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Oil Change: the essential guide to cooking oils

Oil Change: the essential guide to cooking oils

From sauces to stir-fries, healthy cooking oils are essential ingredients. But overheating these staples can be hazardous. When an oil reaches the temperature at which it begins240_F_13720078_hmP9qxKvBnVZmz1JWQXaqNFcaAfwZ4R7 to smoke, it becomes damaged at a molecular level. In addition to compromising the taste of your food, those damaged molecules also create free radicals in the body that are potentially carcinogenic, given enough time and exposure.

That scary proposition has many health-conscious home cooks relying on high-heat canola oil alone. But any foodie worth his or her salt will say sautéing vegetables in olive oil or using sesame oil for a stir-fry adds a not-to-be-missed flavor complexity.

Can you get good flavor without getting burned? Yes! Use this guide to find the right varieties for all your cooking needs.

Almond Oil
Smoke point: 420°F
The scoop: This high-heat nut oil has a mild flavor and a pale-yellow color. Unrefined varieties have sweeter, nuttier undertones; look for “cold-pressed” on the label. Almond oil is high in heart-healthful monounsaturated fats and vitamin E.
Best uses: Sautéing, roasting, stir-frying, and baking. Use the unrefined variety for salad dressings, and drizzling over finished dishes.

Avocado Oil
Smoke point: 520°F
The scoop: Emerald-green avocado oil has the highest smoke point of any plant oil. It adds a full texture and flavor without leaving foods greasy. Unrefined varieties have a buttery, grassy taste with mushroom undertones. Avoca240_F_11299731_bsLUlRFfXg3HzdemrY9vNJ2r8d7iLtTmdo oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which can lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels while raising beneficial HDL levels. It also contains vitamin E.
Best uses: Sautéing, roasting, frying, stir-frying, and baking. Unrefined avocado oil adds a luxurious touch to salad dressings and soups, or use it as a dip for bread.

Canola Oil
Smoke point: 400°F
The scoop: Though it’s considered a good source of heart-healthful monounsaturated fats and alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, canola is still the most controversial of all oils. Developed from the rapeseed plant, a variety of mustard, canola oil has been blamed for everything from glaucoma to Mad Cow disease, though research has failed to substantiate those claims. It’s neutral in flavor, color and aroma; has a high smoke point; and is good for frying. If you do use canola oil, only buy organic varieties to avoid GMOs.
Best uses: Roasting, broiling, baking, sautéing, and stir-frying, or as the base for mayonnaise or salad dressings.

Coconut Oil
Smoke point: 350°F
The scoop: Extracted from the fat-rich flesh of the coconut, this oil has a creamy texture and buttery flavor with caramel undertones. Unrefined varieties have a pronounced coconut taste and aroma; refined versions are more neutral. Though it’s mostly saturated fat (11.8 grams per tablespoon, compared to 1 to 2 grams for most other plant oils), coconut oil may reduce total and LDL cholesterol, while raising beneficial HDL. It’s also high in lauric acid, a compound that has antimicrobial properties. Because many mass-market brands are bleached, deodorized, and chemically extracted during the refining process, look for “expeller-pressed” on the label.
Best uses: Light sautéing, low-temperature stir-frying, and baking. Unrefined coconut oil adds a distinctive Thai or Asian flavor to baked goods. Or use it in smoothies, cookies, and sauces, or mixed with olive oil for a spread.

Grapeseed Oil
Smoke point: 390°F
The scoop: Extracted from the seeds of grapes, usually those used for making wine, this deep green oil has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point, making it a favorite among cooks. Two caveats: grapeseed oil has more omega-6 fats than any other oil. Research suggests that too much omega-6 relative to omega-3 fat promotes inflammation in the body, so use grapeseed oil in moderation. In addition, many grapeseed oils are chemically extracted using solvents such as hexane, so look for expeller-pressed versions, which are free of solvent residues.
Best uses: Roasting, broiling, sautéing, and stir-frying; making homemade mayonnaise; or blending with stronger-flavored oils such as walnut or toasted sesame to soften their flavors.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Smoke point: 320°F
The scoop: With its robust flavor, health benefits, and moderate smoke point, olive oil is a necessity in every kitchen. Extra virgin, from the first pressing, is the highest quality, and has grassy, herbal undertones and a green-gold hue. High in monounsaturated fats and antioxidant polyphenols, it may help protect against cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and inflammation. Because extra virgin olive oil may be adulterated with other oils, choose organic versions.
Best uses: Use extra virgin varieties for dressing salads, dipping bread, drizzling over finished dishes, or marinating kale and other raw vegetables. Pure olive oil— is a blend of refined and virgin olive oils—has a smoke point of 420°F and is best for roasting, broiling, sautéing, and stir-frying.

Sesame Oil
Smoke point: 410°F
The scoop: Distinctly flavored sesame oil adds instant Asian flair to recipes. There are two main types: golden sesame oil, which is pressed from raw sesame seeds; and toasted sesame oil, which is pressed from toasted seeds and has a dark brown color and powerfully nutty flavor. For best quality, choose unrefined cold-pressed sesame oils, and look for those from quality sources.
Best uses: Refined sesame oil works well for roasting, broiling, sautéing, and high-heat stir-frying. Unrefined sesame oil is best for light sautéing, low-heat stir-frying, drizzling over vegetables, adding to cooked brown rice, or in Asian-inspired sauces and dressings. When it comes to toasted sesame oil, a little goes a long way; the flavor is intense, so use sparingly.

Oil Basics
Certain rules apply to all oils. Follow these guidelines for buying and storing.

Refined versus unrefined Refined oils, which are free of tiny impurities that can burn and lower the smoke point, are best for higher-heat cooking. Unrefined oils have a fuller flavor and aroma, but a lower smoke point; reserve them for salad dressings, low-heat sauces, or drizzling over finished dishes.

Packaging Glass bottles help you avoid toxins that may leach into oils from plastic bottles. Dark glass is best; exposure to light can damage oils and destroy antioxidants. Buy smaller bottles, so you’ll use the oil while it’s fresh.

Extraction Most conventional oils are extracted with chemical solvents or high heat; expeller-pressed oils are mechanically extracted. Cold-pressing, a method of expeller pressing that keeps temperatures low during extraction, is best at avoiding damage to the subtle flavors of nut and finishing oils.

Storage To further protect oils from light damage, store them in a cool, dark cupboard away from the stove. To further extend an oil’s shelf life, store it in the refrigerator.

Forever Young: the anti-aging diet

Forever Young: the anti-aging diet

You can’t avoid getting older, but the foods you eat play a crucial role in keeping your body healthy and your brain functioning well into your senior years. Researchers and anti-aging experts agree that eating an abundance of antioxidants, monounsaturated fats, and omega-3 fats can help you stay strong, healthy, and looking fabulous through the years. Start with the following 10 foods, all rich in these key nutrients. They’re easy to incorporate into your diet, and they all taste good, too.

