There are many important aspects of your life that affect your health and well-being. Improving one area, such as diet, exercise, sleep, physical surroundings, relaxation, and more, can not only benefit other areas, but also influence your overall physical, emotional, and mental health. In fact, when it comes to health and wellness, it’s the smallest and consistent efforts that bring the best results.
Please join Sherry DeWalt, CGH Health Foundation Healthy Lifestyles Coordinator and ACE Certified Health Coach, as she shares information and tips that will help you lead a better and healthy life. For questions, contact her at (815) 625-0400, ext. 5716.
8-12-21 - Aging Well
It’s my birthday month and that has me thinking about aging. I’d like to live a long, healthy life and enjoy many years of retirement. That’s my primary motivation for practicing a healthy lifestyle.
One of the best studies done on the effects of lifestyle on longevity was the Blue Zones project. This National Geographic expedition examined places around the world where people consistently live to be over 100 years old and remain healthy. A team of demographers, anthropologists, and scientists were able to identify common denominators, and the principle factors were distilled into healthy habits that anyone can practice. Here are a few of them:
- Move Naturally - The world's longest-lived people don't join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving. To incorporate more movement into your life consider taking the stairs, walking to appointments, parking farther from the store, and doing your own yard and housework.
- Know Your Purpose - Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. What are the things you like to do and the things you don't? Put your skills into action in ways that will add meaning to your life and the lives of others.
- Down Shift - Although everyone experiences stress, the world's longest-lived people have routines to shed that stress. Find a stress-relieving strategy that works for you and make it a routine.
- 80% Rule - Okinawan centenarians stop eating when their stomach is 80% full. People in the Blue Zones areas also eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then don't eat any more the rest of the day.
- Plant Slant - Most people in the Blue Zones only consume small amounts of meat on rare occasions and eat a rich array of fresh fruits and vegetables. The cornerstone of most centenarian diets is beans.
- Right Tribe - Research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness can be contagious. Surrounding yourself with the right friends will add years to your life.
- Belong - Most of the centenarians in the Blue Zones areas belonged to some kind of civic- or faith-based community.
My husband and I have been thinking a lot about retirement, and he recently completed a retirement savings calculator. I noticed that he set our life expectancy to 80 years old. I told him he had better break out his pencil again because I plan to be around a lot longer than that!
Enjoy past Beyond Trim Articles below:
I believe in eating produce when it’s in season. If it’s locally grown, that’s all the better! Eating fruits and vegetables grown close to where you live is when they are freshest, they taste best, and they are usually less expensive. Here in the Midwest that means: asparagus and baby greens in the Spring...corn, tomatoes, and watermelon in the summer...and apples, pumpkin, and nuts in the Fall. It’s tough to find fresh, locally grown produce in the winter around here, but a well-stocked freezer full of the summer’s bounty can get you through the cold months. In addition, winter is a good season for tropical fruits, like oranges, grapefruits, etc., and while not locally grown, they are readily available!
Changing up what we eat according to the season has another benefit. It means that we get a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, and that may be more important than you realize! Fiber-rich plant foods feed the healthy bacteria in our gut and make them multiply. Eating more fiber means more healthy bacteria. That’s a good thing, but some scientists wondered if it made a difference where the fiber came from. It turns out that increasing the variety of plants not only resulted in more good bacteria, but also a greater diversity of good bacteria!
So, the next time you are at the grocery store or the farmer’s market, seek out a fruit or vegetable that might not be familiar to you and give it a try! The more different fruits and vegetables you consume, the better...and you may just discover a new favorite!
Fresh, seasonal produce is one of the best things about summer in the Midwest. Here is a recipe that features some of my favorite summer vegetables. Best of all there is no cooking required!
Fresh Corn Salad
4 ears fresh corn on the cob, cleaned
1 (10.5 ounce) package grape tomatoes, halved
1 small zucchini cut into bite sized pieces
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground coarse black pepper
Combine lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper in the bottom of a medium mixing bowl and whisk together. Cut corn off the cob and add to the bowl. Add tomatoes, zucchini, feta, and basil. Toss to combine.
I have heard willpower described as "a muscle that can be strengthened with practice", but everything I read from experts on how the brain works leads me to believe that it’s more like a gas tank. In the morning, we start out with a full tank. Every time we make a decision, make a choice, or resist an impulse during the day, we use a little bit of our fuel. We don’t have a separate supply of will power for each activity in our life, so at the end of a busy day, we may not have the energy left to make good decisions about what to eat.
