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Archive for February, 2015

February is Cancer Prevention Month. If given a choice, who Healthy Foodswouldn’t choose to stay cancer free? Many speak of the dreaded “C” word. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), nearly half of the most common cancers can be prevented. About one-third of those cancers in the United States could be avoided if Americans chose to move more, maintained appropriate weight, and ate healthful foods.

Some of the cancers linked directly to lifestyle include colorectal, breast, endometrial, esophageal, gallbladder, kidney, liver, lung, pancreatic, prostate, stomach, ovarian, and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx. Other cancers have also been strongly linked to lifestyle. Here are several steps for cancer prevention summarized from AICR recommendations.

  • Remain lean but not underweight
  • Participate in physical activity for 30 minutes each day
  • Avoid sugary drinks and high calorie foods
  • Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes
  • Limit red meat
  • Limit alcoholic beverages
  • Limit excessive salt and processed foods
  • Avoid supplements that claim to cut cancer risk

On their website, AICR identifies specific foods that fight cancer and why these foods are beneficial in our efforts to combat this feared disease. A major part of many of these foods is their antioxidant content. A few examples include:

Apples – The antioxidant comes from several phytochemicals, namely quercetin, epicatechin, and anthocyanins. The peels have additional antioxidants.

Blueberries – These fruits are one of the highest in antioxidants. They also contribute high levels of vitamins C and K, manganese, and dietary fiber.

Coffee – America’s favorite beverage has concentrated sources of the antioxidant phytochemicals. Chlorogenic acid is a major source of phenols in coffee, and quinic acid is partly responsible for coffee’s acidic taste.

Legumes – In addition to antioxidants, legumes contain lignans (plant-based substances that may act like human estrogen) and saponins (health-promoting complex compounds) and other substances that may protect against cancer.

Dark green vegetables – Vegetables such as spinach, kale, romaine, mustard greens, collard greens and others provide excellent sources of carotenoids including lutein and zeaxanthin plus saponins and flavonoids. These chemicals may possibly protect against cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx. They may also inhibit the growth of certain types of cells associated with breast, skin, lung, and stomach cancers.

For an extensive review, AICR gives current research on many other foods that can help combat cancer such as cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, others), cherries, tea, cranberries, garlic, soy, winter squash, tomatoes, whole grains, and nuts (especially walnuts). Prevention isn’t just a one month activity. Include the suggested foods in your diet all year to get the most benefits and help prevent cancer.

 

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Clip Art for American Heart Month

February is Heart Month. Many factors other than genetics influence heart health. High levels of Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol increase cardiovascular risks. Statins are the most effective classification of drugs and frequently considered the best option for lowering LDL levels. They act in the body by reducing an enzyme needed to create cholesterol. Less LDL cholesterol helps to prevent buildup of fatty substances in the arteries called plaque.

More than 33 million people take some form of statin medications, with nearly half of the population over age 75 taking some form of the drug. Some of the most commonly recognized statins on the market include Crestor, Lipitor, Pravachol, Zocor, and others.

Statins are safe and effective for most people, but like many drugs, they may pose risks for some. Among the adverse effects are memory loss, mental confusion, increased blood sugar, and serious muscle problems.

While statins save many lives of people with cardiovascular difficulties, are they the best option for everyone? A recent study followed thirty-seven overweight subjects for three months. All gradually increased treadmill exercise up to 45 minutes a day for five days per week. Half of the subjects received a statin, and half did not. The LDL cholesterol levels dropped 40 percent in those taking statins while they increased slightly in the non-statin group. Cardio fitness increased 1.5 percent in the statin group compared to an increase of ten percent in the non-statin group. So while statins lowered LDL in the experimental group, cardio fitness was greater in those who exercised but did not take statins.

When it comes to heart health, no drug is a substitute for a healthy lifestyle. After cessation of smoking, appropriate exercise and eating remain two changes that promote heart health. While statins may be appropriate for great numbers of the population with serious heart conditions, others may fare better with altered lifestyles. As this February Heart Month draws to a close, remember if we want to stay healthier and live longer, the option is ours. When statins aren’t the best choice, either eat healthy foods and move that body or plan for an earlier demise.

