2YourHealth Blog

Ditch the diet, develop a pattern

Posted by on 1:01 pm in Diabetes, Featured, Meal, Mindful Eating | 0 comments

Ditch the diet, develop a pattern

For some of us, the word diet triggers a fight-or-flight response. Our pulse quickens as we panic about imposed limitations and restrictions hindering us from ever enjoying food again. But diet’s gotten a bad rap over the years. The word has a few modern definitions. It can refer to a special course of food we restrict ourselves to for weight loss or medical reasons. But, according to Merriam-Webster, its original meaning derived from the Greek word diaita, meaning “to lead one’s life.” This, I believe, is the truest essence of the word since it is through our choices that we steer our own path. However, as a scientist and a realist, I understand that old habits die hard. So I suggest we ditch diet momentarily and instead focus on developing patterns – because most of us find patterns pleasing. The American Diabetes Association says there are many different eating patterns to help you manage diabetes. And, ultimately, the best eating pattern for you is the one you can sustain while meeting your diabetes goals. First, develop a meal plan – a guide for the timing of your meals and how much food you consume at those times. For example, eating smaller, more frequent meals is a better plan than denying your hunger and overeating at the end of the day. Once you’ve decided on a schedule, let’s consider your food options. Just like sewing or quilting, we can follow a tried-and-true pattern or we can create our own, but we need to learn the basics before reinventing the wheel. The American Diabetes Association recommends several eating patterns for people living with diabetes or the risk of developing the disease. One that’s received a lot of headlines in recent years is the Mediterranean-style eating pattern. Focused on mostly plant-based foods, this pattern includes eating whole grains, vegetables, fruit, cereals, beans, nuts and seeds as well as consuming locally-grown foods that are in season. The Mediterranean pattern doesn’t rely heavily on dairy products, but it does include cheese and yogurt. Its main source of fat comes from olive oil. Red meat is rarely consumed, but fish and poultry are enjoyed on occasion as well as a glass of red wine. According to the American Diabetes Association, research has shown that the Mediterranean-style eating pattern protects against heart disease, stroke and some cancers, and improves blood sugar and weight loss. Another hot topic in recent news is the benefits of becoming vegetarian or vegan. These plant-based patterns focus on foods such as beans, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and meat substitutes for nutrition. The difference is that vegetarians do eat animal products such as eggs and dairy while vegans do not. The American Diabetes Association says research has connected vegetarian eating patterns to a lower risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes. Other eating patterns to pick from are low-carb, low-fat and DASH – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. DASH is a combination of parts of the eating patterns mentioned earlier, promoting a high consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and seeds while choosing low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish. High-sodium saturated fat is limited as well as red meat, added sugars and sweets. By increasing fiber and nutrients, the DASH eating pattern may help reduce blood pressure. Whatever pattern, or...

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Tis’ the season for salt-free grilling