1. Berries are packed with polyphenols, antioxidants that we know guard against age-related changes in the brain. Polyphenols work in two major ways. First, they donate an electron to harmful free radicals in the brain, which neutralize240_F_88743776_DB4xQoiHZoQ6yzv0LNQcssLExIrzzJv3s the free radicals and keeps them from causing damage to the brain cell membranes. Second, polyphenols block the body’s production of compounds that cause inflammation, which encourages the formation of amyloid plaques that damage the brain by killing neurons. Cherries, cranberries, and prunes also contain an abundance of these protective polyphenol compounds. 
How much to eat: At least half a cup a day. Try to consume a variety of berries throughout the week, because the body absorbs and uses each of them in slightly different ways.

2. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale contain a chemical compound called diindolylmethane (DIM), which, studies show, protects women against age-related hormonal changes. As we age, the body’s ability to metabolize estrogen tends to decline. DIM helps the body metabolize estrogen into a safer, more usable form, so it becomes protective against breast cancer and cancers of the reproductive organs. Crucifers are also rich in indole-3-carbinol, a potent cancer-preventive nutrient. Research shows that it slows the ability of cancer cells to grow and multiply, and helps keep pre-cancerous cells from developing further. Other cruciferous veggies include cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and mustard greens.
How much to eat: 1 cup, at least four times a week.

3. Garlic contains a compound called allicin that helps protect the heart in several important ways. Garlic helps lower blood cholesterol, and slows down the development of atherosclerosis and hardening of the arteries by decreasing the thickness of blood. Studies have also shown garlic may help lower blood pressure. Thinner blood and lower blood pressure allow the blood to flow more freely through arteries, making it less likely to cause the tiny tears and other artery damage that eventually results in decreased blood flow to the heart. How much to eat: One raw clove a day, if you can stomach it. Otherwise, toss a clove into cooked food three or four times a week.

4. Turmeric, used mostly in curry powder and Indian cuisine, may benefit the immune system. Animal studies suggest that turmeric may help prevent autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. When the immune system is overstimulated, it’s more likely to turn on itself, attacking and damaging its own tissues, which is the case in arthritis. Studies also suggest that curcumin may strengthen the immune system. This not only protects against arthritis, but it helps us fight off infection—especially important as we age and our immune system functions less efficiently. How much to eat: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of turmeric, three to four times a week.

5. Beans pack an anti-aging punch because they’re loaded with lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that protects against breast cancer in post-menopausal women. In one new study, women who ate a diet high in lignans had a 17 percent reduction in breast cancer risk. Lignans help protect the body from xenoestrogens, toxins from hormones in meat and dairy, plastics, and other environmental compounds that mimic natural estrogens. These wreak havoc on the endocrine system and can increase the risk of hormonal cancers. Lignans also help protect against a variety of other cancers, including colon cancer. Additional sources: flax seed and lentils.
How much to eat: Half a cup of beans, two or three times a week. (The more variety you have, the better.)

6. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a relatively hard-to-get antioxidant that protects against cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol. A recent study found that eating tomato paste significantly lowers harmful LDL levels and increases protective HDL levels.. The lycopene in tomatoes also reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke by preventing platelets from clotting in much the same way aspirin does—without the side effects. Other studies show that tomatoes reduce the risk of prostate and breast cancer, and protect against skin damage from the sun. Research shows that eating tomato paste or tomatoes cooked with olive oil offers the most benefit, because processing and cooking break down the tomato’s cell matrix and make the lycopene more available. Furthermore, eating tomatoes with olive oil increases our absorption of fat-soluble lycopene.
How much to eat: Aim for half a cup of cooked tomatoes daily or at least twice per week.

7. Spinach contains carotenoids, plant pigments that have powerful antioxidant effects. One of these carotenoids, lutein, is especially helpful in protecting the eyes from macular degeneration. Researchers think it works by donating an electron to harmful free radicals in the lens of the eye, which prevents them from causing damage. In a similar way, carotenoids also neutralize free radicals in the skin, which slows down the aging process—and the appearance of wrinkles. Other dark green, leafy vegetables like kale, chard, and collards also contain lots of carotenoids, as do orange-red fruits and vegetables like carrots, pumpkin, and red bell peppers.
How much to eat: A cup of spinach, three times a week.

8. Green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC), another potent polyphenol antioxidant that helps prevent the formation and growth of tumors and encourages apoptosis, or death, in cancer cells. Over time, free radical damage can cause the body’s cells to lose their ability to regulate growth and division; the result is cancer. ECGC works by binding to free radicals, which keeps them from damaging cells’ DNA. A recent study found that green tea also protects against sun-related skin cancer by reducing DNA damage caused by UVB rays. Another remarkable finding is the power of EGCG to reactivate dying skin cells, a finding that may benefit skin diseases such as psoriasis, ulcers, rosacea, wounds—and, yes, even wrinkles. Drink your green tea caffeinated, says Pratt; the decaffeination process removes about 50 percent of the protective antioxidants along with the caffeine, which studies have shown may also protect against sun-related skin damage and skin cancers. How much to drink: One or two cups a day should suffice, but if you can tolerate the caffeine, drink as many as four to six cups a day.

9. Salmon has a potent anti-inflammatory effect in the body, thanks to its high omega-3 content. Growing and widely accepted evidence shows that persistent, low-grade inflammation plays a role in age-related disease, from cardiovascular disease and cancer to Alzheimer’s. Chronic inflammation leads to tissue damage and, eventually, to cell death. Studies also suggest that omega-3 fats may help prevent mood disorders and depression—conditions that increase in likelihood as we age. One study of older Americans found a link between lower levels of omega-3 fats and a higher risk of depression. Whenever possible, opt for wild Alaskan salmon, which may be even more beneficial than farmed salmon.
 How much to eat: 3 ounces of wild salmon, three to five times a week.

10. Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, one of the few fats that may lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol levels. Studies show that monounsaturated fats are especially effective at preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, an important factor in cardiovascular disease; when LDL cholesterol oxidizes, it’s more likely to form plaque in the walls of the arteries. Monounsaturated fats also keep skin cells supple, glowing, and wrinkle-free. Hydroxytyrosol is an antioxidant compound that can actually slow the aging process in the skin by stabilizing the cell plasma membrane, which lines the cells’ walls. Other foods high in monounsaturated fats: avocados, almonds, and most other nuts.
 How much to eat: 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil a day, or a handful of olives.

Six Simple Foods to Support Your Body

Six Simple Foods to Support Your Body

You can nibble on goji berries, whip up noni juice smoothies and stock your shelves with antioxidants. But if you’re looking for what really works for optimal health and disease prevention, the best approach is to focus on foods that are rich in disease-fighting phytochemicals.

Basic foods that have proven health benefits: that’s what you want to emphasize. Less-than-exotic offerings, like blueberries, broccoli and tomatoes, have been shown in dozens of peer-reviewed published studies to protect against cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. And unlike fancy fruits and vegetables, they’re readily available, inexpensive and have other benefits, like a wicked high fiber content. And they’ve been used for thousands of years, with no drawbacks, side effects or toxicity.

