Sunday, March 18, 2018

National Nutrition Month® Part 2

National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign created annually in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  The campaign focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. 

Go Further with Food is the theme for 2018.  What does it mean to go “further with food” – whether it’s starting the day with breakfast or fueling up before your afternoon workout, the foods you choose can make a direct impact on your performance.  Preparing your foods to go further, by planning meals and snacks in advance will also help to reduce food loss and waste.  Go Further with Food encourages us to gain the benefits from eating healthy all while encouraging us to also find ways to cut back on food waste.  That's the challenge, eating healthy all while managing our food resources. 
I wrote about this in my last blog.  Here’s the update after just three weeks.  I am happy to report I have been saving money at the store as well as on eating out.  Win win for all!  Yes, I know it has only been three weeks, but it really was important for me to realize that I need to do better.  I truly was testing/trialing so many recipes at a time that I started to waste more than I realized.  Just this week alone I saved $35 on my grocery bill from re-using some frozen items for lunch as well as re-purposing some farro from last week (I froze the extra and will use it as a lunch a couple of days this week).  It’s all about making something look new and not having to eat the same thing over and over.  I love looking for new recipes and trying new recipes out – proud to say I rarely use the same recipe twice.  So, this week while searching I started looking for recipes with farro since I knew I had some leftover to use up.  I think that probably is the hardest part of it all – staying within my budget for food all while having a hobby that involves food as well.  Yes, I still pass some food items on to others, but at the end of the day, I had to realize I am a single person household and I can’t cook as if there are 5 people in the house.  I also allot a day here and there to eat out with friends.  Food is social, it’s important here and there to have that connection.  This allows me to try something new without breaking the bank.  I was definitely eating out way too many times and often not enjoying it.  It’s strange, but I’ve been making better choices (taste wise) when eating out these last few times.  Smarter meal planning and less eating out has been helping me to go further with food.
In other news – Last weekend was the time change, when we all “spring forward”.  Ultimately it is darker in the morning so that we “gain” extra daylight in the day.  Normally I’m not too affected by the time change, but I am here to tell you the struggle was REAL this past week.  Who knew that March 16, 2018 was World Sleep Day and that one of my nutrition magazines had a whole article just on sleep?  Perfectly and purposefully timed.  Here are a few suggestions if you were like me and had some problems adjusting to the time change.  And even if these seem obvious, go through and simply do a checklist just to make sure you’re doing things right to help improve your quality of sleep:
Avoid caffeine.  It can take up to eight hours to wear off.  Some people think they’ll just have an extra cup or two and it won’t do any harm.  Don’t fall into the trap of taking in more caffeine simply then to have to wean it away – I stuck to my 2 cups/day and didn’t falter.  What I did adjust was the time that I was having my 2nd cup.  I spaced the caffeine better (at least I think it was better) to avoid the temptation of having a 3rd cup.  So far so good.

Limit alcohol at night.  It’s tempting as it does help many people fall asleep faster.  But what ends up happening is that alcohol cuts the time you spend dreaming and in deep sleep.  Watch the alcohol not only for empty calories but also for your sleep hygiene!

Unplug.  Seems obvious in this day and age – there are many bloggers writing about this and trying to disconnect from being on social media all day – but you do want to avoid bright lights, the phone, a computer or tablet, and the TV for an hour before bed.  I just checked out a book from the library so I can get back into the habit of reading before bed.
Set bedroom boundaries – No eating, reading, or TV viewing - Again, seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people do have a TV in their bedrooms.  This goes back to unplugging as well as the following tip.

Adopt a routine.  A regular pre-bedtime routine helps the brain recognize that it’s time to go to sleep.  This week I tried to read for a few minutes before bed as well as meditate for a few minutes.  I’m not sure if it totally helped, but it seems like the suggestion says, simply adopt a routine and your brain will recognize it.  Aiming for consistency with this in the weeks to come.

Reduce noise.  Avoid falling asleep to music or the TV.  If necessary, use a white noise machine or a fan for soothing sounds. 
Stick to a schedule.  Aim for a regular bedtime and rising time.  Avoid naps after 3 pm.  This was a tough one to stay consistent with this past week – I had a few night programs and getting home later ended up having me stay up later.  My body did wake at its normal time.  The problem was I had gone to bed so much later than normal.  I’m working on having a better balance and adjusting my schedule for when I work a little later.  It will all come down to consistency.

Try a hot bath before bed.  Afterwards, your body temperature drops.  That may trigger sleep.  This isn’t always an easy one to do here in Miami.  I can’t sleep when I’m hot and after taking a hot bath I tend to stay warm (even though it says my body temperature will drop).  I’ll keep this in mind, but would be my last resort.
Keep in mind that there are many factors that contribute to poor sleep, but there are also ways to fight back.  Here’s hoping this next week I’m getting in a little more high-quality sleep. 

