#222 Is Coconut Oil Good for Your Heart?

June 20th, 2017 by

Is Coconut Oil Good for Your Heart?

Coconut oil is the health food darling on the Internet. However, media headlines this past week proclaimed “coconut oil isn’t healthy” based on a new report from the American Heart Association.  So who is right?   In this article, I’ll answer the question, is coconut oil good for your heart?  I’ll also share with you four ways to enjoy coconut oil without putting your heart at risk.

The American Heart Association’s Coconut Oil Stance

As part of the low fat craze in the 1980s, coconut oil was something that should be avoided.  Now with the low carb craze, coconut oil has suddenly become a health food on the Internet.

This past week, the American Heart Association (AHA) published a warning on coconut oil and other foods high in saturated fats.  Their stance was that saturated fats increase LDL (bad cholesterol) and that a high LDL puts you at risk of cardiovascular disease and a premature death.

The AHA’s hope is that Americans will replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat from nuts and seeds or complex carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables.  In contrast to previous publications, the AHA clearly warned that replacing saturated fat with sugar or processed carbohydrates was a recipe for a cardiovascular disaster.

As coconut oil is 90% saturated fat, which is far more than butter (60% saturated fat), beef (40% saturated fat), or even lard (40% saturated fat) it should be avoided according to the AHA.  Interestingly, while there are no specific studies linking coconut oil to heart disease in their publication, the AHA still argues that because coconut oil sends your LDL (bad cholesterol) through the roof, it must be causing harm.

4 Arguments for Coconut Oil as a Health Food

In sharp contrast to the AHA, many Internet sites claim coconut oil is a health food.  Here are the four main arguments in support of coconut oil.

1. Saturated fat isn’t bad.

The belief that saturated fat isn’t bad comes from studies showing that when you replace saturated fats with carbs, people did worse.  The problem is that you really need to look at these studies closely.  In most of these studies, people replaced saturated fats with sugar and processed carbs.

While saturated fat is “less bad” for you than sugar or processed carbohydrates, that doesn’t mean it is a health food.  Indeed, if you carefully review all the studies published, when people replace saturated fats with healthy fats and unprocessed carbohydrates they do much better.

2. Coconut oil raises HDL and lowers triglycerides.

Studies show that coconut oil raises HDL or good cholesterol and lowers triglycerides.  HDL is like the garbage truck taking bad cholesterol (LDL) out of your body.  This is why the saturated fat in coconut oil carries a much lower risk of heart disease than the saturated fat in cheeseburgers and bacon.

Triglycerides, or the little fat particles in your blood, also cause heart disease.  Triglycerides shoot up if you eat sugar or processed carbohydrates.  If you are eating more fats then you are also probably eating less sugar and processed carbs.  Thus, triglycerides tend to be much lower on a high fat diet.

3. Pacific Islanders on a coconut diet don’t get heart disease.

Studies of Pacific Islanders show that islanders eating a high coconut diet have very low rates of cardiovascular disease.  However, these were studies of lean Pacific Islanders who were physically active and were otherwise eating a healthy diet.  Sadly, once Pacific Islanders immigrate to the U.S., coconuts lose any possible protective effect.

4. Coconut oil may prevent diabetes.

Studies show that coconut oil may improve insulin sensitivity and prevent diabetes.  As diabetes is one of the biggest causes of heart disease, anything you can do to keep your sugar levels low will minimize your risk.

So Who is Right?

As with most things in life, rarely is anything all bad or all good.  And when it comes to the question of is coconut oil good for your heart, the truth is it depends.

That is because we all have different genes and lifestyles.  In health conscientious people with good genes, saturated fats probably don’t cause any harm when eaten in moderation.

This would be like the Pacific Islanders living a traditional lifestyle.  With their traditional lifestyle, they weren’t eating much sugar and certainly didn’t have access to processed foods.  They were physically active during the day and didn’t have all of the stresses of modern life.  In this type of an environment, saturated fats couldn’t cause any harm.

However, if you are overweight, don’t exercise, are stressed out all the time, or have bad genes then saturated fat is probably going to trash your heart and your arteries.  Certainly, in animals the studies are pretty clear.  If you pump animals full of saturated fat they will develop blockages in their hearts.  However, in the world of saturated fats, coconut oil is much better for your heart than cheeseburgers or bacon.

4 Healthy Ways to Enjoy Coconut Oil

As lifestyle choices and genetics play a role in whether or not saturated fats cause harm, let me share with you four healthy ways to enjoy coconut oil.

1. Be Like the Pacific Islanders

If you enjoy coconut oil then live like the Pacific Islanders did historically.  Make sure your plate is mostly vegetables, you exercise every day, you have optimized your sleep, you are connected socially in meaningful relationships, and that you embrace the stress in your life.  With a healthy lifestyle, saturated fats in moderation won’t likely cause any harm.

2. Eat According to Your Genes

Depending on what type of genes you inherited, saturated fat may not pose any risk for you.  For example, if you have one or two copies of the Apo E2 gene then a high fat (ketogenic) diet may be the best thing for you.  However, if you have the Apo E3 or Apo E4 gene then saturated fat may put you at increased risk.

If you want to find out the status of your Apo gene, you can do so at home with the $199 23andMe kit.  Basically, you just spit in a test tube and then they will run the tests.

However, if you want to know your Apo gene status, you will need to pay an additional $5 to have your data transferred to Promethease.  This is because the FDA won’t let 23andMe release these sensitive data.

These data are sensitive because if you have one copy of the Apo E4 gene, you have three times the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.  With two copies of the Apo E4 gene, your Alzheimer’s disease risk is 20 times higher.  However, even if you have the wrong Apo gene, studies show that a 100% healthy lifestyle can completely eliminate any increased Alzheimer’s disease risk.

3. Check Your Coronary Calcium Score.

If you are over age 50, and don’t mind a little radiation, you can have a coronary calcium score done.  This is a cheap test that most insurance companies cover.

Basically, it is a limited CT scan that measures the calcium plaque in your heart.  If your arteries are plugged up then your score will be high.  However, if you are over 50 and have no calcium plaques then saturated fat is unlikely to cause any harm regardless of how high your cholesterol is.

4. Do Advanced Cholesterol Testing.

While it is very clear that coconut oil will shoot up your LDL cholesterol, this may not be as bad as it appears.  Not everyone with a high cholesterol gets heart disease.  This is because cholesterol is just one of many different things that can cause heart disease.

Also, not all LDL cholesterol particles are created equally.  When it comes to heart disease, the highest risk is associated with the small and dense LDL molecules.  Also, the content of the LDL and HDL molecules may also matter when it comes to heart disease risk.

The saturated fat from coconut oil is more likely to increase the big and fluffy LDL molecules.  These big and fluffy LDL molecules are less likely to get stuck in your arteries.

With this in mind, if you love coconut oil and have a high LDL, talk with your doctor about advanced lipid testing.  However, please be aware that detailed lipid testing is controversial and your doctor may not go for it.

This is because some studies show that advanced lipid testing can better assess your risk whereas other studies show it doesn’t offer any benefit.  Regardless of whether or not your doctor believes in more detailed lipid testing, all of my cardiology colleagues feel that if you had to pick your LDL, big and fluffy is better.

Take Home Message

The key take away from this article is don’t panic if you love coconut oil.  You can still enjoy coconut oil in moderation provided you live a healthy lifestyle.  Even if your lifestyle isn’t that great, if you have the Apo E2 gene, a coronary calcium score of zero, or have the right kind of cholesterol particles then there also isn’t much to worry about with coconut oil.

Has coconut oil affected your cholesterol numbers?  Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  I’ll do my best to answer every question posted as quickly as possible.

If you liked this article, please be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter.  In the process, you’ll also get a free copy of my recent E-book, Simplicity.  Even if you are already on the newsletter list, go to the sign up page to get your free copy of Simplicity.

Disclaimer

Anything discussed in this article, or any other article I have written, doesn’t constitute medical advice.  The only thing I share is general medical information.

Because everyone is different, what works for some people may or may not work for you.  This is why you shouldn’t act on anything discussed in this article without first speaking with your doctor.

#221 The 3 Secrets to Perfect Gut Health

June 10th, 2017 by
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The 3 Secrets to Perfect Gut Health

More and more research is pointing to optimal gut health as the secret to a long life free of medical problems.  In this article, I share the 3 secrets to perfect gut health.

Could Gut Health Be the Fountain of Youth?

As most readers know, we have a new book, The Longevity Plan: 7 Life Transforming Lessons from Ancient China.  This book represents five years of research and writing.

In this book, we identified a small village in Southwest China that was cut off from China and the rest of the world.  Here, people often live into their 100s without growing old or getting sick.  These centenarians are still doing everything they want to do and don’t require help from anyone else.

While we identified seven factors that explain this health miracle, other researchers have concluded that the secret is their gut health.  Indeed, one recently published medical study reported that the reason why these people live to 100 and beyond was because of their gut health.  Namely, it was their high fiber diet, natural probiotics, and the absence of gut toxins that accounted for their longevity.

Worry About Your Gut, Not Your Belly

Personally, I’ve never been that concerned with the size of a patient’s body. Certainly, there is a relationship between weight and health, but it’s not a perfectly linear one. We all come in different shapes, and those shapes have less to do with health than a lot of people think.

Instead of worrying about our bellies, we should be worried about our guts. Research shows that having the wrong sorts of bacteria in our digestive tracts can cause everything from weight gain and allergies to autoimmune diseases and heart disease. In fact, gut bacteria might be the absolute best indicator of personal health.

The 3 Secrets to Perfect Gut Health

When it comes to perfect gut health, we really need to learn from China’s longevity village.  They enjoyed great gut health and didn’t have to deal with all of the health challenges that we do.  Here are the 3 secrets to perfect gut health.

1. Get the Right Kind of Fiber

The best fiber comes from real foods.  I have yet to find a study showing that fiber supplements can even come close to competing with the fiber in real food.

To optimize your fiber intake, pile on the vegetables with every meal.  Eat plenty of fruit, especially berries.  Lastly, don’t forget legumes like lentils, peas, and beans which are also loaded with fiber.  Even nuts and seeds can be high in fiber.

Studies show that for every 10 extra grams of fiber you can get in your diet, you can decrease your heart disease risk by 20% and increases your lifespan by about 10%.  Getting 10 extra grams of fiber each day is incredibly easy to do.  For example, just one small cup of great tasting raspberries will almost get you to 10 grams of fiber.

Along with fiber supplements, avoid highly processed high-fiber foods. If you’ve been to the grocery store lately you know exactly what I am talking about.

Basically, avoid anything that has a label advertising its fiber content.  Even if these processed foods are fiber-rich, the impact of the other ingredients can wipe away any advantages the fiber might offer.

Real food doesn’t require a label.  When was the last time you saw a label advertising the fiber content of fresh broccoli, kale, or spinach?

2. Get the Right Fermented Foods

Getting a daily dose of fermented foods can be a great way to replenish your gut flora and keep your immune system working well.  If you are new to fermented foods, build up gradually.

As with fiber, stay away from fermented foods with added ingredients, especially sugar or other sweeteners. For example, kombucha is well established to be a great probiotic, but the drinks popping up in supermarket coolers are loaded with added sugar and other ingredients. Instead, try kombucha, kefir, yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh or miso in their most unadulterated form.  Then, season and flavor these foods, if needed, with natural foods.

Personally, I like a heaping spoonful of natto, fermented soy beans, every morning.  As I am asked by so many readers where I buy my natto, here is a link to the company I use.  Alternatively, you could also buy fresh natto from your local Asian food store.

Please be aware I’m about 99% confident that, unlike the Japanese who consider natto a delicacy, you will absolutely hate the taste of natto.  Also, in full disclosure, I have no relationship with this company.  They haven’t even so much as given me a discount on anything I buy from them.

For those who can’t stand the taste of natto, try some miso in your homemade salad dressings.  Miso is proof that probiotics don’t have to taste bad.  For a great tasting salad dressing, try my wife’s miso vinaigrette recipe.

If you would prefer to stick with the tried and true yogurt form of prebiotics, just be sure to buy those brands with live cultures and no added sugars or sweeteners.  To sweeten your yogurt, and get a healthy dose of fiber in the process, be sure to add fresh or frozen berries.

3. Steer Clear of Gut Toxins

If you want the right gut flora to keep you young and free from illnesses, you have to avoid the gut toxins.  The health producing bacteria lining your gastrointestinal system can be easily be wiped out by ingesting the wrong stuff.

Of the various gut toxins, the main culprits are added sugars, processed carbohydrates, antibiotics, and other medications.  While antibiotics and medications, like acid reducing or anti-inflammatory pain medications are sometimes needed, there is absolutely no health reason why you need added sugars or processed carbohydrates.

If you must take a medication, like an antibiotic, talk with your doctor about boosting your fiber and fermented food intake while you are on the antibiotic.  This way you can kill off the bad bacteria with antibiotics while still giving your good bacteria a chance to survive.

Take Home Message

To enjoy perfect gut health, make sure you get enough fiber and fermented foods while at the same time avoiding gut toxins. Those are the keys to keeping the bacteria in your gut happy. And when the bacteria in your gut are happy, the rest of your body will be happy, too.

If you can add at least one high-fiber menu item to each meal and one fermented food each day, you’ll soon realize that when you start worrying about your gut, your belly will take care of itself.

What has helped you to keep your gut happy?  Please leave your thoughts and questions below.

Disclaimer

Of course, when it comes to gut health please be sure to speak with your physician.  For some people, like those with serious gastrointestinal issues or a weakened immune system, fiber and fermented foods could cause harm.  Also, never stop a medication without first speaking with your physician.  Everything I have shared in this article should be considered as general information not medical advice.

#220 The Top 5 Causes of Fake Hunger

June 4th, 2017 by
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The Top 5 Causes of Fake Hunger

If you’re like most people, you think that feeling hungry is a signal that you need to eat.  And you likely try to quell it by eating something right away, regardless of whether it’s something you really need or even want.  Would you believe me if I told you that your sensation of hunger may not even be real physical hunger?  In this article, I will show you how to stop the top 5 causes of fake hunger.

The 5 Fake Causes of Hunger

Hunger doesn’t just mean you need food.  It can mean all sorts of things.  Below are the top five causes of what I like to call, “fake hunger.”

1. It could be a micronutrient deficiency.

Medical studies show that hunger or being overweight could be a sign that we’re simply running low on one specific kind of nutrient.  In other words, something as simple as not getting enough magnesium in your diet could cause you to feel hungry all the time.

Perhaps this could explain why most people crave chocolate.  As chocolate is so high in magnesium, a chocolate craving could really just be our bodies trying to tell us we need more magnesium.  Fortunately, nuts, seeds, and especially greens are also very high in magnesium.

2. It could be a metabolism problem.

Hunger can be a sign your metabolism is off.  Studies show that added sugars and processed carbohydrates can make us feel hungry all the time.

I know this was definitely the case for me.  At one point, I had snack between every meal.  By simply eliminating all added sugars and processed carbohydrates from my diet, I no longer need to snack.

3. It could be because you are dehydrated.

Interestingly, studies show that many people actually mistake a need for hydration as a need for food.  Thus, it is always a good idea to try a glass of water before reaching for a snack.

4. It could be a lack of fiber.

Studies show that protein and fiber are the two best things to keep you feeling full.  While most Americans don’t have any problem getting enough protein, very few get enough fiber.  Thus, feeling hungry could really just be a sign that you are not getting enough fiber.

5. It could be psychological.

Many people feel hungry when they are bored, sad, or are just procrastinating something.  This is why studies show that our moods are directly tied to our weight.  After all, it is easy to rationalize eating more than we should when feelings of sadness are misinterpreted as hunger.

I also struggle with emotional overeating.  For me, it is not due to boredom or sadness.  Rather, it is to procrastinate doing something that I really should be doing.

For example, if I have a big report to write, I’ll convince myself that I’m hungry.  This will mean that I get to procrastinate writing the report as I now get to eat first.

What hunger almost never is, though, is a sign that you need any kind of food at all as quickly as possible. And yet far too many people think that the way to “solve” their hunger is to run to the nearest fast food restaurant, race to the fridge to grab the quickest thing to eat, or dip into their junk food stash for a fast snack.

Most People Don’t Know When They Are Really Hungry

Because so many of us live in an exceptionally privileged world in which the subtlest sensations of hunger can be quickly placated, most of us have lost the ability to truly understand what our bodies are actually asking from us. That’s a serious health problem — and one I’m worried might prove to be epigenetically aggravated, meaning that each generation of people who have lost touch with what hunger really means will be even more likely to produce subsequent generations that are even further removed from this vital connection to their bodies.

Tip: Reconnect yourself to healthy hunger.

I firmly believe there’s still time to reconnect humanity to healthy hunger. We don’t need to suffer from fake hunger.  And it all starts with broccoli.

Or, at least that’s where it started for me. I’ve really come to love broccoli, but it took some time and effort for me to develop a taste for it.

We live in a world of such abundance when it comes to healthy food that my advice to many of my patients is similar to what I tell them about exercise: Don’t waste time forcing yourself to eat healthy foods you don’t actually enjoy. Thus, if broccoli is not your thing, then feel free to substitute in kale, spinach, or cauliflower for this tip.  This tip is what I like to call the broccoli test.

The Broccoli Test

When I was trying to reacquaint myself with healthy hunger, I applied “the broccoli test.” Put simply: If I was hungry enough to eat broccoli, then my body really needed food. Thus, if you are wondering how to tell if you are really hungry or not, broccoli will make everything clear for you.

Water and Vegetables Can Get You to the Next Meal

If you’re between meals and feeling hungry, the best bet is almost always to start with water. It’s often the fastest and easiest way to stop fake hunger and help you get to a scheduled meal. If water doesn’t completely satisfy your hunger then go for the vegetables.  You really can’t get too many of those.

If you want to minimize hunger between meals, studies show that protein and fiber are the most filling foods.  While everyone knows vegetables are loaded with fiber, few people know that calorie for calorie, many vegetables have more protein than a burger or a steak.

If you don’t believe me, just look it up.  One hundred calories of spinach has 13 grams of protein.  However, that same 100 calorie serving of a T-bone steak only has 9 grams of protein.

As you ponder on how to tell if you are really hungry or not, spend as much time as possible being mindful about what your body is telling you. What you’ll also find — I can promise you — is that there is no specific real hunger signal for sugar and processed carbohydrates.  Sugar and processed carbs just trigger fake hunger signals.

One of the keys to health and longevity is that every unique feeling of hunger we get can be addressed with something natural and healthy.  Simply put, if you eat right you never have to feel hungry again.

Have you overcome any of the five causes of fake hunger?  If so, please share your experiences below so that all may benefit.

#219 Chocolate Prevents Atrial Fibrillation…Really?

May 29th, 2017 by
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Chocolate Prevents Atrial Fibrillation

If you read the news this past week, you saw the headlines.  Chocolate prevents atrial fibrillation.

It seems to good to be true.  How can something that tastes so good also be healthy for your heart?  In this article, I’ll review the latest chocolate study and share what it really means to you.

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Before I jump into the study, I want to first explain what atrial fibrillation is for those who may not be familiar with this heart condition.  Atrial fibrillation is the most common arrhythmia which typically leads to a rapid and irregular pulse.

People with atrial fibrillation often experience shortness of breath and fatigue when their heart goes out of rhythm.  The concern is that this heart rhythm irregularity may lead to strokes, heart failure, dementia, and a premature death.

The Atrial Fibrillation Study

In this study, researchers recruited 55,502 people who ranged in age from 50 to 64.  They asked each study participant how often they ate chocolate and then followed these people to see who developed atrial fibrillation over the next 13.5 years.

At the end of their 13.5 year study, 3,346 of the original 55,502 people had developed atrial fibrillation.  Quite remarkably, those eating chocolate at least weekly enjoyed up to a 20% decreased risk of atrial fibrillation.

For those looking for the optimal dose of dark chocolate, the greatest benefit was seen in people eating chocolate two to six times a week.  For chocoholics like me, eating chocolate daily conferred a 16% decreased risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

These findings go against conventional wisdom.  Historically, atrial fibrillation patients were told to avoid chocolate because of the concern that caffeine could trigger their arrhythmia.  Now we know that this conventional wisdom is just not true for most people.

I need to point out that this was a Danish study.  For those who have ever purchased chocolate in Denmark, chocolate must be at least 30% cacao.  Thirty percent cacao almost meets U.S. standards for dark chocolate.  Thus, the chocolate they ate in Denmark with this study is much darker than what Americans typically enjoy.

3 Reasons Why This Study May Not Be Completely Accurate

As much as I love dark chocolate, and would love for this study to be true, there are some problems with the findings.  Below are the three biggest reasons in my mind of why this study may not be completely accurate.

1. Researchers determined chocolate consumption based on a questionnaire.  

The problem with this is that most people don’t remember what they ate.  For example, do you remember how much chocolate you ate each day this past month?  How about for the last year?

2. Researchers didn’t ask what kind of chocolate people ate.

There is a big difference between milk chocolate, which is mostly sugar, and cacao nibs which don’t have any sugar.  As these researchers never asked, we really don’t know what kind of chocolate they ate.

Even though European chocolate is much darker than American chocolate, we don’t know if they were eating 30% cacao or 90% cacao.  When doing a chocolate study, you really need to know the cacao percentage and the amount of added sugar.

3. Chocolate eaters are different than non-chocolate eaters.

For better or worse, dark chocolate is now viewed as a health food.  Because of this status, people who eat dark chocolate tend to be better educated and more health conscientious.  This study also showed that chocolate eaters were somewhat better educated and lived a slightly healthier lifestyle.  Thus, we can’t be sure whether the benefit was due to the chocolate or the type of person who ate chocolate.

Other Studies Looking at Chocolate and Atrial Fibrillation

You can never just look at one study to find the truth.  To find out if chocolate prevents atrial fibrillation, you need to look at other studies as well.  In this case, two other big studies have also tried to answer the question of whether or not chocolate prevents atrial fibrillation.

The first was the Women’s Health Study evaluating 33,638 American women.  In this study, there was a trend toward less atrial fibrillation in chocolate eaters but these findings did not achieve statistical significance.

The second study was the Physician’s Health Study which included 18,819 U.S. male physicians.  In this study, there was a trend toward more atrial fibrillation with chocolate eaters.  However, as with the Women’s Health Study, these findings also didn’t reach statistical significance.

Because American chocolate contains less cacao and more added sugar, it is possible that this could explain why the two American studies failed to show any benefit.  Thus, if you are hoping that chocolate prevents atrial fibrillation, you should shoot for dark chocolate with less added sugar.

How May Chocolate Help the Heart?

What makes chocolate so helpful when it comes to the heart?  The answer really lies with the flavonoids.  Flavonoids are the phytonutrients in plants which give them their colors.  As chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, this is where chocolate gets its flavonoids.

First, when it comes to chocolate, the higher the cacao percentage, the more of these flavonoids you are getting. These flavonoids have been shown in studies to be anti-inflammatory, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and help to prevent diabetes.

Second, as counter intuitive as it may seem, dark chocolate may actually help with weight loss.  For example, in one study, dark chocolate was shown to make people feel fuller so that they ate less.  In contrast, the high sugar content of milk chocolate just made people want to eat more.

Lastly, it could be the magnesium in chocolate.  Chocolate is very high in magnesium.  Magnesium has been shown in countless studies to help prevent arrhythmias.

How to Hack Your Health with Chocolate

The key take away from this study is that chocolate, if done right, can be incredibly healthy.  Below are 3 ways to improve your health with chocolate.

1. Aim for the Highest Percent Cacao Possible

As discussed, the higher the cacao percentage the more flavonoids you are getting.  Ideally, your dark chocolate really need to be at least 70% cacao to see the most benefit.

2. Find Chocolate with Zero or Minimal Added Sugars

In a perfect world, you could satisfy your chocolate cravings with no sugar added cacao nibs.  However, if you are like me, the taste is too bitter.

As I have eliminated virtually all added sugars from my diet, I now eat extra dark, stevia sweetened, chocolate.  While this is not as healthy as no sugar added cacao nibs, it works for me.  It also satisfies my sweet tooth so that I don’t need any other sweets or added sugars in my diet.

Wherever you are at, try to go as dark as you can with your chocolate.  Also, look for chocolate that has the least amount of added sugars.

3. Use Chocolate to Replace All Other Sweets

In my mind, this is probably the healthiest way to approach chocolate.  Our bodies are hard-wired to crave sweets.  And this is especially true with children.  When dark chocolate replaces cookies, donuts, or anything else sweet you might ever consider eating, this is where the greatest benefit is seen.

Question for You

How do you eat chocolate?  Please share your comments and questions below.  I’ll do my best to respond to any questions in a timely manner.

#218 The 2 Secrets to Making Exercise a Daily Habit

May 22nd, 2017 by
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The 2 Secrets to Making Exercise a Daily Habit

Most people don’t really enjoy their workout.  Perhaps that explains why so many people never get their money’s worth with the gym membership.  In this article, I share the two secrets to making exercise a daily habit.

Why Exercise?

If your reason for exercising is to burn calories, build muscle or even improve your cardiovascular health, then chances are really good that you’re doing exercises that you don’t really enjoy all that much. And if that’s the case, then you’re missing out on one of the healthiest effects of exercise.

Exercise isn’t just for physical health. It’s also critical for optimal brain function — it’s vital “brain food.” But because most of us only think of the physical impact, we miss out on a good part of this benefit.

The Best Exercise

Exercise of any sort — but especially exercise we really enjoy — has been shown in studies to be as effective as pharmaceuticals for many people suffering from depression. Exercise we enjoy can also boost our memory, increase our brain processing speed, improve our concentration, reduce our stress, and help free us from addictions. Yet ask most people why they are exercising, and they’ll tell you it is because they’re trying to be physically healthy.

Tip: Only Exercise in Ways that You Love

I frequently have patients ask me what kind of exercise they should be doing. To be certain there are better and worse forms of exercise for any given person, but the starting point for anyone should be: Make it enjoyable and convenient.  These are the two secrets to making exercise a daily habit.

Do What You Love

If you don’t enjoy it, after all, you’re probably not going to do it. You’ll have no trouble at all finding an excuse not to go to the gym, or not to run that extra lap, or not to make the walk on a cold winter morning to the local community pool.

Make it Convenient

Likewise, even if you love the gym, if it is 20 minutes from your house you probably won’t go there as often as you should. Most people don’t have an extra 40 minutes in their day to make that sort of round trip drive.

The Benefits

When we choose to exercise in ways that we love, the effects are essentially turbo-charged, because we’re getting the mental and physical health boost that any exercise offers, plus we feel the benefits of anticipation beforehand, feel happy during the exercise itself, and feel content after we’re done. All of that means we’re far more likely to exercise regularly and to continue doing so for a long time to come.

Making Exercise a Daily Habit

That’s why I tell my patients not to worry if their idea of enjoyable exercise isn’t physically akin to spending the morning at a CrossFit gym (although there are plenty of people out there who enjoy nothing more than AMRAPing at their local box — and that’s awesome.) But if you love nothing more than taking a daily stroll around the park, or taking a leisurely bike ride along the local riverfront, then those are the exercises that are right for you. As long as it is also convenient, it will be easy to keep that exercise habit for life.

How do get your daily exercise?  Please leave your thoughts and question below.  I’ll do my best to answer everything within 24 hours.

Did you enjoy this article?  Please be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast to make sure you never miss a thing!

#217 6 Foods to Reverse Aging with Lithium

May 16th, 2017 by
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6 Foods to Reverse Aging with Lithium

Could a microscopic dose of the psychoactive drug lithium, which occurs naturally in mineral water and certain foods, actually be the secret to less heart disease, better moods, and a longer life?  In this article, I share how eating six foods may reverse aging with lithium.

What is Lithium?

Lithium is a naturally occurring mineral in food and water.  It isn’t just a psychoactive medication.

In fact, lithium is  increasingly being recognized as an essential nutrient to human health.  Indeed, it is now  recommend that we get 1 mg daily of this nutrient daily.  To put this tiny 1 mg dose in perspective, most physicians start patients at 600 mg daily when treating mood disorders.

Lithium for mood disorders

During my medical school training at Johns Hopkins in the early 1990s, I remember my first exposure to lithium being used as a drug.  Many of our patients were on lithium for bipolar disorder, depression, or headaches.  Without lithium, these people couldn’t function.

