10 smart food swaps for a healthy heart

February marks the 50th anniversary of American Heart Month. Heart disease is the number one killer in Americans. For the good news, however, following a heart healthy diet and lifestyle can make a big difference in helping to prevent heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends choosing a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and to include nuts and seeds, fatty fish and heart-healthy fats. It also recommends limiting foods high in trans fats, saturated fats and sodium.

Nutritionist Dr. Lisa Young counsels clients on heart health. Rather than advise her clients just on what foods to avoid, she likes to empower them by offering healthy food choices and substitutions to make.

Below are 10 smart food swaps which can make a huge difference to the health of your heart. These are simple tweaks to your diet that can boost your nutrition and they also taste great.

1. Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal instead of cream of wheat.
Oatmeal contains soluble fiber which has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. The type of fiber in oatmeal, beta glucans, may be particularly beneficial for heart health and for weight control. Oatmeal also contains the minerals magnesium and potassium also good for the heart.

2. Top your oatmeal with blueberries instead of sugar.
Blueberries are one of the healthiest foods around, and they contribute to health, including heart health. With only 80 calories per cup and low in fat, these tasty blue gems are packed with fiber, phytochemicals, vitamin C, and an excellent source of the mineral manganese. Blueberries contain a category of phytonutrients called polyphenols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and can contribute to heart health and a reduction of other chronic diseases. You can also include them in your diet all year long: they can be purchased fresh and are also available frozen throughout the year.

3. Eat a bean-based veggie burger instead of a hamburger for lunch.
Bean and legumes are a great plant based protein while also contributing to heart health. They are rich in soluble fiber, devoid of saturated fat, and fairly low in calories. Hamburgers on the other hand, are high in unhealthy saturated fats which have been shown to elevate “bad” LDL cholesterol.

4. Top your burger with lettuce and tomato instead of cheese.
Lettuce and tomato are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber and contains few calories and virtually no fat. They contain the antioxidants lycopene and vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber.

5. Snack on walnuts instead of chips.
Hungry for a snack? Adding walnuts to your diet is a great way to boost your intake of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids’s that can benefit the heart, brain and skin. These tasty nuts also contain the antioxidant vitamin E.

6. Start your dinner with a colorful salad instead of fried mozzarella sticks.
Starting your meal with a colorful salad is a terrific way to boost heart healthy nutrients in your diet. Salads and vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals, and low in calories. The different colors provide different nutrients so throw in romaine lettuce rich in the B vitamin folate, red cherry tomatoes rich in lycopene and carrots which are full of beta carotene.

7. Top your salad with avocado instead of croutons.
Avocados contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, a good fat which may contribute to heart health. Avocados are also high in the antioxidant vitamin E. Not only is this green fruit (yes, it is a fruit) good for the heart, it tastes great and adds a zest of flavor.

8. Choose olive oil instead of butter.
Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, also known as a heart-healthy fat. Diets rich in olive oil have been associated with heart health. This oil is is also rich in antioxidants, including vitamin E and polyphenols which protects blood vessels and other components of the heart. Next time you visit your favorite restaurant, dip your bread in olive oil instead of butter.

9. Choose grilled salmon instead of fried flounder.
We hear that fish is good for the heart. In particular, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines are chock full of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats that have been shown to benefit the heart as well as the brain.

10. Drink a glass of red wine instead of a soda.
Moderate amounts of alcohol (one drink for women and two for men) have been shown to contribute to heart health and may improve good HDL cholesterol levels. For an added boost, red wine in particular, contains polyphenols, including resveratrol, which have been associated with an increase in good cholesterol and a decrease in inflammation.

Let’s toast to a healthy heart. We would love to hear any heart-healthy food swaps you have made.

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Be my buddy Valentine!

Spread the heart-healthy love this Valentine’s Day by adding your co-workers and friends as buddies.

We love the extra motivation our buddies give us, like on the days we know we “should” take an after dinner stroll but would rather catch up on a little television. Knowing our buddies can see our daily activity (and will certainly mention our decreased steps at the office the next day) gives us that extra push to get up and get walking. Trust us, that competitive spirit will set in.

Convinced? Start inviting buddies through this page.

What else do you do to stay motivated and achieve your step goals? Let us know in the comments below!

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Superfood: Quinoa

It’s a tiny seed that fits on top of a pin and looks more like birdseed than a healthy dinner, but this ancient Incan staple is no Plain Jane: it’s a protein-packed superfood. Read on to find out why.

