Coconut Oil: Is It Healthy or Hype?

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Not a day goes by that I’m not asked about the latest and greatest health benefits of coconut oil. Due to its “good” saturated fat, coconut oil is being promoted as a cure-all for heart disease, weight gain, high LDL (bad) cholesterol, and Alzheimer’s disease (to name just a few). But is coconut oil and its powerful medicinal properties all that it’s touted to be?

Saturated Fat

Coconut oil is a saturated fat. These types of fats are generally concentrated in animal products, but are also present in tropical plant-based oils. Saturated fats can increase your LDLs (“bad” cholesterol) and increase your risk of atherosclerotic plaques, coronary artery disease, and stroke. That fact alone should be enough to put coconut oil on the “No Go” list of any healthy eating plan.

The Skinny on Sat Fat

Saturated fats are stable fats, that is, they’re not as sensitive to heat and light like other oils. That’s why they are solid at room temperature, can withstand high cooking temperatures, and have a long shelf life. Here’s how coconut oil compares with the other artery busters.

  • Beef fat = 40% saturated fat
  • Lard = 40%
  • Butter = 64%
  • Coconut oil = 92%

It’s All In the Acid

Not all saturated fats are created equal. Oils are made up of different types of fatty acids and in different percentages which impact how they react in your body. For example, chocolate contains 60% saturated fat. Stearic acid is its most common saturated fat which is why chocolate raises your LDLs significantly less than butter.

On the other hand, coconut oil contains about 65% of its saturated fats from lauric acid. The lauric acid may be what’s responsible for raising your HDLs (“good” cholesterol). But… don’t run out and buy a gallon of it just yet unless you plan on rubbing it on your skin!    Continue reading

Does Tea Make You Pee?

Hot Organic Black Tea

Tea is the healthiest beverage you can drink. It’s rich in phytonutrients (healthy plant compounds) and like water, it’s calorie-free. But there has been a belief that caffeinated drinks, such as tea, are diuretics.

Diuretics cause you to lose more water from your body. That is, they increase the production of urine, so you’re sprinting more often to the John. But if you’re trying to stay hydrated, you may have been told to avoid drinking tea. A study that led to the belief that caffeinated drinks are diuretics used high-dose caffeine pills. However, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition tested the effects of black tea which is a more complex substance than pills. Here’s what they found…

The Tea Test

After a 10-hour fast and 24 hours of avoiding all caffeine, alcohol and vigorous exercise, twenty-one healthy resting men consumed 10 cups of caffeinated black tea at regular intervals providing roughly 170 to 250 mg of caffeine. The tea was prepared using tea bags and mixed with 20 ml of low-fat milk.

All food was controlled and they had nothing else to drink during the trial. Every drop of tea going in and every drop going out was measured and examined for color and electrolyte-water balance over a 24-hour period. Blood was sampled at the start of the trial and again at 1, 2, 4, 8, and 12 hours.

The test was repeated with boiled water. And guess what they found? There was absolutely NO significant difference between drinking tea and water on blood and urine values. Black tea had the same hydrating effects as water.

Apple c heart symbol_40x54Fit Tip: Enjoy your cup of tea and don’t worry about your pee! 😀

Source:
Black tea is not significantly different from water in the maintenance of normal hydration in human subjects: results from a randomised controlled trialBritish Journal of Nutrition. August 2011.

How to Slow Growing Old

Businessman Suffering From Shoulder PainIf you’ve ever moaned, “Ugh. It’s tough growing old.”, you’re likely in pain or you can’t do the things you used to do. But all is not lost! You can control how well you feel and how fast you age. However, before laying out the foundation of youth, here’s why your body is aging in the first place.

Blame It On Blood Sugar

One of the key suspects in what causes your cells to deteriorate is your own circulating blood sugar (glucose). In a process called glycation, these glucose molecules cling to proteins, and a chain of chemical reactions take place in your body. The end result? Proteins clump together, known as crosslinked proteins, which accumulate over time and disrupt the normal functioning of your cells.

Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs)

These “crosslinks”, also known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs) or glycotoxins, seem to ‘stiffen’ tissues. A stiff body is an aging body. But remember my mantra: “Your age is a given. Growing old is an option.” So don’t throw up your hands just yet. Read on…

Why You Get Stiff

Collagen is the most common and longest living protein molecule in your body. Skin care companies spend billions of dollars trying to replicate it and sell it as their revolutionary secret to erasing wrinkles. Collagen provides structure and support to not only your skin, but to your joints and organs as well.

When glucose binds with collagen (part of the aging process), your collagen loses its suppleness and becomes less flexible. As a result, your lungs, arteries, tendons, and other tissues stiffen. Stiff = Less efficient. For example, when your arteries are stiff, they lose their contractility and can’t pump as much blood through them due to their limited inability to expand and contract.

Age-Related Diseases Linked to AGEs      

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Lengthen the Life of Your Produce | Frig 101

Fresh produce in grocery bag

You just returned from the Farmer’s Market, arms overflowing with fresh, seasonal produce that need to go in the frig fast. Do you randomly stash them in the produce drawer? That is, do you put them wherever they fit… only to find that a few days later your greens are wimpy, berries are moldy, and your cucumbers are shriveling? If this sounds familiar, here’s how to store your bounty to maintain their optimal freshness.

humidity-drawerThose drawers in your refrigerator, a.k.a. humidity drawers or produce crispers, actually have a purpose. Notice the humidity controls ranging from low to high on each drawer. Do you know what they mean?

These settings aren’t anything fancy. They simply open or close a window in the drawer. For the low humidity setting, the window is completely open; for the high humidity setting, it is completely closed. And here’s why…

The Gassy Offender

Ethylene gas is produced naturally and released by many fruits and veggies. It causes:

  • Cells to degrade
  • Fruit to ripen (become softer and sweeter)
  • Leaves to go limp
  • Seeds or buds to sprout

Knowing which items are ethylene-gas producers and which are sensitive to the gas, you’ll never toss your apples in with your lettuce again. It’s all about the gas!

What Goes in the Low-Humidity Drawer (“Low Rot”)

Apples, pears and grapes

1. Produce that IS NOT sensitive to moisture loss.
2. Produce that emits ethylene gas. When the window is open, the gases escape, and fruits and vegetables won’t spoil prematurely.

Here are some common fruits and vegetables to keep in the low-humidity drawer (window open):    Continue reading

Whole Grains for Your Heart? Use the 5 to 1 Fiber Rule

Grain and cereal food selection in heart shaped porcelain bowls over lokta paper background. Green freekeh wheat in large dish with ears.

Ever since your doctor told you to start eating more fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes (beans, split peas, chick peas, and lentils), you switched to eating whole wheat bread. You congratulated yourself on trading in (reluctantly) your soft white “wonder” for a 21-grain brick, but your new kind of loaf may not be as healthy and whole as you might think.

Why You Need More Dietary Fiber

There is accumulating evidence that eating more dietary fiber reduces your risk for:

• Type 2 diabetes
• Cardiovascular disease
• Certain cancers
• Weight gain
• Obesity
• Diverticular disease
• Functional constipation

According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, as your fiber intake goes up, your risk of metabolic syndrome goes down resulting in less inflammation and a drop in obesity risk. It was concluded that greater dietary fiber intake is associated with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease. (See ‘”Inflammation / Foods that Heal and Harm“)

It’s no surprise that another study concluded that for every additional 7 grams of fiber consumed, heart disease risk decreased by 9%. Seven grams of fiber really doesn’t equate to that much food. You can get 7 grams through a serving of whole grains plus beans or lentils (e.g., rice and beans), or a few servings of fruits and vegetables.

