More Information About Diet to Shape Up Your Heart

ht3If you think genetics have your heart-health doomed, there’s hope. New and emerging research published in the July 2010 issue of The American Heart Association’s Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes found that among middle-aged male twins, those who consumed a diet that most closely resembled a Mediterranean-style way of eating had a higher heart-rate variability. That’s an indication that the heart is more flexible in keeping up with all of life’s everyday physical trials. Conversely, low heart-rate variability is associated with an elevated risk for coronary-artery disease.

Need a refresher on what, exactly, makes up a Mediterranean diet? Here’s the gist: You fill your day with whole grains, fresh produce, nuts, seeds and fish, and add in small amounts of dairy and red wine (keeping an eye on portion sizes, as with any healthy eating plan). Generally, you have red meat only a few times a month. The Mediterranean diet is also marked by using unsaturated fats like olive oil instead of using animal fats, such as butter. If you’re used to buttering your pasta, vegetables or bread, try instead using a dash of olive oil. Or to replace some of the saturated fat in your diet, experiment with going meatless one day of the week. Relying on Smart Balance® Rich Roast Chunky or Creamy Peanut Butter or other meatless protein-packed staples like beans can help you feel full and satisfied.

Some people can’t get over that the Mediterranean diet encourages using fats like olive oil instead of skimping like other diets suggest. But olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, which of all the fats has the least negative impact on your cholesterol levels. The truth is, fats—the right combination of fats, that is—are important to your overall health. They provide the second-highest level of satiety after protein.

Some Bad Effects Of Smoking

ht1It’s no news that smoking is the number one preventable cause of heart disease. And everyone knows quitting is crucial. You even know what to do. Thing is, it’s hard. Really hard. And it’s all too easy to give up. That’s why we asked former smokers to share how they quit for good—so you might, too. Good luck!

– “Break the day into small increments,” suggests Susan G., from Washington, DC. “It feels more manageable and helps build momentum.” So instead of focusing on how you have to go cigarette-free the entire day, focus on getting through the next three hours, or even hour by hour. At the end of the day, give yourself a little reward.
– “I smoked a pack a day for 10 years. Then I quit cold turkey the day the pregnancy test came up positive,” says Oakland, California, resident Leah H., who says she was too sick to miss it. “That was 16 years ago.” No one’s suggesting you get pregnant for the sole purpose of quitting (please!). The takeaway here is this: Sometimes focusing on how the other people in your life will benefit—along with you, of course—can provide that extra motivation.
– Do an inventory of your life and decide if smoking will allow you to continue the things you enjoy, says L. P., a teacher from Berkeley, California, who’d been an on-and-off smoker for years. She enjoyed hiking and spending time outdoors with family, and when smoking left her breathless, she says, “It needed to go.”
– “Bury yourself in facts about how smoking can kill you,” says Peter S., a sound engineer who quit 10 years ago with the help of a month-long smoking cessation program in San Francisco. The class provided the risks in an unadorned, straightforward fashion, and every time he felt like reaching for a smoke, he ran down the list. “It was a scared-straight tactic.” (One fact that felled him was this message from a doctor: “By the time we detect lung cancer, it’s usually too late.”)
– “I didn’t use patches or gum. Instead, I just swam or biked when I felt the urge to smoke,” says journalist M. Shapiro, who found it most challenging attending parties where others were smoking. “But I just decided to quit and stuck to it.”

The Best 10 Superfoods for Heart Health

ht2While many factors affect heart disease, the FDA recommends eating foods that are high in fiber and low in fat, sodium and cholesterol to reduce the risk of this disease. Make these 10 foods a regular part of your diet to keep your ticker happily ticking:

1. Almonds. These nuts have heart-healthy nutrients and unsaturated fatty acids. Studies show that almonds may help improve the lining of the arteries and maintain cholesterol levels already within normal limits. Stick to a small handful, though. Almonds are calorie-dense and can lead to weight gain if you overdo it. If almonds aren’t your thing, you can get similar benefits from Smart Balance® Rich Roast Peanut Butters, which contain excellent levels of ALA Omega-3.