Posted by on 6:30 am in Featured, Low Sodium | 0 comments

Tis’ the season for salt-free grilling

Spending an evening by the barbecue grilling out with friends and family is time well spent. But the corn on the cob, red meat, burger buns and sodas from a single cookout can deliver a whopping dose of unwanted fat, sugar and sodium. Watching what we eat doesn’t mean missing out on our favorite foods and festivities. By planning ahead and making smart food choices, we can have a great time grilling while making grilling good for us, too! Meat selection: The best choice for burgers is 92% or 95% lean ground beef, especially if it’s sirloin. This gives the meatiest flavor for the lowest amount of fat. But beware of burger buns loaded with sodium. King’s Hawaiian burger and hot dog buns are a low-sodium bread option (135 g per bun) or skip the “bread bomb” altogether and get creative by wrapping your burger in crunchy lettuce or grilled portabella mushroom slices. If you’re craving steak, avoid fatty cuts such as T-bone and ribeye. Leaner cuts like top round and top sirloin are lower in fat and calories and taste more flavorful. Since lean steaks can toughen if cooked past medium, they’re an excellent choice for marinades. While red meat is fine for special occasions, the healthiest choices for frequent grilling are chicken and seafood. You can’t go wrong with skinless, boneless chicken breasts, a plank of boneless salmon or jumbo shrimp on a skewer. To make sure your meat isn’t hiding a ton of sodium absorbed during transportation or processing, buy it frozen in a package with a nutrition label. Before leaving the grocery store, swing by the produce section for some fresh vegetables to add to the grill. Corn on the cob tastes great grilled, as do zucchini, summer squash, carrots, mushrooms and onions. Brush vegetables with extra virgin olive oil before grilling and pack a little extra punch with salt-free seasonings such as Mickey & T’s Lemon Pepper or Great Garlic Pepper. Rather than dipping grilled meat in high-sodium sauces or ketchup, add flavor before grilling with a marinade or dry rub Marinating: A marinade helps tenderize tough meat and make it juicier while also adding robust flavor. At our sister site, Foods4YourHealth, we offer a broad selection of affordable, mouth-watering, low-sodium and salt-free marinades. I recommend Mr. Spice Salt Free Honey BBQ for steaks, burgers and ribs and Mr. Spice Salt Free Honey Mustard for chicken and fish. If you like a dash of hot sauce, you’ll love Mr. Spice Salt Free Tangy Bang!, the world’s first hot sauce that’s salt- and sodium-free. To marinate meat, place meat in a glass or stainless steel container—not an aluminum one, since aluminum reacts unfavorably to the food acids contained in marinades—and pour the marinade over it, making sure to coat the entire surface. (Apply the marinade immediately after taking the meat out of the freezer; it doesn’t need to thaw first.) Then, cover the container and place it in the fridge so the meat can thaw while absorbing the marinade. Shrimp only needs to marinate about 15 minutes, while salmon and other fish need between 20 and 30 minutes. Veggies also require about 30 minutes. Chicken, pork, beef and lamb need at least three hours, but for maximum flavor absorption, it’s best to let them marinate overnight. Rubs:...

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On the road again (with an empty stomach)

Posted by on 11:17 am in Featured, Travel, Uncategorized | 2 comments

On the road again (with an empty stomach)

It happens to all of us. Even with the best intentions of sticking to a healthy diet, we get caught on the road with an empty stomach. And, as we desperately scan the horizon for a decent option, we feel hopeless staring at a vast sea of fast food signs. Most of us spend a lot of time on the road – driving to work, school, dance and soccer practice or out-of-town conferences. Although eating healthy on the run does present its challenges, choosing a healthy lifestyle is a mindset. And we can create approaches to meet our goal. Generally, we know when we’re going to get hungry. Yes, there are those rare cravings that sneak up on us occasionally, but on an average day we can predict when we’ll need to refuel: morning, midday, evening and perhaps a light, pick-me-up snack midmorning or midafternoon. The way I see it, we have two basic options when we’re on the road – either we plan ahead or we eat out. Since I spend a lot of time on the road, I’m used to packing a cooler and a meal bag whenever I leave the house. And, I store a go-bag in my car stocked with napkins, plastic utensils, plates and hand sanitizer. For food, I’ll grab a bulk jar of peanut butter or individual cups of peanut butter I’ve prepared in advance. Or I might snag a snack bag of walnuts, almonds and dried fruit. Other dry goods that are easy to grab on the go are a strip of unsalted crackers, instant oatmeal, dry cereal cups and raisins. I also keep an arsenal of KIND snacks on hand, particularly KIND peanut butter dark chocolate bars and KIND dark chocolate whole grain clusters. Depending on the trip, I’ll pack anything from string cheese, cheddar cheese, Greek yogurt and skim milk for protein, and grape tomatoes, white grapes and baby carrots for fruits and veggies. No matter where I’m going, I always bring along a plentiful supply of spring water. But sometimes we don’t have time to prepare or we end up running more errands than we’d planned. So let’s talk about a few healthy fast-food options when we’re on the go. Did you know that a Subway Oven Roasted Chicken sandwich with chicken breast on 9-grain wheat bread with fresh vegetables and oil and red wine vinegar has 370 calories, 23 grams of protein, 620 milligrams of sodium and 10 grams of fat? This is a nutrition bargain. But watch out for the other condiments because they all contain too much sodium to qualify for healthy eating. Let’s say there’s no Subway in sight, but you see a Wendy’s sign. You can buy a Sour Cream and Chive Baked Potato and add some black pepper for 310 calories, 8 grams of protein, 7 grams of fiber and only 2.5 grams of fat. Even if your only option is dining at the golden arches, a McDonalds Egg White Delight breakfast sandwich has 280 calories, 18 grams of protein, 10 grams of fat, 2 grams of fiber and 680 milligrams of sodium. And if you’re concerned about the fat content, you can lower it a bit by omitting the swiss cheese. These are just a few of the saving graces available to...

