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    Archive for the ‘heart disease’ Category

    Cultured Meat Is An Alternative, Not A Solution

    The idea of cultured meat (also known as ‘in vitro’ meat) has been played with for several years, as scientists have attempted to produce meat from cell cultures. Over the past week, this topic created headlines once again thanks to reports that ‘cultured’ sausage and hamburgers are on the way within the next six to twelve months. That is not to say they will be commercially available, but rather that they will serve as tangible proof of this technology’s capabilities.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Omega-3s Increase Type 2 Diabetes Risk?

    080708193249-largeWhat are your thoughts on the reported link between omega-3 intake and type 2 diabetes recently published in an article featured in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition?

    — xo2hearts
    (via Twitter)

    The AJCN is a well-respected, top-of-the-line journal, so it is no surprise that many of its studies resonate all over the Internet.

    This one, titled “Dietary omega-3 fatty acids and fish consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes” is particularly controversial, since its main conclusion is that there appears to be “an increased risk of type-2 diabetes with the intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, especially with higher intakes (more than 0.20 g omega-3, or more than 2 servings of fish a day.)”

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    champion_nutsThe vast majority of large-scale, long-term studies on nut consumption conclude that an individual who consumes one ounce of nuts five times a week has, on average, a 35 percent lower rate of developing coronary heart disease than someone who consumes less than an ounce per week.

    This can be attributed to a few factors:

    • All nuts contain a few grams of fiber
    • Some nuts (i.e.: walnuts) are high in omega-3 fatty acids, while others are good sources of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (i.e: hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts, almonds)
    • Nuts are a good source of vitamin E
    • Nuts are commonly consumed as a snack, often in place of nutritionally empty foods (i.e.: pretzels, rice crackers, cookies, etc.)

    There is absolutely no reason to avoid nuts (or nut butters) or consider them “occasional treats”.

    Plus, keep in mind that a serving of nuts is larger than you may think.  Consider these examples:

    • 23 almonds
    • 33 peanuts
    • 49 pistachios
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    Numbers Game: Munch Your Way To A Healthier Heart

    mixed-nutsThe vast majority of large-scale, long-term studies on nut consumption conclude that an individual who consumes one ounce of nuts five times a week has, on average, a _____ percent lower rate of developing coronary heart disease than someone who consumes less than an ounce per week.

    a) 35
    b) 21
    c) 14
    d) 46

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Sunday for the answer.

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    Numbers Game: Trans Fat Terror

    whats_wrongA 2006 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine concluded that “a 2 percent increase in trans fat [consumption] increased the risk of coronary heart disease by _____ percent.”

    a) 15
    b) 23
    c) 31
    d) 9

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Thursday for the answer!

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    The Common Health Thread That Often Goes Unseen

    EskimoFamilyFood glorification is common in the field of nutrition (often perpetrated by individuals who profit from books and products that focus on one “miracle” food).

    Many “miracle food” claims go like this: a group of people in the world (usually an elusive tribe, for maximum marketing effect) eat “food X” on a regular basis and enjoy long, healthful lives; ergo, this one food will help you live until you’re 90, with fabulous skin to boot.

    There is no doubt that, in certain cultures, healthful foods are daily staples.

    However, when I hear things like “Eskimos eat whale blubber all the time and have low rates of heart disease!” or “there’s a tribe in the middle of Rwanda that eats nothing but berries and goat’s blood and no one ever gets cancer” I wish the conversation would revolve around what truly matters — what these people are not eating.

    These healthful groups of people have very different diets, but one common thread — their intake of processed foods, added sugars, trans fats, and refined carbohydrates is very low, if at all existent.

    The notion that eating wild salmon every night (“like the Eskimos!”) is the key to health is reductionist and silly if the foods one eats throughout the rest of the day are highly processed, artificial, or loaded with sodium and added sugars.

    Yes, omega-3 fatty acids (to give one example) are very healthful, and the average adult in the United States can greatly benefit from adding more to their diet (from foods that inherently contain them, not fortified candy bars).  Let’s not overlook, though, that populations with superior health profiles don’t have Zone bars in their desk drawers, soda with lunch, or Cheetos as an afternoon snack.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Beets

    beetAnything in particular worth knowing about the nutrition of beets?

    I love them in salads.  In the summer, it’s not out of the ordinary for me to have beets every single day.

