The Sugar Lover’s Guide to Heart Health

You notice that visits to the doctor have been riddled with tests and questions about your eating habits; namely, your intake of fat, sugar and salt. Perhaps your physician has advised monitoring added sugar consumption -- which, according to the experts at the Institute of Medicine, should be no more than 25 percent of your total daily calories -- and there’s good reason.

You likely know that lowering your sugar intake is one component that may help reduce high blood sugar levels and your risk of type 2 diabetes. And according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, these two factors, over time, have an impact on heart health.

It’s understandable, though, if the thought of reducing your sugar intake may seem daunting or impossible. Fortunately, it’s possible to reduce your sugar consumption without falling into a ho-hum diet. Here, registered dietitian Jenny Champion offers five small ways to reduce sugar in your meals and still get a big, flavorful payoff:

1. Go frozen.
Love the sweet taste of canned fruit with your breakfast? “Swap it with no-sugar-added frozen fruit,” says Champion. You’ll cut the sugar and still enjoy a dose of fruity sweetness.

2. Make a better trail mix.
Calling all trail mix lovers: Reduce the sugar in this tasty treat by replacing chocolate candy bits with crunchy cereal (say, 1 cup), suggests Champion. Swapping this amount can actually reduce the amount of sugar by upward of 60 percent, providing a unique texture that satisfies the need for sweetness and crunch.

3. Rethink barbecue sauce.
We’re often heavy-handed with sauces during barbecue season, and unfortunately, “barbecue sauce is high in sugar,” says Champion. Instead of packaged solutions, zero out added sugar by coating food in healthy oil (such as olive oil) and rubbing on a mixture of cumin, chili powder and other spices. “I recommend these healthy fats (in moderation) and spices over non-nutritive barbecue sauces with sugar,” she says.

4. Make this DIY topping.
Speaking of condiments, you may be hard-pressed to guess which one is one of the top sugar-containing culprits. The answer: Ketchup. “It’s loaded with both sodium and sugar,” says Champion. Consider buying a reduced-sugar or sugar-free option, or opting for a DIY version with chopped, fresh tomatoes instead.

5. Eat healthier dessert.
It may seem obvious, but choosing fruit instead of cake or brownies can help cut down on sugar, says Champion. Yes, some “fruit still has sugar, but it also has the potential to provide filling fiber and healthy vitamins and nutrients,” she adds.

Top Symptoms of Digestive Distress

Do you experience nausea, burp frequently or feel burning in your upper torso? If so, you may be wondering what’s going on. If you’re new to intestinal distress, uncertainty may seem like the norm -- but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some typical symptoms of common gastrointestinal issues, along with expert advice for relief.

The Problem: Nausea and Indigestion

Our stomachs hold a lot of nerve endings, and when we feel nervous or stressed, we often feel it in our gut, says registered dietitian Erica Giovinazzo. Unhealthy eating habits can cause it too. If you eat greasy, fattening foods at each meal, the odds are good that your stomach won’t respond well; we also become more sensitive to such foods as we grow older.

Rx: Manage your stress levels as best you can, and eat a balanced diet consisting of healthy, fiber-rich whole grains, produce and lean protein.

The Problem: Burping

Belching can sometimes be a side effect of indigestion, since there may be foods your body is sensitive to that are not being digested properly. But oftentimes, burping is brought on by swallowing too much air, either by eating too quickly, sucking from a straw or frequently chewing gum. “Carbonated beverages also make you burp more,” says Giovinazzo.

Rx: Try going without the aforementioned habits and see if it helps. If it doesn’t -- or if you don’t have any of the aforementioned habits to begin with -- discuss your symptoms with your doctor. “It could be a sign of another intestinal problem,” says Giovinazzo.

The Problem: Acid Reflux

Acid reflux and its close cousin gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause painful burning in the esophagus. They both can be triggered by a number of different foods: fats, tomatoes, vinegar, chocolate, citrus fruits or spicy foods. “Some people may have trigger foods that don’t cause problems for other people,” says Giovinazzo.

Rx: To hunt down your own dietary problem areas, keep a food diary, and start to sniff out any correlations between painful symptoms and the foods you recently ate. Overeating can also be a trigger for reflux, sotry to control portions at each meal too. If you experience prolonged acid reflux, it could be an indicator of something more serious; schedule an appointment with your doctor to play it safe.

5 Ways to Invest in Your Heart Health

Remember the piggy bank you had as a kid? You saved for months -- maybe even years -- for that special treat. Your body is no different. Many small, frequent investments in your health can pay big dividends far into the future.

