Bad medicine: my run-in with a fancy cardiologist.

I recently spent some time at a hospital with a family member who had a heart attack. And I’m shocked to be reminded of the mainstream medical establishment’s attitude toward food.

This is what a cardiologist said about his patient at one of New England’s “finest” hospitals:

He certainly seems to enjoy his food! [Snicker.] Well, I think we know what caused this heart attack, don’t we? [Wink, wink.] Probably not much chance of a heart-healthy diet for him, is there? All that fat…. [Shaking his head.] Well, we’ll just make sure he takes lots—and I mean lots—of lipitor. [Smiling as he moves on to the next patient-victim.]

Wow.

Classic food puritanism mixed with backward nutritional advice. What a doctor.

His first mistake: Assuming that the enjoyment of food is inherently unhealthy. (After all, pleasure is a sin, isn’t it?)

His second mistake: Defining a “heart-healthy” diet as low in fat but not necessarily low in sugar. (None of the hospital’s nutritional literature mentioned the relationship between blood sugar and heart disease.)

His third mistake: Declaring that there’s no use bothering with a patient’s diet when you can prescribe medications instead. (Especially medications with dangerous side effects.)

Absolutely infuriating, this cardiologist.

My boyfriend says I “shouted him down.” Not quite, though I might have been a little sharp. After all, he was a condescending twit.

I’m not going to go into all the details of why the conventional “heart-healthy” low-fat diet is wrongheaded. For that, you might check out Nina Planck’s Real Food: What to Eat and Why.

But I will say this: Doctors seem to be most comfortable condemning and blessing foods in categories: butter is bad, olive oil is good; beef is bad, fish is good. But really it’s not like that at all. It’s a question of what kind of butter or olive oil, beef or fish. Conventional feedlot beef and butter are straight-out poisonous, it’s true. But grassfed beef and butter contain Omega-3s and CLA—truly “heart-healthy” fats. Likewise organic extra virgin olive oil and wild-caught fish are great for your heart, but solvent and pesticide-laden “pure” olive oil and antibiotic-laced farmed fish are not.

So the challenge for this family member of mine is not to eliminate all fat from his diet, but to learn the difference between butter and butter, between fish and fish, between olive oil and olive oil—to learn the difference between modern industrial foods (refined sugar and flour, hydrogenated oils, fake sweeteners) and real, nutritious foods (traditional fats, grassfed meat, fermented whole grains).

(Oh, yeah, I can’t even begin to write about the food they fed him in the hospital. Are they trying to murder people, or what?)

20 Comments »

  1. Kiva Rose said,

    April 11, 2007 @ 9:49 pm

    Oh dear… a common and very unfortunate experience…. Many doctors do think this way, but there are exceptions to this, compassionate doctors really researching their patients’ health. I’ve experienced both sides, both on my own behalf and also on my clients behalf… and it can be really hard to take when an arrogant doctor is not only wrong but implementing dangerous practices with the utmost confidence…

    I so feel for you…

    I do love how I can make everyone in a room turn around and stare at me if I even whisper “fat can be good for your heart”

  2. Sarah H said,

    April 13, 2007 @ 6:43 am

    wow, I remember going through this when my Dad had colon cancer. He got so he would only eat sugar frosted corn flakes as a snack because that is what he was allowed, even though he had lovely seasonal oranges shipped to his home, and I provided him with organic low sugar blueberry jam, these foods where forbidden. I was so frustrated. At least he was eating liver. My prayers go out to you and your family member.
    I thank you for this blog, I tried the grapefruit candy recipe and made the liquer too. Thanks for a blog that is practicle as well as philisophical.
    Yours
    SH

  3. crabappleherbs said,

    April 13, 2007 @ 1:52 pm

    Thanks, Kiva and Sarah!

  4. crabappleherbs said,

    April 13, 2007 @ 2:01 pm

    A note on a change to this post, and a few caveats:

    This post originally linked to this article from the Weston A. Price Foundation website on adverse effects of statins. A friend of mine who is a medical student rightly pointed out that the article demonizes the entire medical profession (if you’re curious, check out the second paragraph—the hysteria is remarkable), and doesn’t properly cite its sources. So I replaced the link with a more dispassionate summary of adverse effects from the University of San Diego.

