I am participating in some local health fairs in the near future and have been thinking about a way to make a down and dirty guide for vibrant health that I could hand out. I thought about the most important components of healthy living and then played with the wording until I came up with a catchy idea to share this information. Now since I have absolutely no talent in the graphic arts department, I hired Casey at KCK Creative Market to make me this beautiful graphic. I LOVE it and cannot wait to share it with all the health fair participants. Here are my ideas about the most important components of vibrant health.
Focus on Healthy Fats: Research has repeatedly demonstrated that fat is necessary to our health, particularly omega 3 fatty acids. Omega -3′s are an essential fatty acid, meaning our body cannot produce them on its own. These inflammation fighting fats must be obtained from our diet. Two crucial ones, EPA and DHA, are primarily found in certain fish and pasture raised beef. ALA, another omega-3 fatty acid which can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds. The benefits of omega-3s are well documented in the scientific literature. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet contains entirely too many Omega-6 fats from vegetable oils and processed foods. We want to have a 1:1 balance of omega-3’s to omega-6’s. Eating 2 deck of card sized servings of fatty fish like salmon, lake trout, herring or mackerel a week should give you all the omega-3’s you need. Also, trans-fats like those found in processed foods should be avoided at all costs.
Avoid Processed Foods: Processed foods include anything that comes in a package or has been altered from its natural state. Processed foods often contain harmful chemicals our bodies don’t recognize, rancid, inflammation producing vegetable oils and trans fats . Read the labels on your food, if you see an ingredient you don’t recognize, return it to the store shelf.
Vegetables and Fruits: Fill your plate with as many vibrantly hued fruits and vegetables as you can. These nutritional powerhouses offer your body a host of benefits including cancer fighting antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, fiber and a plethora of health promoting phytonutrients. A good rule of thumb is to try to fill at least half of your plate with fruit and vegetables at each meal. In particular, leafy greens pack a powerful nutritional punch.
Eat Mindfully: Mindful eating is eating with attention to the food you are putting in your mouth. It allows you to be fully present in the experience of eating. It requires you to pay attention to the sight, sound, texture, flavors and taste of your food. Put aside the phones, computers, newspapers and TV’s so you can listen to the cues your body is providing about satiety, making it more likely you will stop eating before you become over full.
Sit less: Dr. Mike Lara asks his patients to think about sitting less instead of exercising more. An important distinction because for many, the idea of exercise seems like a daunting task but most everyone can think about sitting less. The trick is to avoid staying stationary for long periods of time. Moving around activates the large muscle groups in your legs and back helping burn calories and keep blood sugar in balance. Scientists are now recommending you try to stand up and move around every thirty minutes throughout the day.
The American Heart Association states “Heart disease – also called coronary heart disease – is a simple term used to describe several problems related to plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. As the plaque builds up, the arteries narrow, making it more difficult for blood to flow and creating a risk for heart attack or stroke.” Not only are one in every 4 deaths in the US related to heart disease but heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US. Heart disease is a huge problem for the United States population. Fortunately, there are many steps related to diet and lifestyle that can positively impact your heart health.
Foods to Eat to Reduce Heart Disease
Salmon: The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times a week. A standard serving is 3.5 oz, about the size of a deck of cards . Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats, which can lead to sudden death. Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels, slow growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and can slightly lower blood pressure.
Blueberries: All berries are excellent choices for overall health because they are densely packed with a variety of potent phytochemicals and fiber without being high in sugar. Blueberries and strawberries seem to be particularly good at boosting heart health by decreasing plaque build-up in the circulatory system. Three or more servings of a half a cup of blueberries or strawberries each week is all that is required to start seeing heart benefits.
Oatmeal: Oats contain a powerful cholesterol fighting fiber known as beta-glucan. Many studies have proven the beneficial effects of this special fiber on cholesterol levels. Studies show that consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (roughly the amount found in one bowl of oatmeal) typically lowers total cholesterol by 8-23%. This cholesterol lowering effect is highly significant since each 1% drop in serum cholesterol translates to a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease.
Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa or higher, contains flavonoids, powerful anti-oxidants which impact vascular health, by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.
Citrus: Recent research has shown that women eating a diet rich in citrus fruit enjoy a decreased risk of stroke. Citrus fruits are also a valuable source of vitamin C, which has been linked with a lower risk of heart disease. Remember, grapefruit products may interfere with the action of the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins.
