February 1, 2013

Shop With Your Heart in Mind

One in four, or almost 80 million Americans, have some form of heart disease. It is the number one killer disease in America, and up to half of those deaths could be prevented with changes in lifestyle, with diet leading the troops. February is American Heart Month.  The guidelines for shopping for heart-healthy foods are simple and can be distilled down to three:

1. Fat:  Cut out the bad and add the good: It’s not so much fat, but the type of fat that can either raise or lower your risk for heart disease. Cut back as far as you can on the “bad” fats, the artery-clogging saturated fats and trans fats, while adding the “good” fats in moderation to your diet, such as the fish oils, especially DHA, and the monounsaturated oils in olive oil, nuts, and avocados.

2. Produce: Load the plate with colorful fruits and vegetables.

3. Fiber: Go for the 100% whole grain, legumes, and other fiber-rich foods.

Yellow PepperWhere do we start on your shopping spree? Fruits and vegetables should make up half of you shopping. You need 8+ servings of colorful fruits and vegetables every day, which supply fiber to lower cholesterol, vitamins to lower a chemical in the blood called homocysteine, and antioxidants to protect your arteries from damage associated with atherosclerosis. Few topics in nutrition are black and white, but when it comes to produce 1,000s of studies spanning decades of research repeatedly and consistently show that the more produce people consume, the lower their risk for all age-related diseases, including heart disease. Stick with the colorful ones, since the antioxidants are in the pigment…the more pigment, the more antioxidants, including spinach, sweet potatoes, oranges, bagged romaine lettuce, broccoli. tofu,.etc. Buy produce in different stages of ripeness so they are ready to eat when you are. Don’t forget the garlic and lemon, two heart-healthy flavors. And, for those really serious about lowering their cholesterol, throw in a box or two of tofu, since soy helps lower heart disease risk. Frozen plain vegetables are good, too. They are just, if not more, nutritious than fresh. Load your freezer with green peas, green beans, broccoli, carrots, chopped spinach, etc.  Another way to get your vegetables is to drink them! A large glass of tomato juice provides 2 servings of vegetables! If you choose Langers Tomato Juice Plus with Fruitflow, you get a double benefit, since Fruitflow improves blood flow within less than 2 hours of drinking it and the improvement in circulation lasts for 12 hours!

Now onto the meat department. Select chicken breast without the skin, ground turkey breast meat, extra-lean red meats with 7% or less fat by weight, and of course, fatty fish such as salmon. The American Heart Association recommends at least 2 servings a week of omega-3 rich seafood to prevent irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), blood clots, clogged arteries, and high triglyceride levels. The omega-3s also might help reduce inflammation in blood vessels associated with atherosclerosis. If you can’t afford or don’t like fish, are vegetarian, or are concerned about pesticides and mercury in fish, look for foods that are fortified with a plant-based, contaminant-free DHA that also are easy to fit into your daily routine, such as milk, yogurt, bars, juices, etc. Aim for at least 200 milligrams of DHA a day.

What about the dairy case?  Most people know to choose low-fat milk, but be sure it is 1% low-fat. The 2% milk is not much different in its fat content from whole milk. Nonfat is best of course, or buy both 1% and nonfat and mix them yourself. Cheese now surpasses meat as the #1 source of saturated fat in the diet. Choose either low-fat options, or select full-flavor cheese, such as sharp cheddar, then grate small amounts of it into recipes.You can use less and get more flavor than if you chose regular cheddar. Also, purchase liquid egg substitutes, margarine with stanols and sterols known to help lower blood cholesterol levels (however, you’ll need to consume 3 Tablespoons daily to get enough stanols to lower cholesterol levels..and the calories can add up), fat-free sour cream, fat-free cream cheese, and nonfat plain yogurt, preferably ones fortified with vitamin D, since this vitamin shows promise in lowering heart disease and stroke risk..

BreadFinally, in the bakery, purchase only breads and baked items that say “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain.” Otherwise, even if the label says whole, it is likely to be made with refined wheat flour, which is just white flour.