    Just to be clear: I don’t think all doctors are awful (I know that this particular cardiologist was a unique specimen), and I don’t think there’s a pervasive conspiracy among doctors to enslave the population (though I certainly don’t trust the pharmaceutical industry).

    Oh, and “are they trying to murder people, or what?” is very much a joke. Anyone who’s seen hospital food should understand what I’m talking about.

  5. Henriette said,

    April 14, 2007 @ 12:28 am

    … and, if you were to follow the citations that Enig + Fallow do give, you might notice that these don’t say what they say they do.
    I dove into statins a couple years ago (here: http://www.henriettesherbal.com/blog/?p=46 ), and tried to read all the articles cited … the “Oiling of America” article by Enig + Fallow on the Weston+Price site was dishonest that way.

  6. loose green tea said,

    April 14, 2007 @ 8:31 pm

    hi there! i’ve lurked for a bit, but this post hit home for me. my partner has been in and out of hospitals for about a year after his surgery led to multiple infections. the food in the hospitals was not just repulsive, but contrary to what the doctors said he should be eating–food that was high in processed sugars and carbs even though that is thought to “feed” bacterial infections–processed sugars and carbs, tons of preservatives, and (irony of ironies) spinach during the e.coli scare.

    i started sneaking in food after consulting with his acupuncturist, and the nurses actually supported us! i know it’s not easy for hospital dieticians and kitchens to manage the needs through the administrative nightmare that is a hospital, but i still think that there has to be a better way. and doctors and surgeons like the one you described certainly don’t help.

    thanks for writing! i’ll keep reading. :)

  7. zoe said,

    April 15, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

    Hah. Well after 16 years nursing in the great British National Health Service and ten in herbal medicine I have just about completely flattened an entire side of my head from banging it against the very “thick” wall that is doctors inpenetrable, indoctrinated skulls. There are a few insightful ones out there but a bit like homeopathy they are very diluted and virtually impossible to find!

  8. Jan Sensenich said,

    April 21, 2007 @ 9:36 am

    Best wishes to your family member. I wish them a strong recovery.

    Enlightened again. I tend to use a lot of olive oil. Some are labeled “natural and cold pressed” which probably does not mean much. Any suggestions for a readily avaiable organic brand?

    Thanks for this blog. I have really been enjoying both the informaton and how it is presented. Great job.

  9. crabappleherbs said,

    April 21, 2007 @ 8:34 pm

    Thanks Zoe and Loose Green Tea! This sort of thing seems to be an all-too-common experience.

    Jan, as far as olive oil goes, “Zoe” brand is a good choice. It comes in 1 and 3 liter cans and seems to be available at most co-ops and natural food stores in this area. It’s organic, and from small farms in Spain. And the importer is a small business. (Spectrum and a lot of other big organic brands are now owned by monster corporations. Sigh.) Oh, and it tastes good.

  10. Jan S. said,

    April 24, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

    I actually bought some of the Spectrum this weekend, (extra virgin). Now I am looking form a non-virgin/more refined type that stands up better to cooking. All of the organics at the Hanover Coop were extra virgin. I should probably check the WR Coop. I will see if I can find the Zoe in 1 liter.

    Thanks.

  11. crabappleherbs said,

    April 24, 2007 @ 6:55 pm

    I’m not a big fan of non-extra virgin olive oil because of the toxic solvents that are used to extract it. I don’t think you’ll find any organic non-extra virgin olive oil because of this.

    If you want a flavor-neutral oil, I’d suggest spectrum’s organic refined coconut oil. That’s what I use. Or butter. Organic Valley butter is the best because it’s more likely to be grassfed than the others that are available around here.

  12. Jan S. said,

    April 25, 2007 @ 8:06 am

    This is really helpful and explains why all the organics I was seeing were extra virgin. My flawed understanding was to use extra virgin were not much heat is involved (like dressings, dipping, etc.) and to use the more refined (with a higher smoke point) for sauteeing, fying, etc. I actually do like the flavor of extra-virgin and I suppose I will just watch that I don’t overheat it when I use it for cooking. Life will be a bit simpler now – One oil, orgainic extra-vigin, easy on the heat.

    What’s sort of weird is last Sunday at the Coop (when I picked up my oranic olive oil) I also picked up my first lb of Organic Valley Butter.

