This post first published on October 2, 2017. Rosalie Ungar is the author of IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.
Mother used to say, “You are what you eat.” She didn’t know that it was a direct quote from Frenchman Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1826. Literally translated it says, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”
Mother’s quote was in the 1940s and 50s when our family sat down together at the kitchen table for a meal that was prepared by my mother. This was typical at that time, at least in the small town where I grew up. Eating habits were established, portions were smaller and no meal was complete unless it included a salad with raw veggies, an entrée with meat, chicken or fish, a potato, rice or pasta and a cooked vegetable canned or fresh. This was before frozen foods were readily available.
Dessert may have been served, but it wasn’t a big deal. Mother didn’t bake a lot, so we had canned fruit cocktail and store-bought cookies. We drank water with the meal except in summer when we made lemonade by squeezing lemons and an orange, water, sugar, ice and mint sprigs from our yard.
We were healthy possibly because most of what we ate was fresh and portions were smaller than today and because very few chemicals were added for flavor and preserving.
I was on my way to a healthy lifestyle of eating but along the way things changed for all of us.
Early in my 35 year affliction with atrial fib when it began to interfere with my lifestyle in the 1980s, I realized that I had absolutely no control over when AF came or left. I could wake in the morning with it or start the weird heart rhythm in the middle of doing something or nothing at all.
I had no idea how long it would last or why. As time went on I could tell I was in A-fib right away. Heart palpitations and a feeling of tiredness and gloom settled in me. My electrophysiologist said that atrial fib begets atrial fib.
Was it something I ate or something I didn’t eat? I thought I knew a lot about nutrition. I followed what was then a heart healthy diet.
I remembered from my childhood and current job that what food and drink we put into our bodies has a lot to do with how we feel and what chronic problems may occur. This was about the time that cholesterol and fat were in everyone’s vocabulary to avoid. I was employed as a sales manager for a food company marketing a line of Weight Watchers dairy items, later doing the same for the Smart Balance line.
I lectured all over the country about good fats, low fats, hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, saturated fats, poly unsaturated fats and ratios between the two. Hence, the Smart Balance products became quite popular.
My atrial fib was coming more often. I decided to eliminate some foods from my diet. No more steak or beef of any kind. More vegetables. Less sugar. Reading food labels, I cut out foods containing ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce. Nothing helped.
I asked my cardiologist about food and atrial fib. She told me to cut out caffeine and alcohol. I did, but that wasn’t easy. Ed and I had a glass of wine or a drink almost every night with dinner. I stopped drinking totally. Still the A-fib came. I tested it: Occasionally I had a glass of wine and nothing happened, but the next time I had one, the atrial fib started.
This is Part 1. Atrial Fib…You Are What You Eat” will continue in next week’s blog.
Meanwhile, read more IN A HEARTBEAT: The Ups & Downs of Life with Atrial Fib.