Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD – Osage County Online | Osage County News

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Eat Well to Be Well: 22 simple ways to be healthier in 2022

Say goodbye to 2021 and hello to 2022! Father Time keeps ticking away with the arrival of another New Year with new possibilities affecting your life and health. Speaking of health, what plans do you have for restoring or maintaining your health this coming year and what steps will you take to reach your goals?

One thing we learned over the past two years is good health matters. COVID-19 continues to take a toll, especially on individuals with chronic health conditions, a blunt reminder that getting and staying healthy has always had distinct advantages. However, gaining good health doesn’t just happen. It takes daily dedication of practicing regular healthy habits with a lot of self-discipline added to this mix.

To start your New Year with good health in mind, here’s a list of 22 simple ways to get healthier with minimal effort:

1. Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables. High in nutrients, low in calories and carbohydrates, these valuable veggies include asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, mushrooms, mustard greens, okra, onions, peppers, radishes, squash, spinach, Swiss chard, tomatoes, and zucchini.

2. Drink more water. Water is calorie and sugar-free and essential for good health. A good guide for daily water intake is to divide your weight in half and aim for that number in fluid ounces. For example, someone who weighs 150 pounds should aim for at least 75 ounces or about nine, 8-ounce glasses a day.

3. Stay flexible. Every day, do some sort of stretching routine to keep your body and joints flexible and strong.

4. Dedicate at least 5 minutes of your lunch break to walking. This will keep you more active and is a great stress reliever and mood enhancer.

5. Drink green tea. One of the healthiest beverages you can drink, green tea is packed with antioxidants helping you fight free radicals shown to increase disease and speed aging.

6. Brush and floss your teeth. Get in the habit of brushing and flossing twice a day.

7. Avoid sugar beverages. Sugary sodas are bad for your health and loaded with added sugar. If you drink a lot of soda, opt for healthier beverages such as water, unsweetened tea, coffee, or green tea.

8. Go to bed 10 minutes earlier. By the end of the week, you’ll add an extra 70 minutes of sleep. Keep it up all year and you’ll have slept 60 hours more. Imagine how well-rested you’ll feel.

9. Make a grocery list before you shop. This can help you make healthier decisions when shopping and prevent impulse buying. Studies have also shown that grocery lists can help you eat healthier.

10. Limit screen time. This includes screen usage from cell phones, TV, computers, laptops, and other devices. Estimate your average screen time per day and aim to reduce it by half.

Eat Well to Be Well: Enjoy these top 12 foods to energize your day

When feeling drained of get-up-and-go, it’s tempting to down an energy drink or grab a candy bar. These choices often do provide a quick, short burst of energy you need. But beware – sugary drinks, candy, and pastries put too much fuel (sugar) into your blood too quickly. Instead of long-lasting energy, that sugar spike will soon come crashing down, leaving you tired and hungry once again.

Try instead to choose foods that boost energy levels and have all-day staying. These same foods should also be rich sources of protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates. Here are 12 healthy food ideas to amplify your energy level from sluggish to energized staying-power:

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a tried and true favorite for sustained stamina. The energy boost comes from a combination healthy fat, protein, and fiber, helping satisfy hunger and keeping blood sugar stable. Choose all-natural peanut butter without added sugar and stick to a 2 tablespoon serving size.

Air-popped popcorn

Popcorn is a high-fiber, whole-grain treat and a smarter choice than a bag of high-fat, overly salted potato chips. The popped kernels provide volume for quieting hunger longer than other snack foods. Stay away from high-fat microwave popcorn and instead pop your own kernels seasoned with herbs and spices.

Almonds

This superstar snack food provides important nutrients such as magnesium and B vitamins, helping to convert food to energy. When magnesium levels are low, you’ll tire more easily, particularly during exercise. A lack of B vitamins can lead to fatigue, irritability, and poor concentration. All it takes is about 1 ounce or 23 nuts to be considered a serving.

