Caffeine Addiction: 7 Healthy Ways to Curb the Cravings

coffee in ceramic cups

Ready to beat your caffeine addiction? If you’re used to starting the day with a cup of coffee, energy drink, tea or supplements loaded with caffeine, you’re not alone.

An estimated 90% of adults in the U.S. drink caffeine every day. (1) Caffeine may offer a quick pick-me-up. Caffeine has some downsides, too.

Ready to beat your caffeine addiction, or at least curb the cravings to improve your health?

Let’s start by answering a simple question: What is caffeine?

It’s a stimulant naturally found in coffee beans, cacao‌ and guarana. It’s also added to drinks and nutrition supplements. (2) The most common sources of caffeine include:

  • Coffee drinks
  • Sodas and energy drinks
  • Tea
  • Chocolate
  • Guarana-based products
  • Supplements

How much caffeine is safe to consume?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends adults consume no more than 400mg of caffeine per day from all sources (drinks, food, supplements). (3)

Wondering how much caffeine you consume in a day?

Here’s how much caffeine is found in common drinks and supplements: (3)

  • Coffee: An 8-ounce cup of coffee has 95–200 mg of caffeine
  • Soda: A 12-ounce can of soda has 35–45 mg of caffeine
  • Energy drink: An 8-ounce energy drink has 70–150 mg of caffeine
  • Tea: An 8-ounce cup of tea has 14–60 mg of caffeine
  • Chocolate: A 1-ounce piece of dark chocolate has 10–20 mg of caffeine
  • Weight-loss supplements: Many weight-loss supplements contain caffeine, but the amount varies from 1–300 mg or more.
  • Caffeine tablets typically contain 100–200 mg of caffeine

What happens when you consume caffeine?

Everybody knows a shot of caffeine can be a quick way to boost energy and stay awake.

But what’s really happening when you consume caffeine?

There’s some short-term benefits, along with some less-than-healthy side effects:

Short-term benefits of caffeine

When you drink a cup of coffee, gulp down an energy drink‌ or take a supplement with caffeine, the short-term benefits are what keep most people coming back for more.

Consuming caffeine in small amounts can: (4)

  • Increase alertness
  • Reduce fatigue
  • Improve reaction times
  • Decrease appetite and support weight management
  • Improve mood and decrease depression

Consuming too much caffeine can have negative effects on your health, too. This can include: (4)

  • Increased anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Digestive problems
  • Consuming high amounts of caffeine can even be fatal
  • Note: For pregnant women, consuming more than 200mg of caffeine per day can increase the risk for low-birth weight and other problems during pregnancy.

Here’s what caffeine withdrawal looks like:

If you’ve been used to a daily dose of caffeine, your body and your brain start to expect it. Remember, it’s an addictive stimulant.

And if you call it quits on caffeine without a gradual reduction, there’s a good chance you’ll go through withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Fatigue

Fortunately, caffeine withdrawal symptoms are typically strongest the first few days after quitting. If you can make it through a week without caffeine, withdrawal symptoms typically subside.

6 Healthy Ways to Curb a Caffeine Addiction

Wondering how to curb your caffeine addiction to protect your health without major withdrawals?

Here are 6 healthy ways to curb caffeine cravings. (5)

  1. Track your caffeine consumption: Before you make any changes to the amount of caffeine you’re consuming, keep track of how much you’re consuming.
    • Remember, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends limiting caffeine consumption to‌ or less than 400 mg per day.
    • Once you know what your caffeine intake looks like, you can create a plan to make some changes.
  2. Check food labels for caffeine content: Not sure how much caffeine is in your coffee, energy drink, chocolate, or supplements?
    • Read the food label. Many products made with caffeine include the amount of caffeine it contains in milligrams.
    • Can’t find it on the label? Chances are pretty good you can look up the caffeine content in drinks and products online, too.
  3. Cut back slowly:  If you want to lessen withdrawal symptoms associated with cutting back on caffeine, make your exit gradually. For example:
    • Drink one less cup of coffee per day.
    • Instead of an energy drink with high levels of caffeine, switch to a soda with less caffeine. Or only drink half an energy drink or soda.
  4. Drink more water: Before you gulp down a cup of coffee, energy drink, soda or other caffeine sources, make sure you’re drinking enough water.
    • For most adults, that’s around 64 ounces of water per day.
    • You may need more water if you exercise a lot, have a physically-demanding job, work in hot weather or live in a hot climate
    • Instead of supporting hydration, caffeine has the opposite effect of drinking water and increases dehydration and urination.
  5. Get your Zzzs:A lot of people reach for caffeinated drinks and supplements to combat tiredness and fatigue. But it’s really just a temporary fix if you’re not getting enough sleep.
    • Instead of relying on caffeine to get you through the day, get enough sleep. Here’s how:
    • Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
    • Create a bedtime routine
    • Turn of all electronics and screens about an hour before bed
    • Stay away from caffeine late in the afternoon or evening
    • Go to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends.
  6. Be more active: One recent study found that just 20 minutes of exercise has the same effect on mood, focus and memory as a cup of coffee. (6)
    • Start your day with 20 to 30 minutes of exercise.
    • Or if you’re feeling tired, take a walk instead of gulping down a caffeinated drink.
  7. Eat healthy foods: Skipping meals or eating sugary sweets and snacks can cause rapid changes in blood sugar levels.(6) This can impact mood and energy levels. Caffeine might be a quick fix, but there’s a better way:
    • Eat more nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds‌ and legumes
    • Whole and fresh foods take longer to digest and help regulate blood sugar levels better than sugary snacks and refined carbohydrates.

