Foods for heart health

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Heart disease accounts for nearly one third of all deaths worldwide.

Your diet plays a major role in heart health and can impact your overall risk of heart disease. In fact, certain foods can influence your blood glucose response, blood pressure, trigylerides and cholesterol levels along with total inflammation, all of which are risk factors in heart disease.

Here are some foods that can improve your overall heart health.

Salmon
One of the best sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids which can lower the risk of irregular heart beat as well as plaque build up in the arteries. Wild caught is preferred over farmed.

If you’re not a fan of salmon or seafood in general, then fish oil supplementation is another option. Fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, improve arterial function and decrease blood pressure.

Blueberries
Rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, blueberries can protect against oxidative stress, decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels.

Citrus
High in flavonoids that are linked with a reduced rate of ischemic stroke caused by blood clots, and rich in vitamin C which has been associated with lower risk of heart disease, like atherosclerosis.

Tomatoes
Cardio-protective functions provided by the nutrients in tomatoes may include the reduction of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, homocysteine, platelet aggregation, and blood pressure.

Extra virgin olive oil
Rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), extra virgin olive oil may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors. For instance, MUFAs have been found to lower your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.

Avocados
Avocados are particularly rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, potassium and vitamins C and K. Regular consumption has been shown to reduce heart disease risk factors by improving cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels.

Butter
Butter is rich in fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and other beneficial compounds like butyrate and conjugated linoleic acid. High-fat dairy products like butter have been linked to a reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health. It has been associated with a lower risk of developing calcified plaque in the arteries and coronary heart disease.

Be sure to pick a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, and moderate your intake to make the most of its heart-healthy benefits.

In summary
The link between nutrition and heart health is getting stronger each year. The foods that you put on your plate and ultimately into your mouth can influence just about every aspect of heart health, from blood glucose responses, blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels and overall systemic inflammation.

Including these heart-healthy foods as part of a nutritious, well-balanced whole food diet can help keep your heart in good shape and mitigate many of the risk factors associated with heart disease.

Why women should be lifting heavier

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Just about everybody will agree that women will benefit from lifting weights. With the introduction of modalities like Crossfit and F45 in recent years, weight training amongst women has gained popularity, and more and more of these women have been successful in their training endeavours like never before.

That being said, the reality is that is still less popular for women to be lifting heavy weights. This is the 1 to 5 repetition range that can get you real strong and lean. 

Here are some of the best reasons why women should be lifting a little heavier.

Improved body composition
Basically, this means less body fat and stronger curves. Which woman doesn’t want that? Most women join a gym and start lifting weights as part of a plan to lose unwanted body fat, but they don’t have a real goal or training end state.

They might follow a simple weight training program that will suggest moderately heavy weight in the 8 to 15 repetition range, or attend several high intensity group classes. Eventually, these workouts will feel easy, or boring, and it will be necessary to find a new challenge to keep the body positively adapting to the physical workload. 

If you have successfully mastered key movements like the squat and deadlift it may be time to lift some heavier loads with lower repetitions to increase your muscular density and strength. 

The stronger you get, the easier it will be to positively transform your body with continued training.

The take away point here is that lifting heavier weights develops muscular density. You will not see the serious muscle growth like some of the top bodybuilders and Crossfit athletes. That actually take years of intense training, combined with eating a lot of calories and targeted supplementation. You will however, develop the sleek sculpted curves that most women are thinking about when they say athletic and toned.

Healthier heart, brain, hormones and metabolism
Lifting heavier weight can have unique benefits to the human physiology that you can’t get from lifting lighter loads.

Heavy lifting protects the body by causing metabolic and functional adaptations to the muscles and brain that safeguard the body from injury, disease and excess fat gain.

Heavy lifting requires the training of multi-joint movements that use the whole body, such as the deadlift, squat and farmers carry. Training this way will develop the whole body as a functional machine capable of performing how it has evolved to perform.

Also, heavy lifting activates protective genetic pathways that keep the heart healthy and metabolism efficient.