    — Paula Seeley
    (Location withheld)

    Beets are a wonderful addition to any diet.  Make sure to NOT wear white when eating them (if you think permanent marker stains are bad, wait until you get a tiny smudge of beet on you; even Tide-To-Go sticks raise a white flag).

    When mass media went bonkers over the antioxidants in blueberries a few years ago, beets were treated like the redheaded stepchild.

    Betacyanin, the antioxidants that gives blueberries their pigment, is also found in very high quantities in beets!

    Betacyanin is a big deal because studies have found it to be super powerful when it comes to reducing inflammation (the main factor behind many degenerative diseases) and slowing down tumor proliferation.

    Beets offer a one-two punch because they also contain another pigment known as betanin.

    Betanin is especially effective at lowering heart disease risk because it reduces levels of homocysteine.  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, thereby heightening cardiovascular disease risk.

    A study by Israel’s Agricultural Research Organization found that “a relatively low concentration of betanin was found to inhibit lipid peroxidation of membranes or linoleate emulsion catalyzed by the free iron redox cycle, H2O2-activated metmyoglobin, or lipoxygenase.”  Laymen translation: betanin is your heart’s friend.

    Apart from being a low-calorie food (like all vegetables), beets also offer folate, manganese, and potassium.

    Whenever possible, aim for fresh — rather than canned — beets.  If raw beets aren’t your thing, roast them — along with other root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, and radishes — in olive oil and salt.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    nurse taking blood pressureCardiovascular disease risk doubles for every 10-point increase in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) and every 20-point increase in systolic blood pressure (the top number).

    This serves as a perfect reminder of the domino effect of poor health.

    It also illustrates why maintaining a healthy weight is important.  It deeply frustrates me when people argue that weight gain should not be demonized, and that all body shapes should be accepted.

    I certainly back up that argument from a social and body-image standpoint.  No one should be made to feel inferior — by others as well as themselves — because of their waist size.  The fact that you’re ten or fifteen pounds overweight doesn’t negate the fact that you can be — and feel — sexy.

    From a health standpoint, however, getting rid of excess weight is crucial.

    Not only does excess weight increase cellular inflammation (THE most important factor behind the development of a number of degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease), it also sets off a chain of symptoms and conditions.

    Excess weight increases blood pressure, lowers HDL cholesterol levels, and increase LDL cholesterol levels, thereby increasing cardiovascular disease risk.

    It also increases arthritis risk and puts excessive force on joints, often making exercise painful and difficult (thereby creating a powerful barrier against regular exercise).

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    Numbers Game: The Pressured Heart

    high-diastolic-blood-pressure-and-high-systolic-blood-pressureCardiovascular disease risk doubles for every ____-point increase in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) and every _____-point increase in systolic blood pressure (the top number).

    Source: World Health Organization

    a) 10/20
    b) 15/5
    c) 5/10
    d) 20/15

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Tuesday for the answer.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Amaranth

    Amaranth Grain crop 001A few days ago on Twitter you recommended we give alternative grains like amaranth a try.

    Can you tell me more about it?  How can it be prepared?

    — Will Reicks
    (Location withheld)

    Although amaranth can be eaten as a savory side dish, I prefer it as an alternative to oatmeal, especially since it has a porridge-like texture.

    I enjoy it topped with sliced bananas, chopped pecans, goji berries, and cacao nibs.

    Like quinoa and wild rice, amaranth falls into the “pseudo-grain” category, since it is technically a seed.

    Not only is it a completely safe food for those with gluten intolerances and wheat allergies — it also boasts a powerful nutritional profile.  One cup of cooked amaranth delivers:

    • 251 calories
    • 5 grams of fiber
    • 9 grams protein

    It is also an excellent source of iron, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus, and delivers substantial amounts of calcium, copper, folate, selenium, vitamin B6, and zinc.

    Added bonus?  Amaranth contains exclusive phytonutrients that help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol as well as a powerful group of antioxidants called betalains that help reduce cellular inflammation and, consequently, the risk of different cancers.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    cauliflowerDecades of studies on cruciferous vegetables and cancer risk have consistently demonstrated that in order to significantly lower our risk for colorectal, lung, protate, and breast cancers, we should aim for at least 5 – 6 servings per week of cruciferous vegetables.

    It’s not as much as you may think.

