Heart Healthy Foods

Photo Credit: Jeff Kubina CC-BY-SA-2 2005

With all the hype about “heart healthy” foods, it can be tough to know whether your diet is good for your heart.  Obvious foods to avoid or to consume in moderation include alcohol, caffeine, sodium and sugar. According to the American Heart Association, less than 1% of adults, and virtually no children, meet the ideal diet guidelines. About 68% of adults in the USA are either overweight or obese. Some simple changes to your diet can help maintain or improve your heart health.

Reduce the saturated fat in your diet by switching from butter and other saturated fats to extra virgin olive oil for cooking. Extra virgin olive oil has a light flavor that won’t overwhelm your recipes and it’s rich in antioxidants. Replacing butter and other fats in your diet can help reduce your cholesterol. Use extra virgin olive oil to stir-fry vegetables or add herbs and pour over salads or brush on whole grain breads.

Sweet potatoes are a good choice to replace white potatoes. White potatoes can cause a quick spike in blood sugar, but sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index. They are rich in fiber, vitamin A and lycopene which helps maintain heart health. Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet so you don’t have to add sugar. You can enhance their flavor by adding cinnamon, which is also good for your heart.

Barley is a flavorful whole grain that you can use in place of white rice. Add barley to soup, stews or simmer with herbs and serve as a side dish. Barley can help lower your cholesterol, too.  Oats in any form can help improve your heart health by reducing your cholesterol. Oats are digested slowly which keeps you feeling full for hours and stabilizes your blood sugar. Replace 30% of white flour in recipes with oats or oat flour when you bake muffins, cookies, or make pancakes.

Fruits and berries are a delicious way to reduce processed sugar in your diet while increasing fiber and antioxidants. Blueberries contain lutein, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and loads of fiber. Cherries, raspberries and blackberries also contain these heart healthy nutrients. Add fresh fruit to low-fat yogurt, pancakes, muffins and salads.

Red meat is rich in protein but contains fats that, over time, can increase your cholesterol. Replace two red meat meals each week with fish. Fish, especially salmon, contain omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for a healthy heart. Salmon is delicious when baked with herbs and served with steamed or stir-fried vegetables.

Leave the salt in the pantry and cook with fresh or dried herbs. Herbs not only add rich flavor to food, they also contain powerful antioxidants to help reduce cell damage. Herbs should be part of your diet to help reduce heart disease, fight high cholesterol and reduce your risk of diabetes.

Beachbody

Safe Weight Loss

You can see television commercials for the next best weight loss pill every day on most every channel. The truth is there is no magic weight-loss pill. Some diet pills may even be dangerous to your health. Forget the fad diets. Don’t even think about starving yourself. Diet pills often have harmful side-effects. Most diet pills cause you to lose weight because they are a diuretic or have a laxative effect on your body, which can cause you to lose water weight. You will re-gain water weight as soon as you rehydrate your body. Dehydration can be dangerous, too. Other diet aids contain stimulants, such as caffeine, that speed up your heart and can increase your blood pressure. The safest way to lose weight is to see your doctor and ask her to help you design a weight loss program that includes sensible, healthy nutrition and exercise.

In order to lose weight, you have to create a calorie deficit. That is, you must burn more calories than you consume so that your body burns fat for energy. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, an eating plan that contains between 1,000 and 1,200 calories per day can help women lose weight safely. Cut back on simple carbohydrates and fats and replace those sugary fat foods with complex carbohydrates and fiber. Take cake, candy, cookies and white flour out of your diet. Replace those  calorie-laden foods with whole grains, such as bran, wheat, oats and brown rice. Eat more raw vegetables and drink water instead of soda. Eat a balanced diet with foods from all the food groups and keep track of your caloric intake if you want to safely lose weight.

Exercise is an essential part of any weight loss plan. As you use more fat for energy and start to lose weight, it’s important that you build muscle. Building muscle will also help you burn more calories since muscle tissue burns more calories than other tissues in your body. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn. Your basal, or resting, metabolism will also increase when you build more muscles. This means you will burn more calories sitting on the sofa in front of your television if you increase your muscle mass.