Here are five small choices you can make every day that can provide a big payoff:

1. Eat a wholesome breakfast.
If you think you’re saving calories by skipping breakfast, think again. Breakfast is the key to getting your metabolism revved for the day. It’s also the perfect opportunity to get closer to the 25g of dietary fiber you should aim for daily, including the heart-healthy soluble type fiber found in oats and psyllium. Try topping your bowl of cereal with your favorite fruit for even more fiber -- and flavor -- to start your day.  [1,7,8,9]

2. Explore healthy oils.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can lower your cholesterol, but olive oil is just the beginning. Whether you’re cooking or making salad dressing, various plants offer delicious and distinctly different oils, such as almond, grapeseed, sunflower, hazelnut, flaxseed and hemp. [2] Some oils, like almond and sunflower, can sustain high temperatures for cooking, while others, like flaxseed oil, should be enjoyed at room temperature.[2] But don’t ruin a good thing. Even healthy fats should be enjoyed in moderation. [2]

3. Take more small trips.
As you strive for 30 minutes a day of moderate activity, consider breaking up long sessions of sitting -- every hour, if possible. Instead of sending another email to a colleague, take a walk to his or her desk. Maybe stop in the kitchen for a glass of water along the way. Taking short walks throughout the day not only protects your heart, it can also help relieve tension, depression and anger. [3]

4. Laugh.

Go ahead! Call your funniest friend, click on that cat video or pick up the funny papers. When it comes to dealing with life’s everyday stressors, it doesn’t matter what makes you laugh -- just find a way to do it every day. Besides, if you hear a good joke, you can pass it on and make someone else smile. [4]

5. Eat by color.

Try adding brightly colored vegetables to your meals throughout the week. Most vegetables have some fiber, but they don’t all have the same vitamins and minerals. The antioxidants that make eggplants purple or create the dark green found in kale offer different health benefits, such as improving memory function or supporting a healthy immune system. By enjoying vegetables from across the color spectrum, you can ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals nature has to offer. [5,10]


1. Cleveland Clinic: Heart Healthy Breakfast

Accessed 7/2/2013

2. Cleveland Clinic: Heart Healthy Cooking: Oils 101

Accessed 7/2/2013

3. American Heart Association: Physical Activity Improves Quality of Life

Accessed 7/2/2013

4. American Heart Association: Fight Stress with Healthy Habits

Accessed 7/2/2013

5. Johnson EJVishwanathan RJohnson MAHausman DBDavey AScott TMGreen RCMiller LSGearing MWoodard JNelson PTChung HYSchalch W,Wittwer JPoon LW.

Relationship between Serum and Brain Carotenoids, α-Tocopherol, and Retinol Concentrations and Cognitive Performance in the Oldest Old from the Georgia Centenarian Study.

J Aging Res. 2013;2013:951786. doi: 10.1155/2013/951786. Epub 2013 Jun 9.

6. Dietary Fiber:

Acessed 8/6/2013

7.Christine L. Williams, MD, MPH  Patricia Felt-Gunderson, MS, RD, LD

Analysis of Average Daily Fiber Intake Among Ready-to-Eat Cereal Consumers: Role of Whole-Grain Cereals in Closing the Fiber Gap


8.The Future of Grain Foods Recommendations

in Dietary Guidance

Amy R. Mobley, Joanne L. Slavin, and Betsy A. Hornick

J Nutr. 2013 Jul 17

9. Perdue University: Psyllium

Accessed 8/6/2013

10. Brambilla DMancuso CScuderi MRBosco PCantarella GLempereur LDi Benedetto GPezzino SBernardini R

The role of antioxidant supplement in immune system, neoplastic, and neurodegenerative disorders: a point of view for an assessment of the risk/benefit profile.

Nutr J. 2008 Sep 30;7:29. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-7-29.

Simple Ways to Reduce Saturated Fat

Saturated fat is often portrayed as one of the bad guys in the world of fats, and with good reason. Diets that are high in saturated fats, also known as solid fats, raise total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of heart disease. [1,2]

Where are these fats found? Saturated fat can be found in butter, palm oils, high-fat cheeses and meats, and whole-fat milk and creams. [1,2]

You don’t have to avoid foods with saturated fat altogether. Instead, eat them less often, or find lower-fat versions of foods that naturally contain saturated fats. Your daily saturated fat intake should be less than 7% of your total calories per day, and your trans fat intake should be less than 1%, according to the American Heart Association. For most people, that means consuming 15g or less of saturated fat each day. [2]

Here are some easy ways to slash saturated fat from your diet and help keep your heart healthy:

Lighten up breakfast:Opt for 1% or fat-free milk when choosing what to splash over your morning cereal. [1] Choose a cereal that’s high in fiber for an even more heart-healthy way to start the day. [3]

Oil up:Swapping out butter for olive oil is an easy way to lower the saturated fat in your diet, no matter what you’re cooking. Plus, olive oil is loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which can boost good HDL cholesterol. [4,5]

Try “Meatless Mondays”:To eat less high-fat meat, try devoting one night a week to a vegetarian dinner.

