Doc: Does exercise trump a poor diet?

Keith Roach
To Your Health

Dear Dr. Roach: My husband is physically fit and works out daily through biking, elliptical trainer, playing hockey, working outside, etc. He is of appropriate weight, and his cholesterol and sugar numbers are normal, as is his blood pressure.

What concerns me is his diet. Every day, he eats meat — red meat, pork or chicken. He also eats lunch meat and plenty of cheese. He says working out counters the effect of these foods. He has a heart murmur, and his father passed away unexpectedly from either a heart attack or stroke at age 74 in the summer.

Can all of this add to his potential to have a heart attack, or do the test results indicate that he is fine?


Dear J.M.: To be optimally healthy, both exercise and diet are important. People argue passionately about what is the healthiest diet and whether eating red meat is healthy. Although some people have seized on newer study results, I have read many studies in the past 30 years, and believe that eating less meat and more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and fish is much healthier.

In my opinion, your husband’s eating habits do contribute to heart attack risk despite his exercise regimen. I also should add that processed meats have been convincingly linked to increased cancer risk; however, the magnitude of that risk is small.

That does not mean he has to change his eating habits entirely in order to get healthier; small changes are more likely to be acceptable to him. Starting with one meal a day of fish or creatively cooked plants (some people find mushrooms, for example, a very good meat substitute) can help reduce his risk.

Dear Dr. Roach: Recently I read in your column about a woman who wrote about her “total” hysterectomy. I was hoping that in your reply you would clarify the meaning of the word.

There is a common misunderstanding that if someone has a “total” hysterectomy, that includes the ovaries and/or tubes being removed as well. The word “hysterectomy” refers only to the uterus being removed.

If someone has tubes removed, it is a salpingectomy; if she has ovaries removed, it is an oopherectomy. A total hysterectomy therefore really would mean the entire uterus (and only the uterus) being removed.

Occasionally women do undergo a “partial” hysterectomy, but that is more accurately called a supracervical hysterectomy (meaning, only the cervix part of the uterus remains). While this is certainly a mouthful of words, it is important for women to know exactly what was removed for the best subsequent gynecologic care.

Dr. Allison Duncan

Dear Dr. Duncan: I thank Dr. Duncan for writing, and agree with her that a patient should know exactly what operation was done. It has serious implications on subsequent risk of diseases, including breast cancer and osteoporosis, as well as the obvious effect on cervical and ovarian cancers.

Email questions to