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Is healthy food too expensive?

Posted by on 12:00 pm in Featured, Grocery Shopping, Meal, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Is healthy food too expensive?

Some people say it costs too much to eat a healthy diet, but I beg to differ. I bet if we break down the cost of a Big Mac extra value meal versus a home-cooked plate of chicken breast, broccoli and rice, we’ll discover which meal offers the most value. Before we even talk calories, fat and protein, let’s just look at dollars. McDonald’s menu prices vary from state to state, but in South Carolina the going rate for a Big Mac extra value meal is $6.23. You might think that’s cheap at first glance, however let’s consider our options. The average chicken breast sells for $2 per pound – so a four-ounce serving costs about 50 cents. A bunch of broccoli contains about two cups of florets and costs an average of $1.65. So, a one-half cup serving size rings up to 41 cents. And a one-pound bag of rice at $2.75 per pound yields 11 one-cup servings. We’ll tack on 25 cents for a side of healthy, whole grains. The total price for our home-cooked meal is a whopping $1.16 compared to the $6.23 extra value meal at McDonalds. It’s clear which one is better for our wallets – but which is better for our bodies? A Big Mac extra value meal, including a Coca-Cola and a side of fries contains 1,090 calories. If you’re shooting for a daily caloric intake of 2,000, that’s over half of your allotment for the day. The Big Mac meal has 44 grams of fat, 12 of which are saturated, and 147 grams of carbs – nearly half of your daily value. Its only redeeming factor is its 29 grams of protein, but let’s look at how that compares to our home-cooked meal. According to the USDA, a four-ounce serving of chicken breast contains 35 grams of protein, six more grams than the entire Big Mac meal. Add four more grams of protein on for the broccoli and five for the side of brown rice, and our home-cooked meal contains 44 grams of protein. Altogether, the chicken breast, broccoli and rice only rack up 6.3 grams of fat, less than two of which are saturated, and 55 grams of carbs. If you’re not a believer yet, let’s look to the experts on the issue of health food costs. The National Institutes of Health performed an experiment using a single-parent, low-income model to determine which costs more: grocery shopping in a supermarket or eating primarily in fast-food restaurants. Average food costs for supermarket shopping accounted for 18 percent of the family’s income, while ordering fast-food spent 37 percent of their income. Per calorie, the convenience diet cost 24 percent more than the healthy diet. The experts concluded that a well-planned menu from supermarket foods was less expensive and healthier than diets relying heavily on fast foods. Not everyone agrees that healthier foods costs less. In 2013, Harvard School of Public Health published a study which found that consuming a healthy diet does cost more, but only by $1.50 per day. The researchers connected this expense to U.S. food policies on the production of “inexpensive, high volume” commodities which “favor sales of highly processed food products for maximal industry profit.” And they said if policies were created to support the production of healthier...

