The Truth about Fat: Less is NOT More

Diet culture has cycled through what feels like hundreds of trends:

“Go keto and lose 10 lbs in a month!”

“Only eat raw, never cooked veggies for optimal health!”

And even the wild, “Eat only Special K to fit into your old jeans again!”

One diet trend has stood the test of time, however: Aim to have a low-fat diet. The idea that all fats are bad is pervasive—many of us have been taught from a young age that fat is unhealthy and we should avoid it at all costs. And that fat makes you FAT! But is that really the case?

Today we’re breaking down the facts behind the war on fat that has been raging for decades. We’ll outline which fats to avoid and which to prioritize for optimal health.

But first… Why do people say fat is bad or unhealthy?

Some fat is unhealthy, but if we take a peek into history, we see where the full-fledged smear campaign on fat began.

Scientists began researching nutrition more intensely following World War II. In initial studies, they found a link between heart disease and foods heavy in saturated fats (red meat, for example). In the ensuing decades, this led to physicians recommending that people limit the amount of fat they ingest. When the national food guidelines were developed in the 70s and 80s (think: the precursor of the ‘My Plate’ you or your kids might have been taught in school), the takeaway message for many was to avoid fat. People weren’t well educated on the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats, so the recommendation to avoid specifically saturated fat was heard by many that “fat is bad.”

Let’s clear one thing up first: What is the difference between good fat and bad fat?

First, I encourage you to drop language like “good” and “bad” from any of your food vocabulary. Most foods can be “bad” in too high of a quantity; for example, if you eat seven mangos in a day, your blood sugar will not thank you. On the other hand, even “bad” foods in small amounts can be a net positive. For instance, allowing yourself a cupcake (or—gasp—two!) at your child’s birthday party without any guilt will likely help you feel more present and less stressed about whether or not you should eat the cupcake. Enjoy yourself and allow yourself to enjoy foods in moderation, too!


Saturated vs Unsaturated Fats

Now, when we consider fat, you should know there are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated fat. Saturated fats, at the molecular level, have all of their carbon atoms “saturated” with hydrogens. This basically means they form a neat linear molecule. Saturated fats, because of their structure, can easily build up and “stack” on top of one another.

Unsaturated fats have one to a few of their carbons “unsaturated” with hydrogens. This gives unsaturated fats kinks wherever the carbons aren’t fully saturated with hydrogens, which in turn makes it hard for them to build up and “stack” atop one another.

Both of these fats occur naturally, and to an extent, both should be present in your diet. Because unsaturated fats don’t build up as readily as saturated fats, these are generally healthier fats that give more benefits to your body.

Remember: fats (also called lipids) are one of the four main molecules that make up your entire body, in addition to carbohydrates, DNA, and proteins. You need fats in your diet to help your body with its daily processes, insulation, repair, energy storage, and more! Fats are a vital part of your diet. You need fat for good health.

So, what kinds of fats (and foods) should I focus on?

Fats to include: Unsaturated fats are found in fatty fish, avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and a variety of other natural, non-processed foods. These fats are the most nourishing for the body. Adequate consumption of unsaturated fats leads to improved health!

Fats to have in moderation: Saturated fats occur naturally in red meat, eggs, dairy, coconut and palm oil. The studies on saturated fats are mixed. In high levels, they are believed to contribute to heart disease. Limiting their consumption leads to better health outcomes, but you do not need to cut them out all together. They naturally occur in a variety of foods!

Fats to avoid: Trans fats in processed and fried foods are where we see the worst health effects. Avoiding highly processed foods, fast food, and fried food will help you steer clear of these genuinely unhealthy fats.

Back to our discussion about diet culture though—have you ever opted for low-fat or fat-free options at the grocery store, thinking that was the healthier choice?

Now that we’ve covered that many fats are healthy, I encourage you to think twice before choosing low-fat or fat-free options. Fat packs flavor in foods, so when fat is removed, it’s often replaced with a form of sugar… and a lot of it! Reduced fat options generally are more unhealthy than the normal fat option because of their high sugar levels, so read labels carefully when you’re grocery shopping!

All in all, there are some fats that can boost your health, while others will harm it. Prioritize unsaturated fats, avoid trans fats and processed foods, and enjoy saturated fats in moderation. End the war on fats and include healthy fats in your diet for optimal nutrition!

What to Eat for Good Kidney Health

“What, did the failed Kidney say to the donor Kidney?

I’m out; urine!”

Let’s hope this joke never becomes a reality for us…

Below your rib cage on either side of your spine are a pair of organs that look like, well, kidney beans. The namesake of the maroon-colored legumes, these organs are your kidneys.

Kidneys are crucial for your health. Put simply, they are the filtration system of the body. They filter blood of toxins, chemicals, and waste and allow it to leave your body via urine. They are the star players of the renal system, whose main function is essentially detox.

Secondary functions of the kidneys and renal system include balancing your electrolytes, blood pressure, and water balance. They also release certain hormones that help with blood cell production and blood pressure regulation.

When the kidneys begin to dysfunction or get overloaded with toxins and waste, a number of health issues can arise. Poor kidney health has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, weak bones, neuropathy, anemia, and kidney failure. Because kidneys are central to so many body systems, kidney dysfunction leads to a wide variety of health issues.

If you’re looking to boost the health of your kidneys, there are a number of things you can do in your diet and lifestyle. Below, we’ve listed six foods you can start adding to maintain healthy function of your kidneys.

1. Water-Rich Vegetables: Celery and Cucumbers

Kidney health starts with good water intake. Cucumbers and celery are two vegetables full of fiber and water that hydrate your body and renal system, allowing for your kidneys to function more effectively.

Specifically, celery has compounds that are hypothesized to help dissolve kidney stones, according to a 2019 study.

2. Antioxidant Rich Fruits: Berries

Similar to celery and cucumbers, berries are also a high-water food. In addition to their water content, they are extremely high in antioxidants—blueberries, cranberries, and black cherries especially.

Cranberries have often been connected to preventing UTIs for years. The research is still mixed on their efficacy, but adding fresh (or frozen) cranberries to your diet is a great way to boost your antioxidant intake and power your kidney health. Stay away from dried cranberries as they ALWAYS have sugar added in the drying process. Also, be careful with cranberry juice as it’s also often loaded with added sugar.

