Do You REALLY Understand What Cardiovascular Disease Is?

What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) include coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and rheumatic heart disease. The most common form is atherosclerotic diseases of the heart and vascular system. CVD is the most common cause of death in the United States. It kills more people than the next six leading causes of death combined.

CVD is the product of atherosclerosis, the progressive accretion of plaque (fatty deposits) on vessel walls. Blood flow is decreased in vessels as this narrowing gets worse.

If a blood clot lodges in a vessel narrowed by atherosclerosis, the blood flow can be stopped completely and the tissues downstream will die. When this takes place in a heart vessel, a heart attack transpires.

Why is understanding this so important?

Because unfortunately, the prevalence of CVD is not improving. The decline in deaths from CVD is not due to changes in lifestyle, such as diet, but rather because of improvements in medical care. And while heart attack deaths have declined substantially, hospital admissions for heart attacks have not.

CVD is a preventable disease in a majority of the population. Changes in diet, exercise, and lifestyle can prevent CVD from occurring and reverse its effects.

Here’s what I think you should know about some of the dietary topics influencing CVD.

  1. It’s interesting that there was a sharp decline in CVD during World War II. It was thought to be due to the scarcity of meat, butter, sugar and eggs, as well as a scarcity of calories in general. Also, with gasoline strictly rationed, more people traveled by foot.
  2. Plant-based diets have been successful at arresting CVD and even reversing it. This may be due to the high amounts of fiber and low amounts of saturated and trans fat. Or it could be due to the fact that plant-based diets are often lower in calories.
  3. Incorporating soy products into the diet may lower bad cholesterol levels, homocysteine, and blood pressure.
  4. Consuming high amounts of fruits and vegetables can improve vessel elasticity. Even the regular consumption of whole grain foods has been shown to improve heart health.
  5. Another important factor regarding dietary intake is the composition of dietary fat. Omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory and prevent blood clotting. Omega-3 fats have been shown to increase survival rates after suffering a heart attack.

The role of inflammation in the development of CVD is becoming more apparent. The type of dietary fat you consume can help to control inflammation.

  1. Losing body fat and partaking in regular exercise can also be anti-inflammatory. Physical inactivity is recognized as a major risk factor for CVD. People who are inactive can improve their health by becoming just moderately active. Physical activity does not need to be strenuous to achieve health benefits. Expending just 1,000 calories per week via exercise can lead to health benefits.

The latest statistic I found was that nearly 2,400 Americans die of CVD each day, an average of 1 death every 37 seconds. That’s a startling number. Coronary heart disease caused 1 of every 5 deaths in the United States in 2004.

Each year, more than $33 billion in medical costs and $9 billion in lost productivity as a result of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes are attributed to poor nutrition.

I found an interesting quote by Dean Ornish, M.D. He promotes a vegetarian diet and he said, “I don’t understand why asking people to eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet is considered drastic, while it is medically conservative to cut people open.”

So to summarize and make some easy to implement recommendations:

  • Eat a fruit and/or vegetable with every meal
  • Eat legumes at least 5 times per week
  • Eat only whole, unprocessed grains
  • Avoid trans fat consumption
  • Exercise for 5 hours per week; reach this goal gradually if you have existing CVD
  • Decrease amounts of excess body fat
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates
  • Consume no less than 25 grams of fiber per day
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Eat/supplement with foods containing omega-3 fats. Though be aware of potential interactions with blood thinning medications.

Are You Nuts For Nuts?

Nuts can be natural and wonderful or they can be man-made and much less wonderful!

Nuts are undoubtedly one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Research shows that nut noshers have the slimmest waistlines and a significantly lower risk of heart disease.

But the benefits don’t end there. Nuts are packed with life-essential minerals, including magnesium and selenium. And they are a concentrated source of brain-nourishing and blood-sugar balancing fats.

However, manufacturers have found a way to mess with Mother Nature. For instance, the “Diamond” brand has been turning natural nuts into bad-for-you-nuts by adding genetically modified corn oil and BHT to its walnuts, hazelnuts, and other naturally pure tree nuts.

