ cups red lentils

1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly cut

2 cups water

1 cup coconut milk

2 cups jasmine rice

Instructions

Bring 3 ½ cups of water to a boil.

In a large saucepan over medium high heat, saute onion, and salt in oil, stirring until onion is soft.

Add sweet potato, ginger, garlic, curry powder, bay leaf and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add boiling water, coconut milk, syrup or sugar, and lentils.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the lentils break down and the sweet potatoes are tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Stir in basil.

While the above is cooking, bring  2 cups water and 1 cup coconut milk to boil.  Stir in rice, reduce to simmer, cover and let cook for 20 minutes.  Do not remove lid until close to done.

Serve lentils and potatoes over rice.

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Butternut Squash and Other Stuff Gnocchi

This came to be when my family was being boring about what they wanted for dinner so I pulled out leftovers for them and dug around to see what I could come up with…  What I found in my bowl when I was done was like a treasure.

Ingredients

1 8 oz. package prepared gnocchi (or, of course, make your own!!!)

Olive oil

1 lb butternut squash, cleaned and cut into small chunks

3 Tbsp pine nuts

2 cloves garlic

a good handful of shitake mushrooms

2 good handfuls spinach

1 packet Sazon Goya seasoning

Roast squash with 2 Tbsp olive oil at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, until tender and turning brown.

Meanwhile, boil water for gnocchi and lightly toast pine nuts (in small frying pan, swirling them around so they don’t burn, which can happen really fast!)

When squash is finished, saute garlic in large pan in 2 tbsp olive oil, add mushrooms until soft and hot.  Add squash and Sazon Goya seasoning.

Boil gnocchi for 1-2 minutes, until floating on top.  Drain.

Add gnocchi to squash and mushrooms mixture and mix thoroughly.  Mix in spinach until just wilted. Toss in the pine nuts.

Beautiful!!!

My Tomato Soup

A couple of sickies in my house inspired my need for soup.  This was such a huge surprise.  I never thought it would taste so good.  I made some bread and we dunked and slurped….

Ingredients

1/2 sweet onion, chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

2 – 28 oz cans really good tomatoes  (I used Wegman’s imported San Marzano – pricey, I know, $3.49 a can)

2 1/2 cups vegetable broth

2 1/2 tsp kosher salt

a few good cranks of fresh ground pepper

1 Tbsp dried basil (I had no fresh available)

In a large pot, lightly saute onions in olive oil until soft, not brown.

Puree the tomatoes in a food processor until just smooth.  Add tomatoes and broth to pot and heat until just boiling, simmer 20 minutes.  Add salt, pepper, and basil.  Let simmer another 10-15 minutes.

I used my immersion blender to puree until smooth.

SLURP.

The Size of a “Real Woman”

I’ll get right to it.

I buy my bras in the girls’ section at Target.  I got nothing going on up top and the thought of spending crazy money on a fancy bra seems ridiculous and wasteful.  I couldn’t care less about the size of my breasts.  They’ve served their purpose.  They were perky when I was young enough to care and when I became a mom, they fed my babies.  And now… eh… whatever.

What kind of irks me, however, is the occasional comment about what a “real woman” looks like.

Now, I don’t expect sympathy.  I know that many women really struggle with weight issues.  However, to characterize a full-figured woman as the “real woman” intimates that people like me aren’t.  I even heard one local radio personality comment that skinny women just look like “little boys.”

So what size should we be?

A healthy size!  A waist under 35″ for women and a BMI under 25 (http://health.msn.com/weight-loss/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100173487) puts you at lower risk for heart disease and diabetes (and, it seems, cancer).  With 70% of the US population currently overweight and headed, by 2020, to being 75% obese (http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/202075-PercentAmerica-Obese/2010/09/23/id/371359), we need to think carefully about what we embrace as “real.”  Our children are part of the first generation since the Civil War who have shorter life expectancies than their parents (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/17/health/17obese.html).

