Category Archives: Heart Healthy

ABC10 | Healthy Easter Basket Treats

I was on ABC10 TV out of Sacramento yesterday to show their viewers (a.k.a. Easter bunnies) how to pull together a ‘healthy Easter basket’. Hmmm…. that’s an oxymoron, you say. Believe it or not, options outside of solid chocolate bunnies, Peeps and sugar-coated sugar do actually exist.

Here are my five basic principles when it comes to “healthify-ing” this tradition.

  • Include plant-based foods and plant-based colorants.
  • Load up on whole grains.
  • Use healthy fats.
  • Cut back on sugar.
  • Swap out milk chocolate with dark chocolate.

All the recipes for the treats on the show will be featured in my upcoming book, “Athletes in Aprons“. 😀

Oat & Berry Bars: These whole-grain, gluten-free bars are made with oat flour and rolled oats layered with an organic berry purée sweetened with just apple juice.

Chocolate Chip Cookies: These cookies will surprise you! They’re made with garbanzo bean and fava bean flours, oat flour, zucchini, dairy-free dark chocolate, and organic unsweetened applesauce. Gluten-free.

Fudge Brownies: These fudge-y treats are made with whole wheat flour and… spinach. Really! Their moist richness comes from just a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, unsweetened applesauce, and golden ground flaxseeds. You have to taste ’em to believe they’re not loaded with hydrogenated fat and white flour.

Banana-Date Granola: Most granolas are made with lots of oats, sugar and fat. Here’s a no-sugar/no-fat-added granola (no kidding!) made with a base of protein- and     Continue reading

Matcha: The Ultimate Health Drink ☘

Organic green matcha tea

If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to the usual shamrock-shaded green beer to show your St. Patrick’s Day spirit, try matcha. Matcha (pronounced “MA-cha”) is a finely ground green tea powder that dates back to a 1,000-year-old Japanese tea ceremony. Preparing and serving matcha is a formal art in Japan and the health benefits of this green elixir have been striking.

The Magic of Matcha

Researchers consider green tea the healthiest beverage you can drink. Its health benefits have been studied since the 1990s due to their strong correlation between long life and health in many Asian cultures. Extensive studies on green tea revealed that it provides significant protection against:

  • Cardiovascular disease heart disease (atherosclerosis)
  • Low density lipoproteins (LDLs – the “bad” cholesterol)
  • High blood pressure
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Stroke

Healthy, plaque-free blood vessels are good for your heart and what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. An active, working brain requires sufficient blood flow.

Catechin Polyphenols

What makes matcha so beneficial? Something called polyphenols. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants and green tea contains polyphenols classified as “catechins” (pronounced KAT’-eh-kins).

Catechin polyphenols are found in the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant that fight and may even prevent cell damage. Catechins are also found in red wine, chocolate, berries, and apples, but in smaller amounts compared to tea leaves.

Four types of tea come from the Camellia sinensis plant:

  • Black
  • Green
  • Oolong
  • White

Green tea undergoes much less processing than the other teas, so it contains more antioxidants as well as less caffeine. Specifically, these hand-picked green tea leaves are high in catechin polyphenols called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which is the most active and most studied of the polyphenols.

How to Drink It

Matcha is made from high quality leaves and is jewel green in color. When drinking matcha, in contrast to drinking steeped green tea, you are drinking the whole leaf and not just the brewed water from the leaves. Therefore, when drinking matcha, you’re consuming 10 times the antioxidants, i.e., the health benefits in one cup of matcha is equivalent to 10 cups of green tea.    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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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

pumpkin-muffin-bars4

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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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

ABC10 | Vegetarian Hawaiian Luau

Guest appearance on ABC10 “Sac & Co”

VIDEO: Native Hawaiian cuisine traditionally consisted of meat (pig and fowl), fish and shellfish, pineapples, coconuts, coconut milk, sweet potatoes, taro, seaweed, and sea salt as a condiment. Here’s an updated veggie version of some historical Hawaiian dishes which incorporate some of these native foods. I chatted with host Mellisa Paul on Sac & Co, ABC10’s local morning TV show out of Sacramento, about how to host a vegetarian Hawaiian luau.

