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How to Make Your Diet Heart Healthy

With February declared Heart Month, many countries and organizations around the world are encouraging us all to start good habits now that will improve heart health not just for February but for life.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is the leading global cause of death, with 2,200 Americans dying each day from heart disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that a poor diet is one of the most influential lifestyle choices that put people at a higher risk for heart disease, and a nutritious, balanced diet is a major factor in combating the most common type of heart disease, coronary artery disease, which results from a build-up in coronary arteries.

Thankfully though diet can be easily modified, with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) also adding that even if already have a heart condition, a healthy diet can still benefit your heart and overall health.

Here we round up some expert advice from the AHA, CDC, and BHF on how everyone can maintain and enjoy a heart-healthy diet.

Fruit and vegetables

Aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day for a well-balanced diet.

Try to vary the types of fruit and vegetables you eat; Carleton Rivers, MS, RDN, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences in the University of Alabama, Birmingham School of Health Professions and program director of the UAB Dietetic Internship advises, “Choose vegetables that have a rich color like dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots and zucchini.”

“Just be sure not to substitute fresh fruits with 100 percent fruit juice or dried fruit,” she adds, which can be higher in sugar and lower in fiber than fresh fruit.

However although fresh is great, the BHF notes that frozen and tinned also count.

And as a guide a portion is around a handful (80g or 3oz) of fruit or veg, for example 4 broccoli florets, 1 pear, 3 heaped tablespoons of carrots, and 7-8 strawberries.

Saturated fat

Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which can increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Try to reduce your intake of fatty cuts of beef, lamb, and pork and poultry skin, and dairy products such as lard, cream, butter, and cheese.

Unsaturated fats

Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated “good” fats can help boost heart health. Add in monounsaturated fats, for example olive oil, rapeseed oil, almonds, unsalted cashews and avocado, or polyunsaturated fats, such as sunflower oil and vegetable oil, walnuts, sunflower seeds and oily fish.

However remember that all fats and oils — including the healthier ones — are high in calories, so even unsaturated fats should only be used in small amounts.

Fiber and protein

“Fiber is important for gastrointestinal motility, blood sugar control and lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol,” Rivers said. “Fiber is great for appetite control because it can fill you up and keep you feeling fuller for longer.”

Whole, fresh fruit and vegetables are good sources of fiber, as are whole grains such as brown rice, wild rice, whole oats, and wholegrain barley, and legumes, beans and peas.

Protein is also needed as part of a balanced diet to build and maintain muscles and can be found in a variety of sources such as lean meats cooked using a low-fat method, such as baking.

Salt

Eating too much salt can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, which in turn can increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Try seasoning your food with herbs and spices for extra flavor to reduce your salt intake.

Alcohol

Stick to the recommended guidelines and remember, everything in moderation.

Treat yourself too

Although the AHA, CDC, and BHF all encourage a heart-healthy diet, Rivers says a “cheat day” is OK occasionally and a little bit of what you like rather than depriving yourself entirely will help you stick to a nutritious eating plan.

Your favorite piece of chocolate or guacamole and tortilla chips are what Rivers recommends as two heart-healthy treats to have on “cheat days,” adding that, “The occasional bite of dark chocolate or a nice glass of pinot noir is a perfect reward for your efforts to sustain your heart health.”

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How to Keep Your Wedding Diet From Totally Taking Over Your Relationship

Let’s just put it out there: Dieting can make you hangry, and a hungry bride doesn’t make for the most fun fiancé for anyone involved. Thankfully, there are ways to find balance and still look #flawless for the big day without letting the process of getting there completely take over your life. Here are seven expert-approved ways to ensure that your bridal boot camp isn’t getting in the way of your relationship.

1. Look Toward the Future

Getting ready for a wedding can be so much work that it’s easy to forget what you’re really preparing for—a life together. Keri Glassman, founder of NutritiousLife, suggests using your wedding health regimen as a way to pave the way, not just for one big day in a pretty white dress, but for your future. “Be realistic so you’re setting yourself up for life, not just for the wedding,” says Glassman. “Think about this as something you want to do to get in shape for your new life, setting the tone for building a life together and having a healthy home.” After all, a healthy home is a happy one.

