Preventing heart disease tastes great!

Every Day Heart Health in February and Beyond

This is a sponsored post developed for The Coca-Cola Company, but all content is my own.

It’s February again, and that means it’s American Heart Month. With all of the health information out there, it can be hard to figure out how to work heart healthy choices into your daily routine. By keeping a few simple tips in mind for foods, beverages and overall health, you can make small changes this month that will benefit your heart all year round.

A balanced healthy eating plan that is low in saturated fat and sodium and full of fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, fish, high-fiber whole grain breads and cereals will help improve heart health. Select from this wide variety of meal options and make heart-healthy choices all day long.

Heart-Healthy Ways to Start Your Day

Simple swaps like full fat dairy for lower fat milk, yogurt and cheese will help start your day on a heart-healthy note. A few more examples to kick your day off right include:

  • Smoothie made with frozen fruit, fat-free milk and flax seed or wheat germ.
  • Ready-to-eat high-fiber whole grain cereal or cooked oats prepared with fat-free milk, raisins or other dried fruit.
  • Parfait layered with cut-up fruit, low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese and low-fat crunchy granola.
  • Corn meal pancakes or whole grain waffles topped with fruit and a dollop of fat-free ricotta cheese.
  • Whole wheat wrap spread with natural peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese with sliced pears or chopped peaches.
  • Corn tortilla filled with black beans, salsa and shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese.

Lunch Time Meal Solutions

Base your mid-day meal with vegetables, then add low-fat dairy and whole grains for a balanced plate.

  • Roasted vegetable salad with turkey, fresh spinach and light vinaigrette, plus a whole wheat roll with mashed avocado.
  • Easy vegetable soup made with low-sodium tomato juice, frozen mixed vegetables and canned beans, plus whole wheat crackers with low-fat cheese and spicy mustard.
  • Lean beef slider with caramelized onion on potato roll, plus Napa cabbage slaw tossed in reduced-fat mayonnaise and a baked apple topped with low-fat Greek yogurt and toasted walnuts.

Eating Right into the Night

Choose lean proteins like chicken, fish and certain cuts of beef and flavor them with fresh or dried herbs and spices for a satisfying meal lower in fat and sodium, and healthier for your heart.

  • Stir-fried sirloin steak strips and portabella mushrooms over quick-cooking brown rice, plus garlicky green beans and cucumber salad with dill for sides.
  • Black bean veggie burger on multigrain bread with sliced red onion, plus roasted half acorn squash filled with chopped apple, honey and cinnamon and broccoli and bulghur pilaf sides.
  • Sautéed shrimp and cherry tomatoes over orzo with crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese and grilled zucchini basted in olive oil, plus kiwi and strawberry slices over arugula with balsamic vinaigrette.

Sensible Snacks for Any Time of Day

Reducing calories and smart snacking can go hand in hand, just watch your portion sizes.

  • Air-popped popcorn, roasted and seasoned chickpeas, melon cubes, unsalted nuts, citrus sections, dried dates or figs, steamed edamame, bowl of berries, banana chunks dipped in light yogurt, nut butter on whole grain crackers or frozen seedless grapes.
  • Select portion-controlled versions of your favorites, like Coca-Cola mini cans, packs of almonds or pre-portioned desserts for a meal that won’t break the calorie bank, helping you manage your weight for better heart health.

Know Your Numbers

Maintaining a healthy body weight can reduce the risk for heart disease, and this requires knowing how many calories you eat each day. But aside from weight and calories, it’s important to know all the factors that contribute to heart health. Be sure to talk to your doctor about lipid levels (cholesterol and triglyceride), blood pressure, fasting glucose (blood sugar), Body Mass Index and weight circumference numbers, and discuss any changes to your routine that can improve your heart health this February and beyond.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian and cultural anthropologist with a focus on the societal forces continually shaping eating behavior and food trends. Her 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, authoring two popular diet books (The Wedding Dress Diet and Fighting the Freshman Fifteen) and numerous articles on diet and health and her high-traffic blog, TheEverydayRD. Today she is multimedia spokesperson and consultant to global food and beverage companies, including The Coca-Cola Company.