Vegetarian Hawaiian Luau_Sac&Co1Vegetarian Hawaiian Luau_Sac&Co3

Here’s what I prepared for the show:

  • Vegetarian Poke: tofu, mango, avocado, wakame (seaweed to impart the flavor of the sea), sweet onions (e.g., Maui or Vidalia onions), green onions, macadamia nuts, Hawaiian sea salt
  • Vegetarian Lau Lau: sweet potato, spinach, sweet onions, green onions, coconut milk, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, Hawaiian sea salt, and collard greens
  • Hibiscus Cooler 
  • Mango Freeze
  • Sparkling POG Juice
  • Haupia with fresh fruit and edible flowers (coconut dessert – pudding style)
  • Hawaiian bread pudding
  • Fresh pineapple in freshly cut coconut bowls

Apple c heart symbol_40x54Fit Tip: If you cannot find Maui or Vidalia onions, look for an onion that has a flattened vs round globe shape. These onions are less pungent due to their low amount of sulfur compounds which allows their ‘sweetness’ (sugar) to come through.

Fit Find | Spicely® Lemon Pepper

Lemon pepper is a refreshing blend of the peel of real lemons and coarsely ground pepper. It’s a classic spice for grilled or baked fresh fish (chicken or turkey) and gives fresh zing to grilled, roasted or steamed vegetables, salads, salad dressings, and hummus.

Lemon pepper is often considered a tasty alternative to salt, but beware. Not all lemon peppers are alike. There are several brands on the supermarket shelves and some include salt and sugar.

This Spice Is Nice

Spicely Lemon PepperSpicely® Organic Lemon Pepper is a pure product that’s rather herbal with a touch of tang. Best of all, it contains NO added salt, sugar, processed starches, anti-caking agents, or food colorants. This seasoning is a delicious blend of: Organic Lemon Peel, Organic Black Pepper, Organic Garlic, Organic Onion, Organic Celery Seed, Organic Dill Seed, and Organic Turmeric.

Spicely also makes an Organic Lemon Peel if you like even more lemon-y zest on your food. Lemons add brightness and acidity to any dish. The lemon peel is granulated and delicious in soups and marinades as well.

Spicely states, “All imported spices are required to go through a sterilization process before being sold in the United States. Most spice companies sterilize using synthetic chemicals or radiation. Spicely Organics uses a process called steam sterilization, which sterilizes food products without adding any chemicals or hazardous materials.” 

The Not-So-Fit Finds

McCormick Lemon Pepper with Garlic & OnionMcCormick’s California Style Lemon Pepper with Garlic & Onion – Black Pepper, Lemon Peel, Citric Acid*, Salt, Onion, Garlic, Sugar, Maltodextrin**, Lemon Juice Solids, and Natural Flavors.

*Citric Acid is a white crystalline powder produced commercially by using a culture of Aspergillus niger (a fungus) and feeding it simple sugar. Molasses is used primarily for citric acid fermentation since it’s readily available and relatively inexpensive. A. niger uses the glucose as food and produces citric acid and carbon dioxide (C02) as waste products.

NOTE: This is the same fungus that causes a disease called ‘black mold’ on certain fruits and vegetables (e.g., grapes, apricots, onions, and peanuts) and is a common contaminant of food. In foods, citric acid is used as a flavor enhancer, preservative and emulsifier.

**Maltodextrin is a cheap filler or thickener that’s added to processed foods. It’s derived from starch, i.e., carbohydrates, such as corn, wheat, potatoes, or rice. The processed starch turns into a moderately sweet or a flavorless white powder. Maltodextrin is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, in fact, as rapidly as pure glucose. This additive is used in some spice blends as we’ve just learned, but it’s often used in:    Continue reading