Sunday, February 19, 2017

How to eat for a healthy heart?

In honor of American Heart Month, this week we will look at heart health and what you can eat for a healthier heart.  The Centers for Disease Control notes even small changes in your diet and lifestyle can lead to healthier changes for your heart.  Why be concerned about heart health?  CDC states, “heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women”.  Another great source of information is The American Heart Association, the go to place for questions about heart health and how to adopt a heart healthy lifestyle.  What are some of their recommendations in terms of healthier eating and exercise? 

Eating for a healthy heart:  Small steps to take
  • Eat at home at least 3 times a week.   By skipping the fast food and restaurant meals you can prepare meals that are lower in fat, especially meals lower in saturated fat, and lower in sodium.
  • Use more herbs and spices when cooking – keep the flavor while cutting back on the amount of salt in a recipe.
  • Focus meals on foods high in fiber such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Cut back on sugary drinks – those with added sugar like sodas
  • Focus on healthier fats – look for olive oil, canola oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and healthier fats in avocados, nuts, seeds and fatty fish
According to the American Heart Association a heart healthy eating plan focuses on:
  •  Adding more fruits and vegetables to your day – aim for at least 5 A DAY
  • Whole grains for fiber, vitamins and a boost of minerals lacking or missing from white bread
  • Enjoy dairy – but choose low fat.   Milk – 1% or fat free, and low fat yogurt are good choices
  • Baked Not Fried – choosing chicken and fish are great choices but frying adds fat and extra calories
  • Nuts – have a handful a day – nuts are higher in fat but they have a heart healthy fat.  I sprinkle chopped walnuts on my oatmeal for a nutrition boost.  Try adding some chopped walnuts to a salad.  California walnuts has many American Heart Association certified heart healthy recipes on its website at  
What about exercise and your heart?

Walking -  The American Heart Association recommends walking as the easiest way to start improving your heart health.  They note it is easy, free, enjoyable and a great way to get some exercise every day. 

What about cardio and strength training?    How much exercise does the American Heart Association recommend for a healthy heart?
Exercising for Overall Heart Health
  • 5 Days a Week – do at least 30 minutes of moderate cardio/aerobic exercise for a total of 150 minutes a week OR
  • 3 Days a Week – do at least 25 minutes of more vigorous cardio/aerobic exercise to get a total of 75 minutes a week
  • Add Strengthening Exercise – at least 2 days a week
Exercise to lower blood pressure and your cholesterol
                3-4 Times a week, do about 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardio/aerobic exercise

The 30 minutes of exercise doesn’t have to be done all at one time.  Short on time? Then a 15-minute walk in the morning and a 15-minute walk at lunch or after work. 

To read more about the American Heart Association’s recommendations for heart healthy eating, go to The American Heart Association's Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations. has recommendations for heart healthy eating, many heart healthy recipes and suggestions for dining out. To get whole grains, walnuts and fruits and vegetables into your day, try the Quinoa-Chicken Salad with Toasted Walnuts, Grapes and Arugula recipe.

Sources:  Centers for Disease Control, exercise, The American Heart Association's Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations, heart healthy recipes,  Quinoa-Chicken Salad with Toasted Walnuts, Grapes and Arugula  Image source:  Salad