None of the foods on this top six list will surprise you–but they may inspire you and help you feel good about the food you eat.

1. Broccoli240_F_59162097_4yQfgo2YTmBhGw9nLV5hubbcm5CnQoHL

It’s still true: few foods measure up to broccoli for cancer- fighting potential. Broccoli is rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant linked with a reduced risk of a number of cancers, especially lung, stomach, colon and rectal cancers. The phytonutrients in broccoli help detoxify carcinogens found in the environment. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, and we know that an important factor in reducing the risk of disease is to decrease inflammation. How to eat more: Saute broccoli florets with shallots and pine nuts, and drizzle with lemon juice; steam broccoli rabe and toss with a honey-mustard dressing.

2. Pumpkin

It’s not just for pie: pumpkin is one of the best sources of carotenoids, antioxidants that reduce the risk of cancer. Like sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash and other orange-red vegetables, pumpkin is rich in disease-preventive beta-carotene. And pumpkin is also one of the highest sources of alpha-carotene, a powerful member of the carotenoid family that’s inversely related to cataract formation and boosts immunity. How to eat more: Serve warm pumpkin puree with maple syrup and finely chopped pecans; make a simple pumpkin soup with pumpkin puree, vegetable or chicken stock, onions, black beans, cumin and cilantro.

3. Blueberries

Fragrant and sweet, blueberries are rich inanthocyanins, compounds that help protect the heart, and may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Studies suggest the blueberry anthocyanins protect against neurodegenerati240_F_110170233_2lQpHE7iIYNI0MTxlERwVQnDVqNu3Kevve diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and can slow and even reverse age-related memory loss and decline in cognitive function. How to eat more: loss fresh blueberries with baby spinach leaves, chopped walnuts, thinly sliced red onions and olive oil; combine chopped blueberries, diced mango, minced jalapeno peppers and cilantro with lime juice for a tangy salsa.

4. Fish

It’s a great catch in terms of heart disease. Salmon and other fatty fish-like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines and tuna- are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke, and may cut your risk of death from coronary artery disease in half. Omega-3 fats also have immune-enhancing and anti-inflammatory effects, reduce the risk of prostate and colon cancers, and ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and some psychiatric disorders. How to eat more: Top braised spinach with poached salmon, chopped tomatoes and black olives; combine chopped, cooked salmon with capers, minced onion, lemon juice and olive oil, and serve on crackers.

5. Spinach

Boost your vision and protect against cancer with spinach, one of iln- richest dietary sources of an antioxidant called lutein. Lutein helps protect against heart disease and some cancers, and has been shown to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Spinach is also rich in beta-carotene, which may protect against cancer. Other lutein-rich foods include kale, collard greens, chard and beet greens. How to eat more: Saute baby spinach, diced tomatoes, minced garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil; toss steamed spinach with tamari, toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds.

6. Tomatoes

Another reason to eat pizza: tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces the risk of prostate, breast, lung and other cancers, and has heart-protective effects. Research shows the absorption of lycopene is greatest when tomatoes are cooked with olive oil. In one study, a combination of tomato and broccoli was more effective at slowing tumor growth than tomatoes or broccoli alone. How to eat more: Simmer chopped tomatoes and broccoli in olive oil, top with black olives and grated Asiago cheese; drizzle halved Roma tomatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with pepper and minced rosemary leaves, and roast.

 

The Art of Healthy Eating

The Art of Healthy Eating

Weekend Detox

Weekend Detox

Living in the modern world, our bodies can get to feeling pretty grubby inside. Between the sugars, refined flours, caffeine, alcohol, dairy, chemical food additives, pesticides, and environmental pollutants we encounter, our cells are exposed to myriad toxins and inflammation triggers. The stress of modern life also places a tremendous burden on the organs of elimination, leaving pockets of waste in the colon, and stressing the liver, kidneys, and lymphatic system.

Legions swear by juice fasts and other cleanse routines that go for 10 days or more. But a no-fast weekend regimen is a much easier way for a coffee-and-bagel junkie to make real changes in daily routines. “It gives you a chance to take a break from caffeine, sugar, wheat, dairy, and alcohol, and to establish new, healthier habits,” says Elson Haas, MD, author of The New Detox Diet.

240_F_81662251_kFwsT3mhdjMR2rqPCpTAJ95XYNJdPHU0Remember, too, that detoxing includes your whole body; a hurried pace, stressful schedules, and festering resentments can create mental and emotional toxins that need to be cleared away.

If you’re new to detox, a weekend cleanse can provide a physical and psychological jump start. If you’re a veteran, regular weekend regimens—one a month is ideal—can help you build on healthful habits.

Here’s a simple, day-by-day plan to guide you through.

What to Know Before You Begin

Carve out a weekend when you’ll have lots of flexibility. “Treat it like a spa retreat,” says Michelle Schoffro Cook, DNM, DAc, CNC, author of The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan. “Plan a massage: find a place to take a sauna; stock up on fresh organic produce and a few supplies. A detox should feel like an indulgence, not hard work.”

The day before you start, dramatically reduce your intake of caffeine, sugar, wheat, dairy, and alcohol, to lessen the likelihood of headaches and painful withdrawal symptoms during the weekend. Eat light, focusing on raw greens, steamed vegetables, legumes, beans, and raw nuts. Read through the plan outlined on these pages and gather any supplies you don’t have on hand. Dine on steamed organic veggies, and head to bed early. You’ll need a full eight hours of sleep on Friday night; research points to a link between lack of sleep and adrenal stress, blood sugar irregularities, and weight gain.

Ready, Set, Cleanse…

Day 1: Saturday

MORNING

Wake up with yoga. Ease into your first day with a bedside series of cat and cow stretches, alternately arching and flexing your spine to wake up your body. Web extra: For a detailed how-to, visit vegetariantimes.com/detoxextra.

Sip lemon water. To stimulate the bowels and detox the liver, drink a cup of hot or room-temperature water spiked with the juice of half a fresh lemon. Make a pitcher of lemon juice and filtered water (use the juice of half a lemon for every 8 ounces of water), and drink a glass every hour throughout day. If you want a little sweetness, add a bit of stevia. Skip the coffee—it’s hard, but essential, says Schoffro Cook. Substitute green tea as a gentle source of caffeine to help avoid energy slumps and caffeine withdrawal headaches; studies also show it’s rich in compounds that boost liver detoxification.

Dry brush your body. Dry brushing stimulates the lymphatic system, one of the body’s primary detox mechanisms, says Haas. Using a soft-bristled brush, lightly brush your skin, starting from your fingers and toes and moving in toward your heart. Follow with a warm shower to further boost circulation and move lymphatic fluid.

