It’s Valentine’s Day and February is heart health month, so let’s eat to the beat! The following are foods to include this season to keep your ticker, ticking:
- Avocados- fat is the new black, especially heart-healthy, mono-unsaturated fat. Add some avocado chunks to your salad or tacos or spread it on toast in place of butter or margarine.
- Kiwi- the fuzzy fruit has been found to lower blood pressure because of its high potassium content. Three kiwi a day reduces systolic blood pressure (upper number) by over 3 points. Systolic pressure measures the pressure in the arterial wall when the heart contracts. Try kiwi in Greek yogurt or eat solo.
- Citrus fruit- citrus fruit are in season, so add a variety to your fruit bowl! Oranges are high in soluble fiber to lower cholesterol as well as potassium to lower blood pressure. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice may interact with cholesterol lowering medication, so read the label on prescription medications.
- Kale- this leafy green just won’t quit. Kale is high in potassium to lower blood pressure and vitamin C and beta-carotene to protect cells from oxidative damage. Add to salad or soup or bake into kale “chips”.
- Greek yogurt- this thick, tangy yogurt is not only higher in protein and lower in sugar to curb appetite, it’s also a great source of calcium and potassium, nutrients found to reduce blood pressure. Mix in fresh or frozen fruit or substitute plain yogurt for sour cream in dips
Truth be told, I had a significant birthday this year. But after so many deaths of some of my favorite artists (read David Bowie, Prince, George Michael), I am so grateful to have another year above ground. Below are some simple tips for women hitting the milestone with me.
- Don’t let your weight creep. Weight gain is very common in perimenopausal women and even worse post menopause. Maintain your weight from year to year through healthy diet and regular physical activity. Weight gain has been implicated in several chronic illness including diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.
- Eat more fiber. Fiber not only keeps you regular, it also helps curb your appetite, lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Choose whole grains daily such as bran cereal, whole wheat bread, oatmeal or brown rice. Try quinoa, bulgur, farrow and other ancient grains.
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D from food. Needs for both nutrients increase over the age of 50. Aim for 3 servings of low fat dairy foods daily such as skim or 1% milk, low fat yogurt or low fat cheese. Calcium and vitamin D are not only good for strong bones, but also aid in lowering blood pressure and risk for heart disease.
- Eat more colorful fruits and vegetables. A diet high in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and some cancers. Choose dark green leafy vegetables often such as kale, collard greens, broccoli and Brussels sprouts as these are the most nutrient dense. Enjoy seasonal produce such as citrus, apples, pineapple and pears.
- Eat healthy fats. Saturated and trans fat are both solid at room temperature and have been implicated in the development of heart disease, colon and breast cancer. Choose more nuts, seeds, avocados, olive and canola oil
- Go easy on sugar. Drop the muffin, or expect a “muffin top”. Excess sugar from sweetened beverages, desserts and even juice can add extra weight around your middle, which not only looks unattractive, it also increases your risk for heart disease and diabetes. Enjoy a treat now and then, but choose fruit when possible if you’ve got a sweet tooth.
- Reduce booze. While an occasional cocktail is OK, regular alcohol consumption increases your risk for breast and other cancers. It also increases abdominal weight gain and can ruin your skin over time.
- Move it. Exercise not only whittles your middle, it also improves cognitive function, improves sleep and reduces risk for depression. Find a buddy to walk with or join a class to keep you motivated.
- Drink more water. We all know we need water, yet most of us don’t drink enough. Aim for at least 6 cups of plain water per day. Dehydration can trigger your appetite and makes skin look dry and sallow.
- Be sensible about sodium. Experts believe we’ll all have high blood pressure if we live past the age of 70. High sodium foods have also been implicated in calcium loss from bone. Limit use of frozen meals, fast food, snacks and other processed foods.
Here’s a great fun fact to share at your next friendly gathering: 60% of your body’s immune cells reside in your intestines. And while washing your hands is still one of the best ways to prevent the spread of disease, researchers are focusing more and more attention on how what we put in our mouths affects the microbes in our gut and risk for chronic illness.
Most people think of white blood cells, lymph nodes and vaccines when asked about their immune systems. But our “microbiota” holds the key to immunity that affects the entire body. The more diverse the bacteria in your bowels, the better your health.
To keep your gut happy and healthy, here are some key foods to eat and why:
- Asparagus-These pretty green stalks contain a compound called inulin, an insoluble fiber that ferments in the large intestine to produce pre-biotic “food” for probiotic/good bacteria. Artichokes and onions are also good sources.
- Bananas are not only a source of potassium and vitamin B6, they also contain pre-biotic fiber, which feeds the pro-biotic (good bacteria) in your gut.
- Beans The musical “fruit” isn’t fruit at all. Beans and legumes release short chain fatty acids, which improve the integrity of the cells in the small intestine and aid in nutrient absorption. If they make you gassy, that means they’re doing their job by fermenting fiber in your small intestine. Gas is good.
