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Get the Low Down on Your Heart and Stress and Celebrate National Heart Health Month!

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Get the Low Down on Your Heart and Stress and Celebrate National Heart Health Month!Valentine’s Day commercials, sales, and promos will often portray the heart as a symbol of love and happiness. But February is also National Heart Month—a time to put the health of your heart into greater focus.

Heart health challenges affect a vast amount of the population and are the leading health concern in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, it costs the United States over $300 million a year in health care services, medications, and loss of productivity. Focusing on the heart shouldn’t just happen one month a year, however. Your heart is your companion for life. Ensuring a healthy heart starts at a young age and continues through adulthood into your elderly years.

The Vast Connections of Heart Health

Heart health would be much simpler if there was one single way of supporting it. However, as the engine of your body, the heart is connected to many different important functions in your body. Because of this it can be influenced—in both positive and negative ways—from your body’s other systems. Blood pressure, diet, exercise, blood sugar, weight management, cholesterol, and stress cultivating a health heart is a balance of motivation, prevention and diligence—making sure you are trying to make the right choices for a healthy future.

Why Dealing with Stress Is, Well... Everything

With so many areas to focus on when it comes to your heart we want to focus on one of the most important factors influencing your long term heart health, stress. Like death and taxes, stress is a constant throughout your lifetime. Sometimes, everything doesn’t always go as planned; whether your car breaks down, you lose your job, or you can’t find your favorite pair of socks, there are all types of stressful situations, and everyone handles them differently.

Handling stress in the wrong way can lead to behaviors that negatively affect your heart. How do you handle stress? Under stress, do you answer yes to any of the following?

  • Eat to calm down?
  • Speak and eat very fast?
  • Drink alcohol or smoke?
  • Rush around but do not get much done?
  • Work too much?
  • Procrastinate?
  • Sleep too little, too much, or both?
  • Slow down?
  • Try to do too many things at once?

If you answer yes to a few of these, it could mean that you are not dealing with stress in the right way. Being under stress or dealing with stressful situations can set off a chain reaction within your body. Adrenaline is released as part of your “fight or flight” response, elevating your heart-rate, breathing, and blood pressure.

Stress can also lead to overeating and unhealthy eating, as well as induce bad decisions in attempts at stress management. Managing stress, therefore, is important.

Manage Your Stress and Choose a Healthy Heart

The effects of stress and how it relates to are currently undergoing many studies. But there are already proven ways in which you can manage stress to prevent long-term damage and potential heart disease. Exercise and diet—two staples that every expert agrees are at the core of good heart health—should be at the heart (pun very much intended) of creating good daily habits. Consistent exercise—at least 150 minutes of cardio per week—can be done in a variety of ways that is adaptive to all ages and athletic levels.

Eating habits can change as a result of constant stress, causing undereating, overeating, and poor choices in food. It’s the same with exercise—stress can zap your energy, hurt your sleeping patterns, and slow you down in general. It’s somewhat of conundrum; exercise helps keep stress away, but stress can keep you from having the energy to exercise.

Response Choices for a Healthy Heart

Even with all the modern medicine available in the world, we still can’t find the secret to alleviating stress. The truth lies in your behavioral reactions and response choices from stressful situations. Understanding how you deal with stress, and the decisions you make will affect the behaviors that can dictate a healthy or unhealthy heart. Take the time this month to learn what you can do to give your heart healthy outlook it deserves.

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Is an Avocado a Day a Secret to Better Health?

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Is an Avocado a Day a Secret to Better Health?Almost everyone knows the famous food-related piece of advice: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." But it may be time to rephrase that saying. Recent studies have shown that replacing bad fats (saturated fatty acids) with good fats (unsaturated fatty acids) can benefit cholesterol and help support both heart health and weight management. These studies point to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet as one pathway to better eating habits. One particular study focuses on the benefits of avocados as a novel way of introducing healthier fats into your diet.

Out with the Bad Fats and in with the Good!

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study sought to test the effect avocados had on traditional cardiovascular risk-factors by substituting the saturated fatty acids in the average American diet with unsaturated fatty acids found in avocados. Risk factors included: total cholesterol, triglycerides, small dense LDL, and non-HDL cholesterol.

