(One of my favorite old posts…please indulge me in this re-boot, as I’m busy writing like mad, lost in fictional worlds…)
Used to be, all fats were considered bad. We gobbled down low-fat versions of everything, assuming this was the path to true health. This was not a good time in dietary history, as far as I’m concerned. Three words:
Low. Fat. Cheese.
Thankfully, we now know that dietary fat is not nutritionally black and white. (Just like we know that not all carbs are the devil). Truth is, fat tastes good. The trick is to choose healthy fats, and shun the unhealthy ones.
Good fats are healthy because they reduce our LDL (“bad” cholesterol), increase our HDL (“good” cholesterol) and reduce our risk of heart disease. Healthy fats come in two varieties: polyunsaturated (especially omega-3) and monounsaturated fats. Sources of these fats are:
You want to include more of these in your diet. At the same time, you need to nix the bad stuff. Namely, saturated fat, and especially trans fatty acids. Why? They’re inflammatory. They’re artery-clogging. They give you a muffin-top.
Bad fats? Here’s your list to avoid:
You get the idea, yes?
I’m always happy to report when there’s good news about chocolate. And here’s the latest: a recent study found an association between chocolate consumption and a reduced risk of stroke.
The study was conducted in Sweden and examined the dietary habits of more than 37,000 men aged 45-79. Researchers found that the men who ate the most chocolate weekly were 19% less likely to suffer a stroke, compared to the men who ate the least.
Interesting, here, is that in Sweden, most chocolate is milk chocolate. In the past, this sort of research has put the spotlight on dark chocolate. So good news, people, if milk chocolate is your preference.
(Not mine, by the way. I love a good, bittersweet dark chocolate. With sea salt if at all possible…Lindt dark with sea salt…OMG….)
A recent study showed that people in their 40s with a wide circle of friends have a greater sense of well-being than those without close friendships.
(As a side note, the researchers behind this study are calling these ages ”mid-life” which, PS, people: I staunchly refuse to do. Hovering, as I am, close to 40 I will probably never consider myself middle-aged. Never. But I digress…)
They found that the more frequently people met up with their friends, the greater the benefit. Meaning: virtual/facebook “friends” don’t really count, here. But numbers do count: a wider circle of friends translated to better reported well-being in this study.
Now, I gotta say, I’m not hugely surprised at the finding that friendships are beneficial to mental health. However, one interesting outcome of this study was that, for women, it wasn’t as beneficial to have a wide network of family members as it was to have friends. For men, in contrast, it was a good thing to have plenty of close relatives around, in addition to friends.
One theory? In a family network, women traditionally play an obligatory caregiving/nurturing role. Which is, let’s face it, not as restful as it could be. In contrast, friends tend to be more supportive of a woman’s own choices. And won’t depend on her, say, to make them a sandwich.
Reminds me of the issues surrounding women’s choices for comfort food. Comfort food choices for men tend to be meal-ish, like pasta and steak (the sort of stuff some wonderful mother-type figure has lovingly prepared for them) while women reach for snacky things like ice cream and chocolate (stuff they can grab quickly, without having to turn on the oven and, more importantly, wash casserole dishes afterwards).
But back to the health value of friendships. It’s difficult, in our busy lives, to squeeze in time for friends. It usually takes me several attempts, and back-and-forth text messages, for me to book a date with one of my girlfriends. But it is always worth it. And now I have extra validation (and so do you!) that nurturing these friendships is an investment in my mental health.
In middle age.
Should I ever reach that.
We already know that wine is full of antioxidants, is good for your heart, and reduces your risk of stroke…but now a recent study has suggested that wine may actually improve your bone health, too.
I’m going to go ahead and file this news under Y for Yesss.
In fact, this isn’t the first study to show the connection between wine and bone density, but until now it’s been unclear whether it’s just an association or an actual causative effect.
This was a small study, but the design was interesting. The study subjects were entirely female, and the women were instructed to abstain from alcohol for two weeks. After this period, they were asked to start drinking again. During the abstinence phase, researchers found blood markers of negative changes in bone formation and turnover. When alcohol intake resumed, there were blood markers that showed positive bone changes and rebuilding.
As with everything, moderation is the key. If drinking two glasses of wine a day is a good idea, what’s not a good idea is quickly tossing back those two drinks, then stumbling over your strappy sandals and falling, thus breaking a bone—no matter how good your bone density is.
More about bone health, here: Are You Getting Enough Calcium?
More about wine, here: Secret Benefits of Wine
More Wicked Healthy “vices”, here:
Wouldn’t it be fabulous to indulge in buttery croissants and triple crème brie, all while maintaining a size four silhouette and the blood pressure of a 25-year old?
The French enjoy a famously rich diet. They shun exercise as gauche. Yet, on the streets of Paris, everyone appears thin and gorgeous. More importantly, France’s low rates of obesity and heart disease put North Americans to shame. It’s been called The French Paradox. And really, could anything be more unfair?
Eager to have your gâteau and eat it too? Yeah, me too.
Okay. So how do you make this a reality?
Well…I visit Europe as often as I can, and have witnessed this phenomenon first hand quite a bit. So here’s my decidedly unscientific, shamelessly anecdotal take on how they do it. And how you can too.
Savoring Food. French women enjoy every bite that passes their lips. There is no rushing. Meals are events, celebrations of food. Often lingered over, with family and friends. We know this sort of mindful eating is a cornerstone to a healthy diet.
Portion Control. This is key. In restaurants there are no heaped-up plates that would suitably serve a family of four. There are no giant slurpees or super size anything, for that matter. Meals and snacks are small, beautifully presented, high quality, and delicious.
