‘Cut the crap’: Heart and Stroke Foundation’s advice to Canadians

It is a blunt message, meant to save Canadian lives. Cut the crap.

“If you eat highly processed foods you will increase your cancer risk. You will obviously increase your risk of heart disease and stroke and as well your risk of diabetes. That can really shorten your life and reduce your quality of life,” said Manuel Arango, the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s director of health policy.

The amount of processed food Canadians consume has increased significantly over the last few decades and it is impacting our health. In response, Heart and Stroke released a new position statement on saturated fat and recommendations on what Canadians should be eating.

“If you eat a balanced diet, don’t fret about the fat. Cut the crap. Cut the highly processed foods,” Arango told Global News.

Heart and Stroke’s advice – cook from scratch, consume a diet consisting of whole foods – more fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry, lean meats, whole grains and dairy sources.  Those whole foods have naturally occurring sources of fat, and that is fine in the right portions.

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It is the saturated fat lurking in processed and fast food that Heart and Stroke is warning about.

“We are asking Canadians to avoid highly processed foods. They are high in saturated fat, sometimes high in trans fats, high in sugar and high in sodium,” said Arango.

Brian Campkin hopes Canadians will get the message to take care of themselves, before it’s too late.

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At 46, while playing tennis, Campkin had trouble breathing. A regular “weekend warrior” athlete, he had never experienced shortness of breath before.

After urging from his wife to go see a doctor, he discovered that three out of four of his main arteries were almost “100 per cent” blocked.

“It came out of nowhere,” Campkin told Global News. “It’s very scary.”

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He needed triple bypass surgery to survive. A father of three teenage girls, he pledged to do whatever it took to get healthy.

“I made my life goal to walk my three daughters down the aisle on their wedding days,” said Campkin.

His is a success story. Four months after his surgery he completed a 60-kilometre charity walk, and to mark his one year post-surgery anniversary he ran a 10-km race, “just because I could,” Campkin said.

He changed his lifestyle to include regular exercise including yoga and walking, made some improvements to his diet, and he is back on the tennis court. He knows he should have been more aware – although he did not suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes he did have a history of heart disease in his family.

To share his experience and help warn others he has written a book, From Survivor to Thriver: The Story of a Modern Day Tin Man, with help from Heart and Stroke dietitians. He is hoping his story will be a cautionary tale.

“A lot of us play the it won’t happen to me game,” said Campkin. “What people need to realize is why not set yourself up for success, without having to go through what I went through?”

And yes, he did walk his oldest daughter down the aisle and has already welcomed his first grandchild.

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After discovering he needed triple bypass surgery Brian Campkin said “my life goal was to walk my three daughters down the aisle on their wedding days”. In this photograph he is fulfilling that goal at his oldest daughter’s wedding. (Brian Campkin)

“I have a different perspective now,” said Campkin.

READ MORE: Your Food: 8 things you didn’t know about what you’re eating

The Heart and Stroke Foundation hopes other Canadians will take better care of their health – and learn to understand the importance of what they eat.

In addition to encouraging Canadians to “cut the crap,” Arango said all levels of government have a role to play.

For example, local government can introduce zoning bylaws to allow space for farmer markets and grocery stores, and regulate the number of fast food restaurant locations. Provincial  governments can introduce nutritional labelling in restaurants, and the federal government can fund healthy eating awareness campaigns.

“There is a price to pay for convenience and that is why we encourage Canadians to eat whole foods cooked from scratch as much as possible, avoid eating out at restaurants too often, and when you do look at nutritional labelling information,” said Arango.

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WATCH: Brian’s Story – Heart and Stroke Foundation’s video about Brian Campkin’s journey

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