Forty-five healthy, overweight, or obese patients ranging in age from 21 to 70 were selected. Placed on three different cholesterol-lowering diets, participants consumed an average American diet—consisting of 34% calories from fat, 51% carbohydrates, and 16% protein—for two weeks prior to starting one of the following cholesterol-lowering diets: a lower-fat diet without the consumption of avocado, a moderate-fat diet without avocado, and a moderate-fat diet that included eating one avocado per day.

An Avocado a Day...

When compared to the average American diet, LDL, commonly known as "bad choelsterol, was lower after consuming the moderate-fat diet that included an avocado. LDL was also lower for the moderate-fat diet without the avocado, but not as much; it was 8.3 mg/dL lower when compared to the avocado-a-day diet, which was 13.5 mg/dL lower.

"In the United States, avocados are not a mainstream food yet, and they can be expensive, especially at certain times of the year," said Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Ph.D, R.D., senior study author, Chair of the American Heart Association's Nutrition Committee, and Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at Pennsylvania State University. "Also, most people do not really know how to incorporate them in their diet except for making guacamole. But guacamole is typically eaten with corn chips, which are high in calories and sodium. Avacados, however, can also be eaten with salads, vegetables, sandwiches, lean protein foods (like chicken or fish) or even whole," she said.

Taking the First Steps to Better Heart Health

The focus behind many heart-healthy diets has been to change the types of fats consumed rather than eliminate them. The Mediterranean diet seeks to do this by going heavy on the vegetables, whole grains, fatty fish, and foods rich in unsaturated fatty acids. Research on avocados now puts them in the same group and presents an easy way to start replacing bad fats with good ones. Although it can be tough always sticking to a particular way of eating, integrating an avocado into your daily eating habits can be a great starting point to support good heart-health and weight management. Start your avocado-a-day routine today!

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Your Body Is the Battleground and a Cold Nose May Be a New Enemy

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Your Body Is the Battleground and a Cold Nose May Be a New EnemyTalking in a nasal-like tone and feeling congested for weeks at time is no fun. Then again, neither is sneezing, coughing, or constantly burying your face in a tissue. The common cold is an inescapable part of being human, it seems, and while many advances have been made in modern medicine over the last two centuries, the elusive instant cure-all for it remains as mysterious as a supermassive black hole. While many remedies, exist, there is no one path to feeling better. However, a new study reveals an interesting fact about temperature and nose colds.

Cold Temps Can Influence... the Nose Cold?

One of the most common forms of the cold—the rhinovirus—has been the subject of previous studies conducted in various temperatures. However, earlier research only focused on how the virus reacted to colder body temperatures. This new study headed by author and Yale professor of immunobiology, Akiko Iwasaki, sought to further investigate the relationship between higher temperatures and the immune-response rate.

To investigate this relationship, Iwasaki extracted cells from subjects' airways. She then compared the immune-response of the cells exposed to the rhinovirus when the cells were incubated at 37oC (98.6oF) or the body's normal temperature. The same comparison was made with a lower body temperature of 33oC (91.4oF). Findings suggested that the innate immune-response to the rhinovirus was impaired at the lower body temperature when compared to the normal body temperature.

"In general, the lower the temperature, it seems the lower the innate immune response to viruses," noted Iwasaki. This gives weight to remedies like hot drinks and hot soup when you have a cold. Keeping your body temp warm is actually scientifically helpful to your immune system when fighting off a cold.

The Importance of the Immune Response

While you may not be able to avoid the common cold and other mildly annoying illnesses, you can do your part to strengthen your body's immune response. Raising your body temperature by staying warm, as shown in the study above, and even covering your extremities (especially the nose) can help your body respond better in fighting off the cold as explained by the body temperature studies above. Supplementing with certain vitamins and minerals like zinc, vitamin C, and Echinacea can also support the body's immune system. While everyone will experience the common cold at some point, it doesn't need to be a losing battle.

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What Makes You Gain More Weight in Winter?

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What Makes You Gain More Weight in Winter?Although cookies, hot chocolate, oatmeal, breaded dishes, and pasta are not exclusively associated with the winter season, there is something about the sharp, blanketing cold of winter that makes us crave these filling foods more often when it is chilly out. Can this be the reason people see winter as a season for weight gain? Why do we crave these foods; is it pop-culture advertising making these calorie-rich foods more appealing during the wintry season and holidays? Or does it go a little deeper, reaching into our primitive past?

Are You Eating Because You're SAD?