Quinoa-Chicken Salad with Toasted Walnuts, Grapes and Arugula

Sunday, February 12, 2017

4 More Healthy Eating Habits from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition

Last week I shared 4 of the Healthy Eating Habits the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition recommends.  The Council has Eight Healthy Eating Goals, and this week we will look at the remaining 4 healthy eating habits you can adopt in 2017.  So many people think healthy eating means giving up food.  But for many people, healthy eating means adding food to your day – adding more fruits and vegetables, adding whole grains.  Yesterday, I was in a grocery store and the mother of a toddler was buying a carton of Juice Drink boxes.  She probably thought this was a healthy choice but she was really buying mostly sugar water for her young child.  Had she bought real juice she would have been offering her toddler something with nutritional value rather than a drink of empty calories.  Making some small changes in the foods we choose to eat and buy each day can have a major impact on our health.  Simply buying real juice instead of juice drinks made of sugar water would be a big improvement in one’s diet.   As noted last week, many people are interested in healthier eating but then seem confused by nutrition myths as to what is healthy.  This mother probably thought something labeled “Juice Drink” was a healthy juice and was fooled by the labeling.   Adopting good, healthy eating habits and making even small changes in daily habits can result in good things for your health.  Here are 4 more healthy eating goals adapted from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition,  Eight Healthy Eating Goals.  

Try one or more of these healthy eating goals this week for a healthier you. 

Goal 1:  Choose Lean protein:    Somehow this has been construed to thinking chicken is lean so fried chicken nuggets are healthy.  Not true.  Choosing baked or broiled chicken is healthy but frying adds fat, defeating the whole purpose of choosing leaner chicken.  Other choices can include seafood (not fried), dry beans, nuts, seeds and eggs.  When buying ground beef, choose the leaner cuts (the label will state 90% lean).  Or choose ground turkey. 

Goal 2:  Drink water instead of sugary drinks:  Another goal of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to reduce the “added sugars” in our diets.  When the mother in the grocery store chooses the juice drink, she was choosing a beverage for her daughter loaded with added sugars.  Most people think only sugared sodas are sources of added sugar and then buy Hi-C, Sunny D and other juice drinks that are loaded with added sugar.  Many energy drinks and sports drinks are also loaded with added sugar.  Choose water with a slice of lemon.  Choose real 100% juice and not juice drinks. 

Goal 3:   Eat some Seafood:    Seafood is a great way to add some “good” fats to your diet, the Omega-3 fats.  Choices of seafood include salmon, tuna, trout and shellfish such as crab and oysters.  Seafood is a good source for protein, many minerals and the Omega- 3 fats which are heart healthy fats.   

Goal 4:  Cut back on Solid Fats:  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we cut back on solid fats.  These would be foods containing shortening, stick margarine, or butter such as the cookies, cake and other desserts you buy.   Pizza is another source of solid fats as is sausage, hot dogs, bacon and ribs.  Ice cream is a source of solid fats but there are low fat varieties that taste pretty good.  The President’s Council and the Dietary Guidelines don’t say we have to eliminate foods with solid fats from our diet, but to cut back on them.  Choosing leaner protein foods and lower fat milk is a way to cut back on solid, saturated fats in our diets.
Some ideas adapted from the President’s Council  for cutting back on Salt, Sugar and Solid Fats:
  • Choose baked or grilled food – going out for some Fast Food?  Look at the menu and instead of a fried chicken sandwich, get the grilled chicken sandwich.
  • Choose water or low-fat milk or fat-free milk as your beverage and skip the sugar sweetened sodas and fruit drinks.
  • Serve more fruit – at breakfast make sure you have some real juice or a piece of fruit.  Always pack fruit in your lunch or your kid’s lunch.  Serve more fruit for dessert. 

What small changes can you make this week for healthier eating habits in 2017?   If you drink whole milk, try switching to 2% milk.  Pack your lunch more often and pack a piece of fruit with your lunch.  Pack a low-fat yogurt in your lunch.  Have more fresh fruit for your kids to snack on and make sure any juice boxes you buy are real juice and not sugared fruit drinks with little juice but lots of added sugar. 

