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fats

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Passport To Health: Norway

Upper part of a carved wooden figurehead from a Viking ship against a blue background Oslo, NorwPassport To Health is one of my favorite topics…it allows me to talk about two things I love: health and travel. As I’ve said before, we North Americans may be many things, but one thing we’re not? Svelte. Fact is, we can learn a lot from other countries. (And shamelessly steal their health secrets.) Today, let’s look at Norway. 

Norway is the home of the Vikings. Hearty, hale stock to be sure. But the Norwegians retain their reputation as a healthy population in modern times, too. They are much less obese than North Americans and enjoy lower rates of heart disease.  

So what are the Norwegian health secrets that we should all steal? The first one is eating fish.

The Norwegians eat a ton of fish. Norway is a country surrounded by ocean on three sides, so it stands to reason. They enjoy herring, sardines—even for breakfast! The eat 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. And that’s why this is a health secret.

Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid. It’s considered an essential fatty acid because our bodies don’t manufacture it. And research is piling up on the health benefits of omega-3. Most of the studies surround the heart-health benefits. It’s been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol profile, reduce heart disease risk, reduce stroke. And other, non-heart disease benefits too, like reduced risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s, improving rheumatoid arthritis, reducing ADHD, decrease chronic inflammation, help reduce anxiety and stress.

The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish per week, and I think that’s a great, manageable goal for most of us.

norway

So here’s the other health secret of the Norwegians that we can learn from: their approach to work-life balance. This, of course, is true for other Scandinavian countries, too–it’s not completely unique to Norway. Scandinavians have much more paid vacation time than we do, longer maternity leaves, and generally speaking, while work has its place, it doesn’t take over from the rest of life. Work-life balance is a fiercely guarded issue. From all reports, everyone in Norway clocks off at 5 o’clock. Offices are ghost-towns after that, because that’s when people go home and spend time with their families, preparing meals…and basically, not working.

As for vacation time, the legal minimum paid vacation time in Canada is 10 days. This adds up to 2 weeks, if you’re working full time. In Norway, like most of the Scandinavian countries, the minimum vacation allotment is 25 days. That clocks in at 5 weeks! Statutory holidays are on top of that.

This is all state-supported, and so it’s difficult to fully replicate, here, in our own lives–unless you happen to have some personal pull with the government–but the principle is something we can practice. If you tend toward the workaholic end of the spectrum, if your work-life balance could use a little more, well, balance…why not take a page from the Norwegian book? Make it a priority to take your vacation allowance (unbelievably, every year tons of Canadian vacation time remains unused), spend quality time with your families, and enjoy hobbies and personal pursuits.

Ha det bra!

If you liked this, here are some of my other Passport To Health posts:

Chewing The Fat

(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.

Ugh.

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:

  • olive oil
  • nuts
  • canola oil
  • avocados
  • cold water fish (like tuna, salmon, mackerel)
  • flaxseed

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:

  • hydrogenated oils (margarine, shortening)
  • baked goods made with hydrogenated oils (eg. cookies, crackers)
  • deep-fried food
  • movie popcorn (I have to admit, this one makes me cry)
  • chicken wings
  • french fries
  • full-fat dairy products
  • potato chips

 You get the idea, yes?

A Healthy Heart Cheat Sheet

It was Valentine’s day yesterday, and February is healthy heart month…so in honor of all that, I’ve compiled a list of 10 tips to keep your heart healthy.

Some are easy tweaks (like: start taking vitamin D) and some are bigger jobs (like: start exercising regularly)…but they’re all do-able. And some are even fun (hint: you might want to have a corkscrew handy).

To read the full list, head over to YummyMummyClub.ca for my post on keeping a healthy heart.

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…

Mad About Nuts

When I was younger I used to avoid nuts because of their high fat content. You too?

Fortunately, we now know about the blissful thing called “healthy fat“. There’s no doubt, nuts do contain a lot of fat, but most of it is the monounsaturated kind (same stuff that’s in olive oil). And that sort of fat is good for your cholesterol profile, and protects against heart disease. But the good news about nuts doesn’t stop there. Nuts are also a great source of protein, and contains tons of beneficial nutrients, like magnesium, vitamin E, and flavonoids. Research has shown many health benefits to consuming nuts, like reducing your risk of developing blood clots and improving the lining of your arteries. All this definitely places nuts in the “superfood” category.

But are some nuts better than others? Here’s a field guide.

Almonds seem to get a lot of press. And for good reason. They are a rich source of vitamin E (an antioxidant), magnesium, flavonoids, and calcium.

Walnuts (my current fave) are chock full of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) which is an omega-3 fatty acid. And omega-3 is a very good thing. I have walnuts with greek yogurt, just about every day. Also, walnuts have almost twice the antioxidant levels of other nuts.