Lithium had a profound calming effect. It also helped them be less stressed and more focused.  Until I recently came across a number or articles on its life-extending benefits, I thought it was just a mood-stabilizing drug.

Lemon, Lime and Lithium

Lithium isn’t just a drug for people suffering from bipolar, depression, or migraines.  In fact, the original 1929 recipe for 7-Up contained lithium. I suspect that early 7-Up drinkers were less stressed, less depressed, and overall just felt better. Perhaps it was this calming effect that made this soda pop so popular.

Perhaps this is also why — thousands of years ago — Greek physicians treated their patients with mineral water, which is naturally high in lithium…

Is there something in the water?

While mainstream media has yet to pick up on the lithium story, quietly researchers have been publishing studies on naturally occurring lithium for years.  Many studies have shown that naturally occurring lithium helps people (as well as animals, worms, and flies) live longer and healthier lives.

For example, studies show that cities around the world with mineral water, high in natural lithium, have low rates of suicide and depression. When it comes to longevity, a study of 1,206,172 people, showed that those with the most lithium in their drinking water lived much longer.

But lithium’s benefits extend far beyond depression or longevity. Worldwide, people who drink “hard water” — or natural mineral water — have been shown to not only live longer but also have less cardiovascular disease.

How can you reverse aging with lithium?

There are a few theories about how microscopic doses of naturally occurring lithium may extend life. For example, some researchers have reported that the stress reduction effects of lithium may be the answer.  As readers well know, stress at least doubles your risk of a heart attack.

A second theory is that lithium increases NAD+, which is well-known to increase longevity.  How to naturally boost NAD levels is a topic I discussed in a previous article.

A third theory is that lithium prevents age related degeneration of the mitochondria.  For those unfamiliar with the mitochondria, it is the power plant portion of the cell.  Without a normally functioning mitochondria, an organism can no longer produce energy and soon dies.

Lithium May Preserve Brain Function

As an added bonus, naturally occurring lithium may also help to preserve brain function.  For example, recent evidence suggests lithium may protect against  diseases like Alzheimer’s. In animals, low dose lithium has been shown to enhance cognitive performance.

What Are the Side Effects of Lithium?

High-dose lithium therapy, used to treat bipolar, depression, or migraines has many side effects.  At doses of 600 mg or more per day, lithium may cause nausea, tremors, or drowsiness. However, with the naturally occurring 1-2 mg daily dose from mineral water, vegetables, fruit, and legumes, the only side effects seem to be the good ones.

6 Foods to Reverse Aging with Lithium

While the recommended daily amount of lithium is 1 mg, studies of cities with high levels of naturally occurring lithium from mineral water suggest that 2 mg may be the optimal dose for health and longevity.  In addition to drinking mineral water, below are six foods to reverse aging with lithium.

1. Legumes, such as lentils, beans and peas

Legumes contain some of the highest amounts of lithium found in food. As I discussed in blog 151, one study showed that legumes were the number one food to live to age 100.

2. Tomatoes

In addition to lithium, tomatoes are also high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamin C, and countless other essential nutrients. One critical nutrient of tomatoes, lycopene, is best absorbed by cooking tomatoes.

3. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are one of the few foods high in naturally occurring vitamin D.  In addition to lithium and vitamin D, mushrooms are also packed with the critical B vitamins.

4. Cucumbers

While cucumbers are often ignored by many nutritionists, cucumbers are a vegetable that have high anti-inflammatory properties.  As discussed in blog #197, a low inflammation diet may be the secret to living to 110 according to medical studies.

5. Cabbage

Cabbage is a member of the all-important cruciferous family of vegetables.  As I covered way back in blog #19, when it comes to cancer prevention, the cruciferous family of vegetables may be the most important.

6. Cauliflower

For those not only looking for natural sources of lithium, but for weight loss as well, look no further than cauliflower.  As I discussed in blog #143, cauliflower is the best vegetable for weight loss.  Additionally, cauliflower is part of the cruciferous family so you get cancer prevention with this vegetable as well.

Other Natural Sources of Lithium

In addition to mineral water and the six foods mentioned  above, there are also trace amounts of lithium in fish, milk and eggs. However, if you are shooting for the 2 mg natural daily dose of lithium, you’ll probably need mineral water or the six foods above.

A Contrarian View of Lithium

While carefully designed animal studies have clearly shown a health and longevity benefit with lithium, the same may not be the case with humans.  For example, the longevity boost seen from mineral water in human studies may have more to do with all of the calcium and magnesium in “hard water.”

Also, foods highest in lithium, like fruit, vegetables, and legumes, are good for you in so many other ways as well.  Thus, people getting the highest doses of naturally occurring lithium may also be the people drinking the most water and eating the healthiest foods.

Take Home Message

While there’s no “fountain of youth” that can restore us to our younger selves, we may be able to reverse aging with lithium.  When it comes to the life-extending benefits of lithium, you will never get there from a pill.  The key is to get it naturally from water, fruit, vegetables, and legumes.

What is your take on naturally occurring lithium?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  I’ll do my best to answer every question in a timely manner.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter or podcast, now would be a great time.  This way, you won’t miss a thing!

#216 Is Apple Cider Vinegar Good For You?

April 30th, 2017 by
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Is Apple Cider Vinegar Good For You?

Some claim that apple cider vinegar is the key to health and longevity.  In this article, I’ll share the science behind these claims and answer the question, is apple cider vinegar good for you?

Was Apple Cider Vinegar the Key to Jeff’s Longevity?

Every time Jeff came in for his annual cardiology visit, I was amazed at his health.  Even though he had atrial fibrillation, his health was otherwise perfect at age 92.

Without missing a day, Jeff either went on a long run or to the gym.  He only ate the healthiest of foods.  He also didn’t stress too much, slept great at night, and regularly volunteered in his community.

On one of his clinic visits I asked, “what’s the secret to your amazing health and longevity?”

Expecting to hear it was his healthy diet or daily exercise regimen, I was surprised to hear Jeff’s answer.

“Apple cider vinegar,” Jeff said.

“What?” I asked.

“Yes, apple cider vinegar,” Jeff said.  Over the years, a number of my patients have shared with me that apple cider vinegar was the secret to their health and longevity.

Knowing that this was more than just a coincidence, I wanted to learn more.  Either healthy people are attracted to apple cider vinegar or apple cider vinegar has some health benefits.

The 7 Health Benefits of Vinegars

Based on my review of all medical studies from credible medical journals, here are the seven main health benefits.

1. Blood Sugar Control

Of the purported health benefits of vinegar, the strongest scientific data are for blood sugar control.  While vinegar alone won’t prevent or treat diabetes, it may help.

For example, in one study, researchers gave white bread to study participants.  As you know, store bought bread is rapidly converted to sugar by the body.  Even though bread spikes blood sugar levels sky high, vinegar neutralized 31% of this sugar spike.

In another study, a nighttime dose of two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar was shown to decrease fasting blood sugar levels by 4% in people with diabetes.  Other studies have shown that vinegars improve insulin sensitivity, delays gastric emptying, and changes the way carbohydrates are metabolized.

For optimal effect, studies show that it is best to eat vinegars with meals.  This is especially true if the meal includes a lot of rapidly digested carbohydrates.

2. Weight Loss Help

As vinegar lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, then it only seems natural that it would help with weight control as well.  Interestingly, some studies report that vinegar helps with appetite suppression, digestion slowing, and the prevention of fat accumulation.

Indeed, one study showed that consuming vinegar with a high carbohydrate meal made study participants feel full enough that they ate 200 to 275 less calories for the rest of the day.  In addition, a Japanese study showed that two tablespoons of vinegar daily caused a four pound weight loss after 12 weeks.

3. Lowers Triglycerides and Cholesterol

Given that half of all adults in the US have high cholesterol, anything to bring it down naturally would be helpful.  Vinegar may be one possible way.

With regards to triglycerides, the blood sugar and insulin lowering effects of vinegar also lowered triglycerides by up to 22% in one study.  For LDL (bad cholesterol), the reduction was much less at just a 2% to 12% lowering.

4. Lowers Blood Pressure

As 90% of Americans will have high blood pressure by age 55, once again anything that can bring it down would be welcomed.  Through an unknown mechanism, one study reported a reduction in systolic blood pressure by 6 mmHg.  Considering that the typical blood pressure drug only lowers systolic blood pressure by 8 points, vinegar is almost as good as a drug.

5. May Prevent Heart Disease

When it comes to your heart attack risk, one study of 76,283 women noted that vinegar lowered the risk by 54%.  As most of these women used vinegar as part of a salad dressing, it is hard to know if the heart attack protection was from the salad or the vinegar.  Personally, I suspect it was both.

6. Kills Cancer Cells in a Test Tube

What happens in a test tube often doesn’t reflect what happens in the body.  Interestingly, studies show that vinegar does a pretty good job of stopping cancer cells in the test tube environment.  Unfortunately, there is no clear evidence yet that vinegar will lower your cancer risk.

7. Vinegar is a Great Natural Disinfectant

For thousands of years, vinegar has been used as a natural disinfectant in the home.  Given the possible health concerns of cleaning chemicals, vinegar could be a safe and natural alternative.  Indeed, we have used vinegar to disinfect our counter tops for years.

Are there any risks of apple cider vinegar?

When used as part of a homemade salad dressing, or other sauces, vinegars are generally very safe.  Although vinegars are well tolerated this way, some people may have digestive challenges.

Where people may get in trouble with vinegars is when they start drinking it or putting it on their skin.  Remember, vinegar is an acid.  Thus, you shouldn’t be alarmed to see reports of tooth erosion, esophageal burns, skin burns, and low potassium with bone loss when used this way.

Is apple cider vinegar different than other vinegars?

While apple cider vinegar was Jeff’s favorite, there is no clear evidence that apple cider vinegar is any better for you than other vinegars.  As each vinegar has a different taste, we use many different vinegars in our home.

We not only love vinegar in our homemade salad dressings but our stir-fry sauces as well.  For example, if you looked on our shelf right now, you would see apple cider vinegar, dark and white balsamic vinegar, white and red wine vinegar, and rice vinegar.

Take Home Message

Of the many purported health benefits of vinegars, the scientific data are strongest for the blood sugar lowering effects of vinegar.  While Jeff’s favorite was apple cider vinegar, this type of vinegar has never been shown to be better for you than other vinegars.

As store purchased salad dressings may completely undo any health benefits of salads, the very best use of vinegar is with homemade salad dressings.  For ideas on different ways you could use vinegar in salad dressings and stir-fry sauces, please check out my wife’s recipes.

For optimal effect, incorporate vinegars into your meals that are high in carbohydrates.  Also, to minimize any potential side effects, it is probably best not to drink it or put it on your skin.

What is your take on vinegars?  Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  I’ll do my best to answer any questions posted within 24 hours.

Also, if you haven’t yet signed up for my free weekly newsletter or podcast, how about doing so now?  This way, you won’t miss a thing as new information comes out.

#215 Is Diet Soda Bad for You?

April 22nd, 2017 by
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Is Diet Soda Bad for You?

If you have been following the news, then the media probably had you convinced that diet soda causes strokes and dementia.  Is that really true?  In this article, I review this latest diet soda study and what we know about diet sodas.  I will also attempt to answer the question, is diet soda bad for you?

The Latest Diet Soda Study

In the latest diet soda study, Dr. Matthew Pase and colleagues from Tufts University in Boston, dug through the medical records of 2,888 people who were part of the legendary Framingham Heart Study.  The Framingham Heart Study stands out in that it included almost everyone who has ever lived in Framingham Massachusetts since 1948. It was from this Framingham Heart Study that we first learned what causes heart disease decades ago.

In this study, researchers collected data in the 1990s about how much diet soda almost everyone living in Framingham drank.  They then looked at the medical records of these Framingham residents to see who had a stroke and who suffered from dementia over the following 10 years.

Dr. Pase and his team found that drinking one diet soda a day was linked to a 3-fold higher risk of stroke and dementia.  For those Framingham people drinking less than one diet soda a week, their risk also seemed to be moving in the same direction.

Basically, their findings suggest that any diet soda is bad for you.  Interestingly, this study also found that you could drink all the sugar you wanted from sugary soda pop or fruit juice and not increase your risk of a stroke or dementia.

3 Reasons Why You Should Question This Study

Whenever you hear about a study in the news, you should question the validity of the study.  This study is no exception.

The problem with most studies looking at diet soda is that of reverse causality.  In other words, sicker people are more likely to drink diet soda.  Thus, the question then is did diet soda cause them to get sick or do sicker people drink diet soda because it is “less bad” for you?  Below are 3 good reasons why you should definitely question this study.

1. Most strokes happened in people with a history of high blood pressure.

As most strokes in Framingham happen to people with a history of high blood pressure, did diet soda cause high blood pressure or did people with high blood pressure drink diet soda because it is “less bad” for you?  This question was never answered in this study.

Interestingly, there is one big study linking diet soda to high blood pressure.  However, this same study also linked sugary soda to high blood pressure as well.

2. Dementia was mainly seen in people with diabetes.

Once again, did diet soda cause diabetes or did people with diabetes drink diet soda because of blood sugar issues?  As anyone suffering from diabetes could tell you, sugary sodas and fruit juice quickly shoot your blood sugar levels high.

Along the diet soda and possible diabetes link, studies do show that artificial sweeteners change the gut bacteria of mice thereby causing diabetes.  However, it is important to remember that only about 10% of animal studies apply to humans.

In humans, the link between diet soda and diabetes is tenuous at best.  One big study from the United Kingdom did show an association between diet sodas and diabetes.  However, this study also never answered the question, did diet soda cause diabetes or did people with diabetes switch to diet drinks?

3. Sugary sodas and fruit juice were totally safe in this study.

This finding alone really caused me to question the validity of the entire study.  In my mind, the only possible explanation for this finding is that people with a history of high blood pressure or diabetes  switched to diet drinks because of some perceived health benefit.

Given all that we know about sugar, most nutrition researchers and cardiologists now feel that sugar is one of the biggest causes of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, strokes, dementia, and an early death.  With this is mind, some studies show that fruit juice may be just as bad for you as sugary soda.

Take Home Message

The big take away is that diet soda, sugary soda, and fruit juice are not health drinks.  While diet soda may be less bad for you than sugary soda, it would be like using nicotine patches instead of cigarettes.  Personally, if an occasional diet soda helps you break the sugary soda pop addiction, then I am all for it.

I understand that the addiction to soda pop is real.  This is something that I suffer from as well. While it has been 10 years since I have had a sugary soda, I still have cravings for diet cherry Pepsi if I have been up all night.

Is diet soda bad for you?  Well, it definitely isn’t good for you.  The problem is that we really don’t know how bad it is for you.  Perhaps as we learn more about how artificial sweeteners affect gut bacteria, metabolism, and the brain we’ll have a clearer picture.

What is your take on diet soda?  Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  As always, I’ll do my best to answer any question posted below within 24 hours.

If you have not yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter and podcast, why don’t you do it today?

#214 Can Vitamins Make Up for a Bad Diet?

April 16th, 2017 by
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Can Vitamins Make Up for a Bad Diet?

Many people take a multivitamin as insurance for any nutrient that might be missing from their diet.  Could this thinking be flawed?  In this article, I share the latest research to answer the question, can vitamins make up for a bad diet?

The Latest Study

To answer the question, can vitamins make up for a bad diet? Harvard researchers dug through an average of 14 years worth of medical records from 13,316 male physicians.

Of course, one might ask if this is a fair study group.  After all, physicians are supposed to know a lot about nutrition and healthy diets, right?

While health knowledge certainly helps, physicians are no different than you.  Even though we know what we should eat, it is just as hard for us to resist temptations as well.

To see how tempted these male physicians were, researchers had them regularly fill out a 116 question survey of everything they ate for 14 years.  Based on the data from all these questionnaires, researchers could rank the quality of their diet and determine which vitamins and minerals they probably lacked.

Based on a “flip of the coin,” each physician was given either a multivitamin or a placebo.  As both the multivitamin and the placebo pills looked identical, the physicians in this study had no idea what they were taking.  Researchers then followed these physicians for 14 years to see who had a heart attack and who died.

Findings of the Physician Vitamin Study

Most people would naturally assume that for those eating a healthy diet, taking vitamins probably don’t help all that much.  To nobody’s surprise, this is exactly what this study determined.

Where things got interesting is whether or not vitamins can fix a bad diet.  Intuition would tell you that vitamins should help to correct a bad diet.  Surprisingly, these Harvard researchers found that even for physicians eating a crappy diet, vitamins didn’t prevent heart disease or an early death.

Fortunately, no harm was observed in this study from taking a multivitamin supplement.  I should also point out that in a separate publication from this study, these Harvard researchers saw a modest reduction in cancer risk from multivitamins.

What does this study tell us?

Probably the scariest finding of this study is that vitamins won’t make up for a bad diet.  In other words, taking a vitamin with your Big Mac and french fries won’t make your meal healthy.  And it certainly won’t prevent heart disease or an early death either.

You simply can’t expect a single isolated vitamin made in a chemistry lab to have the same effect as vitamins occurring naturally in healthy foods.  There are literally tens of thousands of compounds naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables.  Taking a manmade pill can’t replicate the interactions of these tens of thousands of naturally occurring compounds in food.

The real take away from this study is that to prevent heart disease and live a longer life, you really have to get all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs from food.  Shoot for 10 servings daily of vegetables and fruits.  Get at least one serving daily of nuts or seeds.  Try eating something high in the omega 3 fats everyday like walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, or fish.  Look for ways to get natural vitamin D in a sun smart way or by foods high in vitamin D like fish or mushrooms.  And do everything possible to avoid or minimize processed foods and sugars.

Even though this study didn’t show a benefit of vitamins in physicians eating a poor diet, I still recommend supplements for my patients with nutritional deficiencies that can’t be corrected naturally.  This is what I do for my own vitamin D deficiency that I can’t fix with sunlight and foods naturally high in vitamin D.

Can you really get all the vitamins you need from food?

For those people unsure of whether they can get all the vitamins they need from food, try an experiment. Download the free Healthwatch 360 app to your smartphone.  Then, track everything you eat for a week.

You will quickly see if you can get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs naturally from food.  For me, this experiment was a profound learning opportunity.  It gave me a much greater awareness of the nutritional quality of what I eat.  As I eat little to no dairy, I found that I had to dramatically increase my daily intake of salad, broccoli, kale, spinach, sesame seeds, and chia seeds to meet my daily calcium needs.

What is your take on vitamins?  Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  As always, I’ll try to answer every question within 24 hours.  To learn more, please be sure to subscribe to my free weekly newsletter and podcast.

#213 4 Reasons Why Dieting Is Bad For Your Heart

April 9th, 2017 by
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4 Reasons Why Dieting Is Bad For Your Heart

Studies show that up to 98% of diets fail.  According to new research, dieting might increase your risk of a heart attack as much as smoking.  In this article, I share four reasons why dieting is bad for your heart.

Dieting Is Bad For Your Heart Study

Unless you were on a media fast this past week, you probably heard about the dieting study the whole world was talking about.  This study was done by Dr. Sripal Bangalore and colleagues from New York University and was published in the most prestigious medical journal in the world.

To better understand the effects of yo-yo dieting, or weight cycling, on the heart, they studied 9,509 people.  I should mention that these 9,509 people all had known heart disease so it was definitely a high risk group of people.

They then compared those people with the highest fluctuation in weight (weight loss followed by gaining the weight back) to those who were consistently overweight.  Below are their four findings of why dieting is bad for your heart.

1. Dieting Increased Heart Attack Risk by 117%

As up to 98% of diets fail, almost everyone who has ever gone on a diet could be considered a “yo-yo dieter.”  This is because when people go off their diet the weight comes right back.

In this study, weight loss followed by gaining the weight back, increased the heart attack risk by 117%.  To put this into perspective, other studies have shown that smoking increases your heart attack risk by up to 124%.

Of course, these are two different studies and it would be like comparing apples to oranges.  However, I shared this to point out that the magnitude of risk might be comparable.

2. Dieting Increased Stroke Risk by 136%

In many ways, a stroke is like a heart attack.  With a heart attack, one of the arteries to the heart suddenly gets blocked off and the heart muscle downstream from the blockage dies.

In most strokes, the same thing happens.  An artery feeding blood to the brain suddenly becomes blocked and the brain tissue downstream of the blockage dies.  Thus, anything that increases the risk of a heart attack would also be expected to increase the risk of a stroke.

3. Dieting Increased Diabetes Risk by 78%

In my mind, this was probably the most striking finding of this study.  Somehow, the diabetes risk of weight fluctuation was worse than just being overweight all of the time.  This finding raises the question that perhaps yo-yo dieting somehow damages the body’s metabolism.

4. Dieting Increased Premature Death Risk by 124%

As heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the Western world, it comes as no surprise that anything that increases your risk of a heart attack would also increase your risk of a premature death.  As  I have consistently shared in previous blog articles, living a heart healthy life is the key to avoiding most chronic medical problems and living a long life.

Do other studies show dieting is bad for your heart?

You can never believe the results of a single study.  Too many things can go wrong with a study that could give you false results.  Thus, before you accept anything as “truth,” you want to make sure multiple credible studies have all come to the same conclusion.

With regards to weight cycling and the risk of heart disease, studies from as far back as 1991 have shown that dieting is bad for your heart.  I should point out that not all studies have shown a risk from weight cycling.  This is likely because these studies were much smaller and didn’t include high risk people.

Based on the data available, unless you can keep the weight loss off long-term, dieting is bad for your heart.  In younger and healthier people, the risk of dieting probably isn’t high enough to make any measurable difference.

Why may dieting be dangerous?

It is not clear why weight cycling may be dangerous to the heart.  Given the high risk of diabetes observed in this study, it is possible that weight fluctuations damage the body’s metabolism.

Alternatively, it could be that repetitive “diet failures” may put people at risk for depression.  As we have discussed in previous blog articles, depression is a well-known risk factor for heart disease and a premature death.

Would it be better to just accept being overweight?

Based on the results of this study, you might come to the conclusion that it would be better to just accept being overweight.  The only problem is that being overweight also increases your risk of a heart attack, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and a premature death.  Thus, the answer is neither dieting nor just living an overweight life.

The real answer is a new lifestyle. As the risks of weight fluctuation are real, you need to find healthy lifestyles that you can maintain for the rest of your life.  While diets don’t work long-term, healthy lifestyles do.

What should you do if you are overweight?

My advice to anyone overweight would be to not go on a diet.  Diets don’t work, nobody enjoys dieting, and the risk of gaining the weight back is just not worth it.

Rather, look for ways you can live a healthier lifestyle.  The goal would be to gradually adopt a new lifestyle that you can maintain for the rest of your life.  With a healthy lifestyle, your body will naturally shift to a healthy weight.

When it comes to healthy lifestyles, if you can’t envision yourself doing it for the rest of your life then it probably won’t work for you.  Below are 16 simple lifestyle changes that have brought about effortless and long-term weight loss for hundreds of my patients.

1. Make it hard to access processed foods, added sugars, or fast foods in your life (create the junk food free home).

2. Replace any chairs or couches is front of your TV with a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical machine.

3. Stop eating for the day after an early dinner (a form of intermittent fasting).

4. Make your plate mostly vegetables with every meal.

5. Track your daily steps and exercise.

6. Only drink water.

7. Replace any processed grains with intact grains or no grains at all.

8. Never multitask while eating.

9. Embrace your daily stress with yoga, meditation, exercise, prayer, etc.

10. Never compromise on sleep.

11. Give your body a food break between meals (another form of intermittent fasting).

12. Keep a food journal.

13. Spend most of your time with people who are in to physical fitness or healthy eating.

14. Cut all sugars out of your life.

15. Get a dog that forces you to go on multiple daily walks.

16. Only allow yourself to work on a computer if you are on a standing, treadmill, or bicycle desk.

Take Home Message

The key take away from this article is that dieting is bad for your heart.  This is because up to 98% of people simply gain the weight back after they are done with the diet.

Popular or fad diets may pose an even greater risk.  As diets don’t work long-term, always be on the lookout for healthy lifestyle changes you can maintain for the rest of your life.  With a healthy lifestyle, any extra weight will naturally come off.

What simple lifestyle changes have helped you?  Please share what has worked for you below to the other 43,980 people who regularly follow this blog.  If you liked this article, please be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast.

#212 The 7 Foods That Determine Your Lifespan

April 1st, 2017 by
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The 7 Foods That Determine Your Lifespan

New research shows that there are 7 foods that account for half of all deaths.  In this article, I discuss these 7 foods that determine your lifespan.

Foods That Determine Your Lifespan Study

As you may have seen, this recently published study gathered a lot of media attention.  The reason for this is because no other study has ever demonstrated that half of all deaths can be narrowed down to just a small number of foods.

The senior author on this study was cardiologist, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, from Tufts University in Boston. Dariush and I worked together as medical residents at Stanford University 22 years ago.

To identify these 7 foods that were responsible for so many deaths, Dr. Mozaffarian and colleagues studied the diets of 702,308 people who had died.  Below are the top 7 foods that determine your lifespan according to their study.

1. Excessive Salt from Processed Foods: 9.5% of Deaths

Dr. Mozaffarian and his team identified 2,000 mg of sodium as the number that put people at risk.  When I speak with patients about salt, they are usually quick to tell me that they never use the salt shaker.  Personally, I would love to see my patients use the salt shaker more as this would mean that they are spending more time cooking real food at home.

The problem isn’t the salt shaker but rather processed and prepared foods.  Approximately 80% of the sodium most people get every day comes from processed foods, prepared foods, or fast foods.  For example, a few slices of bread, a slice of pizza, or eating out for lunch could easily put you past the 2,000 mg level of sodium.

Thus, even though the researchers blamed salt as the number one killer, I really don’t think it was the salt.  Anyone eating a high salt diet is also eating a lot of processed foods and fast foods.  While there is a lot of salt in these foods, there is also a ton of sugar, unhealthy oils, and other chemicals and preservatives as well.

2. Not Enough Nuts and Seeds: 8.5% of Deaths

When it comes to the number two dietary factor that kills people, this study recommends that you eat at least 20 grams of nuts or seeds each day.  Twenty grams works out to be just under an ounce or a small handful daily.

While cutting back on salt from processed foods may be difficult, eating a handful of nuts or seeds should be something everyone looks forward to.  Personally, my struggle is not with eating enough nuts and seeds but that I want to eat too many nuts and seeds.

3. Eating Processed Meats: 8.2% of Deaths

For processed meats, there is no safe level according to the findings of this study.  The problem is that there is something about the curing or processing of meats that creates a risk to your health.

If you can’t live without your processed meats like deli meats, bacon, sausage, pepperoni, or hot dogs, then just consider processed meats as a rare treat.  Alternatively, it is possible that the uncured and nitrate-free varieties of these processed meats may not present the same health risk.  To find uncured and nitrate-free processed meats, try shopping at your local health food store.

4. Not Enough Omega 3 Fats: 7.8% of Deaths

Enough can’t be said about the health benefits of omega 3 fats.  These fats are very helpful in preventing cardiovascular disease and other conditions.

For this study, they defined not enough omega 3 fats as eating less than 250 mg of seafood based omega 3 fats daily.  If you consider that a single serving of salmon has about 1,500 mg of omega 3 fats, that works out to be one serving of salmon every six days.  Of course, to minimize mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants, eating wild fish, smaller fish, or ocean fish is a great approach.

In addition to getting enough seafood based omega 3 fats, this study also recommends replacing processed carbohydrates and some of the saturated fat in your diet with other omega 3 fats.  A great way to do this would be with the plant-based omega 3 fats found in walnuts, chia seeds, or flax seeds.

5. Not Enough Vegetables: 7.6% of Deaths

I was surprised to see not eating enough vegetables so low on this list.  In my experience as a cardiologist, this should be the thing people focus on the most.

For this study, Dr. Mozaffarian and his team defined not enough vegetables as eating less than 400 grams daily.  For people not accustomed to think of vegetables this way, 400 grams of vegetables works out to be five servings daily.

Perhaps the reason why vegetables didn’t rank very high had to due with where they drew the cut off.  For example, based on the study I discussed in blog 209, five servings of vegetables a day may not be nearly enough to see life extending benefits.

6. Not Enough Fruit: 7.5% of Deaths

Right up there with not enough vegetables was not eating enough fruit.  In this study, researchers defined not enough fruit as eating less than 300 grams daily.  For fruit, 300 grams translates to three servings daily.