Sources:  Eight Healthy Eating Goals   Image Source:  Water

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Healthy Eating Habits

Almost everyone is interested in healthy habits but then seem confused by nutrition myths as to what is healthy.  So many people are “watching their carbs” or avoiding starches, avoiding bread.  But none of these are really healthy habits.  Adopting good, healthy eating habits and making even small changes in daily habits can result in good things for your health.  The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition has Eight Healthy Eating Goals.   We will review 4 this week and 4 goals next week.  They recommend making small changes each week towards a healthier diet and a healthier you.
Goal 1:   Make half your plate fruits and vegetables:   Eating more fruits and vegetables is so very important to good health.  The easiest way to do this is 5 A Day – aiming for eating at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day.  Have a serving of fruit at breakfast, a fruit and vegetable serving at lunch and then 2 vegetables at dinner.  You want to vary the color for optimal nutrition as different colors offer different antioxidants, different vitamins and minerals.
Goal 2:  Make half your grains whole grains:    Rather than “watching your carbs” or avoiding bread, you should add carbs to your day.  But good carbs that are whole grain.  Enjoy a whole grain cereal for breakfast.  Buy English muffins or bagel thins that are whole grain.  Buy some whole grain crackers.  Enjoy some popcorn as a snack. The President’s Council recommends looking for things like: "whole wheat," "brown rice," "bulgur," "buckwheat," "oatmeal," "rolled oats," quinoa," or "wild rice."
Goal 3:  Choose low fat milk, yogurt and cheese.  Some people think low fat milk or fat free milk has less nutrients than whole milk. But that isn’t true.  The calcium, protein and other nutrients are the same.  Just the fat is less.   If you are used to drinking whole milk, try switching to 2%.  If you drink 2% milk, try switching to 1% milk.  Any reduction in fat is good for your health.  Yogurt is great for your health, but choose low fat yogurt.  Look for lower fat cheese, like mozzarella made with 2% milk.
Goal 4:  Lower the sodium in your diet.  I would also add increase the potassium.  Read the label to see how much sodium in in the food you are eating.  And be sure to add more fruits and vegetables to your day for extra potassium.  Potassium helps counter the bad effects of sodium in your diet. 

What small changes can you make this week?  Pack your lunch and include 2 fruits and vegetables.  Bring a fruit such as an apple or banana along for a snack.  Choose some whole grains like a bowl of Cheerios with a sliced banana and some 1% milk.

Sources:  Eight Healthy Eating Goals   Image Source:  Healthy Grains

Healthy Grains

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Drink Tea for Good Health

Who doesn’t enjoy a cup of hot tea, especially in winter?  Does tea have any health benefits?  Do different kinds of tea have different health benefits?  Yes.  An interesting article, in Environmental Nutrition discussed teas for various health reasons such as weight, insomnia and improving your immunity.
Many people make health claims for herbal teas, but what health claims are true and reliable?  

Weight – are there herbal teas that promote weight loss? 
  • Green, white and oolong teas:  These 3 teas have chemicals in them called catechins.  In the lab at least, these chemicals do affect fat metabolism.  Green tea is especially rich in catechins. 
  • Roobios tea:  This is a different tea, a red tea with a different chemical.  This one has the chemical, aspalathin.   One study showed it helped improve fat metabolism.
  • Peppermint tea:  a real treat on a cold winter day.  The smell of peppermint in this tea seems to help suppress one’s appetite. 

Insomnia and Anxiety
  • Chamomile tea: have trouble sleeping?  Then a cup of chamomile tea may be helpful.  One study indicated it helped those with anxiety – so if you feel stressed, enjoy a cup of chamomile tea.
  • Kava tea:  studies have shown it may help relieve anxiety – but CAUTION.  Stay clear of kava supplements which have been linked to liver damage.
  • Valerian tea:  Some studies have found a cup of valerian tea can help you sleep better.

Immunity – are there teas that can help boost your immunity?
  • Echinacea tea:  Studies have provided mixed results on the link between this tea and immunity.  Some studies have shown it may help prevent the common cold.
  • Ginseng tea:  Some studies have found this tea helpful in preventing colds and the flu or at least help improve symptoms. 

CAUTION – drinking herbal teas may indeed have some health benefits but more research is needed.  But stay clear of buying the herbal and dietary supplements that contain green tea extract.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) acknowledges the benefits of drinking green tea and notes, “Green tea has long been believed to have health restoring properties and its ingredients have antioxidant activity. “   But NIH also notes that dietary supplements, like Hydoxycut, which contains high concentrations of green tea extract, has been linked to liver injury. 

