When most of us consider heart-healthy eating, we think of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and lean, low-fat servings of dairy, fish, and poultry. But did you know that relationships you create with others while eating create invisible “ingredients” that may actually protect the health of your heart?
Researcher Robert M. Nerem serendipitously discovered the power of social “nutrients” when he set out to learn about the effect diet has on the development of coronary artery disease (CAD). To find out more about the diet-heart disease link, a research assistant on his team fed high-cholesterol bits of rabbit chow to rabbits kept in cages. When it was time to tally the results, Nerem was confounded because even though all the rabbits were fed the same artery-clogging food, some of them had 60 percent less plaque (blockage) in their arteries.
Unable to understand why some rabbits showed early signs of heart disease and others didn’t, Nerem and his team retraced each step of the study. What they found was amazing: The rabbits in the middle tiers, whom the petit research assistant would take out of their cages so that she could hold, pet, talk to, and play with as she fed them, were virtually free of plaque. And when the study was repeated, again, the cared-for rabbits who were held while fed, had 60% less plaque.
Recipes for social satisfaction
This study on the power of relationships and food metabolism are amazing because it suggests that social support while eating impacts the way your body uses nutrients and other substances in your food—so much so that it may have the power to halt the development of heart disease. To reap the rewards, here are some suggestions for integrating social “ingredients” into your meals.
Set a table for two. If you’re dining alone, “socialize” by placing a photograph of someone you love on the table. As you sit down to eat, conjure up favorite food memories you’ve shared.
Take a social nutrition break. Every office lunch, snack, or coffee break is an opportunity for you to access the healing secret of socializing. Consider inviting a co-worker to join you.
Finesse family fare.