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What’s Healthy About Valentine’s Day? Lots.

valentine's dayWhether you love Valentine’s Day, or whether you loathe it…everyone can appreciate a little health boost now and then, am I right?

Valentine’s Day and chocolate go hand in hand. Feeling a little guilty about your favorite indulgence? Don’t. Here’s why chocolate is good for you. (Yes, you read that right.)

And speaking of pleasurable indulgences…here’s why I prescribe hugs and kisses and squeezes this time of year (and all year-round, to be honest).

Valentine’s Day is also the perfect time to think about your heart. Your real heart, the one beating inside your chest. Heart health is something we all need to think about–not just for ourselves, but for the ones we love, too. Here’s how to keep yours going strong.

Finally, if you’re planning a special dinner this Valentine’s Day, there’s a strong chance your plan might include a nice bottle of wine. Good news there, too. Read all about the health benefits of wine, here

You’re welcome.

Love and hugs, everyone.

More Good Health News About Chocolate

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….)

Want to read more good stuff about chocolate? Here, here, and here.

More stuff about heart, stroke & cardiovascular health? Here, here, and here.

Passport to Health: Part Deux

In my first post on this topic, Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around the World, I talked about how (and why) other countries kick our butts all over the place in terms of staying trim & healthy. But there’s no need to despair–we can (shamelessly) steal those ideas, and use them for our own purposes, now can’t we? Below, some more international ideas…this time, not just for trimming down, but for overall health.

Norway

Norwegians have lower BMIs than North Americans and enjoy lower rates of heart disease. One reason? They eat a ton of fish. Norway is a country surrounded by ocean on three sides, so it stands to reason. They enjoy herring, sardines, trout, and arctic char. Salmon is a trademark dish for them, especially smoked salmon, which is one of my all-time favorite things to eat. So what do all these varieties have in common? They are all cold water, fatty fish. Which is the best dietary source of omega-3. Here’s why omega-3 is so awesome for us.

The Netherlands

Here’s an interesting little tidbit: in the Netherlands, there are more bicycles (18 million) than people (16.5 million). As such, cycling is not just a form of exercise, it’s a way of life. Dutch people hop on their bicycles for daily activities like shopping, running errands, and going to work. Here’s why this is a good idea for you, too. Plus there are added benefits to using your bike (preferably an upright version with a basket) for all your in-town needs–namely: looking super-cute and European. Besides, it’s good for the environment, no?

Panama

A professor at Harvard, Dr. Normal Hollenberg, has devoted a big chunk of his professional career studying a particular indigenous population in Panama, with extremely low rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And he attributes this, at least in part, to their daily consumption of unprocessed, pure cocoa. And when I say daily, I’m talking 5 cups a day at least. Cocoa? Really? Well, it’s plausible…because cocoa is jam-packed with flavonoids (powerful antioxidants) that have been demonstrated to have a multitude of health benefits. (see my post, here, on why chocolate is good for you). After reading about this, I went out and bought a tin of high-quality cocoa…and now I’m on the hunt for a good recipe for homemade hot chocolate using that cocoa. Anyone?  

Britain

The British, unfortunately, are working hard at catching up to North American obesity rates…but one thing they do right? Breakfast. A full English breakfast is a sight to behold, let me tell you. And a wonderful way to start the day. Why is breakfast a good thing? Here. Here. And here.

Switzerland

And speaking of breakfast…the Swiss have mastered the healthiest version of it: muesli. Muesli is a blend of oats, nuts and fruit, developed by a Swiss physician many years ago. It’s super-healthy, balanced, full of everything you need to kick-start your day…and just plain delish, besides. Particularly if you have it with yogurt (Greek being my preference), it’s hard to beat for health and toothsomeness. Yes. That’s a word.

Now, of course we can stay home and simply steal these ideas. But why not take things up a notch, and actually go to the aforementioned countries? Here’s why taking a vacation is good for you.

Natural Ways to Boost Metabolism: Part 2

Summer is on its way. And with those blossoming trees and wafts of warm air, thoughts turn to the inevitable: swimsuit season.

I don’t know if this induces shudders in you, but it certainly does me. I’ve long believed they use funhouse mirrors in swimsuit changerooms, you know the kind that make certain bits look too big, certain bits too short, certain bits too wobbly…

Anyway, whether it’s truly due to sadistic shop owners or, um, it’s just me, the time is ripe to spring into action and trim down a little.

I first wrote about natural ways to boost metabolism a few months ago. Here are 4 more tips:

1. Eat Breakfast.

I know, this isn’t exactly a new idea–but it really does help weight loss efforts. You need to literally break your overnight fast to get your engine revving–otherwise your body senses starvation and slows metabolism to conserve energy. So breakfast is a no-brainer. But what are your best choices? If you can include protein, you’re ahead of the game. Studies show that people who have a protein-rich breakfast have increased satiety and fewer cravings through the day. When I had gestational diabetes, one of my key strategies for steady blood sugar through the day was having protein in my breakfast. Yogurt, eggs, lean ham are all good choices. Other ideas: peanut butter on whole grain toast, or a fruit/yogurt smoothie, perhaps with whey protein powder. Or sprinkle nuts in your oatmeal, or munch on a high protein granola.