A “real woman,” I contend, is one who takes her health into her own hands.  She eats well, sleeps well, stays active, and supports other women in her life with understanding and encouragement.  She teaches her daughters to do the same and to strive for health, not some contrived, outward physical ideal.

(On a side note… has anyone noticed Andrea Mitchell’s arms?  She is cut!)

Everything in moderation? Hell no.

I just used to smile and nod when people said things like, “Well, everything in moderation.  You can’t deprive kids of (fill in the blank) all the time.”

There is so much wrong with that statement that to reply appropriately would take a standard conversational cliché and turn it into a full-fledged critique of society’s assumptions about food.

Let’s pick this apart…

“Everything in moderation…”

First, why?  Isn’t this a bit all-encompassing?  There are, quite simply, things that are downright bad for you.  Cigarettes, texting while driving, gun violence, processed food, eating lard…  Why on earth would anyone accept that a moderate amount of everything is acceptable.

“You can’t deprive kids…”

What exactly is a kid being deprived of if they are not given crap that’s trying to stand in for real food?  Is being fed whole foods as opposed to Oscar Mayer Lunchables really a deprivation?  I hear people say that their kids love certain products so they buy these things every once in a while.  To that I say, “Why?”  Why not educate your kids on the differences between good, nutritionally dense food and the stuff that comes in the brightly colored packages and loaded with high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and other chemicals and preservatives?

Because other kids are eating it?  Because they saw it on TV? Because most of us are buying and eating this stuff and therefore it’s now normal?

Does a corporation really have the right to determine what is normal for us to eat?  Do you really want to give corporations the power  to create a product and market it in way that shifts a culture to believe that consuming that product constitutes normal? Do you believe it’s normal to choose to eat things that make you sick?  Do you believe that it’s acceptable that normal now means that our babies are being born “pre-polluted” (see: New Alarm Bells About Chemicals and Cancer)?

Corporate history has shown that when it comes to serving the public, big business has very low standards and fights hard against regulation that would make their financial success more challenging.  Compounding the problem, a press that relies on advertising from these businesses is loathe to shed light on these issues.  Meanwhile, we have an obesity epidemic and hundreds of cancer-causing contaminants coursing through our veins (not to mention all the other ways corporations take advantage of everyday people, i.e. Wall Street, oil companies, defense contractors, etc.).

“Everything in moderation” is a cliché that needs to be put to rest.

Yesterday, my daughter came home from field hockey practice commenting about the ingredients in Pop Tarts.  One of the girls on her team was eating them for a snack. Audrey was appalled that they contained gelatin (a product made from boiled bones, skin, and tendons of animals), but the whole picture is dismal.  Let me share the information with you:

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts

Nutrition Facts

  • Serving Size 2 pastries
  • Amount Per Serving
  • Calories 420 Calories from Fat 130
  • % Daily Value*
  • Total Fat 14 g     22%
  • Saturated Fat 4.5 g      23%
  • Trans Fat 0 g
  • Cholesterol 0 mg    0%
  • Sodium 340 mg    14%
  • Total Carbohydrate 69 g    23%
  • Dietary Fiber 1 g     5%
  • Sugars 31 g
  • Protein 5 g N/A
  • Vitamin A 20%
  • Vitamin C 0%
  • Calcium 0%
  • Iron 20%
  • Niacin 20%
  • Vitamin B6 20%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calories needs.

Ingredients

Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacinamide, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1]Riboflavin [Vitamin B2]Folic Acid)Brown Sugar, Vegetable Oil (Soybean, Cottonseed and Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil (Less than 0.5 g Trans Fat Per Serving.TBHQ and Citric Acid for Freshness)Sugar, Corn Syrup, Dextrose, High Fructose Corn Syrup,Cracker Meal, contains Two Percent or less of Salt, Cornstarch, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate)Cinnamon, Wheat Starch, Gelatin, Caramel Color, Soy Lecithin, Niacinamide, Reduced Iron, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6)Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin Bi)Folic Acid.

