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    Archive for the ‘cardiovascular disease’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: How Much Coffee?

    cappuccinoYou recently tweeted that 16 to 24 ounces of coffee a day are linked to a lot of health benefits.

    Does that figure refer to drip coffee?

    If so, how many espresso shots is that amount of black coffee equal to?

    Also, is going above the 24 oz figure bad?

    — Travis (last name withheld)
    La Jolla, CA

    The vast amount of research on coffee concludes that 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine a day provide plenty of health benefits for adults — from lowered diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease risk to cardiovascular protection.

    If you’re more of a latte drinker, consider that your average espresso shot contains 100 milligrams of caffeine.

    This means, then, that a single Starbucks venti latte fully provides health-promoting levels.

    Does surpassing the 300 milligram mark pose health risks?  No.  In fact, large-scale studies (some almost two decades long) saw even higher percentages of decreased disease risk in subjects who drank 500 – 600 milligrams of coffee each day.

    However, many individuals find that much coffee difficult to tolerate (they may develop gastrointestinal symptoms, heightened anxiety, or sleep disturbances).  This is also a good time to point out that pregnant women are strongly encouraged to keep their daily caffeine intake below the 200 milligram mark.

    If you find that you are able to tolerate that much caffeine on a daily basis, though, there is no reason to worry or cut back.

    Keep in mind that a lot of these benefits assume you are having unsweetened — or very lightly sweetened — coffee.  If your lattes are a vehicle for 3 tablespoons of added sugar, you aren’t doing yourself many favors.  This is precisely why coffee is much preferred to energy drinks high in caffeine.  Some of those drinks provide as much sugar as a can of soda.

    Similarly, coffee-based desserts (i.e.: Frappuccinos) are certainly not the desired way to consume caffeine.

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    You Ask, I Answer: More to Bananas than Potassium?

    BananasI don’t hear a lot about bananas, except that they are a good way to get potassium and B vitamins.

    You often write about phytonutrients and antioxidants in fruits.  Do bananas have any?

    Also, why do some diets forbid you from eating bananas the first few weeks?

    — Sandra Talenda
    (Location withheld)

    Let’s get the frustrating things out of the way first.

    I will never, ever, ever understand diet plans that treat bananas (or any other nutritious, whole foods) as if they were radioactive waste.

    A standard medium banana is not only a very good source of fiber, manganese, potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, it also only delivers 105 calories.

    FYI: When it comes to potassium, potatoes and avocados surpass bananas.

    Anyone who recommends banana avoidance in the name of health needs to take a nutrition class.  Stat.

    As far as phytonutrients are concerned, all plant-based foods (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and spices) contain them.  That’s one significant reason why a diet heavy on plant-based foods is optimal for health!

    Keep in mind that we are still in the process of identifying phytonutrients; the nutrition nerd in me can’t help but feel excited when researchers uncover a new one.

    Bananas provide high amounts of the following phytonutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants:

    • Glutathione: a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to protect against cellular oxidation and damage
    • Phenolic compounds: a Cornell University study concluded that certain fruits — including bananas — contain phenolic compounds that protect neural cells from oxidative damage, thereby helping slash the risk of neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
    • Delphinidin: a naturally-occurring pigment that helps lower cancer risk — particularly of the prostate — by causing tumor cells to undergo apoptosis (“cell suicide”)
    • Rutin: a flavonoid also found in asparagus that is associated with blood pressure reduction
    • Naringin: also found in grapefruits, this flavonoids reduces LDL cholesterol oxidation, thereby lowering atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease risk

    For what it’s worth, the riper a banana, the higher its phytonutrient, antioxidant, and flavonoid content.

    If you don’t like the texture of a very ripe banana, I suggest peeling, slicing, freezing, and incorporating it into a smoothie.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Immune to Hypertension?

    salt-shaker-01My diet is extremely high in sodium.  I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.

    I would say I get anywhere from 3,500 to 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day, [well past the recommended daily maximum of 2,400 milligrams].  I’ve been eating this way for years.

    Whenever I get a physical, my blood pressure does not fall into the “high” range.

    Is there any reason why I should try to cut back on sodium?