Blueberries and black cherries, on the other hand, are full of an antioxidant called resveratrol. This antioxidant has been connected to decreasing kidney disease development and improving the mitochondrial function in the kidneys. A handful of these dark berries multiple times a week can do wonders for your kidney health!

3. Beets

A less commonly consumed recommendation for kidney health is beets! If you’re a fan of The Office, you should know Dwight’s love for beets came with good reason, at least when it comes to kidney health.

Beets are full of nitric oxide (NO) which helps filter and cleanse the blood. They have been connected to improved metabolism, kidney function, and blood pressure.

If you’re unsure how to eat beets, try roasting them in the oven, having them pickled, or even chopping them up and adding them to a protein smoothie!

4. Citric Acid & Lemon Juice

You’ve likely heard of lemon water as a common recommendation for a detox, and this checks out. Lemon water—particularly the citric acid in lemon juice—can help break down kidney stones and benefit overall kidney health.

Add a spritz of lemon juice to your salads, sip some lemon juice in the mornings, or add it to your dishes at dinner to reap the benefits of lemon juice.

5. Seaweed

Seaweed, particularly its two byproducts of spirulina and chlorella, are jam packed with nutrients that boost kidney function. Research has shown that chlorella is particularly powerful in removing heavy metals from the body, which lightens the workload of the kidneys and helps cleanse them.

Make sure you buy the right brand of spirulina and chorella as they can often be contaminated.

Here are two that I trust:

BONUS: Drink more water!

Because your kidney is the filtration system of the body, adequate water intake is key to ensure the renal system can function properly. A 2014 study showed that increasing water intake improved kidney health and may slow kidney disease.

To calculate how much water you should drink daily, you can use the following simple equation:

Your weight / 2 = oz of water to drink each day.

For example:

150 lbs / 2 = 75 oz of water each day. One cup is roughly 8 fluid oz.

Kidney health and “cleansing” is necessary to your overall health and wellbeing. Aim to add in one or a few of these recommendations each week to boost your overall kidney health!

Your kidneys filter ~200 liters of fluid per day – show them some love!

Essential Nutrients for Better Eye Health

When you think about food and nutrition, your mind likely goes to heart health, weight, maybe even hormonal balances. But did you know that your diet plays a major role in the health of your eyes?

The food and supplements you take can hugely impact the quality of your vision. Just like any other part of your body, your eyes require certain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in order to function optimally. Moreover, if you struggle with macular degeneration, retinopathy, or glaucoma, adding certain vitamins to your diet can help alleviate certain symptoms and even improve eye function.

So, which foods and vitamins should you be incorporating more of? Below, we’ve listed 5 nutrients to add to your diet to keep ‘your windows to the world’ clear and sparkly.


1. Lutein & Zeaxanthin

In the center of your retina is the macula. The retina is composed of light-sensitive cells which convert light particles into neural signals that allow the brain to create the image you see.

The macula has a concentration of two antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin. These are known as macular pigments, and they support the health of your macula; consequently, they also support the health of your retina and quality of your vision.

If you struggle with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), studies have shown intake of lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce your risk of developing AMD and slow the development of later stage AMD.

Conveniently, these two macular pigments are often found together in foods. To add more lutein and zeaxanthin to your diet, opt for:

  • Sweet corn
  • Kale & Swiss chard (leafy greens)
  • Pistachios
  • Green peas
  • Egg yolks

If you need a lutein/zeaxanthin supplement, here’s one that’s third-party tested:


2. Essential fatty acids

A number of omega fatty acids are extremely helpful for eye health. In particular, two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA – as well as an omega-6 fatty acid (GLA) can be impactful for vision and eye health.

First, DHA and EPA have been shown to help with a number of eye diseases. Increasing EPA and DHA intake showed improvements in dry eye symptoms as well, as they are believed to help with the synthesis of tear fluid. Other connections have been made with intake of these fatty acids and reduced risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

To increase your intake of DHA and EPA, add in:

  • Oily fish: Trout, salmon, sardines, etc.
  • Omega-3 supplements derived from fish or micro algae (see our recommendation below)

Here’s a high-dose omega 3 supplement that’s been third-party tested:

GLA, on the other hand, seems to act as an anti-inflammatory agent. Similar to DHA and EPA, it helps with symptoms of dry eye.

A great source of GLA is evening primrose oil. We’ve attached options for it below.


3. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is found in high concentration in the aqueous humor in the eyes, which coats the outer part of your eye. When you eat a diet full of vitamin C, the aqueous humor fills proportionally with vitamin C.

Though it is unclear exactly how the concentration of vitamin C protects your eyes, connections have been made between people with declining eye health and a lack of vitamin C intake. For example, patients with cataracts tend to have a decreased intake of antioxidants, including vitamin C.

To increase your vitamin C intake and nourish your eyes, try the following foods:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Bell peppers
  • Most fruits & veggies!

If you need to supplement, stick with whole-foods based vitamin C, NOT synthetic vitamin C, like this one:


4. Vitamin E

Similar to vitamin C, vitamin E is also considered an antioxidant (which our eyes love!) Specifically, vitamin E is a group of antioxidants that have functions with fatty acids, another molecule rich in the eye and retina.

Vitamin E’s status as an antioxidant and a “helper” of sorts to fatty acids makes it crucial to eye health. Vitamin E deficiency has been connected to blindness, retinal degeneration, and cataracts.

Opt for more vitamin E in your diet to increase your intake! You can do so by adding the following to your diet:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Hazelnuts

If you need to supplement, pick one that contains a mixture of tocopherols from a natural source:


5. Vitamin A & beta-carotene

Vitamin A (retinol) serves a crucial role in vision. It is the precursor for a small molecule called retinal. An ample supply of retinal is required for phototransduction, or the process by which our eyes turn light into signals to the brain to create an image.

Without enough Vitamin A, a variety of symptoms may occur. Your eyes can become dry, you may struggle to see at night, and any existing eye conditions may worsen. So, how can you naturally add Vitamin A to your diet?