And last but not least, a few recipes that I want to share with you.  I’ve been to the store countless number of times trying to find what I would term a better “energy/granola/nut” bar if you will.  (All food is energy, but for some reason they’re called energy bars in the store).  So it led me to start trying a few recipes of homemade versions.  I searched for ones that only used dates as the sweetener, because in my search that is what I would find, too much added sugar.  In the bars defense I know the honey (or agave, or whatever sweetener is used) is partially used to help bind the ingredients all together, but truth be told they were too sweet for me.  So here are two recipes for homemade bars if you’re wanting to lessen the amount of added sugars in your diet and have them still taste delicious.

Almost Raw Cherry Almond Butter Caramel Bars – Don’t be misled thinking that there is actual caramel in these bars.  It’s simply the dates turned into caramel.  The most unbelievable flavor you will ever taste!  I have a 6-inch cake pan that I use to make this recipe (it makes two of them) and I normally keep one frozen and leave one in the refrigerator for the week.  When cherries aren’t in season I use strawberries.  Either way, it’s still delish.

No-Bake Peanut Butter Brownie Bars - Again, a little hard to believe there is no added sugar in this recipe, just wholesome goodness.  Make these, you won’t regret it.  And to be honest, I’ve made them with almond butter, mixed nut butter, and cashew butter – yes, this is a recipe I’ve repeated.  But when it’s this good (for you and tasting) you know it’s a keeper!

When I bake desserts, I bake desserts.  What do I mean by that?  I use sugar and other sweeteners, butter and/or coconut oil if the recipe calls for it.  I’m the dietitian who brings desserts to parties.  Yes, me!  Recently I was asked to look for recipes with little or no added sugar for a dessert/treat.  That’s where I stumbled on those two “energy bar” recipes in all honesty.  I felt like they were healthy yet kind of fit the bill for someone to be a dessert too.  And truth bomb coming your way, if you’re taking sugar out of a recipe, odds are you have to increase the fat content.  It’s just the way the cookie crumbles.  See what I did there?  I love a good food pun too.  Here are two recipes that are high in fat and have low or no added sugar for a dessert.

Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cakes - A cross between a soufflé like taste and/or a light and airy brownie.  I used a raspberry preserves sweetened with actual raspberry juice, not added sugar.  On her website the food blogger promotes a preserve that actually does use sugar to sweeten the preserves but says it doesn’t have added sugar.  Just an FYI.   It’s a popular promotion recently in social media to list something as “naturally sweetened” even when using something like maple syrup.  Maple syrup is still added sugar even though it’s not actual white table sugar.  Maybe I’ll have to do a whole blog on just this.  But for now, just know this recipe is delish, has little to no added sugar, but definitely not low calorie due to all the fat it contains.  It’s definitely dessert.

Chocolate Mousse - Didn’t even plan for it, but my other keeper recipe happens to come from the same food blogger.  1 tablespoon of maple syrup is all in this recipe.  I was able to make almost 10 portions total – that’s what I would call minimal added sugar for dessert that tastes this good.  It’s vegan as coconut milk is used.  And I consider that hard to make a version of chocolate mousse vegan.  I’ve tried using coconut cream and dark chocolate chips, but the variability of many coconut creams is unreal.  It never turns out and then I’ve wasted way too much coconut cream (which isn’t cheap).  This version has been the best.  And no one will ever guess that it has cashews in it.  Pinky swear.

"Going Further With Food" is the theme of this years National Nutrition Month®, but the truth is every day and every month we should be striving to go further with food.   I eat healthy and I eat balanced.  The challenge for me is making sure I'm wasting less food - which is huge considering there are so many new recipes I want to try!  What's your challenge?  Take time to consider what "Going Further With Food" means to you this National Nutrition Month®.   And may the challenge be accepted!   Happy National Nutrition Month®!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

