Our Dietary Guidelines Are Killing Us

Rules for Living
Our Dietary Guidelines are killing us, and here is why – nobody follows guidelines!  The guidelines tell us what we are supposed to eat to stay healthy.  Yet, as a nation, we continue to get sicker and fatter.  A heart attack at 41 shows you how well I follow guidelines.

History of the Dietary Guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines were first developed in 1980.  Every 5 years, the Government appoints a group of nutritional and medical experts to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).  The DGAC is responsible for researching and producing the report and guidelines.

So how effective are these guidelines from DGAC?  The committee addresses that right up front by stating the following:

The 2015 DGAC’s work was guided by two fundamental realities. First, about half of all American adults—117 million individuals—have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, and about two-thirds of U.S. adults—nearly 155 million individuals—are overweight or obese.

The report found that these conditions have been highly prevalent for at least two decades.  This means the conditions became highly prevalent about a decade after the guidelines were first published!

What’s Better Than Guidelines?

Rules!  Rules are meant to be followed and have explicit consequences when not followed.  If you are trying to prevent or recover from a heart attack (or just get healthy) set some rules and stick to them.  Abe Lincoln and I have previously stated our rules for living.  His may be a bit more eloquent, but here are mine:

  • Don’t smoke – A hard and fast rule. Smoking accelerates the dying process.
  • Get off your ass – Move at least 30 minutes a day, 5-days a week. Put workouts on a calendar and don’t miss them!
  • Quit eating crap – Unprocessed and nutritional foods 6-days a week. Day 7 is a cheat day, go nuts!
  • Simplify your life – Make some rules about work/life balance and stick to them.

Amazingly, Abe and my lists are quite similar.  I may add “steer clear of biliousness” to mine in the future.  In the meantime, know that following these rules will substantially improve your overall health.  Not following the rules will lead to chronic disease and obesity.  Time to make a choice!

Best Heart Healthy Diets for 2015

mediterranean dietThe US News & World Report has issued their 2015 ranking of best diets. Not surprisingly, fad diets (think Paleo or any type of cleanse diet) did not fare too well.   Those diets that did fare well focus on healthy eating – plain and simple.

The top five heart healthy diets will help you lose weight and lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides. A few of them are even palatable – more on that in a bit.

Here are the five best heart healthy diets:

  1. Ornish Diet
  2. TCL Diet
  3. DASH Diet
  4. Mediterranean
  5. Engine 2 Diet

All of these diets are great and will provide cardiovascular benefits if followed appropriately. However, a couple of them are vegan. I am not ready to become a vegan.

Less Fattening, Tastes Great

Mediterranean Diet – By far the best diet if you actually enjoy eating a variety of foods that taste good! This diet features healthy doses of fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil and herbs and spices. Fish or seafood is your main protein.

You are also allowed, poultry, eggs, cheese and (yogurt in moderation). The best news, sweets and red meat are not off the table. The key to eating the Mediterranean diet is how often and how much of each.

Like the other heart healthy diets, foods from plant sources are prominently featured. Unlike the other diets, you get to indulge in a greater variety of foods. Check out the Oldways site for guidance and recipes.

Balanced and Heart Healthy

Dash Diet – The Dash Diet is not only good for your heart, it is the #1 healthiest diet on the list. The diet was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and is focused on reducing blood pressure.

However, like the Mediterranean, Dash is a lifestyle diet. A guide to getting started can be found here.

TLC Diet – The TLC (Total Lifestyle Change) diet is endorsed by the American Heart Association. This is a low fat diet designed to help you lower your cholesterol. It is also the #2 ranked overall health and # 2 heart health diet. Saturated fat is a no-no and red meat is highly discouraged. However, if you are a high-risk heart patient, this may be the one for you.

Finally, the Vegan’s

Ornish Diet –The claim here is scientific proof to make you “feel better, live longer, lose weight and gain health.” In order to realize all this, you must go vegan. However, the Ornish program is more than just nutrition. The Ornish Spectrum also covers exercise and lifestyle. Check out the full program here.  It’s a committment!

Engine 2 Diet – This is a whole foods diet designed to reverse diseases, including heart disease. A very healthy lifestyle choice with one significant drawback; no animal products whatsoever. I repeat, no animal products whatsoever.

The common element to each of these diets is healthy eating, not weigh loss.   Combining any one of these eating plans with a decent amount of physical activity will greatly improve your overall health.  Which one are you choosing?