The best sources for Vitamin A are:

  • Eggs (specifically, the yolks!)
  • Cod liver oil (you can take softgels if you can’t stand the taste)
  • Liver
  • Dairy products

If you’re vegetarian, vegan, or have preferences that keep you from consuming any of the above, you can opt for vegetables full of A carotenoids. A classic example is beta carotene, found in carrots! Other veggies include:

  • Kale
  • Spinach

Caveat: Our bodies can make retinol from beta-carotene and other vegetable carotenoids. The problem is that this conversion depends on the individual and their genetic makeup. Also, the bioavailability of beta-carotene is highly variable and may not be a reliable source of vitamin A.  

So, you may want to consider a retinol supplement like the one below if you think you’re not like Bugs Bunny!

When we think about health, we don’t often think about the health of our eyes – but proper nutrition has just as many impacts on vision as other parts of our health! Whether you’re experiencing eye health complications or not, make sure you’re getting enough of these vitamins and antioxidants to support good eye health.

About our partner in eye health:

Lumata Health is an organization devoted to removing barriers inhibiting patient treatment for eye diseases. Their group offers tools and resources to patients and ensures a proper understanding, treatment, and care of eye health is taken to manage the disease. Check out their website here:

The Ugly Truth about Artificial Sweeteners

“Sugar pie honey bunch, you know that I love you,” is how the song “Can’t Help Myself” by The Four Tops begins. The singers were talking about their sweetie – a person – but many of us with a sweet tooth have a similar love for sugary treats. In recent years, sweets have become “less sugary” with the help of artificial sweeteners, but is this actually better for your health?

Artificial sweeteners – aspartame, sucralose, stevia, and others – are commonly used in diet sodas, processed treats, candies, cookies, coffee drinks, and more. Anything labeled “diet” or “low sugar” has typically swapped regular sugar for an artificial sweetener. Though this might make the nutrition label seem healthier (less grams of sugar, less calories, etc.), artificial sugar has been consistently connected to poor health outcomes.

The most significant health issues tied to artificial sweeteners have to do with weight, blood sugar, and cardiovascular health. For starters, many public health officials have linked the obesity epidemic in the US with the popularity of diet colas. Unfortunately, the use of the word “diet” in the name of these sodas is a misnomer: artificial sugars have actually been connected to weight gain, rather than weight loss. Moreover, artificial sweeteners impair the body’s metabolism processes to the point that some experts consider them obesogens, or chemicals that enhance fat build-up in the body and contribute to obesity.

Similar to the detriments related to weight, artificial sugars also disrupt blood sugar levels. Two in particular, saccharin and sucralose, peaked blood sugar levels, as compared to other artificial sugars, as discovered in a 2022 study. The consumption of artificial sweeteners is also tied to the rapidly increasing rate of Type 2 Diabetes in the US.

Finally, a recent study in the British Medical Journal outlined the impact of artificial sweeteners on heart health. Regular intake of artificial sweeteners was connected to a 9% increase in risk of cardiovascular disease, and an 18% increase in risk of a stroke. As cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US, it’s imperative that we take the effects of these sweeteners more seriously if we want to see our individual and collective health improve.  

So, what can you eat, and what should you avoid? Below we’ve outlined the main artificial sweeteners you’ll find in your food, and which ones you should avoid, which to have in moderation, and which to use!



1. Aspartame

Aspartame is the most commonly used artificial sweetener, accounting for 60% of artificial sweetener usage in the US. Notably, it has been connected to a marked increase in the risk of stroke, upwards of 15%. Moreover, one review has connected aspartame intake to an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, depression and other mood disorders, and neurodegenerative disorders (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and more).

2. Sucralose

Sucralose is found in Splenda. Similar to aspartame, sucralose consumption runs the risk of diabetes, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease. It has also been linked to the development of IBS and Crohn’s disease; it’s hypothesized that this is due to its negative effects on the gut microbiome. It is also unclear how sucralose may break down if cooked at high temperatures; some believe it generates potentially cancerous compounds when heated.

3. Saccharin

Again, saccharin enhances the risk of diabetes, weight gain, and heart disease. Specifically, however, saccharin has also been connected to renal (kidney) impairment, as well as decreased liver function. A 2019 study concluded it was unsafe to include in a human diet.

4. Acesulfame Potassium

Unsurprisingly, regularly consuming acesulfame potassium runs the risk of developing heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. In particular, it has been connected to negative impacts on the gut microbiome, which is necessary for maintaining a healthy weight and good mental health. Acesulfame potassium is also known as Ace-K or Acesulfame K.

5. High Fructose Corn Syrup

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is an artificial sugar made from corn syrup. There is mounting evidence that HFCS is contributing to our obesity crisis. Not to mention that HFCS is linked to diabetes, heart disease and other health issues.

Dr. Robert Lustig, a well-known neuroendocrinologist at the University of California San Francisco, is on a crusade to change health policy about the dangers of HCFS. This famous lecture was viewed over 24M times (5X by me…)


In Moderation:

1. Regular sugar! In the form of cane sugar, agave, & honey

What should you opt for instead? Regular sugar! High sugar intake is still linked to issues like weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease; however, our bodies have evolved to consume regular glucose from natural sources in small amounts. If you’re looking to sweeten your coffee or tea, stir in a touch of honey or agave. When baking, use regular cane sugar, instead of trying to cut corners with one of the highly processed artificial sugars mentioned above.

Moderation with sugar is the keyword here and keep in mind that adding a few extra calories with regular sugar instead of the “zero calorie” artificial substitute is actually better for your health. In any case, aim to stay below the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 25 grams of sugar per day.


Healthier Options:

1. Stevia

Stevia is considered a natural sweetener, as it’s made from the leaves of certain flowers as opposed to being chemically synthesized. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar – less is more when it comes to Stevia. It was commonly used in South American and Asian countries years before it became popular in the US. You can purchase Stevia in liquid or powder form at the grocery store.

2. Monk Fruit

Monk fruit, also known as luo han guo, is another popular natural sweetener. It comes from the luo han guo plant, and like Stevia, it is 100-200 times sweeter than cane sugar. It has no impact on blood sugar levels, and to date, there aren’t any known negative impacts to health. You can purchase monk fruit at the grocery store or online in liquid, powder, or granule forms to supplement sugar or artificial sweetener use.