Calculations of A Body Shape Index can help predict those at risk of dying

A Body Shape Index: The Newest Risk Factor

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.


You don’t need a calculator to tell if you are fat. Standing naked in front of a full length mirror will do. But you do need a calculator to figure out if your body size and shape put you at risk of premature death. The new measurement, called A Body Shape Index (ABSI), requires a square root, a cube-root and some long division to predict who has a “hazardous body shape.”

And you thought stepping on the bathroom scale was scary!

This new index was developed by researchers at The City College of New York. They wanted to overcome weaknesses in the other measurements now used by health professionals to determine who, among the rapidly growing overweight and obese population, is most likely to suffer complications from their fatness. This latest tool will allow them to identify those most likely to die from their excess weight.

What Measurements Have We Used?

The widely used calculation of Body Mass Index(BMI) is based solely on height and weight. It cannot account for fat distribution or muscle mass, which can be quite different between any two people of the same height, especially a man and woman who are both 5′ 10″. It’s better at assessing obesity in populations, not individuals.

Waist circumference does a good job of identifying fat deposits around the visceral organs, but it cannot tell how tall or well-proportioned you are. A waist circumference of 32 inches may be fine for a very tall woman, but not a very short one.

What’s Different About A Body Shape Index?

ABSI is based on both BMI and waist circumference. When used to follow more than 14,000 Americans adults over five years it was better than BMI or waist circumference in predicting who would die of any cause during that time period among men, women, and blacks, but not Mexicans. It was also a reliable way to predict who was more likely to die when other factors that significantly increase your risk, such as cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes status, were considered.

Losing weight by any means will lower your BMI, and shrinking or redistributing fat deposits will give you a smaller waist circumference. Those steps will also decrease your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. What we don’t know yet is what changes are needed in the ABSI to delay dying.

While waiting for further research on ABSI, you can always take a look in a full length mirror after your next shower. It’s another good way to see if you have any body shape issues to address.

For more updates on obesity research:

Eating too fast is an independent risk factor for type 2 diabetes

Fast Eaters Have Greater Risk of Diabetes Than Slow Eaters

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you read the blog here.


If you are among the fast eaters at the table you are at risk of becoming overweight. Part of the problem is you are first in line for seconds while everyone else is still nibbling on their first portion. Another is you miss the signal that tells you when you’ve had enough because your plate is empty before the food reaches your stomach and has a chance to send it to your brain.

Now research indicates fast eaters have 2.5-times higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to slow eaters.

Eating Too Fast is an Independent Risk Factor

We already know being overweight or obese increases your odds of developing diabetes, but this study found eating too fast was an independent indicator of who might get diabetes.

The findings were presented at the joint International Congress of Endocrinology and European Congress of Endocrinology in Florence, Italy earlier this month. The researchers collected information about possible diabetes risk factors from 234 people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes and 468 people who did not have the disease. After adjusting the data for known risk factors, such as family history, body mass index, and waist circumference, the researchers found a more than two-fold increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes associated with those who reported faster eating habits.

The scientists could not explain why wolfing down your food was linked to type 2 diabetes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take action while waiting for one. The importance of this study is that it identifies a risk factor that people can modify, while genetic predisposition to diabetes and some environmental factors that contribute to it are beyond our control.

Ways to Slow Down How Fast Your Eat

  • Eat with chop sticks (if not your usual utensil)
  • Use your non-dominant hand
  • Use a cocktail fork or other small cutlery
  • Wear a dental appliance (like a retainer)
  • Pace yourself with a slow eater
  • Put your fork or hand-held food down between bites
  • Count how long you chew each mouthful (shoot for at least 20 chews)
  • Swallow everything in your mouth before taking another bite
  • Don’t take seconds until everyone at the table has finished eating, or wait at least 10 minutes
  • Take a sip of water between each bite of food
  • Cut your food into very small pieces
  • Play background music with a slow tempo
  • Turn off any other distractions, like TV, so you can pay attention to your food

Engage in conversation, but never with food in your mouth

Don’t eliminate good for you foods from your diet based on a single ingredient

9 Good For You Foods That Get A Bad Rap

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.


