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Heart Disease: Start a New Chapter in Your Family History

Jun 01, 2021 by Sherra Aguirre, in Food and Health

How many times have we heard someone say, “Heart disease runs in my family?” It sounds like it’s inevitable and that the odds are against us. I know the feeling because that’s just what I used to say. And if we believe that it’s just a matter of time, there is not much motivation to make healthy changes. And we usually don’t until we hit a wall and we no longer have a choice. At some point, our doctor may give us a diagnosis that will force a change depending on the seriousness. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. and worldwide.


What actually makes up family history? Of course, it includes the medical history of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, etc. It involves genetic factors known and unknown associated with certain conditions or diseases or general good health. The more common it is to have heart disease in your family, the more likely you are to get it, or so goes conventional thinking. But guess what else gets passed on by our families? How about food habits, preferences, and what we grow up eating? How about lifestyle examples of physical activity, or a preference for watching lots of TV and playing video games?


Science now tells us that the genes we get from our family are only responsible for about 10% of our risk factors for heart disease and other chronic diseases like diabetes. That means that 90% of our risk depends on the food and lifestyle choices we make! For those of us who grew up worried like I did about being destined to repeat family health issues, this is really good news. It means that everything we do, every healthy food choice, every walk around the neighborhood, every good night’s sleep, and even a positive attitude all matter. 


We have the ability to start a new chapter in our family’s health history! Does that mean that we reject all the foods, traditions, memories of great times at grandma’s house? Absolutely not! It means that we use the information and resources available to us today to make them healthier while keeping the flavor, fun, and the love. After all, isn’t that what’s most important? It is only in the last several decades that meat became the star of every meal. For many of our families, before that, a meal centered around meat was a luxury to be enjoyed on Sundays, holidays, and special occasions. Big industrial animal farming displaced local family farms and drove down meat and dairy prices through factory-like growing, feeding, and slaughterhouse operations. Along with that came questionable health, safety, ethical and environmental concerns. The food industry used its political and economic muscle to win government subsidies that made the price of animal products cheap and rely on their advertising strength to entice us to consume all we can afford. 


The science is clear that a mostly whole plant-based diet of vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans of all varieties, peas, lentils, etc.), grains, nuts, spices, and herbs is the foundation for good health and the best way to stay healthy throughout our lives. It protects our health, and when animal products are removed, we can even reverse chronic lifestyle diseases. I share my story in my book about reversing my high blood pressure with delicious, whole-food plant-based eating despite a lengthy family history of hypertension. To make a point of how important this is, even in the middle of the pandemic, there were more deaths from heart disease than from COVID-19 in 2020. We can start a new chapter in our family history and determine the example and the health legacy we will leave our children and theirs!