3. Allulose

Allulose is also naturally sourced, as it’s the sugar found in maple syrup, raisins, figs, and molasses. Unlike Stevia and monk fruit, it’s about 70% as sweet as sugar. It’s low in calories, and has no effect on blood sugar levels. Allulose can be harder to find at the grocery store, so try your local health foods store or Amazon to add it to your pantry.

When in doubt: ditch the artificial sweeteners, have regular sugar in moderation, and replace your artificial sugars with natural options. In any case, aim to have sweet treats – naturally sweetened or not – in moderation, and limit processed foods (even if they use natural sweeteners) when you can. Opting for natural sweeteners and balancing your sugar intake is a fantastic way to improve your health in the short and long term!

Blue Zones and the Keys to Healthy Longevity

Occasionally on the news, you’ll see a headline about a woman who lived to 112, or perhaps someone in your county who just hit their 100th birthday. But what if there were whole communities of people who lived to 100 and beyond? What if becoming a centenarian was the norm in your town, rather than the exception?

That’s precisely the case in Blue Zones, a name for areas where people regularly live to be one hundred years old. Blue Zones were originally identified by two gerontologists, Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain. They noticed that certain parts of Sardinia in Italy had extremely high concentrations of men who lived to be 100 – the highest in the world, actually. Then they began to find other areas with similarly high numbers of 100 year-olds, and termed these areas “Blue Zones.”

Blue Zones are found across the world. The most well documented regions include: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California.

So what makes a Blue Zone a Blue Zone, apart from the concentration of elderly folks? Researchers found similar qualities amongst these Blue Zones. And in this blog, we’ll share these secrets, with tips on how to bring these traits into your own life.

1. Move regularly in your daily schedule

People in Blue Zones aren’t healthier because they go to the gym for 90 minutes each day or complete triathlons. Instead, movement is a normal part of their day. Whether that’s walking to the store, a family member’s house or community center, movement is bound into the fabric of their life.

Oftentimes, people in Blue Zones also have gardens that they tend to by hand, rather than opting for machines or other conveniences that decrease the exercise of the work.

How can you embody this trait of Blue Zones? Consider things like…

  • Walking your dog a few times / day
  • Biking to nearby stores instead of driving
  • Starting a garden to grow your own fruits and veggies

2. Prioritize belonging and your loved ones

In each of these communities, members have been able to establish a sense of purpose. It goes by different names in each culture, but the meaning remains the same: these centenarians have been able to find a purpose that motivates them to get up each day.

If you feel unsure about your purpose, consider the following questions:

  • When do I feel the most lit up and happy in my day-to-day life?
  • What gives me the greatest sense of fulfillment each week?
  • How can I better prioritize these things in my daily life?

When finding your purpose, allow yourself to follow the things that bring you a natural sense of contentment or joy. For some people, this is work related, for others, it has to do with family. Prioritize your fulfillment and see the purpose that unfolds in front of you.

3. Learn to manage your stress

Yes, 100 year-olds experience stress, too. Stress is universal to the human experience. The difference in Blue Zones, however, is that people have practices bound into their daily routines to decrease stress.

For instance, those in Okinawa take a few minutes to honor their ancestors. Those in Ikaria take a midday nap. Sardinians opt for a glass of wine in the afternoon. All of these activities minimize stress that’s built up in the day.

Consider your own daily schedule: How do you manage stress? What do you do each day to minimize it? If you don’t have anything you do each day, think about…

  • Adding 5-10 minutes of reflection, meditation or prayer
  • Starting a yoga or stretching practice
  • Giving yourself permission to take a nap!
  • Calling a friend to catch up

Find what de-stresses you and add it into your daily routine.

4. Follow the 80% rule

People in Blue Zones typically follow eating patterns that set them up for long-term health. For instance, they often follow the 80% rule: the idea that you should stop eating once you’re 80% full. Often, it can take our bodies time to register the amount of food ingested and can delay the process of telling us when we’re “full.” Stopping at 80% ensures you don’t overeat.

Additionally, the smallest meal is at dinner time – likely before it. This is contradictory to the US, where dinner is often the biggest meal of the day.

Try out the 80% meal for yourself and aim to have a larger lunch and a smaller dinner!

5. Favor plants in your diet

Blue Zone diets typically are high in legumes – AKA beans. The fiber content and protein of beans provides plant-based nutrition. You should increase your intake of beans to once per day or at minimum, a few times per week, to embody a Blue Zone diet.

Additionally, there isn’t a high meat intake in Blue Zones. Typically, meat is only eaten five times per month in average portions.

Takeaways? Eat more beans and plants, and less meat to emulate a centenarian’s diet.

6. Drink moderately

People in Blue Zones do in fact drink alcohol, and frequently! However, they limit it to 1-2 glasses at a time, and it’s typically social. They’ll have a glass of wine with friends or family over dinner, and binge drinking isn’t a result.

If you do drink, keep it light, and aim for higher quality alcohol. Sardinian Cannonau wine could be the next glass you order with dinner!

7. Prioritize belonging and your loved ones

The majority of centenarians felt belonging with a larger group – typically a faith-based organization that they were involved with weekly. Additionally, they prioritized their families, keeping their elders in the house or nearby as they aged. Most typically, they also had a committed life partner, and spent ample time with their family.

The main tip here? Make time for the people and groups that matter in your life. The sense of love, belonging, and fulfillment that can come from relationships transcends all aspects of health and wellness. It’s what serves as the cornerstone of the human experience, and people in Blue Zones honor that.

If you follow these tips, perhaps you’ll live to be 100. Even if you don’t, your quality of life, sense of inner peace, and overall health will certainly increase. Choose a few of these to implement this week and see how your mental and physical health transforms.

Cardiovascular Disease is Not Just About the Heart

I listened to another great podcast on Dr. Mark Hyman’s Farmacy – Longevity Roadmap series.  He and his guests from The Ultrawellness Center where they focus on a functional medicine approach to treat patients, talk about drivers of heart disease and what we can do to prevent it.

