Actor Lamman Rucker remembers watching his parents try to steer clear of fatty and highly processed foods.
But there were times when healthy choices weren’t easy. He remembers well the days of cheap, salty noodles and spaghetti from a can.
“There were days, based on economics, you ate what you could afford,” said Rucker, who played Dr. Will Brown on TBS’s “Meet the Browns,” and had roles in “Why Did I Get Married?” and “Why Did I Get Married Too?”
Cultural pressure also made it harder to make healthy choices. Family gatherings would include long-loved recipes laden with fat and salt prepared by extended family.
Rucker’s parents would step in and tell relatives that they didn’t want their children eating such foods — even if it wasn’t always a popular message.
“When you’re a kid, all you know is what’s in front of you,” said Rucker, 43.
Today, Rucker is working with the American Heart Association to raise awareness about the importance of managing blood pressure, one of the most common conditions of heart disease.
The prevalence of high blood pressure in African-Americans is the highest in the world, affecting nearly half of African-American adults in the U.S.
High blood pressure, which is also called “the silent killer,” increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, and can cause permanent damage to the heart before you even notice any symptoms.
Controlling blood pressure is critical because you can live five years longer with normal blood pressure than with high blood pressure.
Rucker has never personally had high blood pressure. But he saw first-hand how the condition, and consequences of other heart conditions and stroke affected his grandparents and other relatives, causing hospitalizations and in many cases, death.
“Seeing what they went through helped me make a very conscious decision to make healthier choices,” he said.
Raising awareness about high blood pressure and other heart health issues is critical, Rucker said, because many in the African-American community haven’t grown up with good examples of how to live a healthy lifestyle.
“When you come from a culture where mom is big and dad is ‘big-boned’ and people say things like, ‘We’ve got to fatten you up,’ you may not realize what the health consequences are because that’s all you’ve seen,” he said.
Rucker’s dad was in the military, so the family moved, spending time in Japan, California and the Washington, D.C., area, exposing the actor to different styles of eating.
“When I started to see how really great food tasted when it was pulled right out of the water or earth, it was eye-opening,” he said.
With a family history of heart disease, Rucker says he still enjoys the occasional treat, although he is careful to use moderation to prevent the conditions that affected so many members of his family.
“I’m a huge proponent of prevention,” he said. “No matter what your economic standing or family history or cycle of behavior or bad habits are, there’s a way for you to get your health back on track and reclaim your vitality.”