A good night’s sleep helps refill our willpower tank, but what if you could do something to increase your “miles per gallon”? People who are successful at following a healthy diet don’t necessarily have more will power than others...they have probably found ways to eliminate unnecessary decision making or make healthy choices easier.
We make dozens of decisions each day that involve food. What’s for breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? Should I order this, that, or the other thing? How much? We can eliminate many of these decisions by planning and preparing meals in advance. Sit down with your calendar once a week on a quieter day and decide what you will be eating. Write the meals on your calendar. Shop if you need to and prepare as much of the food in advance as possible. Planning even one meal per day means one less decision to make, and a little less stress. Cooking and cleaning up for the week instead of every day also makes your life easier.
Since any decision or choice you make affects your supply of will power, it makes sense to automate other things. For example, how much time do you spend deciding what to wear in the morning? “Geniuses” like Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg are among those who are known for wearing pretty much the same thing every day because it meant they did not have to make so many decisions. I’m not suggesting that you wear a black turtleneck every day, but simplifying your wardrobe is one other way to preserve your brain power.
Another fairly successful person once said “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing, because I have too many other decisions to make.” That guy was former President Barack Obama.
My friends and family know I’m a morning person. If the sun’s up, I am up, and often long before. My early bedtime is also well known. I’m also a firm believer in eating breakfast and in getting my exercise early in the day whenever I can.
Given that this pattern feels so very “right” and natural to me, I was intrigued to hear of research being done to determine whether the timing of meals, exercise, and other activities during the day has any effect on health markers. This field of study is called chronobiology. It looks at our biological rhythms and internal biological clocks (also known as circadian rhythms) that in part determine sleeping and waking patterns, energy availability, and energy usage.
One of the leading researchers in the field is Dr. Marta Garaulet-Aza, a Professor of Physiology and Nutrition at the University of Murcia, Spain. She holds a Master’s in Public Health from Harvard University and is a visiting professor in Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and in Nutrition and Genomics at Tufts University.
Dr. Garaulet-Aza’s recent research focuses on the treatment of obesity using chronobiology. In doing her research, she learned that the timing and calorie distribution of meals can affect food digestion, absorption, and metabolism and that certain meal patterns can be a good predictor of weight loss success. In two different studies, she and her colleagues found that eating a larger breakfast and a lighter supper resulted in significantly more weight loss among subjects. They also found that eating meals at odd times disrupts our circadian rhythms.
Other research supports the benefit of exercising early in the day, showing that it promotes healthier sleep and weight loss maintenance. Those who habitually exercise early in the day also seem to be more successful at maintaining a regular workout routine.
Chronobiology may also help us to understand the toll that shift work can take on those workers’ health. Shift workers have been shown to be at higher risk for weight gain, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Hormonal imbalances created by disrupted sleep patterns may be the contributing factor.
I think I will stick with my current routine. As the old saying goes, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I’ve got healthy going for me. Let’s hope the other two follow closely!
I try to eat whatever produce is in season, and there are a lot of advantages to that. For one thing, seasonal produce is at its peak of ripeness and flavor and because it’s plentiful when it’s in season, it is usually less expensive. Eating this way also guarantees that you eat a good variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the year.
One exception for me is berries. Berries are a priority because of their nutritional profile. They contain especially high amounts of vitamin C and other anti-oxidants that help to protect the cells in your body from wear and tear.
All berries are good sources of these compounds, and therefore I eat berries year-round. I put them in oatmeal, smoothies, pancakes, etc. During the fall and winter months, I resort to frozen berries, but when the spring and summer months roll around, I enjoy having access to fresh, locally grown strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
Speaking of berries and seasonal eating, I thought I would share a recipe for a frozen treat using strawberries. Although the recipe calls for a bit of sugar, it’s far less than the amount you might find in a commercial sorbet in your grocer’s freezer section. There is also no dairy, and no gums, fillers, preservatives, etc. I hope you’ll give it a try!
Strawberry Margarita Sorbet
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 cup water
Add sugar and water to small saucepan and stir together. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Makes about ¾ cup.
- Simple Syrup (the entire recipe from above)
- 4 cups fresh or frozen strawberries (if using frozen let them thaw at room temperature for a bit – they can still have some ice crystals.)
- Juice of one lime
Add the strawberries, syrup, and lime juice to food processor or blender. Pulse until strawberries are broken down but not “juiced”. This took 6 pulses in my food processor; it might take more or less for you. Pour mixture into a flat baking dish and freeze until edges are getting solid (1-2 hours). With a fork, scrape the frozen edges into the center and redistribute the mixture evenly. Return to freezer for another 1-2 hours until solid or until needed. To serve: Let sit at room temp for 20-30 minutes, until it’s “scoopable”.
