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’s Your Favorite Condiment?

I’m very picky about my condiments. Maybe you are too. So when I do a nutritional intake with a new client I pay close attention to their use of condiments because we all have our favorites. Some are healthier for you than others.

In making suggestions to clients it becomes a “use this, not that” kind of idea. And it helps to think outside the condiment box.

So what would I say are the five best condiment choices?

1. I have to start with MY favorite one…….MUSTARD!

Mustard is absolutely one of the healthiest condiments! It has no added sugar.  Also, mustard seed itself is a source of powerful antioxidants.  In addition to the antioxidants in the mustard seed, most yellow mustards also contain tumeric and paprika, which both contain powerful antioxidants as well!

2. Guacamole.

It has lots of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Remember to use it as a condiment, so keep your portion size appropriate.

And it makes everything taste better. Use it instead of mayo in egg salad. Make your own. It’s fresher and fast to make.

3. Salsa.

Although ketchup might be on an unhealthy list due to the sugar content, salsa makes the super healthy list as it almost never has added sugars.  Salsa is mostly just vegetables and it mixes well with guacamole!

4. Hummus.

Hummus is mostly just chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon, and olive oil, and is easily one of the healthiest condiments. Or you can use it as a separate snack by itself.

The main thing to look for when buying a good hummus is to make sure it’s made with olive oil. Unfortunately most brands use cheap soy or canola oil, but if you’re a label reader, it’s easy to find a brand that uses solely olive oil.

However, I suggest making your own. I do and it’s easy and you can control the ingredients and make it just to suit your taste. I’ve tried many different store-bought hummus brands and I simply prefer my own!

One of my favorite snacks is just veggie sticks with hummus. However, hummus is also a delicious condiment to go with sandwiches or used as a salad dressing.

5. Pesto.

Pesto is generally a mix of garlic, pine nuts, basil, olive oil, and grated cheese.  It’s a great source of healthy fats and also powerful antioxidants, mostly from the garlic and basil, but to some extent from the pine nuts and olive oil too.

Pesto goes incredibly well with sandwiches, on meat dishes, or on eggs.

Surprised you didn’t see hot sauce on this list? Let’s call it #5A.

I’m not much of a hot sauce user but hot sauce is fairly healthy. Most hot sauces don’t have added sugars.  And the hot peppers are actually good for you and could even cause a slight and temporary metabolism increase.  The only drawback to most hot sauces is a moderately high sodium content. Unless you go nuts with loads of hot sauce on every meal, the sodium content in hot sauce will not be an issue.

So that’s my list. You might have your own, so let me know if I left anything off this one!

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!!

Two Fun And Healthy Recipes

Here are two fun, healthy recipes to try!

I like the first one because with all the potlucks during the holidays it’s nice to contribute a protein rich, high fiber, high antioxidant dip. I’m not much for creamy or cheese dips. I prefer ones like this.

Black Bean Salsa Dip

  • 1-2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 (15 ounce) can of organic black beans (make sure to drain and rinse them well)
  • 1/2 cup fresh salsa
  • 2 tbs fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • chili pepper, fresh or dry, to taste
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Put all the ingredients (except salt and pepper) into a food processor. Process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. This recipes makes about 2 cups.

Here’s a healthy salad you can use as a main meal. It’s full of protein, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants. Quinoa is a gluten-free grain rich in all nine essential amino acids. This recipes makes about 8 servings.

Curried Quinoa Salad


  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa (rinse well and drain)
  • 1 can (15 ounce) organic black beans (rinse well and drain)
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 large red pepper, diced
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup apricots cut into slivers


  • 1 tsp each of garlic and fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 4 tsp curry paste or 1 tbs curry powder
  • 3 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 5 tbs olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • black pepper
  • 8 large lettuce leaves
  • cilantro leaves or sprouts for garnish

Measure water into a saucepan. Add quinoa and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 10 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Set quinoa aside to cool.

Prepare your dressing by mixing all the ingredients together.

Once quinoa is cooled, toss the quinoa, beans, onion, red pepper, tomatoes, apricots, and dressing in a large bowl. Chill until you serve it.

Arrange each serving of salad in large lettuce leaves and garnish.

Try these healthy, delicious recipes and let me know what you think!

How To Make A Super Shake

One of the questions I get asked over and over again is, “What am I putting in my super shakes?” While I change up the ingredients quite often, here’s what I’m using these days.

  • Step 1: 5 ice cubes
  • Step 2: ½ frozen banana & 2 pitted dates
  • Step 3: 2 kale leaves & 1 tsp of powdered greens supplement (there are many good kinds of greens supplements)
  • Step 4: 2 scoops of plain pea protein powder (I try different kinds of protein powders to see what they taste like)
  • Step 5: Handful of walnuts
  • Step 6: Water (just enough for it to mix)
  • Step 7: Top with a few sprinkles of coconut or a teaspoon of coconut oil
  • Step 8: Drink and smile. You’re getting more nutrition in this shake than most people get in one week.

And one other tip. Someone emailed me and told me their blender was smoking! At first I thought this was a joke until I realized what they were saying. Blenders do smoke. It means it’s time for a new one!

Keep in mind, not all of the steps are mandatory.  If you don’t want any fruit, leave it out.  If you are using almond milk and don’t want to add extra nuts, leave them out. You get the idea.

In the end, select some of the fruits you enjoy, with vegetables and proteins that seem to work best for you. Feel free to experiment. I do recommend that you add your ingredients in the order listed. I find this gives me the best consistency and easiest blending. That way my blender doesn’t smoke!

Protein And Exercise

How much protein do you need after exercise? You may already know this answer, but I want to make sure!

I’m all for getting a little more protein in your diet, but enough is enough. Some of the protein shakes you can buy have 40 or 50 grams.

Do you really need that much protein after you exercise? Nope.

Resistance training causes muscle breakdown, and to repair those muscles over the course of a few days, you need amino acids from protein.

But for quite a few years now research has proven that we only need to consume a moderate amount of protein after exercise to begin the rebuilding process and keep the fat loss process humming along.

Just to give you an example of how this is researched, in one study scientists put six young men through an intense leg workout on five separate occasions. After the workout, they received 0, 5, 10, 20, or 40 grams of whole egg protein. The 20-gram protein dose caused maximum muscle protein synthesis. More important, when the subjects consumed any more than 20 grams, their bodies simply used the excess protein for energy (just as the body uses carbohydrates and fat), and part of the amino acids got excreted in their urine.

In other words, when you consume excessive amounts of protein, whatever you don’t need literally gets flushed away. Eating more protein than you need does NOT force your muscles to repair and rebuild faster.

Look at it this way. Imagine that your muscles are a factory, and the amino acids delivered to your muscles are parts. Inside the factory, little workers are building more muscle. But the factory has a limited rate of production.

It doesn’t matter how many extra parts get delivered. Those little muscle-factory workers can only work so hard and so fast. So those excess parts just sit there and eventually get removed by the factory’s clean-up crew and turned into waste. (If the factory is paying a pretty penny for those parts, it’s a waste of money too.)

So for your post workout meal you could consume a 20-gram protein shake or simply eat a regular meal that contains 20 grams of protein. If you’re in fat loss mode, makes sure that meal doesn’t have too much sugar!

I hope this helped remind you of what you already knew or brought some new useful information your way!

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!

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!