Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cholesterol: What You Need to Know

True or False?: The highest predictor of high blood cholesterol is eating high cholesterol foods.
          False: The main culprit to raising blood cholesterol is saturated fat.

True or False?: Lack of physical activity is a risk factor for heart disease.
          True: Regular physical activity lowers your LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and can raise your      HDL (good cholesterol) levels.

Let's break down what this all means:

What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fatty-like substance that the body uses for many chemical processes. Cholesterol is used to produce sex hormones, is converted to bile acids to help digest food, and it builds and repairs cells.

How Does Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease?
When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries. This buildup causes the arteries to become narrowed. Thus, blood flow to the heart is slowed down or blocked. If the blood supply is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.

What is LDL (Bad) Cholesterol?
LDL is called the "Bad" cholesterol because it collects in the walls of your blood vessels and causes blockages. Eating a high saturated fat diet increases your levels of LDL cholesterol.

What is HDL (Good) Cholesterol?
HDL acts as a maintenance crew for your blood vessels by removing harmful cholesterol. HDL transports LDL to the liver where it can be reprocessed.

Additional Factors That Affect Cholesterol
-Lack of physical activity
-Cigarette smoking
-High blood pressure
-Family history of heart disease
-Age (men >45years)(women >55years)

Now on to the fun part! Here is what you can do to decrease your cholesterol! 
1. Decrease the amount of saturated fats in your diet. A goal for saturated fat is to aim for less than 7% of your calories.
2. Maintain a healthy weight!
3. Include physical activity every day!
4. Increase the amount of fiber in your diet!
5. Eat fruits and vegetables! They have no cholesterol; but, they are packed with fiber!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Salt: The Silent Killer

Put down the salt shaker and slowly walk away! Those pure, white crystals look so innocent as they gleam in the shakers. Appearances sure are deceiving since high intake of salt is a major cause of high blood pressure, which ultimately leads to heart attacks and strokes. Just 1 teaspoon of salt contains about 2,400 mg of sodium. That is almost double the recommendation of 1,500mg of sodium (American Heart Association).

You may be thinking "I don't add salt to my foods, so I can't possibly be consuming that much sodium." Think again! About 77% of sodium comes from processed foods and foods eaten outside the home. The foods that contribute the most sodium, because of their frequent consumption, are: bread, cheese, deli meats, cakes, canned soup, and cookies. Even those "healthy" frozen dinner meals are prime suspects of high sodium content. 1 package of Boston Market's Homestyle Meal Beef Sirloin contains 2,270mg of sodium. 1 bowl of Uncle Ben's Teriyaki Chicken Rice contains 1,450mg of sodium.  Most restaurant meals provide more than a whole day's worth of sodium! For example, General Tso's chicken with rice contains 3,150mg of sodium.

Why is salt used if it leads to such horrible things, like high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes? In some foods, salt is used to help bacterial growth. It is also used to mask "off-flavors that develop during high-temperature processing and long storage.

Ready to shake the salt habit?! Look below for some tips on cutting back on your sodium! Your heart will thank you later.

Tips for Cutting Back on Your Sodium:
-Read the food label! Check how much sodium, per serving is in the product. Watch for the words "soda" and "sodium."
-Taste your food before salting it. Some people have a habit of adding salt, before they even taste the meal.
-Buy fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables "with no salt added."
-Choose "convenience" foods that are lower in sodium. Cut back on frozen dinners, pizza, packaged mixes, and canned soups or broths.
-Rinse canned foods, such as tuna, to remove some sodium.
-Try herb-seasoning packets or other spices in place of salt.

Home-Made Herb Seasoning
Combine all ingredients below in a shaker:
-1 teaspoon celery seed, ground
-2 1/2 tsp. marjoram, crushed
-1 1/2 tsp. thyme, crushed
-1 1/2 tsp. dried basil, crushed
-1/2 tsp. black pepper
*You can mix and match tons of different herbs!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tips for Eating Out

True or false?: A salad is the healthiest item to choose on the menu.

Surprisingly, the answer is false. Most entree salads have more toppings than lettuce or other vegetables. These "healthy salads" can really pack on the saturated fat and extra calories. For example, a Fiesta Chicken Salad from Applebee's has 880 calories, 43g of fat (11g saturated fat, 1g trans fat), 83g of carbohydrates, and 2,170mg of sodium! Now, let's compare this to a "healthier" option at Applebee's: Ziesta Roma Chicken and Shrimp. This entree has 410 calories, 11g fat (3.5g saturated fat), 23g of carbohydrates, and 2,090mg of sodium. Even though the sodium content is still high (this is expected when you go out to eat) it is a much better option than the salad.

Tips for choosing the "healthiest" options when eating out.
1. Skip the bread basket! If you want to splurge on the tasty bread anyway, ask the waiter to only bring out 1 piece of bread (or 2 if you are eating with a partner).
2. Order water! Most restaurants provide you with free refills so it might be difficult to stop the flood of soda once you have ordered the first glass.
3. Order soup before your main course. Choose a broth-base soup over a cream-based one.
4. When visiting the salad bar, pass the cheeses and croutons. Stick with clear dressings (like Italian), fresh vegetables, nuts, and beans.
5. If you order a salad, try and substitute toppings for fresh vegetables. Also, ask for the dressing on the side so you can control how much gets poured on.
6. Choosing fish, chicken, or pork are usually better options than beef.
7. Marinara and tomato-based sauces are usually healthier than creamy sauces or gravies. If you opt for the cream sauce, either ask for it on the side or ask that the chef "go light."
8. Eat slowly. It takes your brain about 20 minutes to register that you are full. Stop to enjoy your dinner conversation and sip some water.
9. For sandwich toppings, opt for lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, and/or onions.
10. Don't be shy about making requests!