Protected by their shells, nuts are a relatively “clean” plant food and unadulterated by pesticide toxins even when grown conventionally. But add corn oil, which is high in inflammatory omega-6 fats, as well as being genetically modified almost 90 percent of the time, and you’ve completely changed their lipid profile and biochemical nature.

Corn oil itself is a preservative, but Diamond adds BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) to ensure shelf stability. BHT prevents oxidation. It is used to preserve food odor, color, and flavor. It is banned in Australia, Japan, Romania, and Sweden due to its carcinogenic activity. In the United States, BHT is prohibited only in infant formula.

Avoid inflammatory corn oil and carcinogenic BHT by reading the labels before you buy. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that many inexpensive brands of nuts are free of these unnecessary additives. They contain only one simple ingredient: “nuts.”

So take a few moments and make sure the nuts you buy are the natural ones! Do what I do and buy pecans, almonds, and walnuts. Put them in a large container and mix them up. I call this my PAW recipe so my nuts are easy to access and already mixed up.

What The Heck Are Toning Pants?

I’m not the most fashion conscious woman in the world, in fact sometimes I think I may be the least, but when a reader sent me a question about TONING pants, I had to investigate. Could the claims be possible, she asked.

What exactly was the claim?

“Achieving amazing in half the time”

That’s the promise Fila USATM is using to sell its Toning Resistance Tight Capri. They cost $50. They have compression toning panels that, it is claimed, “streamline the figure,” while purportedly increasing the efficiency of a wearer’s workout. They are made of polyester and Lycra-fabric and they claim a “50% increase in muscle workouts” and “41% more support.” And a press release from Fila states that the capris are “designed to increase muscle exercise, which improves the efficiency as well as recovery of an existing workout.”

The underlying premise would be that if in fact the capris did increase muscle activation, then there would be a corresponding increase in the caloric expenditure of the wearer and an improvement in her muscle tone. I’ve taken a look at some of the studies done by exercise science researchers and here’s what I found.

The Bottom Line

Although the research showed a slight increase in calorie burn while wearing Fila’s toning capris, in a real-world scenario that boost would be negligible.

“Calorie-wise, it’s like burning off the equivalent of half a single Peanut M&M,” says one of the researchers, John Porcari, Ph.D. “You would be better off walking an extra 50 yards than wearing these capris to achieve that benefit.”

In response to the claims of a 50-percent increase in muscle workouts, the researchers reported that the Fila capris didn’t deliver there, either.

Subjects were also asked to write down what they felt while wearing the toning capris compared to the athletic shorts, and several stated that they felt increased compression and resistance around the hip joint, which made it more difficult to walk.

“These pants have toning panels, which provide resistance, except your butt muscles and quads and hamstrings are so strong that putting a little bit of elastic in there doesn’t add much resistance,” Porcari says. “In order to provide enough resistance to be beneficial, the pants would have to be so restrictive that you wouldn’t be able to easily move. To achieve a 50-percent increase in muscle activation, you’d have to be wearing something akin to a straight jacket.”

As for “achieving amazing in half the time,” researchers point to the old adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” That said, for some women the look and fit of these capris may deliver psychological benefits that can’t be quantified.

“I would say that these toning capris are similar to other compression pants that you can buy,” says researcher Alexa Kleingartner, M.S. “I wouldn’t recommend buying them to make a difference in the effectiveness of your workout, but the extra compression and tightness may give you a butt lift and a better shape. That factor is definitely there, so if you think you look better, you may be more willing to work out. And that’s always a good thing.”

Personally, I’d rather see you use your $50 to buy yourself a pedometer for $20, and a month’s worth of swim passes at your local pool!

All About Cherries!

This week it’s all about cherries!

Besides being delicious, cherries have many benefits.

For instance, a chemist at Michigan State University found that cherries act like a pain reliever similar to aspirin or naproxen. They can block inflammation and pain enzymes to help relieve pain. Studies found just one bowl of cherries a day can help lessen pain from diseases like arthritis.