Being stuck indoors on cold nights can quickly lead to boredom. Even with all the distractions of the digital age, eating is still one of our favorite ways to pass the time. It's known that your mood can affect your appetite—and not always in a good way. Long, cold nights of winter bring out low moods—a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—so it's easy to understand why this can lead to overeating and weight gain. In an article by The Huffington Post, Susan B. Roberts, PhD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University, explains how our prehistoric ancestors—who had to constantly forage for food for survival—were wired to search for sugars, fats, and proteins.

"In prehistory, calories were in intermittent supply and very essential for survival," Roberts explains. "So it makes sense to have a mechanism to ensure that we really love calories and are willing to work to get them!"

Which Season Do You Eat More In?

With shorter days and colder weather it's natural to assume that less physical activity happens in fall and winter. A recent study published in the journal, Nature, done by Ira Ockene, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, confirmed that calorie intake does vary season by season. In the study, winter eating was associated with our conditioned, primitive impulse to stockpile food for winter. Researchers also found that the average calorie intake increased by 86 in the fall compared to the spring. In an interview, Dr. Ockene states that less sunlight and shorter days also prompt us to seek more food and eat faster.

However, scientific backing may not be needed to point out the obvious. Holidays eating traditions also play a major role in our winter dietary habits. From October through January we are hit with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, and even Super Bowl parties, which have become occasions for friends and family to come together and indulge in calorie-rich foods and snacks. These calorie-laced holidays—coupled with lack of physical exercise—makes winter a prime time for a little weight gain. So what can you do?

Fortunately, it is possible to enjoy the holidays and indulge in a few guilty food pleasures if you're smart about your eating habits. Make yourself a deal: Enjoy some of the foods you normally wouldn't, but only eat one of them a day. If you know you'll be attending several parties, eat light and go for low-calorie foods such as salads, or fruit and vegetable platters. By staying conscious of your holiday calorie intake, you can help you stave off some both weight gain and some of the regret come the spring.

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Recent Studies Reveal Powerful Heart Health Benefits

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Recent Studies Reveal Powerful Heart Health BenefitsCertain diets, like the Mediterranean diet, have shown many benefits for heart health, cholesterol levels, and even weight management. Part of the Mediterranean diet focuses on replacing saturated fats with different types of vegetable oils or oils that contain unsaturated fats. One particular type of vegetable oil, linoleic acid, has been identified as being able to provide many different types of health benefits when utilized in your daily diet.

Data for a Different Kind of Oil

Linoleic acid is the main type of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acid found in many vegetables oils, nuts, and seeds. Recently, it was studied as part of a comprehensive review by Harvard Public Health School researchers. Compiling data from 13 published and unpublished cohort studies involving a total of 310,602 individuals, Harvard researchers noticed a connection between the use of linoleic acid and reductions in heart-related concerns.

Lead author, Maryam Farvid, a visiting scientist and Takemi fellow in the Department of Nutrition, explained at length why linoleic acid can be an important component of a daily diet.

"Replacing either saturated fat or carbohydrates with vegetable oils and seeing significant benefits indicates that reduction in saturated fat or carbohydrates is not the only reason for the beneficial effects of linoleic acid. Instead, linoleic acid itself plays a special role in support of heart health. Randomized clinical trials have shown that replacing saturated fat with linoleic acid reduces total and LDL cholesterol. There is also some evidence that linoleic acid improves insulin sensitivity and blood pressure."

Other studies done by the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) found that women, specifically, can derive benefits from linoleic acid. Research found that women who consumed 1.5 grams of alpha-linoleic acid per day lowered their cardiac health risks by 46% compared to those who consumed less than 0.5 grams per day. Alpha-linoleic acid was also shown help to increase healthy HDL cholesterol levels, and decrease unhealthy LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Integrating Linoleic Acid Into Your Daily Diet

Various cooking oils—such as soybean, canola, sunflower, safflower, and corn oils—all contain linoleic acid and can replace creams, butters, lards, and other animal-based fats as your primary source of healthy fats that are crucial to supporting daily heart health. Soybean and canola oils contain the highest yield of linoleic acid. For a healthy snack, walnuts are also rich in this fatty acid. Linoleic acid can also be taken in supplement form in vegetable-based omega formulas containing flaxseed oil.

Prioritizing Heart Health

Heart health continues to be one of the top priorities in today’s society. While the focus on how to utilize fats for good health is still being researched, studies have shown that nature can provide a variety of nutritious fat substitutes from vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. With the growing popularity of the Mediterranean diet, the prevalence of healthy oils like linoleic acid will play a crucial role in carrying good heart health into the future.