Photo credit: Nate Gray: A Culinary (Photo) Journal / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Thanksgiving Day Food Orgy Leads To Heart Attack!

Thanksgiving Day Gluttony

Here is a startling fact: The average American scarfs down 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat during Thanksgiving. Gluttonous indeed, but are you putting your life at risk? Of course you are! – A study has found that heavy meals can trigger a heart attack.

How Can Dinner Trigger a Heart Attack?

The study, conducted by Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, found overeating QUADRUPLES a person’s risk of a heart attack for up to two hours after a meal. Think of that as you pile on the stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie.

So what causes the increased chance of having a heart attack after a large meal? There are a number of factors in play here:

  • Blood – Your digestive system goes into overdrive when you eat a large meal. This mean your gut needs more blood than normal and the heart has to work hard to get all that blood moving around.
  • Sugar – Blood sugar and inulin levels go up. These spikes can increase blood pressure and decrease the normal relaxation of the coronary arteries.
  • Fat –Fatty meals lead to an elevation of triglycerides (fat) in the blood. Increased triglycerides cause coronary artery inflammation. Inflamed arteries are a common precursor to a heart attack.
  • Magik – the magik of alcohol. Alcohol adds more calories to your day and makes us love/hate our relatives. Can also lead to an abnormal and dangerous heart rhythm (arrhythmia/A-Fib)

Bonus if you got the Red Hot Chili Peppers reference in the bullets!

Will Thanksgiving Dinner Kill Me?

Likely not. The risk of heart attack from eating a heavy meal is about the same as the risk from sex or a heavy workout. Only benefit of that large meal – I doubt you are moving on to sex and a workout after gorging on 4,500 fatty calories and a few bottles wine!

The usual suspects should be most concerned. Moderation is important for everyone, but more so if you already meet one or more of the following conditions:

  • Heart attack history
  • Heart disease history
  • Heart bypass surgery
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Any combination of smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol

Personal note – I scored a 4 out of 5.

Strategies for Not Overeating

Thanksgiving is a holiday that is all about food! I think we are supposed be thankful for something also, not sure. Enjoy a few tasty treats but also try and control your portions. A few tips for not overeating:

  • Start healthy – Start the day on a positive not and get some exercise in early. Turkey Trot?
  • Eat early – Eat a healthy breakfast and lunch (depending on timing) before the feast. Proteins (eggs, poultry, etc.) help keep you full throughout the day.
  • Control portions – You should be able to carry your plate with one hand. Enough said.
  • Engage – The whole family is there, you might as well talk to them. And since you don’t talk with food in your mouth, automatic portion control.
  • Walk it off – Avoid the table to couch transition. A walk is a great family activity or a way to get some solitude!

Happy Thanksgiving

Back to the real purpose of the holiday – giving thanks. I am thankful for the opportunity to be here! I’m thankful for my health, family, and friends. And thanks to you for reading this.

References

Richwine, Lisa. “Heavy Meals May Trigger Heart Attacks.” ABC News. ABC News Network, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.

“9 Classic Thanksgiving Recipes Made-over Healthy.” Caloriecontrol.org. N.p., n.d. Web.

Photo credit: OctopusHat / Foter / CC BY-SA

The Best Supplements for Heart Health

Supplements

Living a healthier lifestyle is the best way to prevent or manage heart disease.  But who couldn’t use a little assist?  There is growing evidence that supplements can help you obtain greater cardiovascular health. 

So which ones should you take?  Start with the ones’ that are well researched and have demonstrated benefits for heart health.  Using this approach, I have arrived at the following daily regimen:

