Set goals to become healthy in 2015!

Many of you are regular readers of this column. You read all the articles and understand how to become healthy. Unfortunately, it stops there. Another year passes and you have not lost any weight, reduced your blood pressure, or reduced your blood sugar levels. Your medication list is getting longer. You know what needs to be done, but never take any action. (You know who you are – I have lectured you in the office!) Now is the time to take action and make this year different!

If you want to succeed, you need to set goals. Without goals you lack focus and direction. Goal setting not only allows you to take control of your life’s direction; it also provides you a benchmark for determining whether you are actually succeeding. To accomplish your goals, however, you need to know how to set them. You can’t simply say, “I want” and expect it to happen. Goal setting is a process that starts with careful consideration of what you want to achieve, and ends with a lot of hard work to actually do it. In between there are some very well defined steps that transcend the specifics of each goal. Knowing these steps will allow you to formulate goals that you can accomplish. Here are 5 steps to help you out.

First of all, find a goal that motivates you. This is important. If you have little interest in the outcome, or your goals are irrelevant given the larger picture, then the chances of you putting in the work to make them happen are slim. Motivation is key to achieving goals. What are your priorities? Do you want to lose weight, reduce your blood sugar levels, get off one of your medications, reduce your dress or pant size, or just look better? Goal achievement requires commitment, so to maximize the likelihood of success, you need to feel a sense of urgency and have an “I must do this” attitude. When you don’t have this, you risk putting off what you need to do to make the goal a reality.

The second step is to set SMART goals. Make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time bound. First of all, your goals must be specific. Your goal must be clear and well defined. (For example, I want to lose 20lbs.) Vague or generalized goals are unhelpful because they don’t provide sufficient direction. (For example, I want to lose weight or I want to lower my blood sugar.) Remember, you need goals to show you the way. Make it as easy as you can to get where you want to go by defining precisely where you want to end up. Examples include: I want to lower my hemoglobin A1c 1 point, or I want reduce my pant size 2 sizes, or I want to get off one of my diabetes medications. Second, your goals need to be measurable – include precise amounts, dates, and so on in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. If your goal is simply defined as “To lose weight” how will you know when you have been successful? Without a way to measure your success you miss out on the celebration that comes with knowing you have actually achieved something. Third, your goals need to be attainable. Make sure that it’s possible to achieve the goals you set. If you set a goal that you have no hope of achieving, you will only demoralize yourself and erode your confidence. (For example, I want to lose 100lbs.) Fourth, make sure your goal is relevant to your life. Your goals need to be about you, not your friends, family, or spouse. Finally, make sure your goals are time bound. Your goals must have a deadline. Again, this means that you know when you can celebrate success. When you are working on a deadline, your sense of urgency increases and achievement will come that much quicker.

The third step is to write your goals down. This step is important. The physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible. You have no excuse for forgetting about it. Post your goals in visible places to remind yourself every day of what it is you intend to do. Put them on your walls, desk, computer monitor, bathroom mirror or refrigerator as a constant reminder.

The fourth step is to make a plan. This step is often missed in the process of goal setting. You get so focused on the outcome that you forget to plan all of the steps that are needed along the way. Plan what days and time you will exercise. Plan your grocery lists ahead of time. Plan your meals. What needs to be done to achieve your goals?

Finally, the fifth step is to stick to your goals. Remember, goal setting is an ongoing activity not just a means to an end. Build in reminders to keep yourself on track, and make regular time available to review your goals. Think how you are going to feel when you have lost those extra 20lbs, when you are off your blood pressure medications, or when your have dropped 2 pant sizes. Visualize success.

Now is the time to take action to get healthier. This is the year you are finally going to make a change. Do not put this off any longer. Do not procrastinate any more. You are going to succeed. Get started now on some goals to improve your health and change your health forever.

Are Cheerios a healthy breakfast?

Patients frequently tell me they eat a healthy breakfast every morning – they eat Cheerios. Cheerios are advertised on TV as “heart healthy”. We are told to eat more cheerios as they “can help lower our cholesterol and may reduce our risk of heart disease”.  So if we eat more cheerios, will we become healthier? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be no. In fact, Cheerios may be making you fat and contributing to your diabetes. How is this possible? The carbohydrates in processed cereals are digested quickly, which increases their glycemic index. As we explained in the prior article, the glycemic index is a way of measuring how much and how quickly a food raises your blood sugar. Cheerios has a glycemic index (GI) rating of 74. For comparison, table sugar has a GI of 65. Remember, the glycemic index lists foods on a scale from zero to 100, with zero being the foods that are digested slowly, resulting in gradual rises in blood sugar levels, and 100 being foods that are rapidly digested, resulting in rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. Foods with a GI of 55 or less are considered low. Conversely, foods with a GI of 70 or more are considered high. By starting your day with a bowl of Cheerios, you are causing a spike in your blood sugar and thus a spike in your insulin levels. Elevated insulin levels are what lead to obesity and makes weight loss so difficult. Therefore, even tough Cheerios have a small amount of fiber, they are likely doing more harm than good. So what would be a good alternative breakfast to keep your insulin levels from spiking? Good low glycemic options include an omelet with vegetables, scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, unsweetened yogurt with berries, nuts, turkey sausage, or even some roasted turkey and cheese.