Good Sources of Calcium & Vitamin D

Photo Credit: MigGroningen CC-BY-SA-3.0

Calcium and vitamin D are essential to strong bones, teeth and skin. Bone cells are replaced much like skin cells. Old bone cells are shed and new bone cells replace them. Your body needs calcium and vitamin D to replace bone cells. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb the calcium it needs to build strong bones and prevent diseases like osteoporosis. You need to eat a variety of foods rich in both calcium and vitamin D and get adequate exercise to keep your bones healthy and strong. Natural sources of vitamin D and calcium are best, but drinking vitamin D and calcium fortified milk and juices can also provide the essential nutrients your bones need. Only your doctor can tell you if you need a vitamin and mineral supplement. If you think you need a supplement, see your doctor for a check up before taking any over-the-counter supplement. 
Your body cannot make calcium; therefore, you have to get your calcium from the foods you eat. Dairy foods, such as milk, yogurt and cheese are rich in calcium and Vitamin D. Spinach, kale, collard greens, okra, white and soy beans, and fish, including trout, salmon, perch and sardines are rich in calcium. Orange juice and milk are often fortified with both vitamin D and calcium. Breakfast cereals, including oatmeal and some cold cereals, are also enriched with extra vitamin D and calcium.
In addition to milk, yogurt and cheeses, you can get vitamin D from foods like tuna, salmon, mackerel and other fatty fishes. Egg yolks and beef liver are also rich in vitamin D. Your skin produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. About 5 minutes per day is enough to stimulate your skin to produce vitamin D. Avoid over-exposure to the sun. Sunburn and skin conditions such as premature aging and skin cancer can result from too much sun exposure. 

Nutrition Before, During & After Exercise

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Athletes who train every day and the weekend walker and everyone in between needs hydration and nutrition to stay energized and get the most from their workout. Fueling your body before and during a workout can give you that extra edge. Eating the right things after a workout provides the nutrients and trace elements your body needs to repair and recover. Should you eat some of energy bars, chug a sports drink between exercises or can you get all the nutrition and energy you need from a balanced diet? 
Before exercise, the best foods for strength, endurance and energy will contain carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates fuel your body and protein is necessary to repair and maintain muscle. Carbohydrates and protein are found in lean meats, whole grain breads, pasta, rice, many fruits and vegetables. A good pre-exercise meal will be low in fat, low in fiber but contain a moderate amount of carbohydrates and protein. Too much fiber will fill you up and make you feel a little sluggish. Drink a large glass of water with your pre-workout meal and drink a second glass of water just before you start to exercise. A sports drink that contains electrolytes and trace nutrients is a good idea if you plan to exercise for 1 hour or longer. 

During your workout it’s a good idea to have a light snack between exercises or during a break in the action if you are playing a sport. Eat a few slices of apple, orange or some grapes to replenish your body’s supply of natural sugars and antioxidants. Refuel your muscles with some carbohydrates available in low-fat cheese slices and whole grain crackers. A handful of granola, some dried fruit or a cup of fruit juice are also good choices to re-energize your body. 

After your workout, you need to replenish the nutrients your body needs to repair and recover. Your muscles need protein to repair and grow, as well as complex carbs to refuel your muscles for the next workout. Lean meats, eggs, whole grain pasta and breads, low-fat dairy  foods, beans and rice are good sources of protein. 
Muscles need protein for recovery and growth, and the best time to deliver protein appears to be right after exercise. Providing high-quality protein after exercise gives your muscles the fuel and the building blocks needed for both repair and for growth. A protein shake can also replenish your body’s store of protein. Remember to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to stay hydrated. 

Worst Foods for Belly Fat

Photo Credit: Brittany Carlson PD US Army
We all know that excess body fat can be a threat to our health. Excess fat around your waist can be a bigger threat to your health than fat anywhere else on your body. Belly fat has been associated with heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Some people have a tendency to put on belly fat due to their genes, but poor eating habits and lifestyle choices often lead to extra fat around the midsection. High-fat foods alone are not to blame for belly fat. Foods high in fat are not helpful, but eating foods high in calories and low in nutrition are more of a threat than high-fat foods alone. The best way to prevent or to get rid of excess belly fat is to reduce the amount of food you eat and eat healthier foods. Eat a nutritious diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and incorporate exercise into your daily routine. 
Alcohol is a major contributor to belly fat. Alcohol has almost as many calories per serving than most high-fat foods. Drinking alcohol can also leave you feeling more hungry than normal. Also, your liver is too busy ridding your body of the alcohol to burn fat calories, so you end up storing calories as fat. This is the reason many people develop what is commonly called “beer belly.” Drink moderately and avoid eating when you drink. 
Foods that contain trans fats, especially hydrogenated oils, add fat to your waistline. Trans fats are found in cookies, crackers, fried foods, margarine, shortening and processed foods. Packaged and convenience foods, such as cake, biscuit and pancake mixes are usually high in trans fats. Condensed canned soup and dried noodle soups are also high in trans fats. Frozen foods, including frozen fish sticks, pizza, pot pies and frozen pies and cakes are high in trans fats, too. Watch out for excess trans fats in baked goods. Donuts, cakes, breads and cookies found at your supermarket bakery are usually prepared using shortening or margarine and processed flour, all of which are high in trans fats. Baked foods that are prepared using whole grain flour and butter are lower in trans fat, 
Fast food is one of the worst options for trans fats. Burgers, French fries and sauces on sandwiches offered by fast food restaurants are high in trans fats and calories. Many people also overeat fast food, which leads to even more calories and fat in your diet. The occasional fast food treat is probably okay, but when eaten frequently, fast food adds to belly fat and overall weight gain. Choose low-calorie or reduced fat options when available. 