 

 

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Valentine’s Day is the occasion when we celebrate love. It isn’t exclusive to lovers. We honor family and friends with gifts. Given the choice of flowers or candy, most choose chocolate, and 83 percent of Americans will make their gifting of love some type of candy or chocolate.

While candy can contribute to overweight, it isn’t usually the culprit. Candy was around long before the modern-day problem of obesity. Research indicates that those who eat candy may weigh less, not because candy doesn’t have calories (we wish), but because normal weight people incorporate it as part of a healthy diet. Interestingly, one study of 1,000 U. S. children and teens found that those who ate candy were less likely to be overweight than those who did not. I can attest to that. As a child, my parents allowed me to eat way too much candy, and yet I remained very thin.

According to the National Confectioners Association, depriving oneself of candy to lose weight may backfire. More than 70 percent of adults quit trying to eat healthy because they associate a healthy diet with giving up favorite foods. Not so.

If you receive sweets this Valentine’s Day, keep moderation in mind and ration to less than 100 calories per day. Select small, individual portions of chocolates and candies. If you choose candies other than chocolate, “Treat Right” lists the number of pieces equal to 50 to 100 calories. It isn’t uncommon for me to keep boxed chocolates a year or longer in my freezer. When the urge for chocolate strikes me, I retrieve one piece and leave the rest frozen. If the temptation to consume the entire box overwhelms you, take a piece or two, share with others, and freeze immediately. Take pleasure in allowing each piece to melt in your mouth and last for a long time. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day guilt-free with candy.

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It’s rare to find anyone who doesn’t like chocolate. Most people love that smooth velvety texture and unique taste. The three main choices are dark, milk, or white chocolate. Several other available varieties include baking, bittersweet, cocoa, semi-sweet chocolate and more.

Chocolate comes from seeds inside the fruit, called a pod, of the cacao tree. The football shaped pods vary in color; green, yellow, orange, red, purple, or maroon. Trees grow mostly on small cocoa farms tended by family members. Farmers clip pods by hand, split them open, and pull fifty to sixty deep purple seeds from the sweet white pulp and juice. After harvest, farmers send beans to factories worldwide for roasting, grinding, and pressing.

In the past few decades, chocolate has been recognized not only for its flavor but also as a contributor to a healthy diet. Chocolate is abundant in flavonoids, thereby rendering the same health benefits. Some claims include:

  • improved blood flow
  • reduced risk for heart disease
  • lowered blood pressure
  • decreased mortality
  • lowered risk of stroke

Additionally, chocolate may improve mood, which most any woman knows without reading the research. However, a study published in 2012 found that subjects given chocolate candy reported higher levels of agreeableness. A 2013 study found that cocoa flavonoids increased positive moods and reduced anxiety in healthy middle-aged adults. Likewise, it may improve memory.

Before you gorge on Valentine chocolates, remember they have sugar added for taste and are calorie laden. Healthy diets advise eating in moderation and include chocolates as part of the discretionary calories for the day. Most women of normal weight can choose up to 300 discretionary calories daily from sources of extra fat or sugar. Of that amount, limit chocolate candies to 50-100 calories which is equivalent to about two or three small pieces. Let it melt in your mouth to savor the pleasure. Enjoy!

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If you’ve wondered if exercise is really as important as touted by health professionals, now comes more proof. A report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in January 2015 found exercise can help prevent premature death.

For couch-potatoes who want to continue to live an inactive lifestyle, this study is bad news. Almost everyone knows the perils of smoking and the effects of obesity on health. Recent evidence from a twelve-year study of more than 300,000 European men and women support reasons to get up and move. Even twenty minutes of brisk walking per day may reduce by thirty percent the risks of dying prematurely. Other studies in Asia have found that fifteen minutes per day of mild exercise improved longevity by nearly fifteen percent. These levels of activity are less than public health recommendations.

If you are one of those trim and slim or you are just a little overweight, that’s no cause for smugness. The most striking results of increased physical activity occurred in those who were of normal weight and free of abdominal fat (pot belly). Moderate exercise had a greater effect on preventing premature death in normal weight people than it did in the overweight or obese. The European study found that increased exercise lowered the risk of death twice as much as losing weight. However, increased physical activity also made a difference for the overweight and obese.

The fact remains. Any physical activity makes a difference. If you want to live longer, whatever your weight, get up and move. The longer you wait to start, the more likely you are to die before your time.

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