Here are the highlights:

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is not just about the heart

You need to look at the whole vascular, endothelial and lymphatic system.

  • The endothelial layer is the cell layer that lines inside of our arteries and this needs to relax to allow blood to get to all the tissues in the body. If this does not relax, blood pressure will go up. It can take years of endothelial dysfunction before one can develop hypertension.
  • Oxidative stress and inflammation can damage the endothelium.
  • Visceral fat (weight around the belly) actually secretes IL6 and tumor necrosis factors which cause inflammation of the body. So when men gain weight around the belly, they also have a higher risk of erectile dysfunction.
  • Did you know that blueberries are rich in anthocyanins that contribute to the improvement of your endothelium? One cup of blueberries twice a day can drop systolic BP as much as blood pressure medication.

Insulin resistance is the enemy

  • Insulin takes the food we ingest and gets it into cells to use for energy.
  • However, the poor diet we eat forces our bodies to become insulin resistant which means more insulin is produced to get the energy into the cells. High levels of insulin cause you to gain weight around the belly and have been associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer and dementia.   
  • Everyone should get their fasting insulin measured – why isn’t this standard practice?
  • Fasting insulin of less than 12 is considered normal BUT ideal should be closer to 5! So if your insulin is between 7-12, you could be pre-diabetic. A high fasting insulin means you have insulin resistance. My levels vary between 5-9 so I check them regularly.

CVD is NOT about cholesterol

Rather, it’s about inflammation and how cholesterol responds.

  • Cholesterol is not water soluble so it must be carried by lipoproteins (HDL/LDL). 
  • LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to parts of the body where it’s needed.
  • HDL carries it from the periphery of the body back to the liver for disposal. Like giant dump trucks taking away the trash, HDL carries cholesterol away to dispose of it so it is considered “good cholesterol.”
  • Cholesterol has an affinity for inflammation. When the endothelial lining of the blood vessel wall gets inflamed, it creates an opening in the protective lining. When this happens, the immune system recognizes it as a foreign body and initiates an immune response – which makes the LDL flood to the inflamed area to cover it. This grows and turns into plaque which eventually prevents blood flow, leading to ischemic heart disease. That’s why cholesterol gets a bad rap even though it’s inflammation that’s causing it.
  • Standard American diet staples like refined carbohydrates, processed vegetable fats (corn, soy, sunflower) and sugar all cause inflammation. It’s no surprise why heart disease is the number one killer in the US.  
  • Statins for primary prevention have no role. Statins are poisonous to the mitochondria and can increase insulin resistance and diabetes. Statins should NOT be used for preventive heart disease. High cholesterol is NOT a statin deficiency!
  • Around 0.5% of the population have what’s called familial hypercholesterolemia which is a genetic trait where one cannot get rid of cholesterol easily. If you have total Cholesterol of over 300 with LDL levels higher than 190, you may want to get tested to see if you have this genetic variation. This group of patients would really benefit from a cholesterol controlling medication like statins.
  • Did you know that you can make your LDL get bigger and fluffier by removing sugar and processed foods from your diet? You should ask your provider for an NMR Lipid Profiles Test to determine the molecular structure of the lipoproteins (number and size). “Particle number” is a measure of how many LDLs you have and the size is how big/fluffy they are.  Small, dense LDLs penetrate into the endothelial layer and build plaque quickly. But if you have big LDL particles and fewer of them, you are at less risk. It’s covered by most insurance so ask your provider for the test.

What to take to optimize your cholesterol

  • Plant sterols (compounds found in plants) will bind to cholesterol in the intestines and remove them via the stool. It’s been shown that 2 grams of plant sterols can lower LDL cholesterol by 10%. So make sure to include legumes, nuts and seeds in your diet as these are rich in plant sterols.
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin) can have a positive impact on cholesterol – it can lower triglycerides and LDL and raise HDL. But work with your provider if trying niacin as it can cause very uncomfortable hot flushes.
  • Fish oil has been widely studied to lower LDL cholesterol, TG and raise HDL. The rule of thumb is that if you eat less than 1.5 servings of oily fish per week, supplement with ~1 gram of fish oil per day. If you’re mostly pescetarian, you may not need additional fish oil.  Not a fan of fish? Flaxseed (1-2 TBPS) and nuts (1 oz daily) can also impact cholesterol. To minimize the healthy oils going rancid, buy fresh flaxseed and raw nuts and keep them in the freezer and take out as needed.
  • If you’re taking statins, you should supplement with Co-Q10 as statins are known to inhibit Co-Q10. Co-Q10 is vital for body and mitochondrial function. Also, as we get older, our Co-Q10 levels drop so it may be a good idea to supplement.

Genes may load the gun but the environment pulls the trigger

  • Inflammation, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, hormonal imbalance and toxins from bad diets, stress, nutritional deficiency, lack of exercise, etc. all lead to high cholesterol, high BP, high sugar levels and ultimately heart disease.
  • BUT, 90% of all diseases including CVD are caused by the sum total of all our life inputs into our body: diet, activity, stress, sleep, relationships, connections, meaning, purpose, toxins, microbes, allergens and more.  So the good news is that we have control over almost all of it.

Adopt these 4 behaviors to prevent heart disease

  • A multinational study of over half a million participants showed that four simple behaviors prevented 93% of diabetes, 81% of heart attacks, 50% of strokes and 36% of all cancers.  No medication can do that!
    • Stop smokingStick to a plant rich diet, low starch, nuts, seeds, with a moderate amount of quality fish and meatExercise – at least 150 minutes per week including resistance training
    • Maintain strong mental health with stress-relieving meditation and breathing techniques

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The Diet Army Against Cancer

Albert Einstein said “Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.”  

A proper whole-foods based diet does more than keep you healthy, it can also help your body actively fight against cancer and prevent its development. With more and more people in the US getting diagnosed with cancer each year, it’s vital to know how you can best prevent cancer with your lifestyle, especially your diet! 

In the US, the probability of being diagnosed with cancer is almost 40%, and it’s slightly higher for men than it is for women, as reported by the American Cancer Society. About 4,700 people are diagnosed with cancer each day in the US, and many of those diagnoses are due to lifestyle choices which give rise to cancer development.