Will eating well really make a difference? Absolutely! Studies, including ones from the University of Toronto, have found that after one month of eating healthfully, people lowered their cholesterol by 29%, which is what you would expect from taking statin medications! While the statin medications come with a load of potential side effects, from nausea and headaches to liver failure, the only side effect of eating a heart-healthy diet is you may lose a few pounds and live longer. On a personal note, my cholesterol shot up after menopause, but by making a few of the food choices I’ve just mentioned, I got it back down to optimal levels – no medications for me!!

Just Do This Today

When choosing processed foods in a can, bottle, bag, or box, consider these heart-healthy guidelines:

1. Key words: Look for key packaging clues, such as the word “healthy” in the title of a food, such as Healthy Request or Healthy Choice items, including soups and frozen entrees. Also look for foods that have the American Heart Association’s heart-check mark. To quality for this word or mark, a food must be low in fat and saturated fat, contain limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium, and also must provide at least 10% of one or more vitamins, minerals, or fiber.

2. Read labels: Choose foods that have no more than 1 gram of saturated fat for every 100 calories. On the other hand, don’t be fooled by words like “cholesterol-free” or “low-fat,” since these eye-catchers often are more hype than help. For example, a peanut butter that says it is “cholesterol-free” means nothing, since no peanut butter contains cholesterol. Always go to the back of the container and check both the nutritional panel and the ingredients list.

3. Real foods: Focus on foods that are as close to their original source as possible, such as nuts and nut butters, olive oil, olive oil spray, canned tomatoes, canned beans, salsa, instant brown rice. Don’t forget old fashioned oatmeal! This grain contains soluble fiber that lowers blood cholesterol levels. Oats also help maintain insulin levels and help regulate blood pressure, both of which are important for cardiovascular health.

Photo credit: Steffen Zahn via Compfight

Hot Off the Diet Press

1. Eat Your Way to Happiness
eat-happyPeople who include at least seven colorful fruits and/or vegetables in their daily diets are the most likely to be happy and enjoy good mental health, according to a study from Dartmouth University and the University of Warwick. The eating habits of about 80,000 people were compared to psychological well-being. Results showed that mental well-being, as assessed on life satisfaction, nervousness, self-reported health, happiness, and feeling low, rose with the number of daily servings of fruits and vegetables, peaking at seven servings a day.

Blanchflower D, Oswald A, Stewart-Brown S: Is psychological well-being linked to the consumption of fruit and vegetables? Social Indicators Research 2012;October 11th.

2. Take Your Calcium! Women who get too little calcium are a high risk for developing a hormone condition caused by overactive parathyroid glands that contribute to bone loss and fractures, according to a study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Using data from more than 58,000 women in the Nurses Health Study, the researchers found that women with the highest calcium intakes had a 44% lower risk for hyperparathyroidism (PHPT) compared to women who consumed the least amount of the mineral. Women who supplemented with as little as 500 milligrams of calcium every day had a 59% lower risk for PHPT. The researchers conclude that, “Increased calcium intake, from both dietary and supplemental calcium, is independently associated with a reduced risk of developing primary hyperparathyroidism in women.”

Paik J, Curhan G, Taylor E: Calcium intake and risk of primary hyperparathyroidism in women. British Medical Journal 2012;345:e6390.

3. Nourish Your Brain: Researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston report that lutein and zeaxanthin benefit cognitive health. These two carotenoids are the only ones that cross the blood-retina barrier to form macular pigment (MP) in the eye. They also accumulate in the brain and there is a significant correlation between MP density and cognitive function in healthy seniors. An examination of the link between cognition and lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in the brain tissue of decedents from a population-based study in centenarians found that zeaxanthin concentrations in brain tissue were significantly related to measures of  cognitive function, memory retention, verbal fluency, and dementia severity. Lutein also appears to improve recall and verbal fluency, while lutein concentrations in the brain are  lower in people with mild cognitive impairment. In addition, preliminary research shows that lutein supplementation in combination with the omega-3 fat DHA (800 milligrams/day) results in improved verbal fluency, memory, and rate of learning. The researchers conclude that, “When all of these observations are taken into consideration, the idea that lutein and zeaxanthin can influence cognitive function in older adults warrants further study.”

