Thursday, February 9, 2012

I Heart Chocolate!

February is Heart Health month.   How well have you been taking care of your heart?  Do you feed it whole, nutritious foods or is your heart working overtime to process the junk you put in your body?
Quite often, I'm asked about which supermarket and health food store to go to.  Although I do have my own preferences, it doesn't matter too much where you go as long as you follow a few basic rules.  First of all, don't shop when you are ravenous!   Have a plan (i.e., a list) and stick to it!  If you resolve to spend the majority of your time on the outskirts of the supermarket, you will do just fine.  in other words, hit the produce, meat, frozen,  and dairy sections which usually make up the outer aisles of the store.  The inner aisles usually contain the makings of a binge.  Think about it!  Where are the crackers, chips, and candies?  Yup - usually straight up and down the middle aisles.    Whenever possible, buy organic versions of the things you eat the most of.  Avoid the Dirty Dozen.  (See my article on organic vs. conventional food items here ...
When you are eating out, don't starve yourself all day in anticipation.  If necessary, have a healthy snack beforehand.   You never know how long the wait will be.  Try to enjoy the experience of being out.   Focus on the social interaction and the environment.  The food should only be part of the allure of eating out.  Eat according to your physical hunger; not in response to the portion size you have been served.  In other words, you are not obligated to eat everything in front of you if you are not physically hungry for it and if it does not fit into your healthy eating plan.  You can pass on foods that are unhealthy and you can always bring leftovers home.
When preparing meals at home, use unsaturated fats , such as vegetable oils and olive oil, for cooking.  Limit intake of butter and saturated fats.  Choose lean meats.   Avoid frying your foods.  Boil, broil, grill, or roast your foods instead.   Watch portion size!
I, recently, saw an obese woman on television justifying her eating habits for the camera.  She believed that her goal of reaching 1000 pounds was okay because she was "going about it in a healthy manner"!  She stated that her blood pressure was good and she was not eating a lot of salt.  She said this as she said on the couch, eating a large bag of potato chips!  This is an extreme example of denial and lack of knowledge.   Surely, you know better!  Be honest with yourself.  If necessary, get a reality check from a professional.
Watch salt intake.  We all need some amount of sodium in our diets.  However, certain foods - especially fast foods, frozen meals,  canned goods, and chips - usually contain excessive amounts of salt.   Read the label!   Limit or avoid fast food altogether!  It is heavily processed and usually contains high amounts of sodium.
Recognize that food is a drug that affects energy and mood.  Use it wisely!   Consider incorporating complex carbohydrates (e.g., vegetables, whole grains, and beans),  protein, and healthy fats at each meal and snack.  Also consider having 5 to 6 small meals per day to help stabilize blood sugar, energy, and mood.   Don't skip meals!
Carbohydrates are essential for brain health.  They are involved in the production of serotonin which has a positive effect on mood.   Incorporate complex carbs into your diet while avoiding  simple carbs (sugars) as much as possible.    Simple carbs will cause a spike in your blood sugar followed by a serious dip in blood sugar and mood shortly afterwards.    According to Delicious Living (Feb. 2012), research suggests a link between consumption of simple carbs and cardiovascular disease.  It is believed that these foods increase inflammation and bad cholesterol in the body. 
Stay hydrated - with water, green tea, or herbal tea.  Avoid sodas, sugary drinks, and alcohol.   It is easy to mistake thirst for hunger.  Make sure you are drinking enough.  Staying hydrated will also help your mood and energy. 
Manage stress and depression.  One of the best ways to do this is to exercise.  Physical activity is good for the body and the mind.   Cardiovascular activity strengthens the heart muscle!  Also remember to take time for yourself.  Down time helps you recharge and make you more effective in the things you do. 
Anyone who knows me, knows I love dark chocolate.  So, along with exercise, my personal favorite suggestion for heart health is to eat a small amount of dark chocolate every day.  I know I need backup on this one, so here's what Delicious Living (Feb. 2012) had to say ... "Antioxidant flavonoids in cocoa can reduce oxidation of bad cholesterol, and high-polyphenol dark chocolate boosts good cholesterol levels ... Be sure to relish just a square or two; most chocolate also contains saturated fat."
I'd love to hear your input! Please post a comment below or contact me at 732-842-3515 or  I am here to support you!

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Happy Valentine's Day and Happy Heart Health Month!
~Coach Jenna

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