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Eating fresh from local farms

Posted by on 4:07 pm in A Plate of Many Colors, Featured, Fruits, Uncategorized, Vegetables | 0 comments

Eating fresh from local farms

Spring has arrived with early access to eating local.  We survived the winter by consuming tasteless fruits and vegetables shipped too many miles to still please the palate. But a new day is dawning. We’re already indulging in the sweetness of freshly-picked strawberries from local farms and soon we’ll cut into crisp cucumbers and slice through juicy, ripe tomatoes. When people tell me that they don’t like fruits and vegetables, I ask them if they’re eating foods that are in season. We can walk into just about any grocery store and find what we’re looking for any time of the year – which is very convenient – but many of us have lost touch with where our food comes from and the cycles of the growing seasons. Other than farmers, no one pays more attention to these seasons than chefs. Because they know the sooner the food gets from the farm to the fork, the better it tastes. In this Mayo Clinic Minute clip on healthy farmers’ market finds, Mayo Clinic executive wellness chef Jen Welper said if you make meals from the rainbow of colors at the farmers’ market, you’ll enjoy foods that are nice to look at and healthy. Because different colors offer different nutrients. It’s easier to find locally grown food thanks to a resurgence in farmers’ markets and a system called community-supported agriculture (CSA) that connects farmers more closely to consumers. You can subscribe to the farm and receive a weekly harvest of whatever’s in season. Some CSAs even deliver your produce to your home or office. As a registered dietitian I can tell you, fresh is best for the body. And people who frequent farmers’ market or subscribe to CSAs are much more likely to consume more fresh fruits and vegetables because they have so much healthy food at their fingertips. This makes it easier to meet the USDA’s guidelines of filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables and the other half with equal portions of protein and grains. Another way to increase those fruits and veggies is by stopping at roadside markets where you can find lots of fresh produce from local farms. Most states’ departments of agriculture offer a list of where to buy local, including roadside markets, CSAs and community-based farmers’ markets. Here’s one for Sourcing fresh foods from local sustainable farms is not only good for our bodies, but also beneficial for our environment. According to the USDA, sustainable agriculture satisfies humans’ needs for food and fiber while enhancing the natural source on which agriculture depends. So, eating locally and sustainably is a win-win for everyone. Microsoft Corporation founder Bill Gates understands the importance of sustainable agriculture. “Innovations that are guided by smallholder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and environment will be necessary to ensure food security in the future,” he said. Now is the time to find your closest local sustainable...

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Advice passed down from my mother (and amendments)

Posted by on 9:23 pm in Family, Featured, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Advice passed down from my mother (and amendments)

  Although the only constant in life is change, many of the things I learned from my mother still ring true today. And since Mother’s Day is right around the corner, I’d like to pay tribute to her timeless advice. First and foremost, my mom taught me how to count. Not just the knowledge of numbers – although that served as a valuable first step – my mother showed me how to apply this knowledge to manage stress. I still remember one of the first times she told me to take a deep breath and count to 10. I was young enough to still heed my mother’s instructions, but old enough to question her intent. Once I reached the number 10, the frustration and anger I’d been feeling had subsided and I could see the situation with a renewed, clear perspective. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), “stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand” – anything from exercise, work and school to major life changes or traumatic events. But not all stress is bad. When we face a stressful situation such as a difficult test or a job interview, our pulse quickens, we breathe faster, our muscles tighten and our brains use more oxygen because our bodies are built for survival. However, long-term stress harms our health. If our stress response becomes chronic due to a constant stressor or if it continues long after the danger has ceased, then these same life-saving reactions can cause our bodies to malfunction and affect our immunity, digestion, sleep and reproductive system. The NIH reports that over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, as well as mental disorders such as depression or anxiety. So, thanks mom for teaching me a tiny habit that continues to lengthen and improve the duration and quality of my life. Another stress-management tool she passed down to me was stopping to smell the roses. Although I’m fairly sure she meant for me to be present and enjoy life, which is important in its own right, I’ve taken her advice to the next level and literally get down on the ground to smell the roses because physical activity, stretching and movement all matter for lifelong health and wellness. When we keep our core strong, we help our bodies maintain the capacity to balance and, thus, control the risks associated with unintended falls. And now, years after mom handed down her matronly advice, those healing scents have been bottled for their aromatherapy benefits because their inhalation leads to a release of “happy hormones.” Sometimes I believe mom was ahead of her time. Other words of wisdom such as ‘an apple a day’ or ‘eat your veggies’ carry even more validity today. For example, science tells us that veggies and fruits provide us with a variety of micronutrients including all important anti-oxidants that help us mitigate stress. We know so much more about our bodies today than we did 50 years ago. Scientists around the globe have sequenced the human genome and now doctors can determine if we have a predisposition to illnesses such as breast cancer so we can take extra precaution in our...