Ready to curb caffeine cravings and improve your health?

Cut back on caffeine gradually, and adopt these healthy lifestyle habits. You’ll feel better, have more energy‌ and be healthier.

References

  1. American Heart Association. (2022). Is caffeine a friend or foe? From: https://www.heart.org/en/news/2022/08/08/is-caffeine-a-friend-or-foe
  2. Harvard University. (2020). Caffeine. Harvard School of Public Health. From: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/caffeine/
  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2023). Spilling the beans: How much caffeine is too much? From: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much
  4. Walter, K. (2021). Caffeine and health. JAMA, 327(7): 693. From: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2789026
  5. Cleveland Clinic. (2023). How to quit caffeine without a headache? From: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-quit-caffeine
  6. Morava, A., et al. (2019). Effects of caffeine and acute aerobic exercise on working memory and caffeine withdrawal. Scientific Reports. From: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-56251-y

10 Surprising Reasons to Eat More Leafy Greens

shelves full of leafy greens

Take a look at smart-eating plans or diets. Leafy greens like spinach, broccoli, kale, and cabbage are usually on the list of foods you should eat.

Mediterranean diet, check. Paleo diet, check. Keto diet, check. DASH diet, check.

Plus, recipes for leafy-green salads, smoothies, and side dishes are everywhere.

Why? Because leafy greens are good for you.

They’re packed with vitamins and nutrients. They’re low in calories. They’re affordable (unlike some diets that require buying expensive products).

You can add leafy greens to your diet with little to no prep time. And studies show leafy greens provide important health benefits such as: (1)

  • Reduce the risk for a heart attack or stroke
  • Lower the risk for type 2 diabetes
  • Control blood pressure
  • Improve bone health
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Prevent certain types of cancer
  • Improve bowel health
  • Control hunger and aid in weight management
  • Prevent age-related memory loss

Are you eating enough leafy greens?

Probably not. Most adults don’t eat enough leafy greens and other vegetables. In fact only 10 percent do. (2)

If you want to change your eating habits, improve your health, and feel better, eating more leafy greens can help.

The goal: Eat 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day, including leafy greens, like: (3)

  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Beet greens
  • Watercress
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • Arugula
  • Endive
  • Bok choy
  • Turnip greens

9 easy ways to eat more leafy greens

Hungry for ways to eat healthier? Eating more leafy greens doesn’t have to be hard.

Check out these 9 easy ways to add more “green” to your diet.

  • Build a bowl – Add leafy greens to a burrito bowl.
  • Pizza topping – Use spinach as a topping for thin-crust pizza.
  • Breakfast of champions – Cook eggs or egg-whites with arugula
  • Splendid blended – Make a green smoothie with fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens
  • Dress up noodles – Add Bok choy to noodles
  • Soup’s on – Make soup that includes leafy greens
  • Munch n’ crunch – Bake your own kale chips
  • Dip it – Add spinach to homemade hummus
  • The classic – Eat more leafy-green salads

Want to be healthier, feel better, and live longer? Eat more leafy greens.

References

  1. Wang, D., et al. (2021). Fruit and vegetable intake and mortality: Results from 2 prospective cohort studies of U.S. men and women and a meta-analysis of 26 cohort studies. Circulation, 143:00-00. From: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.048996
  2. Lee, S.H., et al. (2022). Adults meeting fruit and vegetable intake recommendations — United States, 2019. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 71(1): 1-9. From: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7101a1.htm
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2021). Vegetables. MyPlate. From: https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/vegetables

Food Additives: 5 Reasons to Rethink What You Eat

Spoon holding chemical powder with dice labeled "food additives"

What’s a food additive?
“Any substance used to provide a technical effect in foods,” according to the U.S. Food an Drug Administration (FDA) that regulates food additives. (1)
Food additives are used in a wide variety of foods to:

  • Preserve freshness
  • Enhance flavor
  • Make foods look more appealing
  • Create more ‘convenient’ foods with a longer shelf life

7 common food additives
Did you know the FDA has approved more than 10,000 food additives? (2)
You’ll find food additives in just about every kind of food product that goes through some form of processing to make. Some commonly-used food additives include: (3)

  1. Monosodium glutamate: Used to enhance flavors
  2. Artificial food coloring: Used to improve appearance and presentation
  3. Sodium nitrite: Used to cure meats and increase shelf life
  4. Guar gum: Used as a thickening agent
  5. High-fructose corn syrup: Used to sweeten food and drinks
  6. Artificial sweeteners: Used to sweeten foods and drinks with alternatives to sugar.
  7. Trans fat: Used to enhance taste and texture and increase shelf life.