2. Avocado. This fruit has plenty of healthy fats. Avocados have monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E, fiber and folic acid, and avocados contribute nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and nutrients to the diet. Avocados are high in calories, though, so keep an eye on your portions here as well.

3. Blueberries. Blueberries have an abundance of plant chemicals called anthocyanins that can help maintain a healthy heart. Blueberries are a good source of fiber and rank as one of the best sources of antioxidants.

4. Broccoli. This cruciferous veggie helps support a healthy cardiovascular system. Rich in vitamins C and K, broccoli is also one of the green vegetables that also help maintain a healthy immune system.

5. Cantaloupe. Cantaloupe is a good source of potassium, which helps regulate the body’s hydration level and is essential to proper functioning of the cells and organs. What’s more, potassium plays an important role in regulating blood pressure already within normal limits.

6. Carrots. Known as a great source of beta-carotene, carrots are also a source of fiber. Raw carrots have Potassium, Vitamin K, Manganese and Vitamin C, giving the body a healthy dose of nutrition.

7. Ground flaxseed. Freshly ground flaxseed is a wonderful plant source of ALA Omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats that can only be obtained from food, as the body cannot produce them on its own. Omega-3 fatty acids work to support normal blood clotting, and they help build cell membranes in the brain. Many Smart Balance® products contain ALA Omega-3, including our buttery spreads, cooking oils, peanut butters and mayo.

8. Oatmeal. A bowl of oatmeal goes a long way in helping maintain cholesterol levels already within normal limits, which in turn helps support a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. A neutral base, oats can be healthied-up even more by tossing in fruit or nuts.

9. Brown rice. When brown rice is stripped and polished to produce “white rice,” many of its nutrients are stripped away in the process. Brown rice is only missing its outermost layer and is a more nutritious option than white rice. High in manganese, brown rice provides cell protection, and the bran oil in the grain works to maintain cholesterol and blood pressure levels already within normal limits.

10. Salmon. This cold-water fish is one of the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids around, those wonder fats that help maintain blood pressure levels already within normal limits. Eat at least two servings a week and you’re covered. If you can, opt for wild salmon over farmed, as they typically have fewer contaminants, including PCBs.

Let’s Learn About Healthy Eating Around the Clock

Go ahead and have a slice of (turkey) bacon with your eggs at breakfast in exchange for higher-fat items later in the day. This simple switch, as part of a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may actually help support heart health. In a new study published in the International Journal of Obesity, mice that ate a high-fat breakfast weighed less and had lower body fat than mice that ate similarly high-fat meals later in the day. Plus, the mice that nibbled high-fat meals close to bedtime had abnormal blood-sugar levels and high triglycerides, both of which work against maintaining heart health. Yes they’re mice, and what works in mice doesn’t always apply to humans, but this study provides food for thought.

“The enzymes your body needs to break down fat are most active after you wake up,” says Molly Bray, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health and author of the study. “And the ones needed to store fat are most active at the end of the day.” So take advantage of your body’s natural fat-burning cycle: Front load your day with higher healthy-fat foods and shift to lower-fat foods as the hours wear on.

Here is a sample healthy meal plan to help you eat healthier all day long—and using Smart Balance® products can make it even easier:

Breakfast: Two Omega-3 Grade A Natural Large Eggs; 1 slice of whole-wheat toast with a tablespoon Rich Roast Peanut Butter; half-cup of orange juice.

Lunch: Turkey and cheese sub with a tablespoon Light Mayonnaise Dressing, lettuce and tomato; 1 package of light potato chips; apple slices (3 ounces); 1 can diet soda.

Snack: try vegetables with yogurt dip (half-cup each of celery, cucumber, broccoli and cherry tomatoes, plus half-cup low-fat yogurt).

Dinner: Roasted skinless chicken breast (3 ounces); mixed salad with low-fat dressing; 1-cup broccoli; 1 orange. Skinless light-meat chicken or turkey; many species of fish are ideal for lunch or dinner, since they’re typically low in fat.