Buy Foods With Less Than 5 Ingredients

Eating too many processed foods in the diet is one of the leading causes of death and disease in our society. Processed foods contain large amounts of added sugar, salt, and fats. These foods can lead to diseases such as coronary artery disease, strokes, diabetes mellitus, and cancer.Processed foods are usually an illusion, often appearing to be healthy (with claims like low fat, low carb, vitamin fortified, no trans fat, contains omega-3s, etc.) when these foods are in fact the very thing making a lot of Americans unhealthy, sick, and fat. In fact, it is usually best to avoid any food product that is making a health claim on its packaging.

It is critical to read the label of any food product you buy. The first thing to look at is the ingredient list. The best indicator of how highly processed a food is can actually be found in the list of ingredients. If what you are buying contains more than 5 ingredients and includes a lot of unfamiliar, unpronounceable items you may want to reconsider before buying. In fact, the healthiest foods do not even contain an ingredient list. Your goal is too eat as much whole, unprocessed food every day as possible. It is always better to buy fresh foods. Eating fresh whole foods will not only make you healthier and prevent disease; it will also help you to lose those extra-unwanted pounds.

More fiber = less heart attacks.

If you’re like most Americans, you likely consume less than the recommended amount of fiber each day. This may be a big mistake. The latest study of heart attack survivors shows that people who ate the most fiber had a 25% lower chance of dying nine years later from any cause compared to people who consumed less. Every increase of 10g of fiber each day was on average linked to a 15% lower risk of dying over the study period.

This is the first study to suggest that heart attack patients benefited from adding fiber (found in whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables) to their daily diet. An earlier study found that people at risk of heart disease, but who hadn’t yet experienced some kind of a heart event, could lower their chances of having a heart attack by eating more high fiber foods. Studies show that fiber-rich foods can decrease inflammation, a potential trigger for heart attacks, as well as lower levels of LDL cholesterol, which can contribute to atherosclerosis in your arteries.

Interestingly, the findings suggest that fiber may also be helping more than the heart, since those eating higher amounts were able to lower their risk of dying from any cause, not just heart disease. It also helps to lower the risk of colon cancer by reducing the time that potentially cancer-causing toxins spend in the intestines. Fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar in diabetics, reducing their risk of complications. Fiber also plays an important role in fighting obesity and its unhealthy consequences. Increasing fiber intake fiber helps the body feel less hungry and cuts down on overeating.

There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Both soluble and insoluble fibers are undigested. They are not absorbed into the bloodstream. Instead of being used for energy, fiber is excreted from your body. Soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with liquid, while insoluble fiber does not. Insoluble fiber is good for the GI tract and can help prevent colon cancer. It adds bulk to the diet, helping prevent constipation. Since insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, it passes through the gastrointestinal tract relatively intact, and speeds up the passage of food and waste through your gut.  Therefore, it helps remove toxic waste through colon in less time. A mixture of soluble and insoluble fiber every day is important. Click this link for a list of foods which contain soluble and insoluble fiber:

A good daily goal of fiber intake is 40 grams of fiber a day. Increase your intake slowly and drink a lot of water. Make it a habit to look at labels. Look for foods with the highest fiber amount. Look for pasta with a large amount of fiber. Look for cereals and oatmeal with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. For extra fiber, add flaxseed or berries to your breakfast. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables for a snack. The more processed a food is, the less fiber it will have, and the less healthy it will be. Fiber from supplements is not nearly as good as fiber from whole foods. A high fiber diet is a marker of many anti-cancerous properties of whole foods, especially phytochemicals. Fiber intake from food is a good marker of disease risk. Some studies suggest that the amount of fiber consumed may better predict weight gain/loss, insulin/blood sugar levels, and other cardiovascular risk factors than does the total amount of fat consumed. Remember, fiber is only found in plant products and not in meat, dairy, or highly processed products. Fiber is a miracle nutrient. Not only will it help keep you regular, it also appears to significantly reduce your risk of having a heart attack and stroke.

Is a super low fat diet the healthiest?

