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Go RED during American Heart Month

22 Feb

You guessed it. Today’s post is dedicated to protecting your ticker.

Your heart is arguably the most important organ in your body.  It beats approximately 100,000 times a day or 35 million times in a year.  During your lifetime, your heart will beat more than 2.5 billion times.  Find a tennis ball and give a good, hard squeeze.  That is how much force your heart exerts every time it pumps blood out of the heart.  Even when you’re lounging on the couch the muscles of your heart work harder than your leg muscles when you’re at a full sprint!

Your body has an average of 5.6 liters of blood, which circulates the entire body 3 times in one minute.  That means that your blood travels 12,000 miles in a single day! In one’s lifetime your heart will pump about 1 million barrels of blood!  That will fill more than 3 super-tankers! That’s a lot of blood.  So now that you know just how hard your heart works for you with every beat, let’s talk about how to protect it!

There are six things you can do to help protect your ticker: nutrition, physical activity, weight management, stress management, fats & oils, and quit smoking!  I’ll cover each of these 6 things in greater detail below.


Proper nutrition is key.  Those who follow my blog already know that I’m a big proponent of eating clean, whole foods.  If you want to protect your health and your heart, the best thing you can do for it is to drop those processed foods and spend a little extra time in the kitchen.  You want to get a well-balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, veggies, and protein from lean meats and lentils.

Sodium contributes to high blood pressure, so watch your sodium intake as well.  However, I wouldn’t put away the table salt and call it good.  Most of Americans’ sodium intake actually comes from processed foods, frozen meals, and sodas (both diet and regular).  I’d much rather people cook their own food and then salt to taste than pop a meal in the microwave for 5 minutes on high!

What can you do?

This is pretty simple and straight forward: eat whole!  When at the grocery store only buy from the outer loop and enter into the middle lanes only to grab whole staples like whole wheat flour, lentils, etc.  If you haven’t already noticed, next time you go in please note that all the whole and fresh foods line the outside of the store, while the crap is in the middle.  Avoid the crap!!

And please, don’t ever go food shopping while hungry.  You’ll come home with 10 bags of fritos and a pepsi you hadn’t planned on!

Physical Activity

After eating right, the next best thing you can do for your heart is to take it on a walk. No literally, go for a walk!  It doesn’t take much exercise to lower your risk of heart disease.  The American Heart Association recommends just 30 minutes a day on most days to help reduce your risk of heart disease.  And we’re not talking about marathon training here either people, it’s something as simple as taking a brisk walk with the girls to catch up instead of your usual weekly lunch date.  The point is to get your heart working a little harder than when your sitting at your desk the other 10 hours of the day.  Little changes in your life will translate into huge impacts in both your heart and quality of life.

What can you do?

Get off the couch!  I cannot stress this enough.  Just get some exercise and you’ll not only feel better, have more energy, but you’ll be taking steps to protect your heart.  If you like to see actual numbers of your activity, consider investing in a simple pedometer.  Aim for 10,000 steps a day!  If you’re feeling you want more, consider new devices out there today like Jawbone’s UP (returning to the market soon), FitBit, Nike’s FuelBand, and Striiv to name a few.  These great devices sync to a cloud profile where you can track your progress over the months, as well as compete with friends.

Weight Management

This shouldn’t be new news to anybody, but being overweight or obese leads to many health problems, not the least of which is heart disease.  The more overweight you are, the higher your risk of developing heart disease.

What can you do?

Get your weight under control!  Enlist the help of friends and family to achieve your goals.  Encourage your friends and family to join you in your journey!  There is strength in numbers.  Weight loss and management are keys to a long and healthy life.

Stress Management

When you stress out your body goes into fight or flight.  Your body is preparing for an attack and it cannot distinguish emotional/mental stress from physical, about to be attacked by a lion, stress.  Your body goes into hyperdrive and your heart starts to beat harder in order to prep your body to fight.  It also causes your blood pressure to rise. Now this response to stress is normal and good, it allows our bodies to react to dangers, but when our bodies are always in this “fight or flight” mode it puts a lot of stress (no pun intended) on our bodies.  Prolonged stress can become a danger to your heart, especially if you have other risk factors for heart disease.  Read more about stress in my post about it here.

What can you do?

Take a chill pill!  Decide if the situation really warrants you freaking out and if the answer is no, take a few deep breaths.  Find outlets to de-stress such as yoga, writing in a journal, or listening to soothing music.  Find what works for you and do it consistently.  Whatever the issue, I’m pretty sure the world is not going to end and is it really worth your heart?

Fats & Oils

Getting the proper amount of fats and the right kinds of fats is crucial to helping your ticker beat at its best. Read more about it on my post here.

What can you do?

Watch your intake of fats regardless of type, especially if you have other conditions that warrant it.  But on the other hand, make sure you do get enough of the good kinds of fats to help protect your heart.  Steer clear of trans fats at all costs and use saturated fats on occasion (aka keep the red meat to once or twice a week).

Quit Smoking

Smoking is bad all the way around, but it’s really hard on your heart. It leads to the constriction of you blood vessels and that in turn means your heart has to work harder to pump the same amount of blood through your vessels.  Smoking leads to not only cancer, but heart disease, hypertension, and ultimately death.

What can you do?

Just quit! Enough said.  There are lots of tools and support groups out there these days to help you.  Most insurance companies also cover smoking cessation, so make sure you ask about it.  If you’ve already quit, good for you and keep it up!  You’re making yourself and the people around you healthier by your decision to quit.