2. #TreatYourself

Working a cheat day into your wedding-induced boot camp is a necessary way to keep your tactics on track, and what better way to do it than on a date night with your fiancé? “By feeling a little less restricted, you feel motivated to continue on your diet and fitness regimens,” says Beth Warren, founder and CEO of Beth Warren Nutrition. “As long as the majority of your days are filled with healthy options and you maintain your exercise schedule, then you can afford to have a mindful treat from time to time.” I’ll have a glass of wine and the triple-chocolate cake, please.

3. Do it Together

Those couples who attend every spin/yoga/HIIT class together may seem annoying, but they actually may be onto something. “It is great to undergo diet and fitness changes together as a couple,” says Warren. “It can be an opportune way to get closer to each other because you are both responsible for uplifting the other with positivity and encouragement.” Try finding activities that you both enjoy—hiking, running, and tennis are all great options—or try a workout app at home that you can both do at your own pace. That said, it’s OK to keep things totally separate, as long as you’re getting the support you need.

4. Communicate Your Needs

Your engagement is a time to learn how to communicate across all aspects of your relationship, and this is no exception. You don’t need to be on the same diet and fitness plan, but it’s important to discuss your goals and how you intend to achieve them. “Understanding each other’s strategy will help clear up potential conflicts and provide opportunity for both of you to keep the other on track,” says Warren.

5. Find Compromise

If your partner hasn’t decided to start their own healthy regimen, it may be a little jarring for them to have to change their lifestyle to accommodate yours, so finding middle ground is key. “The same way you would communicate anything, be really clear with your needs,” says Glassman. For example, suggest ordering from places with healthy menu options (not just your usual wings-and-pizza joints) and try to find ways to balance between eating out and at home.

See More: 2017 Health and Fitness Trends That Are Perfect for Brides-to-Be

6. Don’t Play Diet Police

Being healthy is supposed to be a positive change, not a negative one, especially in relation to the person you love. “When you feel like [you are] your partner’s policeman and notice you are constantly saying negative things such as, ‘you can’t eat that,’ you may have taken it too far,” says Warren. If at any point it starts to feel bad and discouraging, reevaluate the situation (preferably together!) and find a way to make the necessary changes in your routine and the way you’re communicating it.

7. Be Honest With Yourself

Real talk: Nobody wants to spend their entire engagement feeling cranky and hungry. “Be aware of your moods and your behavior,” says Glassman. “And be truthful when you ask yourself: Is this affecting you in a positive or negative way?” Check in with yourself, and with your fiancé, to make sure you’re both OK with how things are working.

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‘Fasting-mimicking’ diet said to reduce risk factors for aging

Following a diet that mimics fasting may reduce risk factors for disease in generally healthy people, according to a small study.

Dr. Min Wei of UCLA’s Longevity Institute and colleagues tested the effects of the fasting-mimicking diet on various risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, cancer or other conditions.

The diet (FMD; brand name ProLon) is low in calories, sugars and protein but high in unsaturated fats. Forty-eight study participants ate normally for three months while 52 ate FMD for five days each month and ate normally the rest of the time. After three months, the groups switched regimens. Although all participants were considered healthy, some had high blood pressure, low levels of “good” cholesterol, and other risk factors.

More on this…

A total of 71 people completed the study, which was published in Science Translational Medicine. Body mass index, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol improved with FMD, but mainly for those who were already at risk. Side effects were mild, including fatigue, weakness and headaches.

Wei and Dr. Valter Longo of the University of California, San Diego, said in an interview published in the journal that while “the great majority” of participants had one or more risk factors for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, “FDA trials will be necessary to demonstrate whether periodic FMD is effective in disease prevention and treatment.”

Dr. Joseph Antoun, CEO of L-Nutra, Inc., which produces FMD, told Reuters Health by email that FMD “is intended for use by individuals who want to optimize their health and wellbeing, by overweight or obese individuals who want to manage their weight in an easy and healthy way, and by people who have abnormal levels of biomarkers for aging and age-related conditions.”

That said, Antoun acknowledged that if you have common conditions associated with overweight and obesity such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, you should not use FMD without a doctor’s approval.

The product also should not be used by children under 18 or pregnant or nursing women. And it’s not for you if you have certain metabolic diseases, liver or kidney disorders that may be affected by the very low glucose and protein content of the diet, or if you have nut or soy allergies. What’s more, it “should never be combined with glucose-lowering drugs, such as metformin or insulin,” according to Antoun.

