Monthly Archives: July 2016

Some Foods That Lower Cholesterol Naturally

You’ve probably seen certain foods touted as helpful for lowering cholesterol. But how exactly are diet and cholesterol connected?

Let’s back up for a minute. In case you need a quick refresher on cholesterol, we all have two natural types in our bodies: HDL, the “happy” or good kind, and LDL, the “lousy” kind. In general, having a high HDL is healthy, while having a high LDL is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

That’s because LDL tends to clog and harden arteries, whereas HDL carries LDL away from the arteries to your liver to be eliminated. HDL also seems to protect against damage to blood vessels (a major precursor to hardened arteries).

Then there’s dietary cholesterol, found in animal-based foods. Experts used to think that eating high-cholesterol foods—like egg yolks and shrimp—raised total blood cholesterol levels. Newer research has shown that’s not true.

But what we do know for certain is that other foods (think oats and almonds) can help manage or improve your overall cholesterol profile, and reduce your risk of heart disease. Below are my top five picks for these “cholesterol helpers”—plus easy and tasty ways to eat them more often.

Pulses

Several studies have linked pulses—the umbrella term for beans, lentils, and peas, like chickpeas—to cholesterol reduction. One study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that a 3/4 cup of pulses daily lowered lousy LDL cholesterol by 5%. That may not sound like much, but it is a significant drop.

Pulses are truly one of the most versatile food groups, since they can be consumed in both savory and sweet dishes, and are found in many forms, including whole beans, purees like hummus, pulse flours, and products like pulse-based pastas. Add beans to an omelet or whip chickpea flour into a smoothie. Snack on oven-roasted chickpeas or veggies with lentil dip. Add beans or lentils to salads or soups, use pulse noodles in place of wheat versions, and swap all-purpose flour for chickpea or fava bean flour in baked goods. You can even use a hummus or pureed split peas or lentils in place of creamy sauces.

Avocado

In a Pennsylvania State University study, researchers placed overweight adults on a low- or moderate-fat diet, with or without avocado. While the low-fat diet decreased LDL by 7 mg/dL, the moderate-fat diets produced even better results: The non-avocado eaters had an 8 mg/dL reduction in LDL, and the avocado group had a 14 mg/dL reduction.

Avocado goes with just about everything! Spread it on whole grain toast, whip it into a smoothie, add it to an omelet, frittata, or salad. Use it to garnish soups, chili, fish, chicken, beans, hummus, whole grains, or veggies. You can also scoop up guacamole with raw veggies as a snack, use avocado in place of butter in baking, and even whip it into creamy puddings and sauces.

Oats

Oats are a well-known cholesterol-lowering superfood. In one Thai study, people with high cholesterol were given either oatmeal or rice porridge for four weeks. The people who had the oatmeal experienced a 5% reduction in total cholesterol, and a 10% slash in their LDL.

At breakfast, oats can be whipped into smoothies, toasted and sprinkled over fresh fruit, folded into energy balls, layered in parfaits, or added to acai bowls. Of course, there are dozens of variations of overnight oats these days. Plus oatmeal can be served savory as well as sweet. Make it with low-sodium organic vegetable broth instead of water and add shredded zucchini, minced onions, mushrooms, garlic, and Italian herb seasoning. Then top with a sunny side up egg.

You can also use oats to coat baked fish or chicken (in place of breadcrumbs), and as a filler in meatballs, meatloaves, or patties. And oats and oat flour are staples for cookies and healthier baked goods and desserts. I even stir them into melted dark chocolate, along with cinnamon, ginger, and shredded coconut, to make “haystacks.” Another nutritious dessert idea: Fold oats into almond butter with pumpkin pie spice, and use it as a crumble topping for sautéed fruit (aka mock cobbler).

Almonds

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that among heart disease patients, consuming just 10 grams of almonds before breakfast (that’s about 8 almonds), significantly upped levels of protective HDL. At week 6 the subjects’ good cholesterol values were 12-14% higher, and by week 12 they were 14-16% higher, compared to baseline levels.

In addition to snacking on whole almonds, you can use almond butter and almond flour in many meals and snacks. Whip almond butter into smoothies, add to oatmeal or parfaits, spread it on whole grain toast, or slather it onto sliced fruit. Add savory seasonings—like garlic and fresh ginger—to almond butter for a savory sandwich spread, or thin out the mixture with organic low-sodium vegetable broth to make a sauce for steamed or stir-fried veggies. Crushed almonds or almond flour can also be used to encrust fish or poultry. Plus, sliced almonds make a terrific garnish for any stir-fry, cooked whole grain, or cooked veggie dish.

