good food

Protect Your Heart: Diet, Exercise, and Weight Loss

Congestive Heart Failure. Myocardial Infarction. Hypertension.

These are a bunch of scary words for conditions that can arise when our diets lack balance. But if you’re here, you’ve already taken the first step toward prevention – you’re looking for an answer to the question “What can I do to keep myself healthy?” … So congratulate yourself!

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It looks tough and strong, but it really needs your help!

There are a lot of bits of information out there, telling us how to improve our diets. However, current evidence points to a few factors that dietetics and science believe to be true about decreasing risk for certain heart health related conditions. If you have been told by a physician that you have high blood pressure or hypertension, or that you are at risk for developing heart failure (or CHF) or of having a heart attack, you may find this information helpful.

 

1. Weight Loss

One of the most basic things you can do for yourself to decrease your risk for heart disease is making sure you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Here is a link to a BMI calculator – you can input your height and weight, and the calculator will tell you your Body Mass Index, or BMI. This number is what clinicians sometimes use as a way of assessing whether your weight is in a healthy range for your height. The goal is to have a BMI greater than 18.5, and less than 24.9. If your BMI is 25 or greater, this is classified as overweight. If your BMI is 30 or greater, this is considered obese. The higher your BMI clocks in above 25, the greater your risk for developing heart disease.

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The topic of weight loss is all around us, and everyone wants to know the answer for how to shed pounds. Well, I have the answer RIGHT HERE. It’s not a pill. It’s not a powder you add to your weight loss shake. It’s not a superfood, or a magic berry, or anything some mad scientist crafted in his underground layer. It’s three words: BALANCE. VARIETY. MODERATION.

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I know, it’s not that exciting right away. But think of it this way: you get to eat WHATEVER YOU WANT! Just utilize portion control, and try to vary your choices. Now it sounds kind of great, right?

The other thing you can focus on that will help with weight loss, and has been proven to benefit those at risk for heart disease is increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables. Not only are these low-calorie, high-fiber options (a perfect recipe for healthy weight loss), but the minerals in most of the foods in these two food groups have been shown to help reduce blood pressure.

And, of course, get up and MOVE! I know the term “exercise” can sound truly unappealing to many. But remember – as long as you’re moving, your body can’t tell whether you’re at the gym on a treadmill, walking around the mall, or putting away laundry in different areas of the house. The point is, if you get moving, your body will thank you. Remember that ANY type of movement can count as physical activity!

Some of my favorite ways to get moving:

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Yoga

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Walks

Stretching

Dancing!

So, maybe you don’t need to lose weight, but your doctor has told you you’re still at risk. So what else can you do to protect yourself, and make sure you’re around for all the exciting things in the futures of you and your loved ones? Keep reading…

2. Reduce Sodium

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Sodium is a tricky bugger. You have probably heard it said before – it is in EVERYTHING. If you pick up any processed food product (basically anything in a package), the chances are high that on the nutrition label, next to “Sodium,” you will see a number of at least 150 mg, but often much more than that. Some prepared meals have over 1000 mg, which delivers almost 100% of what many of us need in a whole day in just one meal. The best way to cut back on sodium, and to promote not only weight loss but overall good health as well, is to stick to a diet made up of mostly whole foods. What I mean by whole foods is this: the next time you’re at the grocery store, walk around the perimeter first. See if you can stock up on only foods like fruits, veggies, lean meats, and whole grains. By avoiding the center aisles, you’ll avoid foods like chips, cookies, candy, frozen treats, and even the sneaky items like crackers and some cereals and bread products. Another scary carrier of major sodium is canned foods. Soups and canned vegetables can have a very large amount of sodium per serving. If canned soups are a big part of your current diet, try keeping it to 1 per day, and maybe choosing a reduced sodium version. In terms of vegetables, fresh or frozen is best, but if you must get canned, rinse them before eating or cooking – it will remove a significant amount of sodium!

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Aiming for a colorful diet is a great way to ensure nutritional variety!

Here is a map of a standard grocery store layout. See how all the fresh food is on the perimeter, with most of the processed items in the center aisles?

