Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Meditteranean Diet: Promote Brain Health

So much has been said about the Mediterranean diet. Its health claims include fighting heart diseases to preventing cancer to fighting weight gain. A 2007 study done in the United States found that people who consumed a Mediterranean diet lowered their risk of death from both heart disease and cancer.

Now, a study supported by the National Institutes of Health, found that Mediterranean diet may improve brain health. How so? They found that people who enjoy a Mediterranean diet were less likely to develop brain infarcts, small areas of dead tissues linked to thinking and memory. In this particular study, three groups of people were divided according to how closely they followed the Mediterranean diet. MRI brain scans were taken six years later to determine their brain health. They found that those who were closely following the Mediterranean diet were 36 percent less likely to have areas of brain damage than those who were least following the diet.

The study author, Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, MSc of Columbia University Medical Center in New York makes this correlation, “The relationship between this type of brain damage and the Mediterranean diet was comparable with that of high blood pressure.” In other words, not eating a Mediterranean diet puts your brain at the same risk as having high blood pressure.
So, should you go Mediterranean? It certainly wouldn’t hurt.
The Mediterranean diet is easy on the palette—well-rounded, well-balanced meals that can potentially do wonders for your heart, brain and even skin. Here‘s to good health:

• Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Residents of Greece are known to enjoy nine servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Why should we settle for 5 servings?

• Whole grain goodness.
Instead of skipping carbs, the Mediterranean diet embraces them—but not just any carbs—whole grain carbs that not help to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol but recent studies have also showed that whole grains are good at staving off hunger (thereby promoting weight control).

• Drizzle the oil.
Olive oil, canola oil, sesame oil, grapeseed oil—these are healthy monounsaturated oils that promote heart health. Drizzle them on your salads, and dip your bread in them instead of using butter/margarine.

• Nuts
Tasty nutty treats that help to fight bad cholesterol. Because they are incredibly rich in fats (albeit the good kind), eat only a handful each day.

• Eat More Fish
Eating fish once or twice a week, in place of meat can help cut back on the intake of saturated fats that are so inherently present in red meats. Cold-water fish also boasts high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that can help lower triglycerides and improve health of blood vessels.

• Herbs and Spices
Instead of salt and butter to bring out the flavor of foods, herbs and spices are used generously to flavor foods.

• Red Wine
Red wine is celebrated in the Mediterranean diet. When consumed in moderation (no more than 5 ounces for women and 10 ounces for men), antioxidant-rich red wine has an aspirin-like effect, reducing the blood’s ability to clot.

What’s for dinner tonight? Some broiled salmon, a slice of whole-grain rosemary artisan baked bread, a side of greens seasoned with olive oil and spices, some slices of fresh fruit and a glass of red wine—doesn’t sound too shabby and a great way to stay healthy and alert.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Moderation: Key to Better Health

Are you constantly worried about your health? Do you beat yourself up because you couldn’t squeeze in the half an hour of workout? Are you constantly checking calories profile on the backs of boxes? Do you carry a journal detailing everything you eat? Or didn’t eat? Are you paranoid just because you have just enjoyed that delectable chocolate cheesecake? Do you lose sleep over your sleeping patterns? The list can go on and on…and on.

If you’re too hung up on health and the myriad of health solutions that have been dished out by health experts, books, the media and talk-show hosts, even your own berating voice—breathe! A new book out on the market, Live a Little! Breaking the Rules Won’t Break Your Health, gives you permission to relax and take this health thing in your stride. The authors, Dr. Love, clinical professor of surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles and co-author, Alice D. Domar, a Harvard professor and senior staff psychologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center contend that perfect health is a myth and that attaining health is easier than you think.

Good health, even optimal health is within reach. In one simple all-compassing concept?—moderation. The happy M word sums up the new liberating concept to avoid extremes. Punishing yourself into shape or letting yourself go because you feel overwhelmed by your health conditions can backfire—both extremes carry inherent health problems. Dr. Love pointed out that people who are obese or underweight have higher mortality rates. She says, “The goal is to be healthy and have as good of a quality of life as you can have. It’s not to be thin.”

What does this advice translate to in practical terms? It’s alright to slip sometimes in your quest for good health, just as long as you don’t slide down the slippery slopes of letting yourself go. If that sounds too nebulous --let’s explore some practical ways.

Don’t be afraid to eat the full-cream ice-cream and the dark chocolate shavings on top. Instead of a full meal later, try some vegetable soup beefed up with whole grains like barley or red beans. It satisfies your need for food without a whole lot of calories. If you need some protein, opt for low-fat lean meat like fish or chicken. So, what’s the bottom line?—balance your food choices—offset your high-calorie foods with low-calorie foods. Foods like vegetables, whole grain, and fruits can fill you up without hefty calories count.

What about exercise? Exercising for long periods of time or pushing your body to accomplish great physical acts may produce a healthy body but what if you can’t put in the time or the effort? Again the above health experts say—relax and go for the middle ground. . If you miss your morning workout—don’t sweat it-- make up for it by parking your car a distance from where you are going and let your legs do the work. Many people equate exercise with equipment or gadget or even a building. Truth is, exercise can be done anywhere, anytime. Example: If you’re waiting for the water to heat up before a shower, do a few squats or jog in place. If you’re stuck in traffic—do some tummy crunches. These may be little attempts but they do add up.

Practice moderation and you will find that you’re happier. Good health is not a magic number or a perceived state of ideal. Good health is general well-being and it is more attainable through realistic goals and moderate measures. Not constantly stressing over your health conditions can produce another health benefit—less stress hormones and in the long run, more health dividends.