Tag Archives: heart disease

6 Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet

mediterranean_diet2-300x236If you’re looking for a healthy eating plan, the Mediterranean diet may be a good option for you. While this type of approach has many benefits, there are also several misconceptions about this healthy lifestyle.

First, let’s debunk the myths about the Mediterranean diet:

Myth 1: This diet is expensive.
The fact is the Mediterranean diet is less expensive than eating dishes of meat, cheese and processed foods. You’ll be creating meals of beans or lentils, as a source of protein, and eating more plants and whole grains.

Myth 2: Wine is always healthy.
Wine is good for your heart in moderation. For example, one glass a day for women and two for men. More than two glasses of wine can actually be bad for your heart.

Myth 3: You can eat all the pasta and bread you want.
Mediterraneans don’t eat heaping plates of pasta the way Americans do. Pasta is typically a side dish with only a 1/2 cup or 1 cup serving size. The rest of their plate contains salad, vegetables and a small portion of meat.

Myth 4: You’ll lose weight on this diet.
This diet alone may not lead to weight loss. The people of the Greek islands also include exercise in their daily lives, by walking up and down steep hills, tending gardens and living off what they can grow themselves.

Myth 5: The diet is only about food.
The Mediterranean diet has more to do with how the people live their lives. They sit down for meals, relax and eat leisurely while enjoying the meal with others. This approach to food may be as important to your health as what’s on your plate.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Eating plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt for flavoring
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry twice a week or more
  • Drinking red wine in moderation

Here are 6 health benefits of eating in a Mediterranean style:

Prevent heart disease and stroke
One of the main reasons to follow a Mediterranean diet is to promote heart health. Refined breads, processed foods and red meat are discouraged. In addition, red wine is better for your heart than hard liquor.

Protect against type 2 diabetes
Rich in fiber, the Mediterranean diet slows down digestion and prevents huge swings in blood sugar. The diet also includes less sugar than the typical American diet.

Reduce risk of Alzheimer’s
Researchers believe the Mediterranean diet may improve cholesterol, blood sugar levels and overall blood vessel health. All of these factors may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Halve the risk of Parkinson’s disease
The risk of Parkinson’s disease can practically be cut in half. That’s because this diet contains high levels of antioxidants that prevent cells from undergoing a damaging process called oxidative stress.

Live longer
With a reduction in developing heart disease as well as cancer, there is a 20 percent reduction in the risk of death at any age.

Stay agile
The nutrients gained with a Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of developing muscle weakness and other signs of frailty as we age by 70 percent.

While the Mediterranean diet may seem like a daunting change, it can be easier to adopt than you think. It follows the common sense approach to incorporating balance into your diet, by including lots of vegetables and fruits, cutting down on meat and eating more fish, chicken and good fats. You should also include physical activity and enjoy your meals with family and friends.

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11 Exercise Benefits You Don’t See

exerciseWhat’s the most common reason why people exercise? To lose weight. Yet, physical activity provides so many more benefits. Do you want to feel better? Need more energy? Want to live longer? Then get out there and get moving!

Here are 11 important benefits to exercising that you don’t see:

Improved mood
If you’re in a bad mood or have had a stressful day, you can blow off some steam by going for a brisk 30-minute walk or working out at the gym. Exercise stimulates brain chemicals that make you feel happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about yourself because you fit a workout into your day.

Energy boost
When you’re tired, the last thing you want to do is move. Yet, when you use energy to exercise, it gives you an energy boost. By exercising more regularly, you may also be able to eliminate fatigue and find that you have a lot more pep.

More confidence
Working out can make you look better on the outside. It can also make you feel better on the inside. Exercising can make you feel more empowered and boost your self-esteem. You feel ready to conquer anything.

Sleep better
We need our beauty rest so that our bodies can recover, repair damage, renew energy and clear the mind. Exercise is an all-natural sleep aid. People who exercise regularly have less insomnia and a higher quality of sleep.

Reduce stress
Exercise calms your body and your brain. After you work out, the levels of stress hormones – such as adrenaline and cortisol – drop. Especially after aerobic exercise, stress and anxiety melt away. You may also be able to cope more easily with stress when you feel confident about yourself.

