Attention, all you chocoholics out there. When Australian doctors prescribed a bar of dark chocolate daily to people with high blood pressure, a mutiny broke out. Half said eating that much candy was hard. One in five groused that chocolate just wasn't an acceptable hypertension treatment. Shocking, huh?
Actually, we're with the rebellious Aussies, not their docs. You don't need a whole bar to get a healthy dose of chocolate power. Artery-friendly flavonoids in dark chocolate are so powerful that a daily piece the size of a Hershey's Kiss (about 30 calories, though make it dark chocolate) can lower your blood pressure. Even more impressive: Eating that much only once or twice a week cut heart failure risk by a third in a recent study.
Besides, you'll wipe out chocolate's protective edge if you eat a bar every day, because of the calories. Have a 3.5-ounce bar, and you're downing 440 calories and more fat than a Big Mac!
So relish half an ounce or so a few days a week, if not more: A Kiss's worth of dark chocolate at night increases your odds of seeing the sun rise. Look for plain dark chocolate that's at least 70 percent cocoa. Avoid those with fillings like peanut butter, because they may also contain palm, coconut, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
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Don't let gum disease go to your head
The fate of your brain may hang by a thread — as in dental floss. Waxed, plain, flat, round, minty, cinnamon? It doesn't matter. Just use the stuff once a day. You know flossing is a great defense against gum disease and inflammation. Now, new evidence connects your brain and floss — a recent study revealed that gum disease is a big risk factor for Alzheimer's and memory glitches.
The researchers found that gum inflammation makes your risk for thinking errors nine times higher than normal. When people in their 70s played a brain game, the ones with the highest levels of antibodies and inflammatory compounds from gum disease consistently had the lowest memory scores. There's also plenty of evidence that inflammation harms your brain, perhaps by interfering with the clean-up system that normally whisks risky brain cells out of your noggin.
So work that floss every day. Don't quit if it makes your gums bleed, even though that may be a sign of infection. Keep flossing (your gums will love it) and call your dentist. Keep your gums in the pink to keep your brain young.
Rice, pasta and potato salad: Diet food?
If you think filling up on leftover pasta straight from the fridge will shrink your waist, you're on top of the latest diet craze: resistant starch. This stuff is suddenly everywhere.
For once, though, a weight-loss fad has science on its side. Resistant starch (RS for short) is a tasteless form of fiber in some high-carb foods that can help you lose weight and steady your blood sugar. Beans are RS-rich. So are 100 percent whole grains, nuts and seeds. And — this is where the fad part comes in — so are cold pasta, potatoes and rice.
Your small intestine digests only a little RS and only very slowly (which helps you feel fuller, longer). Most of it exits the body; since you don't digest it, you don't get its calories.
Why eat starchy foods cold? When foods like pasta, potatoes and rice are cooked and chilled, tight crystals of resistant starch form. Don't reheat them; you'll break up the crystals. Our take: Keep on eating healthy goodies like beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds; all are RS sources. Enjoy reasonable portions of cold potatoes, whole-grain pasta salads and sushi rice now and then.
Really fast stress relief
Losing your job, or not being able to find one, or having a serious illness, or getting a divorce — any one of these is a Kilimanjaro of stress. But you have to deal. So you do: You muster your emotional resources, rally your support systems and get through it.
But what if life's little molehills of stress — your horrific commute, that bounced check, losing at pingpong yet again, a crushing work deadline — add up to a mountain of trouble for you? Cumulative stresses age your arteries, damage your immune system, increase your risk of accidents and make your body years older. Next time a driver cuts you off or the ATM sucks up your card, try one of these stress-busters:
* Make a face only your mother would love. Scrunch up every facial muscle tightly for 15 seconds, then release. (Don't worry. It won't get stuck.) Repeat several times. The contraction and relaxation eases tension.
* Take a cool breather. Inhale deeply, lick your lips, then blow out slowly through your mouth. Repeat. The cool breeze blowing over your lips helps you refocus.
* Uncork it. If you're a jaw-clencher, keep a wine cork in your desk drawer, your car's cup-holder, wherever you tense up. When you do, hold the cork vertically between your teeth and gently bite on it for 30 seconds or so. This forces your jaws — a major tension depot — to relax.
Is there a fat leak in your belly?
A belly pooch hiding under a big T-shirt is always a health worry. But add high levels of triglycerides — the heart-threatening bad fat that eventually gets dumped into or expelled from fat cells — and you're in dangerous territory.
A combination of a large waistline (greater than 33.5 inches for women, 35.5 inches for men) plus high triglycerides (over 133 for women, 177 for men) causes trouble for people without any other signs of heart disease, according to a recent large study. And, no surprise, it also ups the danger if your heart is already under siege from smoking, diabetes, advanced age, family history or out-of-whack cholesterol.
Just a big waist or just high triglycerides bumps up the ticker threat, but it's the combo that makes it skyrocket, doubling or even tripling your risk of serious heart disease. Why? Experts think it's because extra fat cells stored deep in the abdomen are leaking triglycerides.
That causes insulin resistance, which your body overcomes by pumping out more insulin and boosting blood pressure, making any plaque buildup in your artery walls more likely to rupture.
The fix? Do at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. Replace sugary drinks, sweets, fried foods and saturated fats with fruits, veggies, 100 percent whole grains, lean protein, good fats — especially omega-3-rich foods (salmon, trout). Watch portions. If you're overweight, lose even five to 10 pounds. It can lower your triglycerides and have you healthier inside and out.