Category Archives: Heart Healthy Choices

Sleep More, Weigh Less?

I’m a notoriously bad sleeper. I go to bed too late, wake up throughout the night and always bank on catching extra zzz’s on the weekend. Apparently I’m not alone.
 
Twenty eight percent of American adults sleep six or fewer hours per night. What’s more alarming is that partial sleep deprivation has been linked to many chronic conditions, including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Could years of poor sleeping patterns be affecting my eating habits and health?
 
comfy bedThere is plenty of scientific evidence that associates short sleep duration with weight gain. The more time we spend awake, the more opportunities we have to eat. Add to that a lack of motivation to hit the gym when we’re tired. Partial sleep deprivation may also influence two hormones that affect appetite. The jury’s still out, but many studies have shown that sleep shortage increases ghrelin, which induces hunger, and reduces leptin, thereby lessening satiety.
 
In a study to be published later this year, researchers looked at how eight nights of sleep restriction affected hormone levels and caloric intake in 17 healthy, normal weight adults. Despite no significant changes in leptin and ghrelin, participants limited to sleeping two-thirds their usual duration consumed an average of 566 more calories per day compared with their energy intake under ad lib sleeping conditions.
 
In a separate study of obese adults, participants ate an extra 83 calories per day for every 30-minute reduction in sleep. Therefore, sleeping just one hour less than the recommended 7.5 hours per night could translate into a 17-pound weight gain per year if no compensation occurs!
 
Cutting short a snooze may also negatively affect glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, although these results are not universally observed. In a 2011 study published in Sleep, 15 healthy, normal weight men had significantly greater peak insulin and glucose responses to breakfast after two nights of sleep restriction (four versus eight hours in bed).
 
More research is needed to clarify how sleep deprivation affects endocrine function, but chronically catching too few winks may create the perfect storm for overconsumption. Of all sedentary activities, sleeping is clearly one with positive health benefits and we should all aim to rest 7 to 8 hours a night!

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Filed under Heart Healthy Choices, Medical Conditions, Weight loss

Stress-Busting Snack Ideas

This Thursday, most Americans will kick off the holiday season with their first bite of Thanksgiving turkey. I personally love this time of year, but long shopping lines and mall crowds can be a total buzzkill. To calm down, try fueling up with my stress-relieving snack ideas, published in the December 2012 issue of Oxygen magazine!

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Filed under Dairy, Heart Healthy Choices, Meal Tips, Media

Are Potatoes Good For You?

Happy St. Patty’s Day! In honor of my Irish ancestors who subsisted on potatoes, I’m celebrating this holiday by highlighting the spud’s nutritional benefits. Potatoes are a humble vegetable, often judged by starch load and preparation method, instead of their rich potassium, fiber and antioxidant content!

The typical American diet is low in fruits and vegetables and, therefore, most of us consume only half the daily potassium recommendation (4,700 mg/day). Potassium is a mineral that plays a role in nerve function, muscle contraction and fluid and electrolyte balance. When combined with an effort to curb your sodium intake, high potassium consumption is associated with the prevention and reversal of high blood pressure. Bananas are a famous source of potassium, yet they contain only 50% of the whopping 844 mg of potassium that a baked Russet potato has to offer.

Put down the peeler! One of the healthiest parts of a potato is the skin, which is packed with fiber and antioxidants. The skin of a medium Russet potato packs 4 grams of fiber (20-35 gm/day is recommended). Fiber can help lower cholesterol, maintain bowel regularity, slow the absorption of carbs into your bloodstream and may decrease the risk of colon and rectal cancer.

Potatoes come in a variety of colors, from red, white and blue, to the orange flesh of a sweet potato. Phytochemicals are plant compounds responsible for these colored pigments. When they act as antioxidants, phytochemicals are thought to be beneficial in protecting against cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Despite their many health benefits, I’m not encouraging you to chow down on scalloped potatoes, French fries, or a baked tater stuffed with all the fixings! Nix the butter, bacon, cheese and sour cream toppings in exchange for steamed broccoli, sautéed onions, fresh herbs and Greek yogurt. I also suggest you try making oven-baked potato wedges. Slice an Idaho potato into 6-8 segments and toss in a bowl with olive oil and rosemary or thyme. Place wedges flat side down on a cookie sheet and bake at 400°F for approximately 20-30 minutes, flipping them at the half-way point. Alternatively, you can use the same technique to prepare bite-sized, oven-roasted, red potatoes (my personal favorite!)

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Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Heart Healthy Choices, Meal Tips, Vitamins & Minerals

Are Carbs The Enemy?

Of all the major nutrients, carbohydrates have gotten a pretty bad rap. Personally, I don’t think it’s justified.

Carbohydrates are the core energy source for our body and brain and can be converted into amino acids to serve as the building blocks for protein. Certain sources of carbs are also chock-full of nutritious vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Grains, milk, beans, fruit and starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn, all contribute to our daily carbohydrate intake. In fact, the U.S. government suggests we consume 45-65% of our daily calories from this nutrient group. So why the notoriety?

