As the days get shorter, the temptation to eat comfort food increases, picking up a full head of steam through holiday dinners that serve up table-loads of sweet desserts. You know that added sugar and sugary syrups are big, bad food felons. So how about some new ingredients, ranging from sweet-tasting roasted root vegetables to leafy greens, for a sumptuous last course?
Online, you’ll find recipes combining veggies and dark chocolate (in small doses, it’s great for your heart and soul) – using avocados (for fudgesicles), beets (in a Bundt cake) and black beans (in brownies). Even more innovative? A 100 percent whole-wheat tomato cake with olive oil and cinnamon from the blog Love Food Eat. Superstar chefs also are climbing on this foodie trend: Mario Batali puts a little ricotta, pine nuts and cinnamon on a cornmeal dessert pizza; Bobby Flay’s bourbon barbecue sauce makes a great dip for crispy, oven-roasted kale chips; and there’s the Barefoot Contessa’s carrot walnut muffin (serve warm, skip the frosting and make the flour 100 percent whole wheat).
So ramp up your veggie intake in a festive way this holiday season and, despite the chill in the air, take a brisk walk every day – hit 10,000 steps, no excuse. Grab a friend at the party and head out.
Turn down the volume on stress
You can train your brain to calm down, chill out and stay younger. You’ll avoid anxiety, anger, stress and depression, and the big health risks they promote: everything from diabetes to cancer and heart attack to headaches. The great news? Brain scans of people who regularly practice mindful and “compassion” meditation reveal permanently decreased reactivity in the section of the brain that processes emotions and memory – the amygdala. If you meditate regularly, you enhance your emotional stability and control your responses to stress.
Here’s a short course: Mindfulness asks you to stay in the present moment. You can do it lying in bed when you first wake up. With your eyes closed, focus on your breath. Notice it go in and out; in through your nose, out your mouth, making your chest go up and down. Next, notice how your mind wanders from thought to thought. Don’t judge your thoughts or stop them. The key is to be present in the moment, aware but not involved. Relaxed. Watching. Letting go. After 10 minutes, open your eyes and re-enter the world slowly. Compassion meditation asks you to visualize someone you care for, then yourself, then someone you have conflict with, then a stranger and then the whole world. With each visualization, repeat “compassion” phrases to yourself or out loud. ("May you live a happy, pain-free life.")
Vanquishing the silent killer – carbon monoxide
When it comes to protecting your family from carbon monoxide – a stealthy hazard that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls "the silent killer" – we recommend carbon monoxide detectors on every level in your home and in every bedroom.
Carbon monoxide, CO, is a tasteless, odorless gas. Poorly vented kerosene and gas space heaters, leaking chimneys, furnaces, gas stoves, water heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces are common sources. And CO can backdraft into the house from automobile exhaust in an attached garage. When you open the door from the house to the garage, the fumes get sucked into the house! Every year in the U.S., CO poisoning sends 20,000 people to the emergency room; more than 450 people die.
If there’s a slow accumulation, CO can trigger depression, confusion, memory loss and even heart damage. Or it can overwhelm you before you know it, causing sudden headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting or worse.
Your action plan: Have your heating systems (furnaces, flues and chimneys) inspected, cleaned and tuned up annually. Repair leaks promptly, and keep records of maintenance and repairs. Never use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds or similar enclosed areas – and make sure there’s plenty of fresh air. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can build up quickly and linger for hours, even after a generator is turned off. So, install and check those carbon monoxide detectors, and stay safe this winter.
Youngsters with high blood pressure
R&B singer Monica’s duet with Brandy, "The Boy is Mine," sold more than 2 million records. But the 28-year-old never suspected her blood pressure was off the charts too! Until she passed out.
As surprising as that sounds, she’s not so unusual. Eleven percent of guys and 7 percent of gals 20 to 34 years old have high blood pressure. But most kids and young adults don’t know their blood pressure or even have it checked regularly. We docs think everyone 3 years and older should be tested annually.
Even when young adults are tested and turn out to have high blood pressure, only about 33 percent get treated. Seems that many doctors don’t give them the info they need about treatment (lifestyle adjustments and meds do work) and why it’s important. If untreated, HBP leads to memory loss, kidney failure, heart attack, wrinkles, sexual dysfunction and stroke.
So, if you have a family history of HBP, don’t get exercise and are overweight, under stress and nutritionally challenged (love those fries!), realize that no matter what your age, you’re at increased risk for hypertension.
The good news: Often, you can decrease HBP with our 3-M Plan: Meditate (to reduce stress), Motivate (to get yourself walking 10,000 steps a day and doing strength-building exercises two to three days a week) and Modify (eliminate the five food felons: added sugar and sugar syrups, trans fats, most saturated fats and any grain that’s not 100 percent whole).
And everybody, listen up! Know your BP numbers, and get them to 115/76 or less.