Eat Well to Be Well: Eating your way to bladder health

Bladder health should be a top priority for all of us, ranking alongside heart, brain, and bone health. And one way to promote bladder health is by making smart food choices. From urinary incontinence to overactive bladder, your dietary choices are an important part and play a supporting role of fending off these quality-of-life issues. That’s because what you eat and drink directly affects your bladder and it’s functioning.

Get to know your bladder

Before discussing food and dietary changes helping manage bladder and urinary issues, let’s get to know your bladder better.

Every single day, all of us use our bladder multiple times. Located in the lower abdomen, the bladder is a hollow organ, much like a balloon, that stores urine. It is part of the urinary system, which also includes the kidneys, ureters, and urethra. Urine contains wastes and extra fluid left over after the body takes what it needs from what we eat and drink.

Over time, the bladder can change. The elastic bladder tissue may toughen and become less stretchy. A less stretchy bladder cannot hold as much urine as before and might make you go to the bathroom more often. The bladder wall and pelvic floor muscles may weaken, making it harder to empty the bladder fully and causing urine to leak.

Because bladder problems are common and can disrupt day-to-day activities, you may find yourself avoiding social situations or having a hard time completing tasks at home or at work.

Top dietary habits your bladder will love

To achieve and maintain good bladder health, a good start is by what you eat and drink. Adopt the following healthy bladder dietary habits to help avoid overactive bladder and urinary incontinence:

Stay well hydrated

Up to one third of the water we consume comes from food like fruits, veggies, and soup. So how much water do you need to drink each day? As a general rule of thumb, take your weight in pounds and divide it by two, and that’s the number of ounces of water you should consume daily. So if you weigh 160 pounds, you should aim to drink 80 ounces of water every day.

Why is staying hydrated important for urological health? Drinking sufficient water is essential for helping balance salts and sugars within the body and to flush out toxins and wastes through the urinary system. When dehydrated, the buildup of minerals can irritate the lining of your bladder and the concentration of wastes can lead to frequent and urgent urination or pelvic pain.

Eat Well to Be Well Recipe: Maple-Poached Pears

Simple and perfectly delicious, a fiber-rich stewed pear is one of the healthiest desserts you can serve after a meal

Before I talk about this fabulous recipe, let’s talk first about the simple pear itself.

Pears are one of the most underrated and overlooked fruits around. Maybe it’s because they lack the eye-catching colors of strawberries or watermelon and their flavor is more subtle compared to the distinctive taste of a kiwi or a papaya. And when it comes to popularity, pears are just … so-so. Pears don’t even rank in the top five favorite fruits of Americans, which by the way are bananas, apples, grapes, strawberries, and oranges, respectively.

But don’t let that stop you from trying out this recipe! A pear slowly cooked in rich maple syrup surrounded by cinnamon sticks is a decadent dessert showcasing this fruit’s blend of sophistication and sweetness that rivals a baked apple.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve eaten a pear, here’s your opportunity. From September through January (right now!) is when pears are at their peak. And when in season – watch out! An in-season ripe pear’s unique taste and texture range from succulent to buttery to a mellow sweetness – a true culinary delight.

Nutritionally, this humble fruit is top notch for several reasons:

Pears are an excellent source of fiber. A medium-sized pear provides 6 grams of fiber – the majority found in the skin – equal to about 21 percent of the recommended daily value. This makes pears one of the best sources of fiber of all fruits.

Pears are fat free and cholesterol free. By including more pears in your diet, you will replace higher fat foods helping lower your overall intake of fat and cholesterol. This may help reduce your risk of heart disease and some types of cancer.

Pears are sodium free, too. Eating more sodium free foods, like a pear, just makes sense since most Americans over-consume sodium.

Pears are a good source of vitamin C, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. A medium-sized pear provides about 7 mg or 8 percent of the daily value for the antioxidant vitamin C. Pears also naturally contain various phytonutrients and other antioxidants supporting good health. Choose pears with vibrantly colored skins of various pear varieties.