National Nutrition Month® - Go Further With Food

National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign created annually in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  The campaign focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. 
Go Further with Food is the theme for 2018.  What does it mean to go “further with food” – whether it’s starting the day with breakfast or fueling up before your afternoon workout, the foods you choose can make a direct impact on your performance.  Preparing your foods to go further, by planning meals and snacks in advance will also help to reduce food loss and waste.  Go Further with Food encourages us to gain the benefits from eating healthy all while encouraging us to also find ways to cut back on food waste.  That's the challenge, eating healthy all while managing our food resources. 
Sunday is typically the day when I plan my meals for the week and then meal prep.  I sit down and gather all the recipes I’ve seen throughout the week that interest me (or browse through my cookbooks) and start making my grocery list.  I go to the grocery store and then do 1-2 hours of meal prep – washing and cutting veggies, making grains for the week, draining tofu to sauté, etc.   Some people ask me actually how long this takes me and the answer is that it just depends on how much food I’m making and also how intricate the recipes are.  Meal prep doesn’t have to take you hours on end, but this truly does help me so that I don’t have to literally cook every night after getting home from work.  Find what works for you and you do you.
I’ve always boasted that I eat most of my meals at home and keep my grocery bill down to less than $100.  But recently, not only have I been spending more but I’ve also been eating out more.  You may wonder how that’s possible – how can she be spending more money at the store if she’s eating out as well.  I’ve been experimenting with recipes here and there and that takes extra ingredients.  But with all this experimenting I’ve noticed as of recent that I’ve been wasting some food I prepare because I might in fact eat out instead of eating what I’ve prepared.  So I’m calling myself out this National Nutrition Month® and making it my aim to reduce the amount of food that I’ve been wasting.  Now don’t get me wrong I do share some things that I’ve prepared that make an excess amount – just ask my dad or brother – but come the end of the week and I’m cleaning out the fridge and I can see where some things go bad because I haven’t eaten them in time.  I’ve got to plan my week better and stay strong when asked to eat out and just eat my own food.  Call me a food snob, but 9 times out of 10 I prefer my food anyways.
We as individuals can implement small changes that make a BIG difference in the amount of food we throw away each year.  Just pick and choose from the list of the following tips for reducing food waste.  Even better? Try to do them all, implementing them one at a time.
Shop smart.  Only buy what you need.  This sounds obvious, but it’s the truth.  How many of us have the best of intentions of cooking every meal for the week?  Okay, maybe not everybody, but my point is to PLAN YOUR MEALS.  Again, this may sound obvious, but even I need reminding of this.  I planned my meals for this week and know that my Wednesday is going to be an early day and a long day.  What that means for me is that I need to plan something to have for lunch and dinner and bring it with me.  Too many times in this past month I’ve been eating lunch out and end up wasting what I brought.  This has been the pattern and I recognize it and I’m changing it all in the hopes to reduce my food waste (and money!).
Shop more often – This might sound absurd, but hear me out.  Your initial thought might be that this will make you end up spending more money, but overall it might be helpful in avoiding having to throw away unused items that go bad by the end of the week.   Perfect example?  Bananas.  I buy a couple of bananas for the beginning of the week to enjoy when they’re ripe and not too brown, because I definitely don’t like a too ripe banana (and no I do not freeze bananas for smoothies.  #worsttrendever).  If I need more throughout the week I pick a few more bananas up.  Sometimes I find that the other fruit I’ve bought for the week ends up being enough and don’t even need to pick up more bananas.  This has been helpful for bananas as well as for when I am experimenting with new recipes – I will give some of my already prepared food away (less food waste) so that I’m able to make the new recipe I’ve been wanting to make.  Bonus is that I am in walking distance from work to a grocery store – but of course, only shop more often if it’s a possibility.
Lists are your friends – Apparently now some refrigerators have an app that you can see into your refrigerator?  I’m not that high-tech, yet.  For now I make a running list of things as I run out of them.  This allows me to know what I need to buy at the store.  Efficiency at its best.  Otherwise I’m buying double of something and end up wasting what I already had.  Now if it happens to be simply extra vegetables see my suggestion below.  But sometimes it’s milk or creamer and that should really be FIFO (first in first out) and I can only drink so much of that at a time.  The list is my friend and helps me buy what I need in the moment.  And shopping more often helps me pick up when I need more, so I don’t feel pressured to pick it up on my weekly shopping day.  I hope that made sense.  Remember, these are just tips to get you thinking and ultimately you’ll need to reflect and find what works for you.
Watch out for BOGO (buy one get one) – while it may be a deal, think about if it’s actually a healthy food (Publix I’m looking at you and all of your tempting unhealthy BOGOs) and if you really will be able to use them all.  Strawberries this week are 3 for $6.  Keep in mind some stores will let you get just one package for $2.  It doesn’t mean you have to get all 3 packages. (& yes, I know that some stores do make you get all 3, but the point is to check out the store’s policy).  The deal is good, but maybe then you need to freeze what you won’t use!   Just please don’t make a smoothie #worsttrendever.
One bad apple can ruin a bunch – I’ve had this happen all too often with oranges recently.  I’ll buy the bag of oranges and there will be just one bad one that starts to mold the others.  I’ve recently bought a nice fruit bowl and I take the oranges out of the bag so they don’t even have a chance to spoil the others.  Fruit in sight makes for a healthy snack too!
Bread can freeze and so can leftovers.  I know most people know this and I also know that most bread doesn’t mold (that’s a problem to talk about for another day).  However, it’s important to point out for the mere fact that not just bread freezes.  Mind blown?  Stating the obvious?  Maybe, but how many of us utilize the freezer and freeze leftovers?  I use my crock-pot occasionally to make homemade soups.  As a single person household that’s a lot of soup.  I utilize a few portions of the soup for the week and then save some for the upcoming weeks.  It’s a win-win:  food for the week, less food waste, and food already prepared when I’m too busy to cook! 
Freeze Leftover Fresh Herbs – I’ve been buying fresh herbs more and more often.  I would grow them but I do not have a green thumb to save my life.  My problem most times is that I may not use all of them for the recipes for that week.  And me being me I buy the fresh herbs to make sure the recipe tastes the way it should.  But how much tarragon can you use in a week really?  Answer to my problem (not really a problem) – freezing the herbs in olive oil.  So simple and so life-changing.  Now to simply label the frozen items a little better.  And the other thing I really try hard to do is to make recipes that might call for the same herbs throughout the week (so that it’s all used up).  But again, how much tarragon can I really use?  Freezing the extra has been my solution.
Tupperware.  I invested recently and switched out almost all of my storage containers for glass.  After starting my new job, I found out real quick glass weighs WAY too much.  So I went on the search for storage containers that were safe.  Thanks Container Store for the find -  Décor TellFresh – free of BPA, PVC, lead and phthalates, so they’re completely safe for storing food.  Pantry. Freezer. Microwave.  And the best part?  They have the measuring amounts on the container.  Call me a nutrition nerd if you want, but that helps/take the guessing out of some measuring when I need to!
Cook with every part of the food.  I’m calling all you “zoodlers” out there.  How many of you zoodle your way through the zucchini and simply throw the core away once you’re done zoodling?  I’ve seen it happen.  It doesn’t look like the zoodle and so you toss it to the side.  Well, that my friends is the opposite of going further with food.  Another thing to point out is that you can eat the greens of many vegetables.  Beet greens sautéed are delish!  So what you might thing is waste is actually edible.  Re-think all parts of your vegetables.
Make frittatas with your leftover vegetables.  A frittata is a quick and simple meal for breakfast or dinner (aka brinner).  And the best part is that almost any vegetable combination will work.  So instead of tossing some of those vegetables, sauté them up and add eggs and cheese and you’ve got a simple weeknight meal.  We’re filming an upcoming video for our series of #BaptistHealthy.  Stay tuned and I’ll post that video in the next few months (if you want a sure proof combination!)
When all else fails, compost.  Hate potato skins?  Don’t feel like turning wilted vegetables into soup stock?  No worries; food scraps still don’t need to be tossed.  Just start a compost pile in the backyard and convert food waste into a useful resource.  Don’t worry, I’m writing this partially for myself.  I’ve always wanted to start one.  Maybe this will be the year to do so!
Cutting back on food waste is incredibly easy.  I hope these tips were helpful and have made you think about how you and your family can help to “Go Further with Food”.  Happy National Nutrition Month®!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Self-Love Sunday