- Vegetables from the cruciferous family including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage have glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that aid in reducing inflammation in the gut. Aim to eat some form of leafy greens daily.
- Fermented foods. Sauerkraut gets a bad rap for its sodium content, but if you don’t have a need to limit sodium, enjoy the German favorite. Fermented plant foods provide probiotics to improve gut flora and intestinal integrity.
- Kefir– This cultured yogurt-type drink is a quick way to get your probiotics. Unlike yogurt, it’s virtually lactose-free, making it a good option for those with lactose intolerance.
- Kimchi– Korean, fermented cabbage is a staple in Asian diets. It adds flavor and a healthy dose or probiotics.
- Kombucha– Don’t shy away from this fermented, fizzy tea. Kombucha is a great replacement for soda as it coats your gut with healthy bacteria and much less sugar. The floaty bacteria is known as “scoby”, which creates natural carbonation from fermentation.
- Miso– fermented soybean paste adds an earthy flavor to food and provides a great dose or probiotics. The darker the miso, the richer the flavor.
- Yogurt contains several strains of probiotic bacteria that keep your gut humming. Try Greek style yogurt, which has a tangy flavor and thicker consistency. It’s lower in sugar, which is also important to limit for good gut health.
Oops! You’ve done it again. You agreed to that last beer at closing time, tequila shot with your persuasive friends, or second glass of champagne at the stroke of midnight. Here’s some tips to get your brain and body back to full throttle the day after:
Ginger. Ginger has been used for centuries as a natural nausea cure. It’s not just for morning sickness! Try ginger tea, ginger ale or non-alcoholic ginger beer to calm your stomach.
Peppermint. Peppermint oil relaxes stomach muscles and can have a soothing effect. Peppermint oil is often used with IBS, but should be avoided in those with gastroesophageal reflux, as it lowers esophageal sphincter pressure. The sugar in peppermint candy will raise blood sugar, too for energy.
Toast or crackers. Normally when blood sugar is low, your liver kicks in to release sugar from glycogen (stored glucose). But if it’s been metabolizing alcohol all night, it can’t handle the extra work. Toast, crackers, bread or any other carbohydrates will bring your blood sugar up and give you energy.
Water, water, water. It’s a known fact that alcohol is a diuretic- meaning it will make you pee most of the night, resulting in dehydration and a headache. If you can, drink at least 2 glasses before going to bed the night before. If not, start drinking as soon as you wake up. You CAN over-hydrate yourself- resulting in hyponatremia (low blood sodium) and brain edema. Three liters/day is plenty for most people. Seltzer water is also good option for a headache or upset stomach.
Coffee. If you’re a regular consumer of coffee, you’ll need a bit to prevent a caffeine-withdrawal headache. Overdoing it won’t help as it is a diuretic and too much can cause stomach upset. Enjoy your usual 1-2 cups, but continue to hydrate throughout the day.
Pain meds. Stick with aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen for your hangover headache. Tylenol mixed with alcohol can lead to liver damage. Take non-steroidal drugs as prescribed on the bottle. Taking with food will help prevent them from eating up your stomach lining over time.
This time of year, no one wants to count calories. But, the sad reality is that most Americans gain an average of one pound every year between Thanksgiving and New Years. While that may not sound like a lot, that one pound is typically not lost and can add up over time. Those five pounds can make a difference in blood sugar and blood pressure. Below are some simple tips to cut calories and fat, without sacrificing taste.
- Start lean. Buy skinless chicken or turkey breast or lean beef and pork. Look for the words ‘round’ or loin when buying beef. Remove skin from chicken or turkey before cooking.
- Substitute ground turkey breast (or 93/7) ground turkey or meatless crumbles (soy) for ground beef in tacos, spaghetti sauce or meatloaf.
- Saute’ foods in non-stick spray or broth in place of oil, butter or margarine.
- Make at least 2-3 meals per week meatless. Enjoy beans and lentils.
- Use 2% or skim milk cheese instead of full fat (whole milk) cheese.
- Switch to 1% or skim milk in place of 2% or whole milk.
- Limit stick butter. Use reduced fat margarine, whipped butter or spray margarine when available.
- Replace sour cream with Greek plain yogurt in dips and salad dressings.
- Use reduced fat mayonnaise in place of full fat mayonnaise.
- Try salad dressing spritz in place of bottled dressings. Blend olive oil, balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard together for your own dressing.
- Reduce the fat by 1/3 in cookie and cake recipes.
- Substitute jarred baby prunes, mashed bananas, applesauce or plain yogurt for the fat in baked goods (such as quick breads)
13. Bake, broil, grill or boil foods instead of frying.
14. Top a baked potato with salsa or plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or butter.
15. Share desserts instead of having a whole slice of something.