She may be a dietitian, but publishing her latest book was more a personal mission than a professional one for Dr. Janet Bond Brill. “Heart disease has touched most of the men in my life,” says the author of Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease. “I thought, ‘I need to get this information out there.'”
It was a second heart attack that took the life of Janet’s father, Rudy Bond, an actor who appeared in films including The Godfather and On the Waterfront, in 1982. Cardiovascular disease also complicated her brother Zane’s kidney disease, from which he died in 2007, and her father-in-law Harry has survived multiple bouts with heart disease.
But it was when her healthy 51-year-old husband, Sam, suffered a heart attack in July 2009 that Janet truly panicked. “It was horrendous,” she says of waiting in the hospital after he was rushed to the ER just weeks after their 25th wedding anniversary. “His angiogram that night took three and a half hours, and I thought he had died.”
Luckily, Sam’s heart attack had caused only minimal damage, but it came as a surprise because he had received a clean bill of cardiac health after an angiogram five years earlier. Still, Janet couldn’t help but wonder if she should have insisted he adopt even better habits. And she was haunted by her family history. “I saw that my father didn’t really get any advice in terms of preventing a second heart attack,” she says. “He continued to eat everything, and he didn’t do what he should have done.”
Though Rudy’s first heart attack was nearly 50 years ago, Janet doesn’t think the follow-up guidance for cardiac patients in 2011 has improved enough. “If you look at the books currently on the market for heart attack survivors, they are this ultra lowfat diet that is frankly too tasteless to follow for life,” she says. “It’s outrageous that this is the information they’re given.”
So she started thinking seriously about a book idea that had been bouncing around in her head for years: straightforward but not overly restrictive advice for heart attack survivors, based on the Mediterranean diet. Prevent a Second Heart Attack, out this month, cites eight foods as being essential for heart health—olive oil, greens, figs, legumes, salmon, walnuts, oatmeal and red wine—and offers recipes, meal plans and other tips to work them in, along with a plan to boost movement.
Thanks to her career, Janet understands how hard it is for people to change their habits, but she wants them to understand that they’re not doomed to bland food forever. “One of the great pleasures of life is eating good food, and what I’m trying to say is that you can still enjoy beautiful food. You can live a long, healthy and happy life without deprivation.”
The Brill family—Janet, Sam, and their children Rachel, 23; Mia, 21; and Jason, 15—recently practiced what Janet preaches when they took a trip to London and Paris last Thanksgiving to visit Mia during a semester abroad. Janet admits they fully enjoyed the cities’ culinary offerings—with one caveat. “My kids watched what Sam ate like a hawk!” she says, laughing. “They love their daddy, and they want to keep him around, and they know what he eats can gravely affect that.”