Not all carbs are created equal. There’s a big difference (nutritionally-speaking) between “refined” and “complex” carbohydrates. Refined carbs include chips, cake, candy, cereal, sweetened beverages (e.g., juice, lemonade, soda) and bread and pasta made with white flour. These foods are literally stripped of nutrients during processing. Due to their lack of fiber, they don’t fill us up and are digested quickly, causing our blood sugar to spike. Refined carbs contain few vitamins and minerals and likely end up replacing healthier foods in our diet. Eating too many of these foods can also lead to high triglyceride levels.

On the other hand, many complex carbohydrates are packed with nutrients. Examples include brown and wild rice, whole wheat pasta and bread, oatmeal, quinoa, bulgur and barley. Such whole grains are naturally low in fat and added sugars and supply iron, folate, zinc, magnesium, B-vitamins and fiber – a nutritional powerhouse. Fiber cannot be digested by the human body and therefore, this complex carb passes through our system without adding calories! Fiber can help lower cholesterol, regulate bowel function, reduce spikes in blood sugar, protect against colon cancer and help us lose weight by warding off hunger! The fiber in whole fruit is what makes it a much better choice than juice, which is high in sugar and calories and not a dieter’s friend.

When it comes to weight loss, the low-carb Atkins diet certainly gets a lot of press. However, weight loss occurs when you consume fewer total calories than your body needs, whether you’re cutting back on fat, protein or carbs. A sustainable strategy for weight loss should reduce calories from all nutrient groups, so that you do not feel deprived. Reduce your intake of sugary beverages, desserts and foods made with refined flour, like white bread and pasta and be sure to include nutrient-dense and fiber-packed sources of complex carbs in your meal plan!

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Filed under Dairy, Food Groups, Fruits and Vegetables, Grains, Heart Healthy Choices, Weight loss

Megan Madden, MS, RD quoted on SHAPE.com

Check out Megan’s comments on avocados, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, plant sterols & salmon as featured on Shape.com’s “20 Artery-Cleansing Foods You Should Be Eating”.  Here’s to a healthy heart!

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Filed under Fats & Oils, Food Groups, Grains, Heart Healthy Choices, Media, Medical Conditions

Heartburn: Turning down the heat

Do you ever experience a burning sensation in your chest, especially when lying down after a meal? You’re not alone! In fact, 7 to 8% of the population experiences this discomfort, which is a symptom of acid reflux disease commonly called heartburn.

Normally, a valve at the junction between your esophagus and your stomach opens to let food pass through and then closes again. But if the valve opens too frequently, or does not create a proper seal upon shutting, the acidic contents of the stomach can flow back into the esophagus. That’s when you feel pain radiating from your upper abdomen toward your throat.

Occasional heartburn may not be cause for alarm, but chronic acid reflux can have serious consequences, like increasing your risk of developing esophageal cancer. Persistent or worsening symptoms should be brought to your doctor’s attention. 

There are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription drugs that may provide relief, including Tums, Zantac, Pepcid and Prevacid. But, if you’re like me, and you want to minimize medication usage, try making these simple dietary and lifestyle modifications…

1. Avoid common trigger foods, like coffee, alcohol, vinegar, citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate, peppermint & spicy dishes.

2. Skip the Big Mac and fries. Large meals, especially those with a high fat content, take a long time to be digested, which raises your chance of feeling the burn from it later.

3. Fight the flab and start a weight loss program if you’re overweight. Abdominal obesity puts pressure on your stomach, forcing stomach contents back into the esophagus.

4. Quit smoking! Cigarettes may actually increase stomach acid production and weaken the function of the valve between the esophagus and the stomach.

5. Stop eating 3 hours before bedtime.  Remaining upright after meals puts gravity to work and keeps food down in the stomach where it belongs.

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Filed under Fats & Oils, Heart Healthy Choices, Medical Conditions, Weight loss

Mustard vs. Mayo

So you’re at the deli counter and ready to order a sandwich. Your stomach’s grumbling for turkey and provolone on whole wheat, with lettuce, tomato and…mayonnaise or mustard?  Let’s explore the two condiments.

Basic mayonnaise is a mixture of egg yolk, oil and a bit of lemon juice or vinegar. Mayo is virtually all fat, with the egg yolk providing artery-clogging saturated fat. One tablespoon of regular mayo packs around 90 calories, mostly coming from 10 grams fat (3.5 g saturated fat). Light mayonnaise totals only about 35 calories per tablespoon, with 3 grams fat (0 g saturated fat).

Whether it’s Dijon, honey or deli style, mustard is prepared from the seeds of a mustard plant, blended with spices and vinegar. Mustard is relatively harmless at less than 30 calories per tablespoon and no saturated fat.

So it seems obvious that mustard is a healthier choice than regular mayo, but why not choose light mayonnaise? Some foodies shy away from reduced fat products because added ingredients make the item more processed and less natural. Maybe it’s best to use the real thing, but sparingly? (I’m undecided.) If it’s between regular, full-fat mayo and mustard, go with the mustard. A teaspoon or two adds strong flavor, but negligible calories to your sandwich.

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Filed under Fats & Oils, Heart Healthy Choices, Meal Tips, Weight loss