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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.

Red Wine: Drink To Your Health?

You might have heard this: red wine is good for your health. But is it true? And what does it do for you, exactly?

I’ve talked about wine before, on this blog, but I had the feeling a more comprehensive roundup of wine’s health benefits was warranted. Are you a wine lover? Curious about the specifics of the much-extolled goodness of wine? Over on Yummy Mummy Club, I break it down for you. Click here to read the whole article.

You might want to have a corkscrew handy.

Cheers!

For Healthier Bones: Drink Up?

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.

Still, I’m a fan of the wine-for-health idea, as you may know. It’s a key part of the Mediterranean diet, and the Sonoma diet–both of which I like and recommend.

More about bone health, here: Are You Getting Enough Calcium?

More about wine, here: Secret Benefits of Wine

More Wicked Healthy “vices”, here: 

Busy? 5 Health Mistakes You’re Making Because You Think You Don’t Have Time

We’re all “busy”. But sometimes things get particularly frantic. And when that happens, what’s the first thing to suffer? Yep, your health. Are you guilty of the following health mistakes when the going gets tough? Let me flip things around for you, and show you a different way of thinking about each of these faux pas. 

1.Skipping sleep.

Too many things to do, not enough time? I’m in touch with that emotion. And many times, I’ve sacrificed sleep to get more done. But I should know better. Tasks done while sleep-deprived rarely end up being my best work. Do you fall into this pattern? Thing is, making time for sleep is an investment. A well-rested you will be more productive and efficient. Plus, skipping sleep means you’re flirting with a lot of long-term health consequences. And if you get truly sick…well, just think about how unproductive you’ll be then.

2. Not drinking enough water.

It seems like an easy thing to do–drink water–but many people neglect this one when they’re dashing to and fro between appointments. Trouble is, mild dehydration is a very common energy sapper–and one you wouldn’t necessarily recognize. When you’re busy, you need all the energy you can get. That mid-afternoon slump could be perked up quite nicely, thank you very much, with a tall, cool glass of water. How much water do you really need to drink? Read this

3. Blowing off exercise.

“I’m so busy, there’s no WAY I have time for a workout”. Sound familiar? We’re all guilty of this one, I’m sure. Exercise is usually the first thing to go when your schedule crunches down. But…I think you know what I’m going to say here. Saving time by skipping workouts is a false economy. If you don’t make some time for exercise your energy lags, grumpiness grows, stress level goes up, productivity goes down. But I get it–how can you possibly carve out a full hour for a proper workout? Good news, people: you don’t have to! You can get your exercise in bite-size chunks of 10 minutes at a time, that you accumulate through the day. Read more about this approach here.

4. Depending on a glass of wine to relax.

Okay, I’m all for wine. But depending on it is a bad idea. I consider wine to be a healthy indulgence, it’s a very pleasurable ritual, and it’s a key part of the Mediterranean diet. There is plenty of research to show it’s a boon for heart health. But, clearly, you can overdo it. Liver disease springs to mind. Alcoholism is a pretty ugly thing. Plus, alcohol can mess with your sleep (see above). Bottom line? Enjoy your wine, but don’t medicate with it. There are many other ways to relax at the end of a busy, stressful day: yoga, a hot bath, a good book, a walk…

5. Eating too many meals that come from restaurants/takeout containers/frozen trays in the microwave.

Don’t get me wrong–I love restaurants; I’m a fan of take-out. Perhaps has something to do with the fact that washing dishes is the 6th layer of hell for me. But–there are good reasons to keep this sort of thing as an occasional treat only. If your weekly diet is heavy on the convenience food or takeout, you’ve relinquished control over what you’re eating. Restaurant and otherwise prepared food tends to be much higher in the unhealthies: fat, sodium, sugar. The portions are probably way bigger than you really need. And chances are, the choices will be a heavy in the meat-cheese-carb department and light in the fresh fruit & veggie department. It takes a little planning but simple, fresh food can be super-easy to prepare. It makes you feel better & look better. And if I can’t convince you on the health front, think of it this way: if you’re spending all your money in restaurants, how are you going to afford all the new pants you’re going to need to accommodate that muffin top you’ve grown, courtesy of all those meals out?