Stress relief
Exercise in general is a great way to manage stress. The whole fat loss process is inherently stressful. Many women (men also) will fixate on it, and in doing so, increase anxiety levels which will force the body into a kind of threatened state.

Once in this threatened state the body will have elevated its cortisol levels as a protective measure. Cortisol is an important hormone when it comes to fat loss, because it is involved in the release of energy stores to be burned for fuel when blood glucose levels drop.

Optimal cortisol levels required for fat loss flow like a wave. They are at their highest in the morning upon waking, and lower throughout the day. Several factors, such as restricting food when hungry or training twice per day, forces cortisol levels to remain elevated for longer periods, which can slow the fat loss process.

Improved bone density
Another major health risk for women is bone health. Due to hormonal changes that occur during menopause, many women lose bone density and strength. Not only a risk for women, as the human body actually begins to lose bone density in its 30s and consistent strength training can delay or even reverse the process.

Improved mental and physical capacity
Not only does lifting heavier weight make you stronger and leaner, but it can have a positive effect on your entire life. You will stand taller and generally more confident overall. You will find an increase in energy levels, better sleep quality, and notice how much easier it is to run around with your children (if you have any), even carrying all of your grocery bags into the house in a single trip.

Simply put, being able to complete everyday tasks as required with ease and having the capacity to do more as life requires.

Strengthening your body will improve your overall quality of life.

What is DHA?

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Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid.

Found naturally occurring in certain fish (with emphasis on mackerel, salmon, herring, and sardines), it has been shown to be one of the most potent health boosters on the entire planet.

Structure
DHA is what is known as a ‘Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acid’, as it is 22 carbons long, and has 6 double bonds (making it physically long in structure compared to other fatty acid molecules).

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DHA and the evolution of the human brain
An important turning point in human evolution was the discovery of high-quality, easily digested nutrients from coastal seafood and inland freshwater sources.

Previously, Neanderthals sourced protein predominantly from the red meat of wolves, large feline and hyenas. The is little to no evidence of fresh water aquatic species or marine sources of protein in the bone collagen of Neanderthal specimens.

In comparison, seafood consumption of early modern humans was a nutritional staple. Depending on geographical region, freshwater or marine sources of protein made up between 10-50% of the diet for these populations.

Freshwater sources occurred along rivers and included fish and/or water fowl and marine sources were coastal and included fish, shellfish and small slow-moving animals such as turtles or tortoises.

This study suggests that the discovery, and subsequent multi-generational exploitation of aquatic and marine food sources coincides with the rapid expansion of the brain that is unique to modern humans.

This exploitation coincided with a rise in cognitive development leading to a more elaborate enrichment in material culture, such as personal ornamentation, decoration of burials and pottery figurines.

Benefits of DHA in the diet
Supplementation of DHA has been shown to have profound effects on health, wellbeing and overall performance. Due to its somewhat broad influence throughout the body, these effects can impact a number of physiological systems, boosting health in a variety of ways.

DHA has a positive effect on diseases such as hypertension, arthritis, atherosclerosis, depression, adult-onset diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, thrombosis, and some cancers.

Brain health
The human brain requires somewhere between 20 and 30% of the body’s available energy. It is even higher during the early years of life. Both EPA and DHA are responsible for many of the brain’s unique cognitive capacities and advance brain functions.

As DHA makes up about 30% of our brain matter and approximately 50% of retinal structure in our eyes, it stands to reason that its consumption has the potential to impact our brain health and eye health. This has been well supported within the scientific literature.

Consumption of DHA has been shown to protect against age related declines in brain health, brain size, and associated reductions in neural function. With this has come an increase in performance during cognitively driven tasks, in conjunction with improved memory, and an improved capacity for learning.

DHA supplementation has also been shown to have a preventative effect on both dementia and age related cognitive decline, ensuring our mental function well into older age, while significantly reducing our risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Heart health
DHA has the potential to improve the state of the body’s cells, while simultaneously reducing harmful inflammation throughout the entire body.

Through these two mechanisms, the supplementation of DHA can cause significant reductions in blood triglycerides, blood pressure, and ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL cholesterol).