Cherries also help reduce muscle pain. One 2010 study from Britain’s Northumbria University showed that runners who drank cherry juice twice a day, five days before a marathon experienced less muscle inflammation and recovered their strength more quickly than runners who drank a placebo.


Cherry Selection

Fresh cherries should be clean, bright, shiny, and plump with no blemishes. Sweet cherries should have firm, but not hard, flesh while sour cherries should be medium-firm. The darker the color, the sweeter the cherry.

Avoid cherries with cuts, bruises, or stale, dry stems. You’ll find stemmed cherries less expensive, but be aware that cherries with the stems intact will have a longer shelf life.

Unopened canned cherries can be stored on the shelf up to a year. Once opened, keep the canned cherries in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within one week. Unopened dried cherries will last up to 18 months.


Cherry Storage

Store unwashed cherries in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and wash just before eating. Before eating fresh sweet cherries, leave them out on the counter for a few hours as the flavor is much better at room temperature. Fresh cherries should be consumed within two to four days.


How to Freeze Cherries

You can freeze fresh cherries, but they should be pitted first, otherwise they will take on an almond flavor from the pit. The juice from cherries will stain clothing so be careful if you pit your own cherries.

You can also freeze whole, pitted sweet cherries in 40 percent syrup (4 cups water plus 3 cups sugar) with 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid (or citrus juice) added per quart of liquid.

They may also be pitted and frozen without liquid in plastic bags with all the air removed.

To freeze sour cherries for pie filling, stir 3/4 cup of sugar into each quart of pitted, whole sour cherries. Pack in rigid airtight containers with 1/2-inch headspace or airtight bags. Frozen cherries will last ten to twelve months in the freezer.

Cherries have a very short season so depending on where you live, catch them in season and eat them every day. Or use the information in this letter and eat them all year long. I enjoy freezing them and using them in smoothies when I want a break from my favorite blueberries!

Healthy Foods That Will Make You Fat

Recently I visited and stayed with a cousin of mine. She’s almost 90, walks twice a day, has a very keen mind, and prides herself on knowing about health and nutrition. She is overweight by about 15 pounds though. And NOW she doesn’t want me to leave. Why? Because eating with me (the way I eat) is helping her lose weight! And she’s thrilled.

It got me thinking about “healthy” foods that will make you fat!

I’m not surprised by the results my cousin is experiencing. There’s not a day that goes by where someone doesn’t come to me asking for diet advice. They are confused as to why they’re NOT losing weight even though they don’t eat “a lot” and especially if they’re eating “healthy”. The truth is that while “quanity” does matter, it’s possible to still overconsume calories if choosing the wrong foods.

Some foods, even though they’re considered very healthy, carry LOTS of calories in a very small amount of food. We call these calorically dense foods and if your diet is comprised of a bunch of them, you can easily gain weight even without eating “a lot” of food.

Here are some “healthy” examples of calorically dense foods:

1. Granola – granola, especially the varieties mixed with nuts, can pack as many as 500 cals per cup.
2. Pasta – a moderate 1-1/2 cups of most pastas yield more than 60 grams of carbs and almost 350 calories.
3. Avocado – avocado is delicious and a great source of monounsaturated fat, but one single avocado has over 300 calories and 30 grams of fat.
4. Nuts and Nut Butters – nuts are super healthy, but they are one of the most calorically dense foods around. A few ounces could mean 400+ calories.
5. Fruit Juice and Smoothies – all fruit juices are loaded with sugar and so are most “smoothie” shop smoothies (make your own with whole fruit).
6. Dried Fruit – dried fruits remove the water content which dramatically decreases volume. What’s left is high in sugar and very calorically dense.
7. “Whole Wheat” Breads – even the 100% whole wheat variety can pack a lot of calories if you’re eating a lot of grains as part of your diet.
8. Whole Grain Bagels – a large “deli” bagel is loaded with carbs and calories, many times over 400 cals in a single bagel.

