Eat Right for a Healthy Heart

Today is National Wear Red Day to raise awareness of heart disease in women. Heart disease is the number one cause of death and disability in both men and women in the United States and in many other westernized countries. In fact, it kills more women than the next five causes of death combined.

What can you do to prevent heart disease and stroke?  The top 5 steps you can take to prevent heart disease are:

1) Eat a heart healthy diet.

  • Avoid all manmade trans fatty acids (partially hydrogenated oils) and choose fats that are liquid at room temperature (oils), nuts, seeds, avocados and olives.
  • Choose a diet rich in fruits and vegetables which contain an array of antioxidants, fiber and vitamins and minerals.
  • Consume less than 1,500 mg sodium per day if you have high blood pressure.
  • Drink in moderation. That means a maximum of 1 alcoholic drink per day for women and 2 for men. If you don’t drink, don’t start.
  • Cut down on the refined carbohydrates in your diet – especially if you have type 2 diabetes.

2) Don’t Smoke, Dip, Chew Tobacco

3) Maintain a Healthy Weight

4) Exercise Several Days Per Week

5) Take Charge of Your Health.

  • Get health screenings including blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose regularly.
  • Be pro-active and make dietary changes even if you are on medicine to help lower your blood sugar, blood pressure or blood lipids.

And for all the women out there, know the warning signs and symptoms of heart disease and stroke which may include indigestion, sleep disturbances, weakness in the arms, discomfort in the jaw, shoulder, neck or upper back, shortness of breath, sweating, lightheadedness or dizziness, unusual fatigue, chest pain (though not all women experience chest pain).

Lastly, do your part and spread the word to raise awareness of heart disease in women. Tell your sisters, moms, aunts, daughters, friends and coworkers. Get them out there exercising, encourage them to maintain a healthy weight and eat a heart healthy diet and lend support when they need it. Be a role model and a friend.

Stay Strong, Play On: National Girls & Women in Sports Day

Celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day by encouraging your daughters, sisters, nieces and every young girl in your life to participate in a sport they love.

As a kid I was very lucky, my father took the 3 of us kids to see minor league baseball, the King and His Court (a traveling 4-man fastpitch softball team with a history that dates back to WW2), Georgetown & American University women’s basketball, women’s softball, ice hockey and many more sporting events. I enjoyed every moment from the time I was 4 and asking minor league ball players for a signed baseball to the time I played on the very field in Washington, DC that the King’s team and some of the best female softball players played on.
Sports gave me direction, college scholarships, and more opportunities than I can possibly list here.  I took to track & field by age 5 and later softball, basketball and soccer.  I was fairly shy (hey at least I spoke, unlike my sister at that age 😉 but very comfortable and confident when I stepped onto the field, court or a track.  I learned many lessons about teamwork, winning, disappointment and working hard to earn my playing time. I stepped on an airplane for the first time (for a summer travel softball team trip to AZ – where we ended up playing Lisa Fernandez’s team) and later learned to juggle college classes, practice, road trips and injuries.

I’ve been so fortunate for the opportunities participating in sports gave me and the lessons learned that I still use today. I hope to pass those lessons on to other young girls and create more opportunities for females to participate. To get more involved, check out the National Women & Girls in Sports events across the country and, don’t forget to encourage the young girls in your life!

For Events across the country and an outstanding video put together by Ann Gaffigan, check out this page.

The New Milk: from Cows infused with genetically modified SDA-rich Soybean Oil

Last week I watched King Corn, a documentary about the corn industry. The worst part of it was watching the gut of the cow process corn – something that is not only unnatural for cows but dangerous. They have to give them antibiotics so they can feed them corn and then slaughter them at the right time or the cows will die from being force fed corn to make them fat.

Equally disturbing to me was an abstract I just read from the Journal of Dairy Science. In this particular study, they infused the guts of the cows with SDA soybean oil. SDA soybean oil is a product of biotechnology. Monsanto Company took soybeans and made them rich in stearidonic acid through genetic modification (SDA is an omega 3 fat; yet not all omega 3s are created equally; SDA must be broken down by an enzyme in our body to two of the most heart health omega 3 fats – EPA and DHA and the conversion rate is not very high).