9 hidden health risks of food additives
There’s hundreds of variations of these, and thousands of other additives used in food. You may be so used to eating foods with additives, you don’t even notice.
However, for some people, food additives can cause negative side effects like: (4)

  1. Headaches
  2. Allergies
  3. Digestive problems
  4. Hyperactivity Attention Deficit Disorder
  5. Heart-related health problems
  6. Certain types of cancer
  7. Asthma
  8. Obesity
  9. Hormone imbalances

5 reasons to rethink what you eat
Sugar and salt have been used as food additives for a long time. But even these pose adverse health effects if consumed in large amounts.
Are food additives harmless or harmful? Here are five reasons to rethink eating foods that contain additives:

  1. Deceptive food appearance: Food additives are often used to make products look more appealing. Colorful dyes, like Red 40 or Yellow 5, are frequently added to candy, drinks, and other treats.
    • However, these artificial colors can be deceiving. When food appears more vibrant than it is, it can lead to unrealistic expectations and overconsumption. (5)
    • It’s essential to recognize that just because a food looks fantastic, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthier or better choice.
  2. Masking poor food quality: Another reason to be cautious about food additives is that they can be used to mask poor-quality ingredients. (6)
    For instance:

    • Some food companies might use artificial flavors and sweeteners to cover up the taste of subpar or low-cost ingredients.
    • This allows them to produce products that seem tasty but lack real nutritional value.
    • By relying on food additives, they compromise the overall quality of the food they sell.
  3. Food labels with mysterious ingredients: Reading food labels can be a daunting task, especially with the multitude of additives listed on each product.
    • Names like ascorbic acid or monosodium glutamate (MSG) may leave you more confused than informed.
    • These complicated names can make it challenging to decipher what you’re consuming and how it may affect your health.7

    The more additives in your food, the more confusing it becomes to maintain a balanced diet.

  4. Reducing natural flavors & healthy ingredients: Food additives often replace the natural flavors in foods. Instead of savoring the real taste of fruits, vegetables, or whole grains, you become accustomed to the artificial flavors added to processed foods. That ever happen? This shift can lead to a diminished appreciation for fresh and whole foods.. Unless you only eat fresh, unprocessed foods, chances are pretty good some of the food you eat contains additives. Are they all bad? No. Just take a moment to read food labels, understand what’s in your food, and choose fresh and whole foods when you can.

Sources:

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2023). What is a food additive? Ask USDA. From: https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/What-is-a-food-additive
  2. Maffini, M., et al. (2017). We are what we eat: Regulatory gaps in the United States that put our health at risk. PLOS Biology, 15(12): e2003578. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5737876/
  3. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2023). Food Additive Status List. From: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/food-additive-status-list
  4. Sambu, S., et al. (2022). Toxicological and teratogenic effect of various food additives: An updated review. Biomedical Research International, 6824909. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9249520
  5. Spence, C. (2019). On the psychological impact of food colour. Flavour, 4: 21. From: https://flavourjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13411-015-0031-3
  6. Neumann, N., et al. (2022). Added flavors: Potential contributors to body weight gain and obesity? BMC Medicine, 20: 417. From: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-022-02619-3
  7. Cooper, K., et al. (2022). Exploring the readability of ingredients lists of food labels with existing metrics. AMIA Joint Summits on Translational Science Proceedings, 159-167. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9285159/

4 Surprising Reasons to Avoid Artificial Food Coloring

Cereal bowl with white text indicators displaying the food additives used

Add some salad dressing to a plate of leafy greens. Pour some milk on a bowl of cereal. Drizzle syrup on pancakes. Drink a soda or glass of juice. Eat some movie-theater popcorn. Top off a burger with ketchup, mustard or barbecue sauce.

Chances are pretty good you’ve done one or more of these before. Right? In moderate amounts, these foods might seem pretty ordinary.

But they all contain something that could have an impact on your health: (1)

  • Artifical food coloring.

It’s everywhere. Food manufacturers use artifical food coloring to enhances the appearance of food and make it more visually appealing. And it’s used in all kinds of foods like:

  • Cereal
  • Salad dressing
  • Syrup
  • Condiments
  • Candy
  • Drinks
  • Processed meats
  • And many other foods

The most common food colorings include: (2)

  • Blue 1: used in drinks, candy and baked goods
  • Blue 2: used in drinks and candy
  • Citrus red 2: used in some Florida oranges
  • Green 3: used in drinks and candy
  • Orange B: used in processed meats
  • Red 3: used in candy and baked goods
  • Red 40: used in drinks, candy, gelatins, pastries, and processed meats
  • Yellow 5: used in gelatins, candy and baked goods
  • Yellow 6: used in drinks, candy and baked goods

Unless you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet and only eating fresh ingredients, chances are pretty good you’re eating foods that contain artificial food coloring daily.

So what’s the big deal? New research suggests that artificial foods coloring may be linked to several health risks.

Check out these four surprising reaons you may want to avoid or limit artificial food coloring in your diet. Research suggests consuming foods that contain artificial food color may increase the risk for:

  1. Hyperactivity and behavioral issues: One of the most debated health risks linked to artificial food coloring is its potential to trigger hyperactivity and behavioral issues in children. Some research even suggests synthetic food dyes are a contributing factor to the rise in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved many food dyes with guidelines on how it can be used. (3)
  2. Allergic reactions: You could be allergic or sensitive to certain food dies. Allergic reactions to food dye can include: (4)
    • Skin problems
    • Hives
    • Itching
    • Digestive issues
    • Difficulty breathing

    Although these reactions are relatively rare, it’s one reason why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates synthetic food dye.

  3. Certain types of cancer: Some artificial food dyes have raised concerns about causing certain types of cancer. (5) For example, Red 3 (also known as Erythrosine) has been classified as a potential carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). However, in small amounts the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still classifies this as safe:(6) “Color additives are safe when used properly,” says Dr. Linda Katz, director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors. “There is no such thing as absolute safety of any substance.” “In the case of a new color additive, the FDA determines if there is ‘a reasonable certainty of no harm’ under the color additive’s proposed conditions of use.”
  4. Migraine headaches: Migraine headaches can be triggered by many different factors like:
    • Stress
    • Sleep patterns
    • Hormone imbalances
    • Weather
    • Light exposure
    • Alcohol consumption
    • And food.

    If you’re prone to migraines, certain artificial food colorings, such as tartrazine (Yellow 5), have been reported as potential triggers for headaches and migraines. “Processed foods with nitrites, nitrates, yellow food dyes, or monosodium glutamate can be especially problematic,” according to Harvard researchers.(7) While artificial food coloring may not pose any immediate health risks, there’s growing evidence that suggests eating more fresh fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods is healthier and safer.

References

  1. Akintunde, M., et al. (2020). Health effects assessment: Potential neurobehavioral effects of synthetic food dyes in children. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. From: https://oehha.ca.gov/media/downloads/risk-assessment/report/fooddyesassessmentdraft082820.pdf
  2. Centers for Science in the Public Interest. (2022). Artificial colorings (synthetic food dyes). From: https://www.cspinet.org/article/artificial-colorings-synthetic-food-dyes
  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2023). Color additives in foods. From: https://www.fda.gov/food/color-additives-information-consumers/color-additives-foods
  4. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (2020). Allergic to the fine print: Food allergy to additives, rare but real. From: https://www.aaaai.org/tools-for-the-public/conditions-library/allergies/allergic-to-the-fine-print-food-allergy-to-additiv
  5. Mishra, D., (2022). Food colors and associated oxidative stress in chemical carcinogenesis. Handbook of Oxidative Stress in Cancer: Mechanistic Aspects. From: https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-981-15-9411-3_182
  6.  U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2023). How safe are color additives? From: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/how-safe-are-color-additives
  7. Godman, H. (2023). Top 7 reasons you have a headache. Harvard Health Publishing. From: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/top-7-reasons-you-have-a-headache

Can Burnt Food Cause Cancer?

burnt toast with sad face carved out of it placed on a plate

Ever grill up some burgers or fry some bacon that gets a little too crispy? Or maybe that toasted cheese sandwich or roasted potatoes are a little burned, but you enjoy it anyways.

Chances are pretty good you’ve eaten something burnt, charred, or even just a little crips around the edges. Maybe you take the last bite and wonder:

Can burnt food cause cancer? Here’s what you need to know:

The Culprit: Acrylamide

You know that crispy, charred, blackness of burnt food? It’s caused by a chemical called acrylamide that forms when certain foods are cooked at high temperatures.(1) Some foods that burn easily include:

  • Potatoes
  • French fries
  • Bread
  • Coffee
  • Grains

Beware of HCAs and PAHs

Acrylamide isn’t the only potential cancer-causing concern related to cooking.

There are other compounds to consider, too: (2)

  • Heterocyclic amines (HCAs)
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

These compounds are formed when meat, poultry, or fish are cooked at high temperatures, especially when they’re exposed to open flames or smoke.

Burnt Food & Cancer Risk

Some research suggests that eating higher amounts of burnt food (acrylamide) may increase the risk for certain types of cancer, including: (3)

  • Ovarian cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Digestive system cancer
  • Renal cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Respiratory system cancer

While acrylamide may cause certain types of cancer, the body is good at removing it. That means eating the occasional meal with burnt food, probably won’t raise your risk for cancer. But if you eat burnt food frequently, it may be time to turn down the heat.

How to Cook Healthier

Even though the risks for cancer caused by eating burnt food are minimal, it doesn’t hurt to take some precautions. You can reduce the formation of harmful chemicals in cooked food by adopting healthier methods. (4)

  • When cooking starchy foods like potatoes, try soaking them in water for a bit before frying or roasting.
  • If you love grilling or barbecuing, use aluminum foil as a barrier between your food and the flames
  • Marinate your meat with mixtures containing herbs, spices, and acidic ingredients like vinegar or lemon juice before cooking.
  • Keep an eye on cooking time and temperature. Overcooking or burning food increases acrylamide levels, so it’s a good idea to avoid excessively crispy or charred bits.

Bottom line: The occasional burnt French fry or well-done steak is unlikely to pose a significant cancer risk.

But if you eat a lot of burnt food, it may be time to turn down the temperature, pay closer attention to your food when cooking, and make some simple changes to your diet to eat healthier.

References

  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2022). Acrylamide Questions and Answers. From: https://www.fda.gov/food/process-contaminants-food/acrylamide-questions-and-answers
  2. National Cancer Institute. (2017). Chemicals in meat cooked at high temperatures and cancer risk. From: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cooked-meats-fact-sheet
  3. Basaran, B., et al. (2023). Dietary acrylamide exposure and cancer risk. A systematic approach to human epidemiological studies. Foods, 12(2): 346. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9858116/
  4. European Food Information Council. (2019). How to reduce acrylamide formation at home. From: https://www.eufic.org/en/food-safety/article/acrylamide-infographic-how-to-reduce-acrylamide-formation-at-home

Scratch Summer Sausage Off the Holiday Gift List

sausage crackers and cheese laid out on a wooden board

You’ve seen the summer sausage gift sets. They’re wrapped and packaged with holiday cheer, and don’t need to be refrigerated. Sometimes they even come with crackers, cookies, and decorative silverware.

If you’re heading to the mall, grocery store, or big box warehouse during the holiday season, you might stumble upon samples of summer sausage served on a toothpick.

But this year, scratch summer sausage off the gift list. Rethink your plans for sending fancy meats and cheeses to your mom.

Why? Research shows that the risk for certain types of cancer increases by eating processed meats like: (1)

  • Summer sausage
  • Bologna
  • Salami
  • Hot dogs
  • Canned meats

In the study, researchers looked at the link between cancer and processed meats. And the results were less than appetizing.

  • Processed meats may raise the risk for cancer as much as tobacco, asbestos, and diesel fumes.

So how much do a few slices of summer sausage raise your risk for cancer?

It depends. The less you eat, the lower your risk.

But a lot of people eat processed and red meats at least once a day, and sometimes more during the holidays. Here’s what researchers found…

  • Eating just 1.7 ounces of processed meat a day raises the risk for colon cancer by 18 percent.
  • Red meat wasn’t much better. Just 3.5 ounces each day raises the risk for colon cancer by 17 percent.
  • Here’s a little more food for thought. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. (2)  And colorectal cancer is among the top five most common forms of cancer.

Avoid processed meats: Choose healthier options

If you want to lower your risk for cancer, avoid or limit processed and red meats.

If you’re not ready to give up eating meat, replace red and processed meats with lean meats, fish, and skinless poultry.

References

  1. Bouvard, V., et al. (2015). Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. The Lancet, 16(16): 1599-1600. From: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045%2815%2900444-1/fulltext
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023) Leading causes of death. From: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm

Deck the Halls with Avocados: A Gift for the Heart

avocados in a bundle

Setting out a Christmas Eve snack for Santa? It’s no wonder the Jolly Old Elf is obese and packs a big, round belly in that red suit. There isn’t enough holiday magic in the world to turn a plate of cookies and a glass of whole milk into healthy foods.

In fact, dairy products, animal fats, and foods made with butter and cream are high in saturated fat. Too much raises LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Over time, this can block blood vessels and limit blood flow to the heart and brain. Bad cholesterol raises the risk for a heart attack or stroke. (1)

Maybe it’s time to give Santa something else to eat other than cookies and milk.

  • Question: What’s a heart healthy holiday snack? It’s good. It’s green. And it contains healthy fats that help lower bad cholesterol.
  • Answer: Deck the halls and your plate with avocados.

A recent study showed just how healthy avocados can be. Eating one a day for five weeks helped obese people lower bad cholesterol. (2)

Healthy fats and antioxidants in avocados can also help:

  • Prevent plaque build-up on artery walls
  • Reduce the risk for heart attack or stroke
  • Lower the risk for certain types of cancer
  • Improve blood pressure
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Support brain function
  • Control hunger and aid in weight management

Hungry for better health this holiday season?

Here are three easy ways to add more avocados to your diet:

  • Spread avocado on whole-grain toast.
  • Try veggie dip made with avocado.
  • Add avocado slices to a salad or sandwich.

And leave a healthy snack for Santa and his crew: Guacamole for the Big Guy and carrot sticks for the reindeer.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). LDL and HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. From: https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm
  2. Wang, L. et al. (2020). A moderate-fat diet with one avocado per day increases plasma antioxidants and decreases the oxidation of small, dense LDL in adults with overweight and obesity: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Nutrition, 150(2): 276-284. From: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31616932/

The Breakfast Club: 4 Reasons a Healthy-Morning Meal Matters

assorted healthy breakfast foods

What’s for breakfast? If your morning meal looks anything like Buddy the Elf’s favorite dish, it’s time to pick some healthier options.

In the movie Elf, Buddy (played by Will Ferrell), piles a plate with spaghetti for breakfast. Then he tops it with marshmallows, sugary candy, maple syrup, chocolate sauce, and pastries.