You can watch me make this recipe on YouTube: https://youtu.be/nFaS7B-mk7U.
If you think drinking milk is the only thing you need to worry about you may be missing some of the connections between nutrition and bone health. Just like “the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone”, there are several nutrients that work together to maintain the health of your skeleton.
For example, everyone knows calcium is important, but did you know that the countries with the highest intake of milk have some of the highest incidence of hip fractures? It may be because milk contains other ingredients that interfere with bone health or it may be due to other factors. Regardless, there are lots of other great food sources of calcium like soy (edamame and tofu), sardines, cooked kale and collard greens, beans, prunes, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes. Also seeds and nuts, especially almonds, sesame, and chia.
And did you know that calcium needs vitamin D to be properly absorbed? You can get vitamin D from foods like mushrooms, beef liver, eggs, and fish. If you eat none of these things, your body will still make its own vitamin D with a little sun exposure.
There are many other vitamins and minerals that contribute to bone formation. To quote an article published by the National Institutes of Health “the process of bone formation requires an adequate and constant supply of nutrients, such as calcium, protein, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin D, potassium, and fluoride.”
You may be wondering how you can be sure to get all of those? A diet of whole fresh foods including lean meats and fish, plus plenty of fruit, greens, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds should give you all the nutrition you need without resorting to supplements. Eating a lot of fast food and processed food will not.
Good nutrition goes a long way, but other factors affect your bone health. Smoking and too much alcohol can contribute to bone loss. Certain medications may also interfere with optimum bone health.
And exercise is important. Muscle strengthening exercises (gardening, lifting weights) and load bearing exercises like yoga and walking should be emphasized. These kinds of exercise stimulate bone formation and can help improve your balance to reduce the risk of falls and fractures.
May is National Osteoporosis Awareness Month so it’s a good time to think about the health of your bones and what you can do to protect them. If you’re not bad to your bones, they will support you for a lifetime.
If you like to walk you are not alone. Among people who exercise regularly, walking is by far the most popular activity. There are good reasons for that. There’s a lot to be said for an exercise that can be done anywhere, at any time, by almost anyone, and doesn’t require a lot of equipment or special clothing.
Finding a place to walk is as easy as opening your front door, and while your neighborhood or local park are great for your daily walk, I thought I would focus on some lesser known trails. A couple of these would be excellent destinations for a longer weekend hike. Here are a few of my favorites:
Westwood Trails/Eberly Park – If you live in Sterling, you don’t have to go far for a walk in the woods. Just behind building #3 at the Sterling Park District’s Westwood Fitness Center is the access point for Westwood Trails. This paved trail makes a loop through the woods and around a small pond. To extend your walk you can follow an offshoot to Lynn Boulevard, cross the road at the new roundabout and take the sidewalk to Eberly Park where another unpaved trail winds through the wooded area. You can download a map of these two trails and others at www.sterlingparks.org/trails.
Joe Stengel Trail – This trail is part of the national Rails to Trails system and can be accessed in Woosung or Polo. Parking is available near the trailhead in both towns. The trail follows an old railroad bed, and it’s designated as multi-use, so may be used by walkers, bikers, horse riders, and in the wintertime by snowmobilers. This trail is not paved. The surface is mostly gravel and dirt, but it’s a nice smooth path with no hills; an easy walk for most people. You can find more information about the Stengel trail and other trails of this type at www.traillink.com .
The Nachusa Grasslands - Protected by The Nature Conservancy, the Nachusa Grasslands is a 3800 acre preserve consisting of prairie, woodlands, and wetlands. Volunteers work hard to protect this endangered eco-system, but the public can hike several trails of various lengths. There is parking at the information center and access to a couple of short trails from there. Other trails start in various locations. Another feature of the area is the bison herd which can sometimes be viewed from the roadside. Take binoculars! Visit www.nachusagrasslands.org for directions and to see a map of the trails.
Springtime is a great time to grab your shoes and a friend and head out the door to explore. I love to walk, so maybe I’ll see you out there!
We’ve all heard the term beer belly and most of us probably know somebody who has one. But does drinking beer (or any other form of alcohol) truly expand our waistline?
Simply put, our bodies store fat when we consume too many calories. Calories in food and non-alcoholic beverages come from protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Alcohol also contains calories (sometimes we forget this) but might be processed differently than other calorie sources.