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Another thing you can try is not adding salt to food when cooking at home, and not adding salt to meals after they are prepared, either at home or when eating out. Additionally, eating at home almost always provides you with less sodium, and better overall nutrition than eating out does. If you’re feeling like your food is bland without salt, try some salt alternatives like Mrs. Dash, or experiment with different salt-free seasonings and herbs.

mrs-dashJust a few of your options…

But be careful of salt substitutes like NuSalt that are made up mostly of the nutrient Potassium. Our bodies need this nutrient, but too much of it can cause heart attacks. So check with your doctor before trying it!

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Some examples of potassium-containing salt subs – remember, ASK YOUR DOC!

3. Balance your diet to reduce high fat items

So we really are passed the low fat diet craze that bummed many people out through the 80s and 90s. But there is some merit in watching the fat you consume! The thing to remember is to keep it balanced. Enjoy whole foods, and try to enjoy healthy fat sources. These can include avocado, olive oil (and olives), wild fish, and nuts. Just remember – fat contributes a lot of calories per gram, so even when eating healthy fats, limit portions so as not to overshoot your calories for the day.

Sources of saturated fats—the ones you should eat in moderation (even more so than the healthy ones)—include butter, vegetable oils (particularly when used to deep fry), and high-fat meats (like rib eye steaks, bacon, etc). A good rule of thumb: if a fat is solid at room temperature, like butter, it’s likely a saturated fat, and in excess, may lead to heart disease.

4. Heart Failure Information

If your doctor has told you that you are at risk for congestive heart failure, or CHF, you may really benefit from observing the recommendations above. Another thing to remember is to monitor your weight, even if you are not trying to lose. This is important because, if you go into heart failure, your body begins to retain fluid. If you are at risk, try to weigh yourself daily. If your weight goes up 1-2 lbs in 1 day, or 5 lbs in 1 week, contact your doctor immediately, as this could indicate heart failure.

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The best thing you can do for your health is to try to implement one healthy habit today. So, what will you do? Eat an extra serving of fruit or veggies? Maybe go for a walk? Or decide on a lower sodium alternative to something high in salt you normally eat?

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Yumm, right?!

I would love to hear how you’re implementing these changes to improve your health and quality of life, and to keep you on this Earth a little (or a LOT) longer.

What will you change today?!

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Build a Better Burger: National Cheeseburger Day!

WHAT? Today is NATIONAL CHEESEBURGER DAY?! Sweet. Well, I think in honor of this grand event, I’ll talk a little bit about how to eat a SMARTER BURGER. Below, a few tips.

1.Enjoy yourself!

I am here, as a soon-to-be dietitian, advocating that it is not only OK to eat a burger from time to time—I’m in fact letting you know that there are actually BENEFITS to red meat. It is true that you can get the iron, vitamin B12, and protein for which red meat is so famed from other sources. So if you do not prefer red meat, you CAN save yourself from deficiency. Keep an eye on my Nutrient Spotlight page for updates on that. However, if you are a fan of beef, it is an extremely bioavailable source of iron—meaning your body absorbs it more easily than it does from other sources (e.g. leafy greens). And iron-deficiency anemia happens to be the most common and widespread nutrient deficiency worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. So don’t pour on the guilt—congratulate yourself for making a good choice that will provide your body with a ton of nutrients

2. Go Grass-Fed and Local

There is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the meat industry, and it’s often difficult to decipher what to avoid, and what is mainly hype. A safe bet is to choose local meats as much as possible, and look for organic grass-fed beef. This will ensure that the cows destined to be your burger were fed a diet that their gut could understand and break down properly, and that the animals weren’t treated with hormones or anything not naturally occurring in the animal already.

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Happy cows come from….

3. Dress It Up Right

Many foods become demonized, thwarting high levels of not-so-good-for-us nutrients, and are forced to wear the diet-version of a “Scarlet Letter.” However, sometimes it’s not the food itself that has so many adverse effects as much as what goes with the food. Moderate amounts of ketchup and mustard (think: 1 Tablespoon) are great additions to a burger. But to get more nutrient bang for you calorie buck, try taking out high saturated fat condiments like mayonnaise to be replaced with avocado. It will introduce an interesting new texture to your burger, as well as some serious creamy goodness! And avocados provide healthy fats that are required for every day bodily functions, and can help prevent heart disease and inflammation, in addition to cancer-fighting antioxidants. Avos can also have a fab effect on hair, skin, and nails. It should be mentioned, however, that due to this super food’s high fat content (although it’s the GOOD KIND), avocados are high in calories, and should still be consumed in moderation.

