Heart-healthy advice is complicated and often misleading. Would you follow a model heart, up on the latest medical science and research, if you had the opportunity? Well, then, meet Dr. Ken Fujise.
Fujise is the head of the division of cardiology at UTMB. And he lives the heart-healthy lifestyle he preaches to his patients. He’s up on the latest heart recommendations and is able to filter out the hype.
So what’s a day in the life of a man who knows everything there is to know about heart health?
He’s an early riser, to say the least — up between 4 and 4:30 a.m. every day.
First thing on his morning agenda is a cup of green tea. Settling into his home office, he quietly checks his emails and reads for about 30 minutes. This is his quiet time, when he prepares himself for the day.
From 5 to 5:30 a.m. he writes grant proposals, clinical research papers and the like. “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in the early morning,” he said.
At 5:30 a.m., he’s on his way to the UTMB Field House, which is five minutes from his East End condo. There, he swims laps for 30-40 minutes (on an empty stomach) and then showers to head back home. While he used to enjoy a quick jog in the mornings, a knee injury keeps him away from high-impact exercise.
At 6:30 a.m., it’s finally time for a heart-healthy breakfast at home with his wife, Tamami. The meal is always the same: salad. But it’s not the salad you’re typically served before a meal. It’s a special salad he spent years perfecting and includes lettuce, seafood, wasabi (sometimes called Japanese horseradish), eight kinds of vegetables, ginger, olive and sunflower oils, vinegar, whole jalapeños and a little mozzarella cheese.
“Every morning, I know I’m getting at least one excellent and nutritious meal in for the day,” Fujise said. “I never know how the rest of the day will go, but I can feel good about my morning knowing I had the perfect breakfast.”
From 7 to 7:45 a.m., Fujise responds to more e-mails at home and tends to his department’s administrative work. By 8 a.m., he’s in his office on the UTMB campus.
As the head of cardiology, Fujise frequently is called into business lunches and dinners, which can make it difficult for him to maintain his heart-healthy lifestyle.
His compromise is to order appetizers instead of entrees, a house salad with vinaigrette or grilled fish.
If he’s fortunate enough to not have a lunch meeting, Fujise enjoys a lunch he brings from home. His preference is one piece of dark chocolate (76 percent cocoa), one box of raisins, a handful of mixed nuts, some tofu and green tea.
While not advisable for everyone, Fujise and Tamami engage in “calorie restriction,” whereby they restrict their caloric intake by 20 to 30 percent. This method has been proven to decrease the risk of cardiovascular complications.
Comfortable at 156 pounds (and 5 feet 10 inches tall), Fujise aims to eat no more than 2,000 calories each day. He gains weight fast, he said, and must monitor the scale daily to keep himself in check.
“My wife does an outstanding job of handling my meals and pushing me to exercise,” he said. “Like everyone else, some days I’m weary, but she pushes me to the door and encourages me every morning.”
At a glance:
- Wasabi: good for artherosclerosis; contains isothiocyanates (anti-cancer chemicals found in broccoli and cabbage), reduces risk of heart attack and stroke by preventing abnormal clot formation.
- Dark chocolate (76 percent): antioxidants, reduces risk of blood clots, stroke and heart attack.
- Raisins: resveratrol, a great source of iron, which helps the blood transport oxygen.
- Mixed nuts: antioxidants, oleic acid, omega-3 fats.
- Tofu: soy protein that helps lower cholesterol and contains isoflavones that transport oxygen.
- Green tea: EGCG, a powerful antioxidant; reduces stress and anxiety and contains compounds that relax blood vessels.
- Miso soup: antioxidants, protective fatty acids, vitamin E, protein and vitamin B-12.
- Broccoli: contains phytonutrients sulforaphane and indoles, which have significant anti-cancer effects; nutrients include vitamins C and A (mostly as beta-carotene), folic acid, calcium and fiber.
- Ginger: antioxidants, inhibits formation of inflammation, alleviates symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.
- Olive and sunflower oils: cardiovascular benefits due to oleic acid, which lowers cholesterol and results in a lower risk of heart disease.
- Jalapeños: phytochemical capsaicin helps fight cancer and inflammation and protects the heart by reducing cholesterol and triglycerides.
Fujise does not eat sugar because of metabolic syndrome concerns, although he will have Splenda on occasion, nor does he partake in office donuts or cakes or any fried foods.
If he hosts a lunch meeting, he makes sure there are healthy food options. “I don’t want my young medical students getting accustomed to fried foods; my goal is to promote heart health,” he said.
Coffee is also absent from his heart-healthy list, although he understands why many people must have their jolt in the mornings. He used to be a coffee drinker himself, but he found the caffeine in coffee to be equivalent to that in green tea, but without the jitters that often come with coffee. Plus, green tea has been proven to help fight cancer, he notes.
Fujise and his wife are both native to Japan, and Tamami typically cooks dinners at home in the traditional Japanese style: miso soup (a traditional Japanese broth), a half-portion of fish (tuna or salmon) and a half-portion white meat (chicken or pork), steamed white rice and broccoli. They also enjoy sushi or sashimi and soba noodles on occasion.
He notes that he doesn’t eat much red meat, but that it’s just a personal preference.
Fujise jokes that he once heard the widow of a University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center physician claim that “if you eat broccoli, you’ll never get cancer.” While that may not be true, he did take her message to heart and religiously eats broccoli every single night.
After dinner, he enjoys one glass of organic red wine (for fewer sulfites) and heads off to bed before 10 p.m.
He starts his routine over every morning, without fail.
He understands the responsibility of his profession and aims to be a model of health. “I have to live the healthy lifestyle that I preach to my patients,” he said. “If I don’t, then who am I to tell them anything at all?”