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candy_heartsConcerned about your heart? For years experts have warned us to watch our sodium intake to prevent high blood pressure—a significant risk factor for heart disease—but recent studies show that dietary salt may not necessarily be the bad guy we have been led to believe. Instead, new evidence points to a far more dangerous culprit: sugar.

Not only does it affect healthy blood pressure, but a recent Mayo Clinic report reveals that a diet high in added sugars, particularly fructose, is causing a significant increase in cases of diabetes and pre-diabetes in the United States—and may soon result in a nationwide epidemic of type 2 diabetes.

What many people don’t realize is that heart disease is a major complication of diabetes, and according to the American Diabetes Association having diabetes actually doubles your risk of heart attack and stroke. Excess fructose also contributes to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, and even moderate doses of added sugar over a short period of time can cause significant damage to the heart, say experts.

As you may have guessed already, Americans consume a lot of fructose—most often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup—but reducing all forms of added sugar is really the best line of defense for a healthy heart. Below are 4 important “heart healthy steps” you can take every day:

  1. Check your blood sugar levels regularly.
  2. Eliminate added sugars from your diet.
  3. Reduce your intake of carbohydrates from starchy foods such as bread, pasta, pastries and starchy vegetables. Carbohydrates break down into sugar in the digestive tract, and those sugars are absorbed and contribute to high blood sugar.
  4. Read ingredient and nutritional content labels before purchasing a food product.

As you work to eliminate sugar from your diet, remember to eat plenty of non-starchy veggies, low-sugar fruits, protein (from sources such as tofu, poultry, eggs and fish), healthy fats, nuts and seeds.

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scrambled-eggsThe leading nutrition advisory panel may soon revise its guidelines about cholesterol. For decades we’ve been cautioned against eating too many foods high in cholesterol such as eggs and seafood, but the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) wants to modify their warning to focus on what they believe is the bigger threat: eating too many unhealthy fats—especially trans fats.

Under the new guidelines, cholesterol will no longer be considered a nutrient of concern—meaning, in this case, something to focus on reducing instead of something to increase in your diet. To help clear things up a bit and explain why the DGAC may be updating their previous recommendations, here are a few things you need to know about cholesterol:

Cholesterol: Fact vs. Fiction

Myth: Cholesterol is bad for you.
Fact: We need cholesterol. It is found in every cell in the body. Cholesterol is needed to make a variety of hormones as well as to help manufacture vitamin D, promote digestive health, and repair damage to the body.

Myth: There are two types of cholesterol, good and bad.
Fact: There is only one cholesterol—but two main “vehicles” that carry it throughout the body. They are known as HDL and LDL. Cholesterol is only the passenger.

3 Important Truths about HDL (“Good”) Cholesterol:

  1. HDL brings cholesterol to the liver for recycling
  2. HDL scavenges cholesterol from damaged arteries
  3. High HDL levels reduce heart disease risk

3 Important Truths about LDL (“Bad”) Cholesterol:

  1. LDL transports cholesterol away from the liver to damaged tissues and cells
  2. Small LDL particles can deposit in artery walls and accumulate as plaque
  3. That plaque can then can inflame artery walls, increasing heart disease risk

The overall goal of the new guidelines, due out this year, is to encourage people to eat more healthy foods that are rich in nutrients their bodies need. Get a head start on a healthy heart and body by eating plenty of:

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