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Those are some delicious looking antioxidants.

ALSO—pile on as many veggies as you can! No reason to stop at the standard lettuce-onion-tomato. Through some peppers on your grill, and stack them on your burger. The hot ones have major metabolic benefits. Any non-starchy veg would probably go great on a burger—experiment! And let me know what works and what doesn’t!

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One more note (as it is nat’l CHEESEburger day)… Cheese is a great source of calcium, and provides protein as well. I will admit to being an absolute cheese lover. But it’s a food to moderate, as it typically contains high amounts of saturated fat and sodium. Some cheeses are available in part-skim versions–go for those whenever possible. Or just enjoy a smaller amount of a full fat version. Either way–ENJOYMENT is very important!

4. Choose Your Bun Wisely

Not only can you pack an extra serving of veggies into your burger, but you can even utilize this meal as a chance to squeeze in an extra serving of whole grains. When at the store, all the choices we’re given in which to wrap our patties can certainly overwhelm a person. The simplest rule for choosing whole grains is this: the VERY FIRST INGREDIENT should read: WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR. If it doesn’t, it’s not a true whole grain.

Examples:

images-3^Whole Grain

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^Not a whole grain (the first ingredient is ENRICHED FLOUR)*

*I know this is a confusing topic. Please feel free to email me (samfink14@gmail.com) or comment with any questions.

If you’re not a bread lover, you can even wrap your burger in a lettuce wrap. I’d recommend choosing darker romaine leaves over iceberg—the darker your veggie leaves, the more nutrients they contain. But don’t be afraid of a few carbs—they can provide much-needed fiber, as most of us don’t get what we need from our diets.

If you’re trying to avoid red meat, or prefer a more plant-based diet, you can always go for a veggie burger! Just make sure you’re not replacing a beef burger with something that’s highly processed, because health-wise you are doing yourself no favors with that choice. Your best bet may be to make one at home using whole ingredients. Here’s a recipe for one that uses LENTILS (a great plant source of protein)! You may also see beans used, and any other starchy protein. I actually was recently at a restaurant that served a veggie burger made of quinoa and beets! If you prefer to purchase a packaged version, check the ingredients list, and choose one with a short list of ingredients, and words you can pronounce. Watch the sodium level on these items as well.

And remember–as with all things–moderation is key. A burger every once in a while can provide you with major benefits. But one every day may result in lethargy, fluid retention, high cholesterol, and weight gain. So have a happy National Cheeseburger Day! And enjoy yourself!!

Week 1: Orientation

Week 1 of my dietetic internship has officially been completed. This past week has been filled with too much information, not enough sleep, and some seriously tasty Southern BBQ (note: if ever in Atlanta, go to Bone Lick!). I also had the opportunity to meet and get to know my incredible fellow Morrison Chartwells interns. While there is some sadness about having to leave, and not getting to spend more time with new friends, I have no doubt that we will remain a strong support system for one another.

Here, an abridged recap of the week:

Day 0: My flight arrived into Atlanta from San Francisco at 9:00pm Monday night. Completely out of chronological whack, I remained awake late enough to meet my roommate for the upcoming week as she arrived around 1am (which felt like only 10pm). After some extended introductions, we turned in, both eager and terrified for what the week had to bring.

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Ready to go…

Day 1: The morning went leisurely, as we did not begin orientation until noon. Little did we know how much we would long for the liberty of having those morning hours back throughout the week. Our first day was… let’s face it… basic and boring. All logistics–things we all know, but need to hear again. Adjourning at 5pm, my roommate (who I already miss!) and I joined some of her local friends for a Braves game (they won! … don’t shun me, Dodger fam), and the BEST BBQ and jalapeño-bacon mac & cheese I have EVER had. My introduction to the Southern United States did not disappoint.

