Heart Health

The quick answer:  Don’t die of a broken heart—live a muscular lifestyle and eat a whole foods diet.


The subject this week is heart health.  Have you been with someone during a heart attack, or held a friend’s hand before they entered the hospital cath lab for an angiogram, or visited someone after coronary artery bypass surgery?  It’s pretty scary, isn’t it?  In that moment, we would give anything to have lived better.  Our lives depend on us caring for our hearts.  In the last post we discussed five steps for doing this.   They’re worth repeating:

Based on #1 above, the Healthy Change for the week says: Resist laborsaving devices—incorporate muscular activities into your life.

TV Watching

What’s the exact opposite of muscular activity?   Watching TV—being a couch potato.  There are some terrible TV statistics: By the time the average child turns 18, I’m told, they’ve seen 40,000 murders.  In four hours of Saturday morning TV a child will see 200 commercials glorifying junk food, according to one study.  (Yes, the food corporations slip around the parents and go straight for the kids; they’re the #1 advertiser to children.  There ought to be a law.)  How’s a mom going to compete with that?  No surprise that there’s a correlation between TV watching and obesity. 

We had a wary relationship with the TV when our kids were growing up.  If our TV broke, it might be years before it was replaced.  For a few years we had a Laundromat coin meter attached to the TV and the kids had to earn quarters to watch.  Another time we had a key-controlled switch.  The kids were bright and figured a way around it but they were careful to only do it when we were out.  After a Friday night out with the beautiful wife I’d come home and touch the TV to see if it was warm.  It’s OK, you know, to let the kids think they’re getting away with something now and then. 

I never found time to implement my best idea:  An exercise bicycle with a generator attached that the kids would pump to make electricity to power the TV.   The idea was they should be outside playing and only get enough TV to stay culturally connected, so they wouldn’t grow up weird.  It worked I think, they’re good citizens and all look pretty healthy.  The little girl who drew the hearts above doesn’t have TV service in her home.  Good parents place strict controls on TV watching.

Sodium and Potassium

You read a lot that we eat too much sodium, or, sometimes, that we get too little potassium.  Together they’re medically important so scientists look at our ratio of sodium to potassium.  A recent study looked at 12,267 adults, comparing their sodium-to-potassium dietary intake to the chance of dying.  Turns out that mortality is 46% higher for those with the highest vs. lowest ratio.  Worse, the risk of dying by heart attack is more than doubled.

So how can we eat less salt and more potassium?  Here’s where you mainly get sodium: eating food someone else cooks for you.  Table salt is 40% sodium but we get it from processed foods—fast foods, commercial snacks, and restaurant meals.  If you mainly cook at home using real food, you likely don’t have a sodium problem. 

Where do we get potassium?  From plants, especially nuts, seeds, and legumes, but potassium is found in all fruits and vegetables.  So if you eat a whole foods diet, you get plenty of potassium.  What we discover here is that the sodium to potassium ratio is a marker for processed food vs. plant foods in your diet.  Eat whole foods and you shouldn’t have a worry.

Single Adults

I spoke to some single adults the other night, about nutrition.  They have a tough problem, I think.  They mostly live alone, they work hard all day, and it’s hard to prepare a good meal when you’re the only one eating.  One explained how it’s a lot cheaper to pick something up than buy groceries for just one person.  I don’t think that’s true, but it’s been a long time since I lived alone.  You’d laugh if I told you what I ate during the college years.  Does any group eats worse than college kids?

Lots of kids today weren’t taught to cook when they were growing up.  The group I spoke to seemed like really good people, but they didn’t look healthy.  Driving home I wondered how this blog could be more helpful to single people.  Couldn’t we do something more—to inform, or inspire?

Please comment:  Please share your ideas.  How do you control the TV in your home?  Or, how can people living alone eat healthy?  Thank you for your comments—they make this blog work. 