Self-Love Sunday

Valentine’s Day.  A day for love.  Love is defined as, “an intense feeling of deep affection.”  Love comes in many forms:  partnership, friendship, hugs, kisses, food, and even solidarity.   Many times on Valentine’s Day we put the focus on others in our lives.  But I challenge you this Valentine’s Day to love yourself.  The saying goes, you can’t love someone else until you truly love yourself.   YOU are special, YOU deserve love, and YOU should practice self-love.  Here are a few suggestions to show yourself some love:

Self-Acceptance – Accepting yourself for who you are is one of THE most important steps to self-love.  In this world of social media there are posts/pictures all the time that can lead one to begin to compare themselves with others.  Social media tends to promote “perfect pictures” and that’s not always truth.  Stop comparing yourself and begin to accept yourself.  We each have beautiful qualities about ourselves, whether they be physical or emotional, that attract people to us.  We definitely don’t need to look like or act like anyone else but ourselves.  We are unique and different.  That’s what makes the world so beautiful.
Minimize What’s minimalism?  Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important – so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.  We often times begin to accumulate “stuff” and we often equate this “stuff” to love.  When in fact, sometimes this “stuff” is literally weighing us down.  It doesn’t mean you’re not able to own material possessions, but the problem today is the meaning we assign to our stuff.  We at times give too much meaning to our things.  A minimalist will search for happiness not through things, but rather through life itself.  This Wednesday is Valentine’s Day.  Rather than buy yourself something that will only last for a small moment in time, i.e chocolate, flowers, etc, treat yourself to an experience – something that you will be able to look back and remember – really living in the moment.  Which leads us to the next way to practice self-love:
Pamper Yourself – Respect your body for the amazing vessel that it is!  Take care of your body.  Simple self-care techniques:  exfoliate your skin, take a soothing bath, get a mani/pedi, indulge in a massage, prioritize your sleep routine – all of these are ways to show respect to your body by showing it the love it NEEDS and deserves! 
Nourish Your BodyI talk about this one all the time as a dietitian.  The old saying, “you are what you eat”.  There is some truth to this.  Our bodies naturally detoxify themselves (that amazing liver and kidney just doing their thing!  You can see me talk about it here in this video I did for the New Tropic).  But if we continuously put junk in, we will feel like garbage.  Replenish your body with real, whole food.  Food can provide the nutrients our bodies need and help sustain us by providing us with the nourishment that we need.  This is just one other way to show yourself some love – choosing healthy food  WILL help you to thrive!

