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heart-stethoscopeInstead of just offering advice or handing them a pamphlet about the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle, new recommendations from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) say health care practitioners could be doing more to help their overweight patients lower their risk of heart disease.

In particular, patients with excess weight coupled with key risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and elevated blood sugar levels would do better with “intensive behavioral counseling,” according to a recent review of nearly 75 different studies focusing on lifestyle intervention techniques for overweight individuals with heart risk factors.

According to the USPSTF, patients who met with their doctors more frequently and who had recurring sessions with trained nutritionists, dieticians and other health educators were able to lose more weight and significantly reduce their risk of heart disease and diabetes. The key, said USPSTF Chair Dr. Michael LeFevre, is the ongoing one-on-one counseling, which helps to assess each patient individually and reinforce healthy habits such as regular exercise.

The new recommendations are similar to those issued by the USPSTF in 2012 (which focused solely on obese patients without heart disease risk factors). However, according to LeFevre one of the biggest limitations when it comes to providing such intense counseling is that unlike the larger health organizations, many smaller, solo practitioners lack the time and resources necessary to provide this level of focused treatment. Still, he encourages health care providers to do what they can to promote heart-healthy living.

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almonds-heartNuts are high in protein and make a delicious, satisfying snack—but did you know they can also help lower your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes? Using data collected over a five-year period through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), researchers from Louisiana State University analyzed the diets of more than 13,000 adults, specifically their daily intake of “tree nuts” including pistachios, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and cashews. Here’s what they found:

Regular tree nut consumers—those who ate at least a quarter of an ounce of nuts daily—were less likely to develop metabolic syndrome, the term given to a group of risk factors associated with heart disease and diabetes (including obesity, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels). The lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome may be linked to the fact that nut eaters also had lower levels of C-reactive protein in the blood, which signals inflammation in the body and is one of the markers doctors use to evaluate the risk of developing coronary artery disease. The same group also had higher levels of “good” cholesterol in the blood, along with lower body mass indexes.

Adding a handful of nuts to the daily diet is a simple thing we can all do to support our daily health. Certain nuts (walnuts in particular) contain beneficial Omega-3 fats that can help balance the body’s inflammation response, along with heart-healthy fiber, vitamin E, potassium and amino acids, which is why Brenda Watson recommends them as part of her Love Your Heart eating plan. Just remember to watch your portion sizes, since nuts do contain some starch—and choose raw nuts that aren’t covered in sugar and salt (which can undermine their health benefits).

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