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Heart Meets Soul in Fat City

How do heart experts fare with New Orleans fare?

Please note: This article was published more than one year ago. The facts and conclusions presented may have since changed and may no longer be accurate. And "More information" links may no longer work. Questions about personal health should always be referred to a physician or other health care professional.

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HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Nov. 12, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- New Orleans. Home of the Po' Boy sandwich, gumbo and drive-through daiquiris.

And, for most of this week, temporary home to 26,000 cardiologists and heart-care professionals from around the world who attended the American Heart Association's annual scientific sessions meeting. These are the kind of people who tell you to go easy on the hollandaise sauce and skip the fried dough.

So how did these champions of healthy eating fare in Fat City?

After five days, one totally unscientific survey showed decidedly mixed results.

Certainly, there was a plentiful supply of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, Creole chicken and Cajun fries at the convention center, and daily breakfast offerings that covered all the staples. On Sunday morning, at least one attendee was feasting on eggs and a buttermilk biscuit. He was young, though, and thin (for now). There were also a few stragglers smoking outside the doors.

On the other hand, one of the most popular stalls in the exhibit hall was Vita-Mix, where a throng of doctors watched spellbound as a company representative made tortilla soup.

At the nearest Starbucks, which was a healthy 10-minute walk, one conventioneer was spotted adding skim milk and sugar into his coffee. Those calories, however, could be burned off easily just by walking the length of the convention center (three-quarters of a mile) or wandering around the 1.1 million square feet of exhibit space.

But the doctors themselves acknowledged the temptations.

"It's very hard when you go to a convention," said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, chief of the Women's Heart Program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and author of Women Are Not Small Men. "It's really a challenge."

Goldberg, who is about to become the first doctor to grace the cover of a cereal box (Wheat Chex and Multi-Bran Chex), said she ordered yogurt with granola and fruit for breakfast. But she added, it was too sweet to actually eat.

Dr. Richard Milani, vice chairman of the department of cardiology and director of the cardiovascular health center at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans, thinks doctors are not necessarily equipped to make the right nutrition choices for themselves or for their patients. "Physicians are woefully uneducated with regard to nutrition," he said bluntly.

Dr. Keith Ferdinand, medical director of Heartbeats Life Center in New Orleans, said he had just had a fruit smoothie for breakfast.

At dinner at the Commander's Palace in the Big Easy's Garden District, five cardiologists from Ochsner ordered black skillet-seared yellowfin tuna. It was served with caramelized onions, creamy garlic, smoked tomato butter and sweet potatoes that were cooked with butter, onions and spicy Cajun ham. Not everyone ate the sweet potatoes.

Their meal seemed pretty healthy. But when you compare it to what they could have been eating around the city -- it was stupendous.

For instance, Tucker's Tavern on South Roman Street serves "deep-fried stuffed burgers." Stuffed with what, you may ask. Anything you want, one local review responded, including pepper jack, mozzarella, Swiss or American cheese, mushrooms, jalapenos, bacon, chicken and ham, all battered and deep fried.

But then comes dessert.

Lakeithia, a waitress at Commander's, said her favorite dessert is praline parfait, consisting of homemade vanilla bean ice cream, whipped cream, praline syrup and candy pecan wrapped in a pastry shell. "It's just divine," she said.

Commander's manager, Stan Reynolds, favored the almond macaroon cream dessert with crushed almonds, butter, confectioner's sugar, Frangelica and cream sauce.

As the world and Commander's becomes more heart healthy, though, this particular dish has disappeared from the menu. Reynolds, who is enviably thin, also liked to dip his French fries in trout almondine sauce, "which is basically brown butter," he said. And he was very fond of a tempura-fried cheesecake he had found at a local sushi restaurant.

But at Commander's, "The Queen of Creole Desserts" is bread pudding souffle drenched in Jack Daniels' cream sauce.

One was placed in front of Milani, who asked, "Who ordered this?"

He didn't touch it.

But Thomas Hudson, a cab driver and Nawlins native, gave a lengthy, mouth-watering description of how he makes his bread pudding. It included the words "butter," "sugar," "eggs," "raisins," and "rum."

"There are so many good restaurants in New Orleans," Hudson said. "You eat all week, and at the end of the week your clothes don't fit."

Dr. Barry Goldman, an Ochsner internal medicine specialist who skipped the Commander's dinner, has a more fitting -- and scientific -- term for the phenomenon: "The New Orleans Lipid Profile."

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on overweight and obesity.

SOURCES: Richard Milani, M.D., vice chairman, department of cardiology and director, cardiovascular health center, Ochsner Clinic Foundation, New Orleans; Nieca Goldberg, M.D., chief, Women's Heart Program, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City and author, Women Are Not Small Men; Keith Ferdinand, M.D., medical director, Heartbeats Life Center, New Orleans; Barry C. Goldman, M.D., internal medicine, Ochsner Clinic Foundation, New Orleans; Thomas Hudson, taxi driver, New Orleans; Stan Reynolds, restaurant manager, Commander's Palace; Lakeithia, waitress, Commander's Palace, both in New Orleans; November 2004 Where Y'at; July 13, 2004, Times-Picayune

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