Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How Taxes Raise Cholesterol

Unhealthy food choices, lack of exercise, smoking, and genetics are all factors contributing to high cholesterol, but one undermentioned factor is the role chronic stress plays in cholesterol and heart health.

Whether you have a tough job, you have relationship problems, or other high anxiety situations in your life, chronic stress can raise cholesterol in a number of ways. When stressed the hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released which activate our fight or flight response. These hormones increase energy production by releasing glucose and fatty acids into your bloodstream to supply energy to your muscles. Epinephrine increases your heart rate and cortisol narrows your arteries which helps your heart pump blood faster to deliver oxygen and glucose to your muscles.

Releasing some cortisol is normal and actually healthy, but chronically elevated levels can raise cholesterol, effect your weight, decrease your immune function, and increase your chronic disease risk. Cortisol also increases hunger signals in the brain resulting in cravings for high calorie foods. Stressed people often stop exercising too, which contributes to higher cholesterol levels as well.

Tax day is fast approaching and one study published in Circulation Journal looked at how taxes impact cholesterol. The study followed accountants filing individual income-tax returns through tax season. The accountants were 28-50 years old and remained consistent with their diets and exercise routines through the study period. Researchers found cholesterol rose on average 13% from 206 mg/dL in January to 232 mg/dL on April 15th and then back down to 215 mg/dL in June.

Similar research on airline pilots found total and LDL cholesterol rose about 5% when under high stress preparing for recertification exams. Cholesterol levels also rose when pilots were asked to give a speech on short notice.

Stress management is important for cardiac health and should include regular exercise, adequate sleep, and relaxation. Limit caffeine as this can stimulate cortisol. Also limit sugar, chocolate, baked goods, and white grains as these are stimulants which can also elevate triglycerides. Avoid high saturated fat foods which can increase cholesterol such as butter, cheese, ice cream, red meat, fried foods, whole milk, 2% milk, baked goods, and many packaged snacks. Focus on eating a well balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy, and a small amount of healthy fat every day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Kraving Kale

Kale is a nutrient rich powerhouse, and may be one of the  healthiest vegetables we could be eating. It belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family (along with broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts). At only 33 calories per cup, kale   provides over 130% of recommended vitamin C, 205% of recommended vitamin A, 680% of recommended vitamin K, and 9% of recommended calcium. It is also a good source of potassium, iron, and phosphorus.

Kale contains carotenoid and flavonoid antioxidants helping to prevent oxidative stress, inflammation,  and cancer. The fiber content of kale can also help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

If you are like many people who find kale to be a bit tough, baby kale is a great option. Harvested prior to the plant reaching full maturity, baby kale has a mild and more tender leaf while providing nearly the same nutrients as the adult version.

Looking for ways to eat kale? Kale doesn’t need to be cooked and can be enjoyed in a salad by slicing it into thin ribbons. Its bitter taste pairs well with tart flavors such as fresh lemon. Kale can easily be added into smoothies where the flavor can be blended with sweet strawberries or banana.

Kale’s sturdy texture holds up well in soups and pasta,   making it a better option over spinach which can fall apart easily. Sautéing kale with olive oil and garlic makes for a great side dish or topping on your homemade pizza. Kale chips baked in the oven also makes for a tasty snack that is much healthier than potato chips. For a fresh spring salad try the delicious recipe below.

Baby Kale Salad with Lemon, Parmesan, and Crispy Chickpeas


Serves: 4

240 calories per serving


1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 tbs olive oil
1 tbs lemon juice
1 minced garlic clove
Ground black pepper
5 oz bag baby kale
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese


Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place chickpeas on a baking sheet and toss with 1 tbs olive oil and some pepper. Roast 10-12 minutes, stirring once until  chickpeas are crispy. Let cool.


In a bowl, combine lemon juice, 2 tbs olive oil, garlic, and pepper. Add the kale and toss until evenly coated.   Arrange on plates and top with cheese and roasted chickpeas. Enjoy!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Eggs and the Cholesterol Debate

We eat a lot of eggs, enough to produce 75 billion in the U.S. each year. With all the omelets, egg salads, and recipes calling for eggs...are they good for us?

Eggs are considered the gold-standard of protein. One large egg has 70 calories, 5 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 6 grams of protein, and 212mg of cholesterol. Eggs also contain vitamin A, potassium, and many B vitamins.

People concerned with cholesterol have avoided egg yolks for a long time since all the dietary cholesterol is contained in the yolk. The American Heart Association used to advise the general  population to limit dietary cholesterol to 300mg/day and for people with high cholesterol or heart disease risk to limit their dietary cholesterol to 200mg/day, and no more than 2 egg yolks per week.

New research on dietary cholesterol and cholesterol in the blood have been inconclusive leading the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology to state more studies are needed before definitive recommendations for dietary cholesterol can be made. While it is clear more evidence is needed to establish safe limits, unrestricted consumption might not be helpful. Since cholesterol is naturally produced in the  liver it is not an essential nutrient. Some studies suggest dietary cholesterol may increase bad “LDL” cholesterol as much as 5%.

We recommend a common sense approach; enjoy eggs on occasion but if you have high cholesterol don’t eat egg yolks every day. Egg whites do not contain cholesterol and are fine to eat daily. For blood cholesterol concerns focus on reducing saturated fat intake which has a stronger association with increasing bad “LDL” cholesterol. Limit fried food, butter, whole milk, 2% milk, cheese, ice cream, red meat, bacon, sausage, poultry skin, chocolate, cookies, cake, pastries, baked goods, chips, pizza, and many processed foods.