I don’t mean to pick on Pop Tarts, specifically, so let’s look at those Lunchables I mentioned earlier:

Nutrition Facts

Oscar Mayer – Lunchables-

Turkey & Cheddar With Ritz Wheat Crackers

Calories 330 Sodium 1060 mg
Total Fat 17 g Potassium 0 mg
Saturated 9 g Total Carbs 24 g
Polyunsaturated 0 g Dietary Fiber 1 g
Monounsaturated 0 g Sugars 6 g
Trans 1 g Protein 18 g
Cholesterol 65 mg
Vitamin A 8% Calcium 30%
Vitamin C 0% Iron 8%

*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Ingredients: ROAST WHITE TURKEY – CURED, SMOKE FLAVOR ADDED: WHITE TURKEY, WATER, POTASSIUM LACTATE, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SALT, DEXTROSE, CARRAGEENAN, SODIUM PHOSPHATES, SODIUM DIACETATE, SODIUM ASCORBATE, SMOKE FLAVOR, SODIUM NITRITE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR. PASTEURIZED PREPARED CHEDDAR CHEESE PRODUCE: MILK, WHEY, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, MILKFAT, SODIUM CITRATE, SALT, LACTIC ACID, SORBIC ACID AS A PRESERVATIVE, OLEORESIN PAPRIKA (COLOR), ANNATTO (COLOR), CHEESE CULTURE, ENZYMES, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, WITH STARCH ADDED FOR SLICE SEPARATION. CONTAINS: MILK, WHEAT CRACKERS: ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2],FOLIC ACID), SOYBEAN OIL, WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, SUGAR, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL, SALT, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA, CALCIUM PHOSPHATE), WHEY (FROM MILK), SOY LECITHIN (EMULSIFIER). CONTAINS: WHEAT, MILK, SOY.

High salt, high fat, loaded with artificial, processed ingredients, these are just a two examples of foods so many kids are eating.

Corporations have played us into believing that we’re too busy to put together a healthy meal for our kids. We’re told that purchasing these kinds of things will make our lives easier.  We’re told that they’re loaded with vitamins and minerals, that they’re “whole grain” and that they taste good.

This is no way to eat.  Moderation is not the answer for these foods.  Outright rejection is.

If I happen to run into you and you mention that moderation is the key or some such variation on the theme, please don’t be offended by the time I’ll take to talk about this issue with you.

Heart Attack Reflections – One Year

On March 12th of 2009, my family and I were visiting my brother in Florida, over 1100 miles away from our home in Pennsylvania, and I had a heart attack.  Ten days shy of my 41st birthday, I had a heart attack.

Backstory

The best place to start is probably 2006.  I had been to the doctor for a regular check up and the doctor ordered blood work as a routine measure. The results were surprising.  My cholesterol was outstanding.  My HDL was 72, my LDL was 73, and my triglycerides were 51.  My thyroid, however, was off, indicating hypothyroidism, and I was very anemic.

I started thyroid medication and an iron supplement, and on I went, not happy that I would have to take a pill for the rest of my life.

To treat the anemia, my doctor suggested a birth control pill. It made me feel awful.  I stayed on it for 6 months, tolerating depression and generally feeling bad the whole time.

Near the end of my time on the pill, I started having chest achiness and palpitations like I’ve never had before.   In December I went to a cardiologist for a stress test.  Everything looked fine.  I was happy.

The Heart Attack

In March of 2009 for spring break, my husband, two daughters, and I headed to Tampa to visit my brother and his family in Florida.  Thursday of that week was our last full day there.  We were set to leave the following morning–early.  That would get us back to PA Friday night and we’d have the rest of the weekend to recuperate so the girls would be ready for school, and Don and I, for work.  Besides that, Emily, our older daughter, was supposed to go to New York on Tuesday with her journalism class and she would need to do laundry and repack.