Low fat diets have been advocated for several decades now in the United States. Despite lowering fat in their diets, Americans do not seem to be getting any healthier. In fact, obesity rates are now at an all time high. The main reason for the failure of low fat diets is that Americans have replaced fat with processed, simple carbohydrates. (Remember Snackwell cookies. People felt they could eat unlimited amounts because they were fat free!) Increasing the amounts of sugar and simple carbs in the diet leads to increased insulin levels. As discussed in previous articles, increased insulin leads to obesity and increased inflammation levels. Increased inflammation leads to an increased risk of heart attacks, stroke and cancer. The goal should be to reduce inflammation levels. Just as there are good and bad carbs, there are good and bad fats. Omega 3 fats are the healthiest. Omega 3 fats, which are found in fish such as salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts reduce inflammation, keep your blood from clotting excessively, maintain the fluidity of cell membranes, lower the amount of lipids circulating in the bloodstream, prevent excessive blood clotting, inhibit thickening of the arteries, and cause arteries to relax and dilate.  Any diet shown to promote good health, including the Mediterranean diet and the Okinawan diet, are loaded with Omega 3’s. Monounsaturated fats are also healthy. Studies show that eating foods rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) improves blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease. Research also shows that MUFAs may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes.  Olive oil and avocados are major sources of monounsaturated fat. The majority of fat in your diet should be omega 3 and monounsaturated fats. On the other hand, Omega 6 fats (corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil) should be avoided, as they are pro-inflammatory.  Saturated fat (found in meat and dairy products) also tends to be pro-inflammatory – especially if the animals were grain fed. (Pasture raised or wild animal products tend to be healthier).  Finally, trans fat is the deadliest. It is imperative to avoid any food product that contains hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Overall, any diet that excludes one the major macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) just doesn’t work.  A healthy diet should be loaded with a variety of fresh and unprocessed foods. This type of diet will ultimately include all 3 macronutrients.


Need Help Losing Weight or Getting Healthier? Read On…

I get asked all the time for specific recommendations for losing weight. I also get asked about dietary recommendations for naturally lowering cholesterol levels or naturally lowering blood pressure levels. One great way to achieve all these goals at once is to eat 9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Yes, you read that right… 9 servings! Every day! This should include at least 5 servings fruits and vegetablesof vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are low in calorie. This means you can eat a lot without getting many calories. In fact, you can gorge yourself and still lose weight. Have large salads with many different colored vegetables mixed in. (Avoid high calorie dressings!) You should have several servings of vegetables with each meal during the day. Eat both fruits and vegetables as snacks. Furthermore, the more fruits and vegetables you eat the less room you will have for eating other junk food. Besides being low in calories, fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber. Fiber fills you up with no calories. It also helps lower your cholesterol naturally and keeps you regular. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with nutrients, including protein. Many green vegetables have significant amounts of protein per serving. (How do you think giraffes and gorillas get so big?) Many fruits and vegetables have large amounts of potassium, which helps to naturally lower your blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with multiple vitamins including vitamin C, a critical vitavegetable basketmin our bodies constantly need to replenish. Finally, fruits and vegetables have many different kinds of phytonutrients and antioxidants. These are nature’s way of lowering your inflammation levels, fighting disease, and preventing cancer. The greater variety of colors you eat, the better. So make it a goal to eat at least 9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. You will be amazed at how much better you feel, how much weight you can lose, and how healthy you can become, naturally.

Eat Healthy and Save – Try a Local Farmers Market

I love to shop at farmers markets. There is a large selection of fresh food grown locally and many great bargains to be found. They are fun to walk around and you can sample different foods, spices, and treats. There are many good reasons to go to a farmers market. First of all, you can support your local farmers instead of big, corporate factory farms. Just as important,  shopping at a farmers markets helps you to eat seasonally and locally.  The produce is fresher and fantastic.  It hasn’t been sitting in a truck while making a cross country trek. Many small farmers use little or no pesticides.  Talk to the farmers and find out about their pesticide use.  While the produce may not be USDA certified organic, as certification is very costly, it might still be pesticide free. Furthermore, eating local foods has many environmental benefits, including lowering your carbon footprint.  You can find all sorts of wonderful things aside from produce.  You can also find local meats and fish, cheeses, jams, spices, herbs, and baked goods at many farmers markets.  Next, farmers markets will save you money. Usually the produce is substantially cheaper than at the grocery store.  If you want to save even more money, go towards the end. Often the farmers don’t want to haul the unsold produce back to their farms, so they’ll sell it at a discount before the market closes. Finally, you can get to know some local farms and farmers. Many farmers will offer advice on how to prepare different fruits and vegetables. They’ll also be able to answer questions about their produce. Some of the farms might offer self pick produce, some might have animals you can visit, and some might offer community supported agriculture (CSA). CSA has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. This is how it works: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (membership or subscription) and in return receive a basket of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.  Look online for a local farmers market in your area. Most cities will have many every weekend. They are free to explore and you never know what surprises you might find!