This is the first part is series of guest posts by Laurel Rogers. Laurel is chronicling her family’s quest to eat a more heart healthy diet. 

Laurel's FamilyCan an average family make heart-healthy diet changes without going crazy?

I wasn’t sure, but I set out to find out.

It started innocently enough. I had an interview with Dr. Anabel Facemire, a cardiologist with Northwest Regional Heart & Vascular, for a blog about heart health. When Dr. Facemire mentioned how drastically her patients had lowered their cholesterol numbers by following a better diet, my ears perked up.

While general weight loss had improved my numbers a lot, I knew my husband’s needed help. A lot of help. A quick pass through an online heart age assessment, and we saw we both could stand to make some changes.

A Few Basic Changes

Suddenly I was listening to Dr. Facemire with a much more interested ear as she described some ways to make heart-healthy diet changes like:

  • Eat legumes every day
  • Have a big salad with a rainbow of veggies for lunch and dinner
  • Eat dark-leafy veggies every evening
  • Have some pomegranate and almonds every day

I couldn’t help but notice—with a cringe—there wasn’t much on her list for, say, cheese and sugary treats. How was that going to go over with my teens and preschooler?

Making the Heart-Healthy Pitch

We needed three weeks, Dr. Facemire suggested. She explained how taste buds actually regenerate every three weeks, so you need about that much time to adjust to new tastes and get rid of old cravings.

We could do anything for three weeks, right?

My husband was in. He was actually excited and grateful for the support.

The children were a mixed bag. The little one didn’t pay much attention one way or the other. My teen daughter is a huge fan of experimental cooking, so she got pretty excited right away. Pretty soon I was hunting for mysteriously foreign ingredients to make things like hummus and almond cheese.

My son was a tougher challenge. I assured him of two things:

  • This wasn’t the end of treats and snacks forever and always…but this was the start of a major reduction.
  • We could still have some festive food for the Super Bowl party that was coming up—“But at least let’s lay off the cheese?” I suggested.

And Then It Hit…Hard

Fresh fruits and veggiesAbout a day later it hit me: This was on me. As the primary meal planner, shopper and prepper, I was the one who actually had to make these changes. The rest of the family just had to eat them.

First off, I hit a local produce market. These discount markets are a gamble—they don’t always have what you need or want, but what they do have is often at a steep discount.

Next, we went to WinCo—for more fresh produce as well as their amazing array of beans and whole grains available in bulk. We came away with everything from quinoa and wild rice to soybeans and mayacoba beans.

We also took a spin to a large Asian grocery store, where we found still more variety in produce as well as some interesting pastes and an astonishing variety of vegan “meat” options.

It took me all of about a day to realize this was going to take some work. Peeling, chopping, rinsing, simmering, draining, storing—clearly there is a reason why so many not-so-great food options are called “convenience foods.”

That said, it was interesting to watch my children fall in love with vegan tom yum soup and oil-free stir-fry. I realized my husband’s work lunches went from PB&J sandwiches to a huge salad, an apple and a leftover legume-rich entrée.

We also took a trip to Costco to look for better snacks to take with us while snowshoeing and kayaking. We ditched the Doritos for freeze-dried fruit, fruit leather and nuts. The kids were pretty happy with the novelty of these items.

Things We’ve Learned So Far

crock pot
Using a crock pot can make meal prep a bit easier.

Gearing up is one thing. Sticking with it is quite another. I can already see areas where we’ve lapsed, but there’s also some major improvements too. Here are some things we’ve figured out:

  • Eating healthy isn’t necessarily more expensive: There’s no doubt that certain healthy foods seem expensive compared to boxed macaroni and cheese. But overall, when I load up on fresh produce and bulk dried beans and grains, my grocery bill is no worse—often even better—than when I’m loading up on cheese, chips and desserts.
  • You can make it easier on yourself: Involve your kids in peeling and chopping veggies, where age-appropriate. And if your budget allows, grab some ready-cut veggies—think of them as a heart-healthy convenience food.
  • Invest in the right tools: Maybe you need a larger skillet or wok to make stir fry. Maybe you need better utensils or more room in your fridge. I found a way to pack a lunch from home and still enjoy it hot—a mini Crock-Pot you can leave on your desk while you take the removable liner home every evening.
  • Vegan doesn’t necessarily mean healthy: Especially when it comes to meat substitutes, watch those nutritional labels. Plenty of meat-free options are still loaded with empty carbs, piles of fat and loads of sodium.
  • Heart-healthy foods still have calories: I’ve been a bit surprised I’ve not lost any weight. I suspect that’s because, despite the healthier choices, I’m simply not burning off enough of what I’m eating.

Next Steps for Heart Health

Now that we’ve started on this journey, I’m quickly realizing I need to work on my overall mindset. This isn’t just about a three-week trial. This is about making daily decisions.

To help us stay focused, we’re turning to the Heart Age Assessment. Taking the assessment every couple of months will help us see the progress we are making. And come this fall, we will be due for our annual biometric tests—we’re looking forward to seeing if we can nudge all those numbers in the right direction.

Would you join us? Take the Heart Age Assessment and then try making some heart-healthy changes for the next three weeks. Then see if you can add a few more.

I think if we keep making those changes, we’re all going to have happier, healthier and longer lives. Let’s give ourselves a high-five for starting the journey together.