Not sure which variety of pear is best for cooking or how to store pears, here are tips you need to know:

  • Firmer varieties like Bosc and Anjou are best for cooking while Bartlett and Comice are best raw.
  • Keep pears out on the counter until they are ripe. Then store in the refrigerator.
  • To determine ripeness, gently press near the stem with your thumb; if it gives slightly, it’s ready.
  • Puree pears into smoothies, sauces, and dressing to add sweet flavor.

Eat Well to Be Well Recipe: Rotisserie Chicken and White Bean Soup

There’s nothing like an Italian-inspired hearty and healthy chicken and white bean soup that soothes the soul!

Nothing says “comfort food” quite like a hot, steaming bowl of chicken soup. No matter the time of year, but especially when temps take a dip and the north wind blows, chicken soup with a side of crusty bread and a glass of wine always sounds good.

Chicken soup really does warm the heart and soul. And with just the right amount of soothing, mouth-watering appeal and taste, along with a healthy compliment of nourishing ingredients, here’s a chicken soup recipe that will be your comfort go-to food time and time again.

What’s especially nice is to use an already prepared store-bought rotisserie chicken offering incredible versatility, saving you precious time in preparing the chicken yourself. And no worries – a store-bought rotisserie chicken still provides a flavorful “homemade” chicken soup taste that’s come to life.

I used a rotisserie chicken with mild seasoning – both plain and lemon-pepper work well. If you like a richer flavor, be sure to add meat from the wings and some of the bones to the broth. Creamy white beans are used in place of traditional noodles, making this soup a protein-packed meal. Fresh sage provides a nice herby and savory vibe to the stock. Add in a few carrots and celery and you’ve got deliciousness waiting for you to experience how good it is.

This hearty, warming bowl of chicken soup is just steps away and is incredibly easy and fast to put together. Read on, I’ll walk you through it.

Eat Well to Be Well: Could you be calcium deficient and not know it?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the human body, with 99 percent stored in the bones and teeth, and is necessary for strong bone structure. The roles of calcium are critical for body functioning, but many adults, adolescents and children do not consume enough calcium-rich foods.

Many people may think that calcium is primarily needed during childhood when the body is rapidly growing. The belief is that once calcium has been deposited into the bones, it stays there forever, that once it is built, it is inert, like a rock. That is not true. The minerals of bones are in constant flux, with formation and dissolution taking place every minute of the day and night. In fact, almost the entire adult human skeleton is remodeled every 10 years.

Skipping consuming dairy foods due to believing calcium intake is not that important, will likely set you up for a calcium deficiency. Would you know the signs and symptoms if you are calcium deficient and more importantly, how to prevent it?

Signs of calcium deficiency

No matter what the cause of calcium deficiency may be (diet, medication, etc.), the symptoms remain similar. Individuals who need to be most concerned and aware of these symptoms are vegans, who consume no dairy foods, which are the biggest and best contributors of calcium. Vegans also need to be mindful of running the risk of being deficient of other nutrients, like vitamin B12, iron, and zinc.

Here are possible signs you may have a calcium deficiency:

  • Muscle aches and cramps, especially in the legs
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands, arms, legs, and feet
  • Dry skin
  • Severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms

Anyone who has these symptoms or is high-risk for calcium deficiency should follow-up with their doctor. The longer calcium deficiency continues the higher chance for developing osteoporosis, severe dental problems of bone loss in the jaw, depression, chronic joint and muscle pain, and bone fractures.

Eat Well to Be Well Recipe: Salmon With Pomegranate Salsa

A sensory sensation bursting with zesty sweet and savory flavors everyone will love

There was a time in my life I would never have imagined eating fish regularly, especially salmon. Growing up on a Kansas farm, it was fields of wheat, oats, and soybeans that dominated alongside pastures overflowing with cattle peacefully grazing on big bluestem and switchgrass flourishing in the Flint Hills. Let’s just say, the meat department at my small town grocery store was filled with various cuts of beef, pork, and poultry without a fresh salmon in sight.

