Tag Archives: heart healthy foods

6 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health

crossword_background_001I worry about my brain. As the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia increases, I want to do more to protect my memory and cognitive function.

While we wait for a cure for Alzheimer’s or better treatments for dementia, what can you do to help prevent the diseases? You can lead a more brain-healthy lifestyle that can slow down the process of deterioration. No matter what your age, you can take steps now to keep your brain healthy.

Here are 6 ways to start improving your brain health today:

Stay active
Physical activity is a valuable part of living a more balanced life and can also lower the risk of cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 50%.

In addition to protecting against Alzheimer’s and dementia, creating a regular exercise routine can also boost your mood, increase energy levels and reduce stress.

Read more about the benefits of exercise.

Eat a healthy diet
Your brain needs a nutritious diet to perform at its best. Make sure you are eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Focus on creating good eating habits that reduce inflammation and provide a steady supply of fuel.

Here are more diet tips to keep your brain healthy and protected:

  • Follow a Mediterranean diet – This approach to healthy eating includes a balanced diet rich in fish, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and fresh produce.
  • Avoid trans fats and saturated fats – You should reduce your intake of full-fat dairy products, red meat, fried foods, fast food and processed foods.
  • Eat heart-healthy options – If you’re following a diet plan that’s good for your heart, it’s also going to be good for your brain. When you reduce your risk of heart disease, you’re also helping protect your brain.
  • Add omega-3 fats – Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Eat cold-water fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel and sardines.

Keep mentally active
When you continue to learn new things and challenge your brain throughout life, you are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s a good idea to follow the “use it or lose it” approach. Activities that involve multiple tasks or include different types of stimulation, such as communicating, interacting and organization, will offer the greatest benefits and protection.

Here are more ways to exercise your brain.

Have a social life
We are social creatures. Relationships are important to our health. If you are isolated, you’re not thriving and neither is your brain. Studies show that the more connected we are and the more relationships we have, we test better for memory and cognition.

Do you have trouble making friends? Here are a few ways to build a strong support system and develop new relationships.

  • Volunteer – There are so many great causes you can support and giving back is good for your health!
  • Make weekly plans with friends – Take the initiative and get together with friends. You can go to the movies, visit the park, creating a walking group, or check out local museums.
  • Take a class – Join a gym or sign up for classes at a local college. It’s a great way to meet new people and stimulate your brain.
  • Get to know your neighbors – You may have people nearby who have similar interests to you. Make it a point to know your neighbors.

Manage your stress
Chronic stress takes a toll on the body as well as on your brain. Stress can lead to shrinkage in key memory areas of the brain, hamper nerve cell growth and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

There are many things you can do to prevent stress and keep your stress levels in check. Even the foods you eat can help you control stress.

Get plenty of sleep
Your brain needs to rest. A good night’s sleep helps your brain function at maximum capacity. When you don’t get enough sleep, you are cranky and tired. Lack of sleep also impairs your ability to think, solve problems and store or recall information. Deep, REM state sleep is important for memory formation and retention. Most adults need at least 8 hours of sleep per night. If you’re getting less sleep than that, your health, productivity and creativity can suffer.

To protect your brain health, embrace a balanced lifestyle that will improve your overall health. A balanced life includes exercising, eating a nutritious diet, establishing good relationships, reducing stress, and getting plenty of sleep.

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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!

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.