DHA has also been shown to reduce cardiac arrhythmias.

As a result, the consumption of DHA can greatly improve our cardiovascular health and function, significantly reducing our risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

In summary
DHA is one of the most important nutrients within the entire body, where it is used to make the cell membranes of literally every cell in the body, while also acting as a key structural component for tissues found in the brain, eyes, and skin.

With this in mind, its supplementation can improve brain health, increase cardiovascular function, and cause significant improvement in eye health and function. Making it one of the most effective supplements on the market.

The benefits of Magnesium

Magnesium (Chemical Element)

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body and the second most common intracellular cation (positively charged ion) after potassium, magnesium is required for the healthy function of most cells in your body, especially your heart, kidneys and muscles.

Magnesium’s benefits can include reduced symptoms from conditions such as chronic pain, fatigue and insomnia. Magnesium may also provide protection from a number of chronic diseases, especially those associated with aging and stress.

Essential to life, necessary for good health, and a vital component within our cells, magnesium’s benefits help our bodies maintain balance, avoid illness, perform well under stress, and maintain a general state of good health.

What conditions can benefit from Magnesium?
Magnesium is known to reduce muscle tension, lessen pain associated with migraine headaches, improve sleep, and address neurological disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Conditions linked to magnesium levels include:

Pain:

  • Headaches;
  • Muscle cramps and spasms.

Mental health and sleep:

  • Anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Autism and ADHD;
  • Restless Leg Syndrome;
  • Insomnia.

Other conditions:

  • Psoriasis, Acne and Eczema;
  • Asthma;
  • Hypertension (elevated blood pressure);
  • Diabetes;
  • Osteoporosis.

Magnesium works within our cells. The powerhouses, factories and regulators of the body’s systems.

Because it is a necessary part of hundreds of biochemical reactions occurring constantly inside our cells, magnesium’s presence or absence affects the brain, the muscles, and the heart and blood vessels.

The importance of Magnesium?
There are fifteen essential minerals required by our bodies to function properly. These can be divided into trace minerals, those required in very small amounts, and major minerals, those required in larger amounts.

The six major minerals required in excess of 250 mg per day include:

  • Calcium;
  • Magnesium;
  • Potassium;
  • Phosphorus;
  • Sodium;
  • Chloride.

Magnesium impacts nearly all of systems of the body due to its cellular and molecular function. It has vital role as a co-factor to over 300 enzyme functions.

Not only one of the most vital and essential enzyme co-factors, regulating more reactions than any other mineral, but magnesium is also responsible for two of the most important cellular functions: energy production and cellular reproduction.

Magnesium and heart health
Insufficient magnesium tends to trigger muscle spasms, and this has consequences for your heart in particular. This is especially true if you also have excessive calcium, as calcium causes muscle contractions.

Magnesium also functions as an electrolyte, which is crucial for all electrical activity in your body. Without electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium and sodium, electrical signals cannot be sent or received, and without these signals, your heart cannot pump blood and your brain cannot function properly.

The heart has the highest magnesium requirement of any organ, specifically your left ventricle. With insufficient amounts of magnesium, the heart simply cannot function properly. Elevated blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and sudden cardiac death are all potential effects of magnesium deficiency and/or a lopsided magnesium to calcium ratio.

This systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2013,  concluded that circulating and dietary magnesium are inversely associated with CVD risk. Simply put, this means the lower your magnesium intake (and the lower the circulating magnesium in your body), the higher your risk for CVD.

Other notable effects include:

  • Is an important factor in muscle relaxation and heart health;
  • Creating energy in your body by activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP);
  • Allows nerves to send messages in the brain and nervous system;
  • Aids and regulates the body’s use of calcium and other minerals;
  • Assists in bone and teeth formation;
  • Regulates the metabolism of nutrients such as protein, nucleic acids, fats and carbohydrates;
  • Regulates cholesterol production and helps modulate insulin sensitivity;
  • Assists in energy production, DNA transcription and protein synthesis;
  • Maintains the structural health of cell membranes throughout the body.