7. Sugar Sweetened Beverages: 7.4% of Deaths

As with processed meats, there was no safe amount of sugar sweetened beverages.  Sugar sweetened beverages are defined as any drink with added sugar.  Thus, honey added to a drink would be considered a sugar sweetened beverage.  While 100% fruit juice doesn’t meet this definition, many now consider fruit juice a sugar sweetened beverage.

The problem with sugar sweetened beverages is that the body can’t control the sugar rush.  Your brain never registers these sugar calories as making you feel full.  Also, high levels of sugar in your blood damages your cells and takes about 10 years off your life.

What About Non-Processed Meats, Dairy, and Whole Grains?

While many popular diets would have you believe that all meat, dairy, or whole grains are evil, this study didn’t support any of these beliefs.  For non-processed meats, the risk was neutral.  In other words, non-processed meats didn’t extend life nor did it shorten life.

While dairy was not specifically evaluated in this study, other studies from Dr. Mozaffarian show that dairy is also neutral.  For whole grains, it is a different story.

In this study, eating whole grains was associated with a somewhat longer lifespan.  As there is so much confusion about what is a whole grain, I like to think of it in terms of an intact grain.  If a grain has been stripped of its fiber and nutrients, it is processed.  If it has been pulverized into dust-like flour, it is also processed.  In my opinion, as long as you are eating intact grains, you may live a longer life.

Take Home Message

The main take away from this study is that if you can follow these 7 eating strategies then half of the diseases that will kill you can be avoided.  When it comes to healthy eating, it is really quite simple.  Eat real foods, mostly plants.

What is your take on this study?  Do you agree with what they identified as the foods that determine your lifespan?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  As always, I’ll try to answer every question within 24 hours.  If you haven’t yet signed up for my free weekly newsletter or podcast, how about doing it now?

#211 How to Make Your Heart 30 Years Younger: Lessons from the Tsimane

March 26th, 2017 by
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How to Make Your Heart 30 Years Younger: Lessons from the Tsimane

The Tsimane living in the Amazon rainforest have hearts that are 30 years younger than anything you might see in the US or other developed countries.  How do they do it?

In this article, I share the science behind the Tsimane people who have the healthiest hearts ever studied.  I will also teach you how to make your heart 30 years younger by learning the secrets of the Tsimane people.

Who are the Tsimane?

The Tsimane, which are pronounced “chew-may-nay,” are the hunter gatherer people living in the Bolivian rainforests.  There are only about 16,000 of these hunter-gatherer people left.  Despite all the developments in the world over the last 100 years, their traditional way of life has changed little from thousands of years ago.  That is until recently…

The Tsimane Heart Study

For decades now, Dr. Hillard Kaplan, and his colleagues from the National Institute on Aging and St. Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, have been fascinated with the Tsimane people living in the Amazon jungle who don’t get heart disease.  This study, which was recently picked up by worldwide media outlets, represents the culmination of their findings.

Dr. Kaplan’s research team visited 85 villages of Tsimane people.  To determine exactly how much heart disease was present in these people, they performed CT scans of every adult Tsimane they could find.  In total, they scanned the hearts of 705 Tsimane.  They also looked at other factors associated with heart disease like high blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammation, etc.

For those who don’t work in the medical field, a CT scan looking for coronary artery calcification is considered the best screening test to determine if someone has clogged up arteries or heart disease.  As readers know, the single most important factor as to whether someone gets clogged up arteries or not is their lifestyle.  Also, the degree to which someone gets this hardening of the heart arteries determines, to a large extent, how long someone will live.

Here is what they found.  Of the 705 adult Tsimane people studied, fully 85% had no evidence of any plaque build up in their arteries.  This represents a coronary artery calcium score of zero which is the best score you can get from this test.  Even more remarkable was that of those Tsimane over age 75, 65% still had no heart plaque whatsoever.

To put these findings in perspective, almost all Americans over 75 will have at least some plaque build up or hardening of the arteries in their heart.  No other group of people in the world have ever had such low levels of atherosclerosis documented before in a medical study.

The Tsimane Inflammation Paradox

As I often discuss on my blog, studies show that keeping inflammation as low as possible is one of the major factors in avoiding heart disease and living a long life.  The Tsimane, appear to be an exception to this rule.

In this study, researchers measured C-reactive protein, or CRP, in the Tsimane.  Remarkably, 51% of Tsimane had a CRP above 3.0 mg/dL.  To put this in perspective, a CRP above 3 increases your risk of heart disease three-fold.

Given the lack of good public health measures, the Tsimane get many more infections than we do.  Of the many infections the Tsimane get, intestinal worms are probably the most common.  As CRP levels tend to be high when the body is fighting off an infection, this could explain why so many Tsimane had an elevated CRP.

It is also well known that when the body is fighting an infection, heart attack risks go up.  This is what makes this study even more remarkable.  Despite high levels of inflammation from chronic infections, their lifestyle still protects them from heart disease.

The 5 Secrets of the Tsimane

1. They Eat a High Carbohydrate Diet

Yes, it is true.  Despite all the evils the media would have you believe of eating a high carb diet, the Tsimane eat more of them than almost any other group of people ever studied.  In fact, 72% of their calories come from carbs which is much higher than the 52% carb diet that most Americans eat.

The primary difference between the Tsimane carbs, and the typical American’s carbs, is that the Tsimane don’t eat processed carbs.  They also don’t eat sugar.

The carbs they eat are are the healthy ones which are unprocessed and high in fiber.  Their carbs typically consist of wild fruits and vegetables, tubers, brown rice, and natural corn.

2. They Only Eat Lean Wild Meat

You won’t see processed meats, like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, or deli meats, on their plates.  Rather, almost all of their protein comes from wild fish, like piranha or catfish, pigs, or capybara.  For those unfamiliar with capybara, it is a South American rodent that can grow to a size of 146 pounds or 66 kilograms.

Despite living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, only 14% of their calories actually come from animal protein.  Interestingly, Americans also get about 14% of their calories from protein.

However, the main difference between the Tsimane protein, and the protein most Americans eat, is that the Tsimane only eat wild animals.  These wild animals are naturally low in fat, especially saturated fat.  The Tsimane also don’t eat dairy.

3. They Eat a Low Fat Diet

Just when the media had you convinced that the low fat craze of the 1980s was totally debunked, then along comes this study.  Yes, it is true, the Tsimane eat a very low fat diet.

In fact, just 14% of their calories come from fat.  In contrast, the typical American gets 34% of their calories from fat.  The Tsimane also keep saturated fat intake extremely low and they don’t eat any trans fat.

The Tsimane do, however, eat nuts, which are high in fat.  For cooking, the Tsimane generally cook with animal fat rather than the vegetable oils that most Americans use.

Probably the biggest difference of the Tsimane people to the low-fat craze of the 1980s is that in the 1980s Americans replaced fat with processed carbohydrates.  In contrast, you won’t see any processed carbohydrates or sugar in the traditional Tsimane diet.

4. They Average 17,000 Steps Daily

The Tsimane don’t sit in front of their computers or TVs.  They also don’t go to the gym to get in a work out.  Rather, they are naturally active all day long.

While Tsimane men average 17,000 steps daily, the Tsimane women deliver a respectable 16,000 steps each day.  Even those over age 60 still log more than 15,000 steps daily.

The Tsimane don’t log these impressive step counts from a walking on a track or around their neighborhoods.  Rather, they get their steps in from hunting, foraging, fishing, and farming.  The men will typically spend 6-7 hours each day in these activities whereas the women will spend 4-6 hours doing these same things.

5. They Live Socially Connected Lives

The main thing this study missed was the highly connected lives the Tsimane live.  When the Tsimane men and women weren’t hunting or gathering food, they spent the rest of the day with their friends, family or neighbors.

The Tsimane have a custom of visiting friends, family, or neighbors in their homes every morning and evening.  Sometimes, these visits would last weeks, or even months, during which one Tsimane family might move in with another Tsimane family.

As there were no computers or TVs, the Tsimane had to spend time each day actually talking and telling stories with each another.  Despite having no real possessions, this highly connected social life resulted in very high levels of reported happiness.  An added benefit was that even though they faced the daily stress of possible starvation, this highly connected life allowed them to have stress levels much lower than those of people living in the modern world.  Every Tsimane knew everything about everybody in these villages.

Cholesterol, Obesity, Diabetes, and Blood Pressure of the Tsimane

As you might imagine, very few Tsimane have high cholesterol.  They also don’t take cholesterol lowering drugs.  With their diet and high levels of physical activity, their average LDL (bad cholesterol) is 91 mg/dL and their average HDL (good cholesterol) is 40 mg/dL.

You also don’t see anyone overweight in their community.  It is almost impossible to be overweight if you only eat wild foods and are active all day long.  Diabetes and smoking are both almost absent from their community.

Popular Diets and the Tsimane

The high carb low fat Tsimane diet definitely challenges the popular diets of today.  It may even challenge what you believe to be a healthy diet.  The key thing is to be open minded about the findings of this study.

It is important to remember that, from a health standpoint, humans have thrived on nearly every traditional diet ever studied.  The only diet humans have not yet adapted to is the highly processed, sugar rich, Standard American Diet (SAD).

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter if you are paleo or vegan.  It also doesn’t matter that much if you eat a diet high or low in carbs, protein, or fat.  The key is to find what works for you and to minimize anything processed, pre-prepared, or that which comes with any added sugars or oils.

This is why I am a big fan of just eating real food.  Healthy eating doesn’t have to be that complex. You don’t need any special diets.  If you can just eat as natural as possible, you will likely enjoy great health and a trim waistline.

The Tsimane Today

Sadly, the Standard American Diet is starting to take hold even in this remote corner of the Amazon jungle.  Over the last few years, new roads and motorized boats are opening up the Tsimane to the outside world.  With this contact to the outside world, the Tsimane now have access to processed foods, sugar, and oils.  Thus, it is just a matter of time before the Tsimane will start getting heart disease.

How to Live Like the Tsimane

Do you have to move to the Amazon rainforest to avoid heart disease?  Absolutely not.  You can prevent or reverse heart disease today, even while living in a highly developed country.

The key lessons from the Tsimane are to minimize anything processed, stay active all day long, and maintain a high level of social connectedness.  By minimizing anything processed, you want to eat as natural as possible.  In practical terms this means avoiding the isles of the grocery store. Only shop the periphery of the store where you can find fresh produce and other unprocessed foods.  It also means cleansing your home of junk food, shopping at farmer’s markets, or even growing your own garden.

When it comes to physical activity, it means you need to be active during most of the day.  The recommendation to get 10,000 steps daily is really the bare minimum.  If you spend most of your working day on the computer, you may want to consider a standing desk, treadmill desk, or just frequently find an excuse to get up.  As the Tsimane have taught us, you need to be up near 17,000 steps a day to enjoy the same heart protective effects.

Lastly, you can’t forget the social component of Tsimane life.  Make sure you call or visit friends, neighbors, and family members every day.  Social connectedness also goes a long way to defusing the high levels of stress that are so common with modern life.

What is your take on this Tsimane study?  Please leave your thoughts, questions, and comments below.  Also, if you enjoyed this article, please be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast.

#210 Will Caffeine Make You Live Longer? Interleukin 1β and Inflammation

March 18th, 2017 by
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Will Caffeine Make You Live Longer?

According to a recent Stanford University study, caffeine may block age-related inflammation and extend life.  This study follows in line with many other studies also showing that natural sources of caffeine may lengthen your lifespan.  In this article, I review the science and answer the question, will caffeine make you live longer?

The Stanford Caffeine Study

In blog #197, I discussed how keeping inflammation levels as low as possible may help you live to age 110.  As my blog readers know, inflammation is one of the main causes of heart disease, dementia, and cancer.

In this Stanford study, researchers also came to the same conclusion.  Age-related inflammation is the major driver of health and longevity in humans.

As part of their experiment, they wanted to see if caffeine could make you live longer by blocking this age-related inflammation.  To do this, they recruited about a hundred people, followed them for many years, and closely monitored which genes were turned on and which were turned off.

In particular, they were focussed on the inflammatory molecule interleukin 1β.   Interleukin 1β is an age-related molecule that is readily seen as people get older and have many medical conditions.

What they found was really quite interesting.  Those people consuming the highest levels of natural caffeine had very low expression of genes associated with inflammation or interleukin 1β.  Thus, people regularly consuming natural caffeine were much less likely to have cardiovascular disease and other age-related diseases.

Intrigued by this link between caffeine and aging, Stanford researchers then gave mice caffeine and observed that the caffeine shut down age-related inflammation.  In particular, this caffeine shut down gene expression of interleukin 1β.

Other Caffeine and Longevity Studies

This Stanford study is not the only study that has linked caffeine to longevity.  For example, it is well-known from other studies that if you give caffeine to worms, flies, or mice that they will live longer.  In mice, caffeine also seems to prevent dementia.

While most people would prefer that worms, flies, or mice don’t live longer, there are other studies showing that humans also live longer with natural caffeine.  Indeed, a recent Harvard study of 133,611 people showed that those consuming the highest amounts of natural caffeine lived 12% longer than those not getting any natural caffeine.

Natural vs. Artificial Caffeine

There is a difference between natural and artificial sources of caffeine.  For example, I have yet to see a study which says that drinking soda pop or Red Bull or even eating milk chocolate makes you live longer.  In contrast, there have now been many studies linking dark chocolate, tea, and coffee to longevity.

How might caffeine make you live longer?

Intuitively, it doesn’t make sense that caffeine might extend your life.  After all, caffeine raises your blood pressure and heart rate.  These effects would be expected to shorten your life, not extend it.

Perhaps caffeine really has nothing at all to do with longevity.  This could explain why artificial caffeine has never been shown to improve health whereas dark chocolate, tea, or coffee may offer some health benefit.

For example, dark chocolate, tea, and coffee are all high in antioxidants.  Antioxidants are molecules that block free radicals in your body.  Free radicals are byproducts of your body making energy.  Free radical production is also one of the major causes of aging and inflammation.  Outside of fruits and vegetables, dark chocolate, tea, and coffee have some of the highest concentrations of antioxidants measured.

Alternatively, it could also be other metabolites such as theophylline and theobromine which are abundant in natural caffeine sources.  These metabolites might also have a beneficial effect that we don’t fully understand at this time.

Take Home Message

The most important thing to take away from this article is that these studies don’t provide any conclusive proof that natural caffeine will make you live longer.  All we can say is that many studies have shown a link between natural caffeine sources and human longevity.

Thus, the research isn’t strong enough that natural caffeine products be recommended to anyone.  However, if you like the taste of dark chocolate, tea, or coffee then the studies reviewed in this article will be reassuring to you.

It goes without mention that you need to approach natural caffeine products with common sense.  These should only be taken in moderation if at all.

If dark chocolate is your preferred natural caffeine source, then the less sugar you get with your dark chocolate the better.  Ideally, your dark chocolate will also be as close to 100% cacao as you can tolerate.

For coffee lovers, the cream and sugar could completely undo any possible health benefits of this drink.  Likewise, drinking too much coffee or tea could trigger cardiac arrhythmias, insomnia, tremors, and other problems.

What’s your take on these natural caffeine longevity studies?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  I’ll do my best to answer any question within 24 hours.  Of course, if you haven’t yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter or podcast, now would be a great time by following these links!

#209 Why You Need 10 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables for a Longer Life

March 12th, 2017 by
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Why You Need 10 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables for a Longer Life

Most people only get two or three servings of fruits and vegetables each day.  The U.S. government recommends five to nine servings daily.  Could the real number be higher?  In this article, I share the latest research as to why you need at least 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily for a long and healthy life.

The 10 Servings Study

To find out exactly how many servings of fruits and vegetables you need each day, researchers from Imperial College London combed through the data from 95 studies involving 2,123,415 people.  Their findings were shared in a recently published study.

Doing studies like this one can be very challenging.  To make the results as accurate as possible, these researchers factored in everyone’s weight, quality of their diet, smoking status, and how much they exercised.

Of course, they couldn’t account for every variable.  No study can.  However, this study gives us good insight about what 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily might do for you.

Results of the 10 Servings Study

Here are the 6 main findings from the more than two million people studied:

1. The more servings of fruits and vegetables you eat daily, the lower your risk of disease and an early death.

2. Maximum benefit comes from 10 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

3. People eating at least 10 servings of fruits and vegetables enjoyed 28% less cardiovascular disease, 33% less strokes, 13% less cancer, and lived 31% longer when compared to those eating the least amount of fruits and vegetables.

4. The fruits which offered the most benefit included apples, pears, and citrus fruits.  Surprisingly, berries didn’t quite make the cut off in this study.

5. The vegetables offering the most benefit included leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, green beans, and spinach.

6. Eight million people die needlessly each year due to a lack of fruit and vegetables.

What is a serving size?

When it comes to fruit, one whole fruit or one cup of fruit, counts as a serving size.  For vegetables, one cup of raw or cooked vegetables counts as one serving.  For leafy greens, two cups count as one serving size.

Why are fruits and vegetables so protective?

As blog readers know, fruits and vegetables provide so much disease protection on so many different levels.  For example, they lower your cholesterol and blood pressure.  They protect you against weight gain and diabetes.  They boost your immune system.  They protect your DNA so that cancers don’t form.  The list goes on and on.

How to Get 10 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables

While 10 servings a day of fruits and vegetables might seem like an insurmountable task, it is actually very doable.  Personally, I now average somewhere around 15 servings a day, of which about 12 are vegetables.  However, it wasn’t always this way for me.

Prior to my health turn around a few years back, I was lucky to eat four servings daily of fruits and vegetables.  By replacing processed and sugary foods with fruits and vegetables, the weight melted away and one-by-one, my medical problems also went away.

The key is to make fruits and vegetables the main thing on your plate with every meal.  Every meal also includes breakfast.

You have to start getting your fruits and vegetables with breakfast, otherwise you’ll never make it to 10 for the day.  For most of my patients, a daily morning smoothie helps them to get started on the 10 servings.

You may need to build up to the “10” number.  Take it slowly.  If you’re not used to eating so much fiber, you may need to give your body time to adjust.

Also, don’t be afraid about adding in frozen fruits and vegetables.  Depending on the time of the year, frozen can actually be healthier as fruits and vegetables are frozen when they are at their peak nutritional value.

Personally, I love frozen berries either plain or in a smoothie.  If I am running short on time, I’ll often add some healthy curry sauce to frozen vegetables.  The possibilities are endless.

Take Home Message

The main take away from this study is that most people need to significantly increase their fruit and vegetable intake to stay healthy and live a longer life.  Based on the results of this study, it looks like the new daily target is 10 servings.

How close are you to the 10 daily serving target?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  Also, if you have not yet signed up for my free weekly newsletter or podcast, please follow the links and start today!

#208 The Easiest Way to Shave 8 Years Off Your Biologic Age

March 2nd, 2017 by
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The Easiest Way to Shave 8 Years Off Your Biologic Age

Would you trade 30 minutes a day to look and feel eight years younger?  Based on the latest research, this article will show you the easiest way to shave eight years off your biologic age.

The 8 Years Younger Study

In this study, researchers from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) studied 1,481 people.  Their question was simple.  What is the least amount of physical activity you need to reverse biological aging.

To answer their question, researchers measured the length of telomeres in the white blood cells of these 1,481 people.  Telomeres, which are shown in the photo accompanying this article, can be found at the ends of your DNA.  Telomeres are like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces which prevent the shoelaces from unraveling and falling apart.

As part of the aging process, these telomeres gradually shorten over the years.  When they get too short, your DNA starts to unravel and fall apart.  When this happens, heart disease, cancer, or death are near at hand.  The key is to always keep your telomeres as long as possible.

In order to link physical activity to telomere length, UCSD researchers strapped pedometers to these 1,481 people for one week.  They then compared the pedometer data to their telomere length.

Armed with this information, they could then link sitting and exercising time to telomere length.  Their results were interesting.  Sitting less than 10 hours a day and exercising at least 30 minutes a day resulted in telomeres which were 8 years longer.

How To Replicate This Study

As studies show that everyone thinks they are more physically active than they really are, you need real data to make yourself biologically eight years younger.  The best way to get this information is to track yourself for a week starting now.

If you don’t already own a pedometer, try downloading the free Pacer app by clicking on these links for your Android or iPhone.  Alternatively, you could use the built-in pedometer app that comes with your smartphone.

Pacer is the pedometer app that I use everyday with my iPhone.  This app is always running in the background without you having to do anything. Remarkably, I have found this app to be very accurate.

As long as you are sitting less than 10 hours a day, and exercising for more than 30 minutes a day, then, based on the results of this study, your body is eight years younger than your actual age.  Of the thousands of studies I have reviewed, this is the very easiest way to shave eight years off your biological age.

Are you sitting less than 10 hours a day?  Do you exercise for at least 30 minute a day?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  I’ll do my very best to answer every question within 24 hours.  If you haven’t yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter and podcast, now would be a great time!

#207 Almonds vs. Peanuts: Which Should You Eat?

February 27th, 2017 by
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Almonds vs. Peanuts: Which Should You Eat?

Everyone knows almonds are healthier than peanuts, right?  In this article, we are going to look at the science to settle the almonds vs. peanuts debate.  The results may surprise you.

1. Almonds vs. Peanuts for Weight Loss?

Almonds are a great nut for people wishing to lose weight.  While you would expect that all of the calories and fat in almonds would cause weight gain, the opposite is actually true.  Indeed, a recent study showed that people eating almonds lost 65% more weight than those not eating almonds.

When it comes to weight loss, peanuts have a similar effect.  In a study of 14,082 people, even though peanut eaters ate significantly more calories, they actually weighed less than those not eating peanuts.  This finding argues that peanuts increase metabolism.

For weight loss, all nuts, including peanuts, help to fill you up and may increase metabolism. Thus, as long as you don’t overdo it, nuts and peanuts should help you to maintain a healthy weight.

Winner: Tie

2. Almonds vs. Peanuts for Diabetes, Blood Pressure, and Cholesterol

For preventing the common ailments of life, like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, both nuts and peanuts perform magnificently.  Indeed, countless studies have shown that all nuts and peanuts help to treat and prevent these conditions.

How much benefit can you anticipate by eating nuts or peanuts each day?  According to one study, blood pressure is reduced by 6 mmHg and LDL (bad cholesterol) by 10% just by eating 30 g of them.  Thirty grams works out to be one or two handfuls depending on the size of the nut and the palm of your hand.  For people with diabetes, nuts and peanuts shouldn’t raise your glucose at all as they are slowly digested and contain no sugar.

Winner: Tie

3. Almonds vs. Peanuts to Prevent Dementia?

When it comes to optimizing brain function, there are strong data that almonds are extremely helpful.  For example, in a study of 522 people, a daily dose of almonds improved brain function by up to 60%.

Exactly how almonds help so much with brain function isn’t completely clear.  This benefit may come from the role of almonds in weight loss, diabetes prevention, blood pressure lowering, and cholesterol lowering.  Alternatively, it may be due to the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants packed in the nut.  In animal studies, almonds boost acetylcholine in the brain which turbo charges memory function.

Peanuts are a unique brain food in that they are packed with niacin.  While niacin supplements have never been shown to be helpful, the natural niacin packed in peanuts have been associated with a much lower risk of dementia.  For example, in a study of 6,158 people living in Chicago, those getting the most niacin from natural food sources were 70% less likely to develop dementia.  Moreover, when it comes to weight loss, diabetes prevention, blood pressure lowering, cholesterol lowering, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, peanuts are every bit as strong as almonds.

Winner: Tie

4. Almonds vs. Peanuts to Prevent Heart Disease

All nuts prevent heart disease.  In a large study of 118,962 Americans, researchers found that the more often you eat nuts, the lower your chance of dying from a heart attack.  Indeed, this study showed that those eating nuts were 24% less likely to die from a heart attack.

When it comes to preventing heart disease, peanuts perform every bit as well as almonds and other nuts.  Indeed, from this same study, researchers could find no difference in the protective effects of peanuts compared to other nuts, including almonds.

Winner: Tie

5. Almonds vs. Peanuts to Prevent Cancer

For cancer prevention, you want a food that can prevent DNA damage, promote DNA repair, reduce tumor growth, prevent spreading, and enhance immune system function. Fortunately, both almonds and peanuts may help in all of these cancer prevention functions.

In the study referred to above, researchers compared the cancer prevention effects of nuts and peanuts.  When it comes to your risk of dying from cancer, nuts, including almonds, decreased your risk by 17%.  While peanuts didn’t perform quite as well, they still lowered your risk of dying from cancer by 6%.

In a different study of 48,380 people, nuts, including almonds, decreased the risk of cancer by 18%.  In contrast, peanuts only decreased the cancer risk by 7%.

Winner: Almonds

6. Almonds vs. Peanuts for Energy Production

Everyone wants more energy through the day.  To get that energy boost, should you eat almonds or peanuts?

When it comes to energy production, almonds have a number of advantages.  For example, almonds are sky high in manganese, copper, riboflavin, and magnesium.

The energy generating factory of each cell in your body is the mitochondria.  As the mitochondria make energy for your body to use, it spins off free radicals as a byproduct.  These free radicals limit how much energy the mitochrondia can generate.  Fortunately, the manganese and copper in almonds are essential components to an enzyme, superoxide dismutase, which gets rid of these free radicals so that your mitochondria can continue to function at maximum production.

In addition to manganese and copper, almonds are also packed with riboflavin and magnesium.  Both riboflavin and magnesium are critical components to the mitochronia’s ability to create new energy.  If either are lacking, energy production is slowed to a crawl.

While peanuts also have these same nutrients, the amount in peanuts is much lower than that of almonds.  Thus, when it comes to getting more energy during the day, almonds come out on top.

Winner: Almonds

7. Almonds vs. Peanuts for Resveratrol

Not long ago, resveratrol was felt to be the “fountain of youth.”  Resveratrol is a flavonoid compound found in red grapes that has been associated with longevity, less heart disease, less cancer, and improved cognitive function in medical studies.

Indeed, some researchers believe that the resveratrol in red wine is the secret behind the French Paradox.  The French Paradox is the term given to why the French can eat “unhealthy” food but yet have extremely low rates of heart disease and remarkable longevity.

In addition to red grapes, peanuts and dark chocolate are two other great ways to get resveratrol.  Indeed, one ounce of peanut butter (28 g) provides almost as much resveratrol as one ounce of red wine (30 mL).  In contrast, almonds have no meaningful amount of resveratrol.

Winner: Peanuts

8. Almonds vs. Peanuts for Cost

When it comes to cost, you can’t get much cheaper than the peanut.  Regardless of where I have shopped over the years, peanuts have always been much cheaper than almonds.  For people on a budget, peanuts are a great way to get all the nutritional benefits of nuts at a much lower price point.

Winner: Peanuts

What is the best way to eat almonds and peanuts?

When choosing almonds or peanuts to eat, there are a few general rules for optimal health.  Here is what you need to know:

1. Only buy fresh almonds and peanuts.  Because of the high fat content in almonds and peanuts, they can quickly turn rancid.  Almonds stay fresh longer if you keep them in their shell.  Also, dry roasting or keeping them refrigerated or frozen also keeps them fresh longer.

2. Avoid almonds or peanuts which have any added oils or sugar.  Be careful not to select the types which have too much added salt.

3. For peanuts, eating the dry roasted varieties may be the best.  This is because peanuts could possibly harbor small amounts of aflatoxin.  Aflatoxin is a poison that comes from mold.  Dry roasted peanuts are much less likely to go moldy.

Take Home Message

The key take away from this article is that both almonds and peanuts help to prevent most chronic medical problems.  Based on my almonds vs. peanuts analysis, I am calling this one a tie.  Indeed, even though most people consider almonds “healthier,” when you look at the scientific studies, I could find no difference.

Personally, I eat almonds and peanuts every day.  I like the taste of both.

Do you prefer almonds or peanuts?  Please leave your thoughts, questions, and comments below.  I’ll do my best to answer every question within 24 hours.

If you liked this article, please tell a friend and be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast!

#206 Does Vitamin D Prevent Colds? The Latest Research

February 17th, 2017 by
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Does Vitamin D Prevent Colds? The Latest Research

Vitamin D is good for your bones.  Not getting enough vitamin D has been linked to heart disease, cancer, and dementia.  But does vitamin D prevent colds?  In this article, I review the latest research looking at vitamin D, colds, the flu, and other respiratory tract infections.  If you, or a loved one, has been sick this year, you won’t want to miss this article.