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Outfitted in Business Cas for Day #1

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Still surreal…

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Everything in moderation–including beer!!

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OH! And did I mention they put us up on the JUMBOTRON??? All we had to do was agree to air guitar when relief pitcher Kimbrel walked onto the field, as Welcome to the Jungle was played. Check out the video here! Embarrassing? Yes. Worth it? Totally.

Day 2: Wednesday captivated our interest just a bit more–and also managed to spike our cortisol levels significantly. Today we learned more about our School Nutrition Management rotation, of which I will personally not have the pleasure until mid-February. Chartwells is the sector of our overarching company (Compass Group) that oversees K-12 school accounts. Throughout the day we heard lectures from a number of accomplished (and YOUNG!) people in the field of dietetics who happen to be a major component of the Morrison Chartwells program. We were introduced to the inter-workings of the company, and taught who does what from Directors to Regional RDs to Resident Dietitians. We had the pleasure of being introduced to the Morrison CEO, followed by an introduction to the Cornell Plate Waste Study through the university’s B.E.N. (Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs) Center in which we will be participating. Cue 35 Type-A stress-induced heart attacks. As we learned about what would be involved in this study, and what our responsibilities would include, many of us began to panic at the sheer magnitude of information we would need to be collecting. The study basically focuses on how much food is being thrown out in schools across the country. After a solid hour-and-a-half or so of rapid-fire questions, and confusion-inducing answers, we were reassured that, as important as our contributions were, we were but a “data point” on the B.E.N. Center’s graphs, and an error did NOT in fact indicate epic failure. After learning as much more as we possibly could about our School Nutrition Management rotation, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up for a group dinner at Sage. We looked forward to some fun after such a rough day!

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Our yummy desserts… And the “Sage” in the olive oil above is written in Balsamic!

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Me, with the best roommate ever!

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Day 3: Thursday was the day I both looked forward to and had been dreading. It was the much anticipated CLINICAL NUTRITION DAY! Bright and early at 7:30am, we all met at the office, and began guzzling down mediocre coffee (sorry, Compass group–it is what it is). Each of us had worked LONG hours completing to the best of our abilities four clinical modules: General Medicine, Cardiovascular, Endocrine, and Renal. Although a thorough review was expected, we were greeted with a game of clinical nutrtion Jeopardy instead! Fortunately I am a total Jeopardy (and nutrition) NERD, and didn’t mind this at all. We concluded the day with FOUR HOURS of information from Abbott Labs, the company who provides many of the enteral nutrition (tube feeds) and supplements that are often used in clinical as well as non-clinical settings. Some of the products we learned about and/or had the opportunity to taste included Ensure (we tried Clear and Complete), Glucerna, Vital, and Pediasure.

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Above squiggly line: end of day. Below: new day. The difference between tired and awake.

We adjourned slightly early around 4:30pm, at which point most of us headed out to the vans that had been transporting us throughout the week. I stayed after for what I thought would be a few minutes to chat with the internship director, Karen. Unfortunately, a situation arose that could have been easily avoided with the implementation of the BUDDY SYSTEM, and I was left behind!

Karen politely offered to take me back to the hotel, and it turned out to be a great opportunity to get to know my director a bit more in the short time we had together.

That evening, four other interns and I decided to experience Atlanta the best we could during our limited stay; we hit the town with some friends of one of the interns, learning some more about the city’s delicious food and nightlife!

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A beautiful Southern evening.

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On our way!

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5 of us at a great taqueria–amazing fried pickles and jalapeños!

Knowing how much we might regret our decisions to be out late the night before our travels home, we gladly owned our choices, and arrived back to the hotel just in time for a solid 4 or so hours of sleep.

Day 4: Our FINAL DAY commenced around 6:30am, as we needed to pack our bags, check out, and make it to the office in casual Friday wear for some last-minute information by 8:00. After scarfing down my last complimentary breakfast (courtesy of Staybridge Suites), we crammed those of us remaining at the hotel into a van along with each of our sets of luggage, and enjoyed one last ride together.

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Still unclear on the reasoning for limes at the breakfast buffet, always next to the coffee… Insight, anyone?

