Growing up on the U.S.-Mexico border, Linda Peña never thought twice about the cholesterol-laden fried beef tacos that were a staple in her family.
Mom’s tacos and other traditional Mexican dishes were just a delicious part of life in Brownsville, Texas. Poor heart health was also a part of life for Linda’s family.
“Heart disease is something we were pretty much resigned to,” said Linda, whose grandmothers both died of heart attacks in their 30s and whose father has high cholesterol and blood pressure. “It’s as if we assumed this is what happened to people over time.”
When Linda left home for college, she began to notice her roommates’ healthy habits. They exercised regularly, and they ate fruit with their sandwiches instead of chips. Before
long Linda joined in, and the small steps toward healthier living became her defining moment.
“Their example was a form of peer pressure, only in this case I saw it as a positive to go along with the crowd,” she said.
On Linda’s next visit home, she encouraged her family to take similar steps. Soon her parents were eating oatmeal and apples for breakfast. They drank water instead of soft drinks. Mom still makes tacos occasionally, but she uses healthier cooking oils and replaces beef with soy or chicken.
Now a student at the University of Texas law school in Austin and an American Heart Association volunteer, Linda says a heart-healthy mindset helps her manage her heavy
course load. Exercise helps her sleep better and reduce stress. While studying, she resists unhealthy snacks.
“Small choices today matter in the long run,” she said.