Just a quick note of children.  Unfortunately, many children are now facing adult disease like diabetes type 2 and heart disease because of the childhood obesity epidemic facing this country.  If you have a child who is overweight or obese (or even if they’re not), encourage them to get outside and play (NFL has a great program called Play60).  Better yet, play with them!  Not only will it make both you healthier, but it will bring you closer together.

You are responsible for what they eat.  Feed healthy meals at home and teach them about making responsible choices when they’re away from home.  If you show them that good food is yummy food you’ll be setting them up for a healthier life.  Please remember that you should never tell a child that they’re fat or demean a child, especially since I believe that most parents are 100% responsible for their child’s condition.  It is your responsibility as a parent to protect them and to nurture their self esteem.  Make healthy fun!

February is American Heart Month, but this shouldn’t be the only month you are conscious of your heart or the dangers you could be putting it into.  These are lifestyle choices that you need to, no, that you have to make.  Healthy living is so much more than fitting into that LBD (for all the men, that stands for “little black dress”), it’s about knowing that what you’re doing today will allow you to have a hundred healthy tomorrows.

If you want to donate to the American Heart Association, a great organization dedicated to protecting our hearts, please click here.


Fats, Fats, & More Fats–The Real Scoop on Fats

29 Sep

I know what you’re thinking…how in the world can fats be healthy?  Well believe it or  not some fat in our diet is actually good for us, but it has to be the right types of fat.  Ready for a 10 second lesson in nutrition? Okay, well maybe a little longer than 10 seconds…

There are five types of fat: Saturated fat, hydrogenated fat (includes partially hydrogenated fats), polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and trans fatty acids.  They’re scary words I know, but I’ll break them down into lay person’s terms and explain how they affect your body, where you find them and which to avoid and keep in your diet!  Let’s go!!

First let’s talk about the wholly bad, which should be avoided at all costs…

Hydrogenated/Partially Hydrogenated Fats: during food processing, some fats go through a chemical alteration know in the industry as hydrogenation.  Hydrogenation is basically where hydrogen is chemically injected into the fat oils at high temperatures.  Food companies add hydrogenated fats to foods to make them more stable in order to increase their shelf lives.  A twinkie’s shelf life is reported to be 27 years!  That’s ridiculous! And probably an urban myth, Hostess (the makers of Twinkies) say the shelf life is more around 25 days, but others say they’ve seen Twinkies that are 25 years old and could very possibly still be eaten!  Hydrogenated oils are proven to raise levels of your LDL cholesterol (the bad type!) and leads to an increased risk

Trans fatty acids: Also know as trans fats has finally been shown to the majority of the public as being public enemy#1 and with good reason!  Trans fats are created through the hydrogenation process that I talked about above. Trans fats are used to make overly processed food taste yummier. Which is why you can never just have one bite, it’s so unnatural tasting that it makes our taste buds go haywire!

It is recommended to either eliminate trans fats completely from your diet, or limit it to no more than 1% of daily intake.  It’s great to finally see food manufactures being required to say how much of the trans fats are in their food. But be warned, they can legally put “0 trans fats” on their labels if they have less than .5g per serving. Which means since hardly anyone ever eats just one serving (another problem associated with overeating) and you are still ingesting trans fats!

Now let’s talk about one that is okay in moderation if you’re fairly healthy:

Saturated Fat: saturated fat is mostly found in animals and animal by-products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc). Therefore it’s naturally occurring and our bodies do need the other nutrients that these animals and animal by-products provide!

This means it’s not horrible for you IF you limit it in your diet. BUT red meat is the most often eaten food in America, and consequently saturated fats are the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol.  You can avoid over consumption of saturated fats by drinking skim milk (or 1% or soy), eating low-fat dairy products, also limiting red meat.  I want to pause momentarily to derail to eggs.  Eggs are a great source of nutrition!!!  The yolk has been vilified in the past and is finally being redeemed, unless you  need to watch your intake of cholesterol, eggs are a great way to start your breakfast! Just remember everything in moderation!  Animal & their by-products help with cell function, brain and nervous system function, contain fat-soluble vitamins, and helps strong bones just to name a few!

Some plants contain saturated fats, such as coconut, coconut oils, palm oil, palm kernel oil, vegetable oil, and cocoa butter. So just make sure you watch how much of these products you use.

Now for the healthiest of fats (and the ones you shouldn’t cut out of your diet!) DRUMROLL PLEASE…

Poly & mono unsaturated fats: now I won’t get hung up on the chemical differences between mono & poly and instead, I’ll focus on the fact that they’re both heart healthy and GOOD for you! It is considered the best type of fat you can consume. They are found mainly in fish, nuts, seeds and oil from plants.  They may help to lower blood cholesterol when using them in place of saturated or trans-fats options.

For example, olive oil is a great thing to cook with and use in your food.  Just note that olive oil (I always use extra virgin olive oil or EVOO) has a lower cooking temp than vegetable oil, which means it will heat up faster than other oils, just beware when cooking!

So here’s the bottom line for you who don’t want to read the whole thing.  AVOID AT ALL COSTS: hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated fats, trans fats (check the ingredients label for these, yes you do need to start reading the ingredients label).  EAT IN MODERATION: saturated fats. Especially if you have high cholesterol or heart problems, try to limit to one or two times per week.  GOOD FOR YOU: poly & mono unsaturated fats!  Things like EVOO are good for you and have health benefits, but like everything, they need to be consumed in moderation.  You can’t just eat EVOO all day, that wouldd be a. gross and b. not good for you!

The lesson of the day is, moderation, moderation, moderation! Unless they’re trans fats or hydrogenated then put it back on that shelf or throw it out of your pantry! Hope that helps!

Healthy Living!

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