Foods high in Magnesium
Magnesium in food sources were once commonly consumed, but have diminished in the last century due to industrialized agriculture and a shifting to more modern westernized diets. Below is a list of foods that are high in dietary magnesium:

  • Pumpkin Seeds;
  • Spinach;
  • Swiss Chard;
  • Dark Cocoa Powder;
  • Almonds;
  • Coffee.

Who should supplement with Magnesium?
Magnesium has been linked to reduced incidence of common conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome in large peer-reviewed, long-term studies.

Studies today focus on whether active magnesium supplementation may be one of the missing links to preventing these diseases, as well as several disorders affecting the brain, muscles and skin.

The good news is that magnesium supplementation is a safe and effective way for most people to ensure they are getting enough magnesium to stay healthy, before deficiencies arise.

How much Magnesium to supplement
While the RDI for magnesium is around 310 to 420 mg per day depending on your age and sex, many experts believe you may need around 600 to 900 mg per day.

Natural ways to your lower blood pressure

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Your blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). There are two numbers involved in the measurement:

  • Systolic blood pressure. The top number represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats.
  • Diastolic blood pressure. The bottom number represents the pressure in your blood vessels between beats, when your heart is resting.

Your blood pressure depends on how much blood your heart is pumping, and how much resistance there is to blood flow in your arteries. The narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.

Blood pressure that is measured lower than 120/80 mm Hg is considered normal.

Blood pressure that’s 130/80 mm Hg or more is considered high. If your numbers are above normal but under 130/80 mm Hg, you fall into the category of elevated blood pressure. 

In 2012-13, 6 million (about 34%) Australians, aged 18 years and over had hypertension, defined by having blood pressure ≥140/90 mm Hg, or were taking an antihypertensive medication.

The good news about elevated blood pressure is that lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your numbers and lower your risk. Without the requirement for medications.

Here a several ways to naturally lower your blood pressure:

Losing some extra weight (if overweight)
If you’re overweight, even dropping a few kilograms can reduce your blood pressure. You will feel better and you’ll also be reducing your risks from other medical problems.

This meta-analysis in 2016 reported that diets resulting in weight loss lowered blood pressure by an average 4.5 mm Hg systolic and 3.2 mmHg diastolic.

Exercise and physical activity 

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There is strong epidemiological evidence that regular physical activity and moderate to high levels of cardio-respiratory fitness provide protection against hypertension and all-cause mortality in both normal and hypertensive individuals.

Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure by up to 3.2 mm Hg and 2.7 mm Hg, respectively.

This doesn’t always mean that you have to go out and run marathons or spend over 15 hours in the gym per week. An increase in physical activity can be a combination of common activities such as running or weight training. It just as easily be adding incidental physical activity to your daily routine, such as:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the lift;
  • Walking over driving;
  • Playing with a child or pet.

Adding 30 minutes per day is all that is required to make a difference.

Dietary modification
Making smart changes to your diet such as cutting back on sugars and refined carbohydrates can help you both lose weight and lower blood pressure.

This 2012 analysis of low carbohydrate diets and heart disease risks found that these diets lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 4.81 mm Hg and 3.10 mm Hg respectively.

Another benefit of lower carbohydrate diets are that you generally feel fuller for longer as you’re eating more dietary protein and fats.

Eating a diet high in dietary carbohydrate from processed or refined sources without adequate physical activity can lead to unwanted weight gain, elevated blood glucose and higher blood pressure scores.

Modern diets have increased most people’s sodium intake, while decreasing overall potassium intake. Eating more potassium rich foods such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, tomatoes, bananas and rock melon can help lower blood pressure by normalizing the sodium/potassium ratio of the body.

Eat some dark chocolate

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Dark chocolate (at least 70%) has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Eating about 45 g per day may help lower your risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and inflammation.

Supplement your diet
Adding these dietary supplements can assist in lowering your blood pressure:

  • Omega-3 fish oils;
  • Whey protein (from grass-fed cows);
  • Magnesium;
  • CoEnzyme Q10;
  • Citrulline.