But thankfully many years ago, my taste buds were introduced to the savory appeal of perfectly baked or grilled, tender fresh salmon. And if you love salmon as much as I do now, this is a recipe you must try. This dish is a great option, especially if you’re looking for different ways to prepare this heart healthy fish, or unique toppings to serve it with. And yes, salmon is now a regular on my menu rotation, along with beef, pork, and poultry.

Salmon with pomegranate salsa is a “fit for a king” treat and a feast for your eyes. From the peachy color of the salmon, to the bright, ruby-red pomegranate seeds, to the vibrant green of fresh dill, it’s a refreshing and beautiful blend energizing all your senses.

Speaking of the “vibrant green of fresh dill,” be sure to choose bunches that are aromatic, bright green, and firm. Store fresh dill in the refrigerator wrapped in a paper towel for two to three days and just before you’re ready to use it, wash and dry it well.

And let’s not forget what a superior food both salmon and pomegranates are. Here’s a look at several key nutritional advantages each have to offer:

Salmon:

  • A powerhouse of high quality protein helping maintain muscle mass.
  • Abundant in omega-3 fatty acids promoting healthy joints and skin while reducing risk of heart disease.
  • An impressive source of selenium, a mineral important for cognitive function, a healthy immune system, and supporting thyroid health.

Pomegranate seeds:

  • High levels of antioxidants helping reduce inflammation.
  • Contains phytochemicals protecting against heart disease.
  • Has anti-tumor potential of preventing development and progression of prostate cancer.

If you’re ready to include more heart healthy eating, starting with an appealing, flavorful and ready-to-eat meal within 15-20 minutes (salmon takes almost no time to cook), let’s take a look at how to put together this exceptional recipe:

Eat Well to Be Well: Follow sensible weight loss tips that actually work

Build long-term habits with practical lifestyle changes for weight loss success

It’s challenging to eat a healthy diet when living in a drive-thru, ultra-processed food world. Food temptations seem to be everywhere. And forget gimmicky, fad diets when trying to reach a healthier body weight. Just like buying a pair of shoes, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to weight loss.

The latest stats show that more than 70 percent of Americans are overweight to obese. This is especially troubling during the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Several studies have shown a direct association of obesity as a major risk factor for developing more severe illness, hospitalization, and death if infected with this virus.

When it comes to weight loss, scientific evidence-based guidance is a more appropriate direction to follow. It’s well-documented that two major components for weight loss success are choosing healthier foods while reducing calories and increasing physical activity. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Not really. We’re human and sometimes our best laid-out plans may fail for various reasons.

But there’s a third component that is just as crucial as the first two. This third component often makes or breaks your success in not only meeting weight loss goals, but prevents you from slipping and gaining back weight you previously had lost.

What is this third component? It’s called behavior modification. Think of it as little tricks of the trade when it comes to weight loss.  Behavior modification boils down to focusing on healthy behaviors. If you lead with these behaviors, the weight loss will usually follow. By prioritizing this third component, you’ve armed yourself with essential weight loss tools,  getting focused as you start your journey in reaching a healthy body weight.

Below are various behavior modification tools; you can pick and choose which ones you need to work on the most:

Eat Well to Be Well:Letting go of the ‘all or nothing’ approach to nutrition

An “all or nothing” mindset about nutrition may sabotage your health goals

We all have that friend who’s always making comments about their food intake such as, “I really shouldn’t be eating this,” or “I’ve been so good on my diet lately,” or maybe they might say, “I’ll get back on track Monday after my ‘cheat’ weekend.”

Comments like these are often a way for people to rationalize eating certain foods they deem as “bad” by saying how “good” they’ve been, vowing to get back on schedule soon. These same individuals often live by an “all or nothing” attitude in regards to dieting or losing weight. They will tell themselves they can never eat cake, candy, fried food, or any favorite foods again, hence a set-up for an all or nothing way of thinking.