Not exactly healthy, right? Maybe you should just skip breakfast.

That may not be the best option either, according to the American Heart Association. (1)

The trouble with skipping breakfast

An estimated 25 percent of people in the U.S. skip breakfast regularly. (2)

Many who bypass the morning meal do so because they’re running late. Some forgo breakfast because they think it will help control calories or support weight loss.

But research shows skipping breakfast is associated with:

  • Higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure
  • Eating snacks and drinks high in sugar and sodium later in the day
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Lack of energy, or feeling of fatigue and tiredness
  • Depression
  • Increased levels of stress and irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Lack of exercise

4 reasons to make breakfast healthy

If you regularly skip breakfast, or you start the day with donuts, fast food, sugary coffee drinks or a heaping pile of pancakes with syrup, now is always a good time to make a change.

Hungry for better health? Check out these four reasons to start your day with a healthy breakfast:

1. Prevent weight gain

In the National Weight Control Registry, 78 percent of the 3,000 people who lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for a year said they ate breakfast every day. (3)

Plus, people who skip breakfast are 55 percent more likely to be overweight or obese.

2. Control blood sugar levels

If you don’t have diabetes, you probably know someone who does. About 34 million people have type 2 diabetes. About 96 million have prediabetes.

Left unchecked, it can lead to poor circulation, heart disease, stroke, obesity, blindness, amputations, and early death.

Research shows eating a healthy breakfast can help prevent or control diabetes and regulate blood sugar levels. (4)

3. Lower cholesterol

Want to avoid a heart attack caused by blocked arteries? Keep your cholesterol under control.

In a recent study, researchers found that eating whole-grain oats daily helped lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and total cholesterol. (5)

4. Improve brain function

Want to start the day out right? Need help staying alert and engaged during that morning meeting? Start with breakfast. Research shows eating a healthy breakfast can have a positive impact on mood, memory, creativity, decision-making, and attention. (6)

10 healthy-breakfast ideas for busy people

If you’re among the millions who rush out the door without breakfast, or you’re inclined to go for pastries and sweets to start your day, you need a better breakfast plan.

Put these 10 fast & healthy breakfast ideas on your menu:

  1. The 3-Way: A banana, a handful of pecans, and low-fat yogurt.
  2. Whole-Grain Sweetness: Whole-grain cereal sprinkled with berries and slivered almonds.
  3. Yogi Surprise: Low-fat yogurt mixed with fruit and whole-grain granola.
  4. Egg + 2: Egg whites or egg substitute served with fresh fruit and whole-grain toast.
  5. Fruit-Blender Fun: A fruit smoothie made with frozen berries, banana, and ice.
  6. The Whole Spread: Whole-grain toast topped with peanut butter, avocado, or low-fat cream cheese.
  7. Smooth Move: A strawberry, melon, and yogurt smoothie with flaxseed.
  8. Healthy Double Trouble: Fruit salad and a whole-grain muffin.
  9. Oat That’s Sweet: Steel-cut oats with berries.
  10. Wrap It Up: Breakfast burrito (fill a whole-wheat tortilla with sautéed onions, peppers, mushrooms, yams, and tomatoes seasoned with garlic and thyme).

Eating a healthy breakfast isn’t hard. But you do need to do a little work to make it happen.

  • Make a shopping list of healthy breakfast foods that you like.
  • Go to the store to stock up on everything you need.

When you wake up in the morning, put together a healthy breakfast and be on your way. It’s that easy.

Sources

  1. American Heart Association. (2017). How to make breakfast a healthy habit. From: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/how-to-make-breakfast-a-healthy-habit
  2. Pengpid, S., et al. (2020). Skipping breakfast and its association with health risk behavior and mental health among university students in 28 countries. Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity. Targets and Therapy, 13:2889-2897. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7443458/
  3. Dow, C. (2015). Breakfast consumption and weight loss. American Society for Nutrition. From: https://nutrition.org/breakfast-consumption-weight-loss/
  4. Jakubowicz, D., et al. (2015). High-energy breakfast with low-energy dinner decreases overall daily hyperglycemia in type 2 diabetic patients: A randomized clinical trial. Dibetologia, 58(5):912-919. From: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00125-015-3524-9?sv1
  5. Hollaender, P., et al. (2015). Whole-grain and blood lipid changes in apparently healthy adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 102(3):556-278. From: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002916523126955?via%3Dihub
  6. Tang, Z., et al. (2017). The effects of breakfast on short-term cognitive function among Chinese white-collar workers: protocol for a three-phase crossover study. BMC Public Health. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5241917/

4 Better Ways Than Boiling to Prepare Broccoli

“Eat your broccoli.” If that’s a dinner-table mantra that still haunts you from your childhood, you’re not alone.

If you have an aversion to broccoli, maybe it stems from how it was cooked when you were a kid. You know, boiled in water until it’s ultra-soft and mushy. Gross, right?

Better not boil the broccoli

In a recent study, researchers found that broccoli loses up to 77 percent of its nutritional value when it’s boiled for 30 minutes or longer.1 (Note: boiling Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and green cabbage produces similar results.)

