Staying constantly connected via your cell phone or computer creates an environment that can prompt the ‘fight or flight’ response and the release of stress hormones. Research shows that playing computer games can cause some of the same physiological effects as stress, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. Links have also been found between technology use, reduced quality of sleep, and increased stress.
Whether or not everyday stress is directly related to poor heart health is still being evaluated, but stress can promote other activities that do increase risks for heart disease. Eating high-fat and high-calorie comfort foods, smoking, and excess alcohol intake are all risk factors that are made worse by stress. Escape from all forms of technology for at least a short period every day and consider taking longer breaks over the weekend or during vacation.
Monitor your sodium intake
Eating high sodium foods can cause sodium levels to build in the blood resulting in increased blood pressure and an increased risk for heart disease. National health recommendations suggest that sodium intake be limited to 2,300 milligrams per day for healthy adults, however, some organizations suggest limiting intake even further to 1,500 milligrams per day. The best way to reduce sodium is to limit your intake of processed foods such as chips, crackers, condiments, and frozen meals or meal kits, and reduce the amount of salt you add to prepared foods before eating.
Eat more fiber
Soluble fiber can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease risk for heart disease. Many grains, legumes, and fruits are rich in soluble fiber including oats, beans, peas, rice bran, barley, and citrus. The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat 25 grams of dietary fiber per day, which includes soluble and insoluble fiber.
Commit to regular workouts
HDL (good) cholesterol protects against heart disease by clearing excess cholesterol from the blood to prevent it from causing clogged arteries. Research shows that two months of regular cardiovascular exercise can increase your HDL cholesterol by as much as five percent. This can be achieved by exercising 30 minutes, five days per week. When planning your program, keep in mind that a healthy heart is not only linked to aerobic exercise. The American Heart Association also recommends strength training as a way to reduce heart disease risk.
Get some sleep
Sleeping fewer than six hours per night has been linked to to an increased risk for high blood pressure, insulin resistance, heart attack, and stroke. While incorporating more hours of restful sleep each night can help reduce your risk, be sure not to over do it. Research shows that sleeping more than nine hours a night can also increase your risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Cruciferous vegetables are loaded with disease fighting phytonutrients. This recipe dresses them up with the flavors of sesame and ginger. It is an easy side dish to pair with grilled fish or serve it with quinoa and lentils.
Yield: 3 to 4 servings
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
½ tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp minced fresh ginger
4 cups chopped cauliflower florets
2 cups chopped kale leaves
½ cup no-salt-added chicken or vegetable stock
½ tsp low sodium soy sauce
½ tsp dark sesame oil
1 tbsp black sesame seeds
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute.
Add the cauliflower and kale, cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the stock and continue to cook for 5 to 7 more minutes until the vegetables are tender and the liquid has evaporated.
Stir in the soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds. Remove from the heat and serve warm.
Nutrition information for ¼ recipe: Calories 80; Total Fat 3.8 g; Saturated Fat 0.5 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 117 mg; Carbohydrate 9.7 g; Fiber 3.3 g; Sugar 2.5 g; Protein 3.9 g
Adding spices to your food allows you to enhance flavor without using excess salt and fats, but the benefits don’t stop there. Research shows that spices contain substances that fight disease and improve your health.
Research shows that cinnamon can improve blood sugar by stimulating insulin receptors and improving glucose absorption by cells. Some studies suggest that it may help lower blood sugar in those with diabetes. The oils in cinnamon have also been found to help fight bacteria. Add cinnamon to your morning coffee, stir it into yogurt or oatmeal, and sprinkle it over fruit salad.
The oil in coriander seeds has antibacterial properties that may be effective at destroying dangerous bacteria that cause foodborne illness. It is also full of multiple phytonutrients. Animal studies have linked coriander with reduced blood sugar and cholesterol. Sprinkle coriander in scrambled egg whites, add it to salad dressings, or mix it into soups and stews.
Crushed Red Pepper
Peppers contain capsaicin, which contributes to the spicy heat. Capsaicin is also responsible for many of the health benefits of hot peppers. Hot peppers have been found to produce a slight increase in metabolism and a brief reduction in appetite that may help with weight loss over time. Studies also show that hot peppers may reduce blood cholesterol, and they are linked to lower risks for heart attack and stroke. Stir crushed red pepper into soups or pasta sauces, and sprinkle it over roasted vegetables.