Pump up your heart
If high blood pressure and heart disease run in your family, exercise can help you strengthen your heart. Being active boosts HDL or “good cholesterol” and lowers unhealthy triglycerides. Physical activity keeps your blood flowing and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Combat disease
In addition to giving you a healthy heart, regular physical activity can help you prevent or manage a wide range of health problems. Do you have a family history of certain types of diseases? Get moving and reduce your risk of stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes depression, certain types of cancer, arthritis and falls.

Relieve arthritis pain
Regular exercise can help ease your pain if you have arthritis. It can make your daily activities easier. Consider non-impact exercises like swimming. These types of exercises can be easier on your joints.

Strengthen bones
It’s important to keep our bones and muscles strong as we get older. Weight-bearing exercise, such as weight-lifting, walking, tennis and dancing, can help you strengthen and build bones. It can also help ward off osteoporosis and improve balance and coordination.

Look younger
People who work out often look younger than their friends. Now research has found that exercisers are truly younger on a cellular level than their peers. Exercise more and feel free to lie about your age!

Live longer
In addition to looking younger, regular exercise can add years to your life. You don’t have to be a hard-core fitness buff. Just get up and get moving. Even a little exercise can help you live longer than not exercising at all.

The bottom line: exercise is a great way to feel better, gain confidence, combat disease and improve chronic health conditions. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. So get moving!

11 Foods To Help You Live Longer

senior-with-redwine-943080-mI am obsessed with living longer. I want to live to be over 100 years old. However, I also want to be a healthy centenarian.

I have been reading that more and more research shows what we eat can influence how long we live. What works for weight loss can also help slow the aging process. That’s because what you’re eating affects your waistline, the condition of your heart and even how long you live.

So, take a good look at your pantry and see if you’re eating for longevity. Here are 11 foods that science proves will help you live longer:

Green tea
The world’s second most popular beverage can reduce the risk of death by up to 26% if you consume several cups a day. In addition, it has the added benefits of reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Nuts
A study found that people who snack on a handful of nuts every day live longer than those who didn’t. Nuts are packed with cholesterol-free protein and other nutrients. Almonds have vitamin E, which protects the body from cell damage and boosts the immune system. Pecans have antioxidants and walnuts are good for your cholesterol.

Fish
Fish has been called brain food because it has fatty acids, DHA and EPA – all are important to brain and nervous system development. The Omega-3 fats found in seafood or fatty fish can lower cholesterol and triglycerides.

Berries
Berries are a great source of antioxidants. Blueberries, strawberries and acai berries are a source of polyphenols, a powerful compound that may help combat cancers and degenerative diseases of the brain. Cranberries may also help you live longer.

Fiber
Fiber may help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, prevent constipation and help digestion. Fiber also fills you up so that you can eat less. Beans are fiber-rich and can be eaten three or four times a week. Fruits and vegetables can also add fiber to your diet.

Vegetables
Veggies contain phytonutrients and loads of vitamins and minerals that may protect you from diseases. Dark, leafy greens have vitamin K that builds strong bones. Sweet potatoes and carrots contain vitamin A – good for your eyes, healthy skin and protects against infection. Tomatoes or tomato products may help prevent cancer.

Protein
Protein provides essential building blocks for daily repair of your cells. It’s critical to your health and vitality, especially as you get older. You can add protein to your diet with lean meat, fish, seafood, beans, low-fat dairy and eggs.

Healthy fats
You’ve probably heard about the Mediterranean diet. But what you may not know is the heart-healthy diet has been shown to increase the lifespan of elderly people by about 20 percent. The diet encourages eating healthy fats, like olive oil, as well as vegetables and whole grains.

Whole grains
Eating whole grains can reduce your risk of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Choose whole-grain breads and pastas, as well as brown or wild rice, instead of white options. Whole grains are less processed and retain more of the nutritional value. Whole grains also add fiber.

Dairy
Drinking vitamin D-fortified beverages like milk can help increase your calcium absorption. That’s important for bone health. Vitamin D also reduces the risk of colon, breast and prostate cancers. Eating yogurt can also give you the benefits of dairy and aid in digestion.

Red wine
Just a half a glass of wine a day can help you live longer. Research found that light wine drinkers lived up to five years longer than those who did not drink wine at all. Red wine is rich in antioxidants that help protect against heart disease.