How Dietary Fiber Benefits Your Heart

The cardiovascular benefits of dietary fiber include:

  • Helps get rid of excess bile (reduces LDL “bad” cholesterol)
  • Reduces cholesterol production
  • Feeds our “good” bacteria
  • Changes our gut hormones
  • Promotes eating low-calorie-density foods
  • Increases satiety
  • Delays gastric emptying

These effects collectively help control your cholesterol, body weight, blood sugar, and blood pressure which all reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Also, per a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dietary fiber has been shown to reduce inflammation, specifically, C-reactive protein, a sensitive inflammatory marker that can predict chronic disease.

Eat More Whole Plant Foods

Consuming more dietary fiber means eating lots of whole plant foods, such as:

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes

Soluble fiber acts like a “cholesterol sponge”. Sources include:

  • Oats
  • Nuts
  • Seeds (especially flaxseeds)
  • Legumes
  • Most fruits

Sources of insoluble fiber, a.k.a. “Nature’s Broom”, help prevent constipation and include:

  • Whole wheat
  • Wheat bran
  • Brown rice
  • Other whole grains
  • Most vegetables

When shopping for “packaged” grain products, such as bread, crackers and ready-to-eat cereals, the first word in the ingredients list should be “whole”. However, the remaining ingredients might look like a bunch of chemicals, so how do you choose?

The “Five to One Fiber Rule”   

A more reliable strategy to identify a healthy whole grain food product is to   Continue reading

Fit Minute | Why Pumpkin Promotes Anti-Aging

pumpkin_adobestock_117487967‘Tis the season for pumpkin! Here are the nutrition bullet points that make them well worth eating:

  • Pumpkin is loaded with beta-carotene (an important antioxidant).
  • Beta-carotene (a bright orange plant pigment) is converted to vitamin A in your body.

Vitamin A is for Anti-Aging

Foods rich in beta-carotene:

  • May reduce your risk of developing certain cancers.
  • Offer protection against heart disease and some degenerative aspects of aging, including cataracts and macular degeneration.
  • Keep your skin soft and smooth. Vitamin A rebuilds body tissues and helps control the production of sebum (oil) that lubricates your skin.  If you’re deficient in this vitamin, you’ll end up with dry, scaly skin.
  • Destroy free radicals, that is, the by-products of oxidation from normal metabolic processing. These little scavengers cause cellular damage and are responsible for aging skin.
  • Attack the free radicals that break down your skin’s elastin and collagen – the vital components of youthful, firm and resilient skin.

pumpkin-seeds_adobestock_24256286Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are a good souce of fiber and healthy fats and an excellent source of iron — especially for vegans. A handful of pepitas (about 85 little seeds) contain about 1 mg. of iron. That’s about 4% of the recommended amount of iron you need each day.

Iron is essential due to its oxygen-carrying capacity. An iron deficiency can impair muscle function, normal function of the nervous and immune systems, and can limit your work capacity during exercise.

Apple c heart symbol_40x54Fit Tip: Roast and season pumpkin seeds and kernels for a bone-building high-fiber snack. To spice them up, sprinkle them with garlic powder, cayenne and smoked paprika. Also, try some Super Moist Pumpkin Bars for a boost of vitamin A!

Super Moist Pumpkin Bars

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Pumpkins are the eternal symbol of fall and a healthy food, but they’re often transformed into not-so-healthy desserts. New York magazine declared Pumpkin is the New Bacon in their headline several years ago. Aargh! That’s because the minimal amount of pumpkin used (if any) in some of these processed products is usually wrapped in layers of saturated fat (butter), refined carbs (white flour) and sugar.

