They follow their own advice to enjoy lots of vegetables, legumes, lean protein, and a fruit-based dessert.
Following a healthy diet is a proven and powerful way to lower your risk of heart disease. But do you ever wonder if doc-tors actually practice what they preach, especially with regard to their eating habits? While we obviously can’t speak for all of them, four Harvard physicians with diverse ethnic backgrounds agreed to share examples of their favorite heart-healthy dinner menus.
Dr. Enrique Caballero, professor of medicine
A native of Mexico, Dr. Caballero directs the Latino Diabetes Initiative at the Joslin Diabetes Center; his research interests include cardiovascular disease prevention.
“A typical Mexican dinner at home would include a fresh salad with avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, olive oil, and a little bit of salt and lime. For special occasions, one of my favorite Mexican dishes is a chicken breast covered with mole, a semi-spicy sauce made with various types of chili pepper and other spices (such as cumin, cinnamon, and cloves), dried fruits, nuts, and chocolate. A side dish of black beans is also traditional. We might also enjoy an agua de Jamaica, a popular Mexican drink also known as hibiscus tea.”
Dr. Francine Welty, associate professor of medicine
Dr. Welty, who spent her childhood in Ohio, treats cardiology patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and is chair of the American Heart Association’s Clinical Lipidology committee.
“My mother was part Native American, and she raised us in their tradition of a diet based on whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruit. A favorite dinner dish for me is lentil soup with diced potato, carrots, broccoli, and any other leftover vegetables I have. I also make pizza from scratch, using tomato sauce with no added salt, mushrooms, and low-fat mozzarella cheese. Finally, my family enjoys fruit pies for dessert. For an easy, heart-healthy homemade crust, I mix flour, canola oil, and skim milk and press it into the pie pan. Growing up, we used all types of home-grown fruit for the filling—strawberries, black raspberries, peaches, and rhubarb.”
Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, professor of medicine
Dr. Bhatt’s family is originally from India. A lifelong vegetarian, he is executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and editor in chief of the Heart Letter.
“A healthy Indian vegetarian dinner would be a fresh vegetable salad with chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and grated carrots in a low-fat plain yogurt with coriander leaves [cilantro]. It would also include lentil soup prepared with fresh garlic, ginger, dried red chilies, and coriander seeds, as well as mixed vegetable curry. My wife’s curry includes a spice mixture called garam masala, made from black pepper, red chilies, cumin seeds, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, asafetida, coriander seeds, and nutmeg. These dishes would be served with either brown rice or whole-wheat chapati [Indian bread].”
Dr. Frank Hu, professor of epidemiology and nutrition
Dr. Hu, who grew up in central China, leads research looking at the effects of nutrition, obesity, and genetics on cardiovascular disease at the T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health.
“A traditional healthy East Asian meal might include green leafy vegetables stir-fried in canola oil, along with steamed fish prepared with scallions and ginger, served with a small bowl of brown rice. Another favorite of mine is Sichuan-style pan-fried tofu with shiitake mushrooms and leeks. Sichuan spices include chili peppers, garlic, ginger, and star anise. The customary dessert is sliced oranges.”
The spice of life?
These menus are all rich in plant-based foods, but they also share another common thread: the liberal use of spices. In fact, many common herbs and spices are rich in antioxidants, and studies suggest they may help curb inflammation caused by high blood sugar and high cholesterol. Most of the evidence comes from studies in animals, not humans, and is therefore weak. Still, even though the benefits are likely modest, the risks are next to nil. So consider adding an array of different spices to your own favorite dishes.
Herbs and spices offer the added benefit of providing a flavor boost to recipes that are low in salt—a boon for people with high blood pressure who should curb their sodium intake.