Have a light breakfast of steamed vegetables. “A main goal of detoxing is to reduce inflammation,” says Mark Hyman, MD, author of The Detox Box. “That involves removing the most common triggers for inflammation, like sugar, dairy, gluten, caffeine, alcohol, trans fats, and processed foods.” Carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini, and kale have a sweet taste that’s surprisingly satisfying for breakfast.

Choose a restorative activity. Do yoga or tai chi, listen to music, visit an art museum—whatever makes you feel soothed and nourished. Or read an inspirational or humorous book. “Sometimes, a hilarious book is just what you need,” says Alex Jamieson, author of The Great American Detox Diet. “A hearty laugh stimulates endorphins and relieves stress.”

AFTERNOON

Mix up a big dandelion salad (see the recipe for Detoxifying Dandelion and Bitter Greens Salad with Lemon-Tarragon Vinaigrette). “Dandelion and other bitter greens are rich in phytochemicals that boost the liver’s capacity to eliminate toxins,” Hyman says. Have a 2-cup serving of salad for lunch, and store the leftover salad and dressing separately in the fridge. You’ll need them later.

Go for a walk. After lunch, head outside for a brisk walk or gentle hike, to get your blood and lymphatic fluid circulating.

Sweat it out with a steam or sauna. “As you’re cleansing your body, you’re stirring up a lot of toxins,” says Schoffro Cook. “You want to get these out of your system as quickly as possible.” Saunas encourage perspiration, sending toxins out through the skin, the body’s largest detox organ, says Haas. Most gyms, community recreation centers, and YMCAs have saunas or steam rooms; or check your local spa if you’re feeling extravagant. If you don’t have access to a sauna or steam room, relax in a hot bath with Epsom salts.

Take a nap. After your sauna, take a short nap, or rest quietly and check in with your body. Do you notice any subtle changes in your digestion? “When you take a break from wheat, sugar, and dairy, you may notice differences in bloating, gas, or stomach sensation almost immediately,” says Jamieson.

Write and reflect. Make notes in a journal about what you’re thinking and feeling. Are you angry with someone? Do you feel sad? Was it surprisingly painful to give up your morning muffin? “Toxins do’t exist only in the body,” says Natalia Rose, author of The Raw Food Detox Diet. “It may be that you have some poisonous thoughts or emotions to cleanse as well.”

EVENING

Eat a light supper. Start with another dandelion salad, followed by 1 to 2 cups of steamed spinach or collard greens, topped with 1/2 cup cooked lentils or 1 tablespoon of raw nuts, and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Spend a quiet evening. Choose an after-dinner activity that feels soothing: knit, paint, or read.

Prepare for sleep. Sip a cup of chamomile tea, and quietly reflect on your day. Note your observations in your journal. What emotions came up when the world was quiet around you? See if you can find a message or inspiration for the day.

Drink your fiber. Before retiring, take 1/2 to 2 teaspoons psyllium seed dissolved in 1 1/2 cups warm water to keep the bowels moving.

Hit the hay early. After a full day of shifts and changes, your body needs plenty of rest.

Day 2: Sunday

MORNING

Repeat Saturday’s wake-up routine. Start the day with cat and cow stretches, followed by hot lemon water, dry brushing, and a warm shower.

Try asparagus for breakfast. Include it in medley of steamed vegetables.”Asparagus is rich in folic acid, which is key in the production of glutathione, an enzyme that boosts detoxification,” Hyman says.

Meditate. Recent studies show that meditation lowers stress, decreases rumination, and promotes forgiveness. If you’re new to meditation, try it for 5 to 10 minutes; if you meditate regularly, try 20 to 30 minutes. Make notes in your journal of anything that comes up. Check out vegetariantimes.com/detoxextra for a simple mindfulness meditation practice.

AFTERNOON

Lunch on dandelion salad and a steamed artichoke. Artichokes are rich in compounds that boost liver function, Hyman says. Check out the recipe for Perfect Steamed Artichokes.

Take a walk or gentle hike. It’ll boost blood flow and help keep the bowels moving.

Indulge in a massage. Deep tissue work that improves circulation and stimulates the lymph system is ideal for transitioning out of your detox. If a professional massage doesn’t suit your budget, go to vegetariantimes.com/detoxextra for a link to our favorite self-massage tutorial.

Rest and reflect. Take a short nap, and write in your journal.

EVENING

Take a light meal. For dinner,have a dandelion salad topped with avocado and crumbled nori. “Sea vegetables are a wonderful source of minerals that help alkalinize the body,” Hyman says. “That’s important, since most people are too acid, from gluten, sugar, and toxins in food.”

Luxuriate in a warm Epsom salts bath. The body absorbs magnesium from Epsom salts, which helps relax the muscles and detoxify the lymphatic system, Schoffro Cook says.

Prepare for restorative sleep. Take your psyllium seed, meditate for 15 minutes, then curl up with a cup of chamomile tea and your journal. What did you learn over the weekend? What new habits do you want to continue? Make notes of three life lessons to take away from your weekend, and drift off to sleep.

Your First Day Back

Ease into the day. When you awaken Monday morning, you may feel tired, and might be experiencing symptoms of withdrawal from caffeine, food additives, and other toxins, says Hyman. Take the morning off, if possible; if not, take it easy. Make time for another Epsom salts bath and take a walk if your bowels need a little help to get moving.

Meditate on new habits. Think about where you can modify your established routine to add more healthful habits. Could you commit to adding a big green salad every day, or a 15-minute meditation session? Can you substitute green tea for coffee, and stevia for sugar? “Simple changes add up fast,” says Schoffro Cook. “And those changes are the ones that make a lifelong difference.”240_F_81662251_kFwsT3mhdjMR2rqPCpTAJ95XYNJdPHU0

Super Smarts: Ten ways to maintain your brain

Super Smarts: Ten ways to maintain your brain

Feeling a little foggy? Part of the problem may be your lifestyle. Stress, dieting, lack of exercise, drinking soda, even using the wrong kind of deodorant or cookware can lead to brain drain. And simply getting older makes us less sharp. With age, essential fuels aren’t delivered to brain cells, and the cells themselves begin to deteriorate. The good news: you can combat mental fuzzies and keep your mind sharp well into your senior years. Ready to get smart? Try these tips for boosting brain power.