Enjoy a brewed cup of herbal tea.  Just stay clear of herbal and dietary supplements containing extracts, like the green tea extract which can be found in some weight loss pills.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Best Diets for Weight Loss in 2017

Making a resolution to lose a few pounds in 2017?  If so, what are the best diets to be on for those interested in dropping a few pounds?  So many weight loss diets are “bad” diets as they are fads, diets that take away food groups and take away nutrients.  Diets that don’t change your lifestyle but offer a quick solution but for many a temporary solution.  You may lose some weight but once you go “off” the diet, you gain the weight back.  US News & World Report not only ranks the best diets for overall health (last week’s blog topic) but also the Best Weight-Loss Diets.  
What makes a weight-loss diet a winner?  The experts ranking the diets looked for both short and long term weight loss results.   They noted some diets did well in the short term, people lost weight on the diet, but long-term results, not so good.  A diet really isn’t successful if you gain all the weight back that you wanted to say good bye to. 
What Weight Loss Diets were ranked the best by US News & World Report 

    1. Weight Watchers = Number 1 Diet for Weight Loss in 2017
a.       Pros:  Healthier eating.  Weight Watchers helps you learn to eat healthier and encourages exercise.  This diet doesn’t just focus on counting calories but on making healthier food choices.  In Weight Watchers, you count points, not calories.  Unlike many diets, Weight Watchers doesn’t just focus on lowering calories.  It also helps you choose healthier foods, foods with less saturated fat, less added sugar and more protein.  There is mobile App to use on your smartphone. Fitness – you count points for food and you count points for exercise.  But not just going to the gym, cleaning your house adds points, mowing the lawn, walking the dog.  Basically, get moving points.
b.       Cons – some people don’t like all the counting of points.  A student in my class said their mother was happy counting the points but their dad said he just wanted to eat when out in a restaurant and didn’t want to figure out the points for every food on his plate. 
      2.  Jenny Craig Diet = Number 2 Diet for Weight Loss in 2017 (actually a tie for second place)
a.       Pros – this program offers meals that come to you with calories already counted for you.  They also provide recipes so you can make foods that fit into their diet program.  Like Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig promotes an active lifestyle and healthier eating patterns.  Studies do show you will lose weight on this program, as long as you stay on the program.
b.       Cons – cost – you will pay for the pre-packaged food. US News & World Report notes the enrollment fee is $99 and food costs can run $15 to $23 dollars each day which equates to $450 to $690 a month.  So not a cheap way to lose weight.  You can eat out occasionally, but the program is based on Jenny Craig foods delivered to you or you make.  A male student in my class chose this diet to lose weight for a future mountain climbing trip.  He lost weight, but said he was quite hungry at times. 
      3. Volumetrics Diet = Number 2 Diet for Weight Loss in 2017  (not a typo, this diet tied with Jenny Craig for second place) 
a.       Pros – focus of this diet is foods loaded with nutrients not loaded with calories.  Thus, more fruits and vegetables which are low in calories but full of nutrients.  A nutrition professor from Penn State University is behind this diet.  She divides foods into 4 groups – not the basic four, but new groups based on energy density (or calorie density).  Nonstarchy fruits and vegetables are number one or category one.  Then comes the starchy fruits and vegetables along with grains, cereals, low -fat meats and other low-fat foods.  Junk food ends up in the 4th category – the chips, candy, cookies.  Interesting that nuts are put in the 4th category and nuts are a healthy food choice.  Cost is a pro as there are no expensive foods to buy.  You do need to buy a book to give you guidance on what to eat and cook on this diet.
b.       Cons -  You have to keep track of what food is in what category.  If you choose a higher calorie food, you might be able to eat only a portion of it to fit into your daily allotment.  Exercise is not a major focus although the diet encourages walking and increasing your daily steps to 10, You can read a lot more about each diet at the Best Weight-Loss Diets website and by going to the websites of each of the above programs.
Try a diet that works for you.  One you can follow and stay on.  One that not only results in weight loss but lifestyle changes that help you keep off any weight you do lose.  WeMD has good advice to follow:  to prevent disease and stay active for life, you do need to exercise. So be sure to add this into your new lifestyle!  (Jenny Craig Review).  