My Vitamin D Challenges

As readers know, I’m not a fan of supplements unless it is for a critical nutrient or vitamin that you can’t get naturally.  For me, vitamin D fits this category.

I recently had my vitamin D level checked at the end of the summer.  I picked this time because I wanted to see what my levels were in the best possible situation.  As I often go on long mountain bike rides or trail runs during the summer, I figured my vitamin D levels would at least be normal this time of the year.

I was wrong.  Even with eating fish and a lot of sun exposure, my vitamin D level came back at 25 ng/mL.  At my hospital, the normal range for vitamin D is 30 to 80 ng/mL.

Knowing that I have a clear vitamin D deficiency that can’t be corrected naturally, I have faithfully taken a vitamin D supplement this winter.  Remarkably, even with four young children, frequent periods of sleep deprivation while being on call at the hospital, and several colds that went through our family, I have not been sick once this year.

I figured it was my healthy diet protected me against colds, the flu, and other respiratory tract infections.  But then, this study  just came out.  Based on my careful review of this study, perhaps it is my daily vitamin D supplement that is protecting me from getting sick this winter.

The Vitamin D and Colds Study

This past week in the prestigious British Medical Journal, 25 researchers from Harvard University, and other major medical centers from around, the world published their findings on vitamin D supplements and the risk of respiratory tract infections.  In this study, researchers pooled the results of 25 vitamin D studies involving 11,321 people.  Here are their four main findings:

1. Taking any vitamin D supplement reduced your risk of getting an upper respiratory tract infection by 12%.

2. Those taking a daily dose of vitamin D were 19% less likely to get an upper respiratory tract infection.

3. For people with a documented vitamin D deficiency, a daily dose of vitamin D reduced their chances of getting an upper respiratory tract infection by 70%.

4. There were no statistically significant complications of taking vitamin D observed in this study.

What does this study tell us?

The key message of this study is that a daily dose of vitamin D seems to be protective against colds and other illnesses.  However, for those with a documented vitamin D deficiency, like me, the protective effects are literally off the charts.

When the researchers looked at dosing frequency, a daily dose of vitamin D appeared to be most  protective.  This is probably because periodic big doses of vitamin D changed gene expression and other metabolic pathways.

What doesn’t this study tell us?

First, it doesn’t tell you how much vitamin D you should take.  As this study pooled the results of 25 previously published studies, the vitamin D dose used in every study was completely different.  Thus, as everyone’s need for vitamin D varies, please ask your doctor what dose is right for you.  Please note that you may not even need a supplement at all.

Second, this study didn’t find that you had to get your vitamin D above a certain level to be protected from colds or other illnesses.  Rather, just taking a daily dose of vitamin D seemed to be what was important.

How does vitamin D protect you from colds?

Many readers are probably wondering how vitamin D can keep you from getting sick.  Interestingly, vitamin D has been shown in many studies to strengthen the immune system.  With a strong immune system, bacteria and viruses don’t stand much of a chance.

Can you get too much vitamin D?

The short answer is yes.  You want to keep your vitamin D levels below 100 ng/mL.  When vitamin D levels get too high, people may suffer from high calcium levels in their blood or kidney stones.

In addition, our research has shown that the risk of a dangerous heart condition, called atrial fibrillation, shoots way up when vitamin D levels get above 100 ng/mL.  The bottom line is that if you and your physician choose to supplement with vitamin D, be sure not to overdose on vitamin D.

How can you get more vitamin D naturally?

It is always best if you can get everything your body needs naturally.  When it comes to vitamin D, your very best source is the sun.  If you have had skin cancer, or you have a family history of skin cancer, check with your physician first before spending time in the sun.

If you live far from the equator, like I do in Salt Lake City, then it is next to impossible to get any meaningful dose of vitamin D from the sun during the winter months.  If you live closer to the equator, you may be able to get year-round vitamin D from the sun.

During the summer, 15 minutes of mid-day sun is all most people need for their daily dose of vitamin D.  When the sun isn’t available, the very best food source is fish.  For example, just a 158 calorie serving of salmon (4 ounces or 113 grams) provides 128% of the vitamin D you need for the day.  Also, most milks such as cow, almond, soy, etc., are supplemented with vitamin D.

Take Home Message

The take home message of this study is that we now have pretty strong evidence that vitamin D prevents colds and other illnesses.  To get this benefit, the vitamin D supplement should be taken daily and the best results are for people with a documented vitamin D deficiency.

As vitamin D toxicity can cause heart problems or other complications, please be sure to only take vitamin D under the supervision of your physician.  For most people, they may only need a vitamin D supplement during the winter when they can’t get it naturally from the sun.

Do you take a vitamin D supplement?  Please leave your thoughts, comments, and questions below.  I’ll do my best to answer every question within 24 hours.  If you enjoyed this article, please be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast.

#205 21 Ways to Stop Mindless Eating

February 13th, 2017 by
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21 Ways to Stop Mindless Eating

Most people gain one to two pounds a year.  If you do the math, that works out to overeating by about 10 calories a day.  In this article, I’m going to show you how to stop mindless eating and effortlessly get you back to a healthy weight.  In addition, you’ll also learn simple tricks to get your family eating better as well.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

This past week, I just read the book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Dr. Brian Wansink.  Dr. Wansink is a famous Cornell University professor who has published hundreds of scientific studies on mindless eating.

This article covers the key 18 lessons I got from his book.  I have also included my own three favorite ways to stop mindless eating for a grand total of 21 ways to stop mindless eating.

As my readers know, I carefully back up all my articles with scientific studies.  If you want to refer back to the science behind each of these ways to stop mindless eating, please read Dr. Wansink’s book.  His book is extremely well written and you’ll be glad you did.

1. The 20% Rule

Dr. Wansink’s studies show that you can eat 20% less without feeling physical hunger.  To capitalize on this scientific finding, eat 20% less of the main course and 20% less of the desert.   To keep your plate looking “full,” add 20% or more vegetables.

2. Make it Look Big

Feeling full at the end of a meal usually has more to do with satisfying psychological hunger rather than physical hunger.  If you see a lot of food on your plate, your brain naturally thinks all that food will make you feel full.

To make your plate of food appear as big as possible, load up on the vegetables.  As long as you are eating vegetables in a healthy way, you can eat as much as you possibly can with next to zero calories.

3. Only Plate What You Plan to Eat

Going back for a second or third helping almost always causes overeating.  Dr. Wansink’s studies show that if you put everything you’re going to eat on your plate from the beginning, you’ll eat 14% less.

The key to making this work is to put your leftovers in the fridge as soon as you are done plating your food.  By doing this, you won’t be tempted for seconds or thirds.  The only exception to this rule is for vegetables.  Always keep vegetables on the table throughout the entire meal so that you will be encouraged to eat as many vegetables as possible.

4. Make Vegetables Easy

The more food choices you have the more people will eat.  Use this trick to your advantage when it comes to vegetables.  Offer lots of vegetable choices.

Of course, the opposite is also true.  If you want to prevent overeating of desert, only offer one choice.

It is also important to remember that when it comes to eating, most people are basically lazy.  If it is easy, they’ll eat it.  Once again, use this to your advantage.  Make vegetables as easy as you possibly can.

Always have vegetables cut up.  One neighbor we have keeps fresh cut up vegetables on her kitchen table all day long.  She keeps the vegetables cool with ice underneath them.  You could also use this approach to keep fresh veggies on your coffee table for TV viewing.

5. Make Junk Food a Hassle

If people have to work for their food, they probably won’t eat it.  This is why junk food free homes work so well.  If you have to get in the car and drive to the store for a sugar fix, then you probably won’t do it.

6. Tall Glasses and Small Plates

Tall glasses look like you are drinking more.  So if you want to minimize the empty calories of fruit juice or alcohol, always serve them in tall glasses.

Likewise, as most people need to eating everything on their plate to psychologically feel full, use small plates for everything but vegetables.  This way you won’t load up on the stuff that adds to your waistline.

7. Out of Sight Out of Mind

You want what you see.  Thus, if you can’t achieve a junk food free home then at least keep this stuff out of sight.

This principle also works for eating more of the healthy stuff.  Make vegetables as visible as possible.  The more often you see vegetables the more likely you will be to eat them.

8. Restaurant Tips

People tend to eat more in groups.  This is especially true for men who often subconsciously feel that overeating is a sign of masculinity.

If you are at a restaurant with a group of people skip the bread basket, split the entree, and pass on the desert.  Here is how you manage this.

When the waitress first comes to your table ask the group, would it be reasonable if we skip the bread.  No one wants to be “unreasonable” or be the one singled out as the person who just wants to eat bread.

Next, split your entree with someone.  If you can’t find anyone to split your meal with then have the waiter pack half your meal in a to go box before it is ever served.

Last, when the waitress asks, does anyone want desert always be the first to respond.  Quickly say no thank you.  Generally speaking, the first to reply signals to the group if it is OK or not to have desert.

9. Don’t Multitask

If you try to multitask while eating you will eat way too much.  Studies consistently show that distracted eaters eat more.  A lot more.  It really doesn’t matter if it is the newspaper, TV, computer, or a good book the result is always the same.

If you enjoy eating while doing something else then either have preprepared portion sizes or eat vegetables.  Never eat from the box or bag when multitasking.

10. The 20 Minute Rule

It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal you’re full.  Thus, pace yourself to take at least 20 minutes to finish your plate of food.  This way, you’ll be full and won’t need seconds.

Two great tips to slowing down is to use chopsticks or eat with your non-dominant hand.  Dr. Wansink has observed that obese people are far more likely to eat with a fork than with chopsticks at Chinese restaurants.  An added benefit of eating with chopsticks, or your non-dominant hand, is that you will form new brain connections that may help to prevent dementia.

11. Gum Over Snacks

Sometimes you just need something to chew on when you’re not in the mood for vegetables.  While there is some debate as to how healthy sugar-free gum is, I would argue that a piece of gum is a lot healthier than a bag of Oreo cookies.

12. Never Eat from the Bag or Box

If you eat from the bag or box, nine times out of ten you will eat more than you should.  Thus, unless you are snacking on vegetables, always put your snacks into small bags.

This approach is especially helpful with kids.  Small bags have been proven to help with eating the right portions.

13. Set the Right Mood for Healthy Dinners

Dr. Wansink’s studies show that the right dinner environment makes food taste better.  Use this to your advantage when you want your family to eat better.  With the right mood music, candles, and your your nicest plates and cups those vegetables will taste amazing.

14. Make Comfort Foods More Comforting

We all have comfort foods.  Foods that we like to eat when we are happy or sad.

Rather than deny yourself this comfort, reengineer them to be healthier.  Substitute in better ingredients.  If you are unwilling to substitute in healthier ingredients, then limit portion sizes by the techniques described above.

15. Pair Healthy Foods to Happy Events

Rather than having your kids associate junk food with happy events or holidays for the rest of their lives, change the script.  Who says you can’t have a great-tasting healthy vegetable dip and raw vegetables for your Super Bowl party or birthday party?

The same holds true for Christmas and Thanksgiving.  Create great tasting vegetable traditions for every holiday.  By making positive associations with healthy foods you can save your kids a lifetime of pain in trying to deal with food addictions.

16. The Power of the Grocery Store Shopper

The person who does the grocery shopping has a big responsibility.  According to Wansink’s studies, whoever does the shopping ultimately controls 72% of what the family eats.  Use this as a great opportunity to keep your family healthy.

17. Never Believe Healthy Food Labels

Most of the healthy food labels you see are for foods that aren’t really heathy.  When was the last time you saw a healthy food label on a bag of broccoli or carrots?

The scary thing is that processed foods with a “healthy food label” subconsciously cause people to eat more.  Don’t be fooled by clever marketeers. Just remember, if it requires a healthy food label then it isn’t really healthy.

18. Healthy Food Rules

Create rules for yourself to strengthen your willpower.  For example, one rule you could create is that you can only have a desert on days when you have worked out at least an hour.

19. The Fork in the Salad Dressing Trick

Did you know that a McDonald’s salad has more calories than the Big Mac?  How can this be when raw vegetables have next to zero calories?

The problem is with the salad dressing.  All of the calories, sugar, and unhealthy oils in most salad dressings can completely undo any potential health benefits of the salad.

If you are not in a position to make your own salad dressing with a little olive oil, vinegar, and other ingredients then use the fork in the salad dressing trick.  While this trick was not in Dr. Wansink’s book, this is what I do whenever I eat a salad outside of our home.

First, always ask for the salad dressing on the side.  Next, after you have taken a big bite of salad then lightly dip your fork in the salad dressing.  I find that by eating salads this way I barely touch the salad dressing and don’t feel deprived in the process.

20. Brush Your Teeth

What should you do if you’re sitting at the table, you know you’re full, but yet you feel compelled to keep eating?  If this is something that also happens to you then there is a simple trick, brush your teeth.  Psychologically, I have found that once I get up and brush my teeth I no longer feel compelled to keep eating.

If you’re at a restaurant, and you just can’t leave the table to brush your teeth, an alternative strategy is to chew a piece of gum.  For me, chewing a piece of gum also signals to my brain that I am done eating.

21. The Broccoli Test

Are you really hungry or are you just trying to self-medicate or avoid something you really should be doing?  Sometimes it is hard to tell.

If you really want to know if your hunger is physical or psychological, try the broccoli test.  This test is simple.  If you are hungry enough to eat broccoli, then you are really hungry.  If you don’t feel like eating broccoli, then you’re hunger is just psychological.

Take Home Message

In my experience, it usually is no mystery as to why someone is overweight or not eating as healthy as they should.  If all it takes is eating 10 less calories a day to not gain weight, here are 21 ways to stop mindless eating that should make it easy.  Try them out and keep the tips that work for you.

What are you doing to stop mindless eating?  Please leave your own tips below.

If you enjoyed this article, please be sure to tell a friend.   Also, be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast!

#204 Does meat cause cancer and heart disease?

February 3rd, 2017 by
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Does meat cause cancer and heart disease?

Does meat cause cancer, heart disease, or an early death?  In this article, I will show you how to enjoy meat without any increased risk based on new research.

The Harvard Meat Study

Meat studies are difficult to do.  These studies often are not very accurate either.

This is because health conscientious people tend to eat less meat.  If they do eat meat, it is generally fish or poultry.

In contrast, people who don’t care much about their health are more likely to eat a meat heavy diet.  They also like to load up on red and processed meats.  The question is always, was it the meat or their lifestyle that accounted for the increased cancer, heart, and premature death risk.

This study was different because the lifestyle variable was taken out of the equation.  Specifically, they analyzed the effect of various meats on people with with both a healthy and unhealthy lifestyle.

In this latest meat study, Harvard University researchers followed 131,342 people for up to 26 years in hopes of answering the question, does meat cause cancer, heart disease, or an early death.  Here are the three key findings of this new study:

1. Meat was safe for people with healthy lifestyles.

This finding is good news for people who are healthy and like meat.  Basically, as long as you are living a healthy lifestyle, meat conferred no extra risk.

In this study, Harvard researchers defined a healthy lifestyle by four criteria–no smoking, no alcohol abuse, daily exercise, and not being overweight.  However, if even one criteria was not met, then meat was associated with an increased risk.

2. Processed red meats were associated with a shorter lifespan.

As my readers know from blog #129, the World Health Organization has recently warned of the cancer risk associated with processed and red meats.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that this study linked processed red meats to a shorter lifespan as well.

When these researchers looked at the different types of meats and their effect to cancer, heart disease, or an early death, the risk was almost entirely due to processed red meats.  Processed red meats include sausage, bacon, pepperoni, deli meats, bologna, or hot dogs.

Other meats, like poultry or fish, appeared safe.  Likewise, dairy and eggs were also safe when it came to the risk of a premature death.

Interestingly, while unprocessed red meat and fish did not increase the risk of a cancer death, these meats did affect the heart.  For unprocessed red meats, like a hamburger or steak, the risk of a heart disease death went up.  In contrast, fish was associated with a decreased risk of dying from heart disease.

3. Plant-based proteins may allow you to live longer.

In my opinion, the most interesting finding of this study was that if people can replace 3% of their daily animal protein calories with 3% plant-based proteins, they lived up to 34% longer.  In practical terms this means that if you enjoy a deli sandwich for lunch, trade the last bite or two of your sandwich for a few bites of peas, beans, or lentils to live up to 34% longer.

Even if you don’t want to give up the last bite or two of your sandwich, the more plant-based proteins you eat the lower your risk of a cancer or heart disease death.  Would it surprise you to learn that calorie for calorie, spinach has more protein than a T-bone steak?  Indeed, 100 calories of spinach packs 13 grams of protein versus the mere 9 grams of protein in a 100 calorie serving of steak.

When it comes to getting enough protein every day, don’t limit your options.  Nuts, seeds, vegetables, and legumes are all great protein sources.

Take Home Message

What does this study mean in practical terms?  Here is what I am recommending now to my patients.

1. If you meet the criteria of a healthy lifestyle, as defined by this study, enjoy meat in moderation.

2. If you have one or more unhealthy lifestyle factors, you need more plant-based proteins and a quick lifestyle course correction.

3. Processed meats should be a rare treat for anyone.

Personally, I don’t like to take chances with my health.  Thus, most of my daily protein comes from plant-based sources.

As meat contains some critical nutrients, like vitamin B12, I do eat some meat.  Typically, this consists of wild Alaskan salmon once or twice a week.

I like the fact that wild Alaskan salmon is low in contaminants and sky high in the omega 3 fatty acids.  Also, fish is consistently associated with less heart disease and a longer lifespan in most studies.

What is your take on this study?  Do you agree with the findings?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  I’ll do my best to answer every question as quickly as possible.

If you enjoyed this article, please be sure to subscribe to my free weekly newsletter and podcast.

#203 7 Reasons Why Chili Peppers Make You Live Longer

January 28th, 2017 by
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7 Reasons Why Chili Peppers Make You Live Longer

New research reports that people who eat red hot chili peppers live 13% longer.  In this article, I will review the studies and share seven reasons why there may be truth that chili peppers make you live longer.

The Scoville Scale

At the young age of 19, I was suddenly introduced to the upper end of the Scoville scale.  By way of background, the Scoville scale was created in 1912 by American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville.  To create this scale, Dr. Scoville measured the subjective heat units of peppers.  While not a perfect test, the Scoville scale is the best way we have of measuring how hot a pepper is.

Getting back to my story, I was invited over for dinner by the Lau family.  At the time I was living in New York City and the Lau family had just immigrated to the U.S. from Thailand.  I was looking forward to this meal as I had never experienced real Thai food before.

As soon as I walked in the door, the smell of Thai food made my mouth water in anticipation.  However, with the first bite, it wasn’t my mouth but rather my eyes that were watering.

I had never eaten something so hot before in my life.  Little did I know at that time but Thai peppers score 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville heat units.  To put that in perspective, that’s about 23 times hotter on the Scoville scale than the jalapeño pepper.

Needless to say, with a lot of rice and a lot of water I did my best to get through the meal.  As hard as I tried to be a grateful guest, I suspect it was pretty obvious that I was struggling.

Stomach Ulcers and Spicy Foods

As I was doing my best to eat the authentic Thai food at the Lau family, I remember wondering if I was going to get a stomach ulcer.  This is because doctors in the 1980s still believed that spicy foods caused ulcers.

Fortunately, this myth has been largely debunked.  Medical studies now consistently show that hot peppers actually prevent and heal ulcers. Even though your ulcer pain might be worse after eating hot peppers, the peppers are helping the ulcer to heal faster.

Chinese and American Hot Pepper Studies

In 2015 the world was shocked to learn that in a large study of 487,375 people living in China, those eating hot peppers almost every day lived 14% longer.  As reported in the British Medical Journal, the cause for this marked mortality reduction was largely due to less heart, cancer, and lung deaths.

As my blog readers are well aware that medical studies are often contradictory, you need to see multiple studies all come to the same conclusion before results can be accepted.  To confirm the results of this large Chinese study, a new study on hot peppers in the U.S. was just published.

In this American red hot chili pepper study, researchers from the University of Vermont Medical College closely followed 16,179 people for 19 years.  Over this 19 year period of time, researchers noted that 4,946 people had passed away.  However, those eating the most hot peppers lived 13% longer.

What was really remarkable about this American study was that those eating the most chili peppers were also the people most likely to smoke, drink, and eat excessive amounts of meat.  Thus, even though their vices would have predicted an early death, somehow the chili peppers may have extended their lives.

7 Reasons Why Chili Peppers Make You Live Longer

How do you explain why studies consistently show that chili peppers are associated with a longer lifespan?  Below are my 7 best reasons why chili peppers make you live longer.

1. Less Inflammation

As I discussed in blog #197, keeping inflammation levels as low as possible was the secret to a recent study showing how you could live to age 110.  The active compound in chili peppers, capsaicin, is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.

2. Less Heart Disease

For decades now it has been observed that people eating chili peppers are less likely to get blood clots.  This effect is largely due to decreased platelet clumping in your blood.  Indeed, this effect alone may explain why chili pepper eaters are 18% less likely to suffer from a heart attack.

3. Less Cholesterol Plaque

Cholesterol is totally harmless until it is oxidized in your arteries.  This is why there is so much confusion about cholesterol on the Internet.

Traditional medicine has focussed on reducing cholesterol.  This strategy has worked because if there is less cholesterol circulating around then there is also less of it that can be oxidized into a cholesterol heart plaque.

However, an equally effective approach is to live in a way so that the cholesterol is never oxidized into the plaque at all.  With this in mind, chili peppers may help.

Indeed, studies show that chili peppers prevent oxidation of cholesterol in the arteries.  If cholesterol is never oxidized, then heart plaques never form.  And if hearts are free of plaque, then heart disease rarely occurs and people live longer.

4. Lose Weight

If you want to boost your metabolism, eat more peppers.  Not only is your mouth on fire with chili peppers but your whole body increases in temperature as well.  Having a higher body temperature burns more calories.

5. Less Cancer

Capsaicin has long been recognized for its powerful anti-cancer effects.  Indeed, if you put cancer cells next to capsaicin, the cancer cells don’t stand a chance.  Perhaps this helps to explain why the large Chinese study showed 8% less cancer deaths in those people eating the most chili peppers.

6. Less Diabetes

Studies show that people eating the most chili peppers have the best glucose control.  Whether this is due to the beneficial effects of chili peppers on gut health, or other reasons, chili pepper eaters have been observed to have less diabetes.

7. Lowers Blood Pressure

As 90% of Americans will face high blood pressure by age 55, anything you can do to naturally lower blood pressure will help you live longer.  To achieve this goal, chili peppers may help.

Studies show that capsaicin lowers blood pressure.  While this blood pressure lowering effect probably isn’t enough alone to get you off of blood pressure medications, it can help.

Take Home Message

The key message of this new American chili pepper study is that most of us probably need to eat more peppers.  With each passing year, more and more studies are confirming that chili peppers are a superfood.

While I have come a long way since my first introduction to chili peppers at age 19, I still don’t eat enough of them.  After carefully reviewing this study, I am going to redouble my efforts.

Personally, I find it much easier to add dried chili peppers to stir-fry dishes, soups, or chilis than to cut up fresh chili peppers.  Fortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a health difference when comparing fresh versus dried chili peppers.

Do you eat chili peppers every day?  How do you eat them?

Please leave your thoughts, experiences, and questions below.  I’ll do my best to respond to every comment within 24 hours.  If you have not yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter or podcast, please do so now.

#202 3 Ways to Beat Alzheimer’s Disease

January 19th, 2017 by
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3 Ways to Beat Alzheimer’s Disease

Even if dementia runs in your family, new research shows that Alzheimer’s disease can be prevented or reversed.  In this article, I share three ways to beat Alzheimer’s disease based on the latest research from UCLA.

Bob’s Experience

Bob was becoming progressively forgetful.  His wife was worried.  He was only 55.

Based on our research of the heart and Alzheimer’s disease, Bob and his wife came to see me.  After reviewing his case, it was clear that his heart condition had played a major role in his early dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is something that starts developing years, possibly even decades, before symptoms appear.  While significant damage had already been done to his brain, there still was much that could be saved.

“If we’re going to beat Alzheimer’s disease, it is going to require a significant commitment from both of you,” I said.

“We’ll do anything to stop the memory loss,” Bob and his wife said in unison.

With that, I then shared with them the latest research from UCLA.  I’m happy to report that while Bob’s memory is not perfect, he did make significant progress.  No further decline has been observed and he is faithfully following the new UCLA research.

What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

If you were to examine the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s disease you would see a mess of beta-amyloid plaques and tau-neurofibrillary tangles.  Beta-amyloid plaques are basically piles of protein fragments in the brain.

It is almost as if no one bothered to take out the trash.  This protein debris just accumulates and gets in the way of key brain functions.

Tau-neurofibrillary tangles are remnants of microtubules, or little pipes, that once carried nutrients and other substances in the brain.  Once again, it would be as if no one ever bothered to repair the plumbing, electrical, or gas lines of an old house.

With progressive accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques and tau-neurofibrillary tangles, the brain gets to the point where it can barely function.  While genetic factors certainly play a role in the accumulation of plaques and tangles, lifestyle factors play an even more important role.

Indeed, studies of people who only eat real food, exercise every day, are socially connected, who embrace stress, and get restorative sleep every night rarely ever get Alzheimer’s disease.  This is because healthy lifestyles flush out the beta-amyloid plaques and prevent the tau-neurofibrillary tangles from forming.

The UCLA Study

In this study, UCLA researchers under the direction of Dr. David A. Merrill, recruited 66 people with early dementia.  As part of this study, Dr. Merrill and his team spent countless hours finding out everything they could about these 66 people.

For example, they wanted to know exactly what they ate, how much they exercised, what other medical conditions were going on, etc.   In addition to an extensive personal history, Dr. Merrill and his team also performed a FDDNP-PET brain scan to assess the severity of the plaques and tangles.

3 Ways to Beat Alzheimer’s Disease

Based on the results of this UCLA study, these researchers identified three things you can do to beat Alzheimer’s disease.

1. Exercise a Minimum of 21.4 Minutes Daily

The number one factor in preventing brain plaques and tangles in this study was to exercise a minimum of 21.4 minutes each day (150 minutes weekly).  As I have covered in a previous blog article (blog #81), exercise is the very best way to stimulate brain derived neurotrophic factor.  Brain derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, can heal the brain and form new pathways and connections.

2. Faithfully Adhere to a Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet is the best studied diet to extend life and reverse medical conditions.  The traditional Mediterranean Diet is definitely not a pizza and pasta diet.  Rather, it is a way of eating that is very high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, intact whole grains, olive oil, and fish.

If you eat the typical store bread, protein bars, granola, crackers, cereals, or bakery items you are definitely not following the traditional Mediterranean diet.  Also, if you are eating sugar, lots of meat, or frequently visiting fast food restaurants, you are also not following the traditional Mediterranean diet.

Basically, to follow the traditional Mediterranean diet, most of what you eat has to be unprocessed and plant-based foods, without any added sugar, and some fish.  In this study, the closer people followed the traditional Mediterranean diet, the less brain plaques and tangles they had.

3. Keep Your BMI Below 25

A BMI, or body mass index, between 19 and 25 meets the medical definition of a healthy weight.  While the BMI way of assessing weight is not perfect, it is the most reliable and best studied method currently available.

As most Americans mistakingly believe they are at a healthy weight, follow this link to see if you really are.  According to this UCLA study, if your BMI is in the normal range then it is unlikely that your brain will ever fill up with these plaques and tangles.

Take Home Message

The key message of this study is one of hope.  According to research from UCLA, you can easily beat Alzheimer’s disease by just doing just three simple things.

While genes do matter, your lifestyle matters even more.  If dementia runs in your family, or you want a healthy brain throughout your life, resolve now to exercise at least 21.4 minutes EVERY day, faithfully follow a Mediterranean style diet, and keep your BMI in the normal range.

Does Alzheimer’s disease run in your family?  What are you doing to beat Alzheimer’s disease?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  I’ll do my best to quickly answer every question.

If you liked this article, please be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter or subscribe to my weekly podcast.

#201 4 New Reasons Why You Need More Magnesium Foods

January 13th, 2017 by
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4 New Reasons Why You Need More Magnesium Foods

Up to 70% of Americans are magnesium deficient.  A lack of magnesium may be the cause of your fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, heart problems, and possibly an early death.  In this article, I share four new reasons why you need more magnesium foods.

Low Magnesium and Heart Problems: Katie’s Experience

Katie was a hard-charging super mom.  By day she worked as an accountant and when she wasn’t at the accounting firm she was home caring for teenagers and aging parents.  That is until she developed heart problems…

At first, it was just fatigue and occasional palpitations.  If she rested for a minute, the palpitations quickly went away.

Over time, the palpitations stopped going away.  Soon she was in to see me for a serious heart condition known as atrial fibrillation.

As part of her routine blood work, I noticed that her serum magnesium was 1.8 mg/dL.  While not officially “low,” her magnesium level was certainly at the lower end of “normal.”

Knowing that a low serum magnesium is just the “tip of the iceberg,” as most magnesium is concentrated inside the bones and cells, I advised her to eat more magnesium foods like greens, beans, nuts, and seeds.

Upon hearing this, she said, “I don’t have time to eat healthy.  I just grab a protein bar or a sandwich and eat it on the run.”

“Based on your lab tests,” I said, “your heart problems may be related to your diet.  You need more magnesium foods if you want to treat your arrhythmia.”

Reluctantly, she agreed.  At her next visit, her arrhythmia had improved.  Without even trying, she also lost 10 pounds by replacing her bars and sandwiches with magnesium foods.

4 New Reasons Why You Need More Magnesium Foods

Based on a new study involving more than one million people, let me share four new reasons why you need more magnesium foods.  As this study pooled together the results of 40 previously published studies on magnesium and health, you can feel pretty confident about the results.

The four main findings of this study are that people who eat a lot of magnesium foods can expect the following:

1. Live 10% longer for every 100 mg of magnesium eaten daily.

2. Heart Disease risk lowered by 22%.

3. Stroke risk down by 7%.

4. Diabetes risk lowered by 19%.

I need to emphasize that this study only looked at dietary magnesium.  In other words, you can’t expect these same results from a pill.  If you want all the benefits of this study, you must eat more magnesium foods.

What are magnesium foods?

While it is hard to remember which specific foods are high in magnesium when you at the grocery store, if you focus on greens, beans, nuts, and seeds you should be fine.  While green vegetables are high in magnesium, spinach is literally “off the charts.”  This is why I always eat a huge salad, which includes spinach, every day.

Beans, especially edamame and black beans, are also great magnesium foods. For seeds, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds are best for magnesium.  When it comes to nuts, almonds, peanuts, and cashews are all great choices to boost your magnesium level.

What is the minimum amount of magnesium you need?

The recommended dietary allowance, or the bare minimum amount of magnesium you need, is 300 mg each day for women and 35o mg daily for men.  For women that are pregnant or lactating, they need 450 mg daily.

How do you get an extra 100 mg and live 10% longer?

A key finding of this study was that for every extra 100 mg of magnesium you eat, you can live 10% longer.  How do you get an extra 100 mg of magnesium in your diet?  Here are 10 ways to easily get an extra 100 mg of magnesium.

1. Eat 2/3 cup of raw spinach

2. Eat 2/3 cup of Swiss chard

3. Eat 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds

4. Eat 2/3 cup of edamame beans

5. Eat 1/5 cup of sesame seeds

6. Eat 3/4 cup of black beans

7. Eat 1/4 cup of cashews

8. Eat 1/4 cup of sesame seeds

9. Eat 1/2 cup of almonds

10. Eat 4 tablespoons of peanut butter (1/2 cup of peanuts)

An often overlooked source of magnesium comes from drinking water.  Indeed, up to 10% of your magnesium may come from water.

When it comes to water, the “harder” the better.  Hard water is mineral rich with lots of magnesium and calcium.

While hard water is “hard” on your home’s appliances and plumbing, it is great for your heart. Perhaps this explains why studies show that people who drink hard water are much less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

While these are great ways to get an extra 100 mg of magnesium, my personal favorite is dark chocolate.  Indeed, just 2.5 ounces of dark chocolate also packs 100 mg of magnesium!  Could a magnesium deficiency be one reason why so many people crave dark chocolate?

Why is magnesium so important?

Magnesium plays a key role in more than 300 chemical reactions in your body.  If you are low on magnesium then many of these reactions could go wrong.

Magnesium is also required for DNA and protein repair.  Once again, if you are low, the DNA repair process could go awry and lead to future cancers.

In addition to keeping your cells working properly, magnesium also plays an essential role in keeping up your energy levels, preventing anxiety, optimizing muscle function, blood pressure regulation, diabetes prevention, arrhythmia prevention, etc.

What causes magnesium deficiency?

Why are 70% of Americans magnesium deficient?  Besides not eating enough magnesium foods, there could be other things going on as well.

For example, people may not be absorbing magnesium.  This is common for people taking acid reducing medications, like omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), or Nexium.  Also, people with gastrointestinal conditions, significant alcohol consumption, diabetes, or advanced age may also have difficulties absorbing magnesium.

Other Benefits of Magnesium

While this study clearly linked magnesium foods to a longer life, less heart disease, less strokes, and less diabetes, other studies associate magnesium foods to many other health benefits.  Here is just a short list of all the things that may get better by eating more magnesium foods.

1. Anxiety may get better.

2. Insomnia may go away.

3. Blood pressure normalizes.

4. Arrhythmias get better.

5. Less headaches.

6. ADHD gets better.

7. May prevent dementia.

8. Asthma is less bothersome.

9. Bones get stronger.

Can you get too much magnesium?

As long as your kidneys are functioning properly, it is incredibly difficult to overdose on magnesium from natural food sources.  However, if you are supplementing with magnesium, then toxicity is always a risk.

In my 22-year career as a physician, I have yet to see a case of magnesium toxicity in someone with normally functioning kidneys who ate too many magnesium foods.  In general, the person who gets in trouble with magnesium is either in kidney failure or is taking a lot of vitamins, laxatives, or supplements.

Take Home Message

The take away message of this article is that you are probably magnesium deficient.  Eating more magnesium foods may help to resolve many health issues you may be facing.

How do you get enough magnesium in your diet?  Do you drink hard water?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  I’ll do my best to answer every question within 24 hours.

If you haven’t yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter or podcast, now would be a great time.  There is valuable information in the newsletter and podcast that you won’t find anywhere else.

#200 3 Secrets to Maintaining a Healthy Weight Forever

January 6th, 2017 by
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3 Secrets to Maintaining a Healthy Weight Forever

Most Americans want to lose weight as their New Year’s resolution.  While many are successful, few can keep the weight off forever.  Based on recent research of 10,000 people, who have lost an average of 66 pounds and have kept it off for five or more years, I’ll share the 3 secrets to maintaining a healthy weight for the rest of your life.

Yo-yo Dieting

Liz was the classic yo-yo dieter.  Every year she’d resolve to lose weight on January 1.  And every year, by about April or May, she had gained it all back plus a few more pounds.

Last spring, as Liz’s weight crept ever upward, she started developing shortness of breath and fatigue.  Even the little things, like walking up stairs, made it hard to breathe.

When she went to see her doctor, her doctor noted that her pulse was fast and irregular.  An EKG was done which showed an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation.

One thing led to another and soon she was in my office discussing next steps in treating her heart condition.  After reviewing the probable cause of her atrial fibrillation, she was ready to try again.

“Doctor, I know I can do this,” she said.

“I know you can too,” I replied.

With that, the weight came off again.  Now, six months later, it is still off.  Fortunately, her atrial fibrillation resolved from weight loss alone.  No medications or procedures were needed.

Our research has confirmed Liz’s experience. Getting down to a healthy weight, and staying there, is the single best thing people can do to beat atrial fibrillation.

Why do 98% of diets fail?

Most people set themselves up for failure.  While losing weight is the number one New Year’s resolution,  studies show that up to 98% of dieters fail.  Is it any wonder why so many people feel discouraged?

Fortunately, 98% of weight loss attempts don’t need to end in failure.  Indeed, the 10,000 people followed in the National Weight Control Registry are living proof that you can keep the weight off forever.

Their secret to maintaining a healthy weight was simple.  Dieting doesn’t work.  Healthy lifestyles do work.

3 Secrets to Maintaining a Healthy Weight Forever

Interestingly, there was no special technique as to how these 10,000 people kept their 66 pounds off for more than 5 years.  Half did it alone while the other half participated in some sort of a weight loss program.  Also, some tracked their food intake while others practiced mindful eating approaches.

How these 10,000 successful people differed from the other 98% who gained their weight back was entirely due to new lifestyle habits. Here are the three secrets to maintaining a healthy weight for the rest of your life based on the published studies of these 10,000 people.

1. Exercise an Hour Daily

The number one factor in maintaining a healthy weight was exercising an hour each day.  While exercise has not been shown to be very helpful in weight loss, it is highly effective in maintaining a healthy weight.

In this study, women reported burning 2,545 calories each week, or 364 calories daily, with exercise.  For men, it was 3,293 calories weekly or 470 calories daily.  To get to these numbers, most people walked briskly for at least an hour each day.

When I share this with my patients, I often hear an excuse as to why they can’t exercise.  Usually, it is because something hurts or a perceived lack of time.

Everyone can do something.  I have patients confined to a wheelchair who are able to maintain a healthy weight simply by doing vigorous arm exercises each day in their wheelchair.  Likewise, I have many patients in their 90s, some of which have to wear oxygen all the time, who are still are able to exercise every day.

If your knees hurt, try a bicycle.  Alternatively, you could do water based exercises like water aerobics or walking against resistance in your local community pool.

If it is a perceived lack of time, try putting exercise equipment in your living room to do while watching TV.  Alternatively, you could use a treadmill or bicycle desk while working on your computer.  These treadmill and bicycle desks don’t have to be expensive, I set mine up at no extra cost with some unused equipment we had in our house.

If my patients in their 90s who have to wear oxygen, or those confined to wheelchairs, can exercise every day then there really is no excuse for anyone.  Resolve to work toward an hour of exercise each day to maintain a healthy weight.

2. Focus on Nutritious Foods

The second secret to keeping the weight off forever is to eat a highly nutritious diet.  In a different study of these 10,000 people, researchers showed that they ate the right foods to give them all the nutrients they needed each day.

Sadly, most people in the U.S. are overfed and under nuourished.  Indeed, studies now show that a micronutrient deficiency, from eating too many processed foods, may be the cause of hunger in obese people.  Thus, if you are always hungry, it is probably because you are eating the wrong foods.

Rather than eating energy dense foods, like sugar and processed foods, these 10,000 people focussed on plant-based real foods.  Unprocessed plant-based foods are highly filling with minimal calories.  In addition, unprocessed plant-based foods are also packed with nutrients so you will likely hit on everything your body needs.

If you only eat nutritious foods, then there is no need to count calories.  You just listen to your body as to when you are hungry.  For example, as vegetables are so low in calories, even if you ate a wheelbarrow full of raw vegetables it still would be next to impossible to come anywhere near these daily caloric numbers.

However, for those readers who want to track the calories, the typical woman in this study reported an average of 1,306 calories each day to keep their weight off long-term.  For men, it was an average of 1,685 calories daily.

Regardless of your eating approach, to maintain a healthy weight resolve now to only eat real foods with an emphasis on vegetables.

3. Daily Accountability

While some people can mindfully keep their weight off forever, without ever having to keep a food journal, use an app, or weigh themselves, most cannot. Indeed, most people need constant feedback and daily accountability to keep them on the right track.  I know that is definitely the case for me.

In this study, half of the 10,000 people weighed themselves daily and a quarter weighed themselves weekly.  However, that left a remaining quarter, or about 2,500 people, who never weighed themselves at all.

I’m still amazed at how 2,500 people could keep 66 pounds off for more than 5 years without having to use a scale.   This finding shows that a mindfulness based strategy can be highly effective for some people.

However, if you are like me, accountability to someone or something is needed to maintain a healthy weight.  Accountability allows for early course correction.  Indeed, for the 7,500 people in this study who did use a scale, most were able to make quick course corrections before they ever gained back even five pounds.

Additional Findings of This Study

1. Most were motivated by medical challenges

This study found that to successfully keep 66 pounds off for five or more years required a strong purpose.  For example, if the purpose was to lose weight for a wedding, the weight came right back after the wedding.

For most of the people in this study, their purpose was to lose weight to reverse or prevent a medical condition.  Generally, this was to prevent or reverse a heart problem.

People who lost weight for medical reasons had the very highest chance of successfully maintaining a healthy weight long-term.  This was also the case for me.

2. It gets easier after two years

While it might seem hard at first, this study offers hope.  Indeed, these researchers found that if you can successfully keep the weight off for just two years then the chances of making it permanent go up by 50%.

3. You don’t need an expensive weight loss program

As mentioned, half of the 10,000 people went through a weight loss program and the other half did it alone.  The good news here is that these researchers did not find that an expensive program worked any better than the do it yourself approach to maintaining a healthy weight.

4. Most ate breakfast

Fully 78% of the 10,000 people reported eating breakfast every morning.  Does that mean you have to eat breakfast to maintain a healthy weight?  Absolutely not.

More recent studies show that it really doesn’t matter if you eat breakfast or not.  I suspect the reason why eating breakfast emerged as a possible explanation in this study is that motivated people are more likely to be early risers.

Early risers tend to eat breakfast.  Thus, successful weight maintenance really had nothing to do with breakfast but rather had everything to do with earlier risers, on average, tending to be more motivated people.

Interestingly, the typical breakfast in this study consisted of cereal and fruit.  This is surprising given that most breakfast cereals are merely processed carbohydrates.

As you know from reading this blog, processed carbohydrates are instantly converted to sugar in your body.  I suspect it would have been much easier for these 10,000 people to keep their weight off long-term had they eaten a more nutritious breakfast.

5. Strategies to avoid binging

Another key strategy identified in this study is that these 10,000 people didn’t let a slip up result in a downward spiral of weight gain.  Rather, they had mechanisms in place to either prevent binge eating of unhealthy foods or to get back on track after a binge eating episode.

For example, if there is no junk food in the house then it is pretty hard to binge unless you make a special trip to the grocery store or a fast food restaurant.  Likewise, if you have a trusted friend you can call for help, this friend may give you the strength you need, in a moment of weakness, to prevent a binge eating episode.  For me, knowing that I will record all my nutrition stats on an app each day gives me the willpower I need to avoid binging.

It is simple a fact of life that at some point you will binge on the foods that work against you maintaining a healthy weight.  Rather than giving up, be like the people in this study who had a pre-prepared plan to get back on track.

6. Consistent eating pattern

The 10,000 people in this study ate the same types of food regardless of whether it was a weekday, weekend, or holiday.  This approach goes against the conventional wisdom of many weight loss programs that allow for a “cheat day.”

7. Ate less fat

In this study, the average person obtained 24% of their calories from fat.  Twenty-four percent is less than what most people eat.

I want to dispel a 1980s notion that eating fat makes you fat.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  As long as you are eating healthy fats, like nuts, seeds, avocados, etc., the more fat the better as far as I am concerned.

The reason why I suspect that a low fat diet worked for these 10,000 people is that when most people eat fat they are eating the wrong kinds of fats.  Thus, rather than avoiding fat, studies show that the right fats, like those in the Mediterranean Diet, will improve your health and allow you to maintain a healthy weight.

8. Be happy

The last interesting observation from this study, is that most of these 10,000 people lived in a way that minimized their chances of depression.  Thus, as many struggle with wintertime depression at this time of the year, here are three simple tips from a recent article I wrote on how to naturally beat wintertime depression (blog #198).

Why maintain a healthy weight?

Is it really worth the effort to maintain a healthy weight for the rest of your life?  In this study of 10,000 people, the five main benefits of maintaining a healthy weight were as follows:

1. More energy

2. Able to move easier

3. Happier

4. More self-confidence

5. Medical problems went away

Take Home Message

The take home message of this study is one of hope.  Maintaining a healthy weight for the rest of your life really just boils down to doing three things right.  Daily exercise, healthy eating, and daily accountability is something that everyone can do.

How are you working to maintain a healthy weight?  Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  Also, if you have not yet signed up for my free weekly newsletter, The Longevity Plan, please do so now.  For those of you who like to learn while on the go, may I suggest subscribing to my weekly podcast by the same name?

#199 6 Reasons Why You Must Eat Nuts Every Day

December 29th, 2016 by
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6 Reasons Why You Must Eat Nuts Every Day

Could a handful of nuts every day be the secret to a long and healthy life?  In this article, I share 6 reasons why your health depends on a daily serving of nuts based on the most recent research.

Nuts for Me

Growing up, nuts were never part of my daily diet.  Like any child, I would have an occasional peanut butter and jam sandwich but that was about it.

Now I realize that peanuts aren’t technically a nut, however, in the study we are going to review, and in just about every other medical study, the peanut is 100% equal to the nut from a nutritional standpoint.  Of course, if you buy the typical processed peanut butter from the grocery store then you may undo most of the health benefits from all the added sugar and oil.

It wasn’t until I lost my health in my early 40s that I started eating nuts.  Today, I could never imagine a day without nuts.  Even when I travel, I always pack some with me.

I especially love my daily serving of almonds and walnuts.  I must confess, I still love my peanut butter.  The only difference now is that I only eat the natural type without any added sugar or oil.  Currently, my favorite is the crunchy natural peanut butter with added flax and chia seeds from Trader Joe’s.

6 Reasons Why You Must Eat Nuts Every Day

If the great taste of nuts isn’t enough to convince you to start a daily nut habit, here are six reasons why you must eat nuts every day based on a study that just came out.  In this study, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology pooled the results of 29 other medical studies involving 819,448 people.

Based on reviewing the medical records of nearly one million people, here are the six things you can expect if you eat at least a handful of nuts every day.  For peanut lovers, these researchers also came to the same conclusion when they analyzed the health effects of peanuts in these same people.

1. Lowers your risk of heart disease by 29%.

2. Reduces your chances of dying prematurely by 22%.

3. Drops your cancer risk by 15%.

4. Lowers your chances of developing a breathing problem by 52%

5. Reduces your diabetes risk by 39%.

6. Drops your chances of developing an infection by 75%.

If there was a drug that could do all these things, without any side effects, everyone would be on it.  Sadly, less than one in four Americans can even get around to eating nuts every other day according to research from the American Heart Association.

Can you believe the results of this study?

Are the results of this study really that reliable?  Are the data convincing enough to eat a handful of nuts, every day, for rest of your life?

I realize that changing up your diet, based on the latest research, can sometimes be frustrating. It seems like study results are always flip-flopping.

In this case, the health benefits of nuts are extremely convincing.  When 29 studies involving nearly one million people all come to the same conclusion, you can feel pretty confident about the results.

Other Benefits of Nuts

In addition to the six benefits identified in this study, there are many other reasons to eat nuts every day.  Below are six of them:

1. Weight Loss

In the 1980s, people trying to lose weight were told to avoid nuts because they were so high in fat and calories.  These 1980 recommendations came despite the fact that medical studies have never shown that nuts cause weight gain.

In fact, quite the opposite is true.  Indeed, many studies show that nut eaters lose weight.

There are several ways that nuts may help with weight loss.  The first is that all of the protein and fiber fills you up, thus you are less likely to eat sugar or processed carbohydrates.  Second, the body has a hard time using all of the calories in a nut so you get some “free calories.”  Lastly, nuts may increase your metabolism so you burn more calories even at rest.

How well do nuts fare when put to the test in medical studies?  A recent study showed that almond eating dieters were able to lose 65% more weight than their non-almond eating dieting counterparts.

2. Lowers Cholesterol

When it comes to cholesterol, it is a similar story.  Studies consistently show that nuts drop your bad cholesterol (LDL), raise your good cholesterol (HDL), and lower your triglycerides.  For anyone with bad cholesterol numbers, nuts are a perfect daily food choice.

3. High in Fiber

Getting enough fiber in your diet has long been recognized as one of the key factors to a long life free of heart disease and cancer.  To maximize the fiber in your diet, nuts are an excellent choice.  To illustrate this point, just one handful of almonds packs 4 grams of fiber or 14% of the fiber that is recommended each day.

4. High in Antioxidants Including Vitamin E

Antioxidants are molecules that protect your body from breaking down, aging, or “rusting.”  In addition to the high antioxidant content of vegetables and fruit, nuts are also high in antioxidants.

5. May be High in Omega 3 Fats

For a long and healthy life, you simply cannot get enough omega 3 fats from natural food sources.  Nuts, as well as seeds, are a great way to get the plant-based omega 3 fats.  For example, a single serving of walnuts, chia seeds, or flax seeds will give you 100% of the omega 3s you need for the day.

5. High in Magnesium

Magnesium is one of those minerals that seems to help with everything.  You name it, arrhythmias, high blood pressure, insomnia, muscle crams, DNA repair, bone formation, anxiety, depression, constipation, etc.  All of these conditions may improve with more magnesium in the diet.

The sad thing is that half of all Americans are low in magnesium.  This is because most people don’t eat enough foods high in magnesium.  To keep your magnesium tanks full, nuts, peanuts, and seeds are all great food choices.

6. Lowers Blood Pressure

In a review of  21 studies involving thousands of patients, researchers writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have clearly shown that nut eaters run lower blood pressures.  While the amount of blood pressure reduction from nuts alone isn’t enough to get you off blood pressure medications, at least it gets your blood pressure moving in the right direction.  If you are committed to lowering your blood pressure naturally, then eating nuts in combination with 10 other steps I outlined in a recent article will likely get you there.

Is there any downside to nuts?

With all the health benefits of nuts, you may be thinking, “what’s the catch?”  Fortunately, unless you have an allergy to nuts, peanuts, or seeds, I really can see no downside to eating them every day.

Some of my patients with diverticular disease of their colon have shared with me that their other physicians have told them to never eat nuts, peanuts, or seeds.  This was because doctors used to be concerned that perhaps an undigested piece could get stuck in the colon of someone with diverticulosis.

While that was the prevailing wisdom of the past, modern medical studies show that this way of thinking was just a myth based on no research.  If your physician has told you not to eat nuts, peanuts, or seeds because of this reason, please share this study with them to see if their recommendation is still right for you.

Are seeds just as good as nuts?

Nutritionally, seeds perform just as well as nuts.  They are also high in protein, fiber, healthy fats, and many other vitamins and minerals.

Personally, I eat seeds every day as well.  My favorites are chia, flax, sesame, pumpkin, hemp, and sunflower seeds.  I typically eat at least three different types of seeds every day.

This Study’s Wake Up Call

The authors of this study conclude that 4.4 million people die prematurely every year because they don’t eat nuts.  Given how cheap and delicious nuts are, there really is no excuse not to eat nuts every day unless you have a food allergy.

Take Home Message

With all the tasty nuts, peanuts, or seeds available, everyone can find something they like to eat every day.  As long as you are not covering them with added sugar or oil, it really doesn’t matter how you eat them.  From a nutritional standpoint, it’s hard to find something that performs better than nuts, peanuts, or seeds.

Do you eat nuts every day?  Please share your thoughts, experiences, and questions below.  I’ll do my best to quickly answer any questions that are posted.

If you liked this article, please be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast.

#198 3 Ways to Naturally Beat Wintertime Depression

December 23rd, 2016 by
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3 Ways to Naturally Beat Wintertime Depression

One in five people struggle with wintertime depression or seasonal affective disorder.  For many, this strikes immediately after the holiday season.  In this article, I share 3 ways to naturally beat wintertime depression.

My Struggle with Wintertime Depression

Growing up, I struggled with wintertime depression.  Typically, this hit me within a few hours after opening presents on Christmas day.

While wintertime depression never stopped me from other activities, I always felt somewhat melancholic from Christmas day until March.  Looking back, I rarely went outside during this period of time.

I went to school in the dark and came home in the dark.  The only light I lived by was the artificial light that permeated indoor spaces.  I really didn’t see much of the sun until March.

Of course, my diet didn’t help.  As a youth, I lived on the Standard American Diet.  I loved my sugar and my processed carbohydrates.

Fortunately, my wintertime depression mostly resolved when I began my internship at Stanford University Hospital.  In the warmer California climate, I often went on long runs outside in the winter.

Even though we currently live in the cold climate of Salt Lake City, wintertime depression is usually no longer an issue for me.  As long as I can get a dose of the sun, eat right, and exercise on most days, I generally do very well.

What Causes Wintertime Depression?

Wintertime depression, is a form of depression which occurs during the winter months.  In my experience, it is generally caused by a lack of natural light, poor food choices, and not enough physical activity.

Not getting enough sun during the winter disrupts your circadian rhythm.  When you are living out of rhythm, studies show that other hormones, like melatonin and serotonin, are also thrown off.

Living in rhythm with the sun is critically important to a long and heathy life.  For example, studies consistently show that people who work nights, or travel through different time zones, are far more likely to die from a heart attack or cancer.

In addition to a lack of natural light, all of the sugar and processed carbohydrates during the holiday season can shoot inflammation levels sky high.  Chronic inflammation, or unnecessary activation of your immune system from poor lifestyle choices, has also been shown to be an important cause of depression.  Indeed, many researchers now believe that depression is just inflammation of the brain.

Lastly, when it is cold outside many people stop exercising. The right amount of exercise also lowers inflammation and boosts the feel good brain chemicals like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin.

3 Ways to Naturally Beat Wintertime Depression

Now that you understand the causes of wintertime depression, the key to recovery is to reclaim your circadian rhythm, keep unnecessary inflammation as low as possible, and keep your brain chemistry in balance.  To help you get there, here are my three best ways to naturally beat wintertime depression.

1. Sun

As discussed, living out of your circadian rhythm throws off other hormones, like melatonin and serotonin.  It also activates unnecessary inflammation and leads to heart attacks and cancer.

Fortunately, the treatment for this is really simple.  Get more natural light.  The earlier in the day you can get some sunlight, the better off you will be.

If you have a job, like mine, that rarely allows you to see the sun in the winter, then just do the best you can.  Go outside on a break or during your lunch hour.  Consider using a light box at work.

Personally, I have found that a light box has helped me when I can’t get outside.  To learn which light boxes work best, here is a link to the Mayo Clinic website.

Indeed, studies clearly show that light therapy treats wintertime depression.  In a head-to-head study, light therapy was shown to be just as good as an anti-depressant during the winter.

Even better, light therapy was shown to work much faster and without side effects when compared to an anti-depressant.  For those suffering from non-wintertime depression, light therapy has also been shown to help.

2. Food

As discussed in my last blog, keeping unnecessary inflammation as low as possible is the secret to a long and healthy life.  To do this, you need to follow an anti-inflammation diet.  This is because many experts now consider depression to be inflammation of the brain.

Sadly, most Americans gorge themselves on sugar and processed carbohydrates over the holidays.  Feasting on junk food during the darkest days of winter is when you can least afford to do so.  Medical studies are now pretty clear that processed foods and sugar significantly increase the risk of depression.

If you suffer from wintertime depression, make sure you are eating two servings of vegetables and one fruit with each meal.  Yes, this means two servings of vegetables even with your breakfast.  If you can get in your nine servings daily of vegetables and fruits each day then hopefully you will be too full to even think about eating sugar or processed foods.

3. Exercise

One thing the pharmaceutical industry will never tell you is that even a short workout may be just as helpful in treating depression as a little pill.  Indeed, since the first head-to-head study in 1999, exercise has consistently performed just as good, if not better, than an anti-depressant.

How much exercise do you need to treat depression?  That depends.

While some studies show that even minimal amounts help, other studies show that higher doses are required to treat depression.  In addition to boosting the feel good hormones like dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, the right dose of exercise can also drop inflammation levels.

If you are on an anti-depressant right now, don’t stop taking this medication unless your physician instructs you to do so.  Abruptly stopping an anti-depressant could have dangerous consequences and could even trigger a suicide attempt.  To find the right dose of light, healthy foods, or exercise to treat depression, please work closely with your physician.

Take Home Message

The take home message is that you, or someone you love, is probably suffering from wintertime depression right now.  Fortunately, there are simple solutions that usually don’t require an anti-depressant.

By simply getting more sun in your life, eating right, and exercising daily you can boost your brain’s feel good chemicals and eliminate any unnecessary inflammation.  With this prescription, most people can beat wintertime depression.

I know this has been the case for me.  Daily sun, healthy foods, and exercise has cured my wintertime depression.

Do you suffer from wintertime depression?  If so, what has worked for you?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  I’ll do my best to answer your questions as quickly as possible.

If you liked this article, please be sure to share it with a friend.  Even better, subscribe to my free weekly newsletter and podcast.