  1. Feed your head, with whole, unprocessed foods that are free of brain-depleting chemicals. In one study of a million school-aged children, when sugar, food colorings and preservatives were eliminated from their school lunches, they scored considerably higher on tests . What to emphasize: lots of fruits and veggies, which keep brain blood vessels open, block neuron-damaging free radicals and protect DNA. In addition, focus on omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, walnuts and flax seeds, to keep brain cell walls pliable for reception and transmission of stimuli. And avoid restrictive weight-loss diets which quickly deplete the body of iron, a key nutrient for optimal mental functioning.
  2. Get the lead out. Lead, mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals, found in dental fillings, tuna fish, tobacco, tap water and some canned foods, can damage the brain. Equally toxic to the nervous system are pesticides and solvents, found in paint, glue, gasoline and dry-cleaning fluids. To protect your brain, minimize your use of products that contain heavy metals or solvents, use only non-toxic pesticides (check out www.5rivers-inc.com), emphasize unprocessed, organic foods and stick to bottled water. If you think you’ve been exposed, MSM supplements and milk thistle herb are thought to help remove heavy metals from the body. Or try taking 2000 mg of vitamin C and 60 mg of zinc per day: in one study, the combination significantly reduced blood levels of lead.
  3. Flex your mental muscles. The brain functions better when it’s exercised. Both parts of brain nerves–dendrites and axons–wither with age and disuse. Research shows that continued problem solving expands the tree-like dendrites to create new connections and new networks of nerve connections. But once skills become rote, move on to new activities. Routine causes axons and dendrites to shrink again. Some of the best ways to train your brain: read challenging books, do crossword puzzles, memorize poems, learn a foreign language, play chess.
  4. Move it. Moving increases circulation and encourages deep breathing, boosting blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Some studies have suggested that physical activity reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. One of the best brain-building forms of exercise is dancing. You have to think about moves, patterns, and steps, so you’re challenging your mind and sharpening your mental powers and memory. Dancing also stimulates the brain to make more dendrites, little bridges between brain cells that keep they brain young and active. For the biggest brain boosters, try tap, tango, ballet, line dancing and ballroom dancing.
  5. Drink wine. Good news: a little liquor may help protect the brain and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. While no study has identified one type of alcohol as better than others, red wine has the added benefit of containing antioxidants, and it’s free of brain-damaging solvents found in whiskey and other liquors aged in barrels. It also contains resveratrol, a potent antioxidant that may help protect against stroke, as well as other diseases. Theoretically, beer would have the same effect, but because it’s lower in alcohol, the amount you’d have to drink to realize beneficial brain effects could leave you smart but fat. So, unless you’re sensitive to alcohol, one to two glasses of red wine a day may help protect your brain.
  6. Eat chocolate. While no scientific studies have linked chocolate-eating with increased intelligence, cocoa does contain some compounds than are beneficial to the brain, including a chemical called 1MeTIQ that may inhibit the development of Parkinson’s disease. It also contains a mood-boosting substance called phenylethylamine (PEA), antioxidants, which help to neutralize neuron-damaging free radicals, and procyanidins, compounds that can reduce the risk of strokes. These benefits, however, apply to cocoa-rich dark chocolate, not typical American milk chocolate. The best advice: nibble on super-dark chocolate (try Valrhona, Scharffen Berger or Côte d’Or), which has a greater concentration of beneficial compounds, and have no more than an ounce a day.
  7. Change your deodorant. Super-dry antiperspirants contain aluminum, which causes various kinds of damage in the brain and has been linked to Alzheimer’s. Other sources of aluminum include cooking pots, processed cheese, table salt, antacids, buffered aspirin, medicines for diarrhea, some calcium supplements and municipal water supplies. Protect your brain from cumulative and potentially damaging doses of aluminum by switching to natural, aluminum-free deodorants (natural mineral-salt crystals, available at most health food stores, are effective antiperspirants). Also, limit aluminum-containing foods and medications, use stainless steel cookware, and avoid oyster-shell calcium supplements which often contain aluminum as well as lead. As for water, call your local water supplier and ask for the yearlong aluminum levels. If the levels ever exceed 200 microcgm/liter, use a high-quality filter, or purchase bottled water.
  8. Turn on the music. Mozart, Beethoven and other classical composers can help you improve thinking and increase attention span. Classical music is constructed with layers of complex arrangements, which has been shown to stimulate circuits in the brain, improve thinking and enhance mental performance. In one study, students who listened to classical music scored higher on an IQ test. Keep a selection of classical music in your car, and tune in for at least ten minutes a day. And try learning how to play a musical instrument: studies of the brains of musicians show that the area of the brain that’s associated with processing sounds is actually larger.
  9. Chill out. Stress diminishes mental acuity in several ways. It diverts glucose–the brain’s main source of fuel–to other organs to prepare for a perceived emergency, and it limits blood flow, thereby decreasing the amount of oxygen to the brain. Even a single episode of very severe stress can cause the release of too much cortisol for the hippocampus to handle, leading to the death of neurons. Ways to bust stress: get a massage, take a nap, watch a funny movie, run around the block. And set aside fifteen minutes every morning for meditation–in one study, meditation was reported to reduce psychological distress by 44 percent.
  10. Have (a little) coffee. Low to moderate amounts of caffeine–32 to 256 mg per day–have been found in several studies to boost brain power. That’s about the amount in two cups of coffee. At those levels, caffeine can increase alertness, mood and performance, decrease reaction time, and boost attention span and ability to concentrate. And some studies suggest that coffee can reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease. With higher doses, though, mental performance starts to decrease. For maximum brain power, limit caffeine intake to two cups of coffee, and don’t forget to count caffeine in chocolate, tea and sodas.

 

Infection Protection: ten fun ways to boost immunity

Infection Protection: ten fun ways to boost immunity

Several million years ago, it is hypothesized, the first Stone Age human caught the first cold. Ever since then, doctors, nurses, herbalists, shaman and healers of every sort have been confounded by colds and flu. Over the years, these devilish pathogens have been treated with cold baths, wet feet, chili peppers, tobacco, and the application of blood-sucking leeches.

Now we understand that colds and flu are caused by viruses – but we’re still no closer to a cure. The only defense is a good offense. But who says it has to be a drag?

Besides eating right, washing your hands regularly and getting enough sleep, you can maximize your pathogen-fighting potential, with a handful of entertaining activities.

1. Steam a pan of oysters. They’re the richest source of zinc, essential for immune cell function (1), and many studies have shown that even mild deficiency depresses immunity (2). If you’re not a fan of bivalves, grab a (grass-fed) burger: beef and buffalo are other good sources of zinc.

2. Rent a Woody Allen movie. Or whatever tickles your funny bone. A good belly laugh can boost immunity and increase natural endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. In one recent study, laughter appeared to specifically impact the activity of natural killer cells (3).

3. Go skiing. In one study, people who were physically active had 33 percent fewer sick days, and when they did get sick, their symptoms were less severe (4).Walking, running, dancing, or anything that gets your blood moving will have the same effect. But if you’re coming down with something, skip the lift lines and stay in bed; exercising when you’re already sick can weaken immune function.

4. Throw a party. Forget about isolating; people with stronger social networks and friendships are less likely to get sick. Many studies have consistently linked a strong support system with better immune function, as well as lower blood pressure and reduced mortality (5).

5. Discover martial arts. Tai chi, a slow-moving type of Chinese martial art, improves the immune response (6); qigong, a similar practice, has the same benefits (7). In one study, a moderate tai chi and qigong practice improved immune response of older adults, after only five months of practice (8).