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FDA Requires Calorie Counts on More Food Items

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FDA Requires Calorie Counts on More Food ItemsThe road to good health starts with the individual. Choices in diet, exercise, and supplementation will dictate the type of lifestyle you will have. But without the right knowledge, making those choices can be challenging. One of the biggest debates over personal nutrition has to do with the accuracy and visibility of nutrition information, and passing the necessary laws to enact the best health interests of society.

Ancillary Effects of the Affordable Care Act

With the passing of the Afforadable Care Act in 2010, media coverage was focused mostly on how it would affect individual and family health care plans. But the Affordable Care Act also enacted widespread changes to many different parts of personal health, including the accuracy of nutrition labels. Recently, two major regulations put into effect by the FDA were part of the menu label law attached to the Affordable Care Act.

Knowing Where Your Calories Come From

One of the main changes was aimed at retail food businesses that have 20 or more locations. These establishments are now required to post calorie counts next to all food and drink items. Businesses that fall into this category include: Sit-down and fast-food restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurant-style food in some grocery and convenience stores. It has also been noted that for the first time, these rules will apply to take-out and delivery foods, foods purchased at drive-through windows, and self-service foods at salad or food bars within the included establishments.

Another intriguing change applies to vending machines. Calorie counts will now be required to be displayed either on the front of the food package or on a calorie menu located somewhere visible on the machine.

"Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home," said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in a statement. "These final rules will give consumers more information when they are dining out and help them lead healthier lives."

Making the Calorie Counts Seen

With the backing of the National Restaurant Association—representing nearly one million food establishments and more than 13 million restaurant industry employees—these regulations are part of the larger movement towards greater personal health. While the choice will still come down to the individual, increasing the knowledge and health awareness of society as a whole helps make those healthy decisions a little easier.

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Is Your Kitchen the Key to Healthy Living?

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Is Your Kitchen the Key to Healthy LivingNutrition in the modern world has become increasingly elusive. Even with the rising trend of personal health awareness over the last few years, choosing nutritious meals on a consistent basis remains and ongoing challenge for millions of people, many of whom still choose speed and convenience over health. As of 2013, over 25% of Americans consume fast food every day. So what's the value of not choosing fast food, and does a home-cooked meal really make that much of a difference to your health?

Analyzing Home Meals vs. Dining Out

To compare the benefits of eating at home to dining out, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future analyzed data from the 2007-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey which contained more than 9,000 participants aged 20 and older. In the survey, participants were asked what they usually ate during a 24-hour period as well as their fast food eating habits of the last 30 days.

Results showed that 8% cooked dinner only once a week. This group consumed—on a daily average—2,301 total calories, 84 grams of fat, and 135 grams of sugar. Forty-eight percent cooked dinner six-to-seven times a week, consuming 2,164 calories, 81 grams of fat, and 119 grams of sugar on an average day. Other results from the study showed that those who prepared meals at home more regularly relied on frozen foods less and were unlikely to choose fast foods on the occasions when they did eat out.

"When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar, and less fat than those who cook less or not at all—even if they are not trying to lose weight," says Julia A. Wolfson, MPP, a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and lead author of the study.

The Culture of Dining Out and Making Holidays Healthy

Although studies show eating in is can be healthier there are certain times a year, mainly holidays, when there are concerns about eating at home. One of the main holidays for eating in—which is almost upon us—is Thanksgiving. However, there's still the concern of overeating at family gatherings. Keeping your holidays healthy can be simple with a few easy steps. If you know you are going to have a major meal like Thanksgiving dinner and you want to limit your intake, be sure to eat a decent breakfast. Often, people try and "save room" for Thanksgiving or other holiday meals, which can easily lead to overeating.

Here are some other quick tips for making this Thanksgiving holiday season a healthy one:

  • Use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy.
  • Use sugar substitutes in place of sugar and/or fruit purees instead of oil in baked goods.
  • Reduce oil and butter wherever you can.
  • Try plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and casseroles.

Let Home Be Where the Health Is

It can be easy to fall into the habit of eating out or buying prepared meals in our on-the-go society. But studies have shown that home-cooked meals can allow you to exercise greater control over your daily intake of calories, fats, carbohydrates, and sugar. The more you're able to control your daily diet, the better you'll feel and the easier it can be to make healthy decisions. Be your own healthy personal chef throughout this holiday season.

