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!

Heart Healthy Tips To Keep Your Ticker in Top Shape


February is National Heart month, a special time for all you HeartGeeks out there.  The heart get’s it’s own month for a very important reason, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

On a positive note, you can make healthy changes to lower your risk of developing heart disease. Controlling and preventing risk factors is also important for people who already have heart disease. To lower your risk:

  • Get active and eat healthy.
  • Watch your weight.
  • Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.

For more information, read this guest post by Miranda Hammer who blogs at http://www.northwestpharmacy.com/healthperch/healthy-heart/

Diet, exercise, lifestyle, and genetics all have an impact on cardiovascular health. To optimize overall wellness and protect yourself against stroke, heart attack, and high blood pressure, consider integrating a few of these heart-healthy tips into your daily regimen.

Cut the Salt

Excess salt in the diet can lead to high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, an elevation in blood pressure can cause damage to the arterial walls, increase the accumulation of plaque, and block blood flow. Salt intake isn’t limited to a sprinkle here and there at the table. Processed foods, restaurant meals, and fast food feature high amounts of sodium. In order to decrease salt intake, read food labels and reduce consumption of packaged and pre-made food. The USDA’s recommendation for total daily salt consumption is 2.4 grams, which is about one teaspoon of table salt. Try cooking your own meals and swap salt for other seasonings such as garlic powder, oregano, or paprika. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and purchase items with no salt added.

Be Active

The National Institute of Aging recommends 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense physical activity on most or all days of the week. This regimen is ideal for protective cardiovascular benefits. Intimidated by CrossFit or a spin class? Consider a brisk walk, gardening, or even bowling to keep you moving. Don’t have a 30-minute block of time to spare? Break up the physical activity into 10-minute intervals. Make sure to consult your physician before initiating a new workout program.

Lose Weight

Packing on too much weight can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions. Extra fat around the midsection poses the highest risk since it is in close proximity to internal organs. Start integrating a healthy lifestyle rich in whole foods and physical activity to reduce weight and/or maintain a healthy weight.

Quit Smoking

Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death. Smoking causes plaque to build in the arterial walls, which could lead to stroke or coronary heart disease. It is never too late to stop and reap the benefits of a smoke-free life. Try cutting back one cigarette a week until you are smoke-free. Introduce new activities and experiences that were previously a challenge as a smoker, such as sitting through a play or a movie, picnicking in the park, or spending quality time with children and pets.

Manage Your Stress

According to the Cleveland Clinic, stress can have long-term physical manifestations. Stress-related anger can lead to heart arrhythmias, increased blood pressure, and damaged arteries. Reduce stress by taking control of your mind and body. Prioritize sleep and exercise. Organize your schedule, take time to relax, limit negative relationships and situations, and integrate deep breathing and relaxation exercises into your daily life.

Eat Heart-Healthy Foods

Adopting a whole food, plant-based diet has been linked to lowered blood pressure and cholesterol as well as weight loss and weight management. A plant-based lifestyle is primarily rooted in foods from the earth. Dark leafy greens, herbs, root vegetables, fruits, legumes, avocados, nuts, seeds, and a variety of whole grains all encompass a plant-based diet.

Maintaining a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides fiber, which aids in digestion and lowers cholesterol while supplying essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Aim for a colorful variety of organic and local produce when possible. If that is not an option, opt for frozen produce that is salt-, sugar-, and preservative-free.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to the diet and are key components for boosting cardiovascular health. They increase HDL (the good) cholesterol in the body and reduce triglycerides. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, ground flax seed, and dark leafy greens. When selecting fatty fish, choose sustainable and wild options over farmed and endangered.

Other heart-healthy fats include monounsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, olives, avocados, and nuts. These fats assist in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.

A comprehensive heart-healthy diet is limited in processed, fast, and frozen foods. Consume alcohol in moderation, and limit sugary foods and beverages. By making small, manageable changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can easily improve your cardiovascular health and overall wellness.


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

Why You Will Not Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

new year's resolutions

Most people resolve to lose weight, quit smoking, or get fit at the start of a New Year. These are all great resolutions, particularly for a HeartGeek. However, if you are like 92% of American’s, you are going to fail!

Don’t worry, it’s not your fault (never is). Resolutions are a setup. They don’t require follow through. Anyone can declare his or her good intentions. Even easier after a few cocktails on New Year’s Eve.

Then we sober up and realize it’s hard to lose weight or quit smoking. Game over. We really do want to achieve those things; we just don’t have the ability to commit, to stick with it. Why not?

Why We Fail

The root of our failure may be focus. Meaning, we are focused on the wrong thing. Instead of starting a new diet in January or resolving to lose 20 pounds by beach season, how about just focusing on being healthy.

That’s what Sandra Aamodt recommended during her TED talk last year. She begins her talk by telling us she gave up dieting as her New Year’s resolution and lost 10lbs as a result. Take a look at the entire (12 minutes) talk below.

If you hung in there, you likely heard that when it comes to losing weight, our brains are working against us. A bunch of research tells us the brain does not handle dieting well. That’s why we have to stop dieting. Instead, get healthy.

How To Succeed

You likely also heard what you already knew – eat right, exercise, and eliminate (or moderate) unhealthy habits. It turns out that healthy people are better able to control their weight and live longer than unhealthy people.   Shocker, right?