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Family Dinner: Sodium Sense Red Sauces

Posted by on 11:02 am in Cardiovascular Disease, Featured, Hypertension, Sodium | 0 comments

Family Dinner: Sodium Sense Red Sauces

It’s been a long day. But you’re home from work, the kids are home from school and it’s time to cook the family dinner. And you want to practice good sense about sodium intake in red sauces. You open the pantry and immediately spot the red sauce standing next to the pasta. Longing for a little convenience, you pull the jar from the shelf. But when you check the label, 800 mg of sodium per serving stares blatantly back at you. If you’re trying to stay below 1500 mg of daily sodium – and you’ve already enjoyed a lunch out – then this spaghetti sauce will definitely push you over your limit. As a registered dietitian, the most common question I’m asked is how to make these classic Italian favorites without overdoing the salt and sodium. And although we may aspire to cook from scratch with all raw ingredients, our modern lifestyles don’t always allow us configure to that kind of cuisine. So, here’s a bit of advice on how to quench that craving with both health and convenience in mind. It’s true that low sodium hot dogs are a myth, but sodium sense red sauces is a reality if you know what to look for – and a good red sauce can be the basis of a fast, healthy weeknight or weekend meal. Low-sodium spaghetti sauce mixed with lean, ground turkey served over whole-grain pasta or Dreamfield’s low-carb pasta and paired with a salad drizzled with salt-free basil vinaigrette creates a delicious dinner that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. Low Sodium Spaghetti Sauces As a firm believer in ‘practice what you preach,’ my research includes consuming the products that I recommend. Here’s a list of the best sodium sense red sauces that meet the definition of low sodium and the need for good taste: Francesco Rinaldi Traditional No Salt Added is a basic red pasta sauce (40 mg sodium per ½ cup serving). Amy’s Kitchen manufactures two pasta sauces that are light in sodium: a basil pasta sauce (250 mg sodium per ½ cup serving) and a marinara sauce (280 mg sodium per ½ cup serving). Enrico’s No Salt Pasta Sauce is a basic red pasta sauce (35 mg sodium per ½ cup serving). Although not low-sodium, Prego offers three varieties in the “Heart Smart” line of sauces that are reduced in sodium by 25 percent, lowering the mg to 360 per serving. Bon...

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How to Hack Your Brain to Love Exercise (Yes, Really!)

Posted by on 5:56 am in Calorie Burning, Exercise, Featured, Uncategorized, Weight Loss | 1 comment

How to Hack Your Brain to Love Exercise (Yes, Really!)