While some of the foods above are only “thought” to be healthy (fruit juice, whole grain bagels, etc), stuff like nuts, nut butters, and avocado are foods that I’d recommend in just about everyone’s diet and they are indeed great choices.

However, these calorically dense foods require that you monitor your intake of them closely. A few ounces of nuts, a couple tablespoons of nut butter, and an avocado is NOT a lot of food, but if you ate all of these every day, you’d be getting close to 1000 calories with these foods alone.

So exactly what has my cousin changed in her diet? At first she told me she didn’t think I was eating enough. When I told her I ate modestly but that if I got hungry then I ate again, she thought this was a wonderful viewpoint. She’d always eaten until she was REALLY full. So her portions were too large.

She’s also eating WAY less bread and crackers, so her intake of starchy carbs is way down. If she feels like a potato at dinner, we’ll make a sweet potato. If not, for dinner we’ll eat one of my special TEN ingredient salads, a cooked vegetable and a healthy protein like fish, lamb, or chicken. It’s working well for her and she’s very pleased.

I’m thinking I could have a new career. I could travel around and live with people and just have them eat what I eat. When they’ve lost the weight they’d like to lose I could move on to the next household!!

Got Belly Fat?

The link between belly fat and heart health has been well established. So instead of presenting you with the science, I’m giving you three tips to reduce belly fat, which will then increase your heart health.

I’m guessing we all know that if you want to have a heart attack, drink a lot of soda, eat French fries, and build your belly fat. Studies show that belly fat, known as visceral fat, is the most dangerous fat of all.

Visceral belly fat secretes inflammatory compounds, and inflammation is associated with heart disease.

If you have excess belly fat, a change is in order. But what to change? Here are three simple steps you can take.

  1. First, start eating fewer calories than you need by eliminating sugars and foods that come in a bag or a box. Replace them with whole, natural foods, focusing on fruits, vegetables, and raw nuts.
  2. Second, do short burst exercises focusing on total-body resistance training and interval training. Research shows that interval training is better than long cardio workouts for losing belly fat.
  3. Third, get social support. You’ll lose more belly fat if you exercise with a friend who is also losing belly fat.

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for women. Anything we can do to prevent it needs to be done!

“Be Here Now” To Improve Your Daily Life

“Be here now.” Three short words that when linked together can create a powerful message. It’s been used as a book title and I’m sure as the title for many inspirational speeches.

I was at a conference a few months ago and the crowd was getting rather rowdy and off topic. The workshop leader told everyone to please pay attention to her and to “be here now!

I think that phrase reminds us that we are often NOT in the moment but that staying in the moment over an extended period of time, free of distractions, is what we need to do to accomplish our goals.

It’s true that if we want to achieve our goals we’ll have to learn to apply “Be here now” in our daily lives.

Here’s how to apply it to your goals:

Rule #1. Concentrate on defining your objective.

What do you want to accomplish? What matters to you? Why do you want to achieve that particular goal?

Rule #2. Concentrate on one part of your goal at a time.

Break down your ultimate goal into smaller chunks. Keeping an eye on the big picture is great. However, you have to focus on the individual steps that will get you there.

Rule #3. Concentrate on controlling your situation. Here’s where the “be here now” resolve must be strongest.

When focusing on those individual steps, control your natural tendencies (we all have them) to drift away from the task at hand and/or stop trying if it becomes too challenging or takes too long.

Rule #4. Concentrate on completion.

To achieve any goal, you have to make a commitment to reach the finish line. Strengthen your resolve and keep yourself motivated by visualizing the end result. Think about how excited you’ll be and how great you’ll feel when you reap the rewards of your hard work.

If you’re already practiced in the “be here now” idea, then that’s great. I know for most of us, myself included, it’s a challenge so I thought I’d remind myself of this practice and remind you all as well, too.

Coping With Stress: Top 10 Ways!

Raise your hand if you have stress on a daily basis! If there’s anyone out there whose hand isn’t in the air, please contact me as I’d like you to write these articles from now on!!!

We all feel stress, so I thought I’d send you 10 ways to cope with stress on a daily basis. They are in no particular order so read through them and use them as you wish.