And that’s a problem, because broccoli packs the most nutritional punch of any vegetable.

Health benefits of broccoli

Broccoli is loaded with nutrients like:

    1. Vitamin C
    2. Vitamin A
    3. Folic acid
    4. Calcium
    5. Fiber

It’s one of those nutrient-dense vegetables that can help strengthen your bones, prevent cancer, and reduce your risk for heart disease.

But that all depends on the way you prepare it.

The best ways to eat broccoli to preserve most of its nutrients include:2

    1. Raw: Munch and crunch raw broccoli from a veggie tray or in a salad.
    2. Steamed: Steam broccoli for up to 15 minutes to soften.
    3. Stir-fried: Add broccoli to a stir-fry mix of other vegetables. Cook for about five minutes.
    4. Microwaved: Cover and cook in the microwave for about five minutes.

Use one of these cooking methods to give broccoli a try. Season with herbs and spices, or even a little salt, and enjoy.

References

1. Thornalley, P. Boiling broccoli ruins its anti-cancer properties. University of Warwick. From: https://warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/research_says_boiling/

2. Wu, X., et al. (2019). Effects of domestic cooking on flavonoids in broccoli and calculation of retention factors. Heliyon, 5(3): e01310. From: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405844019305687

Eat Healthy Fats: 9 Foods to Help Control Cholesterol

Did you know the type of fats you eat can have a big impact on cholesterol levels?

Pizza, french fries, baked good, fast food, red meat. These foods contain the kind of fat that can lead to high cholesterol and serious health problems.

Having high cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke. Both are leading causes of death in the United States that claim the lives of about 857,000 people a year.1

The scary truth about cholesterol…

  • Total cholesterol. An estimated 94 million adults in the U.S. have total cholesterol levels higher than normal.2
  • Only 1 out of 3 adults with high cholesterol have the condition under control.
  • There are no symptoms. Many with high cholesterol don’t even know it.

How’s your cholesterol?

A simple blood test can measure cholesterol for:3

  • Total cholesterol. A measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood.(Healthy level for adults = 125 to 200 mg/dL)
  • LDL (bad) cholesterol. The main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries. (Healthy level for adults = Less than 100 mg/dL)
  • HDL (good) cholesterol. HDL helps remove cholesterol from your arteries (Healthy level for adults = 40 mg/dL or higher)
  • Triglycerides. The most common type of fat in your body.

5 Types of Fatty Foods to Avoid or Limit to Control Cholesterol

Walk down the aisles at the grocery store and you’re bound to see dozens of product packages labeled “low-fat.”

Don’t be fooled. In most cases, the label just means the item is low in saturated or trans fat, and not a good source of healthy or unsaturated fat.

Here are 5 types of fatty foods to avoid or limit:

  • Meats: Beef, lamb, pork, sausage, bacon, hamburgers, hot dogs, steak
  • Full-fat dairy: Whole milk, cream, butter, ice cream, cheese
  • Animal and solid fats: Lard, vegetable shortening, hard-stick margarine
  • Baked goods using solid fats: Pie crust, cake, cookies, pastry, doughnuts, crackers
  • Coconut or palm oil: Non-dairy toppings and creamers

Is it healthy fat? Here’s an easy way to tell. If it’s solid at room temperature, it’s not healthy.

Add These 9 Healthy-Fat Foods to Your Diet

Fortunately, not all fat is bad. Healthy fats, or unsaturated fats, found in plant-based foods, protect your heart and brain, and help lower the risk for heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases.4

Hungry for better health? Add these healthy fats to your diet:

  1. Olive oil
  2. Canola, soy, and other non-hydrogenated plant oils
  3. Trans fat-free, soft tub margarines
  4. Salad dressings made from non-hydrogenated vegetables oils
  5. Cold water fish, such as salmon
  6. Olives and avocados
  7. Nuts and seeds, including flax seeds
  8. Plant-based spreads, such as hummus or nut butters
  9. Fruits, vegetables, and legumes

Plant-Based Power to Control Cholesterol

Choosing foods with less trans fats and saturated fats will help lower your blood cholesterol levels and protect your health.

Plant-based foods are cholesterol-free, low in and saturated fat. They even help lower cholesterol because of their healthy fat and fiber content. Try:

    • Tofu
    • Avocado
    • Soy products
    • Legumes (peas, beans, lentils, etc.
    • Vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole-grain foods are good sources of healthy fats, too.

Eat more healthy fats, and you’ll be healthier, feel better, and live longer.

Dining-Out Dilemma: 6 Ways to Eat Healthier at a Restaurant

Healthy Dining

When your stomach tells you it’s feeding time, how do you respond?

  • Grab your healthy brown-bag lunch and bottle of water.
  • Whip up a meal in the kitchen made from fresh ingredients.
  • Hit the nearest restaurant or drive thru and munch your way through an entrée, sides, and a drink.

If your diet looks anything like the typical American’s (fast food, burgers, fries, pizza, fried chicken, soda, etc.), you’re not alone.