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Changing the Food Landscape: The Current State of the Non-GMO Movement

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Changing the Food Landscape: The Current State of the Non-GMO MovementWhat's in your food and where it comes from has been a continuing topic of debate in recent years. As we covered a few weeks ago, nutrition labels can be an important part of creating a healthy lifestyle, yet many people still don't take advantage of them. Federal rules and regulations, as well as a conscious push by society towards healthier living, have opened up the doors for changes in what goes into your foods—or in this case, what doesn't go into them.

Genetically modified organisms, better known as GMOs, have become a lightning rod of debate in food production and manufacturing over the last few years. On the positive side, however, these discussions have raised awareness about the need for greater transparency and understanding in food labeling.

Understanding the Benefits of Non-GMOs

The tug of war between non-GMO proponents and GMO backers mirrors that of a political debate. Those who support GMOs say there is nothing harmful or unhealthy about using them in foods. Those on the non-GMO side claim that more natural, organic foods and diets are better for society as a whole, and that proper regulations are lacking.

Because of the rise in personal health awareness over the past decade, consumers and regulatory agencies alike have called for clearer identification of GMO and non-GMO foods, especially the labeling of non-GMO products. The Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization that has worked both publicly and behind the scenes with manufacturers and retailers, has made much progress in educating consumers, raising awareness, and making the verified Non-GMO seal a modern staple on healthy foods a reality. The Non-GMO seal now apperas on over 25,000 products produced by over 2,000 companies and it is making an obvious impact on consumers: Total sales of Non-GMO Project verified products have reached over $8 billion.

Still Work to Be Done

While greater health awareness has emboldened organizations and educated consumers on the ingredients and additives in their foods, there are, however, some facets that lessen the impact and potential scope that the non-GMO movement is trying to accomplish.

Funding, as with anything on a large scale, is important to the progress of a cause; especially one that may cross paths with large corporations. While businesses and companies do pay attention to consumer behavior, at the end of the day their bottom line and fiscal projections are what matter to them the most. Studies and tests required to help purport the health benefits of non-GMO foods are also very expensive. Experts have stated that the lack of scientific evidence, along with the pro-GMO community outspending the non-GMO side 10:1, have affected the outcome of label laws in certain states where these referendums were put to vote. However, the referendums for the non-GMO side were only barely defeated, despite the contrast in spending, which shows that there is public interest in more accurate food labeling laws.

Continuing the Slow, Steady Push for Health Awareness

True power for instigating change lies within the hand of consumers, not with lawmakers or those attached to corporate entities. Many feel part of the problem is the mixed messages and heated debates that take away from the goal the non-GMO side is trying to accomplish, turning it into a political issue instead of a health one. As the public becomes more educated about what is in their food, how it was made, and where it came from, this will lead to you having a greater say in what goes into your body.

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Easily Accessible Mediterranean Diet Can Impact Your Health

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Easily Accessible Mediterranean Diet Can Impact Your HealthMetabolic syndrome is defined in the medical community as having three or more risk-related factors that can contribute to a variety of heart and blood sugar concerns. Some risk factors include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high glucose levels. Due to many elements such as a lack of exercise, poor diet, and genetics it is estimated that as many as 34% of adults in the US may have metabolic syndrome. However, what if there was a particular diet that could reverse the progression of these risk factors? A recent study in Spain sought to find the answer.

A Dive Into the Mediterranean

Prior studies on the Mediterranean diet have confirmed its positive benefits to cholesterol health and blood pressure, but researchers wanted to see how great an impact this diet could have on people already at risk with metabolic syndrome. The team of researchers analyzed adults, both men and women, ages 55–80 who were at risk for cardiovascular concerns. A total of 64% of the adults assessed for the study qualified as having metabolic syndrome. The subjects were then put onto one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, or a regular low-fat diet.

Following up after almost five years, the results showed that the patients who adhered to both types of Mediterranean diets saw a decrease in blood glucose levels as well as abdominal obesity. A total of 28.2% of the men and women who followed the Mediterranean diets also no longer met the criteria to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome at the end of the study period.

Add the Olive Oil and the Legumes

The Mediterranean diet eschews butters, trans fats, saturated fats, and unhealthy oils in favor of olive oils, omega fatty acids, and unsaturated fats. As one would expect, it also centers around a reduction in meat intake, replacing it with seafood—especially fish that are high in omegas such as salmon and tuna—at least twice a week. However, poultry, eggs, and dairy can also be consumed for meat and protein requirements. The Mediterranean diet also covers other nutrition groups by calling for high fruit and vegetable consumption.

