Heart Health During the Quarantine Period

By Cate Moriasi

My pastor called the times we find ourselves in “unique”. I thought about this word and it seems to capture a lot of what is going on during this COVID-19 pandemic period. For many, this means a lot of pain and heartache because they are infected and battling the disease. Some have lost loved ones and are experiencing unthinkable pain. For others their businesses, investments, jobs and livelihoods are in trouble. Then there is the quarantine that has kept the majority in their homes. I had never had to associate with the phrase “stir crazy,” until I heard it about 3 times from different people within a couple of days. Well, now I know that it describes a condition of being “distraught because of prolonged confinement.”

These unique times have given all of us an opportunity to step back and reflect on what really matters. One of the things that is certain during these uncertain times is that life is fragile. As we consider what we have believed to be important and realign our priorities, hopefully we consider the condition of our hearts – whatever that looks like for each one of us.

One of the things Kate and I focus on, as chronic disease patrol agents, is the condition of the physical heart you feel beating in your chest. Our goal is to encourage your young ones to start safe guarding their heart health at a young age. You might wonder why I would bother with this topic during this “unique” time.

Well, I was surprised when I saw people rushing for toilet paper in Walmart. I definitely hadn’t done a good job anticipating what was coming with the looming quarantine. A couple of days into the quarantine I realized I didn’t have oatmeal. No big deal, I thought, I will just run to Sam’s club, do a good job keeping 6 feet from everyone, grab my usual big pack and return home. You can imagine my feelings when I couldn’t find my regular rolled oats at Sam’s, Walmart and several stores I usually don’t buy groceries from, like Walgreens. Oatmeal has been my breakfast staple for more than a decade and I guess the frustration was not being sure how to replace it within the short time I had given myself for grocery shopping. I ended up visiting more stores than I had planned, stores that were quite crowded and I still didn’t have oats at the end. I switched to online stores with no success.

But my frustration didn’t last long as I realized that people had stocked up on oats as a sign that they care about the condition of their physical hearts. Of course, this maybe because of the long shelf life of oats but there are plenty of less healthy options with a long shelf life, so the fact that oats were stocked up was satisfying. As this is my passion, I settled for not having oatmeal and thankfully my freezer had some oatmeal cups that I had prepared sometime back, following recipes in the Trim Healthy Table book. Now oats are back in some grocery stores but before then, I actually got some from a friend, who had an extra container that her husband bought not knowing she had already purchased oats. My hope is that all the youngsters stuck at home are eating oatmeal and other health alternatives. For more information on why oatmeal is heart healthy visit the following website:  https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/oats/.

It has also been encouraging to see that items like beans and cauliflower rice have been selling out too. But while I was still celebrating the possibility that people are choosing to eat healthy during this time, I realized that along with some stores having to ration eggs the sugar isles were also emptying out. The quarantine has forced people to cook more, but more of what? It is tough to focus on healthy eating under the circumstances we find ourselves in. I have had to prepare some comfort food just to lift our spirits. In fact, we are having to work very hard not to fall for the temptation of regular comfort eating that we know is not good for our hearts.

I believe we are not the only ones struggling in this regard, so I decided to share a couple of ways that families can choose to be intentional about protecting their hearts during this time.

1. Choose to shop for heart healthy foods.

Grocery shopping has become a challenge but we all have to find ways to make it happen, and while at it, why not make it count. Whenever you get an opportunity to shop, choose heart healthy options. Now that we are at home, we need more snacks and the last time I was at Sam’s I considered buying chips which would make a really easy snack for my kids but I decided against it. Fortunately, I was still able to get fruit so I stocked up on apples and oranges instead. I considered buying some dried fruit, unsalted or lightly salted nuts, skinny popcorn and other healthy options available in the grocery stores. My daughter also found some healthy recipes for smoothies and I bought the ingredients. The point is to make a conscious choice not to make too many unhealthy alternatives available at home. If you are one of those buying eggs, hopefully you are choosing to prepare healthy recipes instead of sugar-loaded desserts for each day you are at home.

2. Work with your children to discover and prepare heart-healthy recipes.

One of the things our family has had to work hard at, is to find activities that will occupy our kids and minimize the time they spend on technology, with no more gym to go to. We have tried several things including pulling weeds from the backyard and it was amazing that we got better attitudes after pulling weeds than after a couple of hours of Nintendo Switch. However, the best part has been involving them with cooking. We made our first carb–free pizzas and each of them assembled theirs as they desired and were really happy with what they made. The process used up quite a bit of time, kept us on our feet and it was fun for the whole family. If getting your kids to eat healthy has been a struggle, this is the time to involve them in finding healthy recipes and let the family work together to prepare them. You might be surprised with what they come up with, like I was when my daughter asked for ingredients to make a smoothie that had okra as one of its ingredients. If you are not sure where to start, we have a couple of posts on our blog that you can read to get ideas, including, How to use my plate and Eating for your taste buds or your body? And there are other website with healthy recipes like, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/recipes-2/home-cooking/

3. Also, if you haven’t yet, use the opportunity for your kids to read our book, Atherosclerosis Attack: Traffic Jam in Your Arteries and learn all they can about starting early to safeguard their health. You can get your copy from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Please stay connected with us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest and share your ideas on how you are maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle during the quarantine.

Finally, this unique time is very difficult for many.  Let’s look for opportunities to be grateful in the midst of this trying time and look for opportunities to creatively help others while honoring the mandated quarantine and praying that this COVID-19 will be eliminated from our world sooner than later.

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