Soft drinks can really pack on the belly fat because most contain high-calorie sweeteners. Many soft drink manufacturers have replaced refined sugar with high-fructose corn syrup for sweetness. High-fructose corn syrup is high in calories. Limit the amount of soda in your diet or choose sugar-free sodas. Try drinking some green tea instead of soda. Green tea, when combined with exercise and healthy food choices, can help you reduce belly fat and lose weight. 
Keep your waist trim and avoid the health risks of excess belly fat by eating a diet low in trans-fats, high in fiber and rich in nutrients. Choose brown rice over white rice. Select fresh foods instead of frozen treats. Drink less soda and alcohol. Combine healthy foods with exercise and the belly fat should soon start to melt away.

May Is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

Photo Credit: Peter van der Sluijs CC-BY-SA-3.0

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. It’s a great time to start a fitness program or help family members become more active. It’s never too late to start getting fit. Children and teens should get an hour of exercise each day. Adults of all ages need about 1 hour 15 minutes of vigorous exercise or 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise each week. Once you make exercise part of your daily routine, it’s easy to stay physically fit and active throughout your life. People who exercise regularly are less likely to have high blood pressure, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and have lower cholesterol. National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is a good time to get active and to help family members become more active.  You can find more information about recommended activity levels for people of all ages and physical ability on the US Department of Health and Human Services website, Physical Activity Guidelines.
Help get members of your family off the couch and exercising by taking small steps. Choose an activity that every member of the family can participate in regardless of their fitness level. Begin by taking a family walk around the block after dinner two times each week for a month. Go for a family block walk three times each week the next month. Take the whole family for a bike ride or go roller skating in the park after dinner one night each week. 
Sign up for a family membership at your local YMCA or gym. Take the whole family swimming at the gym or YMCA every weekend. Meet up with family members at the gym twice each week and then enjoy a treat like low-fat frozen yogurt afterwards. Make it a routine and make it fun for everyone. Challenge family members by helping them to set realistic fitness goals and then make it a race to success! For example, challenge your spouse to a race to lose 10 pounds in the next 60 days by eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly. 
Buy fitness-friendly birthday, anniversary and holiday gifts instead of toys, games and trinkets. Bicycles, skates, skateboards and sports balls make great gifts for kids and adults. Don’t forget the helmets and protective pads! Dumbbells, pedometers, new exercise clothes and sneakers are great gifts for adults and kids. Try a new healthy dinner recipe each week. Involve the kids in making the menu choices and helping in the selection and preparation of nutritious ingredients and side dishes.

Can you think of other ways to get your kids and spouse or partner involved in physical activity and healthy food choices? 

Diet Don’ts

Photo Credit: USDA PD

Obesity is a serious problem in the United States. Obesity rates are more than 30% of the population of some states and the problem appears to be growing. The increase in obesity rates has many people re-thinking their diet and fitness habits. Some may even take extreme measures to lose weight or to prevent weight gain. Extreme measures to control or lose weight can lead to serious health problems and are not advised. 
Don’t do extreme dieting. Extreme dieting is a common method employed by many people who want to quickly lose weight. Starvation diets, skipping meals, cutting entire food groups from the menu or relying on diet shakes for nutrition can result in malnutrition and loss of muscle mass. Your metabolism will also slow down, which  defeats your weight loss goal. The average person needs at least 1,200 calories every day to stay healthy.  Eat a variety of foods, including dairy, fruits and vegetables to get the nutrition you need and to avoid hunger. Avoid fad diets that limit the variety of foods you can eat or restrict your menu to only a few foods from one or two food categories. 
Don’t count on diet pills or shakes to help you lose weight. Diet products that promise you will lose tens of pounds in just few weeks are unlikely to live up to this claim and may actually harm your health. Most diet pills are a combination of diuretics and caffeine, which cause you to lose water and can result in dehydration. Overuse of diet pills can result in electrolyte imbalance, too. 
Over-the-counter diet pills may not appear to be dangerous , but they can still cause harm. “Most diet pills are nothing more than a quick fix loaded with caffeine and diuretics that can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance,” says Diekman, director of nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis. Diet supplements and over-the-counter diet pills do not receive the same level of scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration as prescription drugs, so their safety and effectiveness is not assured. 

Don’t do colon cleanses or detox programs. Colon cleanses can cause you to lose some weight initially due to water loss and the complete emptying of the bowel. Water loss from colon cleanses can cause dehydration. Detoxing your body by drinking only juice or water for days can lead to a lack of nutrients, decreased metabolism and may cause other health problems. It’s best to drink lots of water and eat a high-fiber diet every day. 
Don’t purge. Purging, like vomiting or using laxatives are unsafe and can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening, health problems. When you force yourself to vomit shortly after eating, strong stomach acids can cause erosion in the lining of the mouth and esophagus. Tooth enamel is also damaged by stomach acids. Purging can lead to the severe eating disorder bulimia.