Culinista Kitchen®,  Health

Having a Heart-to-Heart with the Doc

by The Culinistas

(as part of our Wellness Through Food: Way to Your Heart series)

Dr. Akil Taher knows a thing or two about what it means to have heart: His book, OPEN HEART: The Transformational Journey of a Doctor Who, After Bypass Surgery at 61, Ran Marathons and Climbed Mountains, is all about one’s ability to get serious about heart health, no matter your age or fitness level. It’s truly inspiring and a beacon for what heart health is all about — and why it’s so important.

We sat down with Dr. Taher to talk eating breakfast “like a king,” the wonders exercise will do for your mood, and how he turned his life around, accomplishing some of life’s greatest challenges.

The Culinistas: Why do you think some are half-hearted about heart health?

Dr. Taher: Because they believe heart disease will not happen to them, so they make unhealthy lifestyle choices like I did.

TC: What’s one easy step anyone can take to protect their heart?

DT: Eat healthier. Cut back on meats, eggs, dairy, salt and sugar and avoid processed foods. Have breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and supper like a pauper.

TC: What’s the biggest impact of fitness and exercise on heart health?

DT: It slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. Improves the muscles’ ability to pull oxygen out of the blood, reducing the need to pump more blood to the muscles. It also increases the good cholesterol (HDL) and produces endorphins to fight depressed moods.

TC: What’s the biggest myth about heart health?

DT: The biggest myth is that if you have heart disease, you need to take it easy. Being sedentary can lead to blood clots in your legs and a decline in your overall physical condition.

TC: What one dish or food that is the way to your heart?

DT: Whole grain pasta with walnut pesto and peas.

TC: What’s your go-to cure for a broken heart?

DT: Don’t let your emotions rule and don’t jump into a “rebound relationship.”

TC: What’s one thing you’ve always had your heart set on, but never tried?

DT: To swim with the sharks.

TC: What’s something you’ll always hold near and dear to your heart?

DT: My book. Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally. I hope it leads to saving someone’s life or at least improvement of the quality of life.

TC: Tell us about a time you followed your heart and it paid off.

DT: I followed my heart and turned into a whole food/plant based diet consumer and proponent.

I had a list of insurmountable health problems. I overcame these challenges with integrated healthy lifestyle changes which included diet, exercise and emotional and spiritual well being, so that others can avoid the mistakes I made and take small important changes to protect their HEART and improve their overall health and wellbeing.

We asked Dr. Taher to select five of his favorite dishes from our Way to Your Heart menu and tell us why:

White Bean Hummus & Crudités

garbanzo bean, navy bean, onion, garlic, lemon, sage, za’atar, vegetables

 “It has plant based protein as opposed to animal protein which is high in cholesterol, and saturated fats. Plus it has fiber which can bring down cholesterol.”

Edamame Dip with Radishes

soy bean, basil, rice wine vinegar, lime, radish, cayenne, onion powder

           “Soybeans are full of plant based protein and red wine may increase your good cholesterol (HDL).”

Eggplant & Chickpea Salad

eggplant, garbanzo bean, tomato, cucumber, mint, cumin, sumac, za’atar, cayenne, onion powder   

“A lot of fiber. We require 35 gms of fiber daily. An average American consumes 18 gms. Lack of fiber can cause chronic constipation leading to diverticulitis, inguinal hernia and hemorrhoids.”

King Quinoa

red quinoa, carrot, pomegranate, sunflower seed, mint, lime, jalapeño, cayenne, onion powder

          “Fiber, plant based protein and magnesium. All good for the heart!!”

Strawberries & Peaches

strawberry, peach, basil, pine nut, pink peppercorn, sumac

“A lot of phytonutrients and antioxidants that can produce nitric oxide, which maintains the health of the coronary arteries.”