Know More About B Vitamins and Your Heart

It turns out that Popeye was right all along…it can really pay to load up on B vitamin- rich spinach. New and emerging research based on a recent Japanese study published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association found that Japanese women who ate the most dietary folate and B6 were less likely to die from stroke, heart disease or heart failure. And the Japanese men who ate the most were significantly less likely to die from heart failure. The evidence for an association between dietary intakes of folate and B vitamins and the risk of cardiovascular disease in Asian populations remains limited and further studies are needed. That being said, my take-home from this study? Instead of thinking only about the foods we shouldn’t eat for our heart, let’s starting focusing on all the great foods we should.

Since folate and vitamin B6 are found in a variety of foods, the best way to add them to your day is to simply consume a well-rounded diet brimming with a few healthy specifics. Leafy-green vegetables, broccoli, beans and lentils, orange juice and avocados are great ways to get more natural sources of folate in your diet. And meats, fish, nuts, legumes, whole grains and some fruits and vegetables (such as bananas, spinach, potatoes and avocados) are great sources of vitamin B6.

Luckily, those aren’t obscure foods, and you can easily find them in just about any grocery store year-round. But why not add a little fun to your quest to improve the nutrition quality of your diet? This time of year, local farm markets are bursting with vitamin-rich greens and veggies; and often local suppliers are also there peddling freshly caught fish, just-baked whole-grain breads, and other meats to help you get your B6 fix. And since local produce has more vitamins (the nutritional integrity begins to deteriorate the moment food is harvested), it’s a perfect way to stock up your diet with the healthiest possible picks.

If there’s no time to go to the market, do a little research to see if your community has a local-produce delivery. This summer, for the first time, I’ve signed up to have my veggies dropped right at my door, and it’s always fresh, seasonal produce that comes from a collection of farms no more than a 100-mile radius from my city. No kidding, I anticipate the box on delivery day as much as I do a birthday gift—and it’s not because I’m a dietitian, either. What’s not to love about a big crate loaded with beautifully green superstars? So far it’s been packed with the most tender broccoli I’ve ever eaten, an unusual variety of leafy green kale and mild baby spinach, just to name a few. Even my mustard-greens-wary husband happily is enjoying the bounty, and last night, my veggie-discriminating toddler ate Napa cabbage! There’s no question that we’re eating more veggies—and definitely trying (and enjoying) new things. But best of all, if you’re eating local produce, you’re not only helping your ticker, you’re also gaining the satisfaction of supporting proud community farmers. So, what’s good for the heart can be good for the soul!

The Best 6 Heart Healthier Tips

Rich in bone-strengthening calcium and containing potassium, dairy helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels already within normal limits. Combined with a low-sodium diet and muscle-building protein, dairy products are important to a balanced diet. The USDA, in fact, recommends children get at least two cups’ worth each day; adults need three cups. But not all types of dairy are created equal: Some are laden with fats and calories. So when to indulge and when to go fat-free? We’ve got the answers. Just use our stress-free guide to navigating the dairy aisle:

It does a body good, yes—it’s even fortified with Vitamin D—but an 8-ounce cup of whole milk has 149 calories and 8 grams of fat, 5 grams of which are saturated. That’s roughly a quarter of your daily saturated fat requirement. 2% milk doesn’t fare that much better: One cup has 3 grams of saturated fat, which is about 15 percent of your daily total. That’s probably more than you thought, right? So as much as you can, pour fat-free varieties. For those who miss the creaminess of whole or 2% milk, Smart Balance® milks are infused with dry milk solids so they taste like their fuller-bodied counterpart. Plus, they contain essential Omega-3s. If you really can’t live without your full-fat milk, try the Smart Balance® Low Fat Milk and Omega-3s, which tastes like whole milk, or just try to use your fuller-fat milks sparingly, counsels Smart Balance dietitian Tammi Hancock, R.D. Add a splash in your coffee, or in healthy recipes that call for a tablespoon or two of milk.

A little goes a long way toward your USDA recommended daily dairy requirements: A tablespoon of regular hard cheese—parmesan, for instance—equals a quarter-cup serving of dairy, while a half-cup of cottage cheese amounts to about a quarter-cup serving. Delicious as it is, cheese does tend to be higher in fat and calories than many other dairy products, so do keep an eye on your portions overall.