Almond butter is also the base for many energy ball recipes, and all forms of almonds are staples in baking and desserts. I use almond flour along with chickpea flour to make gluten-free brownies and pumpkin spice muffins. I also love to stir chopped or sliced almonds into melted dark chocolate, along with chopped dried cherries and ginger, to make bark.

Green tea

One strategy for curbing heart disease risk is lowering LDL without also lowering HDL. The good news? Green tea seems to do the trick. A meta-analysis of research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that green tea consumption significantly lowered total cholesterol levels (by more than 7 mg/dL), and significantly reduced LDL values (by more than 2 mg/dL) without any effect on protective HDL.

In addition to sipping hot or iced green tea, you can incorporate the brew into your meals. Use chilled green as the liquid in smoothies or marinades. Season warmed tea as a base for soups, or use it to steam brown rice or veggies. Chilled green tea, flavored with fresh ginger, mint or basil, and muddled fresh fruit, is also one of my go-to cocktail ingredients. Try it in a margarita in place of a sugary mixer. Cheers!

Know More About What Alcohol Does to Your Heart

Having a drink or two a day can be a good thing, at least as far as the heart is concerned. There are nearly 100 studies of large populations that support this—they show consistently that people who drink moderately tend to have fewer heart events and are less likely to die of heart disease.

The key is moderation. Alcohol can be both tonic and toxin, since excessive drinking can lead to liver problems and other psychological and behavioral issues that impair health. In the latest study presented at the American Heart Association meeting in New Orleans, researchers pinpoint one way that alcohol can benefit the heart—by keeping good cholesterol levels high.

The study involved more than 80,000 healthy Chinese adults, who answered questions about their drinking habits and who gave blood for analysis four times during the six year study so researchers could measure their HDL as well as liver function and inflammatory markers. Those who reported drinking moderate amounts of alcohol—about one serving a day for women and two for men—had the lowest drop in HDL levels. With age, good cholesterol levels tend to decline, but these people seemed to slow that decline with their drinking. Those who abstained or drank more heavily didn’t show the same benefit.
Dr. Eric Rimm, director of cardiovascular epidemiology at the T. H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health, says the findings support other studies that have found that at any age, people who drink moderately tend to have higher HDL levels than those who don’t. HDL is important for heart health since it can mop up excess LDL, which can build up within blood vessel walls and contribute to plaques that can trigger heart attacks.

In fact, research suggests that having one or two drinks a day can lower risk of heart events about the same as losing around 30 pounds through diet and exercise. However, he says, “I’m hesitant to make that comparison, since weight loss is much more beneficial for other health reasons, such as reducing risk of cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases.” Drinking and driving is also a leading cause of health problems and death.

The author, Shue Huang at Pennsylvania State University, reports that the Chinese population mostly drank beer or spirits, so the study doesn’t shed light on the effects of wine, although previous work shows that the ethanol in different alcoholic beverages generally has the same health effects. “Almost without exception if you look at fatal and non fatal heart disease, people who drink in moderation have substantially lower rates than people who abstain,” he says. All the more reason to raise a glass—but probably not more than that.

Make You Feel Happier With This Yoga

Yoga isn’t just an amazing workout to help tighten and tone your physique; it actually packs all kinds of additional health benefits beyond fitness. In fact, studies have shown that it boosts heart health, can help manage diabetes symptoms, and increases brain power. It can even help improve mental health by swapping negative feelings of anxiety and depression for positive ones.

Watch this video to see celebrity yoga instructor Mandy Ingber teach a couple of yoga routines inspired by her new book Yogalosophy: 28 Days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover. Each is designed to increase your happiness and levels of joy. Namaste!

Don’t have time to watch? Read the full transcript:

Warm up: Start off in a seated cross-legged position. Move the fleshy part of the butt to the side. Take a deep breath in, interlace your fingers, and then flip your palms up, drawing your shoulders down. If you’d like, take a gentle twist from your torso to the right. Then back though the center. And switch sides. Focus on your breath as you do this and just start to notice how just connecting with your breath makes you feel a little more calm.

Cat cow: Come on to all fours in a tabletop position. Place palms directly below the shoulders, knees directly below the hips. Then inhale, arch your back, and lift the chest up. Then exhale while scooping the tailbone under and rounding the spine. Every time you open and expand the chest, take a deep breath, so you increase your lung capacity, and have more happiness and joy. Repeat this a couple times.