Protein, carbohydrates, and fat provide essential nutrients that your body requires. Some protein is stored as muscle. Carbohydrate and fat are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle, and as fat in adipose tissue. Calories from alcohol do not provide any nutrients that the body requires but they do provide energy and the body can’t store alcohol. Your body also sees alcohol as a toxin and wants to get rid of it. it gives priority to processing alcohol first, giving it precedence over processing any food we might eat along with it, or even what we consume over the course of a day. That means that the other calories we consume become surplus to our daily requirements and this surplus gets turned into fat.
Alcohol can also affect blood sugar, keeping it low and keeping it lowered as the alcohol processes. Low blood sugar is a signal to your body to eat more or drink more. And because alcohol lowers our inhibitions it makes it harder for us to avoid eating or drinking too much.
Alcohol consumption and eating or drinking too many calories from any source can contribute to belly fat and it’s important to recognize that belly fat is a key predictor for some metabolic diseases. It may be just as important as cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure numbers.
To correctly measure your waist, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hipbones. Measure your waist just after you breathe out. Your risk for diabetes and heart disease goes up with a waist size that is greater than 35 inches for women or greater than 40 inches for men.
We all know that alcohol can cause more problems than just obesity. Since April is Alcohol Awareness Month it’s a good time to become more aware of our drinking habits and how they may affect our health.
Some women are obsessed with handbags. For me it’s all about shoes. I don’t even know how many pair I own, and I am afraid to count them. I do know how many pairs of running shoes, though. I recently found a brand I love so much that I donated all my old ones to a charity.
The shoes you wear for walking or running can make a big difference. Finding a shoe that fits, is right for the shape of your foot, and matches your activity can help to make your walks or runs more comfortable and help to prevent injury in the short and long term.
There are several factors to consider when shopping for shoes. Here are just a few:
Choose a shoe that’s designed for your activity: Running and walking shoes are made for forward movement so they shouldn’t be worn for sports involving side to side movement. Conversely, shoes made for training or dancing may not provide enough support for running or walking. And I always cringe when I see people walking any distance in flip flops, which should come with a warning label...something like “Unsafe at Any Speed.”
Consider the arch: Your feet may be flat or high-arched or somewhere in the middle. Shoes for flat feet are designed for stability and to control the motion of the foot so that it doesn’t roll. Shoes for normal arches also provide stability and have some cushioning to absorb shock. If you have high arches you will need a shoe with extra cushioning and a bit more flexibility. If you don’t know where your foot lies on this spectrum there’s an easy way to find out. Step onto some concrete or cardboard with bare, wet feet and look at your footprint. Flat feet leave a solid imprint with little, if any, curve at the instep; while a high arched foot might leave a print of only the ball of the foot and the heel.
The shape of your foot may also determine whether some shoe brands are a good fit for you. The length of your second toe, the width of your heel, etc. For example, I have a wide forefoot and a narrow heel, plus a bunion thanks to wearing high heels too much in my younger years (why don’t they tell us these things?!) Luckily, I found a shoe to accommodate.
Running and walking shoes should be replaced often; the American Podiatric Medicine Association suggests every 600-800 miles. Their website is also a good resource for helping you to select the proper footwear for any situation.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It’s also National Nutrition Month. The two may have a lot in common.
The American Institute for Cancer Research focuses on cancer prevention. Their research points to several dietary factors that could increase colorectal cancer (also called colon cancer) risk, including obesity, alcohol use, and consumption of red meat, processed meat, and fried foods.
What do these factors have in common? A key mechanism may be the role of chronic inflammation, which is big news in the research world as studies increasingly point to chronic inflammation as a factor not only in colon cancer and bowel diseases, but also other cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
Inflammation is your body’s first step in healing an injury or infection. This response is normally a short-term situation and is referred to as acute inflammation. On the other hand, chronic inflammation happens when this response gets turned up too high and hangs on well past its welcome.
When it comes to inflammation and diet, some foods only fuel the fire. Foods containing sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, and highly processed ingredients increase the level of inflammation in your body. Alcohol also increases inflammation. These foods also contribute to excess body weight which in and of itself has been shown to increase inflammation.
The evidence suggests that foods with dietary fiber, things like pulses (beans, peas, and legumes), whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds DECREASE the risk of colon cancer. Not surprisingly, dietary fiber helps to quell inflammation. And while fiber may have the most compelling evidence for reducing inflammation these foods contain other compounds that may also be at work.