Unfortunately, pledging to give up certain foods is problematic and unrealistic to follow. There is always going to be somebody’s birthday party where cake is served, or a festive holiday buffet decked out with sweets and treats tempting you away from your all or nothing eating plan. Do you have a plan on how to handle those situations?

However, all or nothing nutrition is a surefire plan for excessively obsessing over what you should be eating and how much, which rarely ends well. That’s because the “all or nothing” voice in your head will deceptively tell you “You’ve already had a piece of cake, so you might as well have the entire cake,” or “You’ve skipped breakfast and lunch, so go ahead and binge at dinner and all evening long.”

The good news is none of us need to follow an “all or nothing” mindset to succeed at meeting health goals. When common sense reigns and food restrictions are liberated allowing you freedom to eat what you want without judgment, all foods can be part of a healthy diet. Keep your focus on healthy eating the majority of time while permitting yourself a small and guilt-free indulgence on most days of the week, if not every day.

Eat Well to Be Well:How to build a delicious, nutritious, and filling smoothie

You may think building a healthy smoothie is easy. Grab a blender and throw in a bunch of fruit, add sweeteners, and milk or juice, and call it good. But think again. When done right, smoothies can indeed be very healthy. Plus, they’re a convenient and easy way to pack in essential fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants all in a drinkable form.

However, when done wrong, drinking what you perceive as “healthy,” might backfire. When packing smoothies with a bevy of ingredients, a super healthy smoothie easily becomes a disastrous overload, pushing in excess of 500 calories plus and a surplus of sugars sabotaging attempts at both weight loss or keeping blood sugar under control.

Could you be making these same “smoothie mistakes” and not know it? If so, you’re not alone. Smoothies are a commonly made concoction in many households and often used as a meal replacement. But to avoid bungling a smoothie, learn the right way to build a delicious, nutritious, and filling smoothie, keeping everything in balance.

Common smoothie mistakes to avoid

To understand the art of healthy smoothie-making, it’s important to know mistakes to avoid. See if you might be guilty of any of the following:

Putting in too much fruit: I’ve listened to plenty of clients who proudly describe in detail the overabundance of fruit they add to a smoothie recipe. More is better, right? Wrong. Fruits are a mainstay of smoothies offering a variety of nutrients your body needs. But remember, moderation is key. Too much of a good thing will disrupt the balance between calories and carbs. The rule of thumb is to use about one cup of no more than one to two fruits per smoothie.

Adding in too many sweeteners: A sugar is a sugar, no matter what form it’s in.  If you like sweetening-up your smoothie by adding in honey or maple syrup or coconut sugar, as examples, a heavy hand will up the calorie and carb ante – a lot. Whatever fruit you’re using should be “sweet enough” without needing to rely on added sugars.

Drinking a smoothie with a meal: Most smoothies are consumed early morning for breakfast. A high protein, fruit and veggie-packed smoothie can be a nutritious way to begin your day, and likely has sufficient calories to meet your needs for that meal. But if you’re also having that smoothie along with a bowl of cereal or oatmeal or a plate of eggs, bacon, and toast, either cut out the smoothie or significantly lighten it up to still enjoy it alongside your other foods.

Going overboard with nutrient boosters: Some smoothie zealots like to “beef up” the nutritional value by adding in extras like protein powders, peanut or almond butters, or chia seeds. While these can be used, if amounts are unchecked, calories add up quickly. Consider that just one tablespoon of peanut or almond butter contains 100 calories. Again, moderation rules.

Eat Well to Be Well:Rethink your drink with refreshing beverages healthier than soda

If soda has been your go-to for quenching your thirst, it’s time to rethink your drink. Drinking sugary soda is simply a bad idea for supporting good health. Multiple studies have found time and again that consuming soda, including artificially sweetened or “diet” soda, can be harmful to your health. This finding was published in a 2019 JAMA Internal Medicine article that showed people who drank two or more glasses of diet or regular soda had higher risks of dying from cardiovascular disease including stroke. Besides increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, the study also found consuming beverages sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners is positively associated with all-cause deaths, raising the risk of premature death by 17 percent compared to those who sip them less than once a month.