With so many options, experts often recommend going the nonfat or lower-fat route when it comes to yogurt. It’s important to make sure your preferred brand’s not excessively sweetened; if the ingredients include fructose, sucrose or corn syrup, that means extra sugar has been added, which may be great for the taste buds but not for the waistline. Another tip: Greek yogurt’s higher in protein than traditional yogurts, which makes it more satisfying.

You can take some nutritional pressure off by skipping old-fashioned (fat-laden) butter and choosing butter alternatives such as Smart Balance® Buttery Spreads, which have a patented blend of vegetable oils that provide a rich, buttery taste with less fat and fewer calories. Or Smart Balance® Spreadable Butters and Smart Balance® Blended Butter Sticks, both made with naturally sourced plant sterols which helps to block the absorption of the cholesterol in the butter.

They’re not exactly dairy, but they do live in the dairy aisle. Eggs are high in dietary cholesterol, but eating up to 1 egg per day is unlikely to have a substantial overall impact on heart health among healthy men and women, according to a landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Want a bigger serving? Scramble a batch of egg whites with one whole egg.

Freezer aisle detour: Ice cream, frozen yogurt and other treats
No question: There’s nothing like a scoop of these cold, sweet treats on a hot day. Frozen yogurts tend to be lower in fat, but sometimes, nothing else but the real deal will do. If so, go for single-serving cups and popsicles that will limit portions, suggests New Orleans sports and lifestyle nutritionist Molly Kimball, R.D. Puddings and other similar milk-based desserts are better in low- or nonfat incarnations, but they’re often chock-full of sugar, so let the nutrition labels be your guide.

Should You Know About Trans Fat and Heart Health

I’ve heard I should stay away from trans fat because I have high cholesterol. What foods have trans fat? And are they really that bad?

A: What you’ve heard is true—trans fat really are that bad. Eliminating as many sources of trans fat from your diet as possible is an important part of taking care of your heart and health. In fact, everyone should avoid them, even people who don’t have high cholesterol. Here’s what you need to know about these fats and why they’re so unhealthy for your heart:

Trans fat are created when a liquid fat is chemically altered to become a solid. Some food companies and restaurants use trans fat in products because they offer an inexpensive way to add flavor and texture to foods and increase shelf life. You’ll most often find man-made trans fat in baked goods, including pastries, pie crusts, biscuits, crackers; certain stick margarines (all Smart Balance® products are trans-fat free); and shortening. They can also be present in fried foods like French fries and fried chicken.

Research shows that consuming trans fat has a double-whammy effect on your heart health by raising your LDL (bad) cholesterol while lowering your HDL (good) cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, trans fat can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, and possibly type-2 diabetes.

You can spot trans fat in foods by religiously reading labels on packaged foods. It’s especially important to carefully scan the labels of the foods listed above, but keep in mind that many unsuspecting foods, like breakfast cereal and coffee creamer, can also contain trans fat. First check the nutrition facts panel; the FDA now requires all food manufactures to list trans fat. But even if the trans fat line reads “0 grams”, the food’s not necessarily in the clear yet. There’s a loophole in labeling that allows manufacturers to label a product as having 0 grams of trans fat as long as it has fewer than 0.5 grams per serving. It seems like a small amount, but considering that the American Heart Association recommends getting less than 2 grams of trans fat a day, you could easily surpass it. If you eat two or three servings of a product with .49 grams of trans fat, you’re almost at that daily limit. Plus, there are some naturally occurring trans fat in foods like meat and dairy, and while experts are not sure if they have the same negative impact on your cholesterol, they do count towards the total daily intake. So along with looking at the Nutrition Facts, always remember to check the ingredients list. If you see “partially hydrogenated oil,” the product contains trans fat—and is worth reconsidering.