Snack smart:
When midday hunger strikes, we’re often tempted to reach for a high-fat snack to satisfy our cravings (like potato chips or donuts). To avoid falling into a saturated-fat trap when hunger hits, go for foods that are high in healthy monounsaturated fats. For example, keeping nuts on hand as a snack is a great way to avoid saturated fat while filling up on healthy fat. [5] Just be sure to keep your serving size in check because nuts can be high in both calories and fat. A serving of nuts is just one ounce (about a small handful). For example, a serving of almonds (22 nuts) contains 169 calories and nearly 15 grams of fat. [8]

Other tasty snacks that are high in satisfying monounsaturated fats: guacamole, natural peanut or almond butter, [5] and dark chocolate (at least 60% cocoa). [6,7] Just like nuts, these foods are high in calories and fat, so be mindful of your portion sizes. [5,6,7,9]


1. CDC: Saturated Fats

Acessed 7/3/2013

2. American Heart Association: Know Your Fats

Acessed 7/3/2013

3. American Heart Association: Whole Grains and Fiber

Acessed 7/3/2013

4. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: All About Oils

Acessed 7/3/2013

5. CDC Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats

Acessed 7/3/2013

6. Cleveland Clinic: Heart Health Benefits of Chocolate Unveiled

Acessed 7/3/2013

7. University of Michigan Integrative Medicine

Acessed 7/3/2013

8. USDA Database: Almonds

Accessed 8/6/2013

9. American Heart Association: Fats 101

Acessed 8/6/2013 

Why Cholesterol Matters

Cholesterol is more than just a number. Blood cholesterol level is one of the many risk factors for heart disease and stroke. But unlike other factors, such as family history, cholesterol levels may be somewhat controllable. [4,5,6]

Cholesterol isn’t all bad news, though. We need a certain amount of cholesterol in our bodies. It has many functions, including making certain hormones, vitamin D and substances that help digest food. [1] Your liver and other cells make most of your cholesterol -- about 75% of it. The rest comes from animal foods, such as meat, dairy and shellfish. [2,6]

The Good Cholesterol

About one-quarter to one-third of blood cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is often referred to as “good” cholesterol. Why is it so good? Researchers aren’t exactly sure, but they think that HDL takes “bad” cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it can be flushed from the body. [3]

  • Know your numbers: Men should aim for at least 40 milligrams per deciliter and women should have levels of at least 50 mg/dL of HDL to help lower the chance of heart disease. [2,3]

  • Choices that count: Reducing trans fats and maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet that includes heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil and avocados, are other ways to increase HDL. [2,4,8]

The Bad Cholesterol

On the other side of the equation is low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol. One way to remember the difference is to think of the first L in LDL as “lousy.” This is the cholesterol number that should be kept in check. [1,2,3] When LDL circulates in the blood, it can stick to the inner walls of arteries and eventually cause buildup. If a clot gets stuck in a narrowed artery, the result can be a heart attack or stroke. [1,2,3]

  • Know your numbers: Ideally, your LDL cholesterol should be less than 130 mg/dL. But if you have other risk factors for heart disease, your doctor might recommend that your LDL stay below 100 mg/dL. [5,6]

  • Choices that count: Soluble fiber from foods, such as a high-fiber cereal made from oats or barley, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. [7]


1. NHLBI: Cholesterol

Accessed 7/2/2013

2. American Heart Association: Cholesterol

Accessed 7/2/2013

3. American Heart Association: Good vs. Bad Cholesterol

Accessed 7/3/2013

4. American Heart Association Fats 101

Accessed 7/3/2013

5. American Heart Association: What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean

Accessed 7/3/2013

6. Mayo Clinic: Cholesterol Levels: What Numbers Should You Aim For?

Accessed 7/2/2013

7. American Heart Association: Whole Grains and Fiber

Accessed 8/5/2013

8. Mayo Clinic: Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose