#037 How to Overcome Emotional Eating

September 22nd, 2014 by

I can find all sorts of reasons to eat. I don’t even need to be hungry!

Just this afternoon, I finished a very healthy and satisfying lunch, and it was time to go back to work. My first thought was, “I’m going to head out to the garage freezer and see if we have any chocolate out there.”

Having quite a bit of experience with this faulty thought process, I caught myself and asked, “Jane, are you really hungry?”

The answer: “No.”

“What do you really need right now?”

The answer: “I am tired but I feel I need to get back to work. I have so much to do. Instead of giving myself permission to rest for a few minutes, which is what I really need, I thought I’d try eating some chocolate and keep going.”

Aha! The truth!

I decided that I would honor my real need to rest for 20 minutes before I went back to work and assured myself that I could eat the chocolate later, if I still wanted it.

Rejuvenated, I went back to work, and made it through the rest of the day without feeling any pull from the chocolate.

This week, in our seminar, we explored the false promises of these sugary and fake foods.  They tell us that they will meet our needs, when really they just make us want more of them and less of what our minds and bodies really need.

When we look beyond the confusion of the labels and marketing of fake food products, it’s crystal clear that simply eating real food when we are hungry is the way to nourish our bodies.

So, why can’t we implement this knowledge and eat only real food only when we’re hungry?

Why are we lured in by these fake food products, often when we’re not even hungry?

The Top Ten Reasons We Eat

Here are ten of our favorite reasons to eat.  Do any of these sound familiar to you?

1. I am tired

I am tired, so I think I’ll eat something.

2. I am procrastinating

I don’t want to do this, so I think I’ll eat something.”

3. I am happy

I am happy! Let’s eat!

4. I am sad

“I don’t want to deal with these feelings, so I think I’ll eat something

5. I am thirsty and need water

My body is sending me a signal that it needs something, I’d better eat.

6. I am with people

Here we all are with all this great food! Let’s eat!

7. I am alone

I am alone—no one will see me eat this.

-OR-

“I am lonely, maybe eating something will make me feel better.

8. I feel stuck

I don’t see any other way to meet my needs right now, what can I eat to feel better?

9. I see food

Oh, that looks good! I wasn’t even hungry, but I think I’ll have just one.

Our seminar participants came up with many more favorites, including: I’m bored, It’s family tradition, I’m stressed, I’m rewarding myself….

But, here’s the one real reason to eat that will actually meet our needs:

10. I am hungry

I am looking forward to a nutritious, satisfying meal.

Separating the Truth from the Lies

Here’s the lie in the first nine (or so) reasons to eat:

I can fix the problems in my life or make the good things better in my life by eating.

We can eat and eat and eat until we feel stuffed, but are never satisfied. Eating for these reasons can never satisfy us because we are not addressing the real issues.

Here’s the truth in the last reason, number 10–eating because we are hungry:

“My body is ready for nourishment. I am going to honor it and give it what it needs. I am going to be satisfied because I am eating for true hunger and giving it real food.

When I eat for any reason other than hunger, more often than not, I turn to the fake and sugary foods which lie to my brain and lie to my body that they can meet my needs and that what I really need is more of these “foods.”

How to Interrupt the Cycle

The key to interrupting this cycle and developing healthier behaviors is to become aware of the cues that precede our reach for the unhealthy/unnecessary stuff, insert ourselves by asking a few questions, and provide ourselves with a different option that satisfies our true needs.

The last chapter of Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit offers a helpful formula. I highly recommend this fascinating collection of stories and case studies, which illuminates how habits develop and the enormous consequences that can result.

I also highly recommend Susan Albers’ Eating Mindfully for an in-depth exploration of the habits that trap us in emotional eating cycles and strategies to return to mindful eating.

Here are the three questions I’ve learned to ask myself when I feel the urge to grab something to eat:

  1. Am I hungry–do I feel like eating real food?

If I am thinking about eating fake sugary food items, and I can’t think of something healthy and nourishing that I want to eat, the chances are high that I am looking to eat for reasons other than true hunger.

  1. What do I need right now?

If I can’t think of something nourishing that I want to eat, I can ask myself what I am actually feeling and needing. More often than not, I am feeling tired or procrastinating doing something I know I need to do but don’t want to do.

  1. What options can I give myself?

When I want to reach for junk food, I am usually in a situation where I feel I can’t meet my needs otherwise—usually at work. But there is always something I can do to interrupt this cycle. If I am tired, I can close my eyes and breath for a few moments and commit to giving myself time to rest or meditate when I finish a project. If I am looking for distraction, I can set a time for 5 minutes, go on a walk, listen to a podcast, call a friend, etc..

In each case, I can interrupt the cue-reward cycle with a question and an option. Then, I can invite myself to wait until I am actually hungry to eat and offer myself real food first.

Taking a minute to check in by asking myself these questions and giving myself other options dissolves the seeming desperate urge to eat foods I don’t need and enables the overall health and well-being I desire–one mindful choice at a time.

Please share with us! What have you found to be most helpful as you strive to eat mindfully?

#033 Seven Strategies for Healthy Fast Food

September 8th, 2014 by

After our class this week on adapting the principles of China’s Longevity Village to our lives and the choices we face in eating real healthy food vs. fake unhealthy food (which turns out to be what most of us Americans are eating most of the time), a mom came up to me and asked: “I have just one question. What foods can you actually feed your family?”

We all want to eat healthy, but we often don’t know how, or don’t have time or the will. I have found seven simple strategies that I share here in the hopes that they can help you eat and enjoy more real food.

I love the food I eat. Everyday I throw a few healthy ingredients together and end up with something delicious and different every time.

I rarely follow recipes because I’m usually in a hurry and already hungry. By having real foods all ready to throw in, I can successfully make real food both fast and delicious.

Cooking for others has always been one of my greatest fears. Quite frankly, I’d rather stand up in front of a large audience and give a talk than cook for a handful of people.

Because I have traditionally felt so inadequate in the culinary arena, writing this article takes some courage for me. However, I have found many things that enable me to make real food taste good quickly. I hope that what I share will spark some new ideas and make real food easy for you to prepare and delicious for you eat.

I must say that on the occasions I do prepare food for my friends, they tell me that it tastes superb and they ask for the recipes. Sometimes I wonder: “Are they just trying to make me feel good?” But in reality, I don’t think this is the case because I truly find these foods delicious myself.

Let me apologize up front—I don’t measure. I won’t be able to give you quantities. But I can give you some strategies and ideas to run with on your own.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll find that this approach can work for you even better than providing you with a basic recipe!

Seven Strategies for Making Real Healthy Food Easy to Eat

1. Wash, cut up and store veggies in easy to access containers as soon as you bring them home. This makes the veggies easy to eat as is or throw in a dish. Some may worry that the veggies could go bad more quickly. But think about it–you’ll be eating them more quickly too.

2. Always have a quick healthy protein ready. Soak, cook and store a large batch or two of beans or legumes in the fridge that can be mixed into last minute dishes. Also keep on hand tofu, nuts, seeds, wild low-mercury frozen fish (i.e. salmon), pasture-fed organic eggs, grass-fed organic meats in moderation, if desired.

3. Make a soup or a chili each week. These keep well for many days and can be used as sauces and combined with other dishes.

4. When you make a dish, make it in bulk. Save leftovers in small glass containers which can be packed easily the next day for lunches. This saves so much time and provides healthy meals at or away from home for days.

5. Pack healthy foods with you everywhere you go. As it can be so hard to find healthy foods, and so hard to resist the unhealthy ones when you’re hungry, taking your own food can be a life-saver. Nuts keep well and satisfy as a healthy protein and fat. We also love nut butters on sprouted grain (flourless) toast.Cut up fruits and veggies in a portable container work well on a daily basis.

6. Don’t hesitate to eat your stir-fries and salads for breakfast. A vegetable, healthy protein, and fruit is standard fare with our breakfast each day. On a recent trip, a close family member saw us all eating a spinach salad for breakfast and asked, “What kind of food is that for a breakfast?” It’s one that gets us off to a good start for eating real food first and feeling great! It can really help stave off the desire for the junkier kinds of foods.

7. Reach for your real foods first when hungry. Having healthy foods and healthy dishes readily available makes it just as easy to grab something healthy as it is to grab junk food.

Speaking of junk food, lest I give you the wrong impression, we are still a work in progress. We still have some of the packaged, processed foods in our home, and we still eat them. But I will tell you this: the availability of real foods now dramatically outweighs the processed foods and the real foods get eaten much more frequently than the processed foods. Onward and upward!

Healthy Ingredients I Stock in My Kitchen
(Keep it simple. Just start with your favorites.)

Dry beans and legumes (organic dried in bulk, and bpa-free canned): mung beans, garbonzos, black beans, pintos, cannellini, navy or other white beans, lentils, split peas, etc.

Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, brazil nuts (high in selenium), chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.

Nut butters (organic): peanut, almond, cashew, walnut, pecan, macadamia, sunflower seed, etc.

Whole grains (organic in bulk): Oat groats, barley, kamut, millet, amaranth, spelt, rye, buckwheat, wheat, thick rolled oats, etc.

Vegetables (organic—wash, cut and store for quick and easy use): Onions, garlic, kale, spinach, other leafy greens, cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower, bell peppers, celery, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, etc.

Fruits (organic–priority on in season/local fruits): Berries, oranges, apples, pineapple, watermelon, red grapes, kiwi, pomegranates, bananas, tomatoes, avocados, lemons, limes, etc.

Spices: Cinnamon, cumin, cloves, garlic, curry, tumeric, etc., I especially love spices such as Chinese Five Spice, Indian Kitchen King, or Mediterranean Herbs de Provence that have the right combinations all ready to go.

Herbs (dried and fresh when possible): Basil, parsley, rosemary, dill, cilantro, etc.

Vinegars/cooking wines: White vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, tarragon vinegar, white cooking wine, dry sherry cooking wine, etc.

Other sauces: Braggs amino acids, low sodium soy sauce, hot sauce, organic tomato sauce (I like the Whole Foods 365 All natural fat free brand), mustard, homemade hummus, vegetable broth, vegetable boullion, apple sauce, etc.

Bread/Tortillas/Pasta: Organic, sprouted grain (no flour) breads, buns, tortillas and pastas such as Ezekiel or Food for Life brands

Milks and Dairy (organic): Almond, soy, cow, coconut, plain yogurt, pasture-raised eggs, etc.

More Healthy Proteins: Frozen Wild Alaskan Salmon, canned Wild Alaskan Salmon, grass-fed organic meats, tofu, frozen organic beans, etc.

Kitchen Tools that Make It Easier to Eat Real Healthy Foods
(Use what you have and slowly add as you go)

Over the 21 years that John and I have been married, we’ve invested in a few solid, high quality kitchen tools. From my perspective, these tools completely pay for themselves, as they make it easy to create healthy dishes quickly, and avert the desire to reach for the overly-processed, less-healthy alternatives which can lead to higher costs in health in long-run.

1. Blendtec, Vitamix or other high quality grinder
2. Wondermill or other high quality grinder
3. Bosch or other high quality mixer
4. Nesco Dehydrator or other high quality brand
5. Nesco Pressure Cooker or other brand
6. Ceramic dutch oven
7. Lemon/lime Juicer
8. Citrus Zester

The tool we use the most is our industrial quality blender, which allows us to quickly make great soups, sauces, smoothies, batters, nut butters…you name it. It has been well worth the investment for us.

Jane's Southwest Salad

Jane’s Southwest Salad

Healthy Food Recipe: Fresh Organic Southwest Salad
(Without measurements—It’s ok! Try it!)

Here’s a delicious and satisfying organic salad that I threw together last week with the ingredients I had on hand:

Black beans
Corn
Diced celery
Diced red onion
Halved cherry tomatoes
Barley (cooked al dente—this I had cooked in bulk and stored in my fridge to add to many dishes)
Fresh cilantro
Fresh lime juice
Lime zest—lots!
White balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

You get the idea. You can throw in anything you have—you can change the vegetables to cucumbers, broccoli, kale, carrots, add avocadoes…you can switch the beans/legumes to garbanzos, lentils, cannellini… you can adapt the dressing to lemon, lemon zest and garlic….you can vary the herbs to basil and parsley…whatever you have in stock.

The key is to keep healthy foods all around you, make them easy to access, prepare them in bulk, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Just grab whatever healthy ingredients you can find and create any combinations you desire.

Please help me and all those reading! Please share your real food recipes and tips with all of us in the comment box below.

Here’s to a week filled with real food, real living and real happiness! Cheers! Jane

#030 The Top 10 Benefits of Dark Chocolate

September 1st, 2014 by

The Top 10 Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Did you know that chocolate could improve your cognitive function and increase your chances of winning a Nobel Prize?  Sounds strange, but these were the conclusions of a study published in the most prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine.

As a recovering sugar addict, my new vice is dark chocolate.  I especially like it with almonds; the darker the chocolate the better.  Fortunately for me and for those of you who share this love of dark chocolate, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of medical studies supporting the idea that dark chocolate, in moderation, can be a healthy vice.

In this article I will discuss the pros and cons of dark chocolate and health.

Which dark chocolate is best? 

The higher the percentage of cacao the better.  To have any health benefits, dark chocolate needs to be at least 60% cacao (ideally 70% or higher).

Unfortunately, milk chocolate is not good for you as the cacao percentage is low and it contains mostly sugar.  Likewise, there are no health benefits from white chocolate.

Remember that chocolate is high in calories and even dark chocolate has added sugar.  Read the dark chocolate labels closely as the World Health Organization has recommended that the safe daily intake of sugar is approximately 25 grams each day.  The key is to only eat dark chocolate in moderation.

If you eat dark chocolate with carmel and other candy-like ingredients then it really just becomes candy and you are doing more harm than good.  Again, check the labels of dark chocolate with peanut butter or other fillings as they may contain transfats which can be deadly to the heart.  If you are going to eat dark chocolate, eat a pure form of it.

What quantity of dark chocolate is considered “moderate?”

One square of a bar, or about one ounce per day (definitely not the whole bar!), seems to be “moderate.”  In fact, in a study of nearly 20,000 people, there was a 39% reduction in heart attacks and strokes with dark chocolate consumption.  In this study, participants ate an average of about one square of a dark chocolate bar each day.

Naturally, the question arises: “What other factors may have been adjusted in this study population that could have contributed to this outcome?” This is always the challenge of doing clinical research.

For now, I’m hoping that the dark chocolate was a central factor.  If you want to read more about this study, click here.

If you like dark chocolate covered almonds, one ounce of dark chocolate is somewhere in the range of 8-12 pieces per day.  This is where I struggle. It is a challenge for me to stay within the framework that I need to.

The thing that keeps me honest is a food journal.  I record each chocolate almond I eat.  Otherwise, I’d be likely to eat the whole bag.

Is Dark Chocolate Healthy?

This study, which links dark chocolate consumption to heart attack and stroke reduction, adds to a growing body of evidence that dark chocolate, in moderate quantities, may indeed be heart healthy.  Below are additional benefits of dark chocolate based on medical studies.

1. Dark chocolate decreases your chance of cardiovascular disease by 39% as already discussed in this article.

2. Dark chocolate decreases your blood pressure by 1-3 mmHg.

3. Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants.

4. Dark chocolate improves arterial blood flow and may help to prevent plaque build up in the arteries.

5. Dark chocolate has a mild beneficial effect on cholesterol.

6 .Dark chocolate has a reasonable amount of protein, fiber, magnesium, iron, and zinc.

7. Dark chocolate may enhance mood, cognitive function, and memory.

8. Dark chocolate may help to keep your weight in check.

9. Dark chocolate may be anti-inflammatory.

10. Dark chocolate may increase your happiness.

Should you start eating dark chocolate for health reasons?

I would not recommend eating dark chocolate just for its health benefits.  For example, fruits and vegetables are packed with much more nutrition than dark chocolate.

However, if you have a sweet tooth or are a chocoholic, then having some dark chocolate in moderation can be a relatively guilt-free treat. Because I still experience strong sugar cravings, and am surrounded by sugary treats everywhere, eating dark chocolate is a compromise that helps me avoid giving in to less healthy alternatives.

This is a work in progress, and I’m sharing openly with you that this is where I currently am in my journey of sugar addiction recovery. I am finding the healthiest ways to make this work in my current daily environment.

My goal is to eliminate these cravings all together.  If I could give up any form of sugar, including dark chocolate, I know I could release the cravings all together.

I experienced this freedom from cravings when I lived in Asian communities such as Taiwan in the late 1980s and China’s Longevity Village in 2012 and 2013, where I did not have access to any “treats” of any kind.

What are the risks of dark chocolate?

Unfortunately, dark chocolate is not risk free.  Despite the benefits of dark chocolate, here is my list of potential health concerns with dark chocolate.

1. Dark chocolate is high in calories and contains added sugar.

2. Dark chocolate, or any form of chocolate, is highly addictive.

3. Caffeine.

For many of my patients, caffeine can trigger palpitations or other heart rhythm problems.  If caffeine triggers palpitations for you, you should avoid this. Also, the caffeine from dark chocolate can impair your sleep quality.

I have a strict rule that I never have any dark chocolate after 12 pm each day.  As long as I never have any dark chocolate after 12 pm I seem to sleep just fine at night.

It takes 4-6 hours for half of the caffeine to get out of your body.  Thus, if your bedtime is 10 pm, like mine, and you have some dark chocolate at 12 pm then about 25% of the caffeine will still be in your body when it is time to sleep (2 half lives).

4. Increased risk of kidney stones

5. Increased risk of acid reflux

If you suffer from kidney stones or acid reflux it would be best to minimize or avoid dark chocolate as well.

My Three Dark Chocolate Rules:

To help me “manage” dark chocolate, let me share with you my three rules.  Many of my patients have found these rules to be very helpful.

1. Limit the amount.

As dark chocolate is so addictive, it is absolutely critical to eat this in moderation.  Read the labels carefully.  In general, if you ensure that you never take in more than 25 grams of added sugar from any source, then your dark chocolate consumption will probably be reasonable.

2. The darker the better

Go for the real dark chocolate.  The higher the percentage of cacao the better.  My favorite is 80%.

3. Use dark chocolate to replace unhealthy sweets in your diet 

Probably the best use of dark chocolate is when it is used to replace unhealthy sweets in your diet.  Dark chocolate can be particularly effective when you are in a situation where you are surrounded by tasty sweets.  A little bit of dark chocolate can enable you to resist other foods that are more harmful to your body.

#029 Is the Low Sodium Diet Out? New Recommendations for Daily Sodium Intake

August 24th, 2014 by

More than half of us here in America have high blood pressure. In fact, 56% of us are above the ideal blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg, as established by the American Heart Association (AHA). High blood pressure leads to heart attacks, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, strokes, and kidney failure.

For years, we have been told to eat a low sodium diet. The American Heart Association (AHA) has recommended 1,500 mg, which is substantially less than one teaspoon per day. One teaspoon of salt has 2,300mg of sodium.

Despite these recommendations, the average American kept on eating an average of 3,400 mg of sodium each day. In fact, less than 1% of Americans could ever achieve the AHA goal.

Based on emerging new medical studies, it appears that following these AHA guidelines would not have helped us reduce our blood pressure as much as one might think. Also, new data indicates that perhaps this ultra low sodium diet is not the best for our long-term health either.

Sodium and High Blood Pressure

While medical studies do support that we can reduce our blood pressure with a low sodium diet, the results are not that impressive. The average person can drop their blood pressure only by about 5 mmHg with a low sodium diet.

As one who has suffered from high blood pressure and wanted to get off the medications, I thought the answer to lowering my blood pressure was to dramatically reduce my sodium. I reduced my sodium so much that all of my food tasted incredibly bland. In fact, it just was not pleasurable anymore.

Over time, I found that the answer to reducing my blood pressure came through significant weight loss, eating real food rather than processed food, reducing and managing my stress, and moving throughout the day. By doing these things, I was able to dramatically drop my blood pressure to 110/70 mmHg without medications.

Asian Paradox

Having been taught that a low sodium diet was critical to good cardiovascular health, I was always amazed at how many Asian cultures, such as Japan or China, could eat high salt diets, yet have much lower rates of heart disease. From my perspective, it did not add up.

Having spent time in Asia nearly every year of my adult life, I have made it a point to learn more about what they eat. On our last trip to China, my wife, Jane, spent the day with Mrs. Huang and her daughter-in-law cooking meals.

According to Mrs. Huang, the secret to making Chinese food taste great involved three simple ingredients: the right cooking oil, fresh garlic, and salt in one form or another.

Although I have preached a low sodium diet to my cardiology patients for years, I could never reconcile how the Japanese and Chinese can take in so much sodium through soy sauce and salt, in one form or another, but yet seem to avoid heart disease. I knew from medical studies that after Asians immigrate to the U.S., their rates of heart disease gradually approach those of other Americans.

Could it be possible that their diets, high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fish, in their native countries protect them from heart disease? Could it be possible that salt is not so harmful if it is added to real foods rather than eaten with processed foods?

I suspect that the real problem is not salt but rather processed foods. Interestingly, as more and more Asians are adopting the Western diet with processed foods, their rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are now dramatically increasing.

Medical Societies Can’t Agree on Daily Sodium Intake

The salt controversy really heated up in May of 2013 when the prestigious Institute of Medicine published their daily sodium intake recommendation. They specifically stated the following:

1. There was no compelling data to recommend less than 2,300 mg daily of sodium even in higher risk patients (those patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease).

2. They even raised the question that the AHA’s ultra low sodium recommendations may even cause harm.

The 2014 Sodium Controversy

The August 14,2014 issue of the most prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, there were three published articles all questioning the optimal daily sodium intake.

It is interesting to note that all three articles came to different conclusions. Amongst these data, I believe there is a middle ground when it comes to how much sodium per day is optimal. Moderation, not dramatic reduction, is the answer when it comes to daily sodium intake.

Take Home Message on Daily Sodium Intake

1. The ultra low sodium diet is out.

Most experts now recommend a more moderate approach to daily sodium intake. Even though the data seems to be mounting against the AHA’s ultra low sodium recommendations of 1,500 mg/day, the AHA holds strong to their current guidelines. I project that, in time, they will adjust their sodium guidelines, as they did with their ultra low-fat, high-carb diet recommendations.

2. The right amount of daily sodium seems to be about 2,300 mg

Approximately 2,300 mg per day seems to provide the right balance between health and good tasting food. I have carefully tracked my own daily sodium intake. As long as I steer clear of processed foods, fast foods, or most restaurant foods, I find that I can add the desired amount of salt to real food and stay at about 2,300 mg per day.

3. Minimize eating out and processed foods

For most Americans, achieving the moderate sodium recommendations will require significantly cutting back on eating out and processed foods, as 50% of what we eat is processed or restaurant-prepared. The problem is not the saltshaker itself, but rather, who is adding the salt to the food you eat.

Indeed, 80% of the sodium we consume each day is from eating out or from processed foods. Only 20% of our daily sodium intake comes from the salt shaker.

Do you know how much sodium you are getting?

Take back your control. Start today and for one week, do these two things:

1) Read food labels.

It is easy to verify the appropriate sodium percentages, as 2,300 mg is the recommended daily allowance listed on the food labels.

2) Return to real foods.

Make it a point to eat out less and prepare real food at home more. Preparing your own simple, real foods could easily drop your average daily sodium intake of 3,400 mg to 2,300 mg, improving your overall health.

What has worked for you in maintaining a healthy blood pressure? We’d love to hear from you.

#028 How to Prevent Weight Gain After Eating a Big Meal or Junk Food

August 18th, 2014 by

How to Prevent Weight Gain After Eating a Big Meal or Junk Food

What should you do if you just ate way too much? Most of us follow this unhealthy behavior with yet another unhealthy behavior: sitting. In our western culture, we were often taught to rest after a meal to allow the body a chance to digest the food.  Could this be the wrong advice? How can you prevent weight gain after eating a big meal or the wrong carbs?

The Chinese have a famous saying, “Take 100 steps after eating and live to 99” or 饭后百步走,活到九十九 (Fan hou bai bu zou, huo dao jiu shi jiu).  This concept of going for a walk after eating is part of Chinese culture and helps to explain why obesity rates are so much lower in Asia.

My study of the Chinese language and travel to China for cardiac conference lectures, over the last 32 years, finally led me to discover China’s Longevity Village where people are living exceptionally long, healthy lives.  In this village, we noticed that people regularly took walks after eating.  Seeing the Chinese walk after meals prompted my curiosity about the potential health benefits, and I began to research the science behind it.

The Glucose and Insulin Spikes

One of the primary hormones involved in hunger and weight gain is insulin.  When we eat the simple carbs, such as “healthy” whole wheat bread, processed foods, cereals, pasta, crackers, white rice, fruit juice, sports drinks, soda pop, pastries, sugar, etc., it causes a spike in our blood glucose.  The blood sugar spike from these simple carbs, or what I like to call the “hunger carbs,” then leads to a spike in insulin.

Simple Carbs –> High blood glucose –> High insulin –> Hunger and weight gain

When high insulin levels are coursing through our blood from overeating or eating the hunger carbs (i.e., junk food), it then causes our fat cells to grow and multiply by taking up all of the excess glucose.  Insulin is what causes our cells to pull the glucose out of the blood.  Once this happens, blood glucose levels drop, and we are hungry again.

If you ask someone you know with diabetes taking insulin they will likely tell you that they gained weight after going on insulin.  Insulin is the critical hormone for making fat (weight gain) and plays a dominant role in driving us to eat more.  The goal is to naturally keep our glucose and insulin levels as low as possible without any drugs.

Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

Of course, the best way to prevent this in the first place is not to overeat or eat the hunger carbs.  While “carbs” have been demonized recently in popular health books, healthy carbs such as those found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils are an essential part of a healthy diet and in preventing diseases.  These healthy carbs or filling carbs don’t result in a significant sugar rise as they are slowly digested, from all of the fiber they contain, in the gut.

Also, some intact whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice can also be a good source of healthy carbs in our diet.  The primary problem with carbohydrates is flour.  Flour is nothing more than sugar to our bodies.

If you enjoy bread, as I do, try eating bread like Ezekiel, Trader Joe’s flourless bread, or Paleo Bread from Whole Foods.  Flourless or almond bread is slowly absorbed and doesn’t result in the big sugar and insulin surges.

What should I overeat or eat the hunger carbs?

If you slip up and overeat or give into junk food, which is normal, I recommend following the advice of the Chinese and go for a nice walk as soon as you finish eating.  This can help to minimize the damage.

What is the physiologic basis to walking after a meal?

After a big meal or eating junk food we get a big surge of glucose or sugar in our blood.  When this happens we can either wait for our body to bring down these toxic levels of blood sugar with insulin or we can quickly drop our blood sugar levels ourselves with exercise.

Our muscles need glucose to function.  When we exercise or go for a walk, the large muscles in our legs quickly extract the sugar from our blood stream.  When this happens, it prevents the insulin spikes and steals the sugar from going into the fat cells.

Glucose Storage in Muscle

Glucose is stored in muscle as glycogen.  As we need glucose when exercising, the body can store about 90 minutes of exercise fuel (glycogen) in the muscles.  This roughly translates to about 2,000 calories.

When our glycogen fuel tanks are full, the excess glucose has to go somewhere else.  However, if we can deplete these glycogen fuel tanks right after a meal then there is a place, other than making body fat, for any excess glucose from a meal to go.

Does Taking a Walk After Eating Really Work?

In a fascinating study, Dr. Loretta DiPietro from George Washington University showed that in a group of diabetic patients, a brisk 15-minute walk after each meal could prevent blood glucose spikes.  Moreover, these three 15-minute walks after each meal were shown to be much more impactful than a single 45-minute walk.

The principle is the same for us.  Walk after a meal to prevent blood glucose and insulin rises.  If we can keep our blood sugar and insulin as low as possible naturally, without any medications, we can prevent insulin from causing weight gain.  We can put the excess glucose from a big meal or junk food into our muscles instead of into our belly fat.

Timing of Meals and Exercise to Weight Gain

The concept of taking a walk after eating brings up another question.  Does it matter when we eat or exercise with respect to weight gain?

If you are like me, you were probably taught to never eat before working out.  While most of us have probably experienced the stomach cramps that come with exercising on a full stomach, could it be possible to moderately eat before exercising as a way to keep your weight in check?  After all, elite endurance athletes eat during all day long endurance competitions without problems.

One attractive feature to exercising after eating is that you can prevent the glucose/insulin spike.  Without the glucose/insulin spike we can help to prevent our fat cells from growing.

While there is not much data on this approach in humans, recent studies in rats suggest that exercising after eating can have a powerful weight loss effect.  Not only did the animals who exercised after eating lose weight but they also gained more muscle mass.  Could exercising after we eat grow our muscles rather than our bellies?

Practical Tips

Certainly, exercising or going for a walk after eating is not a license to eat whatever you want.  Unfortunately, it just does not work that way.  You simply cannot out train a bad diet.  In the end, for most people a bad diet will eventually wreck your health, regardless of how much you exercise, just like it did to me.

Based on these data and the teachings of the Chinese, I now try to walk or do something physical after most meals.  Could the Chinese be right after all?  Could a walk after eating be just what you need to prevent weight gain?

What one habit will you change to help you get moving more after you eat? Write it down. Try it for one week and document how you feel.  Together, we can lift one another in our quest to navigate the challenges of this society and take back our power to live well.

#027 Do You Have Any of These 12 Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms?

August 11th, 2014 by

Do you have any of these 12 magnesium deficiency symptoms?

You probably have no idea that you are currently suffering from magnesium deficiency. Indeed, studies show that up to 89% of Americans are magnesium deficient.  Read on to see if you have any of these 12 magnesium deficiency symptoms.

Jill’s Experience

Jill was a 45-year-old woman suffering from a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation. It made no sense why someone so young should develop this heart condition as she didn’t have any of the usual atrial fibrillation risk factors.

The only tip-off as to the cause of her atrial fibrillation was that she was taking Prilosec for acid reflux, Lasix occasionally for leg swelling, and she was eating the “Standard American Diet.” Even though her magnesium levels came back normal on her blood test, I suspected a magnesium deficiency as the cause of her heart problem.

Interestingly, once I convinced her to replace all added sugars and processed foods with real foods which included a massive salad every day, she immediately lost 20 pounds without even trying. In no time at all her acid reflux was gone and she was off the Prilosec. Also, with no added sugars or processed foods, her legs no longer swelled so there was no further need of diuretics.

Best of all, she felt better than she had ever felt and her atrial fibrillation went away. As she made many lifestyle changes, it was impossible to know what exactly drove her atrial fibrillation into remission.

However, in my mind, I’m sure replacing her magnesium stores played a role. Continue reading to figure out how she boosted her magnesium stores.

Can you test for magnesium deficiency?

While you can test for magnesium deficiency, you probably don’t want the test your doctor orders. The reason for this is because the standard magnesium test only measures the magnesium in your blood.

As 99% of your magnesium is not freely floating around in your blood but rather is inside of your cells and bones, you need a better test for magnesium deficiency. Of the various ways to test for magnesium deficiency, probably the best is the RBC magnesium test. The RBC magnesium test measures the amount of magnesium inside of your red blood cells.

Who is at risk for magnesium deficiency?

Many things contribute to magnesium deficiency. For example, if you are under a lot of stress, you likely are not absorbing much magnesium from your food.  Those who love drinking filtered or bottled water also aren’t getting much magnesium. And processed foods are notorious for being completely absent of magnesium.

Other conditions contributing to magnesium deficiency include being overweight, diabetic, or over age 60. Likewise, many prescription medications like diuretics or acid-blocking medications are also keeping your magnesium levels dangerously low.

Do you have any of these 12 magnesium deficiency symptoms?

1. Weight Gain/Diabetes

When you don’t get enough magnesium in your food and water, it can cause glucose and insulin levels to rise.  When insulin levels are high, you may suffer from food cravings.  Unfortunately, these food cravings are generally for sugar or processed carbohydrates which lead to further weight gain.

2. Fatigue and Muscle Weakness

Magnesium is a critical component of energy production in the body.  In fact, the body’s energy molecule, ATP, is created through magnesium dependent chemical reactions.

If you are tired all the time, you are probably magnesium deficient.  Likewise, if your muscles are weak, you may also not be getting enough magnesium.

3. Anxiety

People under high levels of mental or physical stress, poorly absorb magnesium from the gastrointestinal tract. Contributing to a downward spiral, magnesium deficiency is a significant cause of anxiety.  Fortunately, studies show that restoring the magnesium may help in the treatment of anxiety.

4. Insomnia

Having enough magnesium balances out your stress hormones.  Magnesium also helps the body maintain sufficient melatonin and other sleep hormones.  Indeed, magnesium supplementation has been shown to help with sleep.

5. Depression

Magnesium deficiency and depression go hand in hand.  Low magnesium stores lead to depression and people suffering from depression are more likely to eat a diet low in magnesium.

6. Dental Cavities or Osteoporosis

Dental cavities and osteoporosis are two more signs of magnesium deficiency.  Magnesium affects vitamin D metabolism and osteocalcin which play a vital role in bone turnover and formation.

Ironically, if you are taking calcium supplements for osteoporosis, you may be making matters worse. Calcium supplementation can throw off your calcium/magnesium balance.

7. Constipation

If you suffer from constipation you probably are magnesium deficient.  Magnesium in any form is an excellent laxative.

8. Muscle Cramps or Migraine Headaches

Do you suffer from leg cramps, eye twitches, or muscle spasms?  Do you get frequent headaches? These may all be magnesium deficiency symptoms.

9. Inflammation, Arthritis, or Autoimmune Diseases

If you suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis or autoimmune diseases, you may be magnesium deficient.  Studies have linked magnesium deficiency to arthritis and elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) blood tests.

10. Palpitations, Heart Attacks, Heart Failure, or Cardiac Arrest

Most forms of heart disease are linked to magnesium deficiency.  This mineral is critical to optimal cardiac function.

11. Thyroid Problems

Thyroid problems are widespread in the U.S.  Research suggests that many thyroid issues may be due to magnesium deficiency.

12. Cancer

Cancer may be a wake-up call that magnesium levels are low. Magnesium is a critical nutrient for many DNA repair mechanisms.   As new cancer cells are created every day in your body, you need your DNA repair mechanism functioning optimally.

Magnesium in Our Water

Our ancestors used to get large amounts of magnesium just from their drinking water.  Mountain spring water is naturally high in magnesium.  Unfortunately, many municipalities remove magnesium as part of their water treatment process.

If you want to see how much magnesium is in your drinking water, click here.  In general, the “harder” your water, the more magnesium you are getting.

Interestingly, drinking hard water may lower your risk of heart disease.  If you happen to live in a city with naturally hard water, you can get up to 30% of the magnesium you need each day from water.

Unfortunately, water softeners, water filters, reverse osmosis devices, and bottled water are generally all depleted of magnesium.  If you drink any of these magnesium depleted water types, you have to get 100% of your magnesium from food.

Magnesium in Our Food

Once upon a time, our soil contained much more magnesium.  Unfortunately, modern agriculture has stripped this essential mineral from the ground.  Processed foods are even worse when it comes to magnesium content.

Fortunately, organically grown produce has been shown to have up to 29% more magnesium.  To get enough magnesium in your diet, make sure you eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, especially spinach, nuts, seeds, and legumes every day.  To see a breakdown of which foods contain the most magnesium click here.

Can you get too much magnesium?

In general, it is very tough to get too much magnesium from your food and water unless you have kidney disease.  Certainly, it is possible to get too much magnesium if you are taking supplements.

How much magnesium do you need each day?

The recommended daily amount of magnesium varies depending on your gender and age. Assuming there are no problems with magnesium absorption, you need about 400 mg of magnesium each day. If you can get at least 400 mg of magnesium daily from your water and food, you can start to enjoy the health benefits of magnesium.

Magnesium in China’s Longevity Village

As you know, we have been studying the residents of China’s Longevity Village for many years.  We have found that these people do not suffer from magnesium deficiency symptoms.

The mountain spring water they drink is extremely hard and packed full of essential minerals.  Researchers suggest that these people get up to 50% of their magnesium just from the water.

Also, modern agriculture has yet to put a stake in the ground in this rural area of China.  Thus, the soil is extremely high in magnesium and other minerals.

Their diet, which is very high in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans, only further augments the magnesium they are getting every day.  We suspect that the magnesium in their food and water may be a major reason why heart disease is very uncommon, and people live to old ages free of chronic medical conditions.

To learn more about why China’s Longevity Village has the highest known concentration of centenarians in the world, please be sure to pick up a copy of our new book, The Longevity Plan.

How can you correct magnesium deficiency?

Let me give you five simple steps to correct magnesium deficiency.

1. Drink hard or mineral water.

2. Eat a heaping salad with spinach, nuts, seeds, and legumes daily. 

3. Embrace the stress in your life.

4. Talk with your doctor about magnesium supplements.

5. Talk with your doctor about medications that may be contributing to your magnesium deficiency like diuretics, acid reducing medications, or calcium supplements.

Practical Tips

As 89% of Americans are magnesium deficient, there is a high likelihood that you may be one of them. Fortunately, magnesium deficiency is easy to correct.

I know I used to be one of these people. Before my health transformation, I required Prilosec daily for acid reflux, ate the Standard American Diet, and was always stressed. These three things alone probably put me also into a state of magnesium deficiency.

Now, in addition to eating a diet very high in magnesium, I have found that taking a magnesium supplement before bed helps me to sleep. Indeed, medical studies show that magnesium supplementation is an effective treatment for insomnia.

If you suspect you may have a magnesium deficiency as well, correct anything that can be fixed to boost your magnesium stores. Also, speak with your physician about whether a magnesium supplement might be right for you.

If you enjoyed this article, please be sure to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter and podcast. Also, to learn the secret to fantastic health at any age, please be sure to read our new book, The Longevity Plan.

#024 Food Rules by Jane Day

August 4th, 2014 by

In the cereal aisle, I overheard a mother telling her child, “You can have this cereal, or this one, or this one.” The child countered, “Can I have this one?”

“No,” The mother replied, “but you can have this one.”

I looked up to see her pointing to a box of sugary chocolate puffed cereal.

I paused, intrigued. By what criteria was this mom making her selections?

Pretending to be busily evaluating the cereal boxes myself, I continued to listen as the tension increased between the mom and the boy of about 10 years in age.

Finally, her food rule was revealed. “Look, we’re going gluten-free, so you’re going to have to pick one of these gluten-free cereals.”

Why was I so intrigued by this scenario?

Because I saw myself in it. Over my lifetime, I have placed a lot of “food rules” on myself. At one time, my “rule” was “fat-free” or “reduced-fat.” As long as a food met this criterion, I could happily consume it.

Do you remember SnackWells fat-free cookies in the green box? I was in heaven when those appeared on the shelves.

Never-mind that they were loaded with sugar and other mysterious ingredients; they were “fat-free,” and thus permissible.

Were you as excited as I was when fat-free Olestra made its debut? This ingredient in fat-free Pringles and other chips was marketed as the answer to eating our chips without all the fat.

It wasn’t long before I, and others, discovered that something about this ingredient didn’t agree with our bodies. It was removed from the market almost as quickly as it came on.

During this era of “if it’s fat-free, it’s ok,” John’s brother, Mike, said one day, “Even fat-free foods have calories and it’s the calories that count, not the fat.”

By my rules at the time, I disagreed. Some time later, I switched my food rules from “fat-free” to “sugar-free.” At this point, anything sugar-free was the way to go.

It didn’t matter what chemical was being used to replace the sugar or what it might ultimately do to my body.

I’ll never forget the day my sisters-in-law and I discovered sugar-free jellybeans.  We were in London and attended a play that night.  We brought our newfound treasure with us and freely partook.

It wasn’t long before whatever it was that replaced the sugar began wrecking havoc in our digestive systems.  Bloated, cramping, and gassy, we kept jumping up from our seats and heading for the bathroom.

Upon our return to the hotel room, our attempts to sleep continued to be interrupted by the same symptoms.

We had a great time teasing each other about our great fortune that turned into misfortune.

I find it fascinating that I have put so many irrational food rules on myself, these being just two of many examples, all in the name of being “healthy.”

These rules kept me stuck in a lot of processed foods with a lot of labels making the promises I wanted to hear.

Don’t most “diets” have rules that, when we really think about it, don’t actually make sense for our health?

Do you remember the one that lets you eat as many cheeseburgers as you want as long as you don’t eat the bun?

Or how about the rule that John followed for a while which allows you to consume any quantity of breads, pastas or pastries you desire, as long as they are gluten-free?

John’s not gluten-intolerant and, like many on any diet attempting to control food intake and weight, he ended up actually gaining weight from this particular diet attempt.

Today, I am trying a new approach.  The new “rule” is simply Real Food First. What is real food?

As a society, we have drifted so far from this basic concept of real food that we can be left asking ourselves whether the Mac and Cheese box declaring its ingredients to contain whole grains with 2 extra grams of fiber is now real food?

So much of our packaged foods today are devoid of so much of the nutrition we need.  Instead, they contain nutrient-deficient ingredients that can cause us to crave more of these same nutrient-deficient ingredients.

As Americans, we tend to have so much guilt around food and often don’t enjoy our food.

The abundant temptations and our resultant obsession with food rules to control our intake in the name of health, may contribute to what is making us sick from food.

In China’s Longevity Village, I reflected on our dilemma as I witnessed friends and family working together to grow, harvest, prepare and partake of their food.

Food rules, guilt, and obsession over resisting food are non-existant, as are obesity and eating disorders.  The people are simply grateful to have the real food that they’ve worked to produce.

In the U.S., 50% of our meals are prepared or eaten out.

It is easy to become distanced from the knowledge of what is actually in our prepared food.

When we get curious and begin asking questions, we often find it is comprised of ingredients that do not promote our health or even create cravings to eat more processed foods.

For me, when I find that I am in the grip of the junk food, it takes some work to escape its hold.

The junk food can override the natural cues my body tries to send me to eat healthy, and instead, make me think I just want more junk.  But as I refuse to succumb to this lie, and eat more real food, I am better able to listen to my body’s cues and actually come to crave the real food more than the junk food.

I currently strive to first eat the vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds that give me the nutrition my body needs and satisfy my hunger in a real way.

I am finding that this reduces my intake of the less nourishing foods and sometimes eliminates the desire for these foods all together.

Another benefit to this approach, for me, is that nothing is “forbidden.”

In my experience, when I forbid myself a certain food, I often end up eating that food in excess.

The freedom that Real Food First offers, in contrast to the irrational food rules and the accompanying cravings, tastes so much sweeter than any sugar-free cookie or fat-free potato chip I could ever consume.

We’d love to hear your stories about your own attempts to escape the grasp of junk food.

Have you ever tried restricting certain foods or ingredients?  How have these attempts have worked for you?  What is working for you now? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#023 The Real Food First Diet

July 28th, 2014 by

Real Food First: A Simple Guide to Losing Weight, Getting Kids to Eat Healthy, and Feeling More Energy

When we returned home from our first visit to China’s Longevity Village, we asked ourselves, “With all the junk food our kids encounter at school, church, playdates, scouts, sports, and practically everywhere in our society, how can we help our kids not only eat healthy, but develop a desire to eat healthy?”

The pay off of good habits developed early was apparent in the village. We were so impressed how a group of people in this village were able to feel so good, have so much energy, and escape the chronic medical conditions that we see everywhere in the U.S. None of them were taking any medications and they were still growing their own naturally organic food well into their 80s, 90s, and 100s.

The traditional diet of China’s Longevity Village is a diet consisting of vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, seeds, and fish.  They eat vegetables with every meal, including breakfast.  There was no added sugar, limited grains except for unrefined brown rice, and limited animal meat.  Dairy was not part of their diet as they are lactose deficient.

The Junk Food Life

It is so difficult to eat healthy as a kid in our society.  School lunches are horrible.  Little league coaches, scout leaders, and church leaders often enjoy offering “treats” to our kids. But how rewarding are these “treats” when kids in the U.S. are becoming overweight at an alarming rate and developing chronic conditions earlier and earlier in life?

Eating junk food has become the norm.  How do we help our kids break away from the path of least resistance and take initiative to make healthier behaviors? We can’t always be with them.  Somehow, we have to help them develop the desire and the tools to make their own healthy choices.

Like most parents, we are trying to empower our kids with knowledge about what their bodies need and why. We teach them to read labels.  We teach them how food grows. We try to help them practice balance–maximizing the good and minimizing the bad.  All these things are good, but left to their own devices, our kids still tend to prefer the not-so-healthy choices and go for the less healthy ones.

Recently, we’ve been trying a new approach: Eat Real Food First.

Let me explain.  With each meal we offer and encourage our children to eat vegetables, a fruit, a healthy fat, and a healthy protein.  If their bodies tell them that they are still hungry after their fruit, vegetables, healthy fat, and healthy protein, then they can choose to eat additional foods, including not-so-healthy items, if desired. We are finding that by filling up on real food first, our desire for and the amount of junk food we actually eat decreases.

Tips for Getting Kids to Enjoy Vegetables

Getting kids to eat vegetables can be challenging.  Vegetables are something that we know few others will offer to our kids so we make sure to at least offer some form of a vegetable to our kids with each meal.

When given the choice, our kids will always opt for the carrot sticks.  While carrots are extremely healthy, we try to make sure that by the end of the day they have had a rainbow of vegetable colors (orange, green, red, etc.).  Of the rainbow of colors, we try to make at least one of them a cruciferous vegetable (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, etc.)

Most often, they like the vegetables raw with a salad dressing for dipping.  However, more and more, they are enjoying stir-fry dishes with different sauces.  Our 9- and 11-year-old sons now declare that curry is their favorite, our 6-year old daughter likes hoisin sauce.

We invite the kids to cut and cook the vegetables with us.  Somehow, working with the food itself helps them to enjoy eating it more.  They each have developed their favorites to chop–one particularly likes to chop onions, another zucchini, and another carrots. Whatever works!

If there are certain vegetables they traditionally resist, we find that when we cut them up small and mix them with a variety of other colorful vegetables, we have more success.  A vegetable they’ve always “hated,” often gets eaten without comment or fuss.

Our next step is to grow some of these foods ourselves.

We’d love to hear your suggestions, questions, and successes helping your family to enjoy vegetables. Please share your comments at the end of this blog.

What fruits do we encourage?

Fruits are not so difficult. We can’t think of a fruit our kids won’t eat.  We always try to have a wide variety of fruits peeled and cut up ready to eat with each meal.  It could be something as simple as a few organic strawberries, half of an orange, or a small bunch of organic red grapes.  One small serving of a fruit with each meal is enough and can address the desire for something sweet.

“Hunger Carbs” vs. “Filling Carbs”

Vegetables, legumes (beans and lentils), and to a lesser extent fruit, are what we call the “filling” or “healthy” carbs.  These carbs, which are slowly digested, do not result in big sugar or insulin spikes, and heal us.  These carbs fill our bellies and allow us to feel full.

These “filling” or “healthy” carbs stand in stark contrast to the “hunger” or “disease” carbs.  The hunger carbs result in rapid sugar and insulin spikes.  They cause us to become hungrier and cause our bodies to break down and become sick.

Have you ever wondered why you can have bowl after bowl of Fruit Loops and never feel full?  The hunger carbs are bread, including whole wheat bread, pasta, sports drinks, soda pop, pastries, crackers, and most processed foods.

If you eat the “hunger carbs” you will just be hungry again in a very short period of time.  The “hunger carbs” are one of the biggest reasons why we are gaining unneeded weight.

What healthy fats do we encourage?

For their healthy fats we encourage things like nuts or nut butter of any kind, seeds or seed butter of any kind, hummus, or even Wild Alaskan Salmon.

For the longest time, none of our kids would eat fish.  But after offering it over and over and over, all three of them have now learned to enjoy Salmon.  They even ask for it when we are planning meals! We like the Wild Alaskan Salmon because it offers the best fish health benefits with minimal mercury, dioxin, or PCBs.

If they are asking for “milk,” healthy fats choices could also include organic unsweetened almond milk, coconut milk, or soymilk.  We realize that soy can be a controversial food item for some people.  This is likely because of how we eat soy in the U.S.  Our soy here is genetically modified (GMO) and processed, not using the whole bean. The organic soymilk we buy does use the whole organic soybean, not merely isolated components or added chemicals. We just make sure we read the labels carefully.

Countless medical studies from Asia have demonstrated the health benefits of soy.  This is likely because they eat the whole bean and the beans they traditionally used were non-GMO.  If you choose to drink soymilk only buy the organic unsweetened whole bean varieties.

If they are asking for a dessert or something sweet, assuming they have not already had candy offered to them from someone else, we may offer dark chocolate.  Our kids have learned to love even 80% cacao dark chocolate.  The darker the healthier.  Dark chocolate includes many healthy fats. We have recently begun mixing nut butters with almond milk, cocoa and stevia. This concoction is a step up in nutritional value from traditional sweets and satisfies our sweet tooth. And, somehow, a smaller amount seems to satisfy, rather than producing an unquenchable desire to eat more and more, as the others sweets usually do.

What healthy proteins do we offer?

For a healthy protein with each meal, we offer our children the same foods listed above that provide the healthy fats–nuts or nut butter of any kind, seeds or a seed butter of any kind, legumes (lentils or beans of any kind), hummus, or Wild Alaskan Salmon.

As most of our suggested healthy fats and proteins are on the same list, depending on what our kids want to eat, one serving of something high in the healthy fats and proteins could suffice for both.

We understand that some of our recommended healthy proteins are not complete proteins with all of the necessary amino acids (i.e. lentils, beans, nuts, and seeds).  This is not a concern to us as our kids will also get other protein sources during the day which will round out their amino acid profile.  For example, at some point during the day, our kids will want a sandwich or a bowl of a healthier cereal.

Ideally, the sandwich or cereal comes after eating the real food first. Otherwise, it’s easy to fill up on the less-nutrient-rich foods and not want the more nutritious foods afterwards.  The protein from the whole grains in these items will make a complete protein when combined with lentils, beans, nuts, or seeds.

We try to offer the healthiest possible versions of the snack foods they ask for at home—i.e. chips, crackers, treats, and we encourage them to be eaten with meals, No foods are forbidden or restricted, as we’ve seen that this can create unintended problems in itself. We know that they will certainly find the junk food at school, a friend’s house, or at church, etc. Our intent is to be relaxed about these realities in our society.

The important thing is that we have at least given them three opportunities each day to provide them with real food first to help keep them healthy.

Day by day, our kids are relaxing into the idea of eating real food first with every meal we have together.  Sometimes they even take their own initiative to get the healthy stuff first.  Sometimes.  We hope this is a work in progress, and will continue to build over time. We’re not there yet, but we are finding that this approach is helping us to guide our children to eat healthy.

Real Food First is the adaptation of China’s Longevity Village Diet to an American lifestyle, which helps us to more successfully navigate the realities of our society and live better.

How to Start Eating Healthy as the Best Way to Lose Weight

As a cardiologist, 80% of the health problems that I see every day could have been avoided with healthy lifestyle choices.  The benefits of eating healthy, reducing stress and moving more are truly life changing.

The question among my patients is always: “how do I start eating healthy and what is the best way to lose weight?” Carrying extra weight is one of the biggest factors causing so many of the health issues I see today.

Unfortunately, less than 5% of diets work long-term.  Eating less does not work because your body’s metabolism just slows down and you are hungry all of the time.  This just makes you tired and irritable.

Exercising alone to lose weight doesn’t work either.  Vigorous exercise can just work up an appetite and, if left unchecked, will cause you to negate any calories you may have burned off with one sports drink, a treat, or a big meal.

By eating real food first, we can give our body all the nutrition it needs for optimal health and eat the foods that will fill us.  Eating real food speeds up your metabolism, so that you burn more calories through the day. Filling up with real food first, in combination with exercise and moving throughout the day, really is the best way to lose weight.

Step 1: Real Food First

Step 1 of the Real Food First Diet is really quite simple.  At each meal, before you eat anything else, have a fruit, two vegetables, a healthy fat, and a healthy protein.  The list of suggested items above for our kids is exactly what you could use as you are starting as well.

You have to be religious about starting every meal, including breakfast, with real food first.  Vegetables are not typically part of a traditional American breakfast.  Let’s change that.

For breakfast, steam up some broccoli as a side with your oatmeal sprinkled with your favorite nuts and almond milk.  Make a delicious salad. If you love your eggs, mix in tomatoes, onions, garlic, broccoli, zucchini—whatever you have.  For eggs, I recommend organic, pasture raised, local eggs.  Never go a meal, especially breakfast, without eating Real Food First.

Step 2: Nothing is Forbidden After Eating Real Food First

After you have finished eating Real Food First, if your body tells you that you are still hungry, decide what you need.  Remember it takes at least 20-30 minutes before your brain gets the message you are full so eat slowly and wait a while after eating real food first. No foods are forbidden or restricted with the Real Food First Diet. There is no counting the calories.

Of course, this is not license to binge or disregard the signals your body is sending you! Listen to your body. If you decipher that you are physically full, but still “hungry” for something else, stop eating, figure out what you really need, move on to another activity, and reassure yourself that you can eat again when you are hungry.

Ideally, you will fill up on the real food first so that you body’s natural weight regulation system will kick in and regulate your weight to the ideal weight.  The problem comes when we eat the “hunger carbs.”  These are the carbs that our body immediately turns into sugar like bread (even whole wheat), pizza, pasta, crackers, processed foods, desserts, etc.

The more “hunger carbs” we eat, the hungrier we will be.  This results in high insulin levels that completely override all of our body’s natural weight regulation system.

If you love bread, like me, try switching to Ezekiel bread, which has no flour and is very high in protein and fiber.  As this bread is not rapidly converted to sugar, like traditional whole wheat or multi grain breads, it is considered a “filling carb.” Even our kids like Ezekiel bread.  It makes great French toast and sandwiches (especially when toasted).  We also enjoy Ezekiel buns, cereals, and pastas.

Step 3: Real Food First with Snacks

If you are hungry between meals then the Real Food First Diet allows you to snack as long as you snack on real food first. We find that if you are eating real foods first, most people do not get hungry between meals.  If you do, have a vegetable, healthy fat, or healthy protein first.

Like with mealtime, if your body tells you that you are still hungry after a vegetable, healthy fat, or healthy protein, then you can eat what you need.  Once again, give your brain 20-30 minutes to get the message you are full.  No foods are restricted or forbidden once you have had real food first.

Immediate Weight Loss

Depending on your previous diet and how overweight you are, you could lose anywhere from 5-20 pounds in your first 10 days by eating real food first.  While this is primarily water weight from the simple carbs or “hunger carbs” (bread, pasta, sports drinks, sodas, pastries, crackers, processed foods, etc.), it is still exciting to see the weight drop so fast at first.

After this initial weight loss, most of my patients see a gradual one to two pound weight loss each week when they eat real food first in conjunction with regular daily exercise (30 minutes if moderate intensity/15 minutes if high intensity) and 10,000 steps daily.

With most diets, people quickly gain back all of the weight, and then some, with eating real food first this is not the case.  This is a lifestyle change.  There is no specific “diet” or meal plan.  Just eat real food first and if your body tells you that you are still hungry after the real food then you can eat what you need.  There is no hunger.  There is no deprivation.

Reclaim Your Energy

In addition to the rapid weight loss in week number one, the biggest thing my patients notice is how much better they feel.  Suddenly, it was as if some one gave them all of their energy back.

Rather than just sitting and feeling tired they suddenly wanted to get up and start doing something.  Many of my patients have told me that they have not felt this good and energetic in years.

Yes, real foods give us energy.  If we can get rid of the energy draining “hunger carbs” or the “disease carbs” and replace them with the “filling” or “healthy” carbs, we can have as much energy as we had when we were kids.

Make Real Food First a Habit!

We have found that with every new habit, tracking our progress is one of the most important things for success.  To help you put Real Food First and reclaim your health and energy now, please sign up for Dr. Day’s free Healthy Habit Tracker App on the resource page of our website.

By signing up for this program, you will get a daily email reminding you to record your progress for the day.  You can even earn “medals” for the number of days you consistently fill out the form.  It is never too late to change!

How about you?  How do you put real foods first?  Have you found success in reaching and maintaining your ideal weight with real foods? Please help others by sharing your questions and experiences here. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#022 Can the Cookie You Just Ate Cause Your Unborn Child to Become Overweight? Behaviors are Contagious and We Can Change Our Genes

July 28th, 2014 by

There was a time when I could not imagine a day without a chocolate chip cookie or a donut. Who doesn’t love a fresh warm chocolate chip cookie?

As a cardiologist, I would generally go to the hospital cafeteria during off hours, when I knew not many people would be there, to buy my cheeseburger, fries and cookie.

I hated it when people would look at my white lab coat stating “cardiologist” and then the tray of food and sarcastically jab, “that’s a healthy meal for a cardiologist.” It’s like they somehow expected me to be able to resist because I was a doctor, but I’m no different than anyone else.

The scary thing is that the only person I thought I was hurting with my “sweet tooth” addiction was me.  At the time, I had no idea that behaviors are contagious or that my poor food choices could cause my children to inherit a gene for, say, diabetes or obesity.

Even though it has been more than three years since I have had a cheeseburger, fries, cookie or donut, I still crave these items. What has helped me to stay strong? Not only does what I eat make me feel better, but studies now show that what I eat can change my genes and can also affect the health of the generations that follow me.  This gives me the purpose and resolve to shift my habits to healthier ones for myself and for my posterity.

The Obesity Numbers

How has the obesity rate gone from approximately 10% in 1970 to 36% in 2010?  That is nearly a four-fold increase!  Now, more than 2 in 3 Americans is overweight or obese (69% of the U.S. population).   For men it is even worse, as 3 in 4 adult men in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

What is Driving Everyone to Gain So Much Weight?

Why are we eating 500 more calories each day now than what we ate in 1970?  Traditional wisdom, based on Darwinian evolution theories, tells us it is impossible for our genes to have changed that much in the last 40 years.  Thus, it must be our lack of willpower that is driving most of us to gain the weight.

Behaviors Are Contagious

Could gaining weight be as contagious as catching the common cold?  Indeed, this is the argument set forth in a landmark study published in the most prestigious medical journal in 2007.

In this study, researchers from Harvard and U.C. San Diego evaluated 12,067 people from 1971 to 2003 living in Framingham, Massachusetts as part of the Framingham Heart Study.

These researchers found the following:

1. If your friend gains weight, you are 57% more likely to gain weight too

2. If your sibling gains weight, you are 40% more likely to gain weight too

3. If your spouse gains weight, you are 37% more likely to gain weight too

How can this be?  The argument is that we tend to follow the behaviors we see around us.  The good news is that these same researchers found that if a friend or family member “gets healthy” you will probably “get healthy” as well.

One easy solution to take advantage of these scientific findings?  Identify and start hanging out with people who strive to live healthy lifestyles.    It just might be what finally enables you to more effortlessly lose weight, enjoy exercising more regularly, and feel better.  Experiment and see if you find that it is possible to catch this contagious “healthy bug.”

Genetic Predestination?

Just this past week I had several patients tell me that they were “destined” to be overweight, diabetic, and have heart disease because that is what happens to everyone in their family.  One patient even went on to tell me, “we all get the same gene and there is nothing we can do about it.”

When I heard this I was so saddened.  He felt he was a victim and with this thought process he too had become overweight, diabetic, and had a heart condition.

Could it be that this was a learned behavior and had nothing to do with his genes at all?  Or could it be possible that even if it was “genetics,” we can change our genes through our lifestyle choices?

According to the exciting new science of epigenetics, the encouraging news is that, yes, we can change our genes.

Epigentics

“Epi” means outside or on top of.  Thus, epigenetics refers to the science of how “tags” are put on the outer portion of our genes.  What we eat and how we live determines which of our genes are turned on or off based on these “tags” or our epigenome.

Healthy Lifestyles Change Our Own Genes

It is not just us that will benefit from us modifying our own genes but our posterity will benefit as well.  In the groundbreaking research of Dr. Dean Ornish of men with early prostate cancer, he found that a healthy lifestyle consisting of the following resulted in over 500 positive gene changes.

1. Plant-based diet

2. Daily exercise

3. Daily stress reducing activities

4. Weekly support groups

Depending on how you look at it, epigenetics could be really exciting or really scary.  If we eat real foods and live a healthy lifestyle, this can put tags on our genes which turn off bad genes and turn on good genes.  This can benefit us now and reverse chronic medical conditions.

In some cases, these new genetic tags, can be passed on to our children and grandchildren.  Thus, your healthy lifestyle can give you and your children and grandchildren a genetic advantage for generations to come.  Alternatively, your bad habits can genetically handicap you, your children and grandchildren.

So, getting back to the question, why then has there been nearly a four-fold rise in diabetes and obesity in the last 40 years?  Could learned behavior and epigenetics explain this rapid rise?

Can Foods Change the Genes We Pass to Our Children?

Not only are our kids and grandchildren “destined” by the behaviors they see in us but it is also possible that we are passing on new genes that can predestine them to being overweight and diabetic.

Parent Diets and Children/Grandchildren Health

There was a fascinating study showing this phenomenon in action.  The northern most point of Sweden, Norrbotten, is a very isolated cold corner of the world.  During winters when food was scarce, people were very lean.  Conversely, during years of plenty, people ate much more food than was needed.

Surprisingly, researchers found that children born during famine years, when their parents did not overeat, were not only healthier but also lived 32 years longer.  Not only did these famine year children enjoy remarkable health but their grandchildren did as well.  Conversely, children born during “plenty years,” when people overate, had more health problems and died much younger.

Dr. Randy Jirtle from Duke University pioneered this groundbreaking research.  From his research, he found that what types of foods mice mothers were fed prior to conception could genetically play a large role as to whether her babies would have diabetes or obesity.  He followed up this research in humans by showing that if a man was overweight at the time of conception it was likely that his child would genetically have the “obesity gene” turned on.

The science of epigenetics completely overturns the concept of Darwinian Evolution.  In other words, species slowly evolve over time.  Rather, with epigenetics, species can change rapidly when exposed to certain environmental factors.

Parental Guilt

Naturally, one downside of epigenetics could be more parental guilt.  I know this is the case for me.

I was overweight and ate my fair share of processed, chemical-laden, sugary foods when each of my three children was born and I suffered myself with many unnecessary medical conditions.

Jane and I are now doing our best to model healthier food behaviors while our kids are still young.  I now live free of several medical conditions and medications that previously held me back. With the right supportive environment, perhaps any epigenetic tags that I may have passed on to our children could be reversed.

We are emphasizing real food first in our home.  In other words, we encourage our children to eat real food first at every meal (vegetables, fruit, healthy fat, and a healthy protein) before they eat anything else.  The goal here is that they will be satisfied after eating the real foods and desire fewer “hunger carbs” like sweets. I am seeing this approach work wonders for my patients and colleagues. Time will tell, and we’ll let you know how it goes with our kids!

What do you think?  Are healthy or unhealthy behaviors contagious?  Through our lifestyle choices, can we impact the helpful or harmful genes we pass on to our children and grandchildren? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

#015 How to Find Your “Why”

June 23rd, 2014 by

Do you have a plan for your life?  Why are you committed to reclaiming or maintaining your health?

Finding your purpose or your “why” power is what gets us out of bed each morning.  If we don’t have a reason for living, the entire day becomes a chore and we lose site of our goal.  Over time, we can fall into a trap of a negative downward spiral. We stop investing in ourselves.  We stop investing in the relationships with family members or others within our social networks.  We may stop eating the foods that give us health and energy.  We may even stop exercising or moving altogether.

I have found that my patients who have successfully reversed their medical conditions have a very strong answer to “Why are you committed to regaining your health?”  They also have an answer to the follow up question, “What will happen if you cannot regain your health?”

We have to visualize our goal.  We also need to visualize what will happen if we cannot stick to our goal.  Every day I review my life’s goals and purpose.  It gives me much greater focus and clarity with all of the distractions and temptations in our modern life.

My Experience

In my mid 40s I had lost my health and lost my “Why”.  I was working long and crazy hours at the hospital.  I had lost my connection to my family, myself, and even my spirituality.

I would not take vacation time. Each day I would start working at 5 or 6 am and often would not come home from the hospital until 8 pm or later at night.  I definitely was not happy at that time either.

I had this crazy idea that if I just worked hard enough and we saved our money that we could retire early and start enjoying life.  I fell victim to the trap of once this happens (fill in the blank), I will be happy.  You cannot put off your happiness. The key is to be happy in the moment, happy in whatever stage of life you are in.

In the end, my body just gave out.  It hurt to move or do anything.  I wound up on 5 different medications and had developed an autoimmune disease, severe esophagitis, degenerative disk disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, horrible insomnia, and chronic fatigue.

I always felt tired and would try to compensate by eating plenty of donuts, bagels, pizza, and Diet Coke each day.  Finally, I realized how far off course my life had become.  I also realized that my answer to the second question, “what will happen if you cannot regain your health” was that I would become a decrepit, arthritic, and sickly overweight man and would likely wind up in one of those Jazzy scooters before age 60!

The first step for me to regain my health was to develop a strong life’s purpose.  My purpose required me to have excellent health so that I could fulfill my role in this life.  The purpose also had to be strong enough to resist all of the temptations of modern life.

The Power of Purpose and Risk of Heart Disease

Does having a sense of purpose matter with regards to health?  The answer is a resounding yes!  I learned this first hand.

One of the largest studies looking at the role of a life purpose and survival was done in Japan.  In this study, they had a total of 43,391 people that they followed for 7 years.  They found that those who did not have a sense of purpose for their lives were 50% more likely to die during the 7 years of the study.

Interestingly, in this same study the risk of dying from a heart related cause was 60% higher if you lacked a sense of purpose in your life.

The researchers offered several explanations for their findings.  They cited other studies which have shown that people without purpose or hope are more likely to develop blood clots, have increased levels of inflammation, and are more likely to have the dangerous forms of cholesterol.

