There is so much to say about living with heart disease. It’s medical. It’s emotional. Physical. Mental. It’s about food. Exercise. Nutrition. Awareness. Research, medication, procedures, surgery.

It’s about life and loss and broken hearts. Hope and goals. Empowerment and letting go.

The idea of writing about heart disease from A to Z occurred to me just after my brother’s heart attack (his just one year from mine). He asked me a lot of questions. I had a lot of answers. I wanted to help, but not overwhelm. I wanted to teach him how to live with heart disease — a sort of “Survivor 101.”

But it is about more than surviving. It should be about living, thriving, and striving. So A (for angioplasty, apples, aspirin, and acceptance) to Z (for Zetia, Zocor, and Zoloft) it is.

Let’s start easy, with apples.

We all know an apple a day keeps the doctor away.  The cardiologist too.

Apples are a superfood, and especially so for those with heart disease or hoping to prevent it. Study after study, year after year, this adage is proven true.

For example, a 2012 study of healthy adults found that eating an apple a day for four weeks lowered blood levels of oxidized LDL (“bad” cholesterol) by as much as 20-40 percent. (For context, my cardiologist told me to expect a 25 percent reduction in my LDL levels from the mega-dose of the toughest statin he could prescribe for me.)

“When LDL becomes oxidized, it takes on a form that begins atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries,” said lead researcher Robert DiSilvestro, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University and a researcher at the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. “We got a tremendous effect against LDL being oxidized with just one apple a day for four weeks.”

Amazingly, the difference was similar to that found between people with normal coronary arteries versus those with coronary artery disease, he said. (Editor’s note: Yeah, that’s good news!) DiSilvestro noted that an apple a day was significantly more effective at decreasing oxidized LDL than other antioxidants he has studied, including superstar antioxidants like the spice-based compound curcumin, green tea, and tomato extract. An Apple a Day Significantly Helps the Heart, Study Finds – October 4, 2012

There are several possible explanations for how apples aid the heart. According to WebMD:

Apples are rich in pectin, a soluble fiber, which blocks cholesterol absorption in the gut and encourages the body to use, rather than store, the waxy stuff. Apple peels are also packed with polyphenols — antioxidants that prevent cellular damage from free radicals.

I’m all for preventing cellular damage. I’m also all for apples, especially in Minnesota in the fall, when I buy Honeycrisps by the bushel bag and stockpile them like a squirrel for the day they disappear from the farmer’s market or grocery store.

All the articles stress that while dried apples provide some benefit, apple juice, cider, and sauce doesn’t really pack the same punch as a real, whole, fresh apple. So just eat the real thing. It’s better for you, unprocessed, and cheaper.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.  So make sure you, and your family, are eating them.


There is also research that suggests that fellow white fruit pears have similar protective properties as apples. Yum! Here’s a great way to eat your daily apples and pears: dunked in Pumpkin Fondue!

Yes, even cheese-avoiding heart patients can have some of this creamy goodness, thanks to the magic of pumpkins.