However, after much ‘tinkering’ in my kitchen, you can enjoy this nutritional all-star. These pumpkin treats are not only quick and easy to make, they’re extremely moist and light in texture (yes, despite being ‘whole grain’). I’ve skimped on the fat and sugar, but not the flavor. Best of all, my cardiac patients and family gave them a huge thumbs up! 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (117 grams) whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cinnamon (I use Vietnamese cinnamon)
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 2 large eggs (omega-3 fortified)
  • 1 1/3 cups (176 grams) light brown sugar
  • 2 cups (488 grams) pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
  • 1/2 cup (113.5 grams) nonfat milk
  • 1/4 cup (56 grams) Earth Balance® (Original) natural buttery spread, melted
  • 1/4 cup (63.8 grams) unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I use Mexican vanilla bean extract)
  • Date sugar (optional)

Directions:   

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Heart Attack! First Aid Quiz

If you’re experiencing “chest pressure” or “chest pain”, aspirin is the BEST form of first aid. But all aspirins are not alike nor are all methods of taking aspirin alike. Take the lifesaving quiz below…

Why Aspirin

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI), is permanent damage to the heart muscle. Most heart attacks develop when a cholesterol-laden plaque in a coronary artery ruptures. Plaque deposits are hard on the outside and when this outer shell ruptures (cracks), platelets rush to the area in an effort to ‘patch’ the ruptured area.

Platelets are disc-shaped particles in the blood that aid in clotting. A clot grows minute by minute! As a clot grows, it blocks an artery. When the artery is completely blocked, cardiac tissue dies from the lack of blood supply and you have a heart attack. But aspirin can help stop the platelets from forming a larger clot if you take the aspirin BEFORE the clot gets too big. Time is critical! Aspirin helps inhibit platelet activity.

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QUIZ (3 questions):

1. Pick the METHOD that you think makes aspirin work the fastest*. That is, during a suspected heart attack, which of the following is the fastest way to reduce blood clot formation?

A. Swallow the aspirin with 4 oz. of water.
B. Chew the aspirin for 30 seconds, then swallow it.
C. Swallow the aspirin with 4 oz. Alka Seltzer.    Continue reading

See the World Through Others…

quote_we-all-go-through-the-same-stuff-differently

Empathy (that is, “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”) is the foundation of healthy relationships. It helps you understand the perspectives, needs and intentions of others.

“How deep is the mud? Depends on who you ask. We all go through the same stuff differently.”

For more inspiration: http://www.pinterest.com/karenowoc/quotes-that-move-me/

How to Dodge This Deadly Bullet (Sudden Cardiac Death)

Healthy Life Green Road Sign Did you know… that sudden cardiac death is usually the first symptom of coronary heart disease (CHD) — especially among women?

Compared to men, studies show that women are 66% less likely to be diagnosed with coronary heart disease before sudden cardiac death strikes. If you’re a woman and free of symptoms, you’re not identified as “high risk” which means you’re not eligible for cardiac interventions that could save your life. SCD accounts for more than 50% of cardiac deaths (approximately 250,000 to 310,000 cases annually in the United States).

Heart Attack vs. Sudden Cardiac Death

To clarify, the terms “heart attack” and “sudden cardiac death” are NOT the same thing.

  • A heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI) occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood suddenly gets blocked. Oxygen can’t get to a section of the heart and cardiac tissue dies. Most often the heart is blocked by a build-up of fatty plaque.
  • Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is an abrupt loss of heart function as a result of abnormal electrical impulses within the heart. The heart’s electrical system may fail from physical stress, inherited arrhythmias, drug/alcohol abuse, chronic kidney disease, structural changes in the heart, and/or scar tissue that damages the heart’s electrical system. (Cardiac deaths were considered “sudden” if the death or cardiac arrest occurred within 1 hour of the onset of symptoms.)

Simply put, SCD is considered an ‘electrical’ problem whereas a heart attack is more of a ‘plumbing’ problem. Over the years, I’ve had several patients that were revived and survived sudden cardiac arrest who said they didn’t need cardiac rehab because they didn’t have a heart attack, but had an “electrical issue”. They couldn’t be more wrong.

SCD Risk Can Be Prevented   

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a 26-year study of nearly 82,000 women that showed you can reduce your risk for sudden cardiac death. In the majority of people, coronary heart disease is usually the underlying cause of SCD and this study showed that a low-risk, healthy lifestyle is associated with a low risk of sudden cardiac death.    Continue reading