February was designated American Heart Month by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 to bring awareness to the fact that, at the time, more than half of deaths in the US were caused by cardiovascular disease; sadly, it is still the leading cause of death among Americans today.
Kamel Jamal, owner of the five restaurants that comprise River Valley Restaurant Group, has had to manage two competing interests since learning of a dormant life-long heart defect and receiving open-heart surgery in 2013: his love of decadent, savory food and his need to live a healthy lifestyle post-surgery.
“Being a heart patient and having open-heart surgery, it was important that I started correcting my life and setting out on a new path,” says Jamal. He has taken up daily exercise and yoga for stress management, and he is now more likely to be found eating a jackfruit taco at his new restaurant, Végétalien (which has a fully vegan menu), than a pulled-pork taco from his earlier taco shop, Tito Santana, at the opposite end of Beacon’s Main Street.
Jamal’s approach is right on track. In addition to stress reduction and exercise, the USDA recommends filling our plates with fresh, seasonal vegetables that are high in nutrients like potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein, and low in saturated fat and sodium.
Each restaurant Jamal has opened has become more vegetable-forward, starting with his Middle Eastern restaurant Ziatün, the first one opened after his surgery. (His other restaurants are Angelina’s Pizza and Brew and Beacon Bread Company.)
And about that jackfruit taco — he recommends it to any new vegans or vegetarians noting, “It’s crazy how much it tastes like pulled pork.”