Top 10 Heart Healthy Foods

Did you know February is Heart Health Month, hosted by the American Heart Association?! Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. It is an “umbrella” term that includes a number of conditions such as coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis), heart valve disease, heart attack, and heart failure.

Conditions such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol often lead to heart disease so dealing with (or avoiding!) these risk factors early on is crucial. Aside for a few uncontrollable factors such as age, race, and genetics, the majority of causes are modifiable and, as expected, include poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity. Other factors such as stress and smoking may also contribute.

A whole-foods diet is the cornerstone in preventing and managing most chronic diseases. I have always been a fan of focusing more on the inclusion of healthy foods as opposed to the avoidance of unhealthy foods. Below is a list of some of the top heart healthy foods to include on a daily basis.

  1. Extra virgin olive oil: Incredible source of antioxidants and oleic acid, which can help lower inflammation, protect LDL “bad” cholesterol from oxidation, and improve lining of blood vessels
  2. Avocado: Rich in monounsaturated fats that may lower risk of heart disease. Also high in fiber, potassium and antioxidants
  3. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale): Good source of fiber. Known for rich sulforaphane content, a phytonutrient shown to protect against free radicals
  4. Berries: Contain Anthocyanins and flavonoids which can help decrease blood pressure
  5. Cranberries: Rich in antioxidants that can improve blood vessel function
  6. Walnuts: Reduce total and LDL cholesterol. Can increase arterial elasticity
  7. Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, arugula): Contain caroteniods, which act as antioxidants against free radicals
  8. Cold water fish (cod, halibut, sardines, anchovies): High in omega-3 fatty acids, an essential type of fat beneficial for reducing inflammation and lowering triglycerides
  9. Garlic and onions: Contain compounds that lower blood pressure, slow arterial plaque growth, and lower cholesterol levels
  10. Pomegranates: Contain heart-promoting polyphenols and Anthocyanins which may prevent hardening of the arteries
  11. BONUS – Red wine: Contains resveratrol, a type of polyphenol thought to lower the risk of heart disease (opt for dry wines, which are much lower in sugar)

You may have recognized that many of the foods listed above are staples in the Mediterranean diet! This type of diet has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease as it emphasizes vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates (i.e. whole grains, legumes, potatoes) and seafood. Adapting an eating pattern based on these concepts has been shown to help prevent strokes, heart attacks, type 2 diabetes and premature death.

definitions

  • antioxidant – compounds that inhibit oxidation, a process that can produce free radicals
  • free radical – unstable atoms that can damage healthy cells, leading to diseases such as cancer
  • polyphenol – a compound naturally found in plant foods; acts as an antioxidant by neutralizing free radicals
    • Examples: resveratrol (red wine, grapes, mulberries), carotenoids (pumpkins, carrots, tomatoes), anthocyanin (blueberry, raspberry, black rice), quercetin (red onions, kale), curcumin (turmeric)

What do you do to support cardiovascular health?

If you found this post helpful, share it on with your friends and family so they can benefit from the information too!

Time to Up Your Fiber Intake: 4 Benefits You Never Realized

Although fiber is most well-known for keeping your digestive system rolling smooth, the benefits don’t stop there! Additional benefits include:

  • Slows stomach emptying: This suppresses a hormone called ghrelin — a hormones that triggers hunger — resulting in you maintaining a sense of fullness for longer
  • Balances blood sugar: Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate, meaning it slows down the breakdown of foods into glucose. Balanced blood sugar not only means fewer high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) but also fewer lows (hypoglycmeia)
  • Lower LDL (bad) cholesterol: Since fiber is not broken down in the intestine, a specific type of fiber, called soluble fiber (well get more into this) can bind to LDL cholesterol and remove it from the body. In addition, this study found that an intake of 30 grams or more per day may be helpful in increasing your HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Promotes healthy gut microbiome: Did you know that fiber is the food for our gut microbiome?! Without not only enough fiber, but a variety of different fiberous foods, our microbes will not have sufficient nutrients to thrive, resulting in “a loss of species reliant on these substrates”. This disruption could lead to a host of diseases. In fact, long-term studies consistently show an inverse relationship between dietary fiber intake and all-cause mortality!

