Food Is Not Your Enemy


How Your Diet Can Heal You–Or Harm You

There’s a pill for everything. Pills to treat symptoms, pills to help prevent diseases, pills to deal with mental health issues. Sometimes these pills are very necessary, and can truly save lives. But there are times when food can work as well as medicine—if not better—when it comes to addressing specific health concerns.

Here are just a few examples:

-Just recently a study found that we can reduce the risk of dementia significantly just by changing our diet—eating in a way to lower blood pressure and weight make a big difference here.

-Many people can avoid taking drugs to lower their cholesterol—which can cause such side effects as headaches, muscle pain, and increased risk of diabetes—by switching up their diets. Eating more nuts, seeds, fiber-rich foods, olive oil, and fish and sidelining such foods as white/refined carbs and sugar can make a huge difference in our cholesterol numbers.

-Increasing intake of healthy fats from plants and fish and reducing the toxic combination of sugar and too much caffeine can really help people who are suffering from depression and/or anxiety.

-Blood pressure can respond quickly to changes in salt intake. Before committing to a lifetime of taking blood pressure meds, which also can have unwanted side effects, try significantly reducing your salt intake by eating less restaurant food and processed food like chips/pretzels, cold cuts, and canned soups.

-Rather than taking acid-reducing pills (which inhibit absorption of B vitamins) or downing Tums like candy, notice if there are particular foods that are causing your reflux or stomach upset. From experience working with my clients, I’ve found that this is true virtually 100 percent of the time.

You really can think of every bite of food you’re eating as something that is either going to lead to greater health, or something that could harm your health. So choose wisely, and make food your medicine rather than your poison.

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How to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition that most people will develop at some point in their lives. It is dangerous as it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are among the leading killers of Americans.

The good news is that elevated blood pressure—a reading of 140/90 or higher is considered high, according to the National Institutes of Health—is something we can reverse, often through diet and lifestyle changes. Here’s how:

-Control salt intake. Even if you generally eat a healthy diet, your sodium consumption may be higher than you realize—especially if you regularly eat food prepared outside the home. Ninety percent of the salt in our diets comes from prepared and processed foods and restaurant foods, according to Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. What this means is that you shouldn’t stress about sprinkling salt on your homemade roast chicken at the dinner table. What you should stress about is, for instance, that burrito at Chipotle or that can of soup you’re slurping. My husband, a very healthy eater, found out recently his blood pressure was borderline high. We then looked up the amount of salt in the vegetarian burrito bowl he ordered twice a week for lunch from Chipotle, and it contained more than a day’s worth of sodium. On top of that, there were the tortilla chips he’d get on the side. Yes, Chipotle sources sustainable and clean ingredients, but that doesn’t mean the food isn’t loaded with salt. Other foods that are surprisingly salty are bread, cheese, and cold cuts.

-Eat a diet rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These nutrients help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. Potassium-rich foods include sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, beans, and leafy greens. Calcium-rich foods include dairy and leafy greens. And magnesium-rich foods include nuts and seeds, cacao and dark chocolate, and, yes, leafy greens.

-Exercise. One of the most important things you can do to prevent or control high blood pressure. 30 minutes of moderate activity a day will do it.

-Watch alcohol consumption. Excess alcohol can raise blood pressure—this means not having more than one drink a day for women, or more than two drinks a day for men.

-Manage stress. Stress can raise our blood pressure, and cause many other health problems as well. Experiment with different ways to bring your stress levels down, either by deep breathing, meditating, going out for a walk, or talking to someone about what you’re feeling. You may find some inspiration here.

-Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Of course, if you eat a nutrient-rich diet of mostly home-cooked food, exercise regularly, limit booze, and keep control of stress, maintaining a healthy weight may simply come as a matter of course.



Why You Should Feel Okay About Cooking With Salt

“I don’t cook with salt.” I’ve heard this refrain many times from people who have high blood pressure. I picture them slurping down tasteless soups and suffering through bland steaks, and am happy for my own salt shaker at home.

But then they’ll tell me in passing that they go out to restaurants and/or get takeout several times a week. At which point I may ask, “Do you know how much salt is in the restaurant food you’re eating?”

The answer will shock anyone. Often restaurant entrees have more salt in them than you’re supposed to have in an entire day (which is 1,500 mg, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest). That Olive Garden Garden-Fresh Salad with Italian dressing? 1,930 mg. Chipotle chicken burrito? 2,120 mg. Panera Full Smoked Ham & Swiss Sandwich on rye? 2,350 mg. And forget about Chili’s Texas Cheese Fries with jalapeno ranch dressing–you’re looking at almost four days’ worth of salt in that mess (5,530 mg).

And it’s not just the chain restaurants. New York magazine sent a few entrees from popular NYC restaurants to the lab last year to see how much sodium they contained, and it wasn’t pretty (Momofuku Noodle Bar’s ramen with pork belly, pork shoulder, and poached egg has 3,440 mg, for example).

The fact is that only 10 percent of salt in Americans’ diets comes from salt used in the home. The other 90 percent comes from the restaurant and prepared foods that we eat.

So if you have high blood pressure, or want to prevent yourself from getting it, stop worrying about using salt in your own cooking. If you instead cut back on restaurant, take-out, and frozen meals, you’ll be making a much, much bigger impact when it comes to salt reduction. And your waistline will love that home-cooking as well.



Salt: Safe or Scary?

The latest nutritional bogeyman is partially hydrogenated oil, also called trans-fat. Hello, increased risk of heart disease!

But what about salt, that evildoer of yesteryear that seems to have disappeared from our list of worries? Have we been lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to the white stuff? Or is salt — whether regular, iodized or sea salt — actually a perfectly safe flavor-enhancer? Read my latest column on AOL’s ParentDish to find out.