Having a Purpose Can Protect Against Alzheimer Disease

An equally fascinating study was recently published on 246 individuals from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.  In this study, they found that having a life mission or purpose could help to prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease.  It makes sense to me, if you have a purpose you have passion.  If you have a passion for life you will live in a way that promotes health and wellbeing.  To read this study click here.

Lack of Purpose and Poor Health

This is something that I have seen many times in my career.  The most dangerous day in the life of a man is the day he retires.  For many men, their sense of purpose seems to come from their job or career.  So often, when men retire their health quickly crashes over the next 1 to 2 years.

Does this mean we can never retire?  Of course, not.  However, instead of turning retirement into lounging on the chair, it could be an opportunity to move from a “for profit” to a “non-profit” career.

Volunteering can be so incredibly therapeutic and health promoting.  Many studies have shown that those who volunteer gain remarkable health benefits.  We all need to feel needed and valued for optimal health.

How to Develop Your Life’s Purpose

How can we develop our own life purpose as this is the first step to reclaiming our health?  This is something that is very personal and will vary from person to person.  You must be sure that your purpose and goals are your own rather than “should’s” that may be placed on us externally.

For me, what seemed to give me the greatest clarity of my life’s purpose was to imagine what I would want people to say of me at my funeral.  What do I want my life to stand for and what legacy do I want to leave?  What mark will I leave on the world so that my posterity will know that I once lived here.  I hope that I can live my life so that on my gravestone my family will have carved my life’s purpose which is “He served God, loved his family, and healed the sick”.

To fulfill my life’s purpose I must have good health.  I now know that I can never take this for granted again!  This strong sense of purpose keeps me motivated and helps me each day to live in a way that promotes health.  It gets me out of bed, it motivates me to move each day, and it inspires me to resist foods that will take me away from this purpose.

What is your “Why”?  Does a strong sense of purpose give you the power to resist the temptations of modern life? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#014 Eliminate Stress in Seven Steps

June 23rd, 2014 by

Eliminate Stress in Seven Steps

I recently performed an ablation for a patient who was suffering from atrial fibrillation following the recent death of her husband of 50 years.  She and her husband did everything together.  It was the kind of marriage that everyone dreams about.

Unfortunately, last summer her husband died suddenly.  She was left heart broken.  She was so devastated she could not leave her home for months until she became too short of breath to even walk inside her home.

Her daughters brought her to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or congestive heart failure from the Broken Heart Syndrome.   After she was treated with the appropriate medications, her heart failure improved. However, it was not until she was no longer grieving her husband that her heart failure completely resolved.  Unfortunately, she was left with atrial fibrillation…

Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy or the Broken Heart Syndrome in My Practice

This is something that I have seen many times in my career.  While it is often from the death of a loved one, I have also seen it from other forms of stress such as family conflict, natural disaster, a lawsuit, losing a job, losing a house, etc. Fortunately, most cases resolve once people are able to manage their stressful experience.

Stress and Our Health

Stress is everywhere!  In fact, 83% of Americans are stressed out at work according to Everest College’s 2012 study. Another study showed that chronic stress has a similar damaging effect on the body as smoking 5 cigarettes a day  Even just thinking you are “stressed” is enough to increase your risk of a heart attack by 27%.

Stress shortens our lives and leads to premature aging.  The stress we are feeling now predicts our health 10 years down the road.  Stress is part of the human experience.  We cannot avoid it.  The key is how do we process and manage stress?

Eliminate Stress

What are the effects of stress on the cardiovascular system?  

For years, I have seen how people with high anxiety levels seem to be very prone to a dangerous heart rhythm abnormality called atrial fibrillation or Afib.  It always seems that when these people are most stressed they have an episode of Afib.  In addition to Afib, stress can trigger may other cardiovascular problems.  If you want to read more just click on each condition.

1. Stress can trigger arrhythmias

2. Stress can cause strokes

3. Just one episode of mental stress can cause heart cells to die. (here is a more layperson’s report of this study)

4. When we are stressed out we eat heart damaging foods.

What can we do?

Unfortunately, studies have shown that we can even inherit stress from our parents.  But, like everything else we have learned, our DNA is not our destiny.  We can change our lives and change the lives of those who will follow us.

7 Ways to Manage Stress and Avoid the Broken Heart Syndrome

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal

Be grateful for whatever you have.  Studies show that if we have an “attitude of gratitude” stress becomes much more manageable.

2. Get Enough Sleep

When it gets dark at night it is time to start winding down our day.  If we are sleep deprived we cannot manage anything very well.  Get your sleep and your stress will be much easier to manage.

3. Keep Physically Active

Physical activity allows us to diffuse the toxic stress hormones, cortisol and adrenalin.  If you are stressed, go on a long strenuous walk.  Exercise really does reduce stress!

4. Eat Right

If we eat the right foods, especially fruits and vegetables  it gives our bodies the right nutrients to keep everything working properly.

5. Meditate

Meditation can quiet the mind and reduce stress.  Meditation can come in many different forms.  For some it can be prayer for others it could mean yoga.

6. Connect With Others

Too often, when we are stressed, we turn inward.  This is especially true for men.  When we are stressed out is when we need to reach out to others the most.  We need to find ways to help others when we are stressed the most.  It seems counter intuitive but when we focus on others rather than ourselves our stress will magically resolve.

7. Accept What You Cannot Change

At the end of the day, there are just things that are beyond our control. We simply can’t fix everything.

What do you think?  Is stress affecting your health? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#013 How to Get Rid of Atrial Fibrillation Once and For All

June 23rd, 2014 by

Do you or someone you love suffer from atrial fibrillation (A-fib)?  If so, you are not alone.  One in four Americans will have at least one episode of A-fib in their lives.  In this article, I share how to get rid of atrial fibrillation.

Many of my patients feel horrible when A-fib strikes.  Their hearts race chaotically and they often feel short of breath, fatigued, dizzy, lightheaded, or may even have chest pain.

The effects of A-fib can be devastating.  A-fib is one of the major causes of stroke.  It can also put people on a number of different medications, all with serious side effects.

This is something you definitely want to avoid, if possible…

If you are like most patients with this condition, you have already been put on a heavy duty blood thinner for life.  You may also be on a medicine to slow your heart down or hold you in rhythm.

Do you want to live this way for the rest of your life?  There are other options.

If aggressive lifestyle changes are made soon enough, the A-fib may completely go away.  I have seen many patients “beat” A-fib just by making significant lifestyle changes.  For others, the A-fib attacks may significantly decrease.  Sometimes, lifestyle changes alone may not be enough.  If this is the case, all is not lost.  These lifestyle changes will double your chances of successfully beating A-fib with a minimally invasive procedure called an A-fib ablation.

If we are going to beat A-fib, we need to know everything that may be contributing to this condition.  If we can aggressively attack each of these 10 items early enough there is an excellent chance that you can get rid of A-fib once and for all!

1. Get Rid of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is one of the main causes of A-fib.  It puts a big strain on the heart which can cause the lower chambers of the heart to thicken and the upper chambers of the heart to enlarge.

If you have high blood pressure you are not alone.  Studies show that half of all Americans have a blood pressure above the goal of 120/80 mmHg as established by the American Heart Association.  As with A-fib, if significant lifestyle changes are made early enough, high blood pressure is completely reversible.

I have seen this with many of my patients.  In fact, after just a few weeks of making major lifestyle changes, under the direction of their physicians they can start getting off of their high blood pressure medications.  I personally dropped my blood pressure which could go as high as 150/90 mmHg down to 110/70 mmHg without medications.

For more information on how to reverse high blood pressure, please read my article “How to Get Off Your Blood Pressure Medications: Lower Your Blood Pressure with These Eight Steps.

Until you can reverse your high blood pressure with lifestyle modification, you may need to work with your physician on getting this under control.  For my patients with A-fib, I tend to be aggressive on getting the blood pressure under control.  I usually shoot for a target of less than 135/85 mmHg.

2. Reverse Your Biologic Age

Unfortunately, getting older is a big risk factor for developing A-fib.  Even though you are getting older year-by-year (your chronological age), you can reverse your biologic age now!  Your biologic age can be 10-20 years younger than how “old” you are.  You can regain your youth, feel great, and reverse the effects of aging on your heart.

How do you reverse your biologic age?  Please read my recent article “We Can Reverse the Aging Process“.

3. Keep Stress in Check

It seems like we are all stressed out.  According to a study from Everest College, 83% of Americans are stressed out at work.  One study showed that our chronic stress is the equivalent of smoking 5 cigarettes a day!  Even if you just think you are stressed is enough to increase your risk of a heart attack by 27%!

When we are stressed our bodies release cortisol and adrenalin into the blood stream.  These substances are toxic to the heart if it continues long enough.

What can we do to get our stress under control?  Make it a priority to do something every day to get your stress levels under control.  We will never be able to completely avoid stress.  It is part of the human experience.

Even something as simple as yoga to calm your nerves has been shown to decrease your risk of A-fib by 50%!  The key is to recognize your stress and do something actively every day to bring your stress levels down.  For some people this could be exercising, spending time in nature, reading a good book, getting a good night of sleep, or just hanging out with your friends.

For more information on this, please read my article “Seven Ways to Manage Stress”. http://drjohnday.com/?p=779

4. Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is like stress, it can be helpful to the body for short periods of time. However, when inflammation never turns off it can damage the heart and the rest of the body as well as result in premature aging.

It has been recognized for quite some time that inflammation is an important cause of A-fib.  The good news is that if we can turn off the inflammation for our heart it will help the rest of our body to recover as well.

Did you know there is a simple blood test your doctor can order for you to check your inflammation level?  This test is called C Reactive Protein or CRP for short.  The goal is to have a CRP of less than 1 mg/L.  If you can get your CRP to less than one you can dramatically reduce your risk of A-fib, heart attacks, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s Disease.

How can we reduce inflammation?  Please read the article I wrote on this subject entitled “Six Strategies to Reduce Inflammation and Chronic Pain“.

5. Get Your Weight in Line

Did you know that being overweight is one of the biggest causes of A-fib today?  A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by my good friend, Dr. Prash Sanders, showed how important weight loss is with reversing A-fib.  In this study, if overweight people could lose just 32 pounds, they could reduce their A-fib attacks nearly three-fold.

This is something I have seen time and time again in my practice.  Overweight people with A-fib who can lose the weight can often make their A-fib go away.

6. Eat the Right Foods

Did you know the rates of A-fib are several times higher in North America than anywhere else in the world?  The Standard American Diet (SAD) is like pouring gasoline on the A-fib fire.  The right foods can reverse most of the factors, discussed in this article, driving A-fib.

For my patients with A-fib I recommend the following:

-Nine servings of fruits or vegetables daily

-At least one serving of nuts or seeds daily

-At least one serving of legumes daily

-Two servings of a low mercury oily fish, like salmon, weekly

For many of my patients, they need to learn how to eat vegetables.  Vegetables can be the most wonderful tasting food if prepared right.  These foods can heal our hearts and our bodies.

To go along with these must eat healing foods, I recommend that my A-fib patients minimize or avoid the following three foods.

-Processed or prepared foods

-Animal meat, especially processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, bacon, deli meats) and red meat

-Sugar, including foods that are immediately turned to sugar like wheat flour, white rice, or potatoes

The goal is to eat real food.  To get back to cooking and sharing meals with friends and families!