2. Sleep.

Research has repeatedly shown the dangers of insufficient sleep to your health…and to your waistline. In studies, people who get insufficient sleep are more likely to be obese. One of the culprits? Ghrelin, your hunger hormone. Seems this little demon goes a bit postal if you don’t get enough sleep. Triggering those bleary-eyed pantry ransackings in search of stray oreos. Sleep doesn’t come easily for you? Read this.

3. Deal with stress.

Unremitting stress causes increases in cortisol–a hormone that specifically favors fat accumulation in your tummy and midsection. Not to mention the whole stress eating thing, and comfort food-seeking tendencies when stressed (that tend to lean more towards Haagen Daazs and less towards broccoli). Do your metabolism a favor and get your stress under control. There are lots of effective ways. Start here.

4. Nibble on chocolate.

I saved the best for last, here. A new study from the University of California found that adults who were frequent chocolate eaters had a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who ate chocolate infrequently. And it wasn’t because the chocolate fans ate fewer calories overall or exercised more. So what’s up with chocolate? The study authors believe that because chocolate is rich in certain antioxidants, it may have a beneficial effect on our metabolism. Also, chocolate contains epicatechins, a flavonoid that has been shown in animal studies to increase lean muscle mass and reduce weight. (If this makes you happy, read more good news about chocolate.)

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An Early Valentine: The Health Benefits of Chocolate

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…

What is CRP?

Is CRP a test you should be getting done? Chances are, you’ve never even heard of it. (If you have: bonus points to you!) CRP stands for C-Reactive Protein, and it’s a marker for inflammation. But we also use it as a screening test for heart disease risk. 

At this point you might be asking: what does inflammation have to do with heart disease, exactly?

A lot, as we’re starting to learn.

How inflammation contributes to heart disease

Chronic inflammation is at the root of many diseases. When inflammation gets into otherwise healthy tissues it can inflict long-term damage, and it poses a particular problem for the heart. Inflammation triggers a series of processes and chemical reactions that encourages plaque buildup in the arteries–narrowing those vessels and making blood clots more likely. This is the root of coronary artery disease. The American Heart Association says that people with high CRP are twice as likely to have cardiac arrest than people with low CRP. Which makes it a very important risk factor. But, CRP is a relatively new test, and not exactly standard practice–yet.

The kicker is that CRP is a non-specific marker of inflammation, meaning, it doesn’t tell us where the inflammation is within your body. So this is not a diagnostic test. Not like a pregnancy test, where you get a yes or a no. It gives us an idea about the degree of inflammation you’ve got going on.

Should You Get Your CRP Tested?

Is this test for everyone? No. If you already have known cardiac disease, or have other major risk factors anyway, the result of a CRP test is probably not going to significantly change your treatment. You should already be working on your modifiable risk factors (like quitting smoking and eating healthfully). A CRP test doesn’t replace other ways of monitoring heart disease risk, like checking blood pressure and cholesterol. But if you have intermediate risk, it could be a very useful screening test. Essentially, it comes down to individual factors, and a conversation with your family physician.

How to Lower Your CRP

If you get the test, and have an elevated CRP, what should you do to lower it?

  • Start by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. The Mediterranean diet is my favorite variation.
  • Take Omega-3 supplements. Many studies have demonstrated the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids, including a reduction in CRP.
  • Take Vitamin C. A study at UC Berkeley found that patients with elevated CRP who supplemented with 1000 mg of Vitamin C daily lowered their CRP by an average of 25%. 
  • Include more fiber in your diet. A 2006 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people with a fiber-rich diet were less likely (by 63%) to have an elevated CRP than people with poor fiber intake.
  • My personal fave: eat a little dark chocolate. A 2008 study in Italy showed an association between moderate dark chocolate intake and significantly lower levels of CRP.

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Vitamin Chocolate? Why Chocolate Is Good For You

In recent years, you might have heard rumors about chocolate being good for your health. And you promptly dismissed said rumors as being way too good to be true. But this week a study was published that is seriously validating the idea of chocolate as health food.

According to the folks at the British Medical Journal, chocolate is good for your heart. Really good, that is. Like, reduce-your-heart-disease-risk-by-37%-kind-of-good.

The meta-analysis published this week analyzed 53 studies on chocolate and cardiometabolic disease (meaning: heart disease and stroke, plus diabetes and metabolic syndrome). This was quickly trimmed down to seven studies, as the lower-quality or non-relevant research was weeded out.

But in those seven studies, the researchers found  that “high chocolate consumption” was associated with about a third decrease in the risk of cardiometabolic disorders—37% in the case of any cardiovascular disease and 29% in the case of stroke prevention.

Now, just a little sidebar: the “high chocolate consumption” they’re referring to is up to two pieces per week. Although they don’t specify how large those pieces were. So take that with a grain of salt.

But here’s some good news for milk chocolate lovers: this time, the studies did not differentiate between dark and milk chocolate, just chocolate consumption in general. In the past, dark chocolate has always received the press; this time, not so much.

So what makes chocolate so beneficial? The researchers speculate that the high content of polyphenols in cocoa is at the root of it all. Previous studies have shown other health-boosting effects of chocolate: it appears to lower blood pressure, cut inflammation, reduce cholesterol, and inhibit clotting. All effects that will improve a person’s cardiovascular health.

Now if this news isn’t Wicked Healthy, I don’t know what is.

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Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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