Being a physician, Glen C. Griffin knew what he was seeing on the monitor. And it wasn't good.
In one of his arteries, a significant narrowing was apparent."My cardiologist told me I was a massive heart attack waiting to happen, and even if paramedics had been a block away when it happened, I would have been dead on arrival at a hospital," said Griffin, a former Bountiful pediatrician who wrote a medical column for the Deseret News while living in Utah.
He now lives in Minneapolis, where he is editor-in-chief of Postgraduate Medicine, a medical journal. The change allows him to combine two lifelong interests - medicine and clear, concise, understandable writing about medicine.
On a recent visit to Salt Lake City, Griffin promoted his newly released book, "Good Fat, Bad Fat: How to Lower Your Cholesterol and Beat the Odds of a Heart Attack."
The book was inspired by his own scrape with heart disease and a desire to help others develop eating habits that promote heart health, he said. He collaborated with Dr. William P. Castelli on the book.
Griffin said his own medical background and even having seen both his parents through heart surgery wasn't sufficient impetus for him to make the necessary changes in his diet to prevent the buildup of plaque.
"After seeing the plaques in my parents' coronary arteries, I decided I didn't ever want to go through that. I began eating more fish and less meat. I cut down on eggs to a couple a week and I had already quit eating liver years ago. I thought I was on a good preventive program to keep my coronary arteries from getting plugged up like this. I wasn't," he said.
He was in the process of concerted study of the problem and potential solutions when his own coronary disease came to a crisis. He underwent bypass surgery just as an editorial on dietary fat intake was being prepared for the medical journal he edits. And his book was just coming off the press.
After his surgery, he was well-prepared to get serious about keeping his arteries clear of atherosclerotic plaques.
The culprit in most atherosclerosis is saturated fat in the diet, Griffin said. "Like most doctors, I really didn't have any idea how much saturated fat I was eating, or that it mattered all that much."
North Americans eat six to ten times as much saturated fat as people in parts of the world where the incidence of heart disease is much lower, he said. Besides, many people, such as Griffin, have a family tendency to over-produce cholesterol and create plaques more readily.
When he started looking critically and honestly at his diet, he found a lot of saturated fat "hidden" in sources he hadn't thought about - such as cheese and other dairy products and bakery goods that contained lard, coconut or palm oil. Fish was good, but when it was deep fried in a batter, much of the benefit disappeared.
He found himself sometimes playing games - eating much more than he was accustomed to just to keep the fat percentage of the total in line.
All these confusing dietary realities led Griffin and Castinelli to work on a simplified plan for limiting fat intake based on grams.
"Good Fat, Bad Fat" is simply written and divided into two components. The first explains the problem, tells how to monitor fat intake, explains the role of exercise and lists the fat content of many foods. It gives suggestions on eating out and other situations in which the diner doesn't have control over food preparation.
The second is a series of recipes, prepared in cooperation with Helen Fisher and featuring foods that are low in saturated fat.
"It appears the book will do well," Griffin said. "I hope it will keep other people from going through what I had to."