Though this study worked- i.e. the milk produced from these cows was 5x higher in omega 3s than normal cow milk, they really had to put those cows through a lot (abomasal infusion) for more human consumption of omega 3 fatty acids.

I’m in favor of functional foods and write about them often. However, I’m not a fan of force feeding an animal foods that are bad for their health or infusing genetically modified oils into their gut for the sake of omega-3 enriched milk. Pop an omega-3 capsule, eat fatty fish or consume a functional food created a little more naturally – through omega 3 fortification.

Suppress Your Appetite with Citicoline

I’m the first person to admit that I find most types of shopping a chore, not a pastime. So, I often stick to certain brands of clothes, running shoes, and of course sports nutrition products and dietary supplements.  I am brand loyal mainly because  I want something that is convenient and works.

So when Kyowa Hakko, a company known for basing their products on science and testing the finished product, came out with Cognizin citicoline, I had to give it a shot.  Citicoline is CDP choline and choline is a precursor to a neurotransmitter that controls memory, muscle function and other actions. It may also decrease certain measures of inflammation such as homocysteine.

Supplemental citicoline may help with memory and brain function. And, interestingly enough, a recent study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders found that it may also affect the area of the brain responsible for appetite. In this study, scientists gave 16 subjects either 500 mg/day or 2,000 mg/day Cognizin citicoline for six weeks.  Both groups showed a decrease in appetite ratings and the group given 2,000 mg/day showed significant changes in brain response to images of high calorie foods (as measured by magnetic resonance imaging). The scientists found  a direct relationship between activation of the appetite control centers of the brain and a decline in appetite for high calorie foods.

Research has yet to elucidate exactly how citicoline may impact the appetite centers of the brain but, this research is promising, especially considering the ever-growing obesity issue.  As I see it, there are a 2 components that control our food intake: 1) appetite (physiological hunger and satiety), 2) desire to eat (for whatever reason including boredom, depression, anxiety, we know we need calories, you just like the taste of chocolate cake etc.).  If we control both of these well and make healthy food choices, we’ll maintain a healthy weight. And, citicoline may help with the former of the two.  Behavioral control (a concept called Intuitive Eating) can fix the the desire to eat part.

Does Your Food Contain More Calories the Food Label Indicates?

If you rely on counting calories on your food labels and restaurant menus, you may be getting more calories than you bargained for according to a study published in this month’s Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Tufts University researchers examined the accuracy of labels and nutrition facts information on 29 reduced-energy restaurant foods and 10 frozen meals purchased from grocery stores. Total calorie content from the quick-serve and sit-down restaurants averaged 18% more than what was listed on the restaurants nutrition facts. What’s really disturbing though was that there was a large range that averaged out to that 18%.  Some individual restaurant items contained up to 200% more than their stated calorie level and with the free side dishes (which some restaurants don’t count in their nutrition facts), these meals contained up to 245% more calories than what was listed.

It’s frozen food month and overall, the frozen meals fared much better – they came in at an average of 8% more calories than what was stated on the nutrition facts panel.

If you are red hot mad and blaming your favorite restaurant for your lack of weight loss progress, hold on just a minute and think about logical this data is.  Frozen foods stuffed into a small piece of plastic and slightly larger box are fairly consistent on portion sizes and preparation (thanks to the consistency of machines).  However, restaurant chefs and cooks like to make people happy and happiness to them involves butter, grease and yet another tablespoon of dressing.

So, if you eat out but want to watch your waistline, ask how the food is prepared or request that it is prepared a certain way. Oh, and share those meals that are large enough to 2-3 people.