6. Snack on Brazil nuts. They’re the best food source of selenium, a powerful antioxidant that’s been shown to significantly improve immune response. Other sources: tuna, turkey, egg yolks, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds (9).
7. Get your ohm on. In a recent study, people who practiced mindfulness meditation reduced the incidence, duration and severity of respiratory infections by as much as 50 percent (10).The study’s authors noted that the results were nearly as effective as flu shots, which have only a 50 to 60 percent chance of preventing infection.

8. Go out for sushi. You’ll find lots of foods on the menu that protect against infection. Order the salmon roll for immune-boosting omega-3 fats (11), and have pickled ginger on the side for its anti-viral activities (12). Start with miso soup; it contains probiotics that boosts the body’s resistance to pathogens (13). And order immune-boosting green tea—not sake (14).

9. Schedule a massage to reduce stress, one of the most important factors in improving immune function (15). Massage also increases the activity and number of the body’s natural “killer cells” that fight off pathogens (16).

10. Have sex. As long as your partner’s well, it’s a great way to fight colds and flu. An older (1999) study showed that people who had sex one or twice a week had higher levels of immunoglobulin (IGA), a cold-fighting antibody, than those who had sex less often, or not at all. And even if it doesn’t work, you’ll have fun trying.

11 ways to prevent Alzheimer’s

11 ways to prevent Alzheimer’s

Feeling a little foggy? It may be a normal part of getting older, or it may be something more serious. It’s typical in aging to lose some mental sharpness. With aging, the brain cells begin to deteriorate, and essential fuels aren’t delivered as efficiently. But Alzheimer’s disease isn’t an inconvenient aspect of getting older; it’s an incurable, degenerative, and ultimately fatal disease

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia; it’s characterized by a buildup of amyloid protein plaques in the brain, tangled bundles of nerve fibers, and the loss of connections between nerve cells in the brain. The disease is usually diagnosed in people over the age of 65, but it can occur earlier.

The exact cause is unknown, but contributing factors include genetics, lifestyle factors and diet. And while there’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s, you can prevent it, says brain expert Daniel Amen, M.D., author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Body (Harmony Books, 2010). According to Amen, changing habits in adulthood can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, or sidestep
it entirely.

Start saving your brain today, with these smart steps.

1. Be a vegan. Saturated fat appears to increase the risk for Alzheimer’s, possibly by compromising blood-brain b240_F_93785517_dPoSIoPONsiVu00wLATohXwJUH4qJuynarrier and allowing harmful substances to enter the brain.1In one study, people who ate smaller amounts of high-fat dairy products, red meat, organ meat and butter had less chance of developing the disease. If you don’t want to give up meat and dairy, choose lean, low-fat versions, and reduce your intake of both.

2. Get moving. Study after study points to physical exercise as the most effective way to prevent Alzheimer’s. Doing exercise that increases heart rate for at least 30 minutes, several times a week, appears to inhibit Alzheimer’s-like brain changes, slowing the development of amyloid plaques in the brain, a key feature of the disease.2 Ways to move: ride a bike, go swimming, try skiing, take a brisk walk, play tennis—anything you enjoy that you do consistently, day after day.

3. Eat like a bird. Many studies suggest that eating less food decreases overall inflammation in the body.5Other studies have found that restricting calories, especially carbohydrates, may prevent Alzheimer’s by triggering activity in the brain associated with longevity. (But high-fat, high-protein diets won’t work; the study also found that a high caloric intake based on saturated fat would increase risk.)

4. Mix it up. Because foods aren’t eaten in isolation, one study examined the results of a specific set of dietary patterns.6 It seems that eating a varied diet made up of dark green vegetables, tomatoes, crucifers, nuts, fish, poultry and fruit is the most protective.

5. Check your B vitamins. In one study, people with elevated levels of homocysteine—an amino acid that’s linked to increased risk of heart disease—had nearly double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.7 The body naturally takes care of excess homocysteine if it has enough folate and B12 vitamins; if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or other risk factors, consider taking a supplement of folate and B12 to keep homocysteine levels in check. Other supplements that show promise: ginkgo biloba,8 vinpocetine, huperazine A, acetyl-l-carnitine and alpha lipoic acid, says Amen.  

6. Get your five-a-day. Or more: much research shows that free radical damage may lead to Alzheimer’s disease, and antioxidants from fruits and vegetables are one of the best ways to prevent that damage. Start early: a lifelong consumption of fruits and vegetables offers the best protection, says one study.9

7. Sharpen the saw. Being bored is potentially harmful to the long-term well-being of your brain. In several new studies, people who do not engage in regular learning activities throughout their lives have a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Flex your mental muscles with new experiences: travel to a foreign country, drive a different route to work, learn to play chess, take up a new sport. Or learn to dance: you’ll get exercise, and memorizing moves will stimulate your brain.

8. Sober up. Alcohol may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and drugs like marijuana, cocaine, prescription pain killers and benzodiazepines, diminish brain function and damage neurons. Educate kids early about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Adults,  avoid recreational drugs, take prescription meds with caution, and limit alcohol consumption to no more than one to two normal-size drinks a week.

9. Protect your head. Brain injuries—even those not resulting in concussion—can damage the brain and lead to Alzheimer’s. Helmets only offer partial protection; if your head hits the ground or a hard surface, it shakes the brain inside the skull, with our without a helmet. Inside the skull are a whole lot of sharp, boney ridges—and a helmet can’t protect your brain from those, Amen says.

10. Catch some rays. Decreased levels of vitamin D can increase Alzheimer’s risk. The best way to increase levels is exposure to the sun, but wearing sunscreen blocks inhibits the skin’s production of vitamin D. The American Medical Association recommends 10 minutes of direct sun exposure, without sunscreen, several times a week.  If you’re fearful of burning,  consider a supplement; the current recommendation is 400 IU a day, but most experts agree that’s too low, and that as much as 2000 IU a day is more appropriate. Get your vitamin D levels checked, and ask your health care provider to recommend the best amount for you.

11. Rethink your cookware. Though no study definitively links aluminum cookware to Alzheimer’s, many studies confirm that aluminum concentrations in the brain are linked to increased risk of the disease.10 Aluminum is toxic to brain function and we’d  assume less is better. If you’re at risk for Alzheimer’s, consider switching to stainless steel cookware, and avoiding other sources of aluminum, such as tap water and aluminum-containing drugs.

10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s

Simple forgetfulness or the beginnings of dementia? If any of these signs sound familiar, it may be time to seek medical care:

1. Memory loss–forgetting important dates or events, or asking for the same information over and over–that interferes with daily life.

2. Difficulty in solving problems, developing and following a plan, or working with numbers; for example, following a recipe, or keeping track of bills.

3. Challenges in completing familiar daily tasks, like driving to a familiar location, or remembering the rules of a favorite game.

4. Becoming confused about times or locations, like losing track of dates or seasons, having trouble understanding something that’s not happening immediately, or forgetting where they are and/or how they got there.

5. Difficulty understanding visual problems and spatial relationships, like judging distance, determining color or contrast, or passing a mirror in a room and thinking there’s someone else there.

