But despite her love for food, Stoutemire, 36, faced a lingering reality — her family has a genetic predisposition for heart disease. Her grandfather died of a heart attack at age 51, her grandmother suffered the same fate at age 37 and her mother survived a heart attack at age 46. “The oldest person in our family lived to be 74 before having a heart attack. The youngest died at 18,” says Stoutemire.
When her grandmother was diagnosed with heart disease, Stoutemire took it as a wake-up call. She decided it was time to make some alterations to her catering menu. “I changed my menus, going from processed foods high in trans fat to more organic products,” she says.
For instance, she switched from vegetable oil to olive oil and began shopping at stores carrying natural products. Her customers have been pleased with the changes.
“The customers have more to choose from,” she explains, pointing out that natural foods work better with her clients’ diet restrictions. “When you start changing, it tastes better. And because it tastes better it means better business.”
In fact, business is booming with the new menus, despite the increase in overhead. “It’s more expensive, but I’ve been able to maintain my client base and pricing,” she says.
Then Stoutemire suffered a heart attack in March 2007 at age 35. After her heart attack, Stoutemire decided it was time to make even more drastic changes to her own diet. “I actually became more conscious of my intake, how much [I] consume,” she says. “I’m going with more heart-healthy portions.”
Stoutemire has also turned her two teenage children on to healthier eating, in addition to walking as a family for exercise. “They’ve adopted the same habit of eating heart healthy and they enjoy it,” she says. “We have to be more aware — it’s heredity, but it’s also eating habits.”
Stoutemire encourages parents to bring their children into the kitchen to learn about healthful eating. “Let them cut the vegetables,” she suggests, “because then they’re more likely to eat what they cook.”
Stoutemire knows the diet and exercise regimen she practices today will give her a fighting chance against her genetics. “I can’t change my genetics, but thankfully my overall good health helped me survive the heart attack,” she says. “And my continued diet changes and exercise keep me healthy today.”