Food Snobbery. Okay, let’s be honest: food is not the only thing the French could be accused of being snooty about. But here’s the mantra: if it’s not fabulous, don’t eat it. Don’t waste calories on mediocre food that provides fodder and little else.
Wine with Meals. Enjoy the beautiful antioxidants in a glass of wine…a major boon to health. Plus, this one helps with the savoring food thing. See above.
Exercise a la mode. No sweaty, tacky gyms or silly exercise fads. Instead, the French walk everywhere. Or better yet–bicycle. French cities are teeming with people on the streets. Moving, staying active, is simply a daily way of life.
Fresh First. Think local, think seasonal, think fresh. Whole foods whenever possible. The French enjoy a bounty of fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies, and regional cuisine. Minimize or eliminate the processed stuff, the frozen/dehydrated/rehydrated items that kinda pass as food.
Fashion Motivation. In France fashion is religion. And the best accessory a woman can wear? A slimmer shape under her clothes. The plain truth is that nothing makes clothes look better. Why not embrace your inner fashionista, and let this provide an extra reason to say no to that dessert.
No Movie Popcorn. When my husband and I were in France last year, we went to see the latest Bond movie in a theatre. We were the only ones to order popcorn. Small was the only size available. And…we were scolded (in angry French, from a woman who got right up from her seat and walked back several rows to us) for munching too loudly during the film. I know. Crazy, right? Works for them, though.
(And then…call your travel agent. Doctor’s orders.)
I know–when life is throwing you curveballs, your impulse is to bee-line for the freezer (chocolate chip cookie dough Haagen-Dazs, anyone?) or the snack cupboard (hello, Sea Salt & Vinegar Kettle chips…).
But that’s not going to make anything better. Especially not your coronary arteries. Or your muffin top.
So I’ve rounded up some healthier options–and snack choices that may actually help you cope with that stress.
Spinach salad. The magnesium in spinach can help regulate cortisol (a key stress hormone).
Walnuts. These yummy nuts have been shown to decrease blood pressure during stressful events.
Mandarin oranges. Vitamin C can decrease cortisol levels.
Gum. Okay, technically not a snack, but certainly something you can chew on–and studies have shown that chewing gum improves mental performance and decreases stress and anxiety.
Oatmeal. Complex carbs can help lower stress.
Tea, green or black. Tea, among its many health benefits, has been shown to decrease cortisol levels.
Guacamole & baked pita chips. The potassium in avocado can help lower your blood pressure, and the crunch in the pita chips will help satisfy that need for…well, something crunchy.
Salmon. Fatty fish is an excellent source of omega-3, and studies show that people with anxiety may be deficient in the omega-3 department. Replacing this insufficiency can improve symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Finding the time to achieve a healthy lifestyle is challenging. Big-time. Exercise takes time, preparing healthy meals takes time, getting sufficient sleep takes time. But there are only so many hours in the day, right?
To that end, I’ve got a suggestion that may help: scale back on housework.
On my blog on Yummy Mummy Club I posted an article that explores why it’s more important to go for a run than to scour the bathtub…and why it’s even beneficial to your health (and the health of your kids) to let things get a little grubbier at your house. Best bit: I’ve got research to back it up.
Check it out here.
I’m a big fan of the spa.
And my all-time fave spa treatment? Massage therapy.
I’ve long been convinced that it’s more than just an indulgence. A professional, therapeutic massage is so relaxing and feels so great…there just has to be health benefit, right?
In case you’re in need of a little justification, here are 7 reasons to treat yourself to a massage:
1.To improve your sleep.
A number of studies have looked at the connection between therapeutic massage and sleep, and indeed, there has been demonstrated benefit for people who suffer insomnia–due to a variety of reasons, like menopause. Studies have shown particular benefit with massage using essential oils, especially lavender. (Need more help with sleep? Read this ).
2.To better recover from a hard workout.
A recent study confirmed what many trainers already practiced: that a short, 10 minute swedish massage post-workout reduces inflammation in muscles, which can help your body recover.
3.To manage anxiety & depression.
Again, multiple studies have looked at massage therapy’s ability to alleviate anxiety and improve mood. And there have been encouraging findings: massage therapy appears to decrease cortisol, a stress hormone, and increase serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that help reduce depression.
4.To reduce PMS symptoms.
A couple of small-ish studies have shown promise in the PMS-relieving department. Women treated with reflexology, in one study, and therapeutic massage, in another, showed decreased premenstrual symptoms, like mood changes, cramping and bloating.
5.To boost brainpower.
Typically, we think of a massage as hypnotic, relaxing, and slowing us down…but this study showed that it can increase alertness and make you a little sharper, cognitively. Subjects performed math calculations faster and more accurately after receiving regular 15-minute chair massages (twice weekly, for 5 weeks) than those who didn’t get a rubdown. (Here’s more on how to give that brain a boost).
6.To jack up your immunity.
Sick of getting one cold after another? Studies have connected massage therapy with improved immune system function. A randomized trial in 2010 took blood samples of research subjects and those who had received massage therapy had improved white blood cell number and function.
7.To ease headaches.
Several years ago I found myself in a stressful work arrangement, and the way my body showed its displeasure? Frequent headaches. But I had to stick things out for several more months…so one of my coping strategies was to get regular massages. It helped me big-time. Research back this up, too. Multiple studies have shown that massage therapy can help reduce the frequency and severity of both migraine and tension headaches.
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I’ve written about chocolate in the past, of course. But…I think it’s a topic worth revisiting, don’t you? Especially this time of year.
To that end, I recently dug into the research and created a handy little roundup of the top health benefits of chocolate.
I compiled no fewer than six reasons chocolate is good for you, and I posted them all on my Wicked Health blog at YummyMummyClub.ca.
Chocoholic? Let me alleviate that guilt a little…