6. Having trouble with words, either in speaking or writing, such as difficulty following a conversation, repeating themselves, struggling with vocabulary, calling things by the wrong name, or having problems finding the right word.

7. Misplacing things, difficulty in retracing steps, or putting things in unusual places.

8. Poor judgment, or decreased capacity for decision making–for example, giving large amounts of money to telemarketers, or poor self-care or grooming.

9. Withdrawing from work or decreased involvement in social activities or hobbies, sometimes because of difficulties remembering how to complete hobbies or tasks.

10. Personality changes, or changes in mood; for example, becoming anxious, fearful, confused or depressed, or becoming easily upset.

Hungry for love: foods to inspire desire

Hungry for love: foods to inspire desire

Few human instincts are as compelling as the desire for sexual connection. Throughout time, the moment our basic survival needs — food, shelter, protection from large, furry animals — have been met, we’ve sought sexual union, both for procreation and pleasure. And universal though it may be, sex is still the most enduring enigma. It represents survival in its purest form, ensuring the continuation of the species. Even less-than-sublime sex is still fun; at its best, it’s mind-blowing.

In spite of the intrigue and romance surrounding it, sexual arousal begins as a purely utilitarian interaction of body processes. In the brain, hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters work together to regulate stimulation and performance. The nervous system is engaged to interpret, classify and route signals. Meanwhile, the mechanics of sexual response — erection in men, lubrication and swelling of genitals in women — depends in part on the simple fact of adequate blood flow to the appropriate organs.

But sometimes, the blood — and everything else — fails to flow. That’s when cultures throughout time have turned to lust-inspiring foods. Aphrodisiacs — named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of fertility, beauty and desire–were originally used to treat various sexual disorders, from impotence to infertility. Some of the most traditional are thought to be lust-provoking because of their resemblance to human genitalia. These range from the obvious, like bananas, cucumbers and asparagus, to the slightly more subtle, like peaches, apricots and raspberries, which are thought to resemble a woman’s nipples. And some foods, like lobsters and figs, are simply sexier than others. Really, how sultry can you feel eating peanut butter or canned tuna?

Oysters, clams and mussels are considered representative of female genitalia, and lobster is thought to enhance the power and charms of men and promote fertility in women. So strong is the association between seafood and sexual desire that priests were long banned from eating fish, lest it interfere with their vows to celibacy.

Because they’re symbolic of the female reproductive system, eggs are thought to not only increase desire but also to promote fertility; they’re also high in lecithin and vitamin A, which are key in the production and secretion of sex hormones. Bananas are legendary as aphrodisiacs, for their shape, size and sensuous, creamy texture.

Nuts and seeds, because they’re part of the reproductive mechanisms of plants, have also been considered aphrodisiacs. Almonds are thought to increase fertility, and the aroma is said to induce passion in women, and pine nuts have been used since Medieval times to boost libido. Nuts and seeds are also high in vitamin E, essential for transporting sufficient oxygen to the genitalia; vitamin E also affects the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland, which controls sexual organs and functions.

Figs have enjoyed a versatility unmatched by any other aphrodisiac food, being compared alternately to the penis, vagina, testicles and anus. The subtle swell and fold of an apple is thought to be uniquely feminine, and Hindus applied mashed apple, honey and pepper to the male genitals to provoke amorous liaisons. Asparagus, with its distinctly phallic shape, has long been considered an aphrodisiac. The avocado tree was termed “Ahuacuatl” (“testicle tree”) by the Aztecs, who thought the fruit hanging in pairs looked like testicles. Truffles, with their musky aroma and mysterious folds, have been considered aphrodisiacs since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

A few foods, like chocolate, red wine and champagne, contain chemical compounds that, in the appropriate quantities and circumstances, can incite passion. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, boosts serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, and contains phenylethylamine, a chemical in the brain that occurs in higher concentrations when you’re in love.

And some of the most legendary aphrodisiacs are considerably less appealing. Bird’s nest soup from the island of Borneo is prized for the lust-inspiring qualities of the swallow spittle that holds it together. Elizabethan legend has it that when chased through the woods, a beaver will bite off his genitals, fling them at the pursuer and race away. Because the animal’s genitals are said to grow back, they are thought to have magical sexual properties. Durian fruit from Malaysia is a lumpy, football-sized fruit that costs upwards of $25 a pound and smells very much like rotten fish. Nonetheless, the flesh inside is sweet and velvety, and is a highly regarded aphrodisiac.

If you’re hungry for love, and none is forthcoming, incite passion with a new flame—or restore amour with a steady lover—with a meal based on legendary aphrodisiac foods. Keep it light; no one feels sexy with a bloated stomach. Start with small, simple appetizers: fresh figs stuffed with goat cheese, or steamed and chilled asparagus with a light dipping sauce. For a main course, try a lobster and avocado salad served on a bed of arugula leaves dressed with truffle oil and sprinkled with pine nuts. Or go for the aphrodisiac standard: oysters. Steam them and serve with cocktail sauce or drawn butter. If you’re not so hard core, try Oysters Rockefeller, made with Pernod, fresh spinach and tarragon.

To finish, serve chocolate truffles, Bananas Foster made with honey, or fresh raspberries with whipped cream, and see where the evening takes you. What do you have to lose—except, maybe, a good night’s sleep?

20 ways to save your heart

20 ways to save your heart

We fear cancer and are appalled by growing rates of diabetes. But heart disease is still the number-one killer of both women and men. You already know the usual advice for heart health: eat right, don’t smoke, exercise regularly, lessen stress. What does that mean in practical terms? Add these twenty habits to your daily life, and keep your heart beating strong for longer.

1. Know your (trans) fat facts. We now know that trans fats—found in French fries and commercially processed foods—scary fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, decrease HDL (good) cholesterol, and reduce blood vessel function by 30 percent, compared to saturated fat. They’re so dangerous the FDA now requires food labels to list trans fat content. Here’s the catch: under the regulations, if a serving contains less than 0.5 grams, manufacturers can claim their product is free of trans fats. So a product containing 0.4 grams can be labeled as trans-fat free—but eat three servings of three of these foods, and you’ve consumed 1.2 grams, enough to put you at risk.1 The best protection: stay away from any food that lists “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” on its ingredient list or, better yet, skip packaged foods altogether in favor of a whole foods diet.

2. Go for the grit. Foods high in soluble fiber, like oatmeal, apples, prunes, pears and beans, can hamper the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream, and eating 5 to 10 grams or more of soluble fiber a day has been shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol. If you don’t get enough, certain fiber supplements can help. Blond psyllium, at a dosage of 10 to 12 grams a day, has been shown to lower LDL levels.

3. Let the sun shine in. Getting enough vitamin D can reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as 47 percent. The best source is direct exposure to 20 to 30 minutes of sunlight, without sunscreen. If you have dark skin, skin cancer fears, or live in northern states, vitamin D supplements can help. Dosage recommendations range from 400 IU to as much as 3000 IU per day for cardio-protective benefits.