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Reader Comments (25)

Singles/busy professionals can benefit greatly from making single or double batch recipes of healthy things that freeze well, and then freezing single/double portions. Then after a long day of work, all you have to do is pop it in the oven and make a quick salad or sautee vegetables. This works for breakfasts as well. I bake a dozen eggs in a muffin tin and then make egg and whole wheat english muffin sandwiches, and wrap them in aluminum foil and pop them in the freezer for the days I don't have time to make a healthy breakfast.

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSara

As a single adult, I was blessed to work at a college with a cafeteria and good salad bar. So, my lunches at least were always healthy. I've found a few businesses who also subsidize their cafeteria and it definitely 1. promotes employee satisfaction 2. promotes employee health (when good choices are made, like the salad bar) and 3. promotes collegiality among co-workers as people take time to eat together and build relationships. It's not a total solution, but it's a start.

Another idea is meal sharing. My roommates and I would, on several occasions, take turns preparing meals that we'd all sit together to eat or save some for the absent individual. They were mostly a healthy improvement on what we'd eat separately. Some sound education on what constitutes a healthy meal and a group commitment to those habits would go a long way towards the success of this. Of course, it was also a great time and I loved the memories we made together those evenings.

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith

Skip - I've been a long time reader, but this is my first comment. Your section on sodium and potassium got me thinking about how to track if I'm missing anything in what I eat. How much sodium AM I eating? I can keep a food journal, but how do I translate that to the nutrients and minerals that I've put into my body? We eat a pretty healthy diet, so I'm not overly worried about it. However, I am curious to know, just the same.

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterScott

Agreed! Cooking for one is HARD. Im trying so hard to change my eating habits and this blog is a big help but at the end of the day...groceries are expensive and cooking for one seems like wasted effort. I know its probably mostly a mental block and I will check back for helpful hints from other singles...

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie K

Scott, nice to hear from you. Your interest in adding up the nutrients you eat is unique. I think if I was going to do the math on nutrients, I might start with omega-3 fats. Or the ratio of omega-6 to -3. Can you imagine an app some day that lets you calculate your intake of nutrients from your menu? We get overwhelmed with data, so the key is to sort out the critical from the chaff.

Sara, you're on to something. Perhaps it's more about the organization, as a way to make meals alone manageable. Organization could start with a weekly menu and shopping list. If you cook a dozen eggs in a muffin pan, you have an unusually efficient cooking style. Good for you.

Carrie, thanks for your comment, "Cooking for one is HARD." I think we've been brainwashed that it's cheaper to buy food precooked. You can buy grains and legumes for $1/lb or less; cantaloupe was $.25/lb the other day and that's a nutritional steal. We'll collect all the ideas and make a future post. Best to you.

Meredith, I like the idea of "dining groups". Four people could join in, each prepares one meal and all eat together. Just the social interaction makes it a winner. At the end of the day, nutrition is also about who you eat with, and how much you enjoy the company. What a great idea.

Perhaps the challenge is to change our eating habits, to enjoy simple foods, to be OK with leftovers on alternate days, etc.

July 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

Yes, please post tips geared toward single, college-age people. I'm living on my own for the first time and want to eat healthy meals and snacks but I'm struggling. This is the first time I've had to cook for myself other than the occasional meal here and there. Another problem I have is that I try to buy healthy items (fruits, vegetables, etc) but end up throwing a lot out because it goes bad before I can use it all.

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

What makes buying whole, real foods so wonderful is that you can make as little or as much as you want. Forget the bag of lettuce that goes bad in two days. Buy a whole head and just take a few lettuce leaves off when you want to make a salad. Although lettuce may look wilted after a couple days, if you place it in an ice bath it will perk right up in no time.

When I'm following a recipe, I find cooking for one or two easier than cooking for a crowd because I end up with leftovers that I can take for lunch the next day. Two birds with one stone.

As far as produce goes, I know busy people can have a tough time getting to the market often, so I would suggest buying 'hardy' produce that keeps for a while, like potatoes, carrots, apples, oranges, etc. I especially like bringing round fruit and nuts for work snacks because they don't need to be refrigerated and require no prep work.

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

I want to weigh in on TV. The quick answer: Plan ahead.