Additionally, regular physical activity has been shown to reduce inflammation markers and lower colorectal cancer risk in general. It can also help to maintain a health body weight so don’t forget to make time for movement.
A healthy weight, a healthy diet, and regular exercise can go a long way to reducing your risk factor for colorectal cancer but don’t forget to ask your doctor about getting screened. The fight against colorectal cancer has made progress in recent years with growing awareness and participation in routine screenings but there is a disturbing trend, and this it the growing incidence of colon cancer in younger adults. The medical community is also concerned that many people have decided to forego screening during the pandemic which may result in undiagnosed and untreated cases.
Corned beef and cabbage get a lot of attention this time of year, but the potato is the real star of the Irish dinner plate. In fact, potatoes were once such a staple in Ireland that the potato famine of the mid 1800’s, also known as “The Great Hunger”, when a fungus destroyed much of the crop for several years in a row, resulted in the death of over 1 million peasants and the migration of up to a million more citizens to other countries.
As with Ireland, the potato is also a staple in the United States. In fact, it is the most widely consumed vegetable. Unfortunately, most people eat them in the unhealthiest forms possible.
That’s too bad because potatoes are very nutritious. They are a good source of potassium, and surprisingly high in vitamin C. They are a source of insoluble fiber, and while their protein content is low compared to some other plants, the protein they contain is of high quality. They contain no fat, no cholesterol, and no sodium.
Potatoes are sometimes misunderstood as a food that can contribute to weight gain. As with most whole, unprocessed carbohydrates, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Potatoes are low in calories and the fiber and water content makes them very satisfying. Diets that include potatoes and other starchy vegetables can be helpful for those trying to manage their weight. One proponent of this low fat, starch-centered diet is Dr. John McDougall if you would like to do some research.
It’s all in how the potato is prepared - so skip the chip and forego the fries! It’s best to enjoy your potatoes baked, boiled, or roasted. Cooking them whole with the skin on not only helps to preserve the vitamin content, it also saves you some time in the kitchen! And consuming the skin adds to the filling effect of the potato, while providing additional fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
I encourage you to put a potato on your plate this St. Patrick’s Day and on other days as well. Boil small new potatoes along with your cabbage and carrots, or roast them in the oven. Enjoy a baked potato with a small amount of Irish butter. Or try the traditional Irish dish of Colcannon Potatoes, a mixture of mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale.
I’ll leave you with the words of an old Irish blessing, “Be eating a potato, peeling a potato, have two potatoes in your hand, and an eye on two more on the table.”
Maybe you bought a card, or flowers, or chocolate for someone on Valentine’s Day but there’s another way you can show that you care for your loved ones (and anyone else you come in contact with) during the month of February and beyond.
February is American Heart Month, when we raise awareness of heart disease, the number 1 killer of Americans. I am writing this on President’s Day, so it seems appropriate to mention that the first American Heart Month was declared in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had suffered a heart attack.
While we tend to focus on prevention during Heart Month, there is another important consideration when it comes to preserving heart health, and that is learning the early signs of a heart attack. Recognizing the signs and seeking treatment early on can help to prevent damage to the heart muscle and improve the chances for survival.
Early Heart Attack Care™ (EHAC®) education is a public awareness campaign created by Dr. Raymond Bahr. The primary goal of EHAC is to promote awareness that heart attacks have "beginnings" that can occur weeks before the actual attack. EHAC focuses on intervention during these beginnings to help prevent heart attack and cardiac arrest. The second goal of EHAC is to teach the public that individuals with heart attack symptoms must be evaluated and treated in an emergency department (ED) or Chest Pain Center.
Not every heart attack displays the same symptoms, and many people ignore the early signs. Early heart attack symptoms can include:
- shortness of breath without exertion
- discomfort or pain in the chest, neck, shoulders, arms, or jaw, and
- feelings of anxiety or impending doom.
The EHAC education campaign asked people to become familiar with these harbingers, to watch for them in themselves and others, and to make the following pledge:
"I understand that heart attacks have beginnings and on occasion, signs of an impending heart attack may include chest discomfort, shortness of breath, shoulder and/or arm pain, and weakness. These may occur hours or weeks before the actual heart attack. I solemnly swear that if it happens to me or anyone I know, I will call 9-1-1 or activate our Emergency Medical Services."
It's important to note that in most cases, heart disease is preventable when people adopt a healthy lifestyle, which includes not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol, treating high blood pressure, getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week and getting regular checkups.
Failing that, if we can recognize and address a potential heart attack early on, it gives someone a second chance at improving their heart health without more serious consequences.