We learned about our Long Term Care rotation, and had a nice long lecture on wellness coaching and motivational interviewing. We were able to close things up early around 1:30pm or so, at which point we all said our goodbyes and migrated to MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) to head toward the airport.

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On the way we got a solid last peak into the ways of the urban south, as we were graced with a man shouting the gospel at us on the train (rather inaccurately, per my friend who knows the Word pretty solidly). Fortunately, we were all rescued by this guy:

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We made it to the airport, and said last goodbyes as we boarded our respective flights, and I prepared for the long hours I would spend sitting in a seat in the sky.

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I like to make fun, but seriously SO GLAD I bought this…

After a long half day of travel, I finally made it back, safe and sound, to my very favorite place: home to San Francisco. I have wrestled with some regret over applying to a distance program, and feeling as if I may be missing out on the “real” dietetic intern experience. But after this week, learning what an incredible program I am lucky to be a part of, I could not be more excited to get to remain in the first place I have truly loved living, and have felt as if I fit. I love this city, and all of the diverse experiences it offers. Sorry, San Francisco–you’re stuck with me!

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And made it home just in time for the uncharacteristically beautiful weather! And also for a date night with my favorite guy on the planet :).

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Sandals? What??

Now, time to get myself re-situated, and ready to begin my clinical rotation at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland TOMORROW!

Stay tuned for updates on what I am sure is to be an eventfully crazy week.

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Great group! Morrison Chartwells 2013-2014

P.S. My Instagram is @realfoodisthebest. Follow for more like this blog!

Weight Loss Weapon: The Big Mac

Browsing Yahoo! News a few weeks ago, I came across the following article:

http://news.yahoo.com/mcdonalds-ceo-lost-weight-being-160332002.html

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Brief synopsis: CEO of McDonald’s states that he was able to lose 20 lbs through increasing physical activity. The shocker here is that Mr. Don Thompson claims he’s not changed his habit of supporting his golden arches by eating there… EVER. SINGLE. DAY.

Upon reading this, I found myself enraged, wanting to rant to the world my thoughts on why this was a huge problem. Then I remembered…. that’s why I created THIS BLOG! So, here’s my take:

ONE: HE’S NOT LYIN’

 I don’t doubt Thompson’s claim. If you are a sedentary person, if you begin exercising,  your body will require more calories. If you make NO changes to your diet, but are increasing your energy expenditure, you creat an energy deficit. In other words, you are taking in fewer calories than you are getting rid of, which happens to be the exact recipe for weight loss.

TWO: LOW-CAL DOES NOT EQUAL HEALTHY

While McDonald’s does provide meals that clock in at astronomical percentages of one’s daily needs (1 large French Fry order alone will provide you with 500 calories, 44% of which comes from fat–mostly NOT the good kind), there are some lower-cal options. However, my primary concern in putting this “food” (if that’s what you want to call it) into my body, and the bodies of those I love, goes beyond the sheer number of calories it provides. If you’re a regular reader here at The Nourished Soul, you know I am seriously partial to REAL FOOD. I believe that a healthy diet may certainly include indulgences, but that these treats are best consumed in the form of real ingredients–not chemicals, additives, and perservatives. McDonald’s–and other fast food joints–take processed food to the extreme. Not only are the offerings of this international chain NOT something I would consider near the realm of real food, as it is all highly processed, but additionally, the additives and non-food ingredients (i.e. chemicals — some of which even *I* cannot pronounce) are substances that our bodies do not recognize, and cannot break down, digest, and use as fuel, or for any other purpose, other than poisoning our insides. I mean, does “dimethylpolysiloxane” sound like something your body can translate?

“Could I get a medium fry, hold the sodium acid pyrophosphate, please?”

 

These are my personal and professional opinions on the idea of losing weight through maintaining calorie deficit alone–meaning to completely ignore what type of calories we are putting into our bodies. Yes, we all CAN lose weight by simply counting calories. But I believe in head to toe wellness, and if you’re reading this, my hunch is you do too. And I strongly feel that to be our best and feel our best, we must treat ourselves LIKE THE BEST.

What do you think? Is Thompson’s method healthy, because it does lead to weight loss?

What are some healthy tips that have worked for you in the past?