Tomatoes: Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, beta-carotene, folate, potassium, vitamin C, flavonoids, and vitamin E. These vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants have a profound impact on heart health including the reduction of LDL (bad) cholesterol, homocysteine, platelet aggregation, and blood pressure.
Nuts: All nuts are about equal in terms of calories per ounce, and in moderation, are all healthy additions to any diet. Be sure to eat nuts raw or dry roasted to avoid the unhealthy oils sometimes used for roasting. Walnuts, considered the best nut for heart health, have high amounts of alpha linoleic acid (ALA). Research has suggested that ALA may help heart arrhythmias, and a 2006 Spanish study suggested that eating as few as 8 walnuts a day were as effective as olive oil at reducing inflammation and oxidation in the arteries after eating a high fat meal.
Legumes: Lentils, black beans, black- eyed peas and kidney beans are four of the best beans to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. They are a fiber filled addition to your diet. Long term studies have found their high fiber content lowers cholesterol and triglyceride (blood fat) levels. Try to eat about 3-4 cups of beans a week.
Extra virgin olive oil: Olive oil is loaded with anti-oxidants that help fight heart disease. Studies have shown it is helpful in the reduction of LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation. It also helps reduce unwanted blood clotting, reducing the risk of stroke. Be sure to buy cold pressed extra virgin olive oil to get the most benefit.
Red wine: Moderate consumption of alcohol (1-2 drinks a day) has been associated with a decreased risk of heart attack and stroke. Red wine appears to offer more benefit than other forms of alcohol due to its high concentration of flavonoids and resveratrol, which may play an active role in limiting the start and progression of atherosclerosis.
Leafy Greens: Leafy green vegetables are rich in lutein which has been associated with a decreased risk of artery thickening. Leafy greens also contain potassium, which helps manage blood-pressure levels.
Flax or chia seeds: Flaxseeds contains lignans, which are chemical compounds that carry antioxidants and enzymes that have many benefits. Flax is also a good source of a type of soluble fiber that helps maintain ideal cholesterol levels. Chia seeds are also loaded with fiber and provide healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Chia and flax seeds are very high in the Omega-3 fatty acid ALA. However, humans are not good at converting this into DHA, the most important Omega-3 fatty acid.
Avocado: Avocados contain monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to help lower our risk of heart disease. They are also rich in phytosterols like beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol which decrease inflammation in the body.
Other Factors to Consider in Heart Health
Exercise: The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week for overall heart health. For people with concerns about high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, they recommend 40 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week. Exercise includes anything that gets your body moving and burns calories. Choose an activity you like and stick to it!
Decrease Salt Consumption: In some people, sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body, placing an added burden on the heart. The American Heart Association recommends about 1500 mgs a day of salt but most people eating a Standard American Diet consume about 3400 mgs a day. Eating a diet low in packaged foods will help you decrease your sodium intake.
Floss Your Teeth: Recent research has demonstrated a possible link between periodontal disease and heart disease. In a new study in which researchers infected mice with four different types of bacteria associated with gum disease, the mice had increased levels of systemic inflammation and cholesterol.
Don’t smoke: People who smoke are two to four times more likely to get heart disease. The nicotine in cigarettes raises your blood pressure, damages blood vessels, raises your heart rate, increase your risk of blood clots and decreases the amount of oxygen that gets to your heart. All of these factors contribute to heart disease.
Sleep: In a recent study, people sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 10 hours a night were found to have a higher prevalence of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes, in addition to obesity and frequent mental stress, compared to “optimal sleepers” who slept an average of seven to nine hours. The study speculates that quality of sleep is just as important as quantity.
Photo by coletree under the Creative Commons license.
Last week I attended a Continuing Education Class on reducing chronic inflammation in the body through nutrition. The speaker was Dr. Michael Lara, a doctor who specializes in the treatment of mood, anxiety and memory disorders through an integrative approach to health. Dr. Lara combines traditional psychiatric approaches with innovative, evidence-based strategies that include nutrition and exercise prescriptions.
He was a wealth of information about the causes of chronic inflammation in the body and the significant damage it can cause if left untreated. Even with all the very clinical and evidence based information he provided in this class, I thought his most profound statement had to do with the language he uses with his patients. He said that instead of talking to his patients about exercising more, he asks them to think about sitting less. I love this idea because for many, the idea of exercise seems like a daunting task but most everyone can think about sitting less. (He said even people who cannot physically stand can think about moving any part of their bodies they can.) The trick is to avoid staying stationary for long periods of time.