#197 3 Reasons Why the Anti-Inflammation Diet May Help You Live to 110

December 14th, 2016 by
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3 Reasons Why the Anti-Inflammation Diet May Help You Live to 110

The number one factor in making it 110, according to medical studies, is to keep inflammation in your body as low as possible.  In order to make it to 110, you probably had perfect health at 100 and you were eating an anti-inflammation diet.  In this article, I share three reasons why the anti-inflammation diet may help you live to 110.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is activation of your immune system to fight off a microscopic invader, damaged cells, or an irritant of some source.  Basically, your white blood cells are mobilized to the area of your body under attack.  These white blood cells then release various hormones and other substances which may result in swelling and pain.

Sometimes inflammation is a good thing.  For example, if you break a bone, injure a muscle, or come down with a viral infection, you want your body to quickly repair the damage.  Good inflammation is something that is only turned on for a short period of time.

In contrast, inflammation that is never turned off is a bad thing.  Chronic inflammation is when the inflammation never stops.  For example, constant inflammation of your arteries, brought on by unhealthy food choices every day, leads to blockages in your heart and brain as well as an early death.

The Secret to Making it to 110 Study

Your chances of becoming a supercentenarian, or living to 110, are about one in 23 million.  At any given time, there are only about three to five hundred supercentenarians living on this planet.

As supercentenarians have defied all the laws of conventional aging, researchers have long been fascinated by these people.  Of course, to make it 110 means that you are still riding a bike, running, and living independently at age 100.

In order to find out how someone can live to age 110, Japanese researchers recently published their findings of the oldest Japanese.

In this study, they identified that low levels of inflammation was the number one factor in making it to 110.  Basically, keeping inflammation as low as possible slowed the aging process, prevented cancer, and stopped cardiovascular disease.

What is an anti-inflammation diet?

An anti-inflammation diet is one that doesn’t require your immune system to repair the damage from what you ate.  While an Internet search will give you all sorts of crazy recommendations of what to and what not to eat, there is actually a medically proven anti-inflammation diet.

Under the direction of Harvard University trained Dr. James R. Hebert,  from the University of South Carolina, the Dietary Inflammatory Index was created.  Basically, Dr. Hebert and his team carefully dissected 6,500 medical studies in order to identify which foods stop inflammation, prevent medical problems, and keep people young.

The 10 Best Anti-Inflammation Foods

To help you understand which foods stop chronic inflammation, Dr. Hebert has identified the 10 best foods to eat based on his research.  Here is that list:

1. Omega-3 fish, like wild salmon which is low in contaminants.

2. Berries.

3. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, lettuce, etc.

4. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts, cabbage, etc.

5. Colorful fruits and vegetables like red grapes, sweet potatoes, carrots, plums, red peppers, etc.

6. Nuts.

7. Spices like turmeric, garlic, ginger, or saffron.

8. Intact grains like quinoa, oats, brown rice, etc.  Grains that have been pulverized into flour, or stripped of their nutrition, are not intact grains.

9. Cold-pressed oils like olive oil, flaxseed oil, or avocado oil.

10. Green or black tea.

The Top 10 Inflammation Causing Foods

In contrast to the top 10 anti-inflammatory foods, here are the 10 worst foods for inflammation.  These 10 foods, if eaten regularly, are guaranteed to put you on the path toward disease and disability.

1. Deserts made with sugar.

2. Most breakfast cereals.

3. White carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, white potatoes, etc.

4. Sugary drinks.

5. Anything with high fructose corn syrup.

6. Processed meats like hot dogs, sausage, bacon, salami, etc.

7. French fries, potato chips, and most snack foods.

8. Fast foods.

9. Margarine.

10. Organ meats, especially liver due to antibiotic, fertilizers, and other residue.

3 Reasons Why the Anti-Inflammation Diet May Help You Live to 110

While some readers may not want to live to 110, I’m confident most wouldn’t mind skiing, running, or biking vigorously at age 100.  In order to get there, you need to keep inflammation and aging at the lowest levels possible. Based on many studies, below are three reasons why the anti-inflammation diet may help you to live to 110.

1. Aging Slows to a Crawl.

Last month, Dr. Hebert and colleagues published a study showing that the anti-inflammation diet keeps inflammation low, as measured by the CRP blood test, and telomeres long.  Telomeres are the helmets on your DNA.

Basically, telomeres make sure that your DNA blueprint in cells stays healthy.  As part of the aging process, telomeres shorten.  When your telomeres get too short, your DNA blueprint is no longer protected and disease and death quickly follow.

Indeed, telomeres are like the sands of time.  As long as your telomeres stay long, you have plenty of sand in the glass.  To keep inflammation low and telomeres long, make sure what you eat every day is part of the anti-inflammation diet.

2. Cancer Doesn’t Happen.

In another recently published study, Dr. Hebert and his team showed that the anti-inflammation diet slashes your cancer risk by 46%.  For digestive tract cancers, the protection was even higher.  Considering that 600,000 Americans die from cancer every year, the anti-inflammation diet could save approximately 280,000 Americans from an unnecessary cancer death.

3. Cardiovascular Disease Never Touches You.

As with cancer, Dr. Hebert found that people who follow an anti-inflammation diet were also 46% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.  This makes sense as heart disease deaths are primarily due to chronic inflammation of the arteries.

Take Home Message

Even if you have no plans of living to 110, if you want to stay young and healthy, you need to keep chronic inflammation as low as possible.  To find out if your body is inflammed, there are simple blood tests, like C-reactive protein, that your doctor can order for you.

While I am not a fan of what you may find on an Internet search of the anti-inflammation diet, I am quite impressed by the work from Dr. Hebert and colleagues in their exhaustive review of 6,500 medical studies on food and inflammation.

Personally, I try to hit on most of the top 10 anti-inflammatory foods each day and avoid the 10 that prematurely age me.  Does inflammation and the risk of premature aging affect your day-to-day food choices?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  As always, I’ll do my best to answer your questions as quickly as possible.

Also, if you have not yet subscribed to my Longevity Plan Newsletter, now would be a great time.  If you don’t always have time to read these articles, be sure to subscribe to my podcast.

#196 How to Eliminate Holiday Season Stress

December 7th, 2016 by
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How to Eliminate Holiday Season Stress

Two in three Americans report holiday season stress, fatigue, and irritability according to the American Psychological Association.  This stress may increase your risk of a heart attack by 73% according to a recent study.  In this article, I share the one simple thing from a recent study that can completely eliminate holiday season stress for you.

How to Eliminate Stress Study

In this study, Dr. Michael J. Poulin and colleagues from the University of California, Irvine, studied 846 people living in the Detroit, Michigan area.  Knowing that stress is associated with heart attacks and premature death, Dr. Poulin and his team wanted to see whether helping others could reverse the life threatening risks of stress.

To answer this question, each person in the study underwent an interview in the late 1980s to determine how stressful their lives were, their health problems, and how much time they spent helping others.  Dr. Poulin and colleagues then checked in with study participants every five years.

As they followed these people over time, they found that those who lived stressful lives were 30% more likely to die a premature death.  Quite remarkably, those who reported helping others were not only spared a premature death but actually lived longer.

Does helping others really allow you to live longer?

This study raises the question, will helping others negate stress and allow you to live longer?  Interestingly, medical studies consistently show that social connectedness, helping others, and volunteering improve health and longevity.  In fact, these studies have such striking results that there is a term to describe this phenomenon–the volunteer effect.

It is still unclear exactly how those who help others live healthier and longer lives.  One theory is that helping others requires physical activity.  As all readers know, the more physically active you are the healthier you will be.

Another theory is that people who help others are more socially connected.  Social connection reduces stress hormones and protects the heart.  Keeping stress hormones low may explain why studies show that people who help others are less likely to develop high blood pressure.

Lastly, helping others may allow you to live longer because people who help others are more likely to be happy.  Indeed, studies show that happiness may also add years to your life.

7 Ways to Eliminate Holiday Season Stress

Here are my seven best ways to beat holiday season stress.  By doing these seven things, your heart will definitely thank you.  In fact, you may even find that you enjoy it so much that you keep it up year round.

1. Adopt a Family

Find a family you can help.  It could even be anonymously.  To find a family in need, speak with your local minister, priest, or bishop.

2. Write a Letter/Email

Everyone loves a heart felt letter.  Write a letter/email to a family member, neighbor, or a coworker.  Share with them how much you appreciate them in your life.

3. Donate Your Stuff

The holidays are a great time to find a loving home for the stuff you aren’t using.  Those old gloves, coat, or clothes could really bless the life of someone in need.

4. Caroling

Get together with some neighbors or coworkers and go caroling.  This could be in your neighborhood or even at a local nursing home.  Caroling is a great way to get out, get a little physical activity, and connect with others.

5. Share a Healthy Treat

Make something healthy and share it with your neighbors or coworkers.  As most people just share sugar laden treats this time of the year, a healthy treat would be a welcome reprieve.

6. Invite Someone Over

Many people don’t have anywhere to go during the holidays.  Invite them over to share in the holiday joy with your family.

7. Visit People or Animals in Need

Try visiting a nursing home or a homeless shelter.  If you have children, this could be a great life lesson.  If you are an animal lover, go to your local humane society or animal shelter and spend some time with a lonely dog or cat.

Take Home Message

While most Americans are stressed out through the holidays, it doesn’t have to be this way for you.  You can completely eliminate holiday season stress by simply helping others.  Even better, helping others has been shown to give you more years of life and improve whatever health struggles you may have.

What are you doing to help others this holiday season?  Please leave your thoughts, experiences, and questions below.  I’ll do my best to answer every question.

If you liked this article, be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast.

#195 How to Avoid the 8 Things That Wreck Your Health

December 2nd, 2016 by
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How to Avoid the 8 Things That Wreck Your Health

No one wants to feel miserable, battle multiple medical problems, and take lots of medicines.  Yet that is what most Americans are doing the last 10 years of their lives according to the World Health Organization. In this article, I will teach you how to avoid the 8 things that wreck your health.

Things That Wreck Your Health Study

Recently, Dr. Christopher Murray, from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, led a team of the top 100 scientists to discover what was wrecking the health of Americans.  After digging through countless studies evaluating 291 different medical conditions, they identified those things that were most likely to wreck your health.

Dr. Murray and his team’s findings were published in an article entitled, U.S. burden of disease 1990 to 2010.  Below are the top eight things that wreck your health and what you can do to reverse these medical conditions.

1. Unhealthy Diet: 14 quality years lost

Even more than smoking, the number one thing that will wreck your health is a bad diet.  Indeed, an unhealthy diet can literally turn the last 14 years of your life into one big health nightmare.

Sadly, most Americans have no idea they’re eating an unhealthy diet.  For example, a recent NPR survey reported that 75% of Americans say they are eating healthy.  This is despite the fact that studies show Americans are eating way too much sugar and processed foods and far too few vegetables.

Fortunately, this is something that can be easily reversed.  While there is a lot of confusion about what is a healthy diet, eating right is really quite simple.

For example, there are three things that all experts can agree on when it comes to what is a healthy diet.  These three things are as follows:

1. Minimize/avoid sugar (this includes other sugars like processed carbohydrates).

2. Minimize/avoid processed and prepared foods.

3. Eat as many vegetables as you can (goal of 6 servings daily or two per meal).

If you can do these three things then you are 95% of the way to eating healthy.  Indeed, most of the patients I see everyday in my clinic have heart conditions which can be traced back to violating one of these three healthy diet principles.

2. Smoking: 12 quality years lost

I don’t need to go into much of a discussion here.  Smoking ages you fast and turns the last 12 years of your life into a living hell.

3. High BMI: 11 quality years lost

A BMI over 25 will rob you of 11 quality years of life.  To find out if you are overweight and what your BMI is, follow this link.  If your BMI is 25 or higher, below are three things you can do to get back to a healthy weight.

1. Eat healthy to control hunger

To stop feeling hungry all the time, give up sugar and processed carbohydrates like bread, cereals, pasta, bakery items, white rice, etc.  Second, minimize or avoid processed and prepared foods. Lastly, eat as many vegetables as you can with a goal of at least six servings per day or two servings with each meal.

2. Exercise to boost metabolism.
3. Eat only what your body needs.

Besides eating healthy to control hunger and exercising to increase metabolism, there are two ways to eat only as much as your body needs.  The first is to practice mindful eating and the second is to make yourself accountable for everything you choose to put in your mouth.

The goal of mindful eating is to eat based on real hunger not emotions.  Some examples include using a smaller plate size, turning off electronic devices while eating, eating slower, only eat when sitting at a table, take a break mid meal, eat with your non-dominant hand or chopsticks, put your fork down between each bite, try to identify every ingredient in your meal, or knowing where everything you eat comes from.

The second strategy is to make yourself accountable to someone or something.  This is the strategy that works best for me.  With this approach, you record or report back everything you eat.

4. High blood pressure: 8 quality years lost

High blood pressure wears out your arteries, heart, and brain.  In addition, high blood pressure can cause kidney failure and blindness.

Sadly, 90% of Americans will have high blood pressure by age 50!  To protect yourself from losing 8 quality years of life, here is a link to an article I wrote (blog #131) on 10 ways to lower your blood pressure naturally.

Basically, reversing high blood pressure will probably require weight loss, massive amounts of vegetables, daily exercise, restorative sleep at night, and changing your perception of stress.  By following the steps outlined in my blood pressure article, most of my patients can get their blood pressure to the American Heart Association goal of 120/80 mmHg without medications.

5. High blood glucose: 6 quality years lost

A fasting blood glucose above 100 mg/dL is considered diabetic or pre-diabetic.  Unfortunately, nearly half of all Americans have a fasting blood glucose above 100.  With a simple blood test, your doctor can immediately tell if your blood glucose is too high.

As with high blood pressure, too much sugar in your blood causes rusting and premature aging of your body.  While this did result in losing 6 good years of health in this study, I would have expected the effects of diabetes/pre-diabetes to have been much more serious.

Fortunately, getting your blood glucose back to the normal range is easy for most people.  This really comes down to doing three things.

1. Keep your BMI below 25.

2. Do something physical after eating.

3. Only eat foods with a glycemic index of 50 or lower.

The number one cause of diabetes or pre-diabetes is a BMI over 25.  For most people, getting your BMI below 25 will reverse diabetes/pre-diabetes.

If you can do something physical after eating, it will drive excess glucose into your muscles.  In the muscles, glucose can then be stored for future use without damaging your arteries or organs.  To learn more about this technique, please read my article, How to Prevent Weight Gain After Eating a Big Meal (blog #28).

The third approach is to only eat foods with a glycemic index of 50 or lower.  When it comes to health, staying thin, and preventing diabetes, the lower your foods on the glycemic index the better.  To see how your favorite foods fall on the glycemic index, follow this link to Harvard’s site.  If you want to make sure your foods fall below 50, just avoid sugar and processed carbohydrates.

6. Not exercising: 6 quality years lost

Another surprise from this study was that not exercising only robs you of six quality years of life.  Personally, I would have expected not exercising to be right up there with an unhealthy diet and smoking.

As I have discussed in many previous blog articles, exercise is paramount to good health.  Fortunately, any physical activity is helpful.  The key thing is to find activities you enjoy and do them every day.

Until exercise becomes a “drug” for you, you will probably need to be accountable to someone or something to make sure this happens everyday.  This accountability could take the form of an exercise partner, a sports team, a class at the gym, an app on your phone, or a personal trainer.

7. Alcohol: 5 quality years lost

While the media still promotes alcohol as a health drink, recent studies show the opposite.  This is because most alcohol studies were not done correctly.

Basically, these flawed studies failed to account for people who don’t drink because of either health or addiction problems.  When you account for people who can’t drink because of health or addiction issues, then studies show that non-drinkers live longer and healthier than moderate drinkers.

In this study, alcohol robs you of five good years of life.  This is because alcohol can cause anemia, cancer, heart problems, liver problems, dementia, high blood pressure, and depression.  Thus, it is no surprise that alcohol kills one in 10 Americans according to the CDC.

8. High cholesterol: 4 quality years lost

Just like high blood pressure, having a cholesterol level higher than it should be causes blockages to form.  Once blockages develop, it is only a matter of time before a heart attack or stroke occurs.

Sadly, half of all Americans have high cholesterol.

Fortunately, lowering cholesterol naturally is something that is easy to do.  I personally was able to drop my total cholesterol nearly 100 mg/dL by following the principles I outlined in these two articles.

5 Ways to Lower Cholesterol without Medications

3 Ways to Lower Cholesterol: Better than Drugs

If you don’t have the time to read these articles, the bottom line is that minimizing meat and dairy, getting daily exercise, eating lots of vegetables and fiber rich foods, and avoiding sugar and processed foods should get your cholesterol where it needs to be naturally.

Take Home Message

The key message of this article is that there are many ways you could wreck your health.  Fortunately, for most people, these medical problems can be easily corrected with a healthy dose of “lifestyle medicine.”

What are you doing to feel great, avoid medical problems, or having to take medications?  Please leave your thoughts and comments below.  I promise to do my best to answer every question in a timely manner.

If you have not yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter or podcast, now would be a great time.  Just follow these two links to subscribe:

The Longevity Plan Newsletter

The Longevity Plan Podcast

Disclaimer

This article is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. The general information provided is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition.  Please consult with your healthcare provider for any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

#193 3 Minor Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Bad Genes

November 15th, 2016 by
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3 Minor Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Bad Genes

Most of my patients mistakingly believe that their heart problems came from bad genes.  In this article, I review a recent study showing that 3 minor lifestyle changes can reverse bad genes.  Indeed, you can reverse bad genes even without losing weight.

Genes vs. Lifestyle

A couple of years ago, a young cardiologist, by the name of Dr. Amit V. Khera, from Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital pondered an age old question.  Is disease due to nature (genes) or nurture (lifestyle).

In pondering this question, he wanted to know whether genes or lifestyle was most important in determining who got heart disease and who didn’t.  To answer this question, he searched through the medical records of 55,685 people.

In assessing the effects of bad genes, he gave each of these 55,685 people a genetic score based on how many of the 50 bad cardiovascular genes they had.  For lifestyle factors, Dr. Khera gave them a “passing grade” if they could just do three of the following four things:

1. Don’t smoke.

2. Keep your weight below the obesity level (BMI less than 30).

3. Exercise at least once a week.

4. Eat just a slightly healthy diet.

The Bare Minimum Exercise

Many of my patients tell me that they hate to exercise.  Perhaps this is because they picture “exercise” as something that can only be done everyday at the gym.

This study completely changes what most people think of as exercise.  For example, in this study, even getting out for a little walk on just one day of the week would qualify as being physically active.

Really, it doesn’t take much.  Many other studies have also shown that even the slightest of physical activity can cave huge health and lifespan benefits.  Of course, to get even more benefit from exercise, you will need to do much more than the bare minimum.

The Bare Minimum “Healthy Diet”

Perhaps it is because Dr. Khera is not used to seeing people, like my blog readers, reverse medical problems with lifestyle medicine.  Thus, for this study, he selected an incredibly weak “healthy diet” score.

For example, eating more fruits and vegetables than most other Americans is a very weak standard given that fruits and vegetables are mostly absent from the standard American diet (SAD diet).  Secondly, eating large amounts of dairy is also not something considered “healthy” by many studies.  Thirdly, considering that close to half of Americans drink sugary drinks daily, then drinking only half a can daily would still be considered a healthy diet according to this study.

I could go on and on about the weaknesses of this healthy diet score, but I won’t.  The bottom line is that it really didn’t take much to achieve a healthy diet by the standards used in this study. For the 10 dietary factors listed below, you only needed to achieve five of them to be classified as having a healthy diet.

1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

2. Enjoy more nuts.

3. Eat more whole grains.

4. Consume more fish.

5. Get more dairy.

6. Eat less processed grains.

7. Consume less processed and red meats.

8. Drink less soda pop or other sugary drinks.

9. Take in less trans fat.

10. Eat a lower salt diet.

Genes vs. Lifestyle Study Results

When crunching the numbers, Dr. Khera found that bad genes doubled your risk of heart problems.  However, adopting just three of the four lifestyle factors (don’t smoke, keep weight below the obesity level, exercise once a week, and achieve five of the 10 healthy diet factors), completely reversed the heart risks of bad genes.

The message of hope from this study is that even the most minor of minor lifestyle changes can reverse bad genes.  Of course, to prevent or reverse up to 90% of all heart issues is going to require much more aggressive lifestyle changes.

Overweight People Can Also Reverse Bad Genes

What this study is telling us is that even being overweight (BMI of 25 to 29) is “healthy” provided your weight doesn’t drift up into the obesity range (BMI over 30).  Even if you are more than 100 pounds overweight, according to this study, you still can be classified as having a healthy lifestyle provided you don’t smoke, exercise once a week, and can hit on at least five of the dietary factors listed above.

To calculate your BMI, or body mass index, you take your weight in kilograms and divide it by your height in meters squared.  If you want to skip the math, here is a link to a simple BMI calculator to see where you land.

While the BMI number is not a perfect measure of who is at a healthy weight, it does work well for most people.  A normal BMI, or a heathy weight, is defined as a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9.

Take Home Message

The take home message is that even the most minimal of minimal lifestyle choices can completely reverse the effects of bad genes.  If even these, ever so slight, lifestyle choices can reverse bad genes then just imagine how easy if would be to reverse or prevent almost any medical condition with more aggressive lifestyle choices.

How easy was it for you to be classified as having a heathy lifestyle according to this study?  Please leave your thoughts and questions below.

Also, if you have not yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter or podcast, now would be a great time.  Here are links to access The Longevity Plan newsletter and podcast.

#192 Could 4 Brazil Nuts be the Best Cholesterol Lowering Drug?

November 10th, 2016 by
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Could 4 Brazil Nuts be the Best Cholesterol Lowering Drug?

There is a one in three chance you should take a statin cholesterol lowering drug according to the American Heart Association.  Sadly, high cholesterol causes heart attacks, strokes, and a premature death.

While statin cholesterol lowering drugs are effective, there are many side effects.  In this article, I share a provocative study showing that just 4 Brazil nuts a month may lower cholesterol as well as a statin.

The 4 Brazil Nuts Cholesterol Study

In this study, researchers from Brazil recruited 10 healthy volunteers to test the cholesterol lowering effects of Brazil nuts.  As Brazil nuts are very high in selenium, study participants had to avoid other high selenium foods.

To understand the effects of 4 Brazil nuts, researchers did extensive blood work.  They tested the blood of participants before they ate the nuts and then again 8 more times after they ate the nuts.

Remarkably, researchers found that just 4 Brazil nuts a month was enough to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol by about 25% and raise HDL (good) cholesterol by 40%.  Even better, just 4 Brazil nuts kept cholesterol in check for an entire month!

Thus, if this study holds true, 4 Brazil nuts could be the equivalent of a month’s worth of statin drugs.  When study results like this seem too good to be true, you always have to look to other studies for verification.

Nuts and Cholesterol Lowering Studies

Before committing to 4 Brazil nuts every month, a different study showed that Brazil nuts don’t do much to improve cholesterol numbers.  In a situation like this, which study do you believe?

As these were the only two studies I could find on Brazil nuts and cholesterol, we need to expand the search.  Fortunately, when you pool the results of 61 different cholesterol nut studies, all nuts have been shown to improve cholesterol numbers.  Thus, Brazil nuts are probably helpful for people struggling with cholesterol challenges.

The 5 Benefits of Selenium

As the biggest difference between Brazil nuts and other nuts is the selenium content, what exactly does selenium do for you?  When selenium is eaten in the right amounts, it may offer the following 5 benefits.

1. Antioxidant/Anti-inflammatory Effects

Selenium is a powerful antioxidant.  Every day, many “free radicals” are created by chemical reactions going on in your body.

Left unchecked, these free radicals can cause inflammation.  Inflammation is really just rusting and premature aging of your body.  Thus, it comes as no surprise that one study showed Brazil nuts significantly reduce inflammation.

2. Optimizes Thyroid Function

Your thyroid needs the right amount of selenium to function properly.  If you are low in selenium, thyroid problems can occur.  Thus, studies show that optimal selenium levels may improve energy metabolism and help you to maintain a healthy weight.

3. Prevents Plaque Build Up and Heart Deaths

Studies show that selenium is very effective in preventing plaque build up in your arteries and heart.  Thus, selenium may lengthen your lifespan by preventing heart disease.

4. Prevents Dementia

Too low or too high selenium levels are linked to dementia.  To prevent dementia, researchers are now giving older people with low selenium levels selenium supplements.

5. Prevents Cancer

As selenium is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, scientists have long been interested in potential cancer prevention effects.  Of the many studies done, the evidence for selenium as an anti-cancer agent seems to be strongest for preventing prostate cancer.

How much selenium do you need?

The recommended daily amount of selenium is 55 mcg.  As a single Brazil nut gives you about 50 mcg, one Brazil nut is all you need for 100% of your daily needs.

However, you have to be careful not to overdo selenium.  While selenium can be very beneficial in the right amount, higher levels can be toxic.

As most Americans get enough selenium in their diets, I would never recommend more than one Brazil nut daily.  Some examples of foods high in selenium include fish, mushrooms, asparagus, and tofu.  Also, if you are getting selenium in a multivitamin, then even one Brazil nut may be too much for you.

If you want to find out if you are getting the right amount of selenium, Healthwatch 360 is an excellent free app to track your daily selenium intake from food.

Where do you buy Brazil nuts?

Brazil nuts can be hard to find.  Most grocery stores don’t carry this nut.  If you can’t find them locally, you can always buy them online through Amazon.

Should you take 4 Brazil nuts a month?

Should you really take 4 Brazil nuts each month to keep your cholesterol low?  While this is something that only your doctor can advise you on, I personally am doing this.

The way I figure is that any potential downside to 4 Brazil nuts a month seems quite minimal to me.  While 4 Brazil nuts may not be the cholesterol wonder drug it was shown to be in this study, it is likely still helping me optimize selenium levels, reduce inflammation, and lower cholesterol.

Have you tried Brazil nuts?  Did it help your cholesterol?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  I will do my best to answer every question.

If you liked this article, please share it with a friend.  Even better, please sign up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast!

Disclaimer

Don’t stop any medications you may be taking based on this article.  Speak with your doctor about any medication or cholesterol questions you may have.

#191 4 Bad Habits that Shorten Your Life 18 Years

November 4th, 2016 by
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4 Bad Habits that Shorten Your Life 18 Years

Four bad habits can rob you of 18 years of life.  In this article, I share the four bad habits that shorten your life and keep you from making it to age 88 in excellent health.

How long will you live?

“How long will I live?” Joan asked at her initial cardiology consultation with me. Having just reviewed this new study,  I wanted to find out if she had any of four bad habits that shorten life.

“Do you smoke or drink?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

“Are you exercising every day?” I next asked.

“Without fail,” she said.

“How many servings of fruits and vegetables are you eating every day?” I asked.

“At least 10 daily,” she answered.

“Well, based this new study, you should live an extra 18 years” I said.

“But will these extra 18 years be quality years?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” I said.  “Without any of these four bad habits, you should make it to age 90.2 in good health.”

Canadian Bad Habit Study

Several years ago, Dr. Douglas G. Manual, from the Ottawa Hospital in Canada, came up with the brilliant idea to calculate how many years of life your bad habits cost you.  To estimate the price of bad habits, Dr. Manual and his team carefully studied 112,894 Canadians.

From this exhaustive review, he came up with four bad habits that shorten your life. Indeed, he found that Canadians with none of these bad habits lived 18 years longer than those with all four bad habits.

4 Bad Habits that Shorten Your Life 18 Years

When most people think of bad habits that shorten your life, smoking is the first thing that comes to mind.  While this was true for men in this study, for women they found that not exercising was the worst bad habit.  Below are the four bad habits that shorten your life by 18 years.

1. Smoking

In this study, even if you occasionally smoked, it counted against you.

2. More than 3 Alcoholic Drinks Weekly

Interestingly, even if you had just one drink daily, it counted against you.  The goal behavior for a long and healthy life was zero to three drinks weekly.

3. Not Exercising Every Day

No surprise here.  Not exercising regularly turned out to be one of the biggest risk factors for an early death in this Canadian study.

4. Eating Less than 10 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Daily

Based on their research, a healthy diet was defined by the average number of servings of fruits and vegetables daily.  Basically, you got one point for every serving you averaged with a maximum score of 10 points.  Their rationale was that if you are focussed on vegetables and fruits, then the rest of your diet is probably pretty good as well.

The interesting twist is that if you ate potatoes or drank fruit juice then they subtracted two points from your total score.  Also, if you didn’t include carrots, you also lost two points.