Write yourself a note – We all have our days.  Some days are busier and more stressful than others and that can get the best of us sometimes.   Try writing yourself a positive note or have an inspirational quote you like written somewhere so that you can see it first thing in the morning or during the day (when you need to get over the mid-day slump).  We all can use a pep talk sometimes and having the reminders nearby is helpful (so the negative thoughts don’t take over). 
Be the ENERGY you WANT to attract – “Your friends should motivate and inspire you.  Your circle should be well rounded and supportive.  Keep it tight.  Quality over quantity, always.”  As we get older, the number of friends we have does tend to shrink – it’s the shift from having a large volume of friends to having those close to us that we can truly depend on.  Your vibe attracts your tribe – be the energy that you want to have surrounding you: uplifting, supportive people.
Be Grateful– Finding things to be grateful for on a daily basis can help change your inner dialogue.  This year I made the commitment to start my day and end my day with one thing that I am grateful for.  It truly helps me change my perspective on things that I used to think would be “earth shattering” or I would let ruin my day. 
We so many times tend to have negative internal conversations with ourselves.  Practicing gratitude can help change this internal chatter.  Are you grateful for a healthy body – that moves and allows you to be able to do exercise?  Are you grateful for your sense of smell – for those freshly baking cookies in the oven –currently the situation in my house.  Are you thankful for being able to learn from your mistakes?  Are you grateful for this present moment?  Gratitude is an attitude of practice.
Let It Go– This is definitely easier said than done.  But the truth is you never really are able to move forward unless you do leave the past in the past – “You can’t reach for anything new if your hands are still full of yesterday’s junk.” ~Louise Smith  Each day is new and fresh and I do believe that’s helpful in committing to letting things go.  Again, easier said than done, but a step in the right direction if you truly want to move forward.
“Me” Time– Everybody needs ME time.  Taking time out of the day, even if it’s just 10 minutes is so important for us.  We often times give so much of ourselves – whether it’s at work with our patients or whether it’s at home with our family – the key is to give back to yourself so you have more to give to others.  If you run yourself into the ground, what good will you be to anyone else?  Don’t feel guilty or think you’re being selfish, think of it as giving back to yourself.  This giving back will help you recharge, reset, and reenergize!  Not only is this important for you but it’s important for those around you as well.
Disconnect To Connect– In this day and age, we are TOO connected – from our cell phones that receive emails from work to our smart watches that receive text messages (thanks Garmin, but no thanks).  Truly take time at the end of the day to disconnect from all of your devices.  Evidence shows that our devices are creating havoc when it comes to our sleep patterns – even MORE reason to disconnect.  Take time to reconnect with how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking and even what might be going on in your body – I use it as a wind down time before bed.  I reflect on the day and write down in my gratitude journal a few things that occurred during the day.  A calm mind helps for sound sleep.
Positive Affirmations– With time, positive affirmations can help transform our mind.  Truly focusing on the positive moments in our day will help in removing that negative chatter I mentioned before.  Start with something positive about yourself.  It can be something as simple as your hair looks good this morning or something from the previous day that you’re proud that you accomplished – possibly handling a stressful situation at work in a positive manner.  Stay consistent with your positive affirmations, over time it will help change your outlook and again remove the negative self-talk it’s so easy to get into the trap of.
Learn Forgiveness– with yourself!  No one is perfect and I’ve always said that practice is what makes perfect.  There are going to be some hits and misses – the true failure lies in not even trying!  So be a little easy going on yourself and be proud of yourself for even trying.  Today I tried making homemade chocolate candies – epic fail.  Instead of getting upset with myself I already told myself I WILL be trying again (I’m already reflecting on what went wrong - pretty sure it was the recipe or the lack of a thermometer).  And while candy making is not something to get uber upset about, remember this practicing forgiveness goes to the deeper stuff – not beating yourself up at the latest “mistake” you made but rather focusing on what you learned from that situation.  Each struggle or mistake helps you to learn new things.  This in turn helps us to be strong, amazing people – sure that have some imperfections but that make us each unique beings.
Practice Saying “No”– This one is important.  Learning to say no helps you to set boundaries for yourself and helps protect you (from those that WILL take advantage of you).  Believe me when I say it IS uncomfortable to say no but it IS important.  There’s no way for you to please everyone and sometimes you already have enough on your plate – saying yes will only add to that stress and create aggravation.  Remember the goal is to practice self-love – respect yourself by standing up for yourself – and practice saying no (so when the time comes you’ll be able to put yourself first and say no!)
Have FUN!  Do not get me wrong – there is definitely a time and place for being serious.  But on the flip side, make sure you leave some time for FUN!  When was the last time you danced?  You sang karaoke? Or went paddle boarding?  I’m reading the book, Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert and this is the essence of her novel – she wants you to embrace your curiosity, find what fuels your happiness, and face your fears – so you can uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us.  Be creative and find what stokes your spirit – giving back to yourself with some fun!
So this Valentine’s day, as you may be off showing all the special someone’s in your life how much you care for them, don’t forget about YOURSELF! 
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere.  You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” – The Budda