Recommended intake

Nowadays, the average intake for women is 12-13 grams per day, while men average 16-17 grams. This is wayyy to low! And likely a large contributor to the high rates of colon cancer and why the majority of my patients experience only a few bunny-like bowel movements per week.

On the other hand, a healthy bowel movement is well-formed and comes without a struggle (you know what I’m talking about). You should have a bowel movement at least once per day — if none of this sounds familiar, this is a sign you are not eliminating properly — keep reading.

For adults, I recommend aiming for at least 45-50 grams per day. Interestingly, this study demonstrated that switching African Americans to a traditional South African diet including 55 grams of fiber measurably improved markers of colon cancer in just 2 weeks!

types of fiber

Insoluble: This type of fiber is not dissolved by water or gastrointestinal fluids. This allows it to move through your GI tract largely unchanged. It adds bulk to the stool, helping it to move through the intestines more quickly. Benefits include weight loss and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. It also helps ease constipation.

Soluble: This type IS dissolved by water and GI fluids when it enters intestines. There it turns into a gel -like substance that is fermented by microflora in the large intestine. This promotes the growth of healthy bacteria. Soluble fiber helps also lowers LDL cholesterol, lowers blood sugar, and helps you feel full longer.

Amylose (aka resistant starch): This form is a type of starch rather than fiber, but I wanted to include it as it as well is associated with a host of benefits! Amylose resists digestion. It moves though the small intestine, largely unabsorbed, and is then fermented in the large intestine. This creates short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which stimulate blood flow, boost nutrient circulation, prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, help with mineral absorption and prevent absorption of toxins — I mean woahh. In addition, buyterate, another byproduct produced, encourages fat burning and has anti-cancer properties. You can see how this group is vital for health. Sources include green bananas, and cooled potatoes and rice.

ways to increase your intake

When increasing your fiber intake it is vital to increase it slowly over several days to avoid experiencing GI discomfort and constipation. Aim to increase by 5 gram increments. As you increase your fiber, be sure to also drink more water between meals as well.

Highest Fiber Foods
FoodTotal Fiber Soluble Fiber
Beans/lentils10-16 grams per cup2-7 grams
Artichokes7 grams per artichoke4 grams
Blackberries4 grams per 1/2 cup3 grams
Avocado13.5 per avocado4 grams
Chia seeds5.5 grams per Tbs1 gram
Quinoa8 grams per cup (cooked)4 grams
Brussel sprouts4 grams per cup2 grams
Broccoli5.6 grams per cup2.6 grams
Steel cut oats5 grams per 1/4 cup2 grams
Tips to increase intake
  1. Salads: Load them up! When I make salads it is usually to use up all any left over vegetables I want to get rid of. Also, if you are still using iceberg lettuce — ditch it and upgrade to spinach, kale, romaine, or virtually any other dark leafy green. Iceberg has minimal nutritional value and 0.1 gram of fiber per leaf…
  2. Start your day with a smoothie: Starting your day with a high fiber smoothie will keep your full and stabilize your blood sugar throughout the morning. See below for a recipe I have recently been using:
  3. Eat a non-starchy vegetable with EVERY meal: I always tell my patients to start where they’re at. If you eat 1 vegetable per day, make it your goal to eat 2 serving per day. Refer to my Zucchini and Tomato Frittata Recipe for a fun way to include them at breakfast.
  4. Buy a high quality fiber powder: Some of the best types are inulin (made from artichokes), psyllium, apple pectin, or modified citrus pectin. Add this to your morning coffee, water, soups, and smoothies! I recommend choosing an organic option if possible.

High fiber smoothie

1-2 scoops protein powder (high quality, no fillers or artificial sweeteners)
1-2 tablespoons fiber (chia seeds, hemp seeds, freshly ground flax seeds, fiber powder)
1/2-1 cup frozen berries
large handful spinach
1 cup liquid (water, unsweetened coconut or almond milk)

Want to start meal prepping? Check out my Meal Prepping Made Simple Guide to get you started!

