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August 13th, 2010 by Sterling
Your blood cholesterol level is affected not only by what you eat but also by how quickly your body makes LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and disposes of it. In fact, your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, and it is not necessary to take in any additional cholesterol from the foods you eat.
Many factors help determine whether your LDL-cholesterol level is high or low. The following factors are the most important:
- Heredity - Age and Gender
- What You Eat - Alcohol
- Weight - Stress
- Physical Activity/Exercise
Heredity. Your genes influence how high your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol is by affecting how fast LDL is made and removed from the blood. One specific form of inherited high cholesterol that affects 1 in 500 people is familial hypercholesterolemia, which often leads to early heart disease. But even if you do not have a specific genetic form of high cholesterol, genes play a role in influencing your LDL-cholesterol level.
What You Eat. Two main nutrients in the foods you eat make your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level go up: saturated fat, a type of fat found mostly in foods that come from animals; and cholesterol, which comes only from animal products. Saturated fat raises your LDL-cholesterol level more than anything else in the diet. Eating too much saturated fat and cholesterol is the main reason for high levels of cholesterol and a high rate of heart attacks in the United States. Reducing the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol you eat is a very important step in reducing your blood cholesterol levels.
Weight. Excess weight tends to increase your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level. If you are overweight and have a high LDL-cholesterol level, losing weight may help you lower it. Weight loss also helps to lower triglycerides and raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
Physical Activity/Exercise. Regular physical activity may lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
Age and Gender. Before the age of menopause, women usually have total cholesterol levels that are lower than those of men the same age. As women and men get older, their blood cholesterol levels rise until about 60 to 65 years of age. After the age of about 50, women often have higher total cholesterol levels than men of the same age.
Alcohol. Alcohol intake increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol but does not lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Doctors don’t know for certain whether alcohol also reduces the risk of heart disease. Drinking too much alcohol can damage the liver and heart muscle, lead to high blood pressure, and raise triglycerides. Because of the risks, alcoholic beverages should not be used as a way to prevent heart disease.
Stress. Stress over the long term has been shown in several studies to raise blood cholesterol levels. One way that stress may do this is by affecting your habits. For example, when some people are under stress, they console themselves by eating fatty foods. The saturated fat and cholesterol in these foods contribute to higher levels of blood cholesterol.
December 2nd, 2009 by Sterling
Stress and depression can ruin your holidays and hurt your health. Being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support can help ward off stress and depression.
The holiday season, which begins for most Americans with Thanksgiving and continues through New Year’s Day, often brings unwelcome guests — stress and depression. And it’s no wonder. In an effort to pull off a perfect holiday, you might find yourself facing a dizzying array of demands — parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name a few. So much for peace and joy, right?
Actually, with some practical tips, you can minimize the stress and depression that often accompany the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.
Recognize holiday triggers
Learn to recognize common holiday triggers, so you can disarm them before they lead to a meltdown:
- Relationships. Relationships can cause turmoil, conflict or stress at any time, but tensions are often heightened during the holidays. Family misunderstandings and conflicts can intensify — especially if you’re thrust together for several days. On the other hand, facing the holidays without a loved one can be tough and leave you feeling lonely and sad.
- Finances. With the added expenses of gifts, travel, food and entertainment, the holidays can put a strain on your budget — and your peace of mind. Not to mention that overspending now can mean financial worries for months to come.
- Physical demands. Even die-hard holiday enthusiasts may find that the extra shopping and socializing can leave them wiped out. Being exhausted increases your stress, creating a vicious cycle. Exercise and sleep — good antidotes for stress and fatigue — may take a back seat to chores and errands. To top it off, burning the wick at both ends makes you more susceptible to colds and other unwelcome guests.
Tips to prevent holiday stress and depression
When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.
- Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
- Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
- Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videotapes.
- Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression too.
- Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try these alternatives: Donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
- Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
- Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
- Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.
- Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
Take control of the holidays
Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you may find that you enjoy the holidays this year more than you thought you could.
September 28th, 2009 by Sterling
Can your diet really reduce your risk of catching a cold or influenza? Nutrition expert Lisa Hark PhD, RD, director of the Nutrition Education and Prevention Program at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine, certainly thinks so. Dr. Hark explained to me how diet and other smart lifestyle choices will help you to avoid the sniffles, stuffy nose and aches of the cold, as well as the outright misery of influenza.
According to Dr. Hark, food and healthy lifestyle choices boost your immune system, and that can prevent you from coming down with colds and flu. The key is not waiting until you get sick to make these changes; you need to revamp your diet and lifestyle before the cold and flu bugs get to you.
Here are Dr. Hark’s tips:
Rely on Real Food, Not Vitamins
Foods are better than dietary supplements for the prevention of colds and flu because you get the whole nutritional package. For example, Dr. Hark points out, eating an orange is better for you than just taking vitamin C because the orange offers you a combination of nutrients — magnesium, potassium, folate, vitamin B6, and antioxidant-rich flavonoids.
While we know that vitamin C is important for a healthy immune system, studies don’t show that taking massive doses of vitamin C helps to prevent colds and flu at all. However, we do know that eating fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C will help to keep your immune system strong. Your immune system is what protects you from viral infections, and the foods you eat have a major impact on your immune system’s ability to fight off colds and flu. The reason that fruits and vegetables do a better job of keeping your immune system ready is because they also contain vitamins A and E, as well as the flavonoids that work along side vitamin C to keep your immune system and your whole body healthy.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
So now that you know you need to eat lots of fruits and vegetables to keep your immune system strong, the next step is to actually make it happen. People tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables in the winter, which is the opposite of what you should be doing. Everyone needs at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day to get adequate vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants — all things we need for a healthy immune system.
