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Resolution: Love Life, Love Your Heart

Heart Health Month

February is Heart Health Month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and has been since 1900. In fact, way back in 1963, in acknowledgement of the importance of the ongoing fight against cardiovascular disease, the Congress, by Joint Resolution approved a statute on December 30, 1963, as amended (77 Stat. 843; 36 U.S.C. 101), requesting that each serving President issue an annual proclamation designating February as “American Heart Month.”

So in celebration of Heart Health Month, here are two indulgent foods that will surely put a smile on your face. No deprivation here, you can truly love your heart and life by adding in these formerly forbidden foods into your heart-healthy day: dark chocolate and red wine!

Dark chocolate: Food for the Heart and Soul — with a high content of nonfat cocoa solids — is now the new guilt-free super food. The scientific evidence is stacking up linking daily consumption of deep, dark chocolate with phenomenal health benefits. When it comes to choosing chocolate for health, the chocolate must be the flavonoid-rich dark variety. This is because dark chocolate has a much higher percentage of cocoa than milk chocolate and it’s the cocoa that contains most of the flavonoids—plant substances which provide your body with a host of health benefits. Flavonoids work as potent antioxidants to protect us from free radical damage, the process which accelerates aging and promotes chronic illnesses such as heart disease.

Be wary of the kind of chocolate you choose as not all chocolate is created equally. For maximum health benefits, consume dark chocolate or naturally unsweetened dark cocoa powder. The key word here is DARK as the darker the chocolate, the higher the percentage of cocoa, and the more flavonoids it will contain. The problem is that a large amount of cocoa can make the bar taste bitter, so try different products to see what appeals to you. Look out for imposters like white chocolate (zero antioxidants) and hot chocolate mixes (negligible antioxidants). Better to make your own hot chocolate with dark unsweetened cocoa powder, fat free milk or light soy milk and a touch of sweetener. Another chocolate caveat, dark chocolate, while very good for health, is not a low calorie diet food. Eat it by the piece and not the pound, for when it comes to dark chocolate, the devil is truly in the details. It is often loaded with calories, fat and sugar, which is why if you choose to eat a chocolate confection, I suggest you make it no more than an ounce or two of at least 70 percent dark chocolate per day.

Red wine: Drink of the Gods — pair your dark chocolate treat with another sinfully delicious food: a glass of red wine and you have a powerful one-two knockout punch against atherosclerosis—the root cause of most heart attacks and stroke. Studies show that people who drink red wine in moderation—defined as one daily 5-ounce glass for women or two for men—are less likely to suffer a heart attack. Red wine stands apart from all other types of alcoholic beverages in its ability to neutralize heart attack risk due to its collection of powerful antioxidant polyphenols. To tap into wine’s huge cache of powerful polyphenols, be sure to pick red over white. Red wine has ten times the polyphenol content of white wine, because red wine is produced by fermentation of grape juice in the presence of the pulp (skins and seeds), where the polyphenols are produced. (White wine is made by quickly pressing the juice away from the grape solids, hence white wine is merely fermented fruit juice.) Two types of wine shown to top the antioxidant charts are pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.

One additional advantage of enjoying a glass of wine with dinner is that it encourages you to slow down, relax and truly savor your meal. There is no greater pleasure than to sit down to a leisurely dinner of deliciously fresh whole food, artfully prepared, tempered with a flavorful glass of pinot noir, and shared with friends and family. That’s what this month of love is all about.

One caveat: When it comes to drinking alcohol, it is clearly a case of a double-edged sword. One fact is certain: moderation is the magic word, meaning a little is good, and a lot is not better. Wine is beneficial for your health only in moderation.

Celebrate life this February by making a point to take care of yourself and your heart. Eat healthy, exercise, enjoy yourself and stay forever young at heart—here’s to life!

Thick and Rich European-Style Hot Chocolate Treat

Sometimes on these cold winter days, nothing (and I mean nothing) quite compares to the pleasure of sipping a sinfully rich cup of sweet, hot cocoa by the fireplace. Now this is loving life!

Makes three servings, ~½ cup each

Ingredients:

  • 2 ¼ cups vanilla soy milk
  • ½ cup natural unsweetened dark cocoa powder (or three squares of unsweetened baking chocolate, melted)
  • ¼ cup sugar (or 1/8 cup Splenda® Sugar Blend)
  • 1 ½ tbsp corn starch

Directions:

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat, pour immediately into three mugs and top with fat-free whipped topping and a dash of cocoa powder, if desired.

Nutrition (Per serving):

Calories: 190, Fat: 4 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 90 mg, Carbohydrate: 31 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugars: 22 g, Protein: 7 g

Note: one serving provides 25% of the DV for calcium, 15% for iron and 8% for vitamin A.

