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Mayo Clinic doc also believes eating is never neutral

It’s the extremist in me. I could never add a cheat day to my diet.

When it comes to eating right, I’ve been an all-or-nothing type longer than I’ve been an adult.

But the pragmatist in me would never allow for a cheat day, either. He doesn’t see the sense in intentionally mitigating six days of healthy eating every Saturday or Sunday - unless that’s what some other individual needs to do to eat right for the next six.

It’s the pragmatist in me, you see, that understands over the top is not the only way to be. But the extremist is convinced that way is the best when it comes to eating.

And he’s found a buddy in Dr. Stephan Kopecky.

Kopecky is a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota whom you may know even if you’ve never been a patient there. He’s written a health book whose title is sure to intrigue anyone middle-aged or older: Live Younger Longer: 6 Steps to prevent Heart Disease, Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes and More (Mayo Clinic Press, 2021).

Today’s column, however, focuses on an interview he granted DeeDee Stiepan that led to “Relationship between food, disease stronger than you think,” an article that first appeared as a Mayo Clinic Minute, has since been run by a number of newspapers, and elates my inner extremist.

For years, I’ve written that every bit of food you consume affects your health, sometimes only in a minor way, but always a bit positively or negatively. In essence, that food you consume is never neutral.

I’ve been making that point for a very long time. Ten years ago, for instance, I shared with you an eating experiment that proved just that.

I had just bought a soft pretzel for each seventh grader as a healthy Christmastime treat to be enjoyed while watching “Elf” the day before the Christmas vacation began. (I can write “healthy” in good conscience because of what it was replacing: two cookies served with a cup of apple cider.)

Since as a little guy I had absolutely hooked on the soft pretzels sold in the streets of Philadelphia (and liked day-old ones even better), I decided to eat one in place of the 300-calorie “super snack” I normally ate three hours before long and intense afternoon bicycle rides to see what would happen. Not much out of the ordinary - for the first two-thirds of the ride.

And then the remaining power left in my legs suddenly left me.

I got lightheaded. Really lightheaded. So much so that the bike swerved unintentionally at times. My focus shifted from cooling down to keeping upright - and not getting hit by passing cars.

After that unsettling experience, I became even more selective about the foods I eat. The habit of eating a fistful of Reese’s Pieces cereal if I felt low on carbs, for instance, ended. The amount of ketchup I used on omelets - even though I had been using the no-added-sugar variety for years - got cut in half.

If those sorts of measures seem over the top to you, consider what Kopecky shared during the aforementioned interview: that being genetically cursed increases your risk for disease by 30 to 40 percent, but an unhealthy lifestyle full of bad eating increases the risk by 300 to 400 percent. He acknowledges, though, that reducing that risk somewhat doesn’t really take much.

“It’s been shown if you take one bite of say a processed meat or ultraprocessed food, replace that with some unprocessed food or a healthier choice - you know vegetables or black beans - after a year of two, that will actually lower your risk of heart attack or stroke.”

And like me, Kopecky rails against America’s overreliance of ultraprocessed foods and crusades for consciously limiting the consumption of it. While he admits that they are convenient and cost effectiveness, he stresses that they create inflammation.

That inflammation “bothers our tissues” as well as our heart, arteries, brains, pancreas, liver, and lungs. As a result of bad eating, “[Inflammation] could be in the brain with Alzheimer’s, the heart with coronary artery disease, or cancers elsewhere.”

It’s good for me to know and important for you to read that someone shares my over-the-top eating philosophy, especially considering he’s held in high regard in the medical community’s mainstream.

Not only does Kopecky speak internationally on cardiovascular prevention, but he’s also won awards in that field, including the Jan J. Kellerman Memorial Award given by the International Academy of Cardiology for distinguished work in the field of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention. Moreover, he’s served as the president of the American Society for Preventive Cardiology.

Since I feel as if we are twin sons from different mothers, I intend to purchase his book immediately and learn all I can from him.