One way to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables is to incorporate juice into your diet. Not just any juice will do, though. Make sure you choose 100% juices, as other juice drinks contain extra sugar and empty calories. You can learn more about the benefits of 100% juice at the Florida Department of Citrus website.
For the best prices, be sure to browse your grocery store’s produce aisle for fresh fruits and vegetables that are in-season. Oranges and grapefruits are usually cheaper in the winter, so cold and flu season is the perfect time to load up on citrus fruits.
Dr. Hark assures us that eating frozen fruits and vegetables is another economical and convenient way to improve your diet and prevent colds and flu. Frozen vegetable selections range from very inexpensive bags of basic peas, corn and green beans to artfully combined fruits and vegetable dishes topped with delicate sauces that you simply pop in the microwave.
Make sure that fruits and vegetables are part of every meal. You can add berries or a sliced banana to your whole grain cereal at breakfast and drink a glass of 100% orange or grapefruit juice. Pack a bunch of grapes or an apple with your sandwich for lunch, and top that sandwich with tomato slices, avocado, sprouts and lettuce. Start dinner off with a salad or vegetable soup, or serve a big salad as a healthy dinner. Keep a bowl of oranges, apples and pears on your counter top to grab as quick snacks.
Keep Up Your Healthy Diet
While you want to focus on increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat, don’t forget to choose other healthy foods to supply nutrients your immune system needs. A healthy balanced diet with lean meats, fish, poultry, low-fat dairy, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds provides your body with all of the nutrients you need for general health. A healthy body tends to have a healthier immune system.
Protein sources such as lean meats, dairy, eggs and legumes are especially important because they supply the amino acids that your body needs to build the components of your immune system. Lean meats also contain iron and zinc; deficiencies of these minerals can depress your immune system.
Of course, avoiding unhealthy food is important too. Stay away from excess sugar and unhealthy fats, such as saturated fat and trans fats. Dr. Hark suggests being prepared by keeping healthy snacks handy so you won’t be so tempted to eat less healthy options. Try dried fruit or trail mix.
What If You Do Get Sick?
Good nutrition is still important if you catch a cold or influenza. Dr. Hark says that even when you are sick, you need to eat when you can. Focus on getting three meals per day, and don’t forget to keep eating lots of fruits and vegetables. It is important to get enough energy from the foods you eat while you are recuperating — you may not be running around and exerting much, but your body is working hard to get better. Hark also stresses the importance of preventing dehydration. Drink fluids throughout the day such as water and 100% juices. Tired of plain water? Add a splash of juice to water or seltzer for a little variety.
What Else You Can Do to Prevent Colds and Flu?
Eating a healthy diet is just part of the picture. Dr. Hark has other tips to help you stay healthy:
Wash your hands. Your hands come in contact with germs throughout the day. The best way to get rid of them is by washing your hands thoroughly. This is an important part of food safety, too. Wash your hands before preparing meals, after handing raw meats and before serving foods. Make sure everyone at the table has washed their hands, as well.
Get enough rest. The National Sleep Foundation tells us that most kids don’t get enough sleep, and many adults don’t either. When you don’t get enough sleep, you are more likely to get sick.
Get your flu shots. Dr. Hark says that it doesn’t matter whether you are young or old; getting a flu shot is a good way to prevent the flu. Vaccination is even more important for the elderly and people with respiratory conditions.
Get some exercise. There is strong evidence that people who exercise don’t get sick as often. Exercise is important all year, even in the dark and cold of winter. Dr. Hark suggests having a plan to keep active in the winter, such as walking on a treadmill, using exercise videos, jumping rope, or going to the gym. And don’t forget to bring your workout gear when you travel; many hotels have workout rooms and swimming pools.
Thanks to Dr. Hark’s suggestions, getting a cold or flu doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of winter.
June 9th, 2009 by Sterling
June Is Men’s Health Month
Raise awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men by celebrating Men’s Health Month.
Guys, your eating plan is a logical place to start when evaluating your health. One diet does not fit all. Men and women have different nutritional needs and body types. Up to about age 10, caloric needs for boys and girls are about the same, but then puberty triggers change. By following these five steps (and by consulting with a registered dietitian), you’ll be on your way to a healthier and possibly longer life.
1. Eat moderate amounts of a variety of foods. No single food has all (or enough) of the more than 40 nutrients you need. That’s why variety is so important. Follow My Pyramid to help select what foods and portions you should consume.
2. Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. That doesn’t mean eliminating meat, butter, cheese or egg yolks from your diet. It means you should diversify and focus on lower-fat foods. Cut the fat by:
· Choosing low-fat or nonfat milk and milk products, lean meat, fish, skinless poultry, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and foods that are baked, broiled, steamed or roasted
· Limiting margarine, butter, oils, shortenings, salad dressing, whole milk, regular cheese, fried foods and rich desserts.
3. Eat plenty of whole grains, vegetables and fruits. These foods supply carbohydrates and dietary fiber. The typical American man gets barely half the recommended amount of dietary fiber. Men who eat adequate amounts of fiber are less likely to suffer from constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticular disease. These foods also help control blood cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk of colon cancer. Adult men younger than 50 years old should consume 38 grams of fiber daily and men over the age of 50 should aim for 30 grams of fiber daily.
4. Shake the sodium and salt habit. Read food labels to find foods that are lower in sodium.
5. If you drink alcohol, moderation is the key. Alcoholic beverages are loaded with calories and offer few nutrients. For men, have no more than two drinks a day for optimal health. A single drink equals 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.