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Eat Smart. Add Color. Move More. Be Well.

Eat Smart.  Add Color.  Move More.  Be Well.

February is Heart Health Month.   Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.  Every year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. 

Your father, grandmother, and aunt may have heart disease, but even with a strong genetic predisposition you can cut your risks dramatically by pursuing a heart healthy lifestyle – and it’s easier than you think. 

Here are some of the most recent statistics because I am a little bit of a numbers geek, er, maybe I like to put things into perspective: 

610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.

Heart Disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.  More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were in men.

Coronary Heart Disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing over 370,000 people annually.

Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack.  Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.
Sometimes the headlines can be confusing: Chocolate is bad for your heart.  No, it’s good.  Wine is unhealthy.  Wait, it’s healthy.  Eggs raise cholesterol or wait, maybe they don’t.  What’s the truth?

With all of these mixed messages about food in the media, food bloggers blogging about what’s healthy when it’s really not, yeah, the message can get/is confusing.  It’s not surprising that many people will just give up trying to figure out what they should eat.  If you’re confused, you’re not alone.  (and one of the reasons why I started this blog, to clear up the confusion).  Ask A Dietitian – I am your resident expert on all things food.

Forget the confusing headlines – the best way to eat heart healthy is to follow national guidelines from organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA).  These guidelines are established by experts who monitor research and are not focused on the latest fad or trend.  Below are your general guidelines put out by the AHA.  If this is nothing new to you and you want to skip to the end, that’s where I’ll clarify a few myths that have been circulating and highlight a few red foods that are heart healthy.
Control Your Portion SizeHow much you eat is just as important as what you eat.  Overloading your plate, taking seconds and eating until you feel stuffed can lead to eating more calories, fat and cholesterol than you should.  Portions in restaurants are often more than anyone needs.  Keep track of the number of servings you eat – and use proper serving sizes – to help control your portions.  If you need to, measure your food until you get used to what a proper serving size looks like.  We are a nation of portion distortion and once you see what a portion really is you might be surprised.  Eating more of low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods, and less of high-calorie, high-sodium foods, can shape up your diet as well as your heart and waistline.

Eat more fruit and vegetables.  My brother challenged himself to eat 100 different fruits and vegetables a couple of years ago.  When I heard he was doing this, I decided I’d try to do it for myself.  I was nowhere close to how many different ones that he had eaten, but I know that the challenge for me came to trying to include more fruits and vegetables that were not within my norm.  We are creatures of habit and we tend to start eating the same foods over and over.  My daily fruits and vegetables that I typically eat are strawberries, oranges, peaches or nectarines, spinach, tomato, carrots, and mixed greens.  Since this challenge some of my daily fruits have been pomegranate, raspberries, persimmon, grapefruit, bok choy, fennel, red onion and arugula.  When I teach the kids (and adults) and tell them the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables the number one thing I hear is, “I don’t like them”.  I call their bluff.  There are too many fruits and vegetables out there for them to tell me they don’t like them.  I challenge them to try new ones and focus on the ones that they do love.  They’re bound to find some that they like.  Fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  Not to mention that they are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber.  Make sure you’re eating your fruits and vegetables and not just trying to get them in a pill form. 
Select Whole Grains – Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health.  Increase the amount of whole grains by making simple substitutions for refined grain products.  And just like with your fruits and vegetables try a new whole grain, such as quinoa, sorghum, farro, or buckwheat. 

Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol – Limiting how much saturated and trans fat you eat is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary heart disease.  A high blood cholesterol level can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. 
The best way to reduce saturated and trans fat in your diet is to limit the amount of solid fats – butter, margarine and shortening – you add to food when cooking and serving.  You can also reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by trimming fat off your meat and choosing lean meats with less than 10% fat (and remember to watch your portion sizes when it comes to eating meat.  We tend to eat too much).  Trans fats are added in to products to help extend their shelf life.  Check the food labels and look for the phrase “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list.  The labels may say they’re “trans-fat free”, however, they may still have trace amounts – hopefully soon and very soon they will eventually be removed. 
When you do use fats, choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil or canola oil.  Polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts and seeds, are also good choices for a heart-healthy diet.  When used in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help lower your total blood cholesterol.  Moderation IS essential.  All types of fat are high in calories.

