Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How to Treat Blood Pressure with Food

Is the most recent interview I've done with Harvard Men's Health Watch.  

This article gives some first steps to use either the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) or Mediterranean Diet to help lower your blood pressure.

I was happy to see the New England Journal of Medicine article published online 2 days ago which showed that the Mediterranean diet reduces the number of cardiovascular events (ie. heart attack and stroke) by 1/3.  The study lends more proof to something I've been espousing for a long time - in my opinion, the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest - and tastiest - option out there.  It is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, and fish.  Moderate wine consumption (up to 1 five-ounce glass per day for women and up to 2 for men) is also part of the picture for those who partake.  Foods that are eaten rarely or in small quantities include dairy, meat and meat products.

The DASH diet has been shown through studies to lower blood pressure as well as one blood pressure medication.  Diets rich in olive oil, like the Mediterranean diet, have been shown to reduce the amount of blood pressure medication needed by as much as half in those treated for high blood pressure.

Using either diet in combination with exercise and weight loss could be the difference between a life consigned to a bottle of blood pressure medication or not.  What are you waiting for?

Photo credit makeitnaked.com

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

12 Superfoods You Should Be Eating

What should I eat?

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that question...The answer is a diet varied in colors, flavors, textures, nutrients and generally recognizable as how the food comes from its original or whole state.  As Michael Pollan famously wrote, "Eat food. Not too much.  Mostly plants."

With collaborators at Harvard Women's Health Watch, we've put together a list of 12 "superfoods" and details about what makes them so healthy.

Check out:  12 Superfoods You Should Be Eating

*Photo credit: 78superfoods.com

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Calcium and Heart Disease - Are Supplements Dangerous?

There has been a lot of press lately about a potential link between calcium supplements and heart disease.  

Harvard Health Blog interviewed me for today's post on the topic: 

High calcium intake from supplements linked to heart disease in men

Daniel PendickExecutive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Getting extra calcium from supplements is supposed to be good for your bones. The latest in a string of studies heightens concern that this simple practice could end up being bad for your heart. The results support growing recommendations to get calcium from food, not pills.
The new evidence comes from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which has followed the health of nearly 400,000 men and women since 1995. At the study’s start, the participants were asked how much supplemental calcium they took. From diet surveys, the researchers also assessed the likely amounts the participants were getting from food. Over 12 years of follow-up, men who took more than 1,000 milligrams (mg) of daily supplemental calcium were 20% more likely to succumb to heart disease than those who didn’t take calcium supplements. There was no connection between calcium supplements and heart disease in women (which has beenseen in earlier studies), and no connection with calcium from food. The results were published yesterday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
This one study isn’t enough to find calcium guilty of heart disease in the first degree. It wasn’t a randomized trial, the gold standard of medical research, so it’s possible that other unmeasured factors could account for, or at least contribute to, the link between calcium supplements and heart disease.
But it’s not the only research to point the accusing finger. “This is another study looking at high calcium supplements and their effect on heart disease, and it’s starting to get concerning,” says Dr. David Slovik, an osteoporosis expert, endocrinologist, and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Calcium for health

Everyone needs calcium to keep bones strong. It’s especially important for older folks, in whom the mineral can leach from bones. Losing calcium weakens bones and leaves them more prone to breaking. Vitamin D is the helpmate to calcium, allowing the body to absorb more of the mineral during digestion.

Recommended daily intakes of calcium and vitamin D

Vitamin D
Women ages 19 to 50
1,000 mg
600 IU
Women ages 51 to 70
1,200 mg
600 IU
Women ages 71+
1,200 mg
800 IU
Men ages 19 to 50
1,000 mg
600 IU
Men ages 51 to 70
1,000 mg
600 IU
Men over ages 71+
1,200 mg
800 IU
Many people don’t obtain enough calcium or vitamin D from natural sources—food in the case of calcium and sunlight in the case of vitamin D. They make up shortfalls by taking daily supplements.
Until the calcium–heart disease issue is worked out, it’s best to get as much calcium as possible from food. The menu options go beyond milk and cheese. “There are a lot of common foods that people don’t realize have calcium,” says Dr. Michelle Hauser, a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a certified chef and nutrition educator.
The go-to foods for calcium have traditionally been milk (an 8-ounce glass contains 300 mg of calcium) and other dairy foods. But dairy foods often come with saturated fat and plenty of calories, which limits their use for delivering calcium.
Dr. Hauser points out that a number of common foods besides milk, cheese, and dairy foods can deliver comparable amounts of calcium.
  • An 8-ounce portion of off-the-shelf orange juice contains about 300 mg of calcium. The calcium in fortified soy milk also compares favorably to whole milk.
  • Breakfast cereals (which are also fortified) contain substantial amounts of calcium, especially when combined with low-fat milk.
  • A portion of oatmeal on its own contains just 100 mg of calcium. “But if you cut up some dried figs and add it to a bowl of oatmeal with milk, you easily get about half of what you need without having any supplements,” Dr. Hauser says.
  • Lunch and dinner afford opportunities to boost calcium. Start with salads with leafy greens like kale, turnip greens, and Swiss chard. “A large salad would contain about as much calcium as a glass of milk,” Dr. Hauser says. But go easy on the spinach—it is high in iron, which tends to block absorption of calcium.
  • If you enjoy sardines and other canned fish with bones included, you are in luck: they are unusually high in calcium. One 3-ounce serving of sardines provides about 325 mg of calcium.
An extensive list of the calcium content of hundreds of foods is available for free from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.

Take time for calcium

Since the NIH-AARP participants were surveyed in 1995-1996, efforts have intensified to prevent osteoporosis not just with calcium supplements but also with a nutritious diet and, perhaps most important, regular weight-bearing exercise. “I think we should be a little more cautious about calcium from supplements,” Dr. Slovik says. “I tell my patients they should get as much as possible of the recommended amount from food.” Drs. Slovik and Hauser also emphasize the importance of getting enough vitamin D.
It might seem that popping a calcium supplement is an easy answer to maintaining bone health. But it comes with an uncertain risk of heart problems, and denies you the nutrients that hitchhike along with calcium in whole foods.