I was taught growing up that there is always something better to do than to watch TV, and I still believe it. For some reason that's always resonated with me, but teaching that to the rest of my family has been a challenge. Our boys are still quite young. I try to plan ahead (one of the keys to success for eating healthily) with activities for the day before they wake up.

I find that when I let myself get distracted by other things too much and lose my focus on them they start asking for "shows." Like when I'm glued to my laptop :)

Planned activities don't have to be elaborate, but when I have a plan we have really good days with not lots of media and when they do watch something they have to earn it by doing an extra chore. Ideas for activities: go for a walk, water the plants, blow bubbles, an outing, simple kid crafts, washing windows, vacuum together, write and mail letters to out of state friends and family, look for bugs, watch the birds in our back yard... etc.

Hopefully I can teach my children to love other things just as well if not more than they love TV. There's always something better to do!

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCamille

My mother-in-law is a widow and she complains about the same thing of not wanting to cook for only one person, but she lived most of her life cooking for a large family and ate out or processed food very little, so I think it's just ingrained in her to cook from scratch. As was mentioned earlier, she cooks smaller batches but it's still too much for one meal so she uses the extra for leftovers for lunch and cooks things that freeze well and freezes them in individual servings.

I think keeping food simple is a great idea for singles. My favorite food in the whole world is a rice and bean burrito. You can always have some whole grain tortillas and cans of beans on hand, cook up a batch of brown rice and keep it in the fridge, along with the veggies and fixings you like. It's easy, fast to put together, and, IMO, very delicious.

Regarding tv rules, my goal is to limit screen time (tv + computer time - my kids aren't in school yet so it's just games on the computer for now) to 2 hours total. I try to use it mostly for when I need them distracted, like when I am getting ready in the morning, making dinner or need a quick nap. There are days when I am more lenient, but that's usually when I am really in need of getting something done. However, I have noticed with my kids that if they watch more than they are used to getting, they tend to be much more grumpy and cranky so really, it's an incentive to get them off away from the screen as much as possible. I also think our example as parents is very important. If we spend all our time watching tv or on the computer our kids are going to think that's normal behavior.

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSabrina

Hi Skip-First off, thank you for starting up this blog. I've been a follower since Day 1 and have learned so much (my favorite change is the more fiber-than-sugar rule). I am a single person, living in a basement apartment without a kitchen. I've made a pseudo on out of a convention oven and mobile burners, but it can be difficult to cook in bulk. I've still managed to do so and keeping things like cooked quinoa, rice and my freezer stocked with frozen veggies, chix and shrimp have tremendously helped. One question though: how long does food last in the fridge? How long can I keep the cooked quinoa on hand, etc? Could you provide some general rules of thumb for grains, veggies, and proteins. Thank you again and keep up the insightful work!

July 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin


I've used as a resource for looking into the minerals/nutrients/vitamins in my daily diet. It's not a perfect system as it seems to have more "fast/convenience" items than whole foods but it is worth a try!

Thanks for the post Skip!

July 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIrene

Erin, there should be a prize for people who have followed WoW Living from the very beginning. You add a new dimension to the challenge of single people cooking good meals—single people with inadequate kitchens.

How long does cooked food like quinoa keep? Tough question, I fear the answer is, "It depends." The temperature of your refrigerator makes a big difference. The bioburden of microorganisms present in the food when you made it is important also. So does the pH, how acid it is or isn't. The fat content makes a difference, I've noticed that low fat dairy doesn't keep as long as the full fat products. It's best to be safe.

The stuff you bring home from eating out is problematic and should be quickly refrigerated and only saved a day or two. For safety, reheat to 160 F internal temp when eating leftovers. The rule In military kitchens, I'm told, is that the danger zone for temperature and bacterial growth is betgween 40 to 140 degrees F—time in this zone should be minimized and not exceed 4 hours for all foods.

Here is a good source for guidance:
See also this Mayo Clinic site which cautions on meat, dairy and eggs, which are a special risk:

My guess is you can cook your breakfast cereal of whole grains on Monday, being sure to boil it, quickly refrigerate it, and expect it to be good until Friday. Best to you.