Reduce the Sodium In Your Food – Eating a lot of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  Reducing sodium is an important part of a heart-healthy diet.  Healthy adults should have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (about a teaspoon).  People age 51 or older, African-Americans, and people who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should have no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day. 

Reducing the amount of salt you add to food at the table while you cook is a good first step, however, much of the salt you eat comes from canned or processed foods, such as soups, salad dressings, and frozen dinners.  Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews can reduce the amount of salt you eat.  If you like the convenience of canned soups and prepared meals, look for ones with reduced sodium.  Another way to reduce the amount of salt you eat is to choose your condiments carefully.  Many condiments are available in reduced-sodium versions, and salt substitutes can add flavor to your food with less sodium. 

It’s often tough to change your eating habits.  Whether you have years of unhealthy eating or simply want to fine-tune your diet, these tips will help get you started.  While it’s important to focus on our diets, there are also things that we can do to help reduce our risk of heart disease.

Get Active – It’s easy to get discouraged about exercise.  It’s hard to fit into a busy lifestyle.  No excuses – like eating right, getting the exercise your heart needs is easier than it looks. 

If you’re not overweight, all you need to do to maintain a heart healthy lifestyle is 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more times a week.  And you don’t have to do it all at once –15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening are fine.  The research shows being physically inactive is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease.

And exercise is the gift that keeps on giving.  Regular, moderate exercise helps:  control blood pressure, prevent diabetes, maintain healthy cholesterol levels, and can even put you in a good mood.

If you need to lose weight, it’s going to take a little more effort.  The recommendation is low to moderate intensity activities for 60 minutes per day.  To lose weight you have to decrease your calories in and increase your calories out.  If you just reduce your caloric intake your body slows its metabolism to compensate.  The key is making sure to include exercise, daily.  Don’t skip it!

Don’t Smoke! – Smoking is the single most dangerous thing you can do to your heart.  Alone, cigarette smoking increases your risk of heart disease and also worsens other factors that contribute to heart disease, such as blood pressure and decreasing the levels of HDL, your good cholesterol.  If you smoke a pack a day, you have more than twice the risk of a heart attack than someone who doesn’t smoke. 

Every cigarette you cut back matters.  While the goal is always complete cessation, even eliminating one cigarette a day can make a difference.  A big plus:  It doesn’t take long for your body – and your heart in particular – to reap the health benefits of quitting.  Your heart rate and blood pressure will drop, your circulation and lung function improve, and just one year after quitting, your excess risk of coronary heart disease is just half that of a smoker’s.
Other Risk Factors – While these might not be on your radar they are very prevalent, commonly missed, and potentially dangerous for your heart.  They’re often called “silent epidemics”:  anger, anxiety, depression, and social isolation.  If you or someone you love is depressed or harboring a lot of anger, encourage them to seek help.  There are many methods to help you deal with these risk factors.

Family Tree – There are some risk factors that you can’t control, and family history is one of them.  If a close relative had a heart attack or died of heart disease then the health of your heart may be at greater risk.  Families share a predisposition to heart disease both because they have shared genes and a shared lifestyle.  While you get half of your genes from mom and half from dad you probably also get your eating and exercise habits from them too.  If you have a family history of heart disease, it’s important that you have yourself checked out. 

A Few Myths to Clear Up

Eggs.  When the new Dietary Guidelines were released a few years back it removed the limit on cholesterol.  Enter the confusion with eggs.  Understand this – dietary cholesterol alone does not raise blood cholesterol.  Again, I repeat dietary cholesterol alone does not raise blood cholesterol.  Let that  sink in.  Enter the good old “incredible, edible egg”.  Remember how your parents used to say that you weren’t the one they were concerned about, but rather it was who you were hanging around with?  Well, that’s the case for the egg.   A great source of lean protein and low in saturated fat, the egg is often 9 times out of 10 accompanied by butter, bacon, and cheese.  And that’s the problem.  There’s a synergistic effect by combining them all together.  While the egg is lean, the others are not.  Combining them all together is the problem and it’s attributed more to the saturated fat than it is the cholesterol (because dietary cholesterol alone doesn’t raise blood cholesterol).   So for all those years the poor egg was blamed for being the bad guy when it was really who he was hanging out with (maybe your parents were right?)

