Tag Archives: heart disease

Beer: Better to “stay thirsty, my friends”

Q: How many calories are in a typical alcoholic beverage?

A: The quick answer? More than you probably think! One 12-oz beer has around 150 calories, while a 5-oz glass of wine contains about 100 calories. One small shot of an 80 proof spirit (e.g. gin, rum, vodka, whiskey), however, packs 96 calories and that’s not accounting for the mixer you’re using!

Simple math tells us that just two glasses of wine with dinner tacks another 200 calories onto the energy bill, while a tumbler of rum & cola adds anywhere from 150 – 200 calories. Most surprisingly, a single piña colada can supply nearly 300 calories! Yikes.

Do you remember the term “empty calories” being tossed around in health class? Alcoholic beverages are high in energy, but nearly devoid of any beneficial vitamins and minerals. Weight maintenance is all about balancing ‘energy in’ with ‘energy out,’ so if you’re worried about your figure, be careful how many frozen margaritas you’re slugging back and try to order drinks made with diet or club soda.

This post wouldn’t be complete without briefly mentioning other potentially harmful effects of alcohol consumption. Chronic heavy drinking raises your chance of developing future health complications, including liver problems, cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, quantity and frequency are independently associated with risk. In most cases, it is the number of drinks in one sitting that is detrimental to your health, rather than an occasional social cocktail. Frequent, but modest alcohol intake actually lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease, but may still be associated with an increased risk of cancer. To balance these effects, the American Heart Association recommends drinking only in “moderation,” if you’re going to do it at all. “Moderation” is defined as no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 for women.

3 Comments

Filed under Heart Healthy Choices, Meal Tips, Medical Conditions, Weight loss

Fast Facts on Fats

Q: There are so many types of cooking oil on the market. Which one should I use?

A: The healthiest oils are those with the least amount of saturated fat. Choose canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil. These varieties are higher in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which are heart healthy, because they are able to lower total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol if used in place of other fats. No matter which oil you pick, however, it’s important to use it sparingly. Each tablespoon of a vegetable-based oil packs 120 calories! Stay away from coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil – these three oils are high in saturated fat, which raises your risk for heart disease.

Here’s how to choose among some of the “healthier” oil options:

Canola oil: Has the least amount of saturated fat (only 7%)! Great for sautéing, stir frying, baking and salad dressings. Canola oil does not give off a strong flavor and can be used over high-heat.

Olive oil: Contains a large amount of good, monounsaturated fat. Use it for dressings, marinades, roasting, grilling and low-heat cooking. Olive oil will start to break down at very high temperatures.

Vegetable oil: This oil is usually made from soybeans. It is an all-purpose oil that can be used for baking, sautéing and pan frying. Since vegetable oil has a relatively high saturated fat content, canola oil is a healthier choice.

Corn oil: With about 13% saturated fat, corn oil is not the best option. It can be used for deep frying, stir-frying, sautéing and baking, because of a very high tolerance to heat.

Peanut oil: While it is often used in yummy Asian-inspired stir fry dishes, peanut oil has a very high saturated fat content (about 18%)! This makes it costly to your cardiovascular health.

3 Comments

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

Protecting your heart

Q: My doctor says I have high cholesterol. What can I do to lower it?

A: There are several components to a “lipid profile” – total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol and triglycerides. If your physician is telling you that you have “high cholesterol,” he is referring to either the total cholesterol number, your LDL reading or both. A desirable profile is as follows:

Total cholesterol <200 mg/dl

LDL cholesterol <130 mg/dl

HDL cholesterol >40 mg/dl (>50 mg/dl for women)

Triglyceride level <150 mg/dl

Cholesterol is a component of animal products and is not found in plant-based foods. It is necessary in the body for the production of bile, which helps digest fats, and steroid hormones (e.g. vitamin D, estrogen and testosterone). While the body utilizes cholesterol for important functions, the liver is also able to synthesize necessary amounts – it is not necessary to ingest it as part of your diet! Total cholesterol, LDL and triglyceride levels that are too high put you at risk for cardiovascular disease.


Let’s focus on LDL cholesterol, since it has been linked to atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Several factors influence LDL levels, including age, diabetes, obesity, reduced estrogen levels and diet.  Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol elevate LDL. In addition, trans-fats can raise LDL and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol – a double whammy!

Lower your saturated fat intake! Saturated fat intake has a much greater negative effect on blood cholesterol than does dietary cholesterol. (Dietary cholesterol, however, is often found in the same foods that are high in saturated fat.) Choose lean meats, select skim milk, low-fat dairy products and stick to vegetable oils that are liquid at room temperature (e.g. cook with olive or canola oil, rather than butter or lard.) To further cut back on fat intake, remove the skin from chicken before eating, substitute margarine for butter and grill or bake fish, meat and poultry instead of frying.

Eat a minimum amount of trans-fat. Select products that are made with no hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) vegetable oils. Check the ingredient list before buying!!

Lastly, up your intake of viscous or soluble fiber. Choose more fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, especially barley and oats.

While there are several ways to manage blood cholesterol levels with medication, try modifying your diet first. Just a 1-point decrease in your LDL cholesterol level corresponds to a 1-2% decrease in your risk for developing coronary heart disease!

7 Comments

Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Grains, Heart Healthy Choices, Medical Conditions