Making Your New Year’s Resolution a Reality

It’s day 6, where’s your New Year’s resolution?  If you are having trouble sticking with it or you just don’t believe in yourself, I’m going to give you the top determinants of success for behavioral change:

1) You have to believe in yourself. Yesterday I met with a lady who was basically talking herself out of getting past this 30 lb weight loss barrier she’s had in the past. We hardly talked about nutrition but instead worked on reframing her mind.  Without the right vision of yourself, you’ll never reach your goals. If that means having your friends and coworkers stop you every time you beat yourself up out loud or that you need to put sticky notes on your bathroom mirror with positive affirmations, so be it. Do what it takes.

2) You need a good support system. If the people around you constantly telling you what you can’t do or holding you back, it’s time to sit down and have a serious discussion with them (probably several) or spend less time with these people. Classic example: a + 300 lb lady I met whose husband was constantly trying to feed her. On the flip side, I know another young lady trying to lose weight whose husband (a busy PhD student) created a detailed excel spreadsheet to help her track her food intake – she is successfully losing 2-4 lbs a week.

3) You need goals. SMART goals. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-sensitive. An example of a wishy washy goal: I want to lose weight.  A better example: I want to lose 15 lbs by March 1 so that I can avoid being put on gluclose-lowering medications the next time I go to my physician.

4) You need a realistic plan. Make exercise a habit. Even if that means you are committing to just 20 minutes a day.  Find a plan that suits your lifestyle. If you want to do it on your own, take a look at  or  Muscle & Fitness: for a wealth of information.

5) It’s time to ditch the black or white thinking. Eating a cookie isn’t going to wreck your weight loss goals. But, eating a cookie, beating yourself up about it and then eating the entire bag of cookies will. People who are successful at making changes accept the fact that they aren’t perfect but they are trying their best. They don’t let missing a workout, an injury or illness or a day full of beer, wings and fries derail them.

What’s the bottom line?  After years of working with a variety of people, I can attest to the fact that success with weight loss, weight gain, physique change or performance nutrition is largely dependent on your 1) commitment and desire and 2) your vision and belief in yourself. There’s tons of information out there and awesome trainers, sports nutritionists and resources to keep you on track. But, you have to be committed and believe.

Dietary Fat Intake – Does it Affect Weight?

The following advice has become a mantra engrained in our society’s battle of the bulge: “If you want to lose weight and improve your health, eat a low fat diet”. And for years I bought into this during the carb-frenzy fat-free 1990s. But then I entered graduate school and started reading the research (and I was just plain hungry all the time).  A low fat did work for many people who were obese or overweight because cutting fat meant they cut calories and therefore dropped weight. And for those with cardiovascular disease risk factors, slashing the fat in their diet automatically meant a decrease in bad fats so their cholesterol levels improved. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that taking someone off fried foods and partially hydrogenated snack foods will improve their cholesterol levels.

But do we need low fat for weight loss?  According to my good friend and well respected scientist, Jose Antonio, the answer is no. And, a recently published study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition backs this viewpoint. In this particular study, scientists analyzed data from 89,432 men and women from 6 cohorts of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study. They analyzed data between baseline fat intake (amount and type from total fat, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fats) from food frequency questionnaires and annual weight change and, after adjusting for anthropometric data, lifestyle and dietary factors, they found no significant relationship between dietary fat intake and weight gain. The authors concluded that “these findings do not support the use of low-fat diets to prevent weight gain.”

This study did have some drawbacks. After all, food frequency questionnaires are limited, they only analyzed fat intake at one point in time and not over time and they didn’t examine data on trans fat intake. After all, this wasn’t a clinical trial in rats (the most compliant subjects ever) where they could manipulate variables and see if people grow or shrink in size.

These results are different than those from some other studies but overall, the research is equivocal on the subject of fat and weight. A review of 9 studies examining fat and weight change found 3 studies found a positive association between type of fat and weight change, 3 found no association and the last 3 reported negative association.

What’s the bottom line? Eat your fat, but choose healthy fats (fish fat, nuts, seeds, oils) and avoid partially hydrogenated oil (man made trans fats) and if you have heart disease risk factors, watch your saturated fat consumption too.