Their reasoning was that potatoes (think chips or fries) and fruit juice really just represent sugar, so you lost points.  Also, if you weren’t eating carrots then you probably weren’t eating a variety of vegetables as well.

How long will you live?

If you can eliminate these four bad habits then, according to this study, you can expect to live to age 88.2.  For women, it is even better.  Women, without any of these bad habits, can expect to live to age 90.2.

If you want to drill down a bit deeper to find out how long you are expected to live, the authors of this study  have created an online life expectancy calculator based on this study.

I clicked on this link to see how long they think I will live.  Based on my own health habits, they estimate that my body is 10 years younger than I actually am and that I will live to age 91.6.  They also give me a 20.1% chance of making it to age 100.

Take Home Message

The big picture to this study is that making it to age 88.2 in good health really comes down to doing four things right.  All you need to do is don’t smoke, keep alcohol intake below three drinks weekly, exercise daily, and eat 10 or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

Do you have any of these four bad habits that shorten your life?  How long are you predicted to live?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  Also, if you enjoyed this article, please be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter and podcast!

#190 6 Foods to Reverse Aging with NMN

November 1st, 2016 by
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6 Foods to Reverse Aging with NMN

This past week, a new study showed that old mice could be made young, thin, and energetic again with the natural compound NMN or nicotinamide mononucleotide.  In fact, the results showing reverse aging with NMN were so promising, the first human study is now underway in Japan.  In this article, I will teach you what NMN is and show you how you may reverse aging with NMN through six foods.

What is NMN?

NMN or nicotinamide mononucleotide is a naturally occurring compound that stimulates production of another compound, called NAD or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide.  As part of the aging process, your body produces less NAD as you get older.

Sadly, when NAD levels drop with age, inflammation or rusting of the body, shoots up.  As studies have shown that keeping inflammation low throughout life is a key factor to living to 110 and beyond, anything you can do to keep inflammation low will help you to enjoy great health at 100.  Thus, more NAD and less inflammation could be the way to reverse aging with NMN.

NAD Supplementation Studies Failed

As keeping NAD levels high is important to slow aging and keep inflammation at a minimum, many longevity researchers, including Dr. Shin-ichiro Imai, MD, PhD from the Washington University School of Medicine, tried to see if they could reverse aging with NAD supplements.  Sadly, his research, as well as research from other longevity studies, failed.

Last Week’s NMN Mouse Study Covered by TIME Magazine

Given NAD supplements failed to reverse aging, Dr. Imai and his colleagues approached this challenge from a different angle.  Rather than give NAD supplements, what if they gave mice NMN supplements and then let the mice naturally boost NAD by converting NMN to NAD.

As you have probably guessed, this study was wildly successful.  Newspapers around the world reported this past week that Dr. Imai may have found the “fountain of youth.”  Indeed, this NMN mouse study even landed them a prominent TIME Magazine article.

The NMN Mouse Study

In this NMN mouse study, Dr. Imai and colleagues took adult lab mice and then randomized them to one of three treatment groups.  The first group was treated with low-dose NMN dissolved into their drinking water.  The second treatment group drank high-dose NMN in their water.  Lastly, the third group had nothing added to their water.

Dr. Imai and his team them followed these mice very closely for one year.  As lab mice typically live only two years, they followed these mice until old age.

These Washington University researchers found that NMN was absorbed within minutes to the blood stream of mice.  Once inside the blood stream, NMN was converted to NAD thereby boosting NAD levels in these mice.

One theoretical concern was that boosting NAD levels could cause tumors to form in these mice.  Fortunately, no tumors or any other complications were observed with NMN supplementation.

Interestingly, the observed NMN benefit was only seen in older mice.  Dr. Imai theorized that this was because younger mice made enough NAD so their low levels of inflammation weren’t helped by NMN supplementation.

8 Benefits of NMN

Quite remarkably, this study showed that old mice could be made young, thin, and energetic again with NMN.  Indeed, they convincingly showed that you could reverse aging with NMN.  Below are the eight key findings of this study.

1. Lower body weight

In this study, mice fed low-dose NMN lost 4% of their body weight.  Those fed high-dose NMN lost 9% of their body weight.

To translate these findings, a 9% weight loss in a 200 pound person would be the equivalent of losing 18 pounds.  Even more remarkable was that even though the mice on NMN ate much more, they still lost weight!

2. Increased energy/better mitochondrial function

The mitochondria is the energy power plant of cells.  In this study, mice given NMN were much more energetic and had better energy production from their mitochondria.

3. Less diabetes

Mice on NMN showed much better insulin sensitivity.  Better insulin sensitivity means less diabetes.  Even heavier mice on NMN showed better insulin sensitivity.

4. Lower cholesterol and triglycerides

Researchers found that NMN also dropped cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  However, this drop was primarily seen in those mice on high-dose NMN.

5. Less activation of aging genes

As NMN and NAD both activate the SIRT1 longevity gene, these Washington University researchers observed marked activation of longevity genes and suppression of aging genes.

6. Improved eye sight

Researchers found that the retinas in mice functioned much better with NMN supplementation.  Also, the older mice were even less likely to suffer from dry eyes.

7. Increased bone density and muscle

Mice treated with NMN also had stronger muscles and bones.  Interestingly, the 513 genes that cause loss of muscle and bone density with aging were all suppressed with NMN in this study.

8. Better immune system function

Lastly, NMN treated mice showed better immune function.   Better functioning of the immune system means less infections and and less cancer.

6 Foods Naturally High in NMN

Currently, outside of clinical trials, like the one testing NMN supplements in Japanese people, there are no high quality NMN supplements available for purchase at this time.  As many studies evaluating supplements in humans often produce unintended side effects or toxicities, it is always best to get everything you need from natural food sources.

Fortunately, NMN is found naturally in many foods.  Below are the six foods highest in NMN.

1. Broccoli
2. Cabbage
3. Cucumber
4. Edamame
5. Avocado
6. Tomato

In addition to NMN, eating more of these six foods will help your overall health in so many other ways.  However, I should point out that if you want to reverse aging with NMN, you will have to eat large amounts of each of these foods.  Sadly, the NMN in a few stems of broccoli is hardly enough to even begin to boost NMN levels.

Take Home Message

The take home message of this new study is that you may be able reverse aging with NMN.  As high quality NMN supplements are not available, and have not been tested yet in humans, your best bet is to eat more broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, edamame, avocado, and tomato.

As these six foods are some of the healthiest foods you could possible eat, I see only beneficial effects by eating more.  Personally, since reviewing this article, I’m trying to reverse aging with NMN by eating more of these foods as well.

Do you enjoy these six foods that may reverse aging with NMN?  Please leave your comments and questions below.  If you enjoyed this article, please be sure to subscribe to my free weekly newsletter and podcast!

#189 3 Ways to Protect Kids’ Hearts from Halloween Candy

October 21st, 2016 by
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3 Ways to Protect Kids’ Hearts from Halloween Candy

Sugar can cause blockages to form in even the hearts of young children according to a new report from the American Heart Association.   As Halloween and candy go hand-in-hand, I share three ways to protect kids’ hearts from Halloween candy without missing out on any of the holiday fun.

New Sugar Guidelines for Kids

According to the new sugar guidelines for children, children over age two should consume less than six teaspoons (25 g or 100 calories) of added sugar each day.  For children under age two, there is no safe amount of added sugar they can eat.

I should emphasize that these guidelines refer only to added sugar.  Thus, the naturally occurring sugars in unprocessed fruits, such as an orange, apple, or banana don’t count toward the limit.

How much added sugar is in candy?

While a six teaspoon limit on added sugar may seem like a lot, it really isn’t.  Considering that a Snickers bar packs more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar, a Hershey’s chocolate bar has six, and Reece’s peanut butter cups have more than 5 teaspoons of added sugar, the teaspoons can quickly add up.  As just one little candy bar can put them over the limit, kids don’t stand a chance of staying within the new guidelines until their Halloween stash of candy is finally gone.

How much added sugar is in “healthy” foods?

Even if children don’t eat Halloween candy, they are still at risk of going over the added sugar limit.  For example, two slices of “healthy” whole wheat bread have at least one teaspoon of sugar.

One serving of yogurt or granola can easily top six teaspoons of added sugar.  Thus, many children are over the limit by breakfast even if they’re not eating Halloween candy.

3 Ways to Protect Kids’ Hearts from Halloween Candy

As conspiring food manufacturers have already packed their food-like products with added sugar, how do you even stand a chance of keeping your child within the limit around Halloween time?

Fortunately, there is a way.  Let me share with you three ways to protect kids’ hearts from Halloween candy.  By following these three tips, you can keep your children within the guidelines.

1. The Candy Fairy

Several years ago, our good friends introduced us to the “candy fairy.”  Basically, once a year, the “candy fairy” visits our house and buys out all of our kids’ Halloween candy.

How this works is simple.  Your children voluntarily put out the candy they wish to sell to the “candy fairy.” When they wake up on November 1st, they will cash in place of their candy.

The candy fairy could buy your kids’ Halloween candy by the piece or by the pound.  In our home, the candy fairy currently pays $6 US dollars per pound of candy.

After Jane and I buy out their candy, we promptly throw it into the trash.  While many parents bring their excess Halloween candy to work, we have chosen not to put our colleagues at risk.

The candy fairy concept has certainly had an interesting effect in our home.  Now our children view the annual trick-or-treating activity as a way to earn money.

They use a pillow case and run from house-to-house knowing that the more candy they collect, the more money they can earn by selling it to the candy fairy.  Thus, instead of Halloween being a dangerous time their hearts, it now turns into a great workout and money making opportunity.

2. Hand Out Lights

While you could certainly hand out healthy foods to the neighborhood trick-or-treaters who come to your home, this certainly wouldn’t make you the most popular house in the neighborhood.

A simple solution would be to hand out lights instead of candy.  For example, kids love glow sticks or any other type of flashing light.

When every other home is handing out cardiac toxic candy, your house would definitely stand out as the cool house handing out lights.  An added benefit is that these glow sticks, or other lights, make children more visible to motorists as they are trick-or-treating in the dark.

3. Hand Out Halloween Party Favors

If glow sticks or flashing lights are not your thing, you could try handing out Halloween party favors instead of candy.  Children love coloring books, bubbles, novelty jewelry, pencils, hats, whistles, or even a bottle of water.

These Halloween party favors are often cheaper than candy if you buy them in bulk.  Once again, you could stand out as the “cool house” in your neighborhood without having to resort to cardiac toxic candy.  As of the time I published this article, Jane and I are still undecided as to whether we will do lights or party favors this year.

Take Home Message

Heart disease remains the number one killer in the Western world.  New research points to added sugar as one of the main causes of heart disease.  Not only is heart disease increased with added sugars, but cancer is also increased as well.

As even young children can start developing blockages in their hearts, responsible adults have a duty to protect kids’ hearts from Halloween candy.  The three tips shared in this article can allow your family to enjoy the best that Halloween has to offer in a heart smart way.

How do you protect kids’ hearts from Halloween candy?  Please leave your thoughts and suggestions below.  As always, if you have not yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter or podcast, now is the time.

#188 5 Smartphone Apps to Fix Sleep Problems

October 16th, 2016 by
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5 Smartphone Apps to Fix Sleep Problems

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a smartphone in the bedroom is one of the main reasons why most Americans are chronically sleep deprived.  While most experts blame smartphones for sleep problems, I personally believe smartphones can actually fix sleep problems.

How My iPhone Helps Me Sleep

As most readers know, I have struggled with sleep for most of my life.  A few years ago, I finally figured out that if I could just do five things religiously, I could finally fix my sleep problems.

What has worked for me, may or may not help you.  If these five tips don’t help you, keep reading as there are many more tips later in this article.

1. Strict bedtime of 10 pm

My iPhone helps me keep a strict bedtime of 10 pm.  The blue light coming from my iPhone automatically turns off at 9 pm.  I also get a reminder at 9:45 pm to get ready for bed.

2. 20,000 steps daily

The pedometer app makes sure I stay physically active throughout the day.  I have found that as long as I can hit 20,000 steps daily, my body and mind are finally tired enough to go to sleep by 10 pm.

I realize that these are a lot of steps and are beyond the reach of most people.  Fortunately, most of my patients only need half these steps to accomplish the same thing.

3. Eliminate to-dos

I used to lay in bed at night worrying about all the to-dos hanging over my head.  Fortunately, my phone has fixed this.  By using my iPhone to eliminate, delegate, or reschedule all to-dos prior to leaving the hospital in the evening, my mind is then free to sleep knowing that everything is under control.

4. No caffeine after 12 pm

I love dark chocolate.  The darker the better.

The only problem is that if I have any after 12 pm, it doesn’t love me back.  As I am very sensitive to caffeine, I can only eat dark chocolate in the morning if I want any shot at sleeping at night.  Fortunately, iPhone reminders help me to avoid any dark chocolate later in the day.

5. Don’t drink in the evening unless dehydrated

Once I hit age 40, I found that I often had to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.  Sadly, once this happens, I rarely can get back to sleep.  Once again, my iPhone reminds me not to drink anything in the evening unless I’m dehydrated.

My International Sleep Experiment

While these four rules have helped me fix my sleep problems, these rules only work when I am living in harmony with my natural circadian rhythm.  Basically, this is when my daily sleep/wake schedule is linked to the sun.

Unfortunately, as soon as I travel internationally, I struggle with sleep again.  With this in mind, I tried an international sleep experiment this past weekend.

Last Thursday, I flew China to speak at a cardiology conference in Beijing.  As I was only scheduled to be in China a total of 41 hours, I kept my body on Utah time.  This experiment consisted of scheduling all my lectures and meetings either before noon or after dinner China time.

As noon in China correlated with 10 pm in Salt Lake City, I could keep my same Utah 10 pm bedtime.  Thus, when the noon hour arrived in China,  I made my hotel room as dark as possible and went to sleep.  Even my flights were timed so that I could sleep at 10 pm Utah time.

The only downside was that I lived like a vampire in China.  I was up all night and slept during the day.  Fortunately, I have been to Beijing so many times that I have already seen the sights.

Results of My International Sleep Experiment

I’m happy to report that my international sleep experiment worked well.  I didn’t have any jet lag or sleep challenges when I returned home.

However, I did feel the constant pull of my body trying to adjust to a new circadian rhythm in China.  I’m sure that another day or two in Beijing would have completely thrown off my experiment.

The Daylight Savings Time Heart Attack Risk

Most people are completely unaware of the risk of not living in harmony with your natural circadian rhythm.  Even just an hour change can have significant consequences.

For example, a recent study of 42,060 heart attack victims in Michigan found that the one extra hour of sleep you get in the fall, when the US goes off daylight savings time, decreases your heart attack risk by 21%.  Conversely, going back on daylight savings time in the spring, when Americans lose an hour of sleep, increases your heart attack risk by 24%.

The key message of this, and other studies, is that throwing off your circadian rhythm by even just an hour can affect your heart.  When people are given more time to sleep, the risk goes down.  Likewise, when sleep is compromised, your heart attack risk goes up.

Is it any wonder then that shift workers are at such high risk of a heart attack?  As most shift workers live outside of their natural circadian rhythm, their hearts are always under stress.

Fortunately, for most US blog readers, on Sunday, November 6th we go off of daylight savings time again.  So enjoy that extra hour of sleep as well as a 24% lower risk of a heart attack on Monday, November 7th.

Circadian Rhythm and Longevity

While there are limited studies on longevity and circadian rhythm, one study caught my attention.  Brazilian researchers want to find out if there was a link between health, longevity and sleep.

To answer this question, these Brazilian researchers dissected the sleep patterns of Sao Paulo’s healthiest old people.  The average age of these people was 92 with some as old as 105.

Researchers had these healthiest old people in Sao Paulo sleep several nights in their laboratory hooked up to all sorts of monitoring equipment.  They also ran many blood tests and other experiments.

At the end of this massive undertaking, the only thing these Brazilian researchers could find was that the healthiest old people kept a strict bedtime and awakening time.  Thus, their conclusion was that living in sync with your circadian rhythm is a key factor to longevity.  Even if your goal is not to live to 100, studies show that staying within your circadian rhythm may prevent a heart attack or cancer.

5 Smartphone Apps to Fix Sleep Problems

Just as smartphones may rob you of precious sleep, they may also bless you with restorative sleep.  As your health and your heart depending on “living in rhythm,” let me share five smartphone apps to fix sleep problems.

1. Bedtime App

In my experience, the number one reason why most of my patients are chronically sleep deprived is because they go to bed too late.  Many people feel like staying up late is their only chance to have a little time for themselves.

What people fail to realize is that sleep deprivation decreases productivity so you will probably be even more behind the next day.  Indeed, studies show that strict bedtimes improve sleep and decrease daytime fatigue.

To help you maintain a consistent bedtime, Apple has now included bedtime management software as a standard feature with ios 10.  With “bedtime,” you can set your bedtime with reminders, program how long you want to sleep, and see your sleep analysis.  For Android users, I like the free Sleepy Time app to accomplish the same thing.

2. Do Not Disturb App

When it comes to sleep disruption, you don’t need a study to tell you that getting awakened is bad for your health.  Fortunately, both the iPhone and the Android phone have a Do Not Disturb built in feature.

The way this works is simple.  You can program your phone so that it never awakens you unless it is an emergency from a specific person.  For example, you could program this feature so that the only reason why your phone will ever make a sound or vibrate in the night is if a child or aged parent is in trouble.

3. Blue Light Blocking Apps

In the last few years, there have been many studies showing that blue light from electronic devices stimulates your brain and blocks sleep.  For example, studies show that even a quick peak at your phone could delay sleep by 30 minutes.

Fortunately, the iPhone now has a built in feature, called Night Shift, which blocks blue light from the screen.  This is fully programmable so that it can turn on or off at any time.

For me, I have the blue light on my iPhone automatically shut off at 9 pm.  For Android users, you can download the free Night Shift Blue Light app to do the same thing.

4. White Noise App

Noises can also rob you of priceless sleep.  The neighbor’s dog, or your child using the bathroom, could make it so that you can’t get back to sleep.

Fortunately, there is a solution to drown out noises.  Replace variable noise with a constant low level of noise, called white noise.

Studies show that white noise, even in an intensive care unit (ICU) setting, can improve sleep for patients.  What works for ICU patients can also help you at home.

While neither the iPhone or the Android has a built in white noise feature, there are many free white noise apps that you can download.  One example is White Noise Free.  This app is available for both iPhone and Android users.

5. Pedometer App

Studies show that people sleep 35% better, and have less daytime fatigue, with daily exercise.  While I need 20,000 steps daily to sleep well at night, most of my patients only need 10,000 to get the same result.

Just be careful not to exercise vigorously right before bed as this could delay sleep.  While you can use the built in pedometers on smartphones, personally I like the Pacer app which is free for both iPhone and Android users.

Take Home Message

The key take away from this article is that to maximize health and longevity, live within your body’s natural circadian rhythm.  If you are not sure what that is, just follow the sun. Even throwing your body off an hour could put you at increased risk of a heart attack.

While smart phones have been blamed for our sleep crisis, the same technology also exists to improve your sleep.  Try the 5 apps in this article to fix sleep problems.

Does your smartphone help or hurt your sleep?  Please leave your thoughts and questions below.

As always, if you have not signed up for my free weekly newsletter or podcast, now is the time.

#187 Eliminate Heart Disease by Doing 3 Things Study

October 10th, 2016 by
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Eliminate Heart Disease by Doing 3 Things Study

At least 80% of all heart disease is totally unnecessary.  Indeed, according to a recent study, if you can do the three things discussed in the article to eliminate heart disease, most drug companies, hospitals, and cardiologists would be out of business.

Jeff’s Experience

This past weekend I spoke at a conference sponsored by my hospital.  Sadly, the message that was conveyed is that heart disease is inevitable.  Thus, taking preventative medications is critical to preventing the number one killer in the U.S.

Jeff didn’t buy into this philosophy either.

By age 45, Jeff’s cardiologist insisted that he take 5 medications to treat his diabetes, high blood pressure, and his heart condition called atrial fibrillation.  Believing there must be another way, he came to me for a second opinion.

Jeff really did need those five medications at the time.  He had some serious lifestyle changes that he had to make first before we could ever think about getting him off of medications.

At the end of his initial visit, Jeff asked “Do you think my weight caused these problems?”

“Probably,” I said.

“Is it too late?” he asked.

“The good news is that if you act quickly, we can probably reverse everything before permanent damage occurs,” I said.

Jeff clung onto this hope of a life free of medications and the goal to eliminate heart disease.  I then shared with him the following results from the recently published LEGACY Study.

Eliminate Heart Disease: The LEGACY Study

The idea to do the LEGACY Study was the brainchild of my good friend, Dr. Prash Sanders, from the University of Adelaide Hospital in Australia.  As there are a limited number of Australian cardiologists specializing in heart rhythm disorders, Dr. Sanders really didn’t have any other options to treat the thousands of patients with a heart condition called atrial fibrillation.

Indeed, his patients often had to wait a year or longer for procedures to correct atrial fibrillation when medications were no longer effective.  Suspecting that the obesity crisis was causing this atrial fibrillation epidemic, Dr. Sanders came up with a plan.

What would happen if he offered his patients a healthy dose of “lifestyle medicine” while they waited for their procedures?  This lifestyle medicine experiment then led to what was later known as the LEGACY Study.

LEGACY Study Goal

The real goal of the LEGACY Study was to use lifestyle medicine to lose both the weight and the atrial fibrillation heart condition.  To test this approach, Dr. Sanders enrolled 355 of his patients.

With lifestyle medicine, he collected a group of patients that were able to lose an average of 36 pounds.  He then followed these patients for five years to see what would happen.

What a 36 Pound Weight Loss Can Do

The results of the LEGACY Study caught most of the cardiology community by complete surprise.  Below are the 7 things that happened with just a 36 pound weight loss.

1. 46% of Atrial Fibrillation Patients Went into Remission

Probably the most remarkable finding of this study was that a 36 pound weight loss gave you a fifty fifty chance of making atrial fibrillation go away without drugs or procedures. This finding went against the prevailing wisdom that atrial fibrillation only gets worse with time.

2. Blood Pressure Dropped by 18 Points

In this study, a 36 pound weight loss dropped blood pressure by 18 points.  Considering that the typical blood pressure medication only lowers blood pressure by about 8 points, this is the equivalent of getting off of two blood pressure lowering medications.

3. Inflammation Dropped by 76%

To live a long and healthy life, you can’t “rust” out your body.  Inflammation causes rusting and aging of all your organs.  In this study, a 36 pound weight loss translated into a 76% reduction in inflammation as measured by the blood test, C-reactive protein.

4. 88% of Diabetes Went into Remission

Next to smoking, diabetes is one of the biggest causes of a short life.  Using the Australian diagnosis criteria for diabetes, 88% of Dr. Sanders’ patients with diabetes went into remission with just a 36 pound weight loss.

5. LDL Cholesterol and Triglycerides Dropped by 16% and 31%

A 36 pound weight loss also had a profound LDL and triglyceride lowering effect.  Dr. Sanders observed a 16% LDL (bad cholesterol) and 31% triglyceride reduction.  Remarkably, nearly half of their patients were able to get off their statin cholesterol lowering medications.

6. 18% Reduction in Echocardiogram Abnormalities

Weighing more than you should puts a big strain on your heart.  Over time, the heart enlarges and the walls thicken.  Fortunately, Dr. Sanders observed that many of these abnormalities seen on echocardiogram could be reversed with weight loss.

7. Happiness Increased 200%

While all measures of heart disease were reversed with weight loss, probably the most striking finding was that happiness, or sense of well-being, increased by 200% in this study!  Indeed, probably the best thing that comes from a healthy dose of lifestyle medicine is that you feel great, get off of medications, and no longer have to worry about heart issues.

The 3 Simple Steps to Reversing Heart Conditions

Reversing heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammation, diabetes, high cholesterol, echocardiogram heart abnormalities, and boosting happiness seems almost too good to be true.  But it’s not.  I’ve seen these same results with my own patients.

How did they do it?  Below are the 3 simple things Dr. Sanders had his patients do.

1. Have a Purpose or Goal to Your Life

You have to have a purpose, goal or reason to make changes.  Otherwise, there is probably no way you’ll ever be able to resist the temptation of junk food and inactivity.

In the LEGACY Study, Dr. Prash had each of his patients meet with a counselor.  This counselor, helped them to see the big picture and come up with a motivating goal.

To replicate their results, you will also need a strong purpose, goal, or reason to make changes.  For most of my patients, their goal is to be there for their families.  They don’t want to be a burden or die young.

2. Environmental Programming

Next, Dr. Prash had his patients take control of everything around them.  No longer would they let the path of least resistance rule their lives.

Environmental programming could look like something as simple as eliminating all junk food from your home or putting exercise equipment into your living room.  By reprogramming your environment, you never need to suffer from temptations again.

As part of environmental programing, Dr. Sanders had each of his patients come up with a meal and exercise plan.  While this advanced preparation, it prevented people from eating whatever was quick or skipping a workout due to a lack of time or fatigue.

With their meal plan, people could basically eat anything they wanted as long as it wasn’t sugar or anything that behaved like sugar in their bodies.  In other words, they only ate low glycemic foods.

To eat “low glycemic,” means you have to cut out processed carbohydrates.  In other words, if you choose to eat grains they have to be intact grains which are low glycemic.

An intact grain is a grain that looks like what it did on the plant.  It isn’t processed.  There is no flour as grain flour is little more than just sugar.  This is why most people gain weight even eating “healthy” whole wheat bread.

As part of their exercise plan, each person had to come up with a way to exercise 30 minutes each day.  It didn’t matter what they did as long as they moved their bodies at least 30 minutes a day.

3. Accountability

In this study, Dr. Prash had his patients record how well they adhered to their meal and exercise plan.  Not only did they have to record everything they put into their mouths and every minute they exercised, but they also had to meet with their counselor on an ongoing basis.

Accountability is critically important for lifestyle medicine to work. This is why I recommend that my patients enroll in a structured program or have a personal trainer to help keep them accountable.

I have also found that daily tracking is important for people to succeed.  This could be as simple as a food or exercise journal.  It also could be an app like Lose It, My Fitness Pal, or Healthwatch 360.

Personally, I have used Lose It and Healthwatch 360 to keep me accountable.  These apps help me to focus on healthy foods and avoid mindless eating.

Take Home Message

The key message of this article is that it is never too late to change.  Regardless of your age, or how many medications you’re on, there is always hope.

Now is the time to eliminate heart disease.  A healthy lifestyle is simply the best medicine.

This is what my patient, Jeff, also discovered.  Like the patients in the LEGACY Study, he lost weight, adopted a healthy lifestyle, got off of 5 medications, and was fortunate enough to eliminate heart disease.

Indeed, you can eliminate heart disease provided you have a reason, you have reprogrammed your environment to eliminate temptations, and that you are accountable to some person or some thing.

What has been your secret to maintaining a healthy lifestyle?  Please leave your comments and questions below.  To help you make lifestyle medicine stick, please be sure to subscribe to my free weekly newsletter and podcast.

#186 Are Grains Healthy? 4 Things to Know About Grains

October 3rd, 2016 by
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Are Grains Healthy?

While books and websites have demonized grains in every form, the scientific literature does not support this belief.  Indeed, in study after study, grains can be healthy provided they are real whole grains.  Real whole grains are high in fiber and are not processed.

Processed grains, on the other hand, are really just sugar.  It’s also pretty clear that processed grains are responsible for much of the obesity crisis, as well as the epidemic of atrial fibrillation, heart failure and diabetes that I see in my cardiology practice every day.

Everyone Loves Processed Grains

After a five hour winding five hour bus ride through the thick mountain foliage of southwest China, not far from the Vietnam border, we met Fang. When our family arrived it was after midnight and we were in the middle of a torrential downpour.

His was the last taxi and he agreed to take us the last hour of the journey to China’s Longevity Village.  As part of our conversation, he shared with me that he grew up in China’s Longevity Village and then moved to Bama city as an adult to find work.

Growing up, the only grains he ate was brown rice and whole wheat that was not yet pulverized into flour.  Because this remote village lacked the industrial machinery to process rice and wheat, he had no choice but to eat real whole grains.

Over time, China’s economic miracle made its way to even this remote corner of China.  With economic prosperity also came white rice and white wheat flour.  Fang, like almost everyone else in China, enthusiastically embraced this change.