    Thanks again.

    Jan (well oiled)

    P.S. I just started some basil indoors, so come harvest time it will be organic pesto!

  13. rebekka said,

    October 15, 2007 @ 3:25 pm

    Preach it sista’! Just reading that post makes me so angry.

  14. Jenna said,

    December 19, 2007 @ 8:12 pm

    Wow! Great blog…

    I have recently spent a stint in the hospital with a loved one, and I couldn’t agree with you more! My observation was, “I bet they a seeding their future patient generation in this hopital with the stuff (that’s putting it genteelly) they are passing off as food!”

    Jenna

  15. crabappleherbs said,

    December 20, 2007 @ 1:59 pm

    Thanks, Jenna.

    It does seem weird, doesn’t it? I realize it’s hard to cook for thousands of people at once, but come on, now…

  16. Rachel R. said,

    January 22, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

    Arrrggghhh…don’t get me started on hospital “food.” I was so angry when my father-in-law was in the hospital *for cancer* (which is fed by sugar), and his liquid diet essentially consisted of Kool-Aid and Jell-O!

  17. crabappleherbs said,

    January 22, 2008 @ 1:36 pm

    Yes, it’s interesting… you’ll find information on sugar and cancer in the medical literature, but hospital cafeterias sure haven’t gotten the message!

  18. mamapaul said,

    August 1, 2009 @ 11:58 am

    Thank u so much for posting this. As a retired CCU nurse, diet is soooo important. Our bodies weren’t designed for digesting the chemicals that are passed off as real food.

  19. Renee said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. It is so true how doctors just throw medicine at the cause and not worry about the diet. My father lived with us for a while and he used to get upset with dinners I would prepare, constantly telling me, I can’t have that to things such as broccoli and garlic. I thought he was being funny but then he showed me the “no no” list given to him by his cardiologist and so many heart healthy foods was on this list because they conteracted his meds. They told him eating these foods would overdose him. My question is this, they are obviously admitting that food cures, so why do they not try that route first instead of loading up on the drugs??!!

  20. June said,

    February 24, 2013 @ 9:29 am

    Thank you for this blog – I love it – My father died when I was 15 and I watched his doctor put his prescribed medication in his pocket – previous to coroner or authorities showing up – I am assuming the doctor gave him the wrong medications – I was young but it left a dim view of doctors in my head – My mother died of cancer when I was 21 – I was the one that got to take her to her “wonderful treatments” of poison “KEMO” – I watched while she got worse and worse. Finally when she was in the hospital the medical profession was pumping lots of drugs “for her comfort of course” into her and also blood transfusions. On the opposite side of the bed was another vile which held the blood that ran out of her body because the cancer was eating her from the inside out and she was bleeding to death. Her head was swollen to the size of a basketball and her tongue was about 3/4″ thick. We her children finally told them to stop the “LIFE SUPPORT” and blood transfusions. She was suffering. Truthfully they were using her as a “LAB RAT” to study. Then when I was 35 I had a cardiology doctor that caused me to have severe pains in my heart and I thought I was going to die, with just one pill. When I called and told him this he assured me it was not the drug but to quit taking it and he would give me another one. Well he did and another one and another one – when I told him I was not going to take a drug and have it give me another symptom and then take another drug to combat the second drugs symptoms and so on and so on. He was mad and told me he had the medical degree I did not – Well he was correct on that fact at least. I sent him a letter telling him he was not qualified for my care. Then came my sister – she had cancer and had her breast removed and was in remission and then wouldn’t you know it “CANCER” again – when she was dyeing I brought her some fresh fruit and she said to me – and this is so sad but kind of comical – the doctors said I can’t have any fresh fruit or vegetables because they might have decay/or bacteria on them and it would KILL ME!!! I sat and watched my sister die without her last wishes of fresh strawberries etc. Good doctors are few and far between – I live an herbal life – fresh whole foods. I am 60 now. I do not have a doctor – the only doctors I see is a dentist for cleaning. Several of my sisters and brothers have died between the ages of 45 – 60 they had “DOCTORS” and also a basket full of “DRUGS”. I do not intend to be one of them – I am thankful for this site because there is little out there to teach people how to live naturally and healthy. Thank you very much.

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