Ya know?

Get Healthy With Olive Oil, Tomatoes, and Wine

I’ll admit it: I’m a little obsessed with Europe. In the past I’ve written about the French Paradox , and there’s a big part of me that would like to be reborn in this life as a French woman (and not only because spa treatments are considered part of the French healthcare system). Also, I could very easily live the rest of my life in London, drinking tea and taking weekend trips to Paris and Tuscany.

But lately I’ve been researching and reading about the Mediterranean diet, and I’m growing convinced that it’s the way to go. Not as a short-term weight loss plan, per se (although it does appear to help with that), but more as a long-term way of life. And that’s because the evidence is overwhelming that it can lead to a longer, healthier life.

And who doesn’t want that?

The research in favor of the Mediterranean diet is huge-ola. Much of it surrounds the impressive benefit to our hearts. A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Medicine this month analyzed the results of several studies that pitted the Mediterranean diet and low-fat diets head-to-head. They found that the Mediterranean diet was more effective for weight loss than a low-fat diet, and brought greater improvements to blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.

The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to protect against the “big C”: many studies have shown the Mediterranean diet to reduce cancer risk.

The British Medical Journal published a big study a couple of years ago, concluding that the Mediterranean diet is associated with “a significant improvement in health status”, specifically: a reduction in overall mortality (9%), mortality from cardiovascular diseases (9%), cancer (6%), and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (13%).

Convinced yet?

So what, exactly, do you eat if you’re trying to go Mediterranean?

  • real food, for starters
  • an emphasis on plant-based food: vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes
  • limited red meat, but plenty of poultry and fish
  • olive oil (pretty much replacing all your other fats, like butter)
  • nuts
  • fresh, seasonal food
  • wine in moderation
  • no eliminated food groups (except twinkies)

There’s much more detail out there, of course, if you’re interested. A wonderful resource for all things Mediterranean diet is Oldways. This is an organization on a mission to raise awareness about the health benefits (and joy) of this ancient way of eating.

When my husband and I were in Italy a few years ago, we made bruschetta in our little kitchen pretty much every day: fresh bread, fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil and salt…and if there’s a better taste combination out there, I’d like to find it. Sometimes, the simpler the food, the better.

Besides all the research, I am personally convinced that eating a Mediterranean diet is an effective way to adopt a healthy lifestyle for one other important reason: it is pure pleasure. And, therefore, something you’d be not only willing to do long-term, but happy to do. 

Sure, there may be other ways you could improve your health and live longer. I happen to not believe there is one perfect diet for everyone. Some people may be able to stick to Dr. Esseltsyn’s ultra-low-fat/vegan diet , as an example. In fact, I have little doubt that if you really could stick to this kind of nutrition plan, your heart would be healthier. But for most of us, it would involve just too much sacrifice. And if you’ve been reading this blog for anything longer than five minutes, you’ll know that I’m all about enjoying life, enjoying food, and indulging whenever possible .

The mediterranean diet fits this bill perfectly.

Secret Benefits of Wine

Who doesn’t love wine? In my opinion, it’s truly the drink of the gods. So how awesome was it, years ago, when research started revealing the health benefits of wine?

Most of us know wine is full of antioxidants, and is great for preventing heart disease. No secret there. But I recently found a couple of benefits that aren’t so widely known. (Of course if you’re like me, you don’t need more reasons to drink up. Here goes anyway):

Wine benefits women’s sexuality

A study (of nearly 800 women, ages 18-50) was published in Oct 2009 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine that showed that the regular, moderate intake of red wine was associated with higher sexual desire, lubrication, and overal sexual function, as compared to teetotallers.

How lovely.

Another benefit?