Give Yourself the Gift of Health

 

Health Tips

Celebrate this holiday season by focusing on you and giving yourself the most meaningful gift there is: good health, happiness and peace of mind.  The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” applies more than ever to the holiday crunch time. The best way to avoid unhealthy weight gain over the 6-week danger zone period (Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day) is to make a pack with yourself NOW to be a little more mindful of what you put into your mouth and also to make sure to move your  exercise routine to the top of your “to do” list. Follow these 5 tips for helping you avoid

Holiday Gifts 2015

  1. Don’t skip meals. Eat a healthy breakfast and lunch and try and fill up on lots of low calorie fruit and vegetables. This simple strategy will give you more will-power to overcome excessive consumption of holiday goodies.
  2. Plan, plan, plan before parties and festivities. Don’t let that “holiday mentality” take over—when you stop exercising and overeat. Keep in mind that it’s not the three holiday meals—Thanksgiving, Christmas (or Channukah), and New Years—that cause weight gain but the mindless munching and drinking amongst the everlasting festivities that packs on the pounds. Prepare for those holiday parties…offer to bring a healthy dish (make it light), fill up on lots of water and maybe an apple and a light yogurt before you go, stick to one alcoholic drink or if that’s not feasible, alternate with sparkling water, and be sure to avoid calorie laden drinks like eggnog or sugary mixed drinks.
  3. Eat light at home. Fill your house with whole grains, fat-free milk and dairy products, veggies, fruit and beans. If you don’t buy junk you don’t eat junk. Reserve those calories for the special holiday foods you love and make a conscious effort to limit consumption.
  4. Cook lighter for the holidays. Give your holiday meals a healthy makeover and substitute broth for fats, use fat-free dairy products and be sure to eat skinless, white-meat turkey and to serve a light vegetable dish with your holiday meal.
  5. The best way to ward off weight gain is to make a pack with yourself to not let the holiday frenzy crowd out your exercise routine—it’s more important now than ever to make daily exercise a priority. Experts recommend taking at least 30 to 60 minutes a day for you as the best medicine to de-stress and burn off those extra holiday calories. As you know, this is a very hectic, stress-filled time of year with so many commitments competing for our precious time that it’s easy to let our fitness and healthy eating plans take a back seat. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make a contract with yourself to carve out time to stick to a consistent exercise schedule and to make a conscious effort to curb overeating.
  6. Make a real New Year’s resolution As 2015 is right around the corner, give yourself a healthy New Year’s resolution. As you celebrate this wonderful holiday season, give yourself the gift of health by sticking to your healthy eating and exercise plan. Focus on enjoying the company of family and friends—what the holidays are truly all about. Make your New Year’s Resolution NOW. Eat better, exercise more, drink less, eat less sugary, fatty foods and more fruits and vegetables and you will surely start the new year off a healthier, happier you!

Tea for Two: Bottoms up for Your Well-Being

Tea Benefits

Okay, you’ve heard it before; drinking tea has miraculous medicinal qualities. But which kind is best to drink and why? Tea is made by steeping the leaves of the shrub, Camellia sinensis, (aka the “Tea Plant”) in hot water. There are officially four types of tea, all derived from the Tea Plant: white, green, Oolong and black. What differentiates green tea from say oolong and black tea, for example, is the way the tea leaves are processed. In general, green tea leaves have undergone the least amount of processing. The leaves are simply harvested, allowed to wither briefly, and then steamed (to prevent oxidation). Oolong tea is tea made from crushed leaves that have been allowed to oxidize for a short time period, and then are heated (to stop the oxidation process). In the production of black tea, however, the leaves have been allowed an extensive oxidation period—where they are exposed to oxygen for a long period of time—allowing them to turn dark in color. White tea is actually the buds and very young leaves of the Tea Plant that have been harvested at such an early age that they are covered by a fine white hair, and only very briefly processed before steeping in hot water (hence the name). Red tea is actually not a “tea” at all as it is not made from the leaves of the Camellia plant but from the Rooibos plant (a legume).

In terms of health benefits of drinking tea, the bulk of the scientific research over the past few decades has highlighted the numerous health benefits obtained from drinking two types of tea in particular: green and black. Research continues to mount supporting the role of tea drinking in the prevention of two major chronic diseases that plague our nation: heart disease and stroke.

What exactly is in tea that wards off disease and will put you on the road to better health and longevity? Researchers believe that the magic health-promoting component in tea is called catechins-or powerful antioxidant plant chemicals (polyphenols) that are responsible for the anticancer, anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective effects of regular tea drinking. Scientists have isolated one type of tea polyphenol in particular called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (or EGCG for short) that is believed to be the major active health-protective component. (Incidentally, green tea contains 40 percent more polyphenols than black tea.) ECGC polyphenol is a powerful antioxidant that has demonstrated significant protection against oxidative reactive oxygen species damage. It should be noted, however, that additional research has shown other types of polyphenols in tea, such as flavonoids, (found in high concentration in all types of tea) exert significant health benefits as well.