It’s February and Valentine’s Day is close at hand. For many people (me included) that means chocolate! You may have heard that chocolate has some potential health benefits, but since February is also Heart Month, I should point out that by eating a lot of chocolate you also end up consuming quite a bit of fat and sugar. Not so healthy for your heart.
Chocolate begins with the seed of the cacao tree. The seeds are fermented, dried, cleaned, and then roasted. The shell of the bean gets removed to make cacao nibs, which are ground into pure chocolate, usually in liquid form (chocolate liquor). The liquor might then get further processed to separate into cocoa butter and cocoa solids. The cocoa butter is a saturated fat, the kind that raises our bad cholesterol and may also depress your good cholesterol.
Chocolate liquor and cocoa butter are used to make chocolate bars, chips, etc. Dark chocolate has the highest concentration of cocoa liquor, plus cocoa butter and sugar. Milk chocolate has those ingredients plus milk or milk powder. White chocolate has no cocoa liquor at all, only sugar, cocoa butter and milk or milk powder.
While most of the chocolate we eat is in the form of sweets, there is one way to get the health benefits of the cacao bean without the baggage of fat and sugar and that is in the form of cocoa powder. Cocoa powder has had much of the cocoa butter removed, so it’s mainly cocoa solids. It contains a fair amount of fiber which is good for our gut health. It also contains compounds called flavonols, which scientific studies have shown to help lower blood pressure and improve the health of your blood vessels. Some research has even shown that one of these flavonols may improve brain health.
Cocoa powder can be used in many ways that don’t necessarily require a lot of sugar. I like to add it to my oatmeal along with frozen cherries and blended dates. I make smoothies with very ripe frozen bananas, cocoa powder, and almond milk. Cocoa powder can also be used in savory dishes. I’ve added it to my chili recipe on occasion and the chicken mole on the menu at Mexican restaurants is another example.
I enjoy a piece of dark chocolate on occasion as a special treat, but I always have a bag of good quality cacao powder in the pantry and use it often.
I ran across my first-grade report card once, and I was somewhat surprised to see that I got a C+ in reading. Now that I think about it; it wasn’t until the 4th grade at Montmorency School when Mrs. Hunter read books to us in class that I got hooked. After that, I was the kid that read everything including the cereal box while I ate my breakfast. Turns out it was good practice for what I do now.
Most of us eat things that come in bags, boxes, or other packages. Some, if not many, of those foods are not very good for us. Sadly, soda and chips are always on the best seller list. And while some packaged foods are obviously unhealthy, what should we look for to make better choices?
You can’t always go by the front of the package. Like the dust jacket on the latest best seller that’s meant to draw you in, you can’t judge a food by its cover. Some of the claims on the front of the package might be considered almost fictional, i.e. some cereals that advertise “whole grains” contain a tiny percentage of actual whole grain compared to refined.
So, how do you distinguish between the food equivalents of trashy romance novels and foods that would be better for your body and your brain? Enter the nutrition facts label. The nutrition facts label is strictly non-fiction. It tells you pretty much exactly what’s in the package, and if you read carefully, you can steer away from the worst packaged foods. Here are some tips:
- Avoid products that have a long list of ingredients or ingredients that you can’t identify or pronounce. Chemicals in the form of artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and fillers may cause health issues.
- Packaged foods are notoriously high in sodium, and a high sodium diet contributes to high blood pressure, stroke, stomach cancers, and kidney disease. Most of us should be eating less than 1500mg per day. If the milligrams of sodium per serving are higher than the number of calories per serving, it’s probably too much.
- Trans fats and saturated fats lead to clogged arteries. Avoid products that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil, palm oil, or coconut oil.
- Some sugar is found naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains, but manufacturers add sugar to many packaged products, and added sugars can really add up. Some labels now separate added sugar from naturally occurring sugar. Just keep in mind that 4g of sugar equals one teaspoon.
One of my favorite quotes comes from well-known children’s author Tomie dePaola who said, “Reading is important, because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything.” Reading food labels can help you learn how to improve your diet and your health.
One of the trends I’ve noticed with the COVID situation is the number of people who have welcomed a new canine into their family. I totally get it. Our dog will be 16 years old this month and since we don’t have any children, he’s pretty much the center of our world. He makes our life better in so many ways, despite being a bit more high-maintenance than he once was.