7. Rejuvenating Sleep

I cannot stress enough how important it is to get rejuvenating sleep if we are to beat A-fib.  For most people this means at least seven hours of sleep.  It also means sleep free from sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?  That is where people stop breathing while sleeping.  These big drops in oxygen levels when people are not breathing can lead not only to A-fib but also to heart attacks, sudden death, heart failure, or high blood pressure.

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?  Generally I find that the spouse or sleeping partner can easily make this diagnosis.  People with sleep apnea usually snore like a train and then will stop breathing for 20 or 30 seconds.

Fortunately, for most people, sleep apnea is totally reversible. It is a complication of being overweight.  With weight loss the sleep apnea usually goes away.

Until the weight can be lost, I recommend that my patients with sleep apnea get treated.  Studies show that you can cut the numbers of A-fib episodes by about 50% with getting the sleep apnea treated.

8. Get Moving

Did you know that people with the least amount of physical activity are at high risk of developing A-fib?  The key is to get moving!  The first thing I recommend for my patients is to get a pedometer.

Studies show that just the mere act of tracking your steps will increase the number of steps you take each day by 2,500.  That is the equivalent of walking more than one extra mile each day just by tracking your steps!

The pedometer is so helpful because people overestimate their activity.  In fact, based on pedometer data, less than 5% of Americans get enough physical activity.

I have found that in my practice, most of my A-fib patients only get 2,000 to 3,000 steps each day.  The average American gets 5,000 steps each day.  The average European, where A-fib is much less common, often gets about 10,000 steps each day.  The goal is to get at least 10,000 steps a day.

While this may seem hard to achieve, most of my patients can easily get to this goal.  You just have to be creative. Can you walk somewhere instead of driving? Can you add an evening walk to your day?  The possibilities are endless.

In addition to 10,000 steps daily, I recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day.  I am often asked, what exercises should I do.  My answer is simple, do what you enjoy.  Anything counts.  Gardening, dancing, skiing, hiking, etc. are all great.  The most important thing is that you are consistent and do something each day.

I do recommend varying your daily exercise to keep it fun, work different muscle groups, and to prevent overuse injuries.  Depending on what you choose to do, you may also need to incorporate a couple days of strength training into your routine.

9. Get Rid of the Vices

Tobacco, alcohol, and any stimulants, including caffeine, can be a trigger for A-fib.  Did you know there is even a condition called Holiday Heart?  This is when someone drinks a lot of alcohol and then goes into A-fib.

For many of my patients, just getting rid of these vices can eliminate A-fib episodes.  Other stimulant medications, including Sudafed, Ritalin, or other attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications can also trigger A-fib.

To learn more about the effect of caffeine to heart arrhythmias, please read this article I wrote.

10. When All Else Fails Get it Ablated

For most of my patients, aggressive lifestyle modification can drive A-fib into remission.  Unfortunately, there will always be some cases that just don’t seem to resolved with lifestyle modification.  What should be done in these cases?

For these patients, blood thinners, medications to slow the heart, and rhythm controlling medications are often prescribed.  Unfortunately, for most patients, rhythm drugs only work for a few years at most.

When medications are no longer effective in controlling the symptoms of atrial fibrillation, an ablation is the next step. This is also an excellent option for patients who have side effects from the medications or just do not want to be on life-long medications.

Fortunately, the lifestyle changes we have discussed in this article can double the chances of a successful procedure if an ablation is ultimately required to control the symptoms.

With an ablation, we go into the heart through an IV in the leg, map where the A-fib is coming from in the heart, and then ablate those areas.  The entire procedure takes about three hours and patients will typically spend the night in the hospital following the procedure.  The following day patients will go home with just a band aid.

I have personally done nearly 4,000 of these A-fib ablation procedures.  In experienced hands, most patients can ultimately be free of atrial fibrillation.  There are certainly risks associated with this procedure but these can largely be avoided by physicians with the most experience in performing these procedures.  Please discuss the risks, benefits, and alternatives of A-fib ablations with your physician.

Here is a link to see more that I have written about atrial fibrillation.  Also, be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter or subscribe to my podcast.

Feel free to leave your questions and comments below.

#011 Six Strategies to Overcome Emotional Eating

June 19th, 2014 by

I am an emotional eater.  When I have something I need to do but don’t feel like doing, I suddenly feel hungry and will reach for food.  Over the years, I have given myself permission to procrastinate if I “need to eat” first.

I also use food to “reward” myself.  If I have just finished a killer work out or spent hours grueling with a difficult surgery, as soon as I finish I want to “reward” myself with something my body does not need.

Interestingly, I had no idea I was even an emotional eater.  I really had no idea I was subconsciously “eating” to procrastinate or “rewarding” myself for accomplishing something difficult.

It was not until I kept a food journal that I actually realized I did this.  With the food journal it reminded me of how much I had already eaten and when so I knew I wasn’t really hungry.  Interestingly, prior to the food journal experiment, I would forget what I had just eaten and was convinced I was hungry again.

As cumbersome as it can be to keep a food journal, it did finally give me insight on something I had been doing my entire life.  I came to realize that I wasn’t really hungry at these times.  I just did not want to do what needed to be done.

Food was, and still is if I am not careful, an emotional distraction for me.  Like so many people, I got “hunger” confused with other emotions I was feeling.

Emotional eating can come in many different forms.  These experiences and associations with food were often learned in childhood.

Emotional Eating: What Medical Studies Tell Us

Certain foods, especially the high sugar or unhealthy fatty foods, have provided us with emotional comfort over the course of our lives.  Indeed, studies show that these are the foods emotional eaters primarily turn to for comfort.

Emotional eating is a major reason for eating more than what our bodies really need.  Studies also show that unless emotional eating is addressed, long-term weight loss for emotional eaters is extremely difficult.

Six Strategies to Overcome Emotional Eating

The key for success and long-term health is to identify these emotions, determine if you really are hungry, and then redirect the action once these emotions arise.  Here are my 6 tips:

1. Recognize Your Emotions

Are you sad, bored, lonely, stressed out, or angry?  Most likely you are not really hungry at all.  Most of the time I wasn’t really hungry at all.

It could be that what you really need is to connect with a supportive friend or family member, some physical activity, or to do something that you really enjoy like reading a great book, listening to some wonderful music, etc.

Often, if we do one of the above activities, the sensation of “hunger” will pass.  You could even create a new rule for yourself such as “when I feel __, I will go for a walk first”.

2. Eat Three Healthy Options First

If you really feel that you need some food when you are feeling this way, try eating three healthy food options (i.e. celery, apple, handful of nuts, etc.) before you give yourself permission to turn to your old comfort foods.  Generally, by the time you have had 3 healthy options you will lose the urge to return to the old comfort foods.

3. Have a Plan

If you are in a situation where you are feeling very overpowered by your emotions, it often helps to have a plan. Write down what you will eat for the day the night before.  Prepare all of your foods ahead of time so you are ready to go the next day.

This is something that has been very helpful for me.  If I don’t bring a lunch and snacks with me in the morning, I will reach for the pizza and Diet Coke as a “reward” after a long or difficult surgery.

This takes away the decision making process as you have already decided ahead of time what you will eat for the day.  Write down everything you eat as part of this plan.  Sometimes, just writing down everything that we eat makes us responsible to ourselves.

4. Get Enough Sleep and Physical Activity

Often I find that when people are not getting enough sleep or physical activity it is a normal thing to turn to these comfort foods.  Our bodies are hard-wired to seek out high sugar/unhealthy high fat foods when we are sleep deprived, stressed out, etc.

5. Keep a Food Journal

This has been my best tool for fighting emotional eating.  Too often, I forget what I have just eaten and think I am “hungry” again if I don’t want to do something or am very tired after a long surgery.  The food journal reminds me that it is not hunger but a different emotion I am struggling with.

While food journals are a big hassle, this hassle has been another key to my success.  When I walk past the nurses station and see chips, cookies, or candies just the fact that I will have to record what I eat prevents me from unconsciously taking “just a little”.  The journal has taught me how to eat mindfully.

6. Learn From Bad Days

It is human to have bad days and “fall off the wagon”.  When this happens, don’t beat yourself up.  Rather, analyze the day and try to identify the triggers that led you to “fall off the wagon”.  Learn from these experiences so that you will do better next time.  A bad day can teach you how to improve going forward.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#002 Does it Matter What Time of the Day We Eat?

May 18th, 2014 by

Does it really matter what time of the day we eat? At the end of the day it is all about the total number of calories taken in, right?

My philosophy in the past was a calorie is a calorie. I remember as a teenager or even in college sometimes eating a whole pizza right before bed. I was hungry so I ate right before bed. A calorie is a calorie, right?

Wrong! The timing of when we eat really does matter. Even if we eat the same number of calories, depending on what time of the day they are consumed can help to determine whether we are able to maintain a normal weight or become obese.

Eating Time of the Day Study

In a recent issue of the prestigious heart medical journal, Circulation researchers from Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital report their findings on nearly 27,000 American men from the Heath Professionals Follow-Up Study. At the beginning of this study, none of these men had coronary heart disease, however, after 16 years of follow-up, 1,527 of them developed coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease is where the arteries feeding blood to the heart become plugged up with plaque and put people at risk of a heart attack or even a cardiac arrest.

In this study, the researchers asked the question as to whether or not these men skipped breakfast or ate late at night had any impact on their development of coronary heart disease or not. Interestingly, 13% of the men routinely “skipped” breakfast and 1% reported eating late at night. When they looked at the risk of coronary heart disease, those men that skipped breakfast were 27% more likely to develop coronary heart disease and 55% of those who ate late at night were more likely to develop coronary heart disease.

How do we explain these findings?

Paradoxically, many studies have shown that those people who skip breakfast are much more likely to become obese. In addition to carrying extra weight, skipping breakfast has also been shown to affect insulin and lipid metabolism which likely also leads to increased plaque build up in the arteries of the heart. Likewise, eating late at night also had a deleterious effect on the heart. Our body’s metabolism is highest in the morning and lowest just before bed. Thus, consuming calories earlier in the day with steady meals seems, in harmony with natural body rhythms, seems to optimize the way our bodies burn fuel.

The common saying, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” really is true. This study, along with many others, have all shown the same thing. Breakfast is important and should not be skipped. Earlier dinners are best and we should not eat after finishing dinner. Taking these simple steps not only lowers our risk of heart disease but also helps us to maintain a normal weight and avoid obesity.

My Simple Two Suggestions:

1. Never Skip Breakfast

This is the most important meal of the day. Get your body’s metabolism working properly from the start. Get your calories in while your metabolism is at its highest.

2. Don’t Eat or Drink After 7 pm

Your body does not know what to do with calories right before bed other than just store them as fat. You will sleep much better without a full stomach. Also, if you are not drinking right before bed you are more likely to make it through the night without having to get up to use the bathroom. A proper night’s sleep is also critical in optimizing your body’s metabolism.

A calorie consumed at 7 am is much more likely to be burned than a calorie at 9 pm. A calorie is not a calorie with regards to your body’s metabolism.

What about you? Do you ever skip breakfast or eat late at night? You can leave a comment by clicking here.