Research has shown time and time again that a varied plant-based diet can help prevent and at times, even reverse cancer. But where do you even begin? Today, we’ve outlined six foods you can prioritize in your daily meals to fight cancer:


Legumes—AKA beans!

You might remember the childhood song that starts with “Beans, beans, the magical fruit…” Well, beans obviously are not a fruit, but their fiber content will certainly get your digestive tract moving as the lyrics of the song allude to.

Increased fiber intake has been linked to decreased rates of colon, prostate, and breast cancer. One study even connected eating lentils and beans to reduced risk of cancers anywhere on the digestive tract (mouth, stomach, colon, rectum). Legumes also include folate, lignans, and saponins, and other phytochemicals important to maintaining your health!


Leafy Vegetables—Anything colorful in the produce aisle!

Vegetables like kale, collards, spinach, and other greens are high in antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin. Both of these have been shown to slow or prevent cancer development in its early stages. The compounds which give these veggies their dark green hue—carotenoids—have also been connected to a reduction in a variety of cancers.

Having a kale salad, choosing collards as a side dish, or sauteing spinach in with a pasta dinner can give you more of these helpful nutrients, and help reduce the likelihood of developing cancer down the line.


Add in Some Cabbage & Cruciferous Veggies

Cabbage we all know, but you might not be as familiar with the term cruciferous vegetables. Examples of these are broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and many of the dark, leafy greens we just discussed.

Eating cruciferous vegetables has been connected to a reduced rate of breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancer. These veggies contain isothiocyanates (ITCs) which strongly work against cancerous compounds and cells. Other compounds in cruciferous vegetables have also been shown to decrease inflammation and support other processes in the body to fight cancer.

These are some of the best vegetables for your health! Consider roasting cauliflower or broccoli in the oven with a range of spices for a healthy and delicious addition to your meal.


Have a Celery Snack!

This stalky veggie is 95% water, and though the hydration is helpful, the real power is packed in its apigenin and luteolin content. Apigenin and luteolin fight free radicals in the body which can lead to cancer development. Apigenin has been shown to cause certain types of cancer cells to essentially self-destruct, while luteolin has been shown to cut the reproduction cycle of cancer cells!

Munch on some celery with nut butter or have it chopped up in your tuna salad to access these cancer fighting benefits!


Eat more berries

Berries are infamous for their cancer fighting properties! Ellagic acid is found in most berries. This acid slows tumor growth and consequent cancer development. Berries also have a variety of antioxidants, which aid protection against skin, bladder, esophageal, breast, and lung cancers.

Add some berries to your morning cereal or an afternoon smoothie for the antioxidant, cancer-preventive boost!


Spice it up with Garlic & Turmeric

Many spices can be extremely helpful in preventing cancer. Turmeric, a bright orange root typically used in Indian food, has a compound called curcumin which has been linked to decreased cancer risk. Curcumin is most effective from turmeric directly (rather than a supplement or powder), so consider slicing it or grating it in your next curry dish.

One longitudinal study followed over 40,000 women, tracking their diet over five years. The food most highly correlated with a decrease in colon cancer was garlic—women who ate more garlic had a 50% lower risk of certain cancer. It’s believed that the compound diallyl disulfide found in garlic contributes to its anti-cancer abilities. The good news is that you probably already eat a lot of these foods and they’re readily available at your local supermarket—you don’t need to go hunting for them at some small, organic supermarket in your area. There are plenty of ways you can weave these cancer-preventing foods into your diet in a delicious and nutritious way. Get creative and get started today to empower your body against cancer!

Hypertension – It’s Not Just About the Salt

Hypertension is one of the most prevalent medical conditions in the nation, affecting nearly half of all adults in the US. However, many people are unaware of the risks and complications associated with high blood pressure. Before delving into the lifestyle modifications that can reduce the risk of and manage the diagnosis of high blood pressure, let’s start off with the basic tenets of Hypertension Comprehension:

  1. Hypertension is characterized by a blood pressure of over 130 systolic and over 80 diastolic. (If you’re unaware of your blood pressure and fear you may be at risk of hypertension, see a doctor to obtain an accurate reading).
  2. High blood pressure puts you at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the US.
  3. African-Americans and males are at a higher risk of developing hypertension.
  4. High blood pressure does not come with any warning signs or symptoms, causing most unaffected individuals to be unaware of their condition.

It is generally well known that excess salt consumption can play a factor in elevating blood pressure levels. However, recent research has shown increased intake of sugars and carbs to play an equal, if not more significant, role in developing hypertension. A 2018 study published by the Journal of American Medical Association found an increased prevalence of hypertension in participants with a diet high in processed, fried, and sweetened foods. The REGARDS (Reasons for Geographical and Racial Differences in Stroke) study indicated an association between this finding and the high disparity of hypertension prevalence in African-Americans.


The hidden risks of processed foods

Processed foods, as defined by the USDA, are foods that have undergone a procedure, whether that be canning, freezing, or pasteurizing, that alters the whole food. Most processed foods are chocked full of additives, including preservatives, sugars, and salts, which frequently destroy the natural nutrients produced by the food. These time-saving meals are part of the diet for many households but their effects can be detrimental to our health. How does this happen?

  • Processed foods contain an unnatural ratio of salts, sugars, and carbs to healthy nutrients. The excess amount of sugar, salt, and carbs cannot be digested properly, causing many of the nutritious vitamins and minerals to dissipate and leaving only the influx of salt, sugar, and carbs to enter your blood stream.
  • Your body craves balance, a concept known as homeostasis, and the excess amounts of processed foods in your diet hinder this equilibrium and cause your body to over-compensate for the imbalance.
  • In response to the carbohydrates, your body will over-produce insulin, which in turn causes your kidneys to decrease sodium and water excretion, constrict your blood vessels, and increase your blood pressure.
  • An influx of sugar in your diet inhibits your body’s ability to produce a molecule called Nitric Oxide, which serves to dilate your blood vessels. Lack of nitric oxide leads to constriction of your blood vessels, directly increasing your blood pressure.