How are you going to start increasing your fiber intake? Share below!

spinach salad with sauteed portobello mushrooms, roasted Brussel sprouts, tomatoes and hemp seeds – 15 grams fiber

Your Quick and Easy Guide to Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral essential for overall body function. It is involved in over 300 chemical reactions including:

  • Supporting healthy bones and teeth
  • Maintaining proper muscle and nerve function
  • Keeping heart rate steady
  • Regulating blood sugar

While 50-60% of it can be found in the bones, the rest is in the tissues, muscles and organs.

Magnesium Deficiency

Despite magnesium being widely distributed in both plant an animal food sources, deficiency is extremely common, affecting about 50% of Americans. Those at risk include people with gastrointestinal diseases (i.e. Crohn’s, celiac disease, IBS) due to malabsorption, alcoholics, athletes, postmenopausal women, those taking medications causing excessive urination, and those consuming a highly processed diet.

symptoms of deficiency

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Severe PMS
  • Personality changes
  • Memory loss

Recommended intake and food sources

The recommended dietary allowance is 400-420 mg/day for men and 310-320 mg/day for women. Below you will find a list of 10 foods high in magnesium. Nuts, seeds and fish are among the best sources!

FoodAmount of Magnesium (per 100 grams)
Squash and pumpkin seeds534 mg
Dark chocolate327 mg
Sunflower seeds325 mg
Cashews292 mg
Peanut butter154 mg
Mackerel97 mg
Soybeans86 mg
Spinach79 mg
Dried figs69 mg
Brown rice44 mg

Supplementation

In some cases, magnesium supplementation may be appropriate or recommended. If so, be sure to choose a high quality supplement that has been tested by a 3rd party or has a GMP (good Manufacturing Practices) stamp of approval. You should also read the ingredient list to identify the presence of any unwanted fillers, additives, artificial colors or flavors, etc.

In addition to boosting magnesium levels, certain forms provide additional therapeutic benefits and have different levels of bioavailability. For example:

Magnesium glycinate: Very easily absorbed so best if you have a deficiency. Provides mood boosting benefits by helping user to relax. Also good for nerve pain.

Magnesium citrate: Commonly used to help relieve constipation. Recommend taking before bed as it can also help support sleep.

Magnesium threonate: Best for neurological and cognitive symptoms.

I recently had my lab values tested and have you know, my magnesium was slightly low! It is always a good idea to ask your doctor to have your micronutrient levels tested at least yearly, particularly magnesium, vitamin D, and a few select others depending on your dietary preferences or restrictions.

*TIP: Make sure you ask to actually see your results! Providers can miss deficiencies or other less-than-optimal laboratory values

Got a Sweet Tooth?

If your holiday and end of year celebrations were anything like mine, they were probably overloaded with candies, cakes, your aunt’s delicious cookies, endless vino, and so forth. By the time New Year comes around I am exhausted, bloated, and feeling something like this:

This inspired me to complete 30 days of no sugar, no booze, no excuses. Since I started this past Monday, January 6, I have already lost count of the number of times I have been asked “….why?” Sugar has become so mainstream in our diet it has actually changed, for many, the ability to appreciate unsweetened foods. A perfect example of this is peanut butter. Many brands are loaded with high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar, and when individuals try clean, raw peanut butter with no additional ingredients, it tastes off. Sugar lights up the reward centers in our brain, similar as to cocaine for an addict. After going a period of time without it, as the body stars to rebalance, you start to crave them all over again.

Sugar is also a tremendous contributor to blood sugar dysregulation (another cause of sugar cravings). According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2015, an estimated 33.9% of US adults 18 years or older had prediabetes along with 48.3% of adults age 65 or older. An additional 9.4% (30.3 million) of the population has actual diabetes. My family has not been an exception, so preventative measures early on have been a priority of mine!

Chronically elevated blood sugar (BS) levels result in inflammation as high BS is damaging to our nerves and small blood vessels. High intake of refined sugar also results in the formation of AGEs, or advanced glycation end products, which are destructive molecules that trigger inflammation. Inflammation is thought to be the underlying cause of many chronic diseases.

