To Your Good Health
Dear Dr. Roach: My husband is physically fit and works out daily through biking, elliptical trainer, playing hockey, working outside, etc. He is of appropriate weight, and his cholesterol and sugar numbers are normal, as is his blood pressure. What concerns me is his diet. Every day, he eats meat red meat, pork or chicken. He also eats lunch meat and plenty of cheese. He says working out counters the effect of these foods. He has a heart murmur, and his father passed away unexpectedly from either a heart attack or stroke at age 74 this past summer. Can all of this add to his potential to have a heart attack, or do the test results indicate that he is fine? J.M.
Answer: To be optimally healthy, both exercise and diet are important. People argue passionately about what is the healthiest diet and whether eating red meat is healthy. Although some people have seized on newer study results, I have read many studies in the past 30 years, and believe that eating less meat and more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and fish is much healthier. In my opinion, your husbands eating habits do contribute to heart attack risk despite his exercise regimen. I also should add that processed meats have been convincingly linked to increased cancer risk; however, the magnitude of that risk is small.
That does not mean he has to change his eating habits entirely in order to get healthier; small changes are more likely to be acceptable to him. Starting with one meal a day of fish or creatively cooked plants (some people find mushrooms, for example, a very good meat substitute) can help reduce his risk.