    — Richard (last name withheld)
    Norwalk, CT

    You belong to the “not sodium sensitive” category.

    Roughly half of all adults in the United State do not develop hypertension (high blood pressure) as a result of excess sodium consumption.

    So, then, why all the concern about sodium?

    Simple — hypertension is simply one of many health consequences of long-term high sodium intakes.

    Various recent clinical studies are making it clear that consistently high levels of dietary sodium increase heart disease risk and negatively affect renal (kidney) function.

    Foods (and diets) high in sodium are usually low in potassium, a mineral that plays a major role in proper muscle contraction.  Remember — the heart is a muscle!  It is not surprising, then, that insufficient potassium intakes have a negative effect on cardiac health.

    in 2004, official potassium guidelines were finally released, recommending a daily goal of 4,700 milligrams.

    FYI: this figure is simply a reflection of sodium guidelines, which call for no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium.  See, the key is to aim for a 2:1 potassium-sodium ratio.  Therefore, a diet that adds up to 3,500 milligrams of sodium a day needs to be offset by approximately 7,000 milligrams of potassium a day (that’s a lot!).

    That is why general nutrition advice is to eat as minimally processed a diet is possible.  The more processed a food, the more sodium — and less potassium — it offers.

    Since high-sodium diets are usually heavy on processed foods, they tend to also be lacking in fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and other minerals.

    The fact that your blood pressure isn’t too affected by your high sodium intake does not mean you are scot-free.

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    Survey Results: Label Detectives

    The latest Small Bites survey asked visitors to identify particular ingredients they consciously try to avoid when purchasing food.

    Partially hydrogenated oil (44%) and high fructose corn syrup (43%) led the pack, while artificial dyes seemed troublesome to less visitors (9%).

    MSG, meanwhile, received 24% of votes.

    Three percent of respondents weren’t fazed by any of those ingredients, while 38% do not feel comfortable consuming any of them.

    The #1 enemy on that list is certainly partially hydrogenated oil.

    There is clear evidence showing the harmful effects it has on lipid profiles and, consequently, heart disease risk.

    The high fructose corn syrup situation goes beyond nutrition. Although it contributes as many calories to food as sugar (16 calories per teaspoon), its environmental effects are far worse.

    Additionally, because it is such a cheap ingredient, companies liberally include it in a variety of processed foods, in turn increasing total calories.

    It also doesn’t help that it is in everything from bread to Gatorade to pasta sauce.

    The important thing to keep in mind is that the more of these ingredients you see on a nutrition label, the more processed — and less nutritious — a given product is.

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    You "Ask", I Answer: Homocysteine/Cholesterol

    According to a book I read by Dr. Ray Strand, cholesterol is not the only factor causing cardiovascular diseases.

    There is something called homocysteine where high levels of it also may cause some damages.

    — Eugene Goh
    Via the blog

    I’m glad you brought this up.

    On the one hand, it is an important factor many people are unaware of, but I have also seen unnecessary panic over it.

    High homocysteine levels are indeed one factor that can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, but it is not as applicable to – or prevalent in — the general population as high intakes of saturated and trans fat.

    Let’s backtrack a little.

    Homocysteine is an amino acid produced when methionine — an essential amino acid largely found in meat, fish, eggs, beans, and seeds – is broken down.

    In healthy individuals receiving adequate nutrition, homocysteine is converted back to methionine and all is well.

    Certain populations, however, run into some difficulties.

    The group in the most danger consists of individuals born with a condition known as homocystinuria, in which the enzyme needed to convert homocysteine back into methionine is missing.

    Consequently, homocysteine often accumulates in their systems.

    Since vitamin B12 plays a major role in homocysteine-to-methionine conversion, vegans also run the risk of having high homocysteine levels if their diet does not provide adequate amounts of that vitamin.

    Folic acid – another B vitamin — also plays a crucial role in homocysteine breakdown.

    This isn’t quite as troubling since a 1996 law passed in the United States requires folic acid fortification in refined grains, and the vitamin is also easily obtainable from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

    High homocysteine levels are problematic because they damage the inside of arteries, thereby allowing blood clots to form and LDL to build up as plaque, heightening one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

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