Mar 25

Heart Health Is Always Relevant

It feels like a lifetime ago, but it was just two weeks ago that I delivered the keynote address at the American Heart Associations Red Dress Luncheon. Just 24 hours after the event, both of my adult children moved home to shelter-in-place with us for the foreseeable future, and our lives were instantly transformed.

We are staying home, but it does not feel like nearly a big enough contribution. We are desperate to help others, but don’t know how best to serve. We stress over the health and wellbeing of our family, our friends, our community, and our world. And we work actively to strengthen bonds and connections, going against the tide of the lessons of this pandemic that encourage distance and separation.

Until now, living in the moment was a practice – a goal. Today it is the only option. With life changing by the moment, we are left to make conscious choices in each moment with just the information we have, and to do the best we can. That is exactly what I spoke about at the Red Dress Luncheon.

As I have received many requests from those unable to attend, and because today more than ever we  benefit from being reminded and empowered to make make healthy choices, I thought I would share my address here. A huge thanks to the American Heart Association and all involved for hosting me and sharing my mission to inspire others to eat clean and live well.


I was 20 years old, away in college, when my father had a heart attack in his sleep and I received the call from my mom. My dad had been “practicing breathing” because it had been “feeling difficult.” My mother sent him immediately to his doctor who told him that had he been a second later, he likely would have been dead in the hallway.

With my father safely home and recovering, my mother moved on to her children and insisted that I have my cholesterol tested. I went to the clinic where I learned that I was 1. young, 2. female, and 3. an athlete, and therefore in a no-risk category. I reported back to my mom that I didn’t have “numbers” and why, and she insisted I go back and have my blood tested. The results shocked everyone. My cholesterol was through the roof.

This was the first time I really brought consciousness to what I was eating. And let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty. I was living on a college campus, eating cereal, peanut butter and jelly, pizza, and of course, as I was in upstate NY – Wings and Beer.

At home, my mother was also struggling to figure out what a heart healthy diet for my dad and our whole family should look like. As long as I could remember my mother had made our meals from scratch, limited processed foods, and we even nearly eliminated animal protein as a result of my brother returning from college a vegetarian. All together, we started on this quest.

Mom once said, “you are what you eat. What else could you be?” What else do we bring into our bodies other than the food we eat, the liquids we drink and the air we breathe? The power of that statement has stuck with me ever since. Her point is, we are driving our own bus! We have choices, and the more we know, the more empowered we are to make healthy choices. There’s responsibility there, and there’s an opportunity to support and infuence our own health.

Soon thereafter, I moved off campus, got an apartment with a kitchen, and started cooking for myself. One doctor in particular had recommended to us to eat more brown rice and kale, but when I tried it…let’s just say I was less than thrilled. If this is what real food was, I was going to have to find a way to make it taste good. 300 miles away, my mother faced the same challenges. We buried ourselves in cookbooks and magazines, but most of the recipes we found had more meat, dairy and sugar than we were already eating. I decided to make myself some guidelines:

Eat minimally processed foods to get the maximum nutrition

Eat foods that come from green plants (or eat green plants) and not processing plants.

Eat foods grown by a farmer – not made by a scientist,

Select foods that reflect a rainbow of color (Skittles and M&Ms don’t count),

Eat all of the tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent – for balance.


Thirty plus years later, these are still my guides. They are my definition of CLEAN FOOD.

For decades, people looked at me as if I had 3 heads when I told them what I ate: quinoa, kale, kombu… I had been using food to support my own good health and the health of my family for years before people started becoming curious. I started to get questions like: If I ate like you’re eating, would I feel better? Would I be able to conceive? Would my children get sick less often? Would I have more energy? A few people asked me to take them to the grocery store and teach them how to shop for the real food. And then they wanted cooking classes to learn what to do with the quinoa and kale they had bought, and so I brought a handful of friends into my kitchen and showed then how to cook whole grains, sauté dark leafy greens, cook legumes, and eat the colors of the rainbow.

Twenty years, three books, and hundreds of cooking classes later, I get to stand before you and share with you what I’ve learned.
But before I do, I want to do a little exercise.

I’d like to ask everyone to stand up. Take a little stretch, shake out your arms, your legs, look from side to side, roll your shoulders back. Movement is digestion, so now that you’re done eating lunch, this should feel really good. Remain standing and let your body find a strong yet relaxed position. Close your eyes. Let your breath settle in. Slow, deep inhalation, and slow complete exhalation. Keep breathing, slowly and deeply. With your eyes closed, imagine you are about to walk into a grocery store. You stop at the threshold of the entrance and commit to yourself to buy only the foods that serve you and to leave the rest behind. You’re going to shop heavily in the produce section, around the perimeter of the grocery store, and you’re going to make sure that if you buy anything in a package, you’ll be able to envision how each ingredient grows. If you can’t, imagine yourself putting it back on the shelf and looking for a cleaner alternative. You’re going to buy only clean food. Now keep that intention in your mind and breathe it into your entire being. Deep into your belly.  Hold it. And then slowly let it out. You can open your eyes. Everyone ready to go to the grocery store?! Go ahead and have a seat.

First and foremost, you just meditated. Meditation benefits our hearts in so many ways. It helps us slow down, decreases the amount of adrenaline pumping through our bodies, can lower our blood pressure. But what I appreciate the most about meditation is that it locks in intention. One Deep Breath can make the difference between filling your cart with the same packaged foods you’ve been buying for years and taking the time to evaluate your options and filling your cart with a rainbow of fresh produce, minimally processed foods, and leaving the foods that don’t serve you behind. Just one breath is all it takes to slow down and set yourself up for success.