Eat these super-foods to help increase your lifespan and improve your quality of life. By incorporating a balanced diet into your daily life, you can fight off some of today’s most life-threatening diseases and live longer!

Why is Belly Fat Bad for You?

tape-measurer-1-433750-mMy healthy habits may have slipped a little during the holidays. I ate things I wouldn’t normally eat – in addition to eating more than I probably should. My exercise routine went out the window with the hectic holiday schedule.

It really hit home when I had trouble buttoning my jeans a few days ago. My belly and waistline had definitely expanded.

Belly fat can be a serious health issue. When we talk about belly fat, we don’t mean the jiggly (subcutaneous) fat you can pinch with your fingers. We’re actually referring to the visceral fat that lies out of reach, deep within your abdomen. It’s found around your liver, intestines and other organs. It’s also stored in a flap of tissue that lies under your stomach muscles.

Why is this abdominal fat worse than fat around the hips and thighs? Here are 5 reasons to be concerned about belly fat:

Belly fat acts like an organ
Belly fat isn’t just idly hanging out on your waistline. Researchers believe belly fat is an active “organ” in your body. It can contribute to health problems all over your body. Abdominal fat breaks down easily into fatty acids. These flow directly into the liver and your muscles.

Belly fat produces hormones
The fat cells in your abdomen are little hormone factories. They produce substances that get in the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body. The hormones made by fat cells affect your appetite, metabolism, blood sugar and blood pressure.

Belly fat increases risk of diabetes
Belly fat secretes a molecule that increases insulin resistance, which raises your risk of type 2 diabetes. Learn more about the 6 Truths About Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners.

Belly fat hurts your heart
Visceral fat also makes certain proteins that trigger low-level inflammation. These proteins can increase your risk of heart disease. The fatty acids released by belly fat are also linked to higher LDL or “bad” cholesterol and lower HDL or “good” cholesterol. Read about these Best Exercises to Lower Your Cholesterol.

Abdominal fat also triggers a change in angiotensin – a hormone that controls blood vessel constriction – increasing the risk of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack. Here are 13 Heart Healthy Foods you should be eating.

Belly fat ups risk of breast cancer
In general, being overweight or obese can increase your risk of breast cancer. Belly fat produces the hormone estrogen, which feeds breast cancer cells.

What can you do about belly fat?

There is evidence that your genes do determine how many fat cells you have. In addition, your genes dictate, to some extent, your body shape. You may be more inclined to be apple-shaped (carrying more weight in your mid-section) or pear-shaped (carrying weight in the hips and thighs).

Beyond that, how much belly fat you carry is linked to your lifestyle, including physical inactivity and how many calories you eat.

Learn more about how you can control and lose belly fat in our blog post: 4 Steps to Losing Belly Fat.

The good news is that belly fat responds well with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Visceral fat metabolizes more easily than the fat that’s on the surface of your body. There’s even more good news. Once you start to lose belly fat, the harmful effects of these extra fat cells can be reversed, including the risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Just another reason to eat healthy and get more exercise in 2015!

 

 

13 Top Heart Healthy Foods

puzzle-heart-1440817-3-mI lost my grandma to congestive heart failure 14 years ago. I worry that I could have heart issues someday.

I was surprised to read recently that heart disease is still the number one killer of Americans. Even though we have learned so much about the prevention of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, it seems we can still do more to stop this deadly condition.

It’s been proven that eating healthier and getting more exercise can make a huge difference in your risk for heart disease.

What you eat matters. Here are 13 top foods to help protect your heart and blood vessels:

Salmon
Salmon is super-rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can help reduce blood pressure and keep clotting at bay. Salmon also contains powerful antioxidants. Grill it up with a tasty rub or marinade. Save a chunk of salmon and chop it up for pasta or salad at another meal. To mix things up, you can also eat oily fish like mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines.

Oatmeal
A steaming bowl of oats is a great way to start the day and also gives you omega-3 fatty acids, folate, niacin, calcium and potassium. It’s rich in fiber and can help lower bad cholesterol and keep your arteries clear. Add raisins or fresh berries to boost this heart healthy dish.

Nuts
Walnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids, along with mono- and polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E, magnesium and fiber. Mix a few of these nuts with yogurt or berries, add them to salads, or make your own trail mix.