Quit smoking
Despite the smoking rate in Australia decreasing over the past two decades, 14% of Australians aged 15 and over are still daily smokers.

On average, a smoker’s life expectancy is up to 10 years less than non-smokers, and 60% of long-term smokers will die prematurely from a smoking-related disease. Giving up smoking has been shown to reduce blood pressure and overall heart disease risk.

Reduce alcohol consumption
Alcohol should always be looked at as a moderation food. It can elevate blood pressure in healthy individuals. Alcohol can raise your blood pressure by about 1.5 mm Hg for each standard drink.

Moderate drinking is considered to be no more than two standard drinks per day.

Cutting back on life stressors

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Modern westernised society is full of external stressors. Family, financial, social and workplace demands are just some of the factors contributing to elevated stress levels. Finding ways to reduce your stress is equally important to your overall health as it is to your blood pressure.

There are many ways to reduce stress, all you need to do is find which methods work best for you. Here are just a few ways:

  • Meditation and yoga;
  • Practice deep breathing;
  • Spending time in the sauna;
  • Reading a book;
  • Taking a walk;
  • Watching a comedy;
  • Listening to music.

Quality sleep
Blood pressure will naturally lower while you’re sleeping. If you’re not getting quality sleep, it can affect your blood pressure. People of experience sleep deprivation, especially those in middle-age, can be at an increased risk of elevated blood pressure.

Not everybody is able to get a good nights sleep with ease. However, there are ways that can help set you up for some restful sleep. A regular sleep schedule (going to bed and waking up at similar times daily), less time on electronic devices in the evening, exercising during the day and making your bedroom dark at night can help improve your sleep quality.

Many experts suggest that the sweet spot for optimal sleep is somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.

Final thoughts
If you do suffer from hypertension, some of these strategies can be of benefit. However, talk with your doctor about possible solutions to might work best for you to reduce your blood pressure without the use of medications.

Why you should be eating bananas

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Why it’s a superfood?

  • High in Vitamins B6 and C, fiber, potassium, mangansese;
  • Good source of riboflavin, folate, magnesium, copper;
  • Contains antioxidant phenols.

Healthy evidence
One of the reasons eating bananas is beneficial is because bananas are high in potassium. Potassium is an electrolyte and we require it to help our bodies function optimally. One banana contains more than 300mg of potassium. The recommended daily intake according to the National Health and Medical Research Council is 3,800mg per day for males and 2,800mg per day for females.

Bananas are high in potassium, a mineral that promotes heart health and normal blood pressure. This meta-analysis published in 2011, found that a daily consumption of 1,300-1,400mg of potassium is linked to 26% lower risk of heart disease.

In addition, bananas contain antioxidant flavonoids that have also been associated with a significant decrease in the risk of heart disease.

Making the most of Bananas
The high content of heat-sensitive and water soluble vitamins B6 and C means that fresh bananas are the best choice (vitamin B6 may decrease by as much as 50% if heated). For added nutrients, combine bananas with fruit high in vitamin A, such as mango or peach and mix with cottage cheese to add slow digesting protein.

Bananas and athletic performance
The unique mix of vitamins, minerals, and low glycemic carbohydrates in bananas has made them a favorite fruit among endurance athletes.

Bananas have long been valued by athletes for prevention of muscle cramps. Since bananas are a good source of potassium, and since low potassium levels are known to contribute to risk of muscle cramps, it is logical to think that the potassium content of bananas as being a contributing factor for a reduction in muscle cramps whilst conducting physical activities.

When is the best time to eat bananas
Generally, the taste and nutritional value of bananas change as they ripen.

Pre-ripened bananas tend to have greener skins and are less sweet than well-ripened bananas because the starch hasn’t fully broken down into simple sugars. The upside to eating pre-ripened bananas is that you stay full for longer and enjoy the benefits of the resistant starch.

On the other hand, a well-ripened banana with some dark patches on the skin is easier to digest and may give you the energy boost you require before playing sports.