For some people, the tricky part of the Mediterranean diet is getting the good fat content. Luckily, you can satisfy this part in a variety of ways. Apart from olive oil there are a number of foods that provide good fats including avocados, whole grains, nuts, and other various legumes.

An Easier Path Than You Think

Some may think that switching to a Mediterranean diet means having to use exotic ingredients for their meals that are both expensive and restrictive. Many of the foods required to follow this diet, however, are readily available in your grocery store—all you need to do is make a few crucial, yet simple, substitutions which will allow you to enjoy many tasty, healthy meals. And because there are actually many foods containing the good fats and nutrients required, the Mediterranean allows for plenty of variety and experimentation. Evidence continues to mount about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, so while many can get sucked into fad and crash diets, the Mediterranean diet can be a nutritious and fulfilling option out there to help support not only a healthy heart, but greater well-being.

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Finding Healthy Facts in Nutrition Labels as a Guide to Better Living

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Finding Healthy Facts in Nutrition Labels as a Guide to Better LivingSince the late 1800s the government has set standards which regulate how companies and industries can claim or market what is in their food products, paving the way for modern nutrition labels. Nutrition labels continually go through changes and updates as our knowledge about certain foods, ingredients, and what it means to be healthy evolves. These labels are designed to be a guideline so that you know the true health value of the foods you consume. But in spite of the availability of this information, do people actually read them?

A Study in Purchase Habits

To investigate how often people really look at nutritional labels, researchers at the University of Minnesota took 203 volunteers and gauged what information they looked at when making a food purchase. The test involved a computer-based-shopping program where participants were shown 64 different items—including products such as cereal, soup, crackers, cookies, and ice cream—posing the question of whether or not they would buy the item. Synced with the computer program was an eye-tracking device that monitored what the shopper was viewing, tracking up to 1,000 eye movements per second. Once the buying task portion of the study was done, participants were then asked to fill out a questionnaire about their usual real-world grocery shoppping and buying habits.

What the Numbers Really Say

What researchers discovered was that there was a big difference between consumers' viewing habits and what they self-purported in the questionnaire. Thirty-three percent of participants stated that they "almost always" look at product's calorie count, 31% said they looked at total fat content, 24% looked at sugar content, and 26% claimed they paid attention to serving size. However, the eye-tracking data showed that only 9% of people looked at calorie count for almost all items—while only 1% of the participants looked at each of the other components, including fat, trans fat, sugar, and serving size.

Authors of the study say that the biggest problem with food labels is their confusing nature and sometimes concealed placement on certain boxes and packaging.

"In the simulated shopping setting, participants could see Nutrition Facts labels without having to turn, rotate, or otherwise manipulate a food package. In contrast, Nutrition Facts labels on food packages tend to be in locations that cannot be seen by consumers looking at the front of a package (e.g., when viewing a shelf of items in a grocery store)," the authors wrote.

Monitoring Serving Size to Avoid Overeating

Many people desire a road map to better health, not realizing that every box, container, or bag of packaged food already provides insight into what you are eating, allowing you to monitor what your body is getting each day and align it with your daily needs. One of the main things people often misunderstand is what serving size means when it comes to individual food items. Serving sizes are determined by the FDA and USDA to provide an average calorie count of certain food items. However, many people don't take into account the serving sizes of snacks or foods such as cereal, crackers, or candy bars, which can lead to the consumption of excess calories.

Recognizing What to Avoid and What to Focus On

Another point to note is the fat content of food. Nutrition labels separate the fat content by total fat, trans fat, and saturated fat. If you are focusing on a heart-healthy diet, watching for foods that are both low in saturated and trans fat content is crucial.

Salt and sugar are other ingredients that warrant attention. Salt is associated with heart health; in particular, blood pressure. Balancing out your salt intake with nutrients such as potassium can help keep your blood pressure levels within healthy ranges. Sugar, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners, can be a source of "empty calories", which are calories that provide little or no added nutritional value, so be on the lookout for these, too.

Giving the Label a Look

Nutrition labels are often misunderstood and underused resources for better nutrition. Utilizing the nutritional information that is already available to you can help you develop healthier eating habits day in and day out. Along with following daily exercise recommendations and supplementing your diet when needed, you can start seeing the results you always wanted.

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