Tips For Healthier Heart in 10 Minutes

You already know that living an active life is critical for a healthy heart. In fact, it lowers your heart disease risk from head to toe. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to reap the benefits of regular cardio. The American Heart Association and American College of Sports Medicine recommend getting at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (the equivalent of a brisk walk) five days of each week—or vigorous aerobic activity (jogging, for instance) for at least 20 minutes on three days. Even better, you can meet that 30-minute goal by breaking up your activity into 10-minute bouts. Rev up your activity level with the following 10-minute exercise suggestions from Larysa DiDio, a personal trainer and owner of PFX Gym in Pleasantville, New York. They all count toward your daily goal, and you’ll get a calorie-burning boost as well:

– Dance to your favorite songs (54 calories)
– Go for a walk with a friend or your spouse after dinner (38 calories)
– Play a game of of tag with your kids or grandkids (46 calories)
– Challenge your spouse to a game of badminton (52 calories)
– Work in the garden with a shovel (46 calories)
– Sit on a physioball instead of a chair when working at your computer (28 calories)
– Walk your dog (32 calories)
– Push your child or grandchild in a stroller (28 calories)
– Jump on a mini trampoline (such as the Bosu) in front of the TV (40 calories)

The Reasons Why Working Too Much Really is Bad for Your Heart

If you’ve been burning the midnight oil at work, you might want to forward this blog to your boss. New and emerging research published recently in the European Heart Journal found that British civil service employees who worked 11 to 12 hours per day had a significantly higher risk of heart attack, angina or coronary death than those who clocked a normal eight-hour workday. The link between heart disease and overtime work, researchers suggested, could be explained by “type A” behavior (such as aggressive, competitive and perfectionist tendencies), stress (like depression and anxiety) and possibly not enough sleep—or enough time to unwind before hitting the hay.

Studies like these serve as a good reminder that controlling your heart health isn’t just about nutrition and fitness. These days, the (relative!) convenience of smartphones, laptops and other work-from-home tools, make it all too easy to blur the lines between business hours and downtime. If you regularly find yourself working overtime, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate your work-life balance and make some changes. After all, if you’re trying to improve upon your diet and level of physical activity in order to manage your heart-disease risk, improving your work-life balance should take equal priority. Easier said than done, I know.

A good way to start is to simply designate one day per week that you’ll work reasonable hours. When you’ve got that routine under your belt, try for more days during the week, if you can. But if an eight-hour day just isn’t possible for you, the good news is that the study found working a just a few (one or two) overtime hours won’t come at an expense to your health. Just as you keep a careful eye on the food you eat, make it your mission to be conscious of the hours you work, too.

So, on that note, I think I’ll close my laptop and sign off. It’s quittin’ time.

Some Ways Being Active Helps Your Heart

Sure, you know that living an active life is good for your ticker. But do you really know why exercise is such a powerful heart-disease protector? Be active, and see all that you’ll reap:

1. Better blood-sugar control. People with diabetes have a significantly higher risk of heart problems, so anything that keeps that disease in check protects the heart, too.

2. Improved circulation. Your heart is a muscle, and exercise helps make it stronger. A strong heart pumps blood more efficiently, and delivers more oxygen and nutrients to every inch of your body. This improvement in circulation increases energy levels so you can do more activities without getting tired.

3. Lower blood pressure. Being active helps reduce the risk of developing high-blood pressure, and it helps control it if it sets in.

4. Healthier cholesterol levels. Physical activity increases HDL (good) cholesterol, decreases LDL (bad) cholesterol and decreases triglycerides.

5. Reduced stress. Exercise triggers biochemical changes in your brain that temper feelings of anxiety and depression, a condition that has been linked to heart disease.

6. Weight loss. Sweating it out forces the body to burn more calories, which means there are fewer available that can be stored as fat.

7. Sounder sleep. Living actively can help improve the quality of your sleep as well as help you fall asleep faster. And that’s good new for your heart: Research has linked chronic sleep deprivation to heart disease.

8. Appetite control. Working it may help curb your appetite, which can make it easier to lose and control your weight.

9. More efficient fat metabolism. Exercising after a high-fat meal can help reverse some of the damage that fat does to your arteries.

10. Improved symptoms. If you already have heart disease, exercise may decrease symptoms of angina (chest discomfort) and heart failure. Ready to get moving? Get the all clear from your doctor and check out these resources for starting an exercise program.