July 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

I apply the same rule to the tv as I do to junk food: if you don't have it in the house, it won't be a problem. I am a mom of three small girls and I agree with Skip that some cultural awareness is warranted, but my husband and I have decided to simply go without cable or satellite. We save the money there and spend it on healthier, sometimes more expensive food. At the same time, when my kids want to watch tv, we put in a dvd for them. No commercials to worry about and they know that when the movie is over, we're done and going outside to play. No fits and no temptation to spend all day in front of the tv either. There are so many ways to get news and free tv streaming online if you want it, that this has really worked well for us.

July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

We have four kids, one toddler, the rest in school. The effects of TV is a big deal to me because it creates a distorted and unhealthy reality for kids who are using all of the information they take in. And it's true that it turns them into lazybones! It was a challenge when they were all too young to read and create their own play, but now it is so much easier to keep TV a minimal part of our day-to-day.

I think the most helpful is that my husband and I made an agreement not to watch until after the kids go to bed, so when the family is together we're all somewhat present. In turn, that sets up the kids not expect to watch any TV on a given day. And now that the kids are pretty busy with schoolwork and sports, and because the TV is never on during the day, they look forward to down time and are in the habit of rummaging around in the legos, art bench, bookcase, or chilling with an audiobook if not outside. Also, I highly recommend DVR because it makes TV work for us: nothing is urgent, we watch when the time is best for us, anything can be paused and saved for later, and we never watch a single commercial or anything questionable because it can be skipped.

July 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelsey

I am grateful for this blog; I grew up in a family that did not eat well and because I naturally have a high metabolism, I didn't think much of what I ate. Now that I have three kids, I notice that what I eat and how much sleep I get TOTALLY affects my ability to be patient and kind to my kids. I so appreciate the good information within this blog so that I can learn how to eat well and pass that onto my children so that we won't just be skinny, but HEALTHY. About TV, I agree with the comment about children becoming grumpy when they get more TV than they're used to. I'm grateful that my husband and I have limited our children's TV (we just stay busy with better things) but on the days I need to get a big project done and they get MORE TV, it really shows in their behavior. Moderation in all things!! I also have to be careful what movies we allow them to see--especially with the newer ones with adult humor. I've found that popular ones such as MegaMind, Shrek, and Ice Age have inappropriate language for little ones (mine are all under 4 years) and sometimes take the Lord's name in vain. I feel like it is our responsibility as parents to be choosy in what we let into our home. It is, after all, supposed to be a safe haven from all the junk in the world.

Thank you again for your hard work on this blog.

July 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanelle Phipps

We gave up TV service about 5 or 6 years ago when our girls were little. It was an adjustment at first. We found out that it takes awhile to train your brain to think of other things to do-- like read! But it has been wonderful because we gained so much more in other ways like money and especially TIME. No regrets. We are able to watch DVD's and we now have Netflix instant streaming which we really enjoy for the occasional show. They have some great documentaries!

July 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLC

When I move in to my first flat I only had one cooker, which later turned into an oven with two cookers on top. Cooking with only one cooker is tricky to say the least, even if there is only one in the household, but I solved this by using one pot recipies. Soups are a no brainer, but there are actually quite a lot of other one pot recipies out there, my favourite resources were cook books for sailers and campers, who usually only have one burner too cook on. Nowadays there are even more resources out there with food loving campers and sailers blogging about cooking.

My three favourite one pot dishes were cod in a packet, potato cakes and stuffed.
Cod in a packet (serves two):
2 fillets of cod or other white fish (fresh or frozen)
2 tomatoes
10 cm of leek
a dollop of butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 servings of potatoes
Grease two pieces of tin foil, big enough to wrap around the fillets and some with butter. Put the fillets of cod in the middle, slice the tomatoes and place them on top of the fillets, slice the leek and put on top of the tomatoes. Add small pieces of butter if you wish and season with salt and pepper. Close the packets carefully by folding them over repeatedly at the top and ends.
Either peel the potatoes or boil them in their peel (keeps the nutrients in better) and put them at the bottom of a pot that is large enough for the fish, just cover with water. Put the fish on top of the potatoes and boil until the potatoes are ready. Careful when opening the fish packets, they will be filled with a nice but hot sauce.