So instead of chasing a lower number on the scale or pure abstinence, try the following:

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables
  2. Eat whole grains
  3. Reduce red meat
  4. Reduce sugar
  5. Avoid processed foods
  6. Exercise for 30 minutes at least 3x per week (go for 5, it won’t hurt)
  7. Quit smoking (that’s the only extreme one here)
  8. Reduce alcohol intake
  9. Reduce stress (deep breathing, yoga, etc.)
  10. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night

Give that a go for 6 months and see how you feel. There’s a good chance that you will have lost weight without even trying!

Photo credit: Alan Cleaver / Foter / CC BY

HeartGeek Year In Review

2014I hope everyone had a happy and healthy holiday season.  I am in vacation mode – which means I am being lazy and not writing new posts.  Seems like a good time to look back on this past year’s most popular posts:

  1. My Favorite Heart Health Gadget – My first gadget review. The Alivecor is a portable device that provides a real-time electrocardiogram (ECG) on your cell phone. Another favorite is the Basis Peak fitness watch.
  2. Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Get Off Your Ass – It’s good to see an interest in exercise. This post provides strategies to get moving and stay motivated.
  3. Exercise After 40? It’s Not Too Late! – More of a reference than a post. Provides a link to a study that found starting exercise at 40 has the same heart benefits as starting exercise earlier in life.
  4. Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Stop Eating Crap – A post describing my experiments with different diets and a top 10 of what really worked.
  5. Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Simplify Your Life – Tips for getting rid of the unhealthy habits and distractions and focusing on what is important – your health!

Those were the most read posts this past year and I truly appreciate you taking the time to read them. I also had a few favorites (in no particular order):

  1. What is a Cardiac Arrest? –Learn the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack in this post.
  2. Sugar Increase Your Risk of Dying From Heart Disease – Fatty foods are considered enemy number one for cardiac patients. This post explains why sugar may be just as dangerous.
  3. What is Your Child’s Risk of a Heart Attack? – Healthy living is a family commitment. Strategies to get our kids moving and head off early heart disease.
  4. How To Prevent Your Next Heart Attack – Strategies for planning the rest of your life.
  5. The Best Supplements For Heart Health – Find out what supplements can increase your overall energy, allow you to exercise more, have less fatigue, less muscle pain and cramping, and even get a better nights sleep.

I imagine everyone is starting to make their resolutions.   Exercise, diet, etc. are all good and I wish you the best.   Check back in here throughout the year if you need a little motivation.  In case you are struggling with resolutions, there is a good post on Zenhabits describing the benefits of establishing new habits over making resolutions.

I am trying to figure out what to do with this blog in 2015.  Let me know what you liked and didn’t like over the past year.  What information do you find most beneficial?

Thanks, and Happy New Year!


Sugar Increases Your Risk of Dying From Heart Disease

sugarIt’s common sense that consuming mass quantities of sugar is not part of a healthy diet. But come on, how bad can that pound of M&Ms really be for your heart health? According to a new study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine, pretty bad.

All those sodas, cookies, and candy bars add up. According to the report, MOST adults get at least 10% of their calories from added sugar and 10% of adults get 25% of their daily calories from added sugar!sugar trends

The graph at the right puts this into perspective. If you look at just the past 100 years, we have doubled our yearly sugar consumption.   That means the average American consumes the equivalent of five sugary sodas per day!

If It Tastes So Good, Why Is It So Bad?

We are eating a lot of sugar, but why is that so bad? Let’s get the obvious out of the way- you may become an obese diabetic with cancer and rotting teeth. As if that is not bad enough, did you know that you are also doing damage to your heart?

So How Bad Is Sugar For Your Heart?

The JAMA research found that a person drinking just one soda every day is almost twice as likely to die from Cardiovascular Disease. Outside of the unhealthy dietary consequences of sugar, what is the direct effect on the heart? A study by the American Heart Association found that sugar negatively affects the pumping mechanism of your heart. In other words, heart failure.

Why are we so addicted to sugar?

Remember the crack epidemic during the 1980’s? Studies have shown that sugar can induce cravings similar to those of addictive drugs such as cocaine. In fact, the addictive characteristics of sugar appear to be stronger than those of cocaine. This explains why I steal my kids Halloween candy every night after they go to bed. It’s not my fault, I’m an addict!

How can you kick your sugar habit?

The same way you got off the crack! Just kidding (kind of). Breaking your sugar addiction is similar to breaking other substance addictions – you need to acknowledge the problem and get help!

Dr. Mark Hyman, a well known physician, author, and Functional Medicine proponent, recently laid out a 10-step sugar detox program. Check out the full details on his site, but the basics are:

  • Make a decision to quit
  • Quit
  • Don’t drink sugary calories
  • Eat more protein
  • Eat the right carbs
  • Eat the right fats
  • Carry healthy snacks
  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Get enough sleep

In other words, be a HeatGeek!


Corliss, Judy. “Eating Too Much Added Sugar Increases the Risk of Dying with Heart Disease.” Harvard Health Blog RSS. N.p., 6 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

L.D., Kristin Kirkpatrick M.S. R.D. “10 Things You Don’t Know About Sugar (And What You Don’t Know Could Hurt You).” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 30 July 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

Fries, Wendy C. “Curb Sugar & Carb Cravings: 13 Tips to Control Your Sweet Tooth.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

Hyman, Mark. “Top 10 Big Ideas: How to Detox from Sugar – Dr. Mark Hyman.” Dr Mark Hyman. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

Photo credit: Lauri Andler(Phantom) / Foter / CC BY-SA