Peanuts (which, technically, aren’t nuts but legumes…if you’re into that sort of Cliff Calvin/Cheers type trivia…) are a rich source of folic acid, which is super-important for pregnant (or trying!) women for preventing birth defects. Peanuts also contain resveratrol–yes, that’s the selfsame antioxidant found in red grapes and red wine.

Cashews have got lots of oleic acid (monounsaturated fat), calcium, and copper which is beneficial for red blood cell formation.

Pistachios are high in phytosterols and heart-lovin’ monounsaturated fats. Pistachios are also a great source of potassium, vitamin B6, and calcium.

Chestnuts are one of the lower-calorie, lower-fat nuts. They’re also rich in potassium, folate, and vitamin C (the only nuts with C). Roasted chestnuts are one of my favorite winter treats, and in Italy they soak chestnuts in wine before roasting. Yes please.

Bottom line: because each type of nut carries its own nutrient cocktail, and no shortage of health benefits, I think that leaves us free to choose the ones we like best. After all, this is food, people, and it’s about taste! Also, I’m a believer in variety.

Mixed nuts, then?

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How To Lose That Cursed Belly Fat

Women used to complain about their hips and thighs. Now, it seems, it’s all about belly fat. I suppose this could be my imagination since I have, in recent years, joined the post-baby ranks…and now share this particular preoccupation.

Or maybe it’s the attention paid to apple vs pear-shaped physiques. Which is an important distinction, actually. An apple silhouette (with fat accumulated around the belly) is more dangerous than a pear shape. Years of research have shown an association between belly fat and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Of course there’s a recent study that threatens to debunk years of accepted wisdom re fat distribution in the abdomen vs hips/thighs. But this is just one study, and the jury is still out.

Regardless–whether you want to lose that spare tire for aesthetics or for health–it’s a good goal.

So, what to do?

1. Watch out for trans fat. Saturated fat, in general, is not your friend if you want a nice lean tummy, but trans fats are particularly evil. A study at Wake Forest University showed that trans fat increased the amount of fat stored around the belly…and even worse: it redistributes fat from other parts of your body to the abdomen. Now that is just not nice.

2. Drink green tea. A recent study showed that consumption of green tea enhances exercise-induced abdominal fat loss. Okay, seriously. Is there anything green tea doesn’t help with?

3. Go easy on the alcohol. Alcohol seems to be a particularly bad thing for belly fat. One theory: when you drink, your liver is too busy burning off the alcohol to metabolize fat properly. But worse, is this: alcohol can affect the hormones that regulate your satiety center. In other words, it can make you feel hungrier. And you know what that leads to, don’t you?

4. Manage your stress. Chronic, unrelenting stress does a lot of bad things to our bodies and minds. Not the least of which is produce a steady stream of cortisol. And, unfortunately, cortisol stimulates our bodies to accumulate fat around our abdomens. Great. As if being stressed isn’t bad enough. Now you’re stressed…and chubby. Check here for tips on stress management. And here. And, um, here.

5. Gobble blueberries. Blueberries have been shown in lab studies to diminish abdominal fat. Don’t get too excited, yet, though–the study was only done on rats. Still, it may prove applicable to the rest of us. Besides, blueberries have other benefits too.

6. Fiber, fiber, fiber. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a diet rich in whole grains helped rid obese patients of extra belly fat. So that’s a good thing. But there’s another benefit to fiber, when it comes to achieving a nice flat belly. And I’m not going to be cute about this one. If you’re constipated, it’s hard to have a truly flat abdomen. No, this isn’t belly fat, per se, but you’ll still have that bloated roundness that’s not exactly pretty (or comfortable!). To get a trimmer tummy you need a combo of: less body fat, no constipation/bloating, and toned muscles…which brings me to…

7. Exercise. You knew I was going to get to this one, right? Yes, exercise will definitely help you get a flat tummy. Best approach: get a combo of cardio (to burn fat) and core strengthening to tone those muscles. My current fave? Yoga plank pose.

8. What about diet soda? It seems logical to cut calories by drinking diet soda. But the evidence is conflicting. Some recent studies have shown that diet soda can actually increase weight gain. Read this if you’re curious why this might be.

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If you enjoyed reading this post, why not sign up for Dr. Kim’s free newsletter? Get fresh health advice delivered directly to your email inbox (starting with Dr.Kim’s special report, Health Architecture: Blueprint for a Healthier Life).

 

Sorting Out Good Fat vs. Bad Fat

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.

Ugh.

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:

  • olive oil
  • nuts
  • canola oil
  • avocados
  • cold water fish (like tuna, salmon, mackerel)
  • flaxseed

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:

  • hydrogenated oils (margarine, shortening)
  • baked goods made with hydrogenated oils (eg. cookies, crackers)
  • deep-fried food
  • movie popcorn (I have to admit, this one makes me cry)
  • chicken wings
  • french fries
  • full-fat dairy products
  • potato chips

 You get the idea, yes?

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

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