Avocado
A bit of avocado added to a sandwich or spinach salad can give you a serving of heart-healthy fats. Avocados are packed with monounsaturated fats and help lower bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol. Avocados also help in the absorption of beta-carotene and lycopene, which are both good for heart health.

Olive oil
Olive oil is also a source of monounsaturated fats and helps lower bad cholesterol. Use it in place of butter or other oils for cooking.

Flaxseed
Flaxseed is full of fiber and omega-3 as well as omega-6 fatty acids. Sprinkle flaxseed on oatmeal or whole-grain cereal for breakfast. You can also use flaxseed instead of eggs when making muffins, quick breads, pancakes or cookies.

Berries
Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries and blackberries are all full of anti-inflammatories, which reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer. They also contain vitamins and nutrients as well as fiber. Mix berries in your salads, muffins or trail mix.

Red wine
A glass of red wine can improve your good cholesterol. Red wine contains both catechins and reservatrol, also known as flavonoids.

Legumes
You can fill up on fiber with lentils, chickpeas, black beans and kidney beans. These legumes are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and soluble fiber.

Leafy greens
Spinach can help your heart with lutein, folate, potassium and fiber. Spinach can make nutrient-packed salads and sandwiches. Other leafy greens include kale, collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce and cabbage.

Soy
Soy is low in saturated fat and is a great source of lean protein for a heart-healthy diet. Try natural sources of soy, such as edamame, tempeh or tofu. Soy milk is good with a bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal, or even in smoothies.

Fruits and veggies
It’s important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet. You should even try to make them half your plate. You can buy fresh fruits and veggies that are in season, frozen or canned (just be sure it’s 100% fruit juice and not syrup). Some heart healthy veggies include carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, asparagus and squash. In addition to berries, add these fruits to your diet: oranges, apples, apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, grapefruit, kiwi, peaches and papaya.

Tomatoes
I’m never sure if a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable, but it deserves its own category anyway. Tomatoes are a super food packed with beta- and alpha-carotenes, lycopene, lutein, vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber. You can add tomatoes to salads, pasta dishes, pizza and more. You even eat them in ketchup.

Adding these heart healthy foods to your diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. See if you can eat a few of the foods listed above today!

7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For You

Fatty foods that are good for youAre you having eaters’ remorse after indulging in a tasty Easter meal this past weekend? You may be worried that you consumed too many fatty foods. But you may have actually eaten good fats.

In addition, eating more fat – instead of less – can be key to helping you reduce your calorie intake. You won’t feel deprived like you do when you eat all low-fat foods or turn to carbohydrates to feel full.

We recently blogged that fatty foods may not be as bad for us as we once thought. It’s about more than just the amount of fat you eat. It’s the types of fat you eat that really matter.

Trans fats are still to blame for many of the unhealthy things that all fats get blamed for – heart disease, weight gain, clogged arteries and more. Trans fats are also called hydrogenated oils and are made from unsaturated fat that has been chemically altered to keep food fresh longer. Your body has no use for these fats.

On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can be good for you. They can help raise good HDL cholesterol and lower bad LDL cholesterol, and protect against the build up of plaque in your arteries.

You should still keep an eye on how much fat you eat. The USDA recommends that you keep your total fat intake to 20-35% of daily calories. You should limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your calories. Limit trans fats to only 1% of your calorie intake.

Here are 7 foods that are packed with healthy fats:

Olive oil
Olive oil is often used in a Mediterranean diet. It is a healthier choice over vegetable or palm oil. It may help reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancers. Olive oil has 100 calories per tablespoon, so you should still use it in moderation.

Eggs
Eggs are a great source of protein. We have been told that egg whites are the healthier part of the egg because they have less fat. While the egg yolk has some fat, it also has important nutrients. The yolk contains choline, a B vitamin that helps regulate the brain, nervous system and cardiovascular system.

Dairy
Cheese is packed with protein and fats that help keep you full. It’s great for a snack and for eating on the go. Milk and yogurt that are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids are a source of good fat. While sour cream has a bad reputation as a fatty food, at least half of its calories come from saturated fat. In fact, it has half the calories of a tablespoon of mayonnaise.