Did you know…1 out of every 5 calories you eat comes from restaurant food?1

Yes. It’s possible to order healthy food from the menu. You know…

  • The leafy-green salad
  • The soup of the day
  • Sans-bun with burger + lettuce wrap
  • Vegetables instead of fries
  • The fruit parfait
  • Water instead of soda, milkshakes, or sugary coffee drinks

But guess what? A lot of people don’t make the healthy choice, even when it’s an option.

In the study, researchers found that:

  • 70% of all fast-food meals are of poor dietary quality
  • 50% of all full-service restaurant meals ordered are of poor nutritional quality
  • The typical fast food or restaurant entree contains 1,200 to 1,500 calories. And that doesn’t include drinks, sides, or desserts!

The dining-out dilemma

Cooking healthy food at home more often is the better option. But if you are going to a sit-down restaurant, ordering take-out or hitting a drive-thru, you can make healthier restaurant choices.

Here are SIX easy ways to eat healthier at a restaurant:

  1. Find out how many calories are in a meal, before you order.
  2. Place half your meal in a to-go box before you start eating.
  3. Split a meal with someone else.
  4. Order from the kid’s or senior’s menu.
  5. Pick a side dish as your main course.
  6. Ask the restaurant staff to make you a smaller portion.

You hungry? Before you go out to eat, order a meal online, or find the nearest drive-thru, take a closer look at these tips to eat healthier.

You’ll be glad you did.

Reference

1. Liu., J., et al. (2020). Quality of meals consumed by US adults at full-service and fast-food restaurants: Persistent low quality and widening disparities. The Journal of Nutrition, 150(4): 873-883. From: https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/150/4/873/5696668

The Mediterranean Diet: 9 Foods to Help You Live Longer

legumes and beans

Ever heard of a small village called Acciaroli, Italy?

This laidback fishing town is known for its pristine beaches, cobblestone streets, and simple way of life.

The village may hold the secret to living a long and healthy life, too. About one-third of the people who live in Acciaroli are over 100 years old.

Why? Researchers believe it’s their diet and lifestyle.

You probably won’t be packing your bags to move to Italy anytime soon. But you can live like someone from this remote village to improve your health and live longer.

What does it take? A healthy way of eating has been part of life for people living near the Mediterranean Sea for centuries.

If you want to feel better, live longer and improve your health, eat these 9 foods to follow the Mediterranean Diet.

1. Fresh vegetables. Try carrots, onions, broccoli, spinach, kale, garlic, zucchini, and mushrooms. Aim for 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day.

2. Fruit. Add to cereal, oatmeal, or salads. Or enjoy as a snack. Try apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, and peaches. Most adults should eat about 1 to 2 cups of fruit per day.

3. Whole grains. Choose bread, cereal, oats, pasta and rice made from whole grains like barley, buckwheat, and bulgur.

4. Beans or legumes. Try beans like lentils, peas, and garbanzo beans in soup, salads, or served as a side.

5. Nuts & seeds. Try a small handful of pistachios, pecans, almonds, cashews, or walnuts as a snack or added to salads. Seeds that are a regular part of the Mediterranean Diet include sunflower, pumpkin, chia, and hemp seeds.

6. Healthy fats. Use healthy fats like olive oil, canola oil, and soy oil. Fish, avocados, nuts, and seeds are also good sources of healthy fats.

7. Red wine or grape juice. Drink red wine or grape juice. It’s the antioxidants in grapes that help improve circulation and heart health.

8. Herbs and spices. Spice things up with garlic, thyme, oregano, basil, cayenne, curry, and other herbs.

9. Fish & poultry. Avoid or limit red meat. Instead eat fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and herring. Or go with skinless poultry like chicken and turkey.

Use this as a checklist of things to eat to help you follow the Mediterranean Diet.

Not your typical Italian restaurant way of eating

Take a closer look, and you’ll see eating this way doesn’t look quite like the meals you’d find on the menu at an Italian restaurant in the U.S.

There’s two big differences:

Portion size: Most restaurant meals are big enough for two servings. That means twice as many calories as you need, too. If you want to follow the Mediterranean Diet, pay attention to portion sizes.

Sodium content: When you follow the Mediterranean Diet and eat more fresh foods, you’ll eat less sodium. Fast food, restaurant meals, and frozen foods are high in sodium. But the Mediterranean Diet is low in sodium.

Eating this way can protect your heart, lower blood pressure, and reduce stroke risk. It may also help prevent some kinds of cancer, preserve memory, and control blood sugar.

The Mediterranean lifestyle

Food isn’t the only thing on the menu for living a long and healthy life. Healthy relationships, a relaxed approach to life, and regular exercise is also part of the reason people in Acciaroli, Italy live longer.

References

Daniels, L., et al. (2020). Cardiovascular health of nonagenarians in southern Italy: a cross-sectional, home-based pilot study of longevity. Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine, 21(2): 89-98. From: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31789688/

McManus, K. (2019). A practical guide to the Mediterranean diet. Harvard Health Publishing. From: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/a-practical-guide-to-the-mediterranean-diet-2019032116194