With processed grains has also come a diabetes, obesity, and heart disease epidemic in China.  Fang was not exempt.  He now had a belly that extended well beyond his belt and he looked nothing like the lean Chinese still living the traditional lifestyle in the village.

4 Things to Know About Grains

Every day patients ask me, “are grains healthy?”  As there is so much confusion about grains, below are four important things to know about grains.

1. Are grains healthy?

The answer to are grains healthy is simple, it depends.  If it is a processed grain, stripped of fiber, then it is really nothing more than sugar.

Sugar, whether it comes from white crystals, high fructose corn syrup,  or processed grains has the same effect to the body.  Metabolism is altered, the gut flora changes, and inflammation is ignited with resulting obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

On the other hand, real whole grains, or those grains which are high in fiber and look like the plant they came from, may protect you from obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  Indeed, studies show that real whole grains may even be protective against cancer.

In a Harvard University study of 367,442 people followed for 14 years, those who ate the most whole grains were 17% more likely to still be alive, 21% less likely to die from heart disease, 15% less likely to get cancer, and had 34% less diabetes.

These Harvard researchers concluded that it was the fiber in whole grains that is protective.  Fiber reduces inflammation, helps to create a healthy gut flora, and has many other health benefits including blood pressure and cholesterol lowering.

2. Do grains cause weight gain?

The reason why most people gain weight from grains is because most people eat the fiber-less processed grains.  In another Harvard study, researchers studied 173,230 people for as long as 25 years, to understand the effect of grains on body weight.

These Harvard researchers found that for every extra serving of processed grains you average daily, your weight goes up 0.14 pounds per year.  While this doesn’t seem like much, it can quickly add up.

For example, eating cereal for breakfast, a sandwich on white bread for lunch, and a roll at dinner on most days would cause you to gain a pound a year.  For an adult, that works out to be a 45 pound weight gain by age 65!

On the other hand, this same Harvard study showed that for every extra serving of whole grains you enjoy each day, your weight goes down 0.15 pounds per year.  Thus, the more quinoa, flour-less whole wheat, or brown rice you eat, the less you will weigh.

3. Which grains should you buy at the store?

While most health conscientious people know they should eat whole grains, they are confused at the grocery store.  For example, does Fruit Loops, which advertises “whole grains,” really count as a whole grain?

Buy grains high in fiber and with minimal to no processing.  Ideally, you want three grams of fiber for every 100 calories. In addition to fiber, you want something that looks as close to the original plant as possible.  For example, finely ground whole wheat doesn’t look anything like what it did on the plant.

If you like bread, try the flourless Ezekiel bread at your local health food store.  Ezekiel bread packs 3 grams of fiber for each 80 calorie slice.  Alternatively, you can make your own healthy bread.

Finely ground flour is really nothing more than instant sugar for your body. Is it any wonder that even whole-wheat bread is converted to sugar by the body faster than a Snickers bar?

For me, once I was able to free myself of the addictive qualities of traditional flour-based whole wheat breads, I actually came to prefer the flourless varieties because they are more satisfying and don’t leave me craving more.

Like bread, pasta is another processed grain-based product that a lot of people can’t resist. For people who enjoy spaghetti, lasagna or baked ziti, I recommend substituting in spaghetti squash or quinoa.

You can even find great tasting pastas made from mung beans, black beans, or edamame these days at your local health food store or online through Amazon. Our current favorite is edamame spaghetti.

4. Should you avoid gluten?

It seems like almost every food-like product now comes in a gluten free form.  However, even if it is gluten free, it is not a health food.  As I tell my patients, if the package says “gluten free,” it probably isn’t real food.

For example, a recent study examined 3,213 gluten free grain products that you may find on a traditional grocery store shelf.  These researchers concluded that “gluten free” products are less healthy for you than the original products containing wheat.

Sadly, gluten free products are often packed with sugar, processed grains, and unhealthy vegetable oils.  If you have celiac disease or a gluten allergy, the key is to buy gluten free ingredients, like quinoa, brown rice, or oats, rather than gluten free food-like products.

Take Home Message

The key take away is that grains are linked to weight gain or weight loss, health or sickness, depending on which grains you choose.  In my cardiology practice, the number one dietary factor associated with heart disease is sugar.  Sadly, processed grains behave the same way in your body as eating straight white sugar crystals or drinking high fructose corn syrup.

The key to making grains work for you is to select real whole grains.  Real whole grains are high in fiber and look something like the plant from which they came.

For those who are gluten sensitive, stick to gluten free grains like brown rice, quinoa, or millet.  Buy gluten free ingredients, not gluten free food-like products, at the grocery store.

Do you enjoy grains?  How do you eat real whole grains?

Please share your comments and questions below.  Also, if you have not yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter or podcast, now is the time.

#185 6 Protein Sources that May Shorten Your Life

September 25th, 2016 by
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6 Protein Sources that May Shorten Your Life

Not all protein sources are the same when it comes to longevity.  In this article, I review a recent Harvard University study which reported that 6 protein sources could shorten your life.

Jin’s Experience

On our last trip to China’s Longevity Village, I met Jin.  It was a hot summer night in Southwest China and the entire village had come together to prepare for a wedding.  As part of this wedding preparation, we had the honor of being the guests of the district mayor.

Shortly after arriving, a man in his 30’s called for me to sit next to him.  As he was in charge of making the tofu, and I was eager to learn how to make tofu, I sat down next to him.

“Are you American?” Jin said in Chinese.

“Yes,” I replied back in Chinese.  “Have you always lived here?” I asked.

“No.  I grew up in the village but then moved to Guangdong for work.  I recently retuned for health reasons,” he said.

Jin, like most younger men in this part of China, left their rural villages for the higher paying jobs in the big Chinese cities.  In Guangdong he had cash and could afford the things he never experienced as a child.

His favorite indulgence was Kentucky Fried Chicken or KFC.  He went from meat being a special treat on perhaps just one day of the week to lots of meat with every meal.

While he didn’t notice much at first, little by little his health declined.  Seven years after leaving the Village, he was fatigued and also started developing chest pains and shortness of breath.

His parents urged him to return to the village to recover.  After much pleading, he gave in and left his higher paying big city job.  Within just three months of returning home, his health was restored.

Do protein sources affect health?

The cardiologist side of me couldn’t help but to analyze his experience.  It goes without mention that life in rural China is vastly different than the high stress, big polluted cities of China.

In addition to the village versus city life, he had also traded a mostly vegetable based diet for a mostly meat based diet.  As I made tofu with him that night, I couldn’t help but wonder if the vegetable protein sources protected him in a way that the meat protein sources couldn’t.

The Harvard Protein Study

With the growing popularity of high protein, low carb diets, Harvard researchers wanted to know if how you got your protein mattered.  To find out, they studied 131,342 doctors and nurses for up to 32 years.

This Harvard study asked a simple question, what would happen if you just replaced one serving daily of meat or dairy with a plant-based protein.  In other words, would it matter if say you replaced one serving of say bacon with protein from a serving of vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, or seeds.

6 Protein Sources that May Shorten Your Life

After carefully analyzing the data from these 131,000 doctors and nurses, Harvard researchers found that how you get your protein may determine your lifespan.  In particular, replacing one serving daily of the following 6 protein sources with plant-based protein sources could significantly lengthen your life.

1. Replacing 1 serving of processed red meat: 34% longer life

2. Replacing 1 serving of eggs: 19% longer life

3. Replacing 1 serving of unprocessed red meat: 12% longer life

4. Replacing 1 serving of dairy: 8% longer life

5. Replacing 1 serving of poultry: 6% longer life

6. Replacing 1 serving of fish: 6% longer life

It goes without saying that if you substitute processed foods for meat and dairy, your health will suffer.  To gain any possible health benefit, all substitutions need to be with unprocessed whole foods, like vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, or seeds.

Protein Sources Don’t Matter for Some People

For some people in this study, protein source didn’t affect their longevity.  Interestingly, these Harvard researchers found that only people with risk factors for heart disease benefited from plant-based protein sources.

Thus, according to this study, if you don’t smoke, don’t drink much alcohol, exercise every day, and are at a perfect weight, then meat and dairy doesn’t seem to shorten your life.  Perhaps this is because an otherwise healthy lifestyle negates any possible risk from meat and dairy.  Regardless, this is a new finding that needs to be confirmed in future studies.

Can you believe this study?

As you know, nutrition science is not perfect.  And this study is no exception.

First of all, this study doesn’t prove that eating more plant-based protein sources is going to make you live longer.  It also doesn’t prove that if you don’t smoke or drink, exercise every day, and are at the perfect weight that you can eat all the processed red meat you want and not have your life cut short.

Rather, all this study tells us is that, of these 131,000 doctors and nurses, those who ate more plant-based protein sources were observed to live longer.  While researchers tried to control for other dietary and lifestyle factors, they may not have been able to control for everything.  For example, studies show that heavy meat eaters generally don’t exercise, tend to be overweight, and are more likely to smoke and drink.

In addition, I was very surprised to see that even replacing a serving of fish, with a plant-based protein, appeared to extend life.  This finding stands in sharp contrast to most studies which show that fish is good for your heart and may extend your life.

How can plant-based protein sources help you?

Food is information for your genes.  What you eat, including your protein sources, determines which genes are turned on and which genes are turned off.  Below are five possible reasons why eating more plant-based protein sources, like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and vegetables, may help you to live longer.

1. Plant-based proteins are associated with weight loss.

2. Plant-based protein sources don’t trigger the cancer hormone, IGF-1.

3. Plant-based proteins lower blood pressure.

4. Plant-based protein sources lower cholesterol.

5. Plant-based proteins protect against diabetes.

What are the best plant-based protein sources?

If you are not used to eating legumes, nuts, seeds, or vegetables, you may be surprised by exactly how much protein is packed in these foods.  Below are some examples.  To put these numbers in perspective, salmon has 17 grams of protein for every 100 calories.

1. Spinach: 13 grams of protein per 100 calories

2. Tofu: 11 grams of protein per 100 calories

3. Asparagus: 10 grams of protein per 100 calories

4. Lentils: 8 grams of protein per 100 calories

5. Broccoli and peas: 7 grams of protein per 100 calories

6. Pinto beans: 6 grams of protein per 100 calories

7. Peanuts: 5 grams of protein per 100 calories

Are plants a complete protein?

Many internet sites claim that plant proteins are poor protein sources because they are not complete proteins.  Despite these claims, medical studies debunked this myth decades ago.

A complete protein is a protein that contains an adequate amount of all nine essential amino acids.  In general, if you eat some meat and dairy, or you eat a variety of plant-based protein sources, then your body will naturally get all nine essential amino acids.

On a separate note, if you don’t eat much meat, please speak with your doctor about whether or not you should take a vitamin B12 supplement.

Take Home Message

The main take away from this recently published Harvard study, is that most people would likely enjoy better health by eating a little less meat and dairy, especially processed red meat, and a little more vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

While it wasn’t the main finding of this study, if you exercise every day, maintain a perfect weight, don’t smoke, and don’t drink much alcohol then meat and dairy doesn’t appear to cut your lifespan.  This new finding needs to be confirmed in future studies.

For the time being, if you are a heavy meat eater and need help cutting back, start thinking of meat as a special treat. In deference to environmental and health concerns, a lot of people have adopted “Meatless Mondays.”  With the Meatless Mondays movement, for one day a week people follow a plant-based diet with or without dairy.

Have you tried substituting more plant-based protein sources?  What has your experience been?

Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  Also, if you have not yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter or podcast, now is the time.

#184 The Top 3 Dark Chocolate Health Benefits

September 17th, 2016 by
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The Top 3 Dark Chocolate Health Benefits

Could there actually be dark chocolate health benefits?  How could something that tastes so good, be good for you?  Read on to learn about a medical mystery and the top three health benefits of dark chocolate.

Chocolate, High Blood Pressure, and Kuna Indians

In 1944, an obscure army surgeon, Dr. B. H. Kean, was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone by the U.S. army.  While there, he noticed that the Kuna Indians, who lived on the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama, didn’t get high blood pressure.  Even as they aged, their blood pressure still stayed in the very healthy 110/70 mmHg range.

Dr. Kean published his observations in 1944, but no one paid attention.  In fact, for the next 50 years, his findings lay buried in a medical journal.  It wasn’t until the 1990s that Harvard physician and hypertension researcher, Dr. Norman Hollenberg , discovered Dr. Kean’s 1944 article.

The Medical Mystery of the San Blas Islands

Dr. Hollenberg was an expert in the genetic causes of high blood pressure.  After reading Dr. Kean’s 1944 article, he was convinced that the Kuna Indians must have a gene that protected them from high blood pressure.

So, nearly 50 years later, Dr. Hollenberg went in search of these Kuna Indians.  He found that 50 years later, they still didn’t get high blood pressure.

However, Dr. Hollenberg’s studies showed that they didn’t get high blood pressure as long as they lived on the San Blas Islands.  If they ever moved off the islands, then their blood pressure went up. Based on this finding, he concluded that genes couldn’t be involved.

In the 1990s, the conventional medical wisdom was that if high blood pressure wasn’t due to genes, then it must be from eating too much salt or too much stress.  Surely, he thought, the Kuna Indians must either not be eating much salt or living a stress free island life.

Once again, he was wrong.

When he measured their daily salt intake, it wasn’t low.  Their stress levels also weren’t any lower on the islands.  The Kuna Indians ate just as much salt and had just as much stress in their lives as those people living on the Panama mainland.

In addition to not getting high blood pressure, Dr. Hollenberg also discovered that the Kuna Indians living on the San Blas Islands didn’t get diabetes, heart disease, or cancer either.  Their lifespan was even much longer.  In fact, his studies showed that the Kuna Indians living on the islands were 4 times less likely to get diabetes, 15 times less likely to get heart disease, and 19 times less likely to get cancer compared to those living on the Panama mainland.

The Kuna Indians

Historically, the Kuna Indians descended from the Mayans.  In order to escape Spanish domination, they migrated to these remote islands several hundred years ago.

Today, there are about 53,000 Kuna Indians inhabiting 49 of the approximately 365 San Blas Islands.  While these people are still isolated, increasingly more and more tourists are visiting their islands.

The Kuna Lifestyle

After years of research, Dr. Hollenberg ultimately concluded that it was their healthy lifestyle, combined with a big dose of chocolate, that explained why the Kuna Indians lived such long and healthy lives.

As you might expect, they didn’t have access to sugar, processed foods, or fast foods.  Rather, they only ate real food.

Each day they ate mostly vegetables with some coconut, beans, rice, wild fish, and lots of chocolate.  Yes, lots of chocolate.

From as soon as their children are weaned, they start drinking cocoa.  In fact, most Kuna on the San Blas Islands drink about 5 cups of this stuff each day.  Indeed, the Kuna Indians consume more “chocolate,” than any other group of people in the world.

I should point out that the cocoa they drink is much different than the chocolate you might find in a store. Their chocolate isn’t loaded with sugar.  It also isn’t highly processed, so the flavanol content is much higher.

The Top 3 Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

The closer your chocolate is to what they consume on the San Blas Islands, the greater your health benefits.  Based on my review of the medical literature, here are my top 3 health benefits of dark chocolate.

1. Lowers Blood Pressure

While the Kuna Indians enjoy a remarkable 110/70 blood pressure throughout life, most chocolate eating Americans will never see such an amazing blood pressure.  Yes, chocolate, especially cocoa or dark chocolate, lowers blood pressure but not to the 110/70 level.

A review of all studies on chocolate and blood pressure shows that cocoa/dark chocolate lowers your systolic blood pressure (the top number), by about three points.  Given that the typical blood pressure medicine only lowers blood pressure by eight points, this isn’t bad.  I would much prefer a square of dark chocolate over a pill.

Even just a mild reduction in blood pressure can help to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and dementia.  Based on other studies, just a 3 point drop in blood pressure would be expected to lower your risk of heart disease by 4% and your risk of a stroke by 9%.

What else likely accounts for why the Kuna Indians don’t get high blood pressure?

Until recently, they didn’t gain weight.  Their mostly plant-based real food diet, combined with lots of physical activity, kept them lean.  Studies show that for every two pounds you lose, your blood pressure drops by one point.

As mentioned, they didn’t eat much sugar by today’s standards.  Cutting out sugar will drop your blood pressure by another 8 points.

Lastly, they were physically active throughout the day and ate a mostly plant-based real food diet.  Studies show that regular exercise lowers your blood pressure by 7 points.  Also, a mostly plant-based real food diet, will knock off another 6 points off your blood pressure.

2. Helps with Weight Loss

Several years ago, I committed that the only sweet thing I would ever eat was the darkest chocolate I could find.  This commitment has satisfied my life-long sweet tooth and has helped me to naturally get down to a healthier weight.

Indeed, studies show that dark chocolate helps with weight loss.  To get the most weight loss help from chocolate, dark chocolate should replace any other sweets you may be eating.

Ideally, your chocolate needs to be as dark as possible.  For example, in one study, researchers compared dark chocolate to milk chocolate.  Sadly, only the dark chocolate helped with weight loss.

In this study, researchers found that dark chocolate not only satisfied people’s sweet tooth but it also filled them up enough so that they ate 116 less calories each day.  Thus, based on this study, if the only treat you ever eat is dark chocolate, then you could expect to lose 12 pounds per year.

3. Live Longer

The longest lived person in the world, Jeanne Calment, claimed that chocolate helped her to live to age 122.  In fact, she even ate 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of chocolate every week.

Could there be any science behind chocolate being a longevity food?

A few years ago, Dutch researchers put this question to the test.  In this study, researchers divided 470 men into three groups, based on how much chocolate they ate, and followed them for 15 years.  Surprisingly, the men who ate the most chocolate were twice as likely to still be alive at the end of the 15 year study.

Are there any other dark chocolate health benefits?

In addition to the dark chocolate health benefits discussed (blood pressure lowering, weight loss, protection from heart disease, and a longer lifespan), dark chocolate has also been shown to have the following health benefits:

1. High in Fiber, anti-oxidants, magnesium, iron, zinc, and many other nutrients.

2. Lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol.

3. May protect your skin from sun damage.

4. May improve brain function.

What kind of chocolate should you eat?

Unfortunately, white and milk chocolate are just candy.  This is because there is too much sugar and so few flavanols.

To maximize the dark chocolate health benefits, you want it as dark as possible (minimum of 70% cacao) with the least amount of sugar and processing.  Sugar should never be the first ingredient.  Also, avoid alkali processing as this strips the chocolate of flavanols.

Although it is an acquired taste, if you want to eat something more similar to the Kuna Indians, then you may want to consider the much less processed cacao nibs.  Unsweetened cacao nibs are even healthier than dark chocolate.

Can you eat too much chocolate?

Certainly, the Kuna Indians and Jeanne Calment didn’t seem to suffer from too much chocolate.  When scientists studied this, they found that the more chocolate you eat, the less likely you are to suffer a heart attack.

Of course, some restraint is needed.   In this study, the highest chocolate eaters ate less than 100 grams daily (3.5 oz).

Does chocolate cause arrhythmias?

Many people, especially heart patients, worry that chocolate’s caffeine could cause an arrhythmia.  Once again, when put this to the test in 1,388 people, researchers concluded that chocolate does not cause arrhythmias.

Take Home Message

The take home message of this article is that you don’t have to move to the beautiful San Blas Islands, and eat chocolate all day, to live a long and healthy life.  Rather, you can replicate the lessons learned from the Kuna Indians and enjoy the dark chocolate health benefits in your own life.

Eating real food, which includes the darkest chocolate with minimal to no sugar and processing, can help you live a long and healthy life.  Ideally, this chocolate should replace any other sweets you may be eating.

How do you enjoy chocolate?  Have you experienced any dark chocolate health benefits?  Please leave your experiences and questions below.  Also, if you have not yet subscribed to my free weekly newsletter or podcast, now is the time.

#183 3 Ways to Lower Cholesterol: Better than Drugs

September 5th, 2016 by
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3 Ways to Lower Cholesterol: Better than Drugs

Half of all Americans need to lower cholesterol.  Of these people, most should be on a “statin” drug to lower cholesterol according to the American Heart Association.

This recommendation comes despite the fact that “statins,” may increase your risk of diabetes by 46%, may cause memory loss, may increase coronary artery calcification, and can damage your muscles.

Cholesterol is just one of many risk factors for heart disease.  Fortunately, there are better ways to lower cholesterol.  In this article, I share the three best ways to lower cholesterol naturally.

My Bad Cholesterol Gene

I was not born with the low cholesterol gene.  Even worse, I inherited one copy of the ApoE4 gene.  Sadly, one in four Americans also have at least one copy of this ApoE4 gene as well.

The ApoE4 gene not only controls cholesterol levels but is also the Alzheimer’s Disease gene.  Thus, people with this gene are at high risk for an elevated cholesterol and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that when I was on a sugar, processed foods, meat, and dairy diet, my cholesterol was high.  In fact, at one point my total cholesterol was 211 mg/dL.

My First Attempt to Lower Cholesterol

As a cardiologist, I knew I had to lower cholesterol.  Not wanting to make any changes to my lifestyle, I put myself on the most popular statin drug, atorvastatin (Lipitor).

Within a week or two of starting this drug, I tore my gastrocnemius muscle (calf muscle) while playing basketball.  While it could have been a “coincidence,” it didn’t seem like one to me.

Fearing it was a side effect of the drug, I immediately stopped atorvastatin.  I reasoned that it was better to risk a heart attack than give up playing basketball.  Interestingly, the only muscle tear in my life was during the one to two weeks I was on atorvastatin.

How I Dropped My Total Cholesterol from 211 to 118

For the next seven to eight years, I basically just ignored my cholesterol.  I knew it was high but didn’t want to think about it.

As part of my health turn around a few years ago, processed foods, sugar, and dairy were all but eliminated.  Other than an occasional wild fish, everything had to be real food high in fiber.

It was basically the ultra high fiber version of the traditional Mediterranean Diet.  Almost immediately, my  cholesterol dropped. Without even a single medicine, it went from 211 to 118.

Lifestyle vs. Genes

While we all have “bad genes,” fortunately lifestyle trumps genes.  Indeed, studies show that only about 20% of our health, happiness, and longevity is determined by our genes.  The other 80% is entirely from the little health decisions you make every day.

The Nigerian Paradox

This finding that lifestyle beats out genes could explain the Nigerian Paradox.  The Nigerians are known to have the highest rates of the ApoE4 gene but yet also have very low cholesterol.

How can this be?

The answer comes from their lifestyle.  At the time of this study in 1989, the Nigerians were still physically active and ate a mostly plant-based real food diet.  Interestingly, studies show that not only was their cholesterol low but heart disease and Alzheimer’s Disease were also incredibly rare.

Studies show that even in nearby Uganda, heart disease is virtually nonexistent.  To prove this, researchers had to autopsy the hearts of 1,427 older adults, to even find one person with a mild case of heart disease.

Sadly, once Africans with the ApoE4 gene emigrate to the U.S., and adopt a Western lifestyle, everything changes.  Their cholesterol shoots up and heart disease and Alzheimer’s Disease soon follow.

The Confusion About Cholesterol

While there is a lot of confusion on the Internet about cholesterol, if you look at the scientific literature there is no confusion.  Cholesterol is an important risk factor for heart disease.

However, not every heart attack comes from a cholesterol plaque.  Cholesterol is just one of many risk factors for heart disease.

For example, your cholesterol naturally drops when you are sick.  If you measured cholesterol levels in ICU (intensive care unit) patients, you would see very low numbers.  Despite this, ICU patients are at high risk of a heart attack while in the ICU.

Even something as simple as a respiratory tract infection or a urinary tract infection can significantly increase your risk of heart attack.  Studies show that even losing an hour of sleep, like what happens every year with daylight savings time in the U.S., can trigger a heart attack.

Basically, anytime your body is under stress, regardless of your cholesterol level, you are at risk of a heart attack.

Will low cholesterol protect you from heart disease?

Studies show that Chinese or Africans with a traditional lifestyle (plant-based real food with high levels of physical activity), tend to have a total cholesterol naturally below 150 mg/dL.  Studies also show that these people don’t get heart disease.

Does their low cholesterol protect them from heart disease?  Or is their healthy lifestyle?

I suspect both are true.  Of course, once they emigrate to the U.S., and adopt a Western lifestyle, their risk is no different than anyone else.

3 Ways to Lower Cholesterol: Better than Drugs

Based on medical science, here are my three best natural ways to lower cholesterol.  All three have been proven to work better than the “statin” cholesterol lowering drugs.

1. Mediterranean Diet

Contrary to popular belief, the Mediterranean Diet is not an all you can eat pizza and pasta diet.  Rather, the traditional Mediterranean Diet is a plant-based real food diet with some fish.  In other words, you eat mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil, legumes, and real whole grains.

How well does the traditional Mediterranean Diet work to lower cholesterol?

Based on studies, the traditional Mediterranean Diet may lower your bad cholesterol (LDL) by about 10%.  However, not only is the LDL reduced, but the LDL is also changed to a less dangerous form.

While the Mediterranean Diet may not lower cholesterol as much as a statin drug, it may be better at preventing heart disease.  Indeed, a recent study showed that even in people with heart disease, the Mediterranean Diet was more protective than statins.

2. Ultra High Fiber Diet

Do you want to know the real secret to lower cholesterol?  Eat more fiber.

Even though the U.S. government only recommends a mere 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat (28 grams of fiber daily based on a 2,000 calorie diet), the typical American can only get about 15 grams.  These 15 grams are a far cry from the 100+ grams of fiber that studies show our hunter-gatherer ancestors used to eat each day.

A few years ago, researchers wanted to know what would happen to cholesterol levels if you ate 100+ grams of fiber each day.  For two weeks, study volunteers ate more than 100 grams of fiber each day.  Fiber supplements were not allowed.

After just two weeks, they dropped their LDL, or bad cholesterol, by 33%.  This is more than what you see with statin cholesterol lowering drugs.

Even more impressive, other studies have shown that for every 7 more grams of fiber you can eat daily, you can drop your heart disease risk by 9%.  If this study hold true, then eating 100 or more grams of fiber each day essentially eliminates your risk of heart disease.

While I shoot for 100 grams of fiber each day from real food, I’m still not there.  For the last year, my daily average was only 86.71 grams.  If you want to track your own fiber intake, there great apps like Healthwatch 360, My Fitness Pal, Lose It to help you.

It goes without saying that you can’t prevent heart disease with fiber supplements.  You have to eat real food.  If you are not used to eating fiber, talk to your doctor first.  It may take time for your gut to get used to digesting fiber.

3. High Levels of Physical Activity

As with the Mediterranean Diet, exercise does so  much more than lower cholesterol.  For example, exercise moves LDL out of your arteries into your liver.

Also, like with the Mediterranean Diet, exercise changes the structure of cholesterol.  Rather than the small and dense forms of LDL, which can lodge in an artery, exercise changes it to the benign big and fluffy forms.

Finally, as with the Mediterranean Diet, studies show that exercise lowers your bad cholesterol by around 10%.  However, when it comes to preventing heart disease deaths, exercise beats statin drugs.

For example, in one study, Stanford University researchers compared the effects of exercise versus statins in preventing premature death.  As part of this study, researchers recruited 10,043 middle-aged veterans with high cholesterol.

After following these veterans for 10 years, researchers found that the physically fit veterans with high cholesterol were 47% less likely to die prematurely.  In contrast, veterans just taking statins were only 33% less likely to die prematurely.

How physically do you have to be?  In order to drop your risk of dying prematurely by 47%, you had to be fit enough to sustain a 9 MET (metabolic equivalent) workout.

Exercise above the 9 MET level includes running (not jogging), aggressive swimming, a boot camp or CrossFit class at the gym, bicycling up mountains, or competitive soccer/basketball.  Of course, if you are not used to exercising at this level, speak with your doctor first.

Take Home Message

The main take away is that a healthy lifestyle not only keeps your cholesterol low but also protects you against heart disease.

If you are on a statin cholesterol lowering drug, do not stop your medication.  Also, if you already have heart disease, you will probably be on a statin for life.

However, if the statin is for ‘prevention,” then work with your doctor to lower your cholesterol naturally.  If you can get it low naturally then the statin will no longer be needed.

Do you have high cholesterol?  How have you lowered your cholesterol?

Please leave your comments and questions below.  I will do my best to answer every question.  Also, please be sure to subscribe to my free weekly newsletter and podcast so that you never miss a thing.