Research is beginning to show that even people who have a regular exercise routine in their life but spend the rest of their days sitting, are more likely to suffer heart disease, diabetes, cancer and premature death. Moving around activates the large muscle groups in your legs and back helping burn calories and keep blood sugar in balance. Scientists are now recommending you try to stand up and move around about every thirty minutes throughout the day. Now when I am working on the computer, I frequently hear Dr. Lara’s voice telling me to stand up. As the day wears on, I find myself doing a mental inventory of how many sedentary activities I have engaged in. If it feels like I have sat for too long, I will head outside on a walk, go fold laundry or stand up while working on the computer or reading my texts. It seems insignificant but it all adds up to less time spent on my butt!
Friends and family are always asking me for recommendations about how to improve their health. While I want to be helpful by provide that life changing, magic answer, what I try to remind people is that it is often the little things they do on a daily basis that make the most difference. For most people, just making some small changes can pay big dividends for their health. Here is a list of five changes I would recommend to almost everyone to help optimize their health.
Eliminate or minimize processed food. I know most people are VERY busy and have a million different balls up in the air and prepackage food can be easier and quicker to get on the table, however, with very few exceptions, fresh, whole, unprocessed food is a much better choice. When you eat food in its whole form, you are consuming it the way nature intended, with the vitamins and minerals in the proper ratios and you know exactly what you are getting. There is no guesswork about what is in an apple but often when I read the ingredient list on processed food, I have no idea what some of the ingredients are. You would never pick up a mystery substance off the ground and put it in your mouth, so why would you do it just because it is in a “food” box?
Add a walk after dinner. Introducing a walk after dinner will help you reach the recommended goal of 30 minutes of exercise most days. It will also help with digestion before bedtime and offers an excellent opportunity to reconnect with your family or friends after a hectic day.
Add just one serving of vegetables a day. Most people fall well short of the recommended 5-13 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Trying to reach those recommendations may seem daunting but if you break it into smaller pieces it becomes more attainable. Start with adding just one extra serving per day. After a week, add another serving. Continue with this approach until you have reached the recommendation. Within a relatively short period of time, you will be reach the daily goal!
Use olive oil instead of fat free dressing. Summer is the perfect time to load up your plate with vegetables to create a pleasing salad. However, if you choose to use a fat free dressing, you may be missing the vitamins and minerals those vegetables offer. Fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, E, D and K require fat to be absorbed. If you don’t consume these vitamins with some fat, your body will not be able to assimilate them. Using equal parts heart healthy olive oil and balsamic vinegar as your dressing will help your body assimilate all those valuable vitamins.
Ditch the diet soda. Or any other drink made with artificial sweeteners. Some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners cause a spike in insulin levels. Research has also demonstrated daily consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 36% greater risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Drink plain water or try some of these recipes for infused water. Herbal tea, kombucha, water kefir or fermented sodas are all also good choices.
There are so many different small changes you can make to improve your health. These are just a few suggestions to get you started. What is a small change you have made that has made a big change in your life?
It seems there is a lot of contradictory information out there about healthy diets. Many people have incredibly strong feelings about how they fuel their bodies and they are not afraid to share their opinions. It can be hard to keep up with the latest research because the information is always changing. One minute, carbs are good- the next, carbs are bad. First you hear, don’t eat fat then you hear eat all the fat you want. It can be confusing because new research is always being released. However, here are 4 tiny tips I think most everyone can agree on.
Eat whole foods. Try to make the majority of calories you consume come from whole foods. Eat foods you recognize with a minimum of ingredients- all of which you can pronounce. Avoid food that comes in a box or package. Food in its natural state is the best.
Eat healthy fats. Your body needs fat to survive. Fat is necessary for absorption of the fat soluble vitamins D, E, K and A, for insulation for your organs and to help keep your body warm. Fat helps produce hormones and biochemicals and is in every cell in the body. However, not all fat is healthy. Avoid trans fats like those found in baked goods or processed foods. Get your fats from real food sources like seeds, nuts, avocados, fatty fish, meat and eggs.
Eat a variety of foods every day. Try to eat as many different colors of natural foods as possible. Blue blueberries, red apples, dark green leafy greens, vibrant orange butternut squash and purple eggplant all offer different essential vitamins and minerals.
Move your body. The Center for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week. These recommendations do not mean you have to go sweat it out in the gym- any kind of activity which gets your heart rate up will qualify. It doesn’t matter if it is gardening, running, boot camp or ballroom dancing. Just be sure to choose something you like so you are motivated to keep doing it. Consistency is key!!