The question always then comes to, “How many eggs can I eat in a day?”  The short answer, I can’t tell you.  I’m not trying to be evasive, but it really does depend on your genetics and also your day’s intake – was it high in saturated fat?  Maybe you get none.  I’d be honest in telling you that eggs are lean and lower in saturated fat and I’d recommend for those to be your source of protein than would I recommend bacon, butter, and cheese, but the truth is it really is all about balance.  Check your overall intake for the day.  The AHA recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat.  For those that are bad at math, a person that eats 2,000 calories a day (and calories vary by person) should have no more than 120 calories from saturated fat, ~13 grams of saturated fat.    So there you go.  I’m not one to always recommend tracking  your food intake, but I think sometimes it’s a big eye opener for people to see where their food is coming from and the actual breakdown.  It’s easy for me to know the balance most times, but for someone that’s not a dietitian, log a few meals, see how they stack up – that quarter of your plate coming from lean protein also helps you keep within the recommended limits if logging your food isn’t your thing.  Balance.  Variety.  Moderation.  Cliché, but true.

Coconut Oil - Its sweet smell of the tropics and its recent claims to cure what ails you, it’s everywhere.  Just take a look on social media and you’ll see it in shampoo, skin creams, smoothies, and coffee.

The buzz started recently due a science advisory from the American Heart Association that recommended against ingesting coconut oil.  Take a read if you haven’t already.

I’m not sure when/where coconut oil took the turn for people considering it to be healthy (I do know and will tell you in a minute), but what I do know is that no one food is the magic cure all.  People often try to latch onto the next thing that will make all the weight disappear or “speed up their metabolism” (don’t you think we would’ve bottled that up by now if we knew what it was?) 

There was a study done that showed a type of fat in coconut oil can increase metabolism and boost weight loss.  That ingredient is called medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs.  This study reported that MCTs are processed by the body differently than other dietary fats.  The often overlooked part of this study is that the oil used in the study was a special 100% medium-chain coconut oil – translate, no one uses this coconut oil in the mainstream.  In order to get that quantity of MCT oil you’d have to use 10 tablespoons of coconut oil in a day.  No one should take in that much, nor should they – why?  Back to the saturated fat issue.  One tablespoon of coconut oil adds up to more than 11 grams of saturated fats, which is nearly the daily limit of 13 grams.

Remember what I said about eggs.  A healthy diet is a balancing act that requires people to include a variety of foods – i.e. unsaturated fats found in fish and non-tropical vegetable oils – but also practicing moderation.   Face reality and don’t always believe the hype, i.e. wishful thinking, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.  Sorry coconut oil.  But stay tuned to more studies isolating MCT oil.

Red Foods for Heart Health

Red Onions – have been shown to lower total blood cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol (that’s the healthy kind).  Additionally it helps discourage clot formation and also encourage them to dissolve.

Tip:  Pickle your onions to help decrease the bitterness.  You will get more nutritional bang by eating them raw. 
Beets – are packed with antioxidants to help reduce inflammation.  They also contain nitrates that help widen blood vessels and increase blood flow.   Beets additionally help prevent the “lousy” LDL cholesterol from turning into plaque that eventually leads to clogging our arteries.

Tip:  Roasting beets has been my go-to to help me include them in dishes, i.e. salad, dips, etc.  They do have an earthy undertone, so I know they’re not for everyone, but definitely aim to include a different form of the beets to see if you do like them a different way. 
Tomatoesare full of antioxidants like Vitamin A and C, as well as the antioxidant lycopene.  All of these antioxidants are used to repair damage to the inside of our bodies.  Tomatoes have also been shown to lower cholesterol. 

Tip:  Cooking tomatoes makes the antioxidants more readily available when compared to eating them raw.  Just be careful of added sugar in some tomato sauce and look for one without (there are more and more brands using NO added sugar, you just have to read the label!)
Berries – are one of the fruits with the highest antioxidant content (when compared to other fruits).  Berries have been shown to stop inflammation to reduce the risk of heart disease.  Berries are one of the fruits that contain the most fiber-per-calorie, which in turn allows the fiber to help lower our cholesterol while also helping us to feel full.  1 cup of raspberries has 8 grams of fiber – that’s a bunch of fiber!  (disclaimer – start by increasing fiber slowly in to your diet, otherwise you will feel GI discomfort, aka gas and bloating).

Tip:  Add to different dishes to help boost the fiber content of your oatmeal, your salad, and/or a salsa for topping your fish.  P.S. It’s strawberry season here in Florida and they are currently as sweet as can be!
There are other red foods that also support heart health – peppers, pomegranates, salmon, and lentils – a little bit of irony that most foods that support heart health are red, I think not!  Here’s to heart health and including a few more red foods at meals!

So there you have it.  A round-up and a little debunking of some myths of how to make your heart healthy this February.  You can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease – or slow its progress – by taking prevention to heart.  Making small, gradual changes can make a BIG difference in your health.