Regarding cancer, tea drinking has an anticarcinogenic effect (most notably colorectal, prostate, oral and skin cancers). ECGC is thought to inhibit cancer cell’s ability to grow and metastasize. Regarding heart disease, tea polyphenols are known to act as powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. Heart disease is the result of plaque buildup in the inner arterial wall. “Bad” cholesterol (LDL) must first be oxidized before it can contribute to plaque formation. Antioxidants such as ECGC prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and therefore stop plaque buildup in its tracks. We also know that heart disease is an inflammatory disorder. EGCG is believed to help lower inflammation in the bloodstream as well as reduce oxidation of LDL, thereby protecting against heart disease.

Harness the power of plant protection against disease by drinking a few cups of tea daily. No doubt about it, a few daily cups of any kind of tea from the official “Tea Plant” is bound to do a body good and help protect against a host of cancers; provide cardiovascular protection via antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanisms and even offer therapeutic benefits for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

So let’s get over the Boston tea party already and borrow a nice habit from the British (and yes, adding milk to tea seems to reduce some of tea’s benefits for the heart and blood vessels)….teatime in the afternoon…and let’s make it plain green or black tea (as most of the scientific data supports the health benefits of these two types of tea in particular) and remember, bottoms up for better health!

  • Tips for getting in your daily dose of TEA:
  • Substitute a cup of your morning java with hot tea
  • Purchase the liter bottles of unsweetened green or black teas in the supermarket and fill your water bottle with tea in place of water
  • Drink a glass of (unsweetened) iced tea with a spritz of lemon or lime instead of a soft drink at restaurants.

 

Relax! 10 Minutes a Day Keeps Blood Pressure At Bay

Manage Blood Pressure

The science is clear: chronic stress is a leading cause of high blood pressure and is highly damaging to the body. Yes, stress will always be a part of daily life. But when excessive stress over an extended period of time is combined with poor coping strategies, it can lead to disease and even death if left unchecked. For example, multiple large-scale studies have shown that individuals who report high levels of mental stress have nearly twice the risk of fatal strokes than those with low stress levels.

Research is just beginning to unlock the complex relationship between chronic stress and the development of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, but the good news is that practicing simple relaxation strategies can calm your physiology, de-stress your mind and quickly reverse your “fight or flight” response to prevent the deleterious effects of chronic stress on your arteries.  Read on and learn how easy it is to put a damper on your stress response—a simple and effective first line of defence against the silent killer hypertension.

Try daily relaxation therapy—the antidote to the stress response. Practicing relaxation techniques has been shown to tame the sympathetic nervous system and lead to a reduction in blood pressure. Relaxation lifestyle treatments fall under four general categories:

(1) physical techniques such as yoga, breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation

(2) biofeedback (a method that uses the mind to control involuntary bodily functions such as blood pressure)

(3) autogenic training relaxation techniques (a technique that teaches your body to respond to verbal cues to relax and control breathing)

(4) cognitive/behavioral therapy such as guided imagery, talk therapy, and meditation.

Dr. Janet’s Advice

Try Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a type of exercise derived from Chinese martial arts. The focus is on slow, rhythmic movements, used to create a state of mental clarity and well-being

  1. Try yoga. Yoga is a popular ancient spiritual art form of Indian culture. Yoga involves breathing exercises as well as rhythmic movement.
  2. Try meditation. Another ancient technique proven to quiet the mind, meditation slows the brain waves and cuts your pressure.
  3. Try guided imagery. Guided imagery involves tapping into happy memories and using the mind to create visual scenes of peaceful places where you concentrate on the scene to make it seem as if you are really there. (See the Appendix for a quick series of simple directions for practicing guided imagery.)
  4. Listen to calming music. Peaceful music can impact the subconscious, slowing brain waves and leading to relaxed states.
  5. Try relaxation breathing. Try closing your eyes and focusing solely on your breath. Breathe very deeply and aim to gradually slow down to 6 cycles per minute.   (Normal breathing is about 12 breaths per minute.) Perform these breathing exercises for just 10 minutes a day as deep breathing exercises can effectively alter the activity of the nervous system, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.

It’s springtime—time to enjoy this warm, lush and fresh season of rebirth. Take just ten minutes a day to relax, de-stress and enjoy life. This simple task can become a daily treat that will enable you to enjoy a more peaceful existence.

Best of Health,

Dr. Janet