    A mere half-cup (raw or cooked) of broccoli, brusels sprouts, or cauliflower once a day is all you need!

    In the case of arugula, bok choy, kale, mustard greens, and swiss chard, one serving is considered one cup when raw and a half-cup if cooked.

    For optimal benefits, the recommended way to cook cruciferous vegetables is to lightly steam them, since exposure to high heat for long periods of time deactivates many of the health-promoting active compounds.

    As if the health benefits mentioned at the beginning of this post weren’t enough, there is also a significant body of research that links frequent and consistent consumption of cruciferous vegetables with lower risk of cardiovascular disease!

    It turns out many of the intrinsic phytonutrients in these foods help reduce cellular inflammation (one of the prime causes of heart disease).

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    JapanMapAdults in Japan consume approximately 7.5 times as many DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids per day as their United States counterparts.

    That can certainly help explain why, compared to the United States, Japan has a 40 percent lower rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease and a 70 percent lower rate of deaths from coronary heart disease!

    Don’t think this is solely attributed to high intakes of fish (while Japan’s consumption is high, it comes in third — China and Iceland’s intake is higher!)

    Japan, however, happens to have the hands-down-highest global per capita consumption of sea vegetables.  Not only are many sea vegetables excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids; they also contain phytonutrients and antioxidants that help lower the risk of developing heart disease and various cancers.

    This is why I strongly support the “Mediterrasian” style of eating, which takes heart-healthy cues from traditional Mediterranean (i.e.: olive oil, legumes, nuts, and seeds) and Asian dietary patterns (dark leafy greens, fatty fish/sea vegetables).

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    You Ask, I Answer: Barley

    whole_barleyCan you tell me about the health benefits of barley?

    I just added some to my kale stew and really liked it, but I don’t know anything about it.

    — Susy (last name unknown)
    (Location unknown)

    Barley is a wonderful grain!

    You should know that there are two different varieties — hulled barley and pearled barley.

    Pearled barley is the most commonly consumed type.  While it is still nutritious, it is slightly more processed than hulled barley in that it loses its bran layer.

    Consequently, pearled barley cooks faster.

    If you can find hulled barley, I recommend you purchase that.

    However, even pearled barley is far superior to refined grains like white rice, couscous, or pastas made from white flours.

    After all, one cup of it (cooked) provides:

    • 6 grams of fiber
    • 6 grams of protein
    • 10% of a day’s worth of niacin, vitamin B6, and zinc
    • 20% of a day’s worth of manganese and selenium

    Meanwhile, one cup of cooked hulled barley adds up to:

    • 8 grams of fiber
    • 6 grams of protein
    • Higher amounts of niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and selenium

    One of the advantages of barley is that a significant percentage of its fibers are beta-glucans.

    Beta-glucans are a specific type of soluble fiber — also found in oatmeal, seaweed, and mushrooms — responsible for lowering LDL cholesterol (the higher your LDL cholesterol, the higher your risk for heart disease).

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    heartstructureExcess weight  (and its health consequences) is believed to be the main factor in 79 percent of heart disease cases and 52 percent of strokes.

    Remember — a multitude of diseases and health conditions stem from high levels of cellular inflammation.

    One of the primary causes of cellular inflammation?  Excess weight.

    It’s important to keep in mind that any amount of lost excess weight is beneficial.

    I recall a conversation I had years ago with someone who, at the time, was 65 pounds overweight.

    In her mind, her choices were either to stay at that weight for the rest of her life or lose 65 pounds.  Silly as it may sound to some people, it had never occurred to her that even shedding 15 of those 65 extra pounds would have a positive effect on her health!

    Long story short — once she saw how much better she felt after losing 15 pounds (“It’s so much easier on my knees when I use the stairs!” was one of the first things she mentioned to me), she was motivated to continue her healthier eating patterns and has now been at a healthy weight for three years.

    New body shape aside, her biggest surprise came when, after years of avoiding getting a physical, she received her blood test results.  Compared to her heaviest period, her blood pressure, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol had significantly lowered.

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    Numbers Game: This is What Is Meant By “Healthy Weight”

    broken_heart_by_starry_eyedkid-1Excess weight  (and its health consequences) is believed to be the main factor in _____ percent of heart disease cases and _____ percent of strokes.

    a) 64/68
    b) 79/52
    c) 41/80
    d) 53/74

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Friday for the answer.

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