KEEN-WHAT? — WHAT IT IS

With a mild, nutty flavor and a texture similar to that of couscous or rice, quinoa (seriously, it’s pronounced KEEN-wa.) is actually related to leafy green vegetables like kale and Swiss chard.

But leafy greens lack the dense protein content of the quinoa seed, and it’s this unique nutritional makeup that makes it so special.

First and foremost, quinoa is one of the only grains or seeds that provide the nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce themselves. Quinoa is most noted for its large amount of lysine, the amino acid most directly responsible for tissue growth and repair. A one-cup serving holds 442 mg of lysine— or about 5% of the daily-recommended intake for a 150-pound person recommends 31 mg per day, per kilogram of body weight). The seeds are also very high in fiber, iron, magnesium, and manganese.

In 1993, NASA recommended quinoa for a program that plants key crops aboard spaceships to feed astronauts on long-term missions. If it’s good for astronauts in space, it’s got to be good enough for mere mortals on earth, right?

Keep in mind all this goodness does come at a price. Quinoa’s relatively expensive for what it is— about $4.50/12 oz., which is roughly double the price of quality brown rice.

DELICIOUS, NUTRITIOUS — WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU

Quinoa comes in three varieties — white, red, and black — all of which are extremely versatile and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Step one is to rinse the seeds of their naturally occurring saponin coating, a bitter compound that protects the plant from birds and other animals. (Most commercial quinoa is pre-washed, but a quick rinse at home will get rid of any excess bitterness.)

The most basic preparation is to cook it like rice. Combine one part quinoa with two parts water in a pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Feeling inventive? Saucy even? Try one of the following:

- Mix cooked quinoa with some beaten eggs, breadcrumbs, and seasonings of choice, form into small patties, and fry ‘em up in a pan! (Here’s the Greatist recipe!). Add them to soup to serve as a natural thickener.
- Add some sugar and orange zest to the quinoa cooking water. Then use this sweet quinoa as a stand-in for oatmeal with some fresh fruit and brown sugar.
- Mix with pasta sauce and fillings and bake like pasta.
- Our personal favorite? Mix-and-match quinoa salad! We make a big batch each weekend along with some steamed vegetables and grilled chicken. Each morning, we take a little of each and combine them in a well-sealed container with a tablespoon of our favorite dressing. It’s a quick, easy, and healthy lunch packed with protein to keep us full all afternoon.

Here’s what expert Julie Procopio has to say:

“I love quinoa because it’s a complete protein, and is easy to digest. It’s high in fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, riboflavin, and iron, which is why it is known as ‘the perfect grain.’ My favorites are quinoa stuffed peppers, and quinoa flakes cooked with vanilla soymilk, blueberries, and maple syrup for breakfast.”

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6 tips to make running in the cold a little better

Avid runners and walkers alike will both agree — the cold winter weather is one of the only things that will stop you from getting outdoors to pound the pavement. Yes, you could stay toasty and get some miles in on the treadmill, but it’s just never as satisfying as breathing in fresh air and feeling the wind against you.

But that all changes once sub-20-degree temps roll in. Suddenly, the love for a nice jog is crushed by the elements — not to mention the inevitable runny nose, numbness in your toes and an overall stiffness within your body and joints. So how do you combat these cold weather annoyances in order to train outdoors? Follow these tips for better winter runs and walks.

1. The Complaint: I wear layers because it’s so cold, but quickly into my run I’m sweating and overheating.

Whenever you begin an activity in cold weather, you’re bound to be cold because you don’t have any blood flowing yet, so it’s normal to dress warm. But once you start moving, your body temperature rises and you begin to sweat. Location also plays a part in what to wear. “Dressing for winter running can be tricky depending on where you live,” says Stephanie Rothstein Bruce, pro-runner and marathoner. “If it’s a 30-degree day in the humid east coast climate, dressing for 30 degrees makes sense because the sun isn’t out to warm you up and humidity keeps cold trapped in. By contrast, a 30-degree day in sunny, dry Colorado would suggest dressing for a 50-degree day because you’ll warm up much quicker on your run,” Rothstein Bruce says.

The Fix: Take into account where you’re planning to run or walk. If it’s a low temperature outside but very sunny, consider wearing a few less layers. If you’re going out at night, an extra long sleeve shirt might not be a bad idea. Also, if you can, warm up inside to get your blood flowing. If you can manage to break a sweat before you head out the door, you won’t be as chilly on during your activity.