There are many ways that owning a pet can enhance your life, not the least of them having to do with your health. According to the CDC, some of the health benefits of owning a pet include:
- Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
- Decreased blood pressure
- Decreased cholesterol levels
- Decreased triglyceride levels
- Decreased feelings of loneliness
- Increased opportunities for socialization
As you can see the health benefits include both physical and mental. Dogs need regular exercise and walking a dog gives you the opportunity to be more active and spend quality time with them. The exercise alone can lead to the better blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Many people don’t realize that the same health markers are also affected by stress. Pet ownership can alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation that contribute to our stress levels.
When it comes to your pet’s health, they need sufficient activity, to be fed properly, and not overfed. Obese animals can develop health complications like arthritis, heart disease, and cancers (just like obese humans!)
If your budget or living situation doesn’t allow you to have a dog of your own, there are still ways to enjoy dogs and the attendant health benefits. Volunteer at your local animal shelter; the dogs there need walks and companionship as much or more so than family pets. If you have a friend or family member who can’t get out of the house, you can volunteer to walk their dog for them. Pet sitting for friends, neighbors, or family members in your home or theirs is another way to enjoy pets without committing to one of your own.
Whether you’re a new dog owner or one with lots of experience please recognize the health implications of poor diet and lack of physical activity for yourself and your pet. As for the cat owners out there, I recently read that some cats might be trained to walk on a leash and enjoy it. I’m skeptical, but hey, it’s worth a try.
When it comes to holiday decorations, I like the classic combination of red and green and it occurred to me that those were also great colors to focus on if you are trying to eat healthier.
I’ll start with the greenery. Dark green leafy vegetables might just be the healthiest food on earth, and we should try to include them in our diet on a daily basis. Besides being very light in calories (i.e. two cups of baby spinach has less than 20 calories), they are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
One of the most beneficial aspects of consuming greens is that they create nitric oxide as they are chewed. Nitric oxide is a gas that acts as a vasodilater. That means that it keeps the walls of your blood vessels healthy and flexible; allowing them to expand and contract more easily. This helps with your blood pressure and helps to resist the formation of cholesterol plaques.
Choose dark green leafies like spinach, collard greens, swiss chard, broccoli, romaine lettuce, turnip greens, arugula, kale, bok choy, and brussels sprouts and try to eat a variety. You gain an added benefit with leafy vegetables that are also cruciferous (kale, arugula, brussels sprouts) as cruciferous vegetables contain cancer fighting chemicals.
A daily salad is a great way to get your greens, or you can add a side of broccoli or Brussels sprouts to any meal. I also like to add baby spinach to smoothies, mashed potatoes, and spaghetti sauce.
On the red side of the equation, it’s the berries that move to the top of the list. Like the greens, they are light in calories and high in fiber. The dark red (or purple, or blue) color of berries indicates the presence of anthocyanins, a family of pigments that have been studied and show proven health benefits. Anthocyanins are cell protective, antimicrobial, improve visual health, and neurological health.
At this time of the year cranberries are a natural, but the highest concentration of these chemicals may be found in the darkest berries like blueberries and blackberries. And while we don’t think of them as berries, cherries and grape contain these compounds as well. Other red/purple foods that contain anthocyanins include red cabbage and purple potatoes.
Whether it’s fresh or frozen it’s easy to eat berries in some way every day. Add to oatmeal or cereal, toss in salads, or eat a handful as a snack. And if you’d like a recipe for a sugar free cherry/cranberry sauce, head to the CGH website and look for the What’s Cooking CGH videos on our YouTube channel, or click here.
I hope I’ve inspired you to include healthy green and red foods in your diet. They are truly the gift that keeps on giving in terms of your health.
Thanks to a relatively mild fall many of us were able to get outside more than normal and that’s a good thing. You can be sure that there will be many cold days ahead though, and I want to suggest that you get outside, however briefly, even on those days when you are tempted to cuddle up by the fire.
One of the less well-known benefits of spending time outdoors is the effect it has on our sleep patterns. Light exposure plays an important part in our circadian rhythm of sleep and wakefulness. Thanks to electricity, many of us spend hours each day in well-lit environments but the daylight from the sun is far more intense than electric lighting. Getting outside, especially in the morning, can help to keep your internal clock in sync. If you can find a sheltered spot facing the sun on a front porch or patio you might be surprised at how pleasant it is to take your coffee outside in the morning and how it improves your sleep at night.
If you like to exercise outdoors there can be benefits to doing so in colder weather. According to an article in Harvard Men’s Health Watch, cold weather may improve endurance because your heart does not have to work as hard, you sweat less, and expend less energy. Some studies have also shown that exercise in cold weather can transform fat found in the belly and thighs to “brown fat” which is more metabolically active, meaning it uses more calories. And, if you typically exercise early in the day you can get the dual benefit of that morning daylight.