Now you have these to-dos:

  1. Look for minimally processed foods
  2. Select a rainbow of fresh produce,
  3. Slow down and breathe in your intention to eat clean


There are a variety of obstacles that make eating clean difficult, so I’d like to work on removing them.


The first is know-how. This is my specialty. Let me draw you a picture (I’m a visual learner)

Consider a spectrum, on the one side where the food grows from the earth, and on the other is highly processed food and a manufacturing plant. All I’m suggesting is that you eat as close to the source as you can. Because every step you and your food take away from the source means less potential nutritional value, and more additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients that wreak havoc with your health.

Deep down inside, we already know what it means to eat clean. If I had a big mirror up here, you could tell yourselves all the important things to know about diet and nutrition – eat lots of fruits and vegetables, not a lot of refined sugar and salt, cut out the artificial ingredients… With the exception of so many red dresses in the room today, we are actually each one of us unique, and our diets will be unique too.

The second obstacle is convenience. Let me start by saying, any perceived convenience you gain by eating processed food, is more than lost in the long run in the time, expense and health you will have to manage as a result. Convenience is FAKE NEWS.

The third obstacle is to suspend judgement – Forget about “breakfast foods” “snack foods” “dinner foods” – these labels do nothing more than limit us from eating the foods that best fuel us at the times we most need the fuel. Maybe you’d do best to eat dinner for breakfast, assuring you get all of the colors and taste to fuel you for the day ahead. And since you have very little to fuel after dinner, perhaps all you need at the end of the day is a little comfort and not a lot of nutrition or calories. Perhaps a warm bowl of oatmeal and a cup of hot tea.

The fourth is to suspend judgement about yourself as well. Women in particular are constantly judging themselves and to no gain. Go easy on yourself! Just do the best you can to make healthy choices, one at a time, knowing full well that sometimes you’re going to make choices that serve things other than your best nutrition. When that happens, make peace with it, bless it, enjoy every bite, and move on. There’s another choice to be made coming very soon.

And finally, CONNECTION: change in isolation is miserable, if not impossible. With twenty years of teaching cooking classes as my proof, the connection and nourishment gained from our classes have been as much about the sense of community, sharing ideas and wisdom, supporting each other, and reminding ourselves of what healthy choices look like, as they are about the food. The food is a vehicle, it brings us together, but the sense of belonging and sharing the journey is equally as important.


Look around the room. This room is filled with experience, wisdom, compassion…  The single most important aspect to our being here together today is that we are creating a conversation, a dialogue around heart health. It is absolutely critical, that as women, we communicate with each other, with our partners, our daughters and sons, our neighbors… We are overworked, overwhelmed, and overloaded, and we absolutely have to hold each other up.  I hate to imagine if it had been my mom who had suffered the heart attack all those years ago. If she had been experiencing indigestion, anxiety, exhaustion, light-headedness…would she have shared those feelings with my dad or even thought that they were more than exhaustion? I know my mom like I know myself and hundreds of other moms who would have written it off to mothering, had a cup of chamomile tea and gone to bed. She had 2 teenage boys and me. When didn’t she experience those ailments?!

When I went to the clinic to have my cholesterol tested that first time, they turned me away. How many women get turned away or not taken seriously? We appreciate your support gentlemen, we really do, but Women, we HAVE to support each other! We have to open up, share, listen, get out, and put ourselves first. We are simply no good for ourselves or others if we are not strong, not healthy, and not heard. What we experience is different than what men experience. Do not let yourself be discounted or turned away – by your doctor, by your spouse, by your friends, and most importantly, by yourself.

My dad once said to me, “in life, you won’t be defined by the challenges you faced, but rather by what you did when you were faced with them.”

There are endless factors we face each day that threaten our health and our heart health. Processed foods, sugar, contaminants, artificial ingredients, polluted air and water, stress, anger, lack of sleep, relationships, expectations, judgement, injury, isolation…

There is no end goal here, just a continuum and a process, empowered by knowledge, inspired by wisdom, and nourished by connection. I have a passion for eating clean, and a commitment to myself and to you, to do the best I can to support the health of each and every one of us. If you’ll join me, together we can not only save lives, but help so many to eat clean and live well.

Thank you.




  1. Posted March 26, 2020 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    As a huge supporter of the Go Red way of life, your words are so powerful this morning and every day. As we are at home focused on fighting and preventing the Virus, Clean Food and how to buy and then prepare it is so important. I have known my numbers for the last 10 Years but just recently was tested for Lipoprotein a or lpa. A very inexpensive blood test and although I have excellent numbers, this test shows a dna maker that can influence heart health. But as you have said, it does not define you and you can mount a new Clean Food campaign for yourself and family with mindful exercise and my Breath. Bob Harper who has brought to light this LPA marker, has changed from his intense workouts to more walking, yoga and meditation and eating more plants and whole grains. Yes Carbs in moderation and he certainly was not moderate in the biggest loser. I promote your Clean Food cookbook(your expanded version) and so appreciate your Facebook live demos and recipes you are posting like your mom’s lentil soup. You tell us how to prepare it in your cookbook but for a visual learner like myself, a true visual is so welcomed and appreciated. Buy from our farmers during this spring and order ahead and pay to stay away from the virus and also support YOU by buying and sharing your books. Virtual cooking classes are easy now and being a part of your community and Go Read, makes me smile and very thankful! Thank you Terry!

  2. Posted March 26, 2020 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for your kind words, Kathy, and for sharing this clean food journey. Diet is a powerful tool and we need good nutrition now more than ever. Wishing you well and hope you are staying home and staying well. Terry

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