Arm and leg extension: After cat cow, come back to a neutral spine. Then extend the left arm forward, spinning you palm into a handshake position. And then take the right leg back behind you, flexing out through the heel. Look straight ahead, spinning your toes towards the mat. Remember to take deep breaths the entire time and stabilize the body using your abdominals. Then bring your palm to the floor and your knee to the floor and switch sides. Repeat a few times on each side.

Child’s pose: Press your hips back towards your heels on the floor in child’s pose. Walk the palms forward with the tip of the nose and your forehead down on the mat.

Downward dog: From child’s pose, tuck the toes and push into a downward facing dog. In this position, you want a nice, straight spine. If you need to bend your knees a little, go ahead and do that.

Plank: Shift forward into a plank position, with palms directly below the shoulders. Stabilize using your abdominals, and graze your ribs with your elbows, lowering down nice and slow, all the way to the floor.

Sphinx pose: Then place the forearms down on the mat. Now press into your forearms, roll your shoulders back, and lift your chin and chest up. As you breathe, you’re actually opening up the chest cavity. This is a heart opener, and any time you do this, you start to raise your energy levels.

Flow: From here, lower down, press back into child’s pose, then tuck your toes under lift your hips up into downward facing dog. Then shift the weight forward into plank position. Lower down nice and slow, resisting the floor as you lower. Elbows hug into the ribs. Press your forearms into the mat and come back into Sphinx pose. Then tuck your toes under, and push yourself into downward facing dog.

Repeat the flow sequence three total times.

Sun salutations: From here, go ahead and walk your feet up to your hands. Then roll up nice and slow, one vertebra at a time, until your shoulders roll back. Take a deep breath in, and swoop your arms up. This is the cardiovascular version of yoga. Exhale while folding down, abs stay nice and firm. Bring your hands to the floor or the shins. Inhale as you lift the chest. Then exhale as you place palms to the floor. Next, step back, and get into plank position. Resist as you lower your body down to the ground. Once you reach your mat, inhale, arch and lift, then exhale as you press back to downward facing dog. Repeat this sequence.

Warrior one: Extend your left leg behind you and step the foot all the way forward to the hands. Spin the back heel to a diagonal and reach the arms up. Your front leg is bent at a 90-degree angle, the outer edge of the back foot is pressing into the mat. Start to feel your strength. These warrior poses are going to give you a connection to your power.

Warrior two: After three breaths, open out into warrior two. Be sure to align your front heel with your back arch, so it’s as if you could draw a line down the center of your mat. Then sink down into the position so that your knee is at a 90-degree angle. Press your shoulders down and extend out through your fingertips.

Reverse warrior: Reach your back hand down to your back thigh. Reverse warrior is a great position because it opens the chest.

Side angle: Now go into side angle pose: Take your forearm down onto your thigh. And reach the opposite arm up. You should feel this in your thigh.

Then flip it and do the entire sequence (warrior one, warrior two, reverse warrior, and side angle) on the right side.

Crescent pose: Reach the arms up. Take a deep breath in, and on the exhale shift the weight forward. Bring the hands down by your sides.

Warrior three: From crescent pose, slowly launch off into warrior three. Extend through the crown of your head and your foot. Then slowly bring yourself down to crescent lounge, followed by downward facing dog.

Downward dog ab strengthener: From downward dog, reach your right leg back behind you. Then shift forward and bring your knee into the forehead. Then extend the leg back and bring the same knee to your tricep. Repeat this criss-cross a few times.

Repeat sequence (crescent, warrior three, ab strengthener) on the opposite side.

Forearm plank: Lower down to your forearms and come into a plank. Look straight ahead and focus on building that core strength.

Boat position: From plank, go down to the knees and shift the weight back. Sit on your tush and grab onto the hamstrings. Then lift your feet off of the mat, so that your feet and knees are lined up over each other. Think about pushing your lower back in and extending the sternum up. Be sure to breathe while you’re here. Extend and reach the arms out in front of you. Keep reaching and lifting for a few deep breaths.

Then get onto your back. Tuck the knees into your chest, and just rock it out a little bit.

Bridge pose: Place your feet on the mat, hip width apart, with your heels right below your knees. Then press your feet down in order to raise you hips up. Interlace your fingers and wriggle up onto your shoulders, opening that chest cavity. Every time that we open the chest it allows more space, more oxygen into the lungs. And more space for your heart. Good. Hold this for a couple deep breaths.

Stretch and savasana: From here you’re going to hug your knees into your chest. Then keep the right knee held into the chest while the left leg lengthens and extends out. Allow your shoulders to relax, allow your jaw to go slack. Bring your leg back through the center, and switch. Finally, close your eyes for a moment, imagine someone that you really love, and let yourself feel that feeling of love.