What other studies have found

This is far from the first time research has shown a link between soda’s subtle and insidious effect on human health. For instance, obesity is often linked to individuals who consume soda, as found in a 2017 study published in QJM, an International Journal of Medicine. Another study published in the journal Appetite found an association of sweet cravings being triggered by drinking soda leading to a vicious cycle of eating other sugar laden foods and beverages.

Then, there’s a major study published in the journal Circulation which followed more than 118,000 men and women for 30 years. At the end of the study, researchers concluded that each daily 12-ounce serving of a sugar-sweetened beverage – including soft drinks, lemonade and other sugary fruit drinks – raised the risk of death by seven percent, including a five percent increased risk for cancer death, and a 10 percent increased risk for death from cardiovascular disease. This same study also concluded that “sugary drinks lead to weight gain and anything that leads to weight gain increases risk of conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers.”

Bottom line, there are few if any health benefits from drinking soda. Soda is devoid of any nutrients other than offering calories. Consider the fact that the average soda beverage will contain at least three to four tablespoons of sugar in a 20-ounce container. It’s doubtful any of us deliberately would add that amount of sugar on our own to a glass of water with flavoring. But also take into consideration an interesting study in the journal Diabetologia that found that swapping one sugary drink a day for an alternative healthier drink such as water, coffee, or tea, may reduce a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes by 25 percent.

Try healthier ideas to replace sugary and artificially sweetened beverages

So, what can you do to curb soda consumption? Look into healthier, alternative beverages replacing soda for good. However, it’s vital to refrain from simply replacing soda with other beverages high in sugar too, such as sweetened tea, sugary coffee drinks, or high-sugar fruit juices. These beverages still offer just as many (if not more) sugar and calories as sodas do and defeat the purpose of cutting back on overall sugar intake.

Eat Well to Be Well:Learn the truth about 5 food myths

Discerning between food truths and food myths is really hard sometimes. From excellent nutrition advice to extremely bad to downright dangerous nutrition advice, what’s a consumer to do? Since all of us have to eat and all of us are consumers of food, knowing the truth of how to follow a healthy, nutritious diet can get lost in the shuffle of nutrition myths – which have grown exponentially over the years.

Unfortunately, there will be those who, without any nutrition degrees or backing of science, feel compelled to enlighten us on their opinion on what a healthy diet should be. But don’t be swayed. Here are some common diet and food myths you deserve to know the truth behind the tale:

Eat Well to Be Well: 5 snacks with misleading health halos

Starting with rice cakes, for one …

Americans love their snacks and the snack industry knows this. If you look at the global snacks market in 2018, it was valued at $439.9 billion and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.2 percent from now to 2025.

The demand for snacks is driven by changing diets and busy lifestyles. Many of us are replacing meals with long shelf-life, on-the-go snacks as the demand for more allergen-free and vegan products increase.

If you fit into the category of someone who chooses a “snack” as a meal replacement, how healthy is that snack you’re choosing? Before you stock up on snacks you believe to be healthy, here’s a look at five supposedly “healthy” snacks that rarely meet that criteria.

Rice cakes

Rice cakes are often deemed as healthy due to their minimal ingredients. One reason why they are low in calories is because they do not carry a laundry list of ingredients – the main ingredient is obviously … rice.

If you crave something crunchy, then rice cakes fit the bill. But nutritionally, they offer little more than carbohydrates for energy. They contribute calories but lack fiber and important key vitamins or minerals. Flavored rice cakes are going to have either added sugar or artificial flavors or both. Avoid rice cakes drizzled with chocolate or other sweet flavors as they then are really no better than candy.