If I have not yet convinced you that sugar is evil, this study demonstrated that ingestion of sugar can alter the function of phagocytes (cells that ingest harmful bacteria, particles and dead cells) for at least 5 hours. In other words, after eating a piece of chocolate cake, your immune system will become suppressed, leaving you more susceptible to catching a cold or flu. Not ideal this time of the year.

There are several steps I took to prepare for this little endeavor:

  1. Recruit a support system. Maintaining any type of lifestyle change is not only easier but can even be fun when you have a team that supports you, or even better, will do it with you! Two of my sisters and my fiancé have agreed to participate. This has been a gamechanger in maintaining my motivation.
  2. Prepare. Don’t start immediately. I took a couple days to get rid of any leftover holiday goodies and meal prep for the week ahead. My sisters also took time to read food labels and clear out any foods that would not be acceptable to avoid temptation. We also discussed healthy, sugar-free alternatives.
  3. Make specific goals. I wrote out a list of guidelines and ingredients that were to be avoided for the next 30 days including: all added sugar, artificial sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, agave nectar, cane juice, caramel, barley malt, and glucose to name a few.
  4. DO NOT say “I will try”. This is one phrase I always make a point to avoid saying, otherwise I might as well not waste my time. It indirectly gives me permission to fail, which I do not want as an option.

What healthy habits have you committed to this year? If you are interested in trying 30 days No Sugar. No Booze. No Excuses. the guidelines are as follows:

30 DAys no sugar. no booze. no excuses. guidelines

  1. No sugar or hidden sources of sugar (refer to chart below)
    • Beware of foods such a bread, peanut butter, ketchup, dried fruit, chips, milk alternatives, and pasta sauce that could unexpectedly have some form of added sugar (TIP: if it has a barcode, check the ingredients)
  2. No honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, maple syrup or any other “healthy” form of sugar
  3. No alcohol (wine, liquor, beer, etc).
  4. Approved:
    • Fruit (beware of sugar added to store-bought smoothies or açaí bowls). Ideally no more that 2-3 servings per day. Berries are best as they are lower in sugar.
    • Stevia or monk fruit (0 calorie natural sweeteners) in small amounts

Healthy, Dairy-Free Eggnog! (AKA Banananog)

This time of the year we are bombarded with sugar overload! You can only resist turning down unhealthy sweets for so long (or maybe not at all). Rather than inflicting hyperglycemia, bloating, fatigue and food remorse secondary to 2-3 long weeks of gluttonous feasting, I prefer find healthy alternatives.

This eggnog recipe is a fun twist on the typical sugar loaded version. It has no added sugar and has great nutritional value. Bananas are an excellent source of prebiotics (the food for probiotics), are great for digestion, have high levels of vitamin B6, and contain nutrients to help lower blood pressure.

Coconut is loaded with healthy fats, particularly medium chain triglycerides, which can be used as a quick source of energy and to promote weight loss.

*This recipe serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 bananas
  • 3 cups coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

*Note: For a creamier recipe, opt for full-fat coconut milk

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Add bananas, coconut milk, and vanilla extract to a blender
  2. Blend until creamy
  3. Pour into 4 serving glasses, and sprinkle nutmeg on top
  4. Enjoy!

*Optional (but more fun): add a splash of rum to make it an adult beverage

Need some inspiration? Chocolate Covered Katie is a healthy dessert blog with alternatives to almost any sweet treat!

What are your favorite healthy desserts? Share below!

Recipe courtesy of the Institute for Transformation Nutrition

3 Warming and Nutritious Beverages

As winter approaches I find myself constantly preparing different types of warming beverages to sip on throughout the day. Waking up to an energizing cup of hot water with lemon and settling down in the evening with a soothing mug of herbal tea has been part of my winter routine for years.

These beverages also have many nutritional properties such as aiding in digestion, lowering inflammation, and providing beneficial antioxidants!  

My Favorite Types of Tea

  • Green tea has been used for medicinal purposes in China and Japan for thousands of years. It has been boasted for its powerful antioxidant content (100x more than vitamin C!), along with its ability to reduce inflammation, lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and boost metabolism. Caffeine content ranges from 30-50 mg per 8oz (compared to 95 mg for coffee). 
  • Tulsi tea is a more bitter type of tea that enhances liver detoxification and can help prevent cancer by inducing cell death in precancerous and cancerous cells. It is most well know for its natural adaptogenic properties, or its ability to help the body adapt to stress, making it a perfect beverage during the stressful winter holidays!
  • Hibiscus tea has been shown to decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 7.58 mmHg and 3.53 mmHg, respectively (according to a 2015 review of 5 studies). 