And so, we were making the best of our last few hours in Florida.  About 3:30pm I joined my kids in my brother’s cold pool (it was only March, afterall) and began doing the breaststroke.  Suddenly, I felt a pain in the center of my chest.  It stopped me in my tracks.  Immediately, I thought I pulled a muscle, but quickly decided that wasn’t the case.  Then I felt sick.

I got out of the pool and sat in a chair, sure that it (whatever it was) would pass.  But I continued to feel sick, so went inside and changed into my clothes.  I sat down in the living room and then the tunnel vision set in.  I felt nauseous, put my head between my knees, hoping it would help.  I decided to head to the bedroom to lie down.  It was at this point that I decided I might not be able to ignore the possibility that I was having a heart attack.  But the idea of a hospital, of hurting our chances of leaving the next morning, of being wrong and embarrassed, kept me from doing anything.

Then my left arm started to feel really heavy and my elbow began to ache.  I decided to call my insurance company’s nurse on call (she was terrific).  I described my symptoms.  She said that although it seemed unlikely, my symptoms all pointed to heart attack and she encouraged me to get checked.

By now, about an hour and a half had passed.  I finally told my husband what was going on.  My sister-in-law gave me some aspirin, and off Don and I went to an urgent care facility.  (I still wasn’t completely convinced that it was a heart attack and didn’t want to spend hours in an ER for nothing.)

In the car, the pain in my chest seemed to lessen and my back began to hurt right in the center, between my shoulder blades.  My arm was still heavy, though not as much.  I suggested to Don that maybe whatever it was was over and probably not a big deal.  He made an executive decision and we continued to the urgent care facility.

I got right in.  The EKG came up normal.  The doctor on duty came in to talk to me.  The EKG result seemed to give me some options.  He said that if I were a family member, he’d suggest I go to the hospital to get checked out more thoroughly, but that since the EKG was okay, I could simply go home.  Then he listened with his stethoscope.  My heart started jumping around.  He hurried the EKG machine back in and it showed that something funky was going on.

At this point, it seemed I didn’t have a choice.  He called the EMTs and with what felt like a major production, I was off to the hospital in an ambulance with Don following behind.

Immediately, blood was taken.  I was given nitro.  The headache set in and I started getting tunnel vision and feeling nauseous.  Don found his way to my room just before the doctor came to tell us that I did have a heart attack, though mild.  I would have to stay the night and have a heart catheterization in the morning.  I was upset.  I cried.  So much for getting on the road.

I was taken to intensive care.  The room was awful, but my nurse was nice. I was wired and tubed and tied to all kinds of bags and machines.  And the toilet was in a cupboard.  Literally.

The Heart Catheterization

The next morning, I was taken down for the heart cath (for info see: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/services/tests/invasive/ccath.asp). Again, the nurses were lovely.  They made me a little loopy (which, if I’m being honest, I very much enjoyed) with some meds.  I was able to watch the video screen as the doctor pumped dye through my arteries.  Everything was clear except for a very tiny posterior descending artery that was 90% blocked, but too small to stint.

Following a cath, you’re not allowed to do anything but lie there.  There’s a risk with a cath because the doctor is puncturing and entering a major artery.

I stayed in ICU for another night with my toilet in the cupboard.

Diagnosis – Why a great doctor is important

I was a conundrum.  First, I was a young woman and my estrogen was supposed to protect me.  Second, my cholesterol at the time of the heart attack was 165, which is high for me, but pretty good for most others. Finally, only one tiny little artery all the way down at the bottom of the heart was blocked and everything else was completely clear.

Upon my return home, I went to a highly regarded cardiologist who, I later found out, didn’t even look at the video of my heart cath.  He was patronizing and condescending and when I asked a question about the statin (cholesterol lowering medication) he wanted to prescribe, he replied sarcastically that I clearly wasn’t listening to his explanation just before. Add to that that he never actually wrote a prescription and when I asked the nurses about it on my way out, they seemed afraid to ask him about it; I left completely confused.  Accolades and recommendations or not, I decided to find someone else.