Some foods that get a bad rap are actually good for you foods that should not be eliminated from a healthy diet. The problem is some people like to judge foods based on a single ingredient or nutritional feature without regard to the total contribution the food makes to the diet. That’s just not right.

Why judging foods and ingredients too harshly is flawed:

  • New information about what’s in our food and what we need to be healthy is continually being discovered
  • How much and how often we eat something is more important in determining risk-benefit than any single attribute of a food.
  • If you remember Woody Allen’s proclamation in the movie Sleeper, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s just a matter of time before once forbidden foods become forgiven foods. Think coffee, wine, and chocolate. Who knows what’s next?

Eggs, potatoes, nuts, olive oil, and avocados have already been redeemed. Then there is the whole new world of phytonutrients – those naturally occurring compounds in plants with powerful health benefits – that are being found in foods we never expected to be superstars, like mushrooms, onions, and garlic.

The key is to keep moderation in mind for everything you eat since too much of anything can be harmful. And here are some foods you definitely should not abandon.

9 Good For You Foods That Get a Bad Rap

Cheese – Fill nutrient gaps for calcium and phosphorus with cheese and get a versatile source of protein that can take center-stage in a meal or make side dishes taste better. Research shows people whose diets include cheese have lower risk factors for metabolic syndrome.

Bananas – Available year round for about 35₵ each, bananas are an affordable and satisfying snack. Don’t worry about that fact a banana has more calories than a grape; you’re far more likely to eat too many grapes, but not too many bananas.

Coconut Oil– Not all tropical oils are the same, meaning high in artery-clogging saturated fat. The main saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium-chained fatty acid than can actually increase good HDL cholesterol levels. It is also known for its antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties.

Lean Pork – Pigs are being fed and bred to provide cuts that are as lean as skinless chicken. Look for pork tenderloin, top loin roast, center loin chops, and rib chops to add some variety to your meat menus.

Dark Meat Chicken –It may be a bit higher in calories and fat than breast meat, but skinless chicken legs and thighs have other advantages. Dark meat is less expensive than light meat and much more flavorful, so you’re less likely to prepare it with lots of coatings and gravy that add fat and calories.

Vegetable Juice – Low sodium versions can be used to get needed vegetable servings into your daily diet when no raw or cooked vegetables are available. It’s also a great base for soups and sauces that you can season as you like.

Dried Fruit – Naturally sweet and delicious, dried fruits can be nibbled on instead of candy while helping you get the recommended 2-4 servings of fruit each day. Use dried blueberries or plums Amazins (dried plum pieces) anywhere raisins are called for when cooking and baking.

Peanut Butter – Like hummus, peanut butter is made from a legume and is a versatile source of protein. It can be incorporated into any snack to help you feel satisfied longer so you won’t keep snacking. Unlike hummus, it can be paired with sweet or savory foods, like apple slices, celery sticks, whole grain crackers or caramel rice cakes.

Granola Bars – Whether looking to get a boost in whole grains, protein, energy, or all three, there’s a bar to meet your needs. Some are enriched to provide additional vitamins and minerals, but their best feature of all is that they’re portion controlled and ready for on-the-go eating. While not great as a meal replacement, they can be the perfect cookie replacement!

Be sure to check these other posts on the same topic:

  • Peanut Butter: The Food That’s in 90% of US Households!
  • The World’s Most Popular Drug: Caffeine
  • Cheese is a Great Source of Protein, Too!
  • Getting More Fruit in Your Diet With Dried Fruit