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Cheese Cholesterol and Compromise

September 1, 2010

I love cheese. In fact, the highlight of the week was catching an episode of Food Jammers about making cheese. Have I tried making it myself?

Yes. Well, not the kind with bacteria  – just an unripened one so far. Boiling whole milk + lemon juice = paneer, the soft Indian cheese that is often found in breaded and fried form (as in paneer pakoras, one of the most sinfully delicious things on the planet). There are many great types of fried cheese, like Haloumi, which can be BBQ’d and will squeak on your teeth as you chomp into it. One can also bread and bake Camembert with a bit of homemade cranberry sauce on top. In a salad with nectarines, I like fresh boconncini, and for nibbling, a bit of Applewood Smoked Cheddar.

But I digress. And I drool.

I’m supposed to be making this at least partly related to health. Because I love cheese and butter and milk and yogurt and well, anything dairy, I’ve always thought dairy farming might be a good backup career if medicine doesn’t work out.

Unfortunately, cheese is pretty high in cholesterol. It is the top source of saturated fat in America (and, probably all of North America). So, if I continue to eat it at the rate I do, my arteries had better watch out! (I also like bacon. Damn.)

For the first time, I saw someone before my eyes having a jammer. Oh, people have come in with heart attacks on my ER shifts before, or had a bit of chest pain on the ward that turned out to be significant, or came to our Internal Med or ICU service after the ER had treated their heart attack. But! This was a chest clutching, sweaty, pale, ST-elevation on the monitor just-like-on-TV case. The decision to TNK-TPA (clot-bust) was easy. Wisely, the ER doc undertreated the pain because, the moment the pain resolved, the doc would know the intervention had worked. Unfortunately, rather than improve, the pain spiked. That was one angry heart. Morphine, a call to the ambulance to go lights and sirens to the big city for cardiac catheterization, and the patient was outta there. It did not look good. The biggest fear in everyone’s mind is dysrrythmia and death; we managed to avoid that but I don’t know how it turned out. I sure hope the cardio gods did their magic tricks and made the clots disappear.

Almost every family has some heart and stoke history in it, so what can you do to lower your chances? When I looked around the ICU, the majority of the still, tubed-and-lined creatures had a history of smoking, alcohol, and/or obesity. It’s hard to think of a sedated ICU patient as a person sometimes, with the knowledge that only the machines are keeping them alive. Being in such a state is an experience best avoided, for you and your family, if at all possible.

A few things are in your control and, whilst following healthy living is not 100% protective, it is your best shot at being and staying well. Plus, you won’t be kicking yourself on your death-bed, wishing you had treated your body a little better. I once overheard “Instead of becoming a vegetable, eat a vegetable.”

So, avoid angry-heart-pain (and other illness). Remember: you only get one body and you – not your doctor – is in charge of how well it runs and how long it lasts. Now I just have to follow my own advice.

As a grade-6-school essay would say: “In conclusion, Jessica should eat less cheese.”

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