Seeds and nuts
Pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds are good for you. Flaxseeds are also a good source of omega-3s. Nuts are a great monounsaturated fat. Grab a handful of almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans or cashews.

Fish
Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout and sardines, are a good source of healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends eating two 3-ounces servings of fish each week.

Avocados
Avocados are high in fat, but it’s the monounsaturated, hearty-healthy kind that is good for your cholesterol. In addition, when you eat avocados with other food, they can help your body better absorb nutrients. Add avocado slices to a sandwich or substitute avocados for butter or cream cheese.

 Soy foods
You may be surprised how many foods you can buy that are made from soybeans. You can try tofu, miso, tempeh, soy milk and edamame. Soy products have many health benefits including the plant-based fatty acid ALA. You can even snack on roasted soybeans.

The key to healthy eating is creating a balanced diet with a variety of good food choices. It also helps to create healthy eating habits.

The Truth About Good and Bad Fats

whats-on-your-plate-1006881-mFor over 40 years, we’ve been told that saturated fat is bad for us. For instance, meat, cheese and other full-fat dairy products are high in saturated fats.

We tend to have an all-or-nothing attitude when it comes to food. We think that if a food is considered bad, we have to avoid it completely.

Yet, new research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, shows that there may be insufficient evidence to support the long-standing belief that we should only eat small amounts of saturated fat.

A QUICK FAT REVIEW:
Unsaturated fats – Considered the “good” fats. These fats can be found in nuts, avocados and other vegetables. Unsaturated fats are lower in calories than other fats.
Saturated fats – Found mostly in animal products, such as meats and diary. It is recommended we reduce consumption of these fats.
Trans fats – These fats are unsaturated (good) fats that have been partially saturated with hydrogen to extend their shelf life. Trans fats have been found to elevate “bad” cholesterol and should be avoided.

In the 1960s, studies showed that saturated fats increased LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol. This LDL cholesterol was assumed to increase the risk of heart disease.

Recent studies have shown no significant relevance between saturated fat intake and coronary risk. Researchers now think that the relationship between cholesterol and heart disease is more complicated than just looking at LDL (or bad cholesterol) that comes from saturated fats.

Worried about your cholesterol levels?
Learn more about the best exercises to help you lower your cholesterol.

So, what now? Based on the research, it seems that the ratio of LDL to HDL (the good cholesterol), is the more important predictor of heart disease. There is also evidence that when compared to eating carbohydrates, saturated fat can increase HDL and lower fat deposits in the blood. This would, in theory, help protect against coronary disease.

Learn more about selecting good carbs, or smart carbs, as part of a healthy diet.

Keep in mind, the study does not say that saturated fat isn’t a problem. We should still follow the American Heart Association’s guidelines for a recommended diet. The AHA currently says that no more than 6% of your total daily calories should come from saturated fat.

Tips on eating heart-healthy foods:

Choose good fats
Select unsaturated fats for cooking and eating, but still try to limit your fat intake. Use polyunsaturated fats, such as safflower oil, or monounsaturated fats, like olive oil.

Go easy on the carbs
When we attempt to eat less saturated fat, we often eat more carbohydrates instead. Carbs from refined grains (like fat-free bagels and low-fat cookies) can lead to weight gain, which is also not good for our health or our heart.

Replace red meat and processed meats
Just because saturated fats may not be as bad as once suspected, it doesn’t mean you should eat tons of red meat, bacon and cream. Replace those foods with nuts, fatty fish and healthy oils.

Eat more fruits and vegetables
We already know we should eat a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables. In fact, we should strive to make fruits and veggies half our plate.

Here are 13 tips to make fruits and vegetables half your plate.

Choose whole grains
Select whole grain foods, such as oatmeal and whole-grain breads, rice and pasta. Avoid white rice, white bread and pasta, as well as potatoes, sugary drinks and other refined carbohydrates.

The key to healthy eating – like the key to healthy living – is finding a good balance. Choose a healthy, balanced diet across all the food groups. Too many calories from any source, whether it’s fats or carbohydrates, can lead to weight gain. And, it’s carrying that extra weight that can increase your risk of heart disease and other health problems.

Need help eating a healthy, balanced diet? Read 11 Healthy Eating Habits for 2014.