The next doctor I went to came into my appointment well preparead and openly recognized that my case didn’t make sense.  He was curious and asked me questions and watched the cath video.  He ordered a Transesophageal Echo – TEE (see: http://www.asecho.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3327) to see if there might be a hole in my heart.  He ordered blood tests to search for the possibility that I might have a clotting disorder.

Thanks to his efforts, a picture began to come clear.  I have a genetic mutation (MTHFR) that puts me at greater risk of clotting and early atherosclerosis.  I’m also borderline for Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS), also a condition that can cause clotting.  I have to have blood work on a regular basis to check homocysteine and cardiolipin levels.

In the end, he was sure that my heart attack was not an athero event (not related to cholesterol/plaque build up), but a thrombotic event (the result of a clot).  We can’t be exactly sure about the trigger—was it the MTHFR?  the birth control pill?  a combination?

My Efforts

I never took a statin.  I wanted to manage what I could on my own and have been very successful doing it.  My cholesterol is 143 (HDL – 63 and LDL – 70).  I attribute these numbers to three factors:  regular exercise, a vegan diet, and soy.

I have taken up running on a regular basis.  And while I don’t run for long distances, my 2 to 3 miles 5 times a week has done wonders for me.  I also do strength-building exercises at least 5 times a week.

The vegan diet is the only way to go as far as I can see.  The purposeful ingestion of cholesterol seems entirely counterintuitive, and that’s what you do when you eat animal products.

Finally, soy has been proven to lower cholesterol and I’ve seen it first hand.

Medication

For the past year, I’ve taken the following everyday:

75mg Plavix

81mg aspirin

25mg metoprolol tartrate (this was cut to 12.5 mg in October of 2009)

Multivitamin, Calcium plus D, Folic Acid, B12

(and levothyroxine for my hypothyroidism)

Following my one-year follow-up appointment, I was taken off Plavix and am now taking 162mg aspirin.  The new concern is that my chance of another incident is elevated.  Studies show that when patients stop taking Plavix, risk of heart attack or stroke increases as the platelets adjust. The extra aspirin is intended to make up for this absence, but the risk of stomach and brain bleeding elevate as the dose of aspirin increases.

These things are worries for me.

Emotional and Intellectual Adjustment

Following the heart attack, I was almost constantly worried that I would have another.  Every palpitation and flutter made me stop and think and “listen” closely to any clues my body might be giving me.  Additionally (and I’m not proud of this), I was angry at people who didn’t take care of themselves.  I felt myself to be the victim of an enormous injustice.  I took care of myself.  I ate properly, was the proper weight, and was still 40!

I also thought a lot about my likelihood of living a long, full life.  I want to see my kids grow up and live their adult lives.  That I have a strike against me is upsetting.

A year later, I still worry.  In the end, though, this heart attack was something of a gift.  It was mild, did no real damage, and made me aware of the issues that I have thus enabling me to be as pro-active as possible. Additionally, I’m more appreciative of all that I have and I like the direction my life has taken.

Simple: A Big Bowl of Pasta on a Cold Winter Night

Sometimes there’s nothing better than the simplest of things.  I was so busy today and the weather has been so cold that nothing sounded better to me than a big bowl of pasta.

With a little Joni Mitchell playing and two pots on the stove, I sipped beer and cooked.

In one pot I boiled water for whole wheat penne pasta.  In the other, I sauteed garlic with basil, oregano, thyme and a tiny bit of fennel and red pepper flakes.  With the pasta cooking, I threw a quart of grape tomatoes in with the garlic and herbs and listened to them sizzle and pop until they were cooked soft enough to press them with the back of my big wooden spoon.  Topped with some kosher salt and fresh pepper, they were ready toss together with my pasta and a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach.  I had some bread left from the day before that helped to soak up all the saucy, juicy goodness.

Totally simple.  Totally good.  Reminds me of how lucky I am.  Makes me appreciate simple things.