Registered dietitian Ashlea Braun of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus pointed out that researchers compared the fasting-mimicking diet to participants’ usual diet. “Therefore, we don’t yet know how this diet stands up against long-standing approaches already shown to be beneficial, such as the Mediterranean or DASH Diet.”

“It’s not clear if (FMD) enables individuals to consistently meet all micronutrient requirements,” she told Reuters Health by email. “It’s also not known how this type of restrictive diet affects muscle mass in the long term, and what impact this has on various indicators of health.”

“Although there is some evidence showing these type of restrictive diets can help ‘jump start’ people considering lifestyle changes, more research is definitely needed before this is recommended for individuals,” Braun concluded.

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Extreme diets will keep you on diet forever

I connect with many on social media about fitness and nutrition. Doing so gives me a fly-on-the-wall view of the most popular fitness and nutrition trends.

For example, a protein shake resembling the taste of cake batter and promising weight loss swept through our area a few years ago, having grown in exposure with the help of social media. The fact that the shake’s base was soy protein, (debatably nutritious) and contained artificial sweeteners didn’t matter. It promised weight loss, so many bought it. But just as quickly as the bandwagon rolled into town, it was gone.


In our video series For the Health of it, Joline Atkins provides health and wellness advice.


I get it.

I am not immune to being lured by the pull of new products boldly promising quick results. I recall my own adventure into extreme diet-land — the Atkin’s diet being my choice, and not because we shared a last name.

The diet wooed me with promises of weight loss. I did indeed lose weight. But, as for its second promise, that I could eat this way for life, I simply couldn’t. I began to miss pasta, bread, potatoes and certain fruits and vegetables that were on the “no” list. I had adopted a very restrictive list of food choices, even believing there were foods I could “never eat again.”

Please.

When it comes to emotionally healthy weight loss, the words “never” and “always” are red flags and descriptors of an extreme approach.

I was a healthy 27-year-old woman with no medical issues. There was absolutely no reason to resort to the popular low-carb diet. It left me addicted to artificial sweeteners in coffee, snacks and desserts. Weaning myself from these included a grumpy, headache-enduring 30 days.

When my Atkin’s days were over, I was left a bit fearful of food, for I didn’t possess even a basic “old-fashioned” knowledge about how to make balanced and nutritious choices. I moved on to being the Weight Watchers gal who calculated how many Starbursts I could get away with.

Thankfully, I did a 180 and now enjoy all foods — without thinking about it all day long or being fearful of making mistakes.

I cringe when I look back and when I watch current trends. Eliminate ALL sugar. ALL grains. ALL dairy. And so on, and so forth.

I am struck by the lengths we will go to “get it right” when even just simple changes such as reducing sugar, choosing whole grains, refusing to scrap entire food groups and committing to reasonable portions offer a better chance of sustainability, rather than that of restrictive plans. Restriction eventually results in noncompliance. According to the “Psychology of Eating,” 95 percent of all dieters will regain the weight they lose within one year.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

True, there are those who must make extreme changes due to medical concerns and food allergies. These concerns may warrant eliminating specific foods. Here, a registered dietitian and/or allergist would be the necessary initial resource, not a best-selling book.

Yet, for those of us who desire to lose some weight, and are free of medical conditions that would necessitate a special diet, resist the trendy new diets and trust a commitment to proper portions of proteins, vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy.

Refuse extreme approaches.

We consume food. It shouldn’t consume us.

My Ex Forced Me to Diet When We Were Together and It Destroyed My Mental Health

I’ve been an active and healthy person my entire life. As a teen, I competitively danced 20+ hours a week and frequently went to the gym. I looked great and felt great.

Even once I started dating my first serious boyfriend (whom I ended up dating for over three years), I never gave up on my healthy and active lifestyle. But once the first year of initial-dating-romance passed, my ex’s true colors and feelings came out.

I can still remember the day he told me I was fat and he wasn’t attracted to me anymore. Well, over five years later, the memory of how he made me feel still stings. Looking back now, what’s funny is I didn’t even gain any weight. I was a healthy, average weight of 130 pounds. And for someone who was as active and fit as I was, I was the healthiest I’ve ever been.