Gingerol is responsible for the many health benefits of ginger. Ginger has been found to fight inflammation, which may help reduce arthritis pain. Research shows that it may also help protect against some cancers by blocking the growth of cancer cells. While fresh ginger contains more gingerol, dried ginger is still a healthy spice. Blend it into smoothies, stir it into oatmeal, and add it to sauteed vegetables.
Turmeric is a spice often found in curry powder as well as yellow mustard. It contains the antioxidant curcumin, which is responsible for its multiple health benefits. Turmeric has been found to reduce joint inflammation. Research shows that it may also help block the growth of cancer cells. The antioxidant power of turmeric has been found to reduce total cholesterol, which may lead to a reduced risk for heart disease. Blend turmeric into smoothies, add it to stir-fries,and mix it into dry rubs for poultry or fish.
Living a healthy lifestyle doesn't mean that you have to cut out all special occasions. It’s okay to responsibly enjoy happy hour with friends and coworkers from time to time. When you do, aim to make it a healthier event so that it doesn't throw you off track. Here are a few ways you can join the fun without disrupting your progress.
Know the facts.
Before you decide to gather for a drink, it’s important to understand how alcohol impacts weight loss. Not only do alcoholic drinks add calories, they can affect how efficiently you burn body fat and they can also stimulate appetite. Understanding how alcohol can interfere with reaching your goals will help you make healthier choices and prevent the risk that you will overdo it on drinks.
Order a classic.
Fruity and frozen drinks or those mixed with regular soda cause calories and simple sugars to add up. If you want a cocktail, stick with the classics. Traditional daiquiris, martinis, and spirits mixed with club soda allow for a cocktail without the cost of blowing your daily calorie budget. Order a classic martini instead of a cosmopolitan and you will save 70 calories or more.
Stick with smaller portions.
Many craft breweries and tasting rooms provide options for smaller portions that can help you stick to your plan. Order a half pint or tasters of beers for less volume and fewer calories.
Seek out session beers.
It is difficult to estimate the calories in a beer without knowing the exact recipe, but generally when the alcohol content goes up so do the number of calories. Fortunately, session beers provide a lighter option. Session beers are less than 5 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). As a comparison, a 12 ounce Budweiser is 5 percent ABV and contains about 145 calories.
Pick wine over sangria.
Stick with plain wine instead of sangria. A five-ounce glass of Merlot contains about 115 calories. Sangria is made with wine, but many varieties have added fruit juice, syrups, liqueurs, and some even contain flavored sodas like ginger ale. All these additions cause the calories to soar to over 200 for one glass.
Work in water.
Alcohol is dehydrating so keep your water intake up even if you only have one drink. Drink a glass of water before and after your cocktail. Dehydration can zap your energy levels making you feel sluggish and unmotivated for tomorrow morning’s workout.
Select the snacks.
Consuming alcohol lowers inhibitions making it much easier to engage in mindless snacking. If your table decides to order a few bar bites, take charge of the situation and order some healthier items. Check for options like grilled chicken satay, sautéed shrimp, or lettuce wraps. If none of the offerings meet your healthy eating plan, order a side salad or a cup of broth-based soup. Ignoring your hunger will only make you cave in when the high-calorie appetizers get passed around the table.
Fish is a high quality source for lean protein and heart-healthy fat. Baking fish in foil packets with flavorful fresh vegetables allows you to make a quick meal with easy clean-up. Pair it with a salad and a side of quinoa or brown rice for a balanced, healthy meal.
Yield: 4 servings
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 20 minutes
4 white fish fillets (such as tilapia)
1 cup halved small cherry or grape tomatoes
1/3 cup finely diced green bell pepper
¼ cup minced sweet onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lay four 12x16-inch pieces of aluminum foil on a flat work surface. Place a piece of fish in the center of each piece of foil.
In a medium bowl, stir together the tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Top each piece of fish with an equal amount of the vegetables.
To seal each packet, turn the piece of foil so that the 16-inch side is horizontal. Fold the right and left ends toward the center to meet each other. Roll the foil down two to three turns to seal the two sides. Grab each of the open ends and roll towards the center to create and seal the packet.
Place on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the fish begins to flake and the vegetables are softened.
Nutrition information for 1 serving: Calories 194; Total Fat 9.3 g; Saturated Fat 1.4 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 50 mg; Sodium 208 mg; Carbohydrate 6.7 g; Fiber 1 g; Sugar 2.7 g; Protein 21.8 g