*I prefer to buy organic, loose-leaf tea – it is cleaner, cheaper, and has less packaging so it’s better for the environment!

Hot Water With Lemon

The benefits of water with lemon should not be underestimated. Drinking a warm cup first thing in the morning on an empty stomach has been part of my routine for years! Below is a list of some of its wonderful benefits.

  • It can help improve digestion by increasing production of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in your stomach, which further helps to increase important digestive enzymes. 
  • An increase in acid and digestive enzymes can lead to more regular bowel movements (at least 1 per day is optimal).  
  • It can be a natural remedy for acid reflux. This may sound counter-intuitive, but many people with heartburn are actually under-producing acid! When you increase your digestive secretions you may notice a decrease in your symptoms.
  • Aids in detoxification of of anything potentially harmful or toxic (such as pesticides, alcohol, caffeine, prescription drugs, and chemicals from personal care products) by increasing the livers detoxification processes.  

*Be sure to drink a cup of plain water after to rinse your teeth of the acidity

Healthy Hot Cocoa

An obvious fan favorite during the winter. However, with all the sweets floating around this time of year, sometimes I want that amazing chocolaty flavor without all the added sugar. Many commercial hot cocoa mixes also contain artificial flavors, caramel coloring, artificial sweeteners and trans fat. This recipe eliminates those toxic ingredients, replacing them with healthy fats and antioxidants.

Recipe

  • 1 cup boiling water or warmed nut milk
  • 1 heaped Tbs cacao powder
  • 1-2 tsp MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil or (my favorite) coconut butter
  • 1/2 tsp monk fruit extract or natural sweetener of choice (I prefer local honey)
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Optional: 1 tsp Ashwaganda
  • Optional: 1 tsp Lion’s Mane mushroom
  • Blend until frothy and enjoy!

What are your favorite healthy winter beverages? Share below!

5 Tips Help Recover from a Gluttonous Thanksgiving

No matter how mindful we intend to be during Thanksgiving festivities, it is a safe bet that most of us will leave the table feeling overfull and defeated. There is no shame in allowing yourself some food freedom once in a while, especially on what may be consider the ultimate cheat day of the year! From my experience, it is not Thanksgiving Day itself that sabotages health goals or weightless efforts; it is the days following filled with endless amounts of leftover pie and stuffing. To avoid being set off track from your long term goals, I put together a list of some of my favorite ways to recover and detox post tryptophan binge (an amino acid found in turkey commonly proclaimed to make people sleepy).

  1. Move. I always tend to feel better after a good sweat. Doing something active that you enjoy is a great way to get back into the swing of things. If you want to get the most bang for you buck, HIIT, or high intensity interval training, will help you burn the most calories in the least amount of time.
  2. Hydrate. Especially if alcohol was involved in the festivities. Hot water with lemon is a wonderful way to help detoxify your liver and boost your metabolism. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in kilograms each day.
    • Example: If you weigh 200 pounds, divide by 2.2 = ~91 kilograms. Therefore, a 200 pound individual should drink approximately 90 ounces (~11 cups) of fluid each day!
  3. Utilize your freezer. Rather than aiming to eat all your leftovers in the few following days, freeze the less healthy options. This will not only make it inconvenient for you to grab as a quick snack, but it will also encouraged you to eat it over a longer period of time and (ideally) in smaller portions.
  4. Fast. Fasting has been associated with a host of benefits including increased metabolism, reduced inflammation and improved blood sugar control. Visit my blog post What is Intermittent Fasting? Key Components for Success for the specifics.
  5. Drink a smoothie. Smoothies are a great way to obtain a ton of nutrients in one meal. Blending the foods can improve digestibility and make them more palatable, particularly for those spinach and kale haters. I love referring to Simple Green Smoothies for inspiration and recipe ideas!