Wine is associated with better cognitive test performance

This study was performed on 2000 subjects in Norway, and published in the Journal of Nutrition in January 2009. It showed that people who consumed flavonoid-rich wine, chocolate, or tea had significantly better scores on cognitive tests than those who did not. Participants who consumed all 3 goodies (chocolate, wine, and tea) had the best test scores. The effect was most pronounced for wine, and a little weaker for chocolate.

And a big cheers to that.

The Skinny on: The Sonoma Diet

This post is part of a regular feature I’ve got planned: reviews of popular diets. If there’s a diet you’d like me to review, send me a message, or use the comments below!

So…the Sonoma Diet. This was created by Dr. Connie Guttersen, a registered dietitian with a Ph.D in nutrition who lives in California.

Essentially, this is a diet inspired by the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle…with a weight-loss spin, and a nod to the cuisine of the California wine region Sonoma valley. (sidebar: love Sonoma; it’s where I got engaged. If you get a chance, you gotta visit!)

What I like about the Sonoma Diet:

For starters, recommending the Mediterranean diet is a solid approach. There’s heaps of research showing that the Mediterranean diet is supaah for your health. It lowers your rate of heart disease, cancer…all sorts of nasty stuff. It seems like every other day I come across another study touting the benefits of the Med diet.

Guttersen uses a “plate-and-bowl” concept for her diet, which I like. Super-easy to use, no-brainer and zero time involved. No counting calories or anything else. Just fill your plate or bowl according to simple percentages (think pie chart), depending on the meal. For example, in Wave 1: for dinner, use a 9 inch plate, and fill it with 30% protein, 20% grains, 50% veggies.

I like the lifestyle approach–the emphasis on whole foods and the enjoyment and pleasure of food. Too many diets are restrictive and, frankly, miserable. A recipe for cheating if you ask me. The Sonoma Diet is the opposite of this. (Very much in keeping with my Wicked Healthy philosophy, incidentally).

Guttersen frequently mentions the health benefits of this diet beyond simply losing weight, which is fab. It’s important to keep bigger health goals in mind beyond just looking good in a bikini. Like reducing heart disease, decreasing inflammation, preventing cancer. Guttersen repeatedly stresses the importance of power foods like olive oil and tomatoes (yum!)…foods that are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants.

Perhaps my fave part of this diet is that you’re encouraged to drink a glass of wine every day. Every. Day. Love it.

What I don’t like about the Sonoma Diet:

I’m not so crazy about the de-emphasis on cheese and dairy. I’m a fan of dairy. It’s a great source of protein, calcium…all sorts of goodies.

There’s no modification of the diet for men, for women, for people larger or smaller than average, or for varying activity levels. One-size-fits-all portions and proportions don’t make a lot of sense to me. Granted, there’s a little of this, when she mentions snacks, but not enough.

The meal plans are primarily structured around Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. To me, there should be more snacks. I think diets (and healthy eating, in general) works best if there are structured snacks between meals. Eating every 3 hours or so to keep blood sugar from doing major spikes and dips is the way to go. She really only says “you may” have a snack to tide you over.

The diet completely nixes sugar (including fruit) in Wave 1, and the idea is so you can “eliminate” sugar cravings by the end of those 10 days. And here’s where she loses me. I’m highly skeptical than anyone can forevermore lose their cravings for sugar by simply not having sugary stuff for 10 days. Pinning your hopes on this fantasy is a setup for failure. You really need to have a more realistic way of approaching sugar cravings.

In the third part of the diet, which starts after you’ve reached your target weight, Guttersen gets a little thin on the advice. I kinda felt like I’d been left to fend for myself here, and would have appreciated more specific guidelines and strategies in the maintenance phase.

I Would Recommend the Sonoma Diet for…

People who love food, love flavors, and love to linger over meals. (hmm…is there anyone who doesn’t fit into this category?)

People who enjoy cooking (and have time to cook). A key part of the diet is making your own meals. Granted, the recipes look/sound absolutely mouthwatering. But ya gotta have the time to make them.

People who aren’t looking for quick-fix, fad-type solutions to weight loss.

People who don’t want to count calories, look up GI points, or do any other food math.

Basically, I’m a big fan of this diet.

Big.

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

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