Processed foods contain very high amounts of sugars, carbs, and salts, all of which significantly increase your risk of hypertension.

  • The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of 24 grams (~100 calories) of sugar. For reference, a can of Coca-Cola contains 39g of sugar.
  • The Food and Drug Administration recommends ~300g of carbs each day. A soft pretzel contains 65g of carbs, which is over 20% of your daily intake.

So, what can you do about it?

Despite the detrimental health qualities of sugar, few people will disagree with its taste. If you’re still feeling a sweet-tooth, try swapping for an alternative. Stevia, monk fruit, Allulose and honey are all great replacements.

  • Stevia is an element of the sunflower leaf containing stevioside, a compound that is 200 times as sweet as sugar. It contains no carbohydrates or calories and has been shown to lower blood glucose levels.
  • Monk fruit contains compounds 300-400 times as sweet as sugar. Again, with no carbohydrates, sodium, or fat, and no effect on blood glucose levels.
  • Allulose is another great alternative, offering limited carbohydrates and no effect on blood glucose levels, due to ability to be absorbed quickly by the digestive tract.
  • Honey is great in moderation, as it is packed full of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for your body. However, it can still influence blood glucose levels.

Similarly, alternate seasonings can be used while cooking to reduce salt consumption, while still offering a flavorful meal. Garlic, lemon juice/zest, dried/powdered onion, pepper, paprika, dill, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and ginger are wonderful additions to any culinary dish. These seasonings will enhance the natural flavors of the food you’re cooking, which frequently contain enough sodium on their own. When you do want to use salt, keep in mind that different types of salt are not necessarily healthier. An AHA survey indicated that 61% of Americans believe sea salt to contain less sodium than table salt. In reality, these salts all contain the same chemical composition and the same amount of sodium by weight. The type of salt you choose – whether it be Himalayan, Celtic, or Kosher – is purely a matter of taste and preference. The healthiest choice in this regard is simply to limit your intake, regardless of your penchant for a certain type of salt.

For more information on what constitutes a processed food, see this article:

Breaking the Binge Eating Cycle: Darn it – It’s your hormones

Binge eating plagues a lot of us. The post-meal or late night snack raids of Domino’s pizza, a box of Oreo’s, or a pint (or two) of Jenni’s ice cream has become a secret, shame-ridden ritual for many people, especially in places like the US where heavily processed food is more common and readily available.

For some people, it really is a harmless, occasional late night snack. For others, however, these binge eating habits can snowball into a collection of disorders colloquially referred to as binge, compulsive, or emotional eating, but may formally fall under Binge Eating Disorder.

But what’s behind this desire to binge? Why do 3M Americans struggle with what’s called Binge Eating Disorder (BED)?

The underlying factors causing BED are many and varied, and in this series, we’re focusing on two of them: hormonal imbalances and emotions. Today, we’re diving into the hormones that drive binge eating and how you can bring them back into balance.


Which hormones affect binge eating?

Hormones are chemical messengers that move throughout our body, signaling from the brain to various organs what needs to happen, and vice versa. When hormones are out of balance, it’s like they’re sending the wrong messages—eating when not hungry, eating past full, etc.

Dr. Mark Hyman termed the “four hormones of the apocalypse” which contribute to the desire to binge eat. They’re listed below with their various effects:


The body manufactures insulin to process any form of sugar (glucose, sucrose, fructose) that you ingest. When you eat a sugary meal—pancakes with syrup for breakfast, for instance—your insulin will spike (a “sugar rush”), but then crash. That crash makes you hungry for food, even if you just finished a big (sugary) meal.


Leptin is a hormone that signals to your brain when you’re done eating and are satiated. But ingesting high amounts of sugary, processed foods and carbs leads to leptin working less effectively. So even if leptin tells the brain “Hey, I’m full!”, a high-sugar diet makes the brain effectively ignore those messages from leptin. Hence, this leads to more eating without any brakes to control it.


Ghrelin is what tells the brain when we’re hungry and ready to munch. It’s produced in the stomach and highly affected by sleep. Ghrelin imbalances lead to a constant feeling of appetite, even if your body doesn’t actually need food.


Peptide YY
Similar to Leptin, Peptide YY is another hormone which signals that you’re full. If it’s not produced enough or if its messages aren’t received by the brain, then we will likely overeat and constantly snack.


BONUS: Cortisol
We might have mentioned four horsemen earlier, but really, there are five. Cortisol is the hormone that’s produced under stressful conditions to help our body escape stress. The effects of cortisol on the body require more energy, which leads to more hunger and higher blood sugar levels. In part 2 of this series, we’ll talk more about the importance of cortisol in emotional regulation!


These hormones are all here to work for us, not against us. It’s just a matter of getting them back in balance so they can send their messages effectively.


How can I balance my hormones to curb binge eating?

Get enough sleep
Sleep is one of the BIGGEST factors affecting appetite. With decreased sleep, ghrelin production goes up! In other words, your brain is getting signals that your appetite is higher, even if your energetic need for calories hasn’t changed. Unfortunately, peptide YY production also goes down under sleep-deprived conditions, meaning you’re not getting the right signals to stop eating.

Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and notice how your appetite changes with adequate sleep!


Eat regularly
The intermittent fasting trend has some people skipping meals and eating within a small window, but the key is eating balanced meals regardless of your eating window to maintain your blood sugar. As a pre-diabetic, I do not do well on intermittent fasting beyond a 14-hour period (if I finish dinner by 7pm, I usually have to eat breakfast around 9am the next day) but this varies widely by individual. I have family members that easily fast for 18 hours and do not even realize it.

If you skip breakfast and feel tired and weak, then make it a goal to start eating a protein-full breakfast each morning. This will make it less likely for your appetite to spike late at night, and will keep your blood sugar steady.


Balance your meals

When you eat, ensure that you’re eating enough fiber, protein and healthy fats (you can read more about which fats to use in our blog post here). The combination of fiber (from veggies and complex carbs like beans), protein and healthy fat keeps your blood sugar steady.

