Monday Medical: Eating your way to a healthier heart


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Yampa Valley Medical Center presents “Heart-Healthy Cooking” as its free Taking Care of Me program at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the hospital’s conference center. Chef Ben Stroock, of Drunken Onion — The Get & Go Kitchen, will demonstrate healthy cooking techniques and share samples of his cuisine. Handouts and recipes will be available.

— Many of us could lower our risk of heart disease simply by making mindful changes in our eating habits.

Registered nurse Susan Cowan, who has coordinated Yampa Valley Medical Center’s Cardiac Rehab program for 12 years, delivers this message when she “talks turkey” (and other lean meats) with her patients.

“Healthy eating is one of the three cornerstones of cardiac rehabilitation, along with exercise and education,” Cowan said. “My goal is for my patients to change behaviors to improve their health.”

Everyone participating in YVMC’s Cardiac Rehab program has had a cardiac event such as a heart attack or cardiac surgery. In coordination with each patient’s primary care physician, Cowan helps patients set and meet achievable goals during a span of 12 weeks, including increased confidence and sense of well-being.

You don’t have to get a wake-up call from your heart to take advantage of the sound nutritional advice that Cowan and YVMC dietitians provide.

For optimum heart health, Cowan recommends reducing consumption of fat, sodium and calories and adding more fiber to your diet. Much of this can be accomplished by eating more vegetables, beans, fruits and whole grains while limiting unhealthy foods.

“We advocate having at least five servings of vegetables daily,” Cowan said. “Fruits are also good. Saturated fats, found mostly in meats, dairy products and many processed foods, should be eaten sparingly.”

Cowan and YVMC dietitians are not the only ones talking about food during Cardiac Rehab sessions. Patients often share tips and recipes with each other while exercising under Cowan’s supervision.

“For some people, this is the first time in their lives that they have really looked at what they are eating and how they are living,” Cowan said. “They share their experiences and support each other in establishing new habits.”

For Steamboat Springs attorney Pat Barney, Cardiac Rehab has been a valuable resource that has helped him to fine-tune his already healthy eating habits. He eats a salad daily, limits his intake of red meat and prepares in advance for his frequent travels as TIC’s general counsel.

“I carry an apple and granola bars with me,” Barney said. “Eating out while on the road is an opportunity for me to select menu items that are healthy and that we normally wouldn’t fix at home.

“In my profession, we work long days and then often go out as a group for a big dinner, which is not really a good idea. I order a salad and fish or other healthy choices instead of a big steak.”

One of Cowan’s primary goals is to teach her patients about food portions. For example, almost nobody would think of ordering a three-ounce steak or pork chop, but that is the recommended portion. How big is it? Think of a deck of cards.

A plateful of pasta is actually several portions. One cup, the recommended serving size, is no bigger than a baseball. If you’re picking at a cheese tray, three dice-sized squares equal the suggested 1.5-ounce portion.

Cowan also shares a library of healthy cookbooks with patients and families. She encourages people to adapt the recipes they already enjoy by reducing fats and making other healthy substitutions.

“Some people think that eating or cooking well is harder or more expensive, and that can be a barrier to changing behavior,” Cowan said. “I like to offer practical ideas and encourage people to try new foods. It’s about learning new things and keeping a balance.”

Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at


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