Potatoe cake (serves 2)
4 large potatoes
a little butter to fry in if needed (gives a nice taste to the potato cake as well)
salt, pepper and dried basil or oregano
Peel and grate the potatoes (on the largest grate), pour out some of the excess moisture. Heat a frying pan and melt a bit of butter, pour the grated poatoes into the pan and flatten into a cake. Season the top side with salt, pepper and basil or oregano. Fry 5 minutes on each side. I liked eating the potato cakes with goats cheese and pickled green tomatoes, a bit of smoked salmon turns the dish into a feast, and always a side salad of some kind. Otherwise a serving of sour cream (quark) or natural or greek youghurt and fruits and some nuts would provide a good protein source.

Stuffed peppers
Mix rice, ground meat (or lentils/beans for a vegetarian version, though need to be pre cooked), chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, chopped peppermint leaves and chopped parsley with a tiny bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cut the top of a couple of green peppers and take out the seeds. Stuff the peppers with the mixture, put the "lid" back on and cook them standing up in a bit of water mixed with a little tomato puree. The peppers should be cooked under lid on low heat, and it does take longer than cooking rice, just make sure to pour some of the cooking liquid on top every now and then. The rice and ground meat with wegetables also makes a good and easy one pot dish in itself, just put the mixture in a pot or frying pan, season according to what's in (I did it just the other day with pepper and seasoned with soy sauce and chili) and boil while stirring frequently until the rice is cooked.

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMims

We used to sporadically watch TV at our house but then participated in a challenge from my oldest boy's school teacher to turn off the TV for a week. This was 7 years ago and we haven't turned the TV back on since - it was too much fun without it!

As for healthy eating for singles, I have tried teaching my oldest son to do this in preparation for his college life this fall. One of his favorites is frozen fruit and some yogurt with some flaxseed or wheat germ to make a great smoothie - and an easy meal on the go. If you buy fruit when it's on sale (bananas, cantaloupe and strawberries are almost always on sale somewhere around here) then freeze it, it keeps as long as you need it to.

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGerb

As a single 30-something, I would say cooking for one is tricky. After a 10+ hour work day, plus a trip to yoga/the gym, the last thing I want to do is spend another hour cooking/cleaning. But, more than anything, it's my laziness that gets the best of me. It's much faster and easier to pop into my favorite restaurants and get something to go than it is to grocery shop, prepare, cook and clean-up. And, even more easy, is to pour a bowl of cereal for dinner and call it good.

Little by little, I'm cooking more and finding things that are both healthy and easy to prepare. Consistently reading this blog is helping me understand why I should make time to cook for myself. It is healthier. It does taste great. It can be fun. In fact, this weekend I cooked a couple different meals and was bragging to a friend that "Mr. Word of Wisdom Living would be proud of me!" I had fresh veggies, whole grains, real foods...and they were great!

Thanks again for your efforts and for your help. I look forward to more posts...

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

When I was in university a group of friends and I started community dinner nights. These took place at the house nearest campus and the food was prepared by a couple friends who didn't have an afternoon class on that specific day.

Dinner was always on the same night of the week at about the same time of evening. And there were always roughly the same amount of people who attended but the numbers would change week to week.

Dinners played out like this:
- the cooks would grocery shop and cook a large meal
- others would come if they could (either walking home from campus or taking a study break from the library)
- most would hlep in some way (ie: get there early and prep veggies, stay late and do the dishes)
- the cooks would break down the cost based on how many showed up for dinner and everyone would chip in (usually $5 -$10).

Our weekly community dinners provided a whole group of 'singles' with companionship while enjoying a home-made meal and saving time for everyone. Those dinners were some of the best memories of my university years and 10 years later I'm still friends with all those who attended.

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterholly j

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