  1. Fish Oil – The most recommended supplement for heart health.  Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3s help reduce risk factors for heart disease including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides and inflammation in the body.  Go with a high-quality brand such as Nordic Naturals.
  2. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – This enzyme occurs naturally in the body and helps convert food to energy.  Research shows the CoQ10 helps with heart-related conditions because it improves energy production in cells, prevents blood clot formation, and acts as an antioxidant.  Statins interfere with the production of CoQ10 so if you are on one, you should definitely ask your doctor about supplementing.  Almost a no brainer.
  3. L-Carnitine – Carnitine helps the body turn fat into energy.  It also acts as an antioxidant, fighting those crazy free radicals in your body.  Free radicals damage cells and mess with DNA.  The Mayo clinic has weighed in on this one and found that L-Carnitine can reduce mortality, abnormal heart rhythms and angina development in patients experiencing a heart attack.
  4. D-Ribose – Ribose is a carbohydrate the body uses to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP warrants a post by itself, but in a nutshell, ATP is the fuel for our body.  It’s this fuel is what allows muscles to contract, or in the case of the heart PUMP!  Sounds pretty important to me.
  5. Magnesium – All your organs, but especially your heart, need magnesium to function properly.  Magnesium has been shown to help maintain normal heart rhythms, lower the risk of congestive heart failure, and lower the death rates for those who have already had a heart attack.   Magnesium also helps with sleep, an important contributor to heart health.
  6. Multi-Vitamin – There is growing evidence that Vitamins D and B have heart health benefits.  I take a multi-vitamin from Inspired Nutrition that provides enough of these two vitamins plus a whole slew of heart healthy ingredients such as garlic, green tea, and resveratrol.  The folks at Inspired Nutrition really understand the relationship between nutrients and disease management.  I suggest you check out some of their other products as well.

I truly feel the benefits from these supplements.  I have increased energy levels, am able to exercise more, have less fatigue, have less muscle pain and cramping, and I even get a better nights sleep.

References:

“Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide.” University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2014.

Mayo Clinic review links L-Carnitine to multiple heart health benefits, By Oliver Nieburg+, 23-Apr-2013

Photo credit: veo_ / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

There are affiliate links in this post.

Generation XL – From MTV to Obesity

genxperspectives_nirvana-lrgrGeneration X, the MTV generation, my generation, the fattest generation ever! There is an alarming increase in obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and heart attacks in Gen-Xer’s.  And from the looks of things, it’s only going to get worse for Millennials.  Now that I have completely bummed out two entire generations, let’s see what’s behind all of this unhealthiness.

Enter the Aussies

A study done by researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia has confirmed that if current trends continue, Generation X will overtake Baby Boomers for poor health, including rates of obesity and diabetes. I wouldn’t dismiss this as an Australian problem. According to the American Heart Association, nearly 70% of American adults are either overweight or obese.

Hold on, I thought this was a heart blog, not an obesity blog.  It is, but being obese puts you at a higher risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Guess what happens to people with heart disease and high blood pressure?  Their left arm starts to hurt.

The researchers found that Gen-X is more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese at 25-44 years of age, compared to Baby Boomers at the same age.  One of the coauthors of the study, Ms. Rhiannon Pilkington, suggests there is growing evidence the the trend is happening world wide.

So what is fueling the rise in obesity for Gen Xer’s when compared to Baby Boomers?  According to Ms. Pilkington, it’s because we sit on our ass and eat junk food.  Ok, she actually stated it this way:

Although the two groups in our study did not seem to have any difference in levels of physical activity, our lifestyles and food environments have changed dramatically over recent decades.

So both generations are equally active, what gives Ms. Pilkington?

Transport options and workplaces encourage sedentary behaviour, and food high in fat and sugar is often more readily available than a healthier alternative. This may account for why the younger generation is developing unhealthy weight levels at an earlier age.

See, I told you it’s because we sit on our ass and eat junk food.  If you haven’t seen it before, check out my series on cardiac recovery for tips on exercising and eating healthy.

All This Obesity is Stressing Me Out!

As a Gen-Xer, I am supposed to be indifferent about the Millennial generation (Gen-Y).  But it’s hard not to feel bad for them.  The Millennials may be the first generation to see rising rates of early-onset obesity related diseases such as high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and elevated cholesterol.  To put things in perspective, the number of young adults (18-29) who are obese has more than tripled in the last 40 years.

Millennials are overachievers.  In addition to being obese, they are completely stressed out.  Unfortunately, a lethal cardiac combo. According to a report by the American Psychological Association, with the exception of Millennials (those 18-33 years of age), all other age groups reported decreasing levels of stress.  So why are the Millennials so stressed?  Here is what the survey found:

  • 76 percent were stressed out about work;
  • 73 percent fretted over money;
  • 59 percent obsessed over relationships’
  • 56 percent were faced with intense family responsibilities;
  • 55 percent were freaked out over the current state of the economy.
  • Money for nothing and chicks for free sounded sensible when I was younger.

Don’t worry Gen-Y, in addition to offering tips for healthy eating and exercising, my series on cardiac recovery also offers tips on simplifying your life and relaxing.