  1. Visualization. Relaxing images calm your mind and body. Visualize a soothing setting and take some slow deep breaths.
  2. Speaking slowly. This can be helpful when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. When we speak slowly we can think more clearly and respond better.
  3. Recharging. Set aside some time each day for energizing your mind. Purposely plan these relaxation break times in your hectic schedule. And keep these dates with yourself.
  4. Check your posture. This is one of my favorite ones. Poor posture while sitting or standing brings tension, pain, and increased stress to your muscles. Develop a healthy sitting, standing, and working environment.
  5. Eat healthy food, and drink to avoid dehydration. Drinking plenty of water and eating a nutritious diet reduces stress.
  6. Create a positive and helpful support system. Having this makes it easier to manage stress more effectively.
  7. Learn to manage your time. I think poor time management may create more stress than just about anything. Learn to prioritize tasks and avoid overcommitting yourself. Identify regular time wasting activities and eliminate them. Work on procrastinating less. Seeing your time management skills improve will lower your stress level!
  8. Practice progressive muscle relaxation. This means tightening and then relaxing your muscles. Do this laying down and scanning through your entire body. Mental relaxation follows physical relaxation, so give this a try.
  9. Meditation. Meditation quiets your mind and emotions. This helps relax tension in your body.
  10. Exercise. Exercise can be a wonderful outlet. In many ways it acts as a buffer to the overflow of hormones that accumulate during stress. Don’t forget to combine cardiovascular exercise with resistance training.

Give some or all of these a try and see if you can’t get a handle on your daily stress. Then maybe next time I ask you to raise your hand if your feel stress on a daily basis your hand won’t go up quite as fast or quite as high!!

Easiest Thing You Can Do To Improve Your Health

After the last blog post about cardiovascular disease, I received an interesting question. The reader asked me, “From the list of ten recommendations you gave us, which one should I start with?”

Great question! Hard to pick just one, but here’s what I suggested.

One of the easiest and most effective things you can do to improve your health in general and heart health in particular, is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.

I found a recent study where researchers from Iran’s Obesity Research Center examined fruit and vegetable intake in 840 men and women from Tehran, and the results were dramatic. The subjects who ate a lot of different fruits and vegetables were significantly and inversely associated with cardiovascular disease risk factors.

Specifically, it appears that eating a VARIETY of fruits and vegetables leads to lower LDL cholesterol in a dose-responsive manner. That means you’ll get more benefits from eating an apple, an orange, a banana, and some broccoli than you will from just eating an apple and an orange.

So every time you are at the grocery store, add at least one new fruit and one new vegetable to your cart. You can choose from kiwi fruit, avocados, asparagus, pears, spinach, and so many other amazing and delicious foods. This past month two foods I’ve added to my salads are radishes and jicama. I guess I was craving crunchy foods! And for fruits, let’s just say that lately I’ve been going gaga over grapefruit!

Try to be a little better every week with your fruit and vegetable intake and you’ll reduce your risk of heart disease in one of the simplest possible ways.

As you know I’m all for extending my life and living out my years in tip-top health, and I really do think that it’s a matter of making simple lifestyle choices, like eating a wider variety of fruits and veggies!

What’s The Big Deal About Chia Seeds?

Last week a client asked me if there were any health benefits in chia seeds. Good question, as it seems like multi-level marketing of chia seeds has SPROUTED!

Chia seeds were made popular by the Chia pet product. Strange but true. Turns out these tiny black seeds are a good source of fiber and are rich in antioxidants, and plant based omega-3 fatty acids. More than flaxseed even. And they provide you with iron and calcium.

Chia seeds were a staple food in Aztec and Mayan cultures.

Recently they’ve been shown to help people with diabetes manage blood sugar and protect heart health too.

Unlike flax seeds, you do not need to grind chia seeds. Eaten raw they are light and easily digestible. You can sprinkle them into yogurt, cereal, salads, and smoothies.

So there you have it. Hope this helps answer the question!