And of course, one of the best reasons this year for spending time outdoors is that outdoor activities can pose a lower risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus. When you are outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing the respiratory droplets that contain the virus. It’s not foolproof, so if you can’t maintain enough distance from others then be sure to wear a mask.
I jumped into a lake in the middle of winter several years ago as a participant in a “polar plunge” charity event. The water temperature that day was 37 degrees. I planned on it being a once in a lifetime experience and I haven’t changed my mind about that. I do, however, plan to spend more time outside this winter and hope that you will consider joining me.
At a wellness conference a couple of years ago I attended a session on sleep, and it was one of the most impactful messages I heard and still remember to this day. Since we’re a couple of weeks past moving our clocks back an hour, I hope it’s not too late for you to consider using that “extra” hour to focus on getting more sleep.
The presenter at the conference was Dr. Param Dedhia, formerly of Johns Hopkins and now director of sleep medicine at the Canyon Ranch Wellness Center in Tucson, AZ. Dr. Dedhia went into great detail about what happens in our brain and body during the various stages of sleep and how important it is for us to get 7-9 hours of good, quality sleep each night.
According to Dr. Dedhia, during the first few hours of sleep, when your sleep is deepest, your body is focused on physical repair. Growth hormones and proteins are released to repair and regenerate muscles. Inflammation is reduced and the lymphatic systems clears damaging substances. This is also when your brain transfers memory from short term storage to long term storage.
During the latter hours of sleep is when you experience dreaming. Dream sleep rules your emotions and this is when your brain clears negative thoughts like fear and anxiety. This may also be the time when creativity and problem solving are enhanced.
Getting enough of both deep and dream sleep keeps us feeling great physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you have trouble sleeping enough, or don’t get good quality sleep the first thing you might try it to improve your “sleep hygiene”. Good sleep habits include:
- • Going to bed at the same time each night, and getting up at the same time each morning.
- • Making sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
- • Removing electronic devices (television, phone, computer) from the bedroom.
- • Avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime
- • Being physically active during the day.
If none of these seem to help it may be worthwhile to visit with your doctor and see if a sleep study is in order.
I’ve heard people say jokingly that they can sleep when they’re dead. According to Dr. Dedhia sleep deprivation will kill you sooner that food deprivation. For that reason, it might be more important than you think to focus on your sleep.
If you are having problems with arthritis, depression, blood sugar, or blood pressure your doctor might prescribe a medication that will help with your symptoms. But what if there was a way you could help to alleviate your pain and manage these symptoms without the meds? You might consider reaching for your sneakers instead of the pill bottle.
Arthritis - A favorite saying of one of my favorite local physicians is “motion is lotion”. He’s referring to the fact that people with arthritis can benefit from low impact activities like walking and swimming to keep joints flexible and lubricated. And strength training can assist with joint strength and stability in arthritis sufferers. Flexibility, joint lubrication, and strength translates to less pain and the ability to do more.
Depression - You might think that depression causes people to be less active, but researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) did a study that suggested the reverse. Their finding showed that physical inactivity and poor sleep contributed to depression symptoms and suggests that exercise could be used as a strategy to change mood states.
Blood Sugar - Several studies have looked at the effects of exercise on blood sugar and show a correlation between physical activity and a lower risk of developing diabetes. A key study recently showed that the timing of exercise may be significant. In that study better blood sugar control was achieved by taking a 10-minute walk after every meal as compared to one daily walk of longer duration.
Blood Pressure – High blood pressure or hypertension is the leading risk factor for death worldwide. A number of studies have demonstrated the benefits of exercise on both the systolic and diastolic measures of blood pressure. The reduction in systolic blood pressure has even been shown to last for up to 24 hours after exercising.
These four illnesses are just a few that can be improved with a regular dose of physical activity. The Centers for Disease control suggest that adults get at least 150 minutes each week of moderate intensity physical activity. That breaks down to just 30 minutes a day. If you have the time and the ability to do more, you might want to consider it as more activity (up to 90 minutes a day) has been shown to increase the benefit. And whatever form of physical activity you can do will work. Walking, biking, swimming, dancing, or lifting weights are some to consider.
The scientific research into exercise and its effect on our health may be fairly recent, but the knowledge of its benefits goes back a long way. The Greek philosopher Hippocrates, (460-337 b.c.) also known as the “Father of Medicine”, is famously quoted as saying “Walking is man’s best medicine!”