How to improve this choice: Opt instead for unflavored, lightly salted rice cakes made from brown rice or other grains such as quinoa. Quinoa is a fair source of protein and brown rice offers a bit more fiber than white rice. And stay away from “sugared up” rice cakes.

Eat Well to Be Well: Help men show their hearts some love

Here’s a fact that should get the attention of men and those who love them: About one in every four male deaths is due to heart disease. To make matters worse, half of men who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.

Men need help – specifically when it comes to their heart health. Being neglectful of heart health is not in a man’s best interest. This vital organ needs tender loving care throughout a man’s life. However, for the past 90 years, heart disease is still the leading cause of death in men (and women).

Fortunately, thanks to the American Heart Association getting the message out on heart health, fewer Americans are dying of heart disease than ever. But there is still a long ways to go and every little bit of information, awareness and encouragement makes a huge difference in reducing a man’s risk of this killer disease.

Here are some  steps that can boost a man’s heart health helping him live a longer, healthier life:

Encourage him to get an annual checkup

When is the last time a man you love in your life got an annual physical? The American Academy of Family Physicians survey found that more than half of all men don’t get regular checkups. If they are not going to the doctor annually, they will not know what their risk factors are.

Every man should know what his blood pressure number, his heart rate, total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglyceride level. Men should know that once he hits the age of 45 (or younger age for black men), blood pressure begins to climb increasing his risk of a heart attack or stroke. An annual checkup gives a man the opportunity to talk with his doctor about any concerns he has such as erectile dysfunction that can actually be an indicator of heart disease.

Eat Well to Be Well: Bite by bite, benefits of healthy eating add up over time

Make every bite count – towards your health.

I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve used this mantra in articles over the years. While very few (if any) of us have perfected this statement, the foods and beverages you consume profoundly impact your health over time. Science has proven this time and again that consistent dietary patterns and choices of healthy foods means a healthier you.

That’s why I was pleased that the recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, make a point of emphasizing this exact sentiment. Instead of focusing on individual nutrients, foods, or food groups, the spotlight is on your dietary pattern over time and how the foods you choose act synergistically to affect your health. In other words, what matters most is that your daily food decisions, from infancy to old age, ideally should lean towards choosing more health-promoting foods over not-so-healthy foods over the course of your lifetime.

What are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans?

In case you’re not familiar with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, every five years since 1980, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services jointly publish science-based advice on what to eat and drink with the aim of promoting health and to prevent chronic disease.

The 2020-2025 edition couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time. The year 2020 is forever marked with the devastating toll of COVID-19. Early on it was noted individuals with obesity or chronic diseases were likely to suffer more severe illness and death. When about 74 percent of adults are overweight or obese in the U.S. and 60 percent of adults have one or more diet-related chronic disease (i.e., heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, cancer), it’s a stark wake-up call of the necessity for improving dietary habits. That’s where the Dietary Guidelines can help. Learning how to personalize food and beverage choices based on your food preferences, cultural traditions, and what fits your budget, is possible while still keeping your focus on achieving good health.

Unfortunately, as stated above, the coronavirus pandemic was a glaring reminder of how Americans are falling short in meeting the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines. Diet-related chronic disease and obesity continue to steadily rise as a ubiquitous major public health threat, especially when fighting a novel virus. That’s why this edition’s mantra of “Make every bite count with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” is more important than ever.

Eat Well to Be Well: Set goals to stay healthy during the holidays

Good health starts with good health habits

I think we can all agree on one thing – holidays can be stressful! There’s shopping, cooking, entertaining family, and now, the unusual event of a viral pandemic showing few signs of slowing down. Yes, this holiday season, stress overload is at an all time high.