Key Words to Look for on the Menu:
1. Buttery, breaded, buttered, fried, and creamed: They usually mean loaded with saturated fat and calories.
2. Grilled, baked, steamed, broiled, and roasted: Best to pick!

For Restaurants with Large Portions:
1. Ask for a take-home box with your meal. Place half of your meal in the container before you begin. This will help you from overeating and cleaning your plate.
2. Order your entree and share with a friend!

As a final note, if you are normally eating a healthy diet, don't be afraid to splurge once in a while!


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Water Intake

Women, are you getting in your 9 cups of water a day? Men, are you getting in your 13 cups of water a day? That sure does seem like a lot of water! The Institute of Medicine determined those levels to be adequate for the body to maintain its high level of functioning. Every day you lose water through perspiration, breathing, urine, and bowel movements. It's no wonder we need so much!

Water makes up about 60% of your body weight. Every system in the human body relies on water for it to function properly. Water flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to cells, provides a moist environment for nasal cavities, keeps your body at a normal temperature, and lubricates and cushions joints.

Before you start to guzzle down 9-13 cups of water, look at what you are eating. About 80% of our intake of comes from drinking water and the other 20% comes from food. Some foods with high water content include lettuce (95%), watermelon (92%), broccoli (91%), and apples (84%). There are many other foods with a high water content; however, you will find most of these foods to be fruits and vegetables.

Do sugary beverages count as fluid? Yes, they do count towards your overall fluid intake. They will keep you hydrated; however, they are full of added sugars and calories with little to no benefit for your health. I've heard many people say that they don't like the taste of water. My suggestion is to try water with a splash of lemon or another citrus fruit. Also, you could do half sugary drink and half water (if you can't let go of your juices or power-ades). Experiment and see what works best for you.

Two additional benefits of water are that it's calorie free (great for weight control) and it's free (from the faucet of course). Bottoms up and healthy drinking to you!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Benefits of Sleep

Sleep for weight loss. Sleep for learning and memory. Sleep for decreased inflammation. Can getting a good night's sleep really do all these things? Why, yes it can! Adequate sleep is needed for a healthy mind, body, and lifestyle.

Weight Loss and Hormones
The hormones Leptin and Ghrelin work to control your feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin stimulates your appetite and Leptin signals your body when you are full. When you don't get enough sleep, Leptin levels decrease, which means that you are less satisfied after you eat, and Ghrelin levels increase, which means your appetite is stimulated. What is boils down to is overeating. Those cream filled donuts and flavored chips are no match for your upset hormone levels!

Learning and Memory
Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory in a process called Memory Consolidation.  The consolidation process occurs when the brain forms new pathways for the information it encountered. When you learn or practice things, your brains runs through the pathways it created, making them deeper. Sleep then allows you to strengthen the "practice" skills you learned while you were awake.

Decreased Inflammation
Inflammation is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and arthritis. A decrease in sleep leads to an increase in the blood levels of inflammatory proteins (C-reactive Proteins). Sleeps also helps to strengthen your immune system so you can fight off those nasty colds.

Cardiovascular Health
Sleep deprivation has also been linked to high blood pressure and increased stress hormone levels.

Besides all of the benefits mentioned above, a good night's sleep is a contributor to better moods and increased safety (no more falling asleep at the wheel)! So snuggle on down for an 8 hour snooze!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Simple Vs. Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a hot topic nowadays. Carbs are good. Carbs are bad. Eat complex. No wait, it doesn't matter! We are going to delve into a small portion of the carb-ness craze today and talk about what simple and complex carbs are. 

Let's go with the simple carbs first. Simple carbs are constructed from one or two sugar molecules, which makes them easier to digest. Six important simple carbs include: glucose, fructose (fruit sugar), galactose (found in milk), maltose (malt sugar), sucrose (table sugar), and lactose (milk sugar). Complex carbs, on the other hand, are made up of chains of multiple sugar molecules. This makes them take longer to digest. Complex carbs include starches (grains, legumes, vegetables) and fiber. 

Now, on to the fun part. You consume a simple carbohydrate and your body breaks down, absorbs and stores the sugars. Then, you consume a complex carbohydrate and the same thing happens! Your body breaks down, absorbs, and stores the sugars. Your body is unable to distinguish between the carbohydrates found in whole foods (like fruits and vegetables) and the carbohydrates found in food-like products (like candy and chips).  Crazy, right? Chemically, these sugars are the same. So why don't we just eat candy bars instead of fruit? Well, foods with naturally occurring sugars contain many vitamins and minerals that promote health. Also, like in the case of fruit, these foods contain fiber, which is also important for your health.

There is a further slight difference in the breakdown of carbohydrates. Simple carbs are metabolized quickly and provide a short dose of energy for your body. Starches take longer to digest; however, in the end, they are broken down into simple sugars anyway. Fiber, because of it's toughness and stringiness, does not break down in the body completely, thus it is beneficial for digestion and adds bulk to food without adding extra calories. 

In the end, it's all relative and comes down to the basics of sugar. (Minus fiber, see my article on fiber for more information). With that said, I leave you with a poem!

Carbs, carbs everywhere! Simple, complex! Should we care? 
Featured in each daily trend! Look no further. You have found the end!