Similarly, avoid highly processed, sugary foods, especially drinks! Everything in moderation of course—don’t feel like you have to cut out every bit of sugar from your life. Make an effort to decrease your sugar intake, however, as it can become addictive and fuel hormonal imbalances. Starting by cutting out any sugary sodas or coffees can help get your hormones and blood sugar back on track.


Regulate your stress
The stress-hormone cortisol often has a multiplier effect on worsening other parts of your physical health, including appetite and weight. If you find yourself eating when you’re stressed, consider adding more mindfulness into your habits with food. This means asking yourself things like: “Am I actually hungry? What do I feel in my body right now? Why do I want to eat this right now?”

Following that mindfulness moment, see if there’s another stress-reducing action you can take: a few minutes of deep breathing, a short walk, a conversation with a friend. Weave stress-relieving techniques into your daily schedule, too, to decrease your overall stress and better regulate your hormones! Check out our article on stress management here for more research-backed ways you can decrease stress.


Consider supplements
Some supplements can help you balance your hormones and blood sugar as well. Two in particular—Omega-3 fats and Vitamin D—can be especially helpful.

Omega-3 fats, typically found in fish oil supplements, can help fight insulin resistance and decrease erratic appetites. Here’s a high-dose omega 3 supplement that’s been third-party tested:

Vitamin D is another supplement that can work wonders for your health. It regulates hormones and balances insulin. If you find your stress weighing on your mental health, too, Vitamin D is often recommended to increase overall mood.  

Medium dose (2000 IU):

High dose (5000 IU):

Binge eating can feel defeating and shame-ridden, but when you realize that your body and hormones are driving you to overconsume, some of that guilt can be mitigated as you’ll realize it’s not just an issue of willpower. Use these tips to start balancing your hormones, and check back on another post on how to manage the emotional components of overeating!

You are the Salt of the Earth – Common Myths About Hypertension

Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is a catalyst for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States. Nearly half of the adults in the US have high blood pressure (characterized by a blood pressure of 130/80mmHg or higher) and only one quarter of those are properly managing their condition. Hypertension is known as the “silent killer”. Because there are no warning signs for high blood pressure, many people are unaware that they are living with this condition, and thus do little to maintain control over it.

Have you ever heard the saying: “Be careful what you believe, even salt and sugar look alike”?

Allow me to apply it in de-bunking a common myth about hypertension. While salt and sugar have similar characteristics in terms of size, shape, and coloring, their effects on your body couldn’t be farther from the same. Many people believe excess salt intake to be the primary cause of high blood pressure. Physicians are unestablished on where this consensus arose from, as studies dating back 100 years have been unable to indicate a positive correlation between salt intake and blood pressure. In fact, a 1998 review study comparing dietary sodium intake and mortality rates actually found little correlation between the two, indicating that decreasing your salt intake can lower your blood pressure, but that was only found to be a short-term fix. To that end, a study published by the American Journal of Medicine in 2006 examined a similar relationship and actually found that too little salt (<2400mg/day, as advised by the AHA) can significantly increase your risk of heart disease by 50%.

So, if it’s not just salt, what is the culprit behind hypertension? You might’ve guessed…it’s the not-so-sweet “look-alike”, Sugar.

Obesity, insulin resistance, and increased levels of Triglycerides have been dubbed the Triad of Hypertension. The commonality among them? Sugar. Let’s break them down one-by-one:

Obesity. There are a lot of factors at play when correlating obesity and hypertension. Obesity can alter your sympathetic nervous system (your body’s fight-or-flight response) and induce hormone signaling pathways. One important effect of obesity is the over-compression of your kidneys, which is caused by the increase of visceral fat tissue in your midsection. Your kidneys work to excrete water and regulate the salt levels in your body to maintain the body’s blood pressure. But the increased stress caused by the excess visceral fat tissue can inhibit proper kidney function, which in turn, causes high blood pressure.

  • Insulin Resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when the cells in your body are unable to use insulin effectively. Due to this, your body attempts to produce more insulin, leading to increased levels of glucose in the blood, increased water and sodium retention, and, as a result, increased blood pressure.
  • High Levels of Triglycerides. Triglycerides are a form of fat created by your body after eating, which your body will store for energy use between meals. High levels of triglycerides can occur from over-eating, under-exercising, and high consumption of alcohol. When your body encounters a chronic build-up of triglycerides in the blood, your arterial walls begin to harden and thicken, causing them to narrow. The excess strain on your arteries will, in turn, increase your blood pressure and cause hypertension.

Now that we’ve uncovered the medical causes behind hypertension, here’s how you can manage your blood pressure to prevent hypertension.

  1. Eat well. Your body requires sufficient nutrients to survive. Eating a well-balanced meal is incredibly important in allowing your body to reach its peak performance.
  2. Exercise. It is crucial to allow your body some movement daily. Yoga, walking, or an at-home workout video are great ways to manage your weight and ensure you are keeping your blood pressure under control.
  3. Limit your sugar, salt, and carb intake. Processed foods are chock full of excessive amounts of salt and sugar, both of which are negatively impacting your blood pressure.
  4. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Many alcoholic beverages contain high amounts of sugar and carbs, which are directly affecting your blood pressure. Excessive consumption of alcohol is also a common cause of obesity.
  5. Eat anti-inflammatory foods. Healthy fats, such as fish, eggs, turkey, avocadoes, and nuts are great sources of antioxidants, and help to limit inflammation of your blood vessels and reduce your blood pressure.
  6. Avoid inflammatory foods. While anti-inflammatory foods can lower your blood pressure, inflammatory foods can significantly increase your blood pressure. Grain products, fried foods, processed foods, soda, fast foods, and commercial salad dressings are all known to cause inflammation in your blood vessels. It’s best to avoid these to reduce your risk of hypertension.

Excess salt intake is blamed for hypertension, and while it can have negative effects on your blood pressure, excess carb and sugar intake are stronger forces causing hypertension. People with high blood pressure should take care in limiting their salt intake but be conscious in avoiding excess amounts of carbs and sugars, as well. Remember, you’re sweet enough already!

Read more on the 1998 review study here:

Read more on the 2006 second NHANES study here:

You may also be interested in this book where evidence points to other factors beyond salt as the enemy of good health: The Salt Fix – How Experts Got it Wrong