He made me question everything I loved about myself. My muscular legs — toned from years of hard work — I saw as fat and disgusting.

My curvy figure, I resented. I began hating everything about my body and rather than being upset with him, I became furious with myself for letting myself go. I couldn’t understand how the guy who once told me I was the most beautiful girl in the world, thought I was now unattractive and “getting fat.”

Jovo Jovanovic

He told me if I didn’t lose 15 pounds, he would break up with me. At 20 years old, the thought of living without him was terrifying and would leave me in a panicked, anxious state, so I knew I had to do whatever I could to stay with him.

I began starving myself, making myself sick and working out for hours on end to the point of exhaustion. I began dropping weight at an unhealthy rate and my friends and family noticed.

Of course, they had no idea my new obsession with “exercising” had anything to do with my ex. Nothing they said could steer me away from my goal weight. If they did happen to convince me to take a night off from the gym and I indulged in food, I would not only hate myself for it, but I would never hear the end of it from my ex.

Whenever my ex would comment on my weight or size, I would write down whatever he said in a notebook and how it made me feel. Whenever I would have a moment of weakness, I would read his horrible comments and sit and cry. Looking back, I can’t believe I ever allowed someone to mistreat me and make me feel so poorly about myself.

PAFF

This feeling of insecurity and self-hate continued for the rest of our relationship. I was always trying to prove myself and win his affection by staying at an unhealthy weight. The last months we were together, I found out the entire time we were together he was cheating on me. I was devasted, of course, but I was finally free from his manipulation.

Following our breakup, I went through a downward spiral. I was a wreck and practically bedridden with depression and anxiety. I couldn’t work, go to school or even eat.

The following months were the hardest. Despite finally being free from his horrible comments, I still believed the things he used to say about me. I was sent to counseling to try to overcome my feelings and finally, after months of that, I began to move on.

Today, many years, boyfriends and dress sizes later, I am back to a healthy weight where I actually feel comfortable and somewhat confident again.

But there are, of course, days when I step on the scale and see a number I’m not overly pleased with and I have flashbacks to my days of unhappiness when I felt like I was never enough.

But now, because of what I went through, I am able to step off the scale and look at my reflection in the mirror and tell myself I am beautiful and I am enough.

I now know to never, ever, let a human make me feel that poorly about myself. Despite how horrible those years were, they made me a stronger person.

Now I can tell myself, or any other person who needs to hear it: You’re beautiful, amazing and incredible just the way you are and screw anyone who thinks or tells you otherwise.

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Ketogenic fasting-type diet shown to improve risk factors for type 2 diabetes

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Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have recently shown that a periodic ketogenic diet exerts similar beneficial effects to fasting on metabolic disease risk factors.

To date, most scientific papers about fasting have focused on how it can improve markers of aging and were conducted in animals.

This study – albeit small with 71 people – done by USC is one of the first controlled experiments implementing a fasting-mimicking diet in free-living human subjects.

The participants involved in this trial did not have type 2 diabetes, but some of them had high blood sugar levels and were predisposed to various metabolic disease risk factors.

Researchers tested whether a fasting-mimicking diet (FMD), designed and studied by Valter Longo, the director of the Longevity Institute at USC, could reduce those risks.

Longo has spent the last few years trying to figure out how much we can add to the diet of someone before we lose the effects of fasting and how to formulate it.

He came up with something that is “low”-calorie (up to 1,100 calories per day), low-protein, low-sugar, and relatively high-fat that does exactly that.

This is what the research team had participants consume five days a week for three months before measuring the evolution of their body composition, fasting glucose, and cholesterol levels.

According to the results, published in Science Translational Medicine, participants lost an average of about six pounds and trimmed their waistlines by one to two inches. At the same time, their total body fat went down.

As for fasting glucose, those who had blood sugar levels supporting a trend toward prediabetes saw their levels drop to a healthier range, here defined as below 5.5 mmol/l.

Those who had abnormal cholesterol values to begin with had a reduction of their total cholesterol by 0.5 mmol/l and experienced decreases in triglycerides as well as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

The findings suggest that periodically reducing energy intake through the consumption of a low-carb, ketogenic type of diet may confer some of the benefits of a full blown fast – which is very difficult for most people to do.

For more information about eating a low-carb diet, check out our Low Carb Program.

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