Johnson E: A possible role of lutein and zeaxanthin in cognitive function in the elderly. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012;96:1161S-1165S.

Food & Mood Tip – Brain Basics

As early as our middle 30s, most of us notice a slow, steady drop in mental sharpness. It’s called age-related memory loss, cognitive decline, generalized slowing, and even – heaven forbid – a senior moment. Is it inevitable? Does forgetting a name lead ultimately to forgetting your loved ones?

Brain Rules by John Medina The answer is a definite “NO!”  Granted, the average 75-year-old is a little slower at Jeopardy than someone in their twenties, but the minor short-term memory loss that begins in a person’s 40s is a nuisance, not a mental death sentence. Even then, the difference has more to do with diet and lifestyle, than age. And, while scientists used to say the brain was one of the few tissues that did not repair itself, we now know the brain can generate new cells in the hippocampus – a portion of the brain important for memory – throughout life. That means the sooner you start caring for your mind, the better. It’s always easier to keep the brain humming in good order than to get it started again once the pipes are clogged!…but, it’s never too late. You can supply the brain at any age with the building blocks it needs to protect itself from damage, slow the aging process, and function at its best. In a nutshell, a good diet protects your mind by providing nutrients (optimal levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and the omega-3 fat DHA) that

1) are building blocks for nerve and brain cells,

2) serve as assembly line workers to maintain optimal brain function and

3) act as warriors and ammunition to protect delicate brain tissue from damage.

Image credit: Austin Kleon via Compfight

Eat Your Way to Sexy This Week   – Supplements: Heart Healthy Is Sexy

dhaHeart health requires optimal nutrition and responsible supplementation. Since 99 out of 100 Americans fail to meet even minimum standards of a balanced diet, it is wise to take a moderate-dose multiple vitamin and mineral. Also, if you can’t get enough DHA from fatty fish and algal-fortified foods, consider taking a supplement that contains at least 220 milligrams of this omega-3. Look for the “lifesDHA” logo on the label of foods and supplements. The stanols and sterols in margarine help block the body’s absorption of cholesterol, thus lowering the “bad” cholesterol, LDL, while increasing the “good” cholesterol, HDL. They also reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, a marker for inflammation that is linked to a greater heart-disease risk. You need 2 to 3 grams a day and that can add up to a lot of calories if you just use the margarine. So, consider taking a supplement that contains these plant-based foods.

Mood-Boosting Recipe of the Week

Pan-Seared Asparagus with Gingered Onions (from The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams)

Pan-searing seals in flavor and gives this vegetable an exotic personality it doesn’t have when steamed. One serving supplies one half your daily need for folic acid, a B vitamin that helps regulate mood and thinking, and a whopping dose of vitamin C, iron, and selenium, which also protect your brain from age-related memory loss.

1/3 cup fat-free chicken broth
1 tablespoon orange peel, thinly sliced
4 cups onions, thinly sliced into rounds
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 ½ pounds fresh asparagus, washed and ends snapped off
salt to taste
orange slices (optional)

1. Soak orange peel in chicken broth for 5 minutes.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the chicken broth in a medium-sized, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add onions and orange peel. Cook, turning frequently, for 10 minutes or until onions are translucent and peel is tender. Add additional chicken broth, a tablespoon at a time, to keep onions moist, but not wet. Add ginger, brown sugar, and salt to taste. Continue to stir until onions are golden and limp, approximately 10 minutes. Set aside.

3. During the last 10 minutes while onions are cooking, pour olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add asparagus and salt to taste. Stir gently and frequently until asparagus turns bright green and is cooked through, but still crunchy, approximately 12 minutes. Add a tablespoon of chicken broth if pan is too dry.

4. Arrange asparagus spears on a platter and top with gingered onions. Garnish with orange slices. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional Analysis per serving: 103 Calories; 14 percent fat (1.7 grams); 0 grams saturated fat; 20 percent protein; 66 percent carbohydrate; 5 grams fiber.

