Today is bittersweet for me. I’m smiling while tears are running down my face as I remember mamá Amparo, my grandmother. Today would have been her 88th birthday, had we not lost her in September. I know that many may think she lived a long life. That much is true.
However, Mamá battled high blood pressure and heart disease since the age of 40. For as long as I can remember, her trips to the ER were frequent. She had medication to control the diseases, but her abuse of salt and oil combined with an overall unhealthy diet counteracted the effects of the medications and took their toll on her health. Her lifestyle slowly weakened her heart, making it less able to function properly.
During the last 10 years of her life, it was painful for us to try to keep her on a low-sodium, healthy diet. Mamá would keep salt in prescription bottles and add it to her meals when we weren’t looking. She was truly a strong, independent woman, but her lack of awareness was devastating to her quality of life. She had a heart attack on September 24.
Mamá Amparo’s story—and those like hers—are all too familiar. Statistics show that women in the Hispanic community are developing heart disease 10 years earlier than non-Hispanic women. Even more devastating is the fact that only one in three Latinas are even aware heart disease is the No. 1 killer in our community.
We must educate and empower those around us by setting the example ourselves. It’s hard to change bad habits. Sometimes it just seems easier to ignore the facts and pretend we don’t know the truth. But the cost of that behavior is so high you know you really don’t want to pay it.
That’s the hardest lesson I have learnt. Even while acknowledging her illness—and its devastating effects—I knew I wasn’t living a healthy lifestyle. I’ve dealt with obesity for more than a decade, and I’ve struggled forever to lower my salt intake. For many years, we all felt the low-sodium diet was for her because she was sick. But during the last year of mama’s life, I became painfully aware of what was coming, and I decided to change for me and for my daughter. And for mama.
Facing Reality, Making Changes
High blood pressure and heart disease are family affairs. Both my grandmothers and parents suffered from some combination thereof. So instead of having a “special diet” for my mom, who lives with us, we’ve applied the changes in the kitchen for the whole family—my husband and children included. Healthy eating is going to be the norm in our hour from now on.
Here are some of the things we have implemented in our journey to live heart healthy:
Eating vegetables and fresh fruits every day
Cooking with little to no oil and when using oil, choosing the healthier ones such as canola and olive oils
Stopped adding salt to our meals when we cook and have learned little by little to appreciate the real flavor of foods.
Lowering our sugar intake (for a long time we thought sugar only affected diabetics but learned it also has a negative impact in heart disease)
Regular exercise is something we continue to work on. It’s hard to work into a busy life full of commitments, but it’s one of the most important aspects of living a truly healthy lifestyle.
Happy birthday, Mamá Amparo! I’m wearing red in your honor today, and I’m continuing to be aware of the lessons learned through you. It’s hard not to have you with us, but I treasure you in my memory. You’re present every day., and I’ll love you forever!