4. Supplement with sterols. These naturally occurring substances block the body’s absorption of cholesterol, and some studies suggest that sterols can lower LDL by as much as 15 percent, without affecting HDL levels. You’ll find them in small am0unts in a wide variety of foods, as well as some fortified foods. Or choose a plant sterol supplement; studies show effects at 2 grams a day.

5. Eat your (cran)berries. They keep blood cells from clumping, increase HDL levels, and have potent anti-inflammatory effects.  2, 3, 4 The antioxidants in cranberries also keep LDL cholesterol from oxidizing; oxidized cholesterol is more likely to stick to artery walls and cause atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Skip the sugary cranberry juice “cocktail,” and add 100 percent cranberry juice to water or your usual juice. Or use cranberry extract supplements for the same benefits. And wash them down with plenty of water: five or more glasses a day is associated with reduced risk of heart disease.5

6. Get excited. Long-term, chronic stress is hard on the heart, but occasional adrenaline boosting can naturally upset heart rhythm and boost heart health. Alternate excitement stress reduction; playing hooky from work every once in a while can lower heart attack risk. And practice calming your mind. In one study, people with heart disease who practiced meditation daily halved their risk for heart attack, stroke and death. 6

7. Swap sugar for honey. Studies in the 1960s7 first linked higher sugar intake with increased cardiovascular disease, and later studies found that eating sugar lowers HDL levels and boosts LDL and triglycerides.8 Even teens are at risk; those who eat too much sugar substantially increase their risk of heart disease later in life.9 And any food with a high glycemic index, especially sugar, pasta, rice, potatoes and bread, can impact the heart. In one study, women with the highest intake of these foods were more than twice as likely to develop heart disease compared to women with the lowest intake.10 Steer clear of high glycemic foods in general, and swap sugar for honey in small amounts; studies have shown it contains antioxidants, which can protect the heart from damage. 11

8. Don’t skimp on protein. Many studies show that eating adequate protein lowers heart disease risk by as much as 26 percent, probably because it replaces high-glycemic carbohydrates in the diet. Good sources: beef, chicken and eggs are high in B vitamin to reduce levels of homocysteine, a dangerous compound that can cause narrowing of the arteries; eggs also contain betaine, which can lower homocysteine by as much as 75 percent. Always choose lean, grass-fed and organic protein sources; they’re lower in fat and calories, and contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that can reduce cancer risk.

9. Kill your grill. Grilling and other high-heat cooking methods form compounds in meat that cause inflammation and oxidative damage, and increase heart disease risk. For safer grilling, use lean meat and marinate it in lemon juice and olive oil before cooking. Or wrap foods in foil pouches and place them on the grill to avoid direct contact with heat and lessen the formation of dangerous compounds. Even better, dust off your crock pot, and cook meat the traditional way: slow and low.

10. Drink filtered coffee. Unfiltered varieties (like espresso and French-pressed) contain diterpenes and other compounds that increase risk of heart disease.12 And drink it in moderation: coffee can increase blood pressure and arterial stiffness,13 and drinking more than six cups a day increases cholesterol and boosts blood levels of heart-damaging homocysteine by as much as 10 percent.14 Better yet, switch to green tea; it’s antioxidant flavonoids—the same protective compounds found in cranberries—that relax blood vessels and thin blood.   

11. Learn to love sardines. They’re high in omega-3 fats to prevent clotting, reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure;15 because they’re small, sardines tend to have fewer toxins than larger fish. Wild (not farmed) salmon and tuna are also good sources. If you’re not a fish fan, use supplements; the American Heart Association recommends about a gram (1,000 milligrams) of omega-3s a day.

12. Run in the wild. Exercise strengthens the heart, but beware of jogging down city sidewalks: exposure to air pollution increases risk of heart disease.16 Even short-term exposure to smoggy air can upset electrical activity of the heart, trigger stroke and heart failure, and exacerbate arterial disease. And choose exercise you love; people who stick with a certain activity, even if it’s walking or gardening, are likely to live the longest.

13. Eat your green beans. They a good source of chromium, a heart-protective nutrient that helps the body metabolize cholesterol, and improves insulin sensitivity. Other food sources include broccoli, potatoes, orange juice and turkey. Studies have shown that 200 micrograms a day can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes;17 that’s hard to get from foods, so take a chromium picolinate supplement for insurance.  

14. Make a pot of chili. It’s loaded with fiber-rich beans to lower cholesterol, and tomatoes, which are the best sources of lycopene. In some studies, people who ate four or more servings of beans a week reduced their risk of heart disease by 22 percent.18 And the lycopene in tomatoes inhibits LDL oxidation.19 While you’re at it, toss in a handful of chopped broccoli; another study found that eating more vegetables can reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 22 percent.20  

15. Swap your nuts. Almonds and walnuts are touted as the heart-healthiest nuts, but peanuts may be better. They’re rich in monounsaturated fats, which regulate cholesterol levels and blood pressure.21 In one study, people who ate peanuts lowered LDL and total cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol, without making any other dietary changes.22 Macadamia nuts have similar heart-protective effects. 23

16. Be a clean freak. Wash your hands, and often; people with the highest levels of antibodies—substances produced when the body is fighting off infections—also had more clogging of their arteries. The same goes for brushing your teeth; studies have shown a correlation between gum disease, cavities, in increased risk of heart disease.24

17. Go out for Indian. It’s rich in heart-protective ginger, garlic and turmeric, the bright orange spice that gives curry its distinctive color. Turmeric contains curcuminoids that can reduce inflammation and prevent atherosclerosis, and may lower total cholesterol levels. 25, 26 Not an Indian-food fan? Take turmeric capsules; dosage recommendations range from 600 to 1200 mg per day.

18. Sleep in. Inadequate shut-eye—5 hours or less per night–can increase your risk of heart disease by at much as 40 percent. It may be that sleep disturbances elevate blood pressure and reduce insulin sensitivity, which can impact heart health. 27 Studies have also shown that people who complain of fatigue have higher fibrinogen levels, a protein that can cause blood to clump and lower blood flow to the heart. Trouble sleeping? Try melatonin, valerian, or other natural sleep aids.  

19. Have a spinach salad. Spinach is high in magnesium, which helps prevent coronary arteries from having spasms, reduces platelet clumping, lowers blood pressure and regulates heart rhythms.28 Pumpkin seeds, Swiss chard, beans and fish are other good sources. Or take magnesium supplements to ensure you’re getting enough; dosage recommendations range from 400 to 1000 mg a day, or in a one-to-one ratio of calcium to magnesium.  

20. Take L-argenine. This amino acid is a precursor to nitric oxide, a compound in the body that keeps arteries flexible, increases blood flow and improves blood vessel function. Some studies have suggested that L-arginine reduces the risk of atherosclerosis and can lower blood pressure. 29, 30, 31 The recommended dosage ranges from 750 mg to 3 grams per day.