Answers to “Do You Know?” from Last Issue:

There is no such thing as a “bad” food only bad diets.
Cheez Whiz Yeah, yeah, there are only good and bad diets, right? In general, that could be considered true, but come on! In a country faced with epidemics of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and a population where indulgence is a daily routine, what is good about a fried pork rind? Nutrition-wise a can of cheese whiz doesn’t hold a candle to a mango! We usually don’t have a problem treating ourselves to those tasty foods, so to say there are no ‘bad’ foods might be a license for some people to eat anything whenever they want. It’s possible some foods really are not good for some people. For example, if having cookies in the house triggers a person to binge, then that food could be a problem simply because it results in unhealthy behaviors.  That doesn’t mean you can’t have your cake, chocolate, or chips, but only once in a while and in reasonable portions, such as a can of soda once a week, not every day. Instead, stock the kitchen with ‘good’ foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain bread, canned tomatoes and beans, and low-fat yogurt or soymilk.

Photo credit:genibee via Compfight

 While everyone can improve their diets, most people eat pretty well in this country.
While nine out of ten people say they think they eat pretty well, almost all of them are delusional. Every national nutrition survey dating back to the 1960s repeatedly and consistently show that our diets are sorely lacking in vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, phytonutrients, and more, yet are dripping in unhealthy fats, processed grains, sugar, and junk. In fact, one study from the US Food and Drug Administration found that 99 out of 100 Americans don’t meet even the minimum standards of a “balanced diet.” So, don’t fool yourself, your diet probably isn’t as good as you think. The good news is, you can change that right now by focusing on real, unprocessed foods, loading at least half the plate with colorful produce and limiting fast, convenience, and commercial snack items.

Do You Know?

Which is the better diet food: A bag of Garlic Caesar Salad or a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?

 Which has the most calories, Reduced-fat or full-fat peanut butter?

Check next week for the answers….

Label Lingo

What is better for you spinach pasta or regular pasta?
What could be better than to meet your vegetable quota by eating carbs?! Too bad there is so little spinach in spinach pasta that the label says a hefty portion contains no vitamin A, also a red flag there’s little of the healthy phytochemicals that have made spinach famous, like lutein to protect your eyes.

Instead choose: Toss thawed and drained chopped spinach into pasta (preferably pasta that is at least half whole grain) or pasta sauces… a half cup serving will supply 100% of your daily need for vitamin A and 25% of your requirement for folate.

The Daily Menu

Put know how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the snacks  if you want to cut additional calories. And, with all the menus in my newsletter, feel free to tweak to your food preferences and choices.

1 poached egg
1/2 100% whole grain English muffin, toasted
1 cup calcium- and vitamin D-fortified orange juice

Mid-Morning Snack:
1 2″ oatmeal-raisin cookie
1 cup soymilk w/ DHA

Peanut butter and apple sandwich: 2 Tablespoons peanut butter, 1 /2 apple thinly sliced on 2 slices of whole grain bread (such as Dave’s Killer Bread).
1 cup baby carrots and pea pods
8 ounces low-fat yogurt sweetened with 2 teaspoons jam

Mid-Afternoon Snack:
1 ounce almonds
3 graham crackers

4 ounces roast chicken breast (Save extra chicken for salad later in week.)
Glazed Carrots: 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ diagonals, cooked in 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1/4 cup orange juice until tender. In a small bowl, mix until smooth 1 /2 teaspoon cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, pinch of nutmeg, and 3 tablespoons water. Add ginger mixture to carrots and stir over medium heat until sauce thickens. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons chopped chives and a pinch of red pepper flakes (Optional).
1 serving Pan-Seared Asparagus with Gingered Onions
1 /2 cup mashed potatoes made with 1% low-fat milk
Sparkling water with lime juice

Evening Snack:
1 cup frozen blueberries

Nutritional Analysis: 1,989 Calories, 30% fat (66 g, 12.5 g saturated), 50% carbs, 20% protein, 41 g fiber, 2,199 mg sodium.