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Zaleski: OK, I'll give up liver, onions at Friday lunch

West Fairlee, Vt.

For years, I've muttered vows to eat smart, lose weight and exercise more. I've not followed through, with the exception of exercise, but always taken in bursts, not in a sustained effort. As a Nobel Prize-winning troubadour said back in the day, "The times they are a'changing."

A heart attack focuses one's attention. My attention was focused a few weeks ago by an attack caused by blockages in my right coronary artery. Repairs were done and recovery has been remarkably quick, but not yet complete. I've had a couple of minor setbacks. My doctors wagged their fingers at me and urged me to slow down.

Meanwhile, the episode convinced me (like a two-by-four between the eyes) that liver and onions at the Fargo Sons of Norway Friday luncheon with the old Forum/WDAY gang is history. Not the lunch, just the liver, onions and mashed potatoes.

I'm studying "heart-healthy" diets. There are dozens. They range from science-based protocols from the Mayo Clinic to odd remedies from diet gurus with slick pitches and no credentials. One says count calories; another says don't count calories ever. One plan says cut out carbohydrates; another says eat carbs, but avoid red meat. Another says red meat is best protein for good health; another says red meat and animal fat are deadly.

It's confusing and contradictory. The big fat truth is there is no consensus. There is agreement that lowering cholesterol is essential to cardiac and circulatory health, but variations on how to get there can be a nightmare.

My friend, Lenny, whom I've written about through the years—mostly about our risky youthful exploits—developed diabetes and has made a study of diets. He's frustrated. Of Italian heritage, he's quit eating pasta, bread and refined grains. Now that's sacrifice. He's likes the "paleo" diet, which recognizes the pre-historic imperatives of human physiology, which, paleo believers say, have been shunted aside by modern agriculture, a change that is the cause of chronic nutrition-linked maladies. Might work for him, but it probably is not the answer for everyone.

How's this for serendipity? Lenny retired as CEO of a medical device company. He worked with one of the research scientists who helped develop the coronary artery stent, two of which now are doing their miracle in my heart. Coincidence? Maybe. I like to believe there was more in play, that somehow has to do with a decades-long bond between friends. Now he's giving me diet guidance. I'm listening.

Regarding triplet granddaughters, McKenna, Harper and Bennett, soon to be 12 years old: The heart attack scared them. They did not want to lose "Boppie," their word for grandfather. They studied up on angioplasty and stents. When the doctor reviewed the procedure with my family—complete with whiteboard sketches—the girls were ready, not only with questions, but with follow-up comments when they were not satisfied with an answer. The doctor was first surprised, then impressed. It was a memorable session, said my wife and daughter. Gotta love it.

Zaleski retired in February after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at jzaleski@forumcomm.com

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