2. The Complaint: I find it difficult to breathe in the cold.

If you have actual shortness of breath, you may want to consult with your doctor, recommends Dr. Alan Cohen, an otolaryngologist with Ear, Nose and Throat Associates of New York, as it could be exercise-induced asthma. If that is the case, a doctor can prescribe an inhaler. If you don’t have asthma, it’s best to breathe in through the nose so that it can be filtered and warmed. However, between a runny nose and the need for more air, many people begin mouth breathing, which means freezing cold air will be hitting your lungs, says Cohen.

The Fix: Try to breathe through your nose when you can. Even wearing a ski mask won’t always warm up the air breathed in through your mouth. Cohen says it becomes an individual sensitivity issue. “Some people don’t mind it, and others hate the cold hitting their chest.” If you have serious problems breathing, see your doctor.

3. The Complaint: My ears get so cold and start to ache.

Ears, like your fingertips, are made of thin cartilage, which makes them very sensitive to the cold. “Any pain is just a protective response your body automatically makes,” says Cohen.

The Fix: If wearing a hat or ski cap feels overwhelming, Cohen recommends wearing a piece of gear that covers the ears, like muffs or a headband. Finding one that has rubber grips or that is lined to wick sweat are both great options.

4. The Complaint: My toes go completely numb.

Unfortunately, cold weather has a way of making body parts go numb after a while. This happens due to the lack of blood flow to certain limbs, especially the hands and feet. Having your shoes tied too tight, or wearing shoes that are too small, can also cause a feeling of numbness.

The Fix: Avoid socks that separate your toes, which will only make them colder. Instead, simply layer up on regular socks. “Whenever I look at the weather and see that it is going to be below a certain temperature, say 20 degrees, I double layer my socks,” says Rothstein Bruce. If that doesn’t work, leave the house with foot warmers.

5. The Complaint: My nose won’t stop running.

“Every time you take a sniff of outside air, it’s the nose’s job to filter, warm and humidify it to body temperature in a fraction of second, before it hits the lungs,” says Cohen. “Especially in the winter, when you’re outside your nose is trying to over-moisturize the super dry air, and the extra moisture causes it to run.”

The Fix: While there are some prescription sprays that slow down nose running, they are not recommended for this type of situation (these are mostly for allergies). The best thing you can do is to carry tissues with you. Cohen also recommends putting some Vaseline around your nose to prevent chapping.

6. The Complaint: My joints feel really tight, which makes running uncomfortable.

Cold winter weather causes the body to slow down a bit and adjust to the colder weather. “Things just aren’t working as quickly and efficiently as they do when it’s warm,” says Rothstein Bruce. “Therefore, joints can feel stiffer and more locked up.”

The Fix: Allow your body extra time before heading out for a walk. Get your joints and muscles moving before you put them through the paces — don’t just run out the door, says Rothstein Bruce. Give yourself at least 10 minutes to adequately warm up, including walking, foam rolling and dynamic stretching, she says. This will ultimately help best prepare your body to train and prevent possible injuries.

Don’t let the cold — and accompanying cold-weather complaints — keep you from pounding the pavement. How do you combat outdoor fitness during the winter months? Tell us your cold weather remedies below!

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Smart food swaps for a healthier Super Bowl Sunday

Traditional Super Bowl fare — we’re talking wings, nachos, pizza, beer — isn’t exactly the type of food that would, say, fuel a body to run, throw or tackle during the big game.

It’s not that these game day faves lack nutrition. We just eat big quantities of them! Case in point: Americans eat more calories on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year, except for Thanksgiving. The Super Bowl is the cause for our second-biggest gorge-fest of the year, people!

Still, it’s only once a year – and we know if you’re that big of a nachos fan, there’s probably little you’ll let come between you and the queso. That’s why Huffington Post asked Angela Ginn-Meadow, RD, LDN, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better to let them in on a few easy tricks for making your favorite Super Bowl snacks just a little bit lighter.

The best news? “Every little bit where you save some calories counts,” says Ward. “Nothing has to be super radical, no one has to sit around celery stick and carrots instead of pizza.”

Well, we’re convinced! Read on for a few swaps you can incorporate this weekend and beyond.

How will you try to make your Super Bowl Sunday a little bit healthier? Let us know in the comments below.

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