Exercise can feel like torture. When you work out, you get sweaty, you can’t breathe, you stink, you ache, you’re weak and shaky and exhausted…. You’re well aware that regular exercise is absolutely crucial to good health, but with that much misery involved, how can anyone expect you to keep it up—let alone to ever enjoy it? Fear not, friends! You can learn to love exercise, and it’s easier than you think: All it takes is an attitude adjustment. Don’t worry, we’re not going to tell you to “Suck it up, buttercup.” Today, we’re serving up the knowledge and practical advice you need to reprogram your attitude towards exercise so that you can stop dreading and feeling guilty about your workouts and start actually looking forward to them. First things first: addressing the problem. Ever wonder why the thought of exercise always seems to fill you with dread? To find the answer, we’ll have to get neuroscientific. Why You Still Hate Exercise (Even Though You Haven’t Done It in Years) You may remember from science class that the brain is filled with special cells called neurons. Every time we have a thought, these neurons create connections with each other, which enables the brain to store memories. The more times you remember or think about something, the stronger the path between neurons becomes—sort of like how a path in the woods becomes clearer and less grassy the more times you walk over it. When you think the same kinds of thoughts over and over again, you are actually forming and reinforcing neural pathways inside your brain that cause those thought patterns to become habitual. Once you’ve already carved out a clear path for a certain thought to form in response to a given stimulus, your brain begins to follow that path by default every time it encounters that stimulus. This means that most of the time, your negative thoughts and feelings aren’t a choice so much as they are a reflex. If you’ve always thought of exercise as being difficult and unpleasant, you’ll continue to think that way until you make a conscious effort to retrain your brain. So how do you do that? Change Your Mind, Change Your Body The strategy is simple: Fake it ‘til you make it. It sounds foolish, but it really works—for all its complexity and sophistication, the human mind is surprisingly easy to “hack.” Start by paying attention to your own thoughts. What do you usually say to yourself in your own mind when you think about exercise? Is it something positive, or something negative? Chances are, it sounds something like this: “Ugh, I’ve put on a few pounds. I really should start working out to burn off all the food I’ve been pigging out on. If I don’t, I’ll never lose this weight. But I’m so tired after being at work all day, and exercising is really hard and uncomfortable. I’d rather just sit on the couch and watch TV.” That’s not your conscious mind talking—that’s your subconscious mind, the part that’s operating on auto-pilot and following the neural pathway you’ve carved out over time. When you catch yourself reflexively thinking these thoughts, take back control by telling yourself to stop. Then consciously replace your negative mode of thinking with a more positive one,...

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5 Fabulous Facts About Dietary Fiber

Posted by on 7:35 am in Featured, Meal, Menu | 0 comments

5 Fabulous Facts About Dietary Fiber

There are few easy solutions when it comes to improving your health, but eating more fiber may be one of the easiest. Read on to learn why fiber is so fab, and how to fit more fiber into your daily diet. What is Dietary Fiber? Dietary fiber is a nutrient that comes only from plants. It’s technically a type of carbohydrate, but although we can eat it, our bodies can’t actually digest it; instead, it passes through the digestive system more or less intact. The term “dietary fiber” actually includes about 25 different types of indigestible plant components, not all of which are technically fibers. Each of these plant components affects the body in a different way; for example, a component called inulin helps increase certain kinds of good bacteria in the gut, while a component called pectin helps lower cholesterol. There are two categories of dietary fiber: soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, and insoluble fiber, which doesn’t. The Benefits of Dietary Fiber 1. It facilitates weight loss. Because it isn’t digestible, fiber can’t be broken down by the body into simple sugars. This means that fiber contains fewer calories than other forms of carbohydrates. What’s more, fiber absorbs water and swells up inside the digestive tract, causing you to feel more full between mealtimes by triggering signals of satiety from the brain to the body. Eating more fiber and drinking plenty of water throughout the day is an easy way to control your appetite and boost your weight loss efforts. 2. It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber reduces the body’s absorption of “bad” cholesterol, which helps lower overall cholesterol levels. Early studies show evidence that fiber may help lower blood pressure as well, though more research is still needed to determine how. 3. It regulates blood sugar levels and improves insulin sensitivity. Soluble fiber slows down the rate at which sugar from carbohydrates is absorbed into the bloodstream. This helps the body keep its blood sugar levels stable by preventing blood sugar “spikes” after meals. Fiber also helps regulate the amount of fatty acids—molecules that contribute to insulin resistance—in the body, which improves insulin sensitivity in both diabetics and nondiabetics. 4. It helps you poop. Insoluble fiber helps solidify and soften stool by absorbing water and adding bulk, and it also causes food to move through the digestive system more quickly. This makes your stool easier to pass and helps you “go” on a regular basis. Fiber is the only nutrient that has this effect, so it’s a very important part of a healthy diet! 5. It prevents disease. Because of fiber’s other fabulous benefits, a high-fiber diet can significantly lower your risk of developing a number of chronic illnesses and gastrointestinal disorders, including: Coronary heart disease Stroke Hypertension Obesity Type 2 diabetes Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) Duodenal ulcers Diverticulitis Hemorrhoids Constipation Ulcerative colitis Crohn’s disease Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) How to Get The Most out of Fiber The Institute of Medicine gives these recommendations for daily fiber intake: Men: Age 18 to 50 = 38 grams Age 50+ = 30 grams Women: Age 18 to 50 = 25 grams Age 50+ = 21 grams Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are a better source of fiber than supplements like Metamucil or Benefiber...