Egg, bacon and avocado sandwich (Courtesy of Weight Watchers)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Best Diets for 2017 for Eating Healthy

What does “eating healthy” mean?  What are healthy diets to follow?  Not for weight loss or weight gain, but just a healthy eating pattern?  I recently heard a person say they were on an “anti-inflammatory” diet.   They had given up fruit and dairy – 2 important food groups for good health so already not a good choice.  Another person said they were eating healthy and following the Whole30 diet.  US News & World Report gives the Whole30 diet a poor rating and a low ranking.  Why?  The diet is quite restrictive and excludes grain (an important food group), dairy (another important food group), legumes, even peanut butter.  Any diet that excludes a food group, excludes nutrients that the food group provides, is not a healthy diet. 

Each year, the US News & World Report evaluates the “Best Diets”.   For 2017, they evaluated 38 popular diets and determined which ones are best for your health and fitness.  What do they look for?  They use health experts to rank diets on a number of parameters including how nutritious the diet is, how safe it is and whether the diet protects against diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Three diets ranked as the “Best Diets” for 2017  
      1.        DASH Diet – this diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, thus the acronym, DASH. Although it was designed to help lower blood pressure, the diet is good for your health. 
a.       Nutrients – the diet emphasizes nutrients that help lower one’s blood pressure like potassium and calcium.  It encourages more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein and dairy – but low fat dairy products. 
b.       Foods to limit are red meats, and foods high in salt. 
Although the diet was designed for lowering high blood pressure, it is a good overall pattern of eating healthy.
    2. Mediterranean Diet – this diet has been written about extensively.  Many nutritionists and health experts recommend this pattern of healthy eating.
a.       Why good for your health?  The Mediterranean diet is a good diet for disease prevention – prevention of cancer and diabetes.  It is diet for healthy hearts and a healthy brain.  Basically, a healthier you.
b.       Foods to enjoy:  fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, and fish.   
                                                               i.      Choose low-fat dairy – 2%, 1% or non-fat milk.  Choose low-fat yogurt.  Buy cheese that is made with low fat or skim milk like mozzarella cheese.
                                                             ii.      Whole grains – as noted in last week’s blog, so many Americans have few or no whole grains in their day.  Find a way to add whole grains to your daily food intake and to your kid’s diet.
                                                           iii.      Fruit and Vegetables – 5 A Day is a start.  More than 5 A Day is even healthier.
                                                           iv.      Nuts – add a handful of nuts a day
                                                             v.      Olive oil – buy some extra virgin olive oil and use it in cooking.
c.       Foods to cut back on: red meat, foods with added sugar and foods high in saturated fat. 
       3.   MIND Diet – this sounds like it would be a “quack” diet, but it is actually a combination of the DASH and Mediterranean diets.  It emphasizes the foods in these 2 diets that contribute to healthy brains.
a.       What are brain healthy foods emphasized in the MIND diet?
                                                               i.      Vegetables – leafy greens, beans
                                                             ii.      Fruits – berries,
                                                           iii.      Oil – olive oil
                                                           iv.      Protein – emphasis on fish and poultry
b.       Foods to cut back on:  red meat, fried and fast food, butter, stick margarine (choose tub margarine) and foods with added sugar like sweets and pastries.  
So rather than going on some crazy diet plan in an effort to eat healthier in 2017, choose one of the above diets to begin modeling your own eating after.  Healthy eating doesn’t mean giving up all the foods you like to eat, but adding some foods that promote good health like more fruits and vegetables and more whole grains.