Eat Produce, Fight Fat

It always amazes me when I meet people who will spend serious cash on random weight loss supplements or prescription drugs known to have serious, adverse side effects, yet they have little motivation to make simple changes – like adding tasty foods that can fight fat.

Despite the fact that body fat seems lazy, like it sits around doing nothing all day (except cushioning your body from any blows), it’s actually very active and waging a war against your health.  Fat tissue, especially the kind in your gut, is spewing inflammatory compounds while you sit at your desk innocently chowing down on office Christmas cookies and egg nog. And those compounds may continue to make you fatter and set you up for several chronic diseases down the line including insulin-resistance (Type 2 diabetes) and cardiovascular disease.

The logical step to taming the inferno in your belly fat is to drop weight and start doing so right away. And, there’s something else you can do as well – load up on phytochemical-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, tea and legumes. University of Florida researchers found that a diet rich in phytochemicals fights oxidative stress (free radicals) and inflammation in your excess fat tissue.

So how do you start?  Simple – eat fruits or vegetables (colorful ones) before every single meal.  Drink tea (black, white, green or oolong), snack on nuts (all nuts are heart healthy and can help satiate your appetite) and think twice about over-indulging in heaps of Christmas cookies, alcoholic drinks and egg nog.

Can Women Bulk Up from Weight Lifting?

Here are two statements I’ve heard more times than I can count:

1) I’ve been lifting weights and my clothes are getting tighter.
2) The scale hasn’t changed on my weight loss program but muscle mass is replacing my fat.
So what’s the truth behind women and lifting? Women can gain muscle mass but you aren’t going to put on much size lifting light weights or using your own body weight. You may get stronger but you certainly won’t get noticeably bigger. Especially for those who are new to weight lifting. In the beginning stages of a resistance training program, muscles get stronger but not bigger. Size and strength do not continue on an upward trajectory at the same rate. And, because women don’t have the same hormonal profile that men do, it takes a LOT for us to put on size – eating the right kinds of foods at the right time within proximity to training, eating enough total calories, taking creatine and a following a training program to put on size (heavy weights, low reps, periodized training). And even then, this program takes time and consistency.
In one study, scientists placed 161 previously sedentary, obese women into 6 groups: a control group (no exercise or diet), an exercise only group and 4 different diet groups. All of the groups (except the control group of course), followed the Curves program 3x a week for 14 weeks (28 minutes of circuit training). Not only were there no massive muscle mass gains but, all groups lost a little lean body mass except the control group.
If you still think you are an outlier, keep in mind that we are all built a little differently and therefore respond differently to exercise. Consider getting your body fat and weight tested every few months to see if you are gaining fat or muscle (better yet, get a DEXA done which will separate lean mass from fat mass and is a more accurate way to measure body fat than calipers).

Lessons Learned from 09-11-01

Today I’ve heard a number of “where were you when” stories. Where were you when you got the chilling news that our own American aircrafts had been hijacked and the Towers and Pentagon the target of mass destruction? Destruction that led to war and, subsequently, American soliders sacrificing their lives for the sake of our nation’s safety.

It’s hard to not think of the events of 9-11 today, the families who were affected by this tragedy and what life means to you. I remember a period of several hours where I couldn’t get in touch with any family since the phone lines were down in the DC area – land lines and cell phones. I remember wondering where my cousin was in the city and if she was watching this horror from a streetside view. And I remember being stunned and saddened for all of the familes who lost their loved ones.

What on earth does this have to do with nutrition you are wondering? Not much. But it has to do with life and health. We may have little control over tragedies and freak accidents but we do have a heck of a lot of control over our own health. Sure, people get diseases and many are sidelined with injuries or illness. But, many people feel “powerless” over their situation or food or an injury when really, they have a lot more power than they think. Anyone reading this was lucky enough not to be in that part of the Pentagon or the Towers or on a flight that was taken down in PA. We owe it to ourselves to live the best life possible and take care of the years we’ve been given. Because there are many young men and women who’ve given up their lives to keep us safe.

If you are interested in giving back, here are a few organizations you may want to look into:
Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund
Rolling Thunder