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Gee, That’s Swell: The Solution to Swollen Feet

Posted by on 6:00 am in Featured, Low Sodium, Potassium, Processed Foods, Sodium | 0 comments

Gee, That’s Swell: The Solution to Swollen Feet

Beat the Heat and Check Your Feet It’s been said by fans of summer that “Life is better in flip-flops,” and you have to admit there’s nothing quite like the feel of warm sea water washing over your toes or a cool breeze caressing your feet on a hot day. If there’s any part of your body that deserves a vacation this summer, it’s your hardworking feet. So while you’re flip-flopping around and enjoying all the sensations that summer has to offer this year, take the opportunity to assess the health of your lower extremities. It’s always a good idea to check for typical foot issues such as blisters, corns, calluses, ingrown toenails or toenail fungus, and wounds that aren’t healing properly (the latter can indicate type 2 diabetes). Specifically, however, we want you to check for signs of swelling in your feet and ankles. If your skin appears shiny and tightly-stretched, you may be experiencing edema, the medical term for swelling. Can’t tell? Try pressing your thumb gently against your skin for 15 seconds and then letting go. If your thumb leaves an indentation, you’re probably swollen. Sodium, Salt, and Swelling There are many potential causes of foot and ankle swelling, and some are far more serious than others, so it’s important that you see a doctor as soon as possible after you’ve identified swelling in your own feet. That being said, the most common cause of edema is too much sodium in the bloodstream—a severe and widespread problem that’s nonetheless solvable. Sodium’s purpose in the body is to help maintain blood volume and blood pressure by regulating how much water the body takes in and holds on to. An excess of sodium causes the body to retain more water than usual, which causes tissues in the legs and feet to swell. Extra fluid in the body also causes blood volume to increase, which raises blood pressure by making the heart work harder.   The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend a daily intake of only 2,300 mg of sodium, and the American Heart Association recommends even less: 1,500 mg for optimum heart health, especially for seniors, African Americans, and anyone with a chronic illness like diabetes or high blood pressure. However, according to the CDC, the average American consumes at least 3,300 mg of sodium per day—and that’s not even counting salt added to food after it’s been prepared. Obviously sodium doesn’t just come from added salt. The AHA estimates that 75% of the sodium we consume comes from foods served in restaurants and the processed foods that make up such a big part of the typical American diet. In fact, the most common sources of sodium include breads and rolls, cheese, lunch meat, pizza, soup, snack foods, and fast food meals. As you can see, simply taking the salt shaker off the table won’t reduce your sodium intake enough to stop your feet from swelling (although it’s definitely a step in the right direction). So how can you fix your poor, puffy feet and ankles? A “Swell” Solution Cutting back on sodium doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t mean your food now has to be totally bland, but it does mean making a change in the way you approach food selection and preparation. Fortunately, your “salt...

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