Money for Nothing

Who knew that money for nothing and chicks for free would lead to obesity and heart attacks?  Both of our most recent generations are facing serious health issues.  It’s time we clean up our act.  Not only can we save our lives, but we can start providing a good example for the next generation, our children.

References:

The University of Adelaide. Gen X Obesity a Major Problem for Healthcare, Workforce. The University of Adelaide News and Events. N.p., 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 June 2014.

Pilkington, Rhiannon, Anne W. Taylor, Graeme Hugo, and Gary Wittert. Are Baby Boomers Healthier than Generation X? A Profile of Australia’s Working Generations Using National Health Survey Data. PLOS One. University of Adelaide, 26 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 June 2014.

Pew Research Center. (2010). Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next. Retrieved from http://pewsocialtrends.org/files/2010/10/millennials-confident-connected-open-to-change.pdf

Watson, Elwood. “Millennial Stress College Years and Beyond.” Diverseeducation. N.p., 6 Mar. 2013. Web. 26 June 2014.

heartgeek Exposed!

HG_WTOP

I would like to start off by saying happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.  I am going on a bike ride this morning and then relaxing with the kids all day.

I found out that I’m a pretty bad father. I make a lot of mistakes and I don’t know what I’m doing. But my kids love me. Go figure. —Louis C.K.

Now on to heartgeeky stuff.

My 15 Minutes

I was interviewed earlier this week by WTOP, a Washington, D.C. radio station.  The reporter was doing a story on the rising trend of heart attacks and heart disease in younger people.  She found my blog and reached out, saying “You are just the guy I am looking for”. As a result, couple of audio clips aired during the morning drive hours and an article appeared on the WTOP website.  Just like that, heartgeek is a exposed.  I am expecting a call from Oprah at any moment.

Many friends and co-workers were caught off guard when they heard my voice on the radio.  Up until  heartgeek, I maintained a very low profile on the internet and social media.  I wasn’t even on Facebook until this March!  Now here I was talking on the radio and laying out some extremely personal information on a blog.  If people hadn’t heard my story before, they certainly know it now!

A great benefit from this sudden exposure was finally connecting with other people who have gone through a similar experience to me.  People found the blog and then shared with me their cardiac stories.  I learned how others are successfully living with heart disease and also what has been a challenge.  This was the interaction I had hoped for when I started heartgeek!

It’s Not Just Me

One email I received that really stood out was from a guy who wrote and told me he read the blog and it scared the crap out of him.  I do enjoy scaring people, but my goal with heartgeek is to motivate.  Not surprisingly, I heard from a few people that motivation is a problem in cardiac recovery.  Having heart disease at a young age means staying on top of your health for a long, long time.  That in itself can crush motivation.

I received quite a few emails on the benefits of a vegan diet in both preventing and reversing heart disease.  I received recommendations to watch the “Forks and Knives” documentary, read Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr.’s book “How to Reverse & Prevent Heart Disease” (I have already purchased) and visit the Happy Herbivore blog.  Each of these sources describes how a plant-based diet can not only prevent heart disease, but also stop the progression and reverse heart disease.  Former President Bill Clinton follow’s Dr. Esselstyn’s program.

There were a couple of recommendations for Dr. Ornish’s Lifestyle Program.  This one looks interesting and is something I will spend time reading up on.  I also received a recommendation to read Mark Bittman’s book “Vegan Before 6”.  Mark is a food writer/author as well as a columnist for the New York Times.  In my house, we already rely on his “How to Cook Everything” cookbook and I like the fact that his approach provides the best of both worlds.

These are all great recommendations and I am sure to experiment with each of them.  I will also try P90X3 at the suggestion of one reader.  What sticks with me most from all the email I received is each writer’s desire and actions to live a happy and healthy life despite having heart disease.

Let’s Keep It Up

A community is starting to form, let’s keep it up.  I do a lot of research geared towards improving my health and I learned quite a few new things from this initial wave of interaction.  There are new diets, lifestyle changes, and exercise programs that I need to check out.  The only way to continue to learn is to share information.   Please join the email list, send emails, and most importantly, leave comments and engage with other readers.

Can I ask a favor?  Leave me a comment below regarding topics for future posts.  Based on the input I received so far, I am thinking we need one on motivation.  I would love to hear from you.

Finally, thank you for all the engagement over the past week.  It’s been great to interact with other heartgeeks!