Despite not being able to completely control our current pandemic situation, focus instead on having a well-thought out plan of successfully managing what we can be in charge of – our health! By having plan and setting in motion strategies supporting our health and well-being, we can flourish and thrive like never before while feeling our best, even during uncertain times.  Here’s how:

1. Keep moving: Fitting in time for fitness during holidays can be challenging. But with some creativity and determination, it can be done. Start by avoiding long stretches of sitting. Make a goal to be up and moving for even just five minutes every 30 to 60 minutes throughout the day. Walk 10 minutes or more after a meal, play catch or Frisbee with your kids (or adults too!), put on music and dance, rake leaves, pace around the house, perform simple squats or lunge exercises, or walk around while talking on your cell phone. Activity helps reduce lower blood glucose levels, improves heart health and increases energy by getting muscles activated.

Goal: Work toward 30-60 minutes of activity a day.

Eat Well to Be Well: The harmful health reality of excess belly fat

If zipping up your favorite jeans or buttoning a shirt over your belly has become problematic, it’s time to face reality – you’re likely carrying excess belly fat. Whether you’re a man or woman, carrying an excess band of fat around your abdominal or midsection is risky to your health.

Accumulating belly fat can sneak up on a person. Contributing factors leading to gaining belly fat include consuming too many calories and not enough exercise, lack of sleep, and getting older, as aging can cause loss of muscle mass and a decreased metabolism, and your genetics, which can determine where you tend to store body fat.

The dangers of deep belly fat

Unlike fat found on the hips and thighs, fat around the middle (belly fat) produces biologically active substances creating an environment conducive to serious health risks. Because of its proximity to the major organs in your midsection, think of belly fat sort of like an apron hanging from your large intestine surrounding your internal organs. When fat collects deep within the central abdominal area of the body known as visceral fat, it poses greater risks of major chronic diseases than excess fat lying just beneath the skin, subcutaneous fat, found on hips, thighs, and buttocks. One danger is that fat cells of visceral fat are its own endocrine organ, secreting hormones, proteins, and other molecules having far-reaching negative effects on other tissue and organs nearby.

For instance, visceral fat releases more fatty acids into the blood than other types of fat tissue, contributing to a blood lipid profile associated with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a combination of visceral fat, high blood glucose (insulin resistance), high blood pressure, and altered blood lipids greatly increasing risk of heart disease leading to a heart attack or stroke.

Visceral fat also makes proteins called cytokines, which can trigger low-level inflammation, another predictor of heart disease. This also acts as a precursor to angiotensin, a protein that causes blood vessels to constrict, increasing blood pressure.

In addition, these same visceral fat cells lead to a loss of sensitivity to insulin, a hormone crucial for burning energy and keeping blood sugar in control. As a result, extra belly fat increases the risk of insulin resistance, bringing its own potential complications. Insulin resistance often leads to type 2 diabetes, which affects more than 34 million Americans and is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Eat Well to Be Well: Fill your plate with fall produce to enhance heart health

As temperatures drop and winds pick up, heading into fall is a sure sign change is on its way. One healthy change you’ll see in your grocery store is the switch from summer produce to fall fruits, vegetables, and nuts packed with important heart healthy nutrients.

Heart disease is the number one ranked cause of death in the United States, with more than 30 million adults diagnosed with this chronic condition. The umbrella term heart disease, often used interchangeably with the term cardiovascular disease, includes a range of conditions affecting your heart. These conditions include hypertension, arrhythmias, coronary artery disease, and heart defects you’re born with among others. Heart disease results in developing narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to heart attack, chest pain (agina) or stroke.

One of the most effective ways to help prevent and combat this leading cause of death is to choose foods supporting heart health. Fruits and vegetables, along with other healthy plant-based foods, lead the way as some of the most nutrient-packed foods to bring home from the grocery store.

Research supports this – a July 2020 study in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzing more than 415,000 people found those who consumed a high-protein diet relying heavily on plant-based protein sources could reduce their risk for death from heart disease by at least 10 percent. Modifying the choices you make for protein appears to influence your risk of heart disease. That’s because foods such as vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds, not only are a source of plant-based protein, they also have nutrients such as phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties.

To make the best heart healthy choices for this season, here are fall foods to consider:

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