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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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wine-in-glassThe occasional glass of pinot is no miracle weight loss cure, but scientists at Oregon State University are saying red wine may help boost your metabolism and stimulate fat burning—both of which are important when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off.

It has to do with a chemical called ellagic acid, which occurs naturally in red grapes (as well as other fruits such as raspberries and pomegranates) and is one of four chemicals analyzed by researchers in a recent study. As it turns out, ellagic acid was the star of the show, showing off its ability to not only slow the growth of fat cells in the liver but also to keep new ones from forming.

The 10-week study involved two groups of mice, one of which was fed a high-fat diet while the other consumed a normal healthy diet. Some mice from each group also received a serving of grape extract, equal to about a half cup of the fresh fruit. The most interesting results were seen in the high-fat group.

While all of the high-fat mice developed fatty liver and diabetic symptoms similar to those in overweight people, those who received the grape extract showed less fat accumulation in the liver and lower blood sugar levels overall. In those mice, the ellagic acid worked to improve liver cell metabolism and slow the growth of fat cells—possibly by triggering the release of certain proteins that metabolize fat and sugar.

The takeaway, say study authors, is that we may one day see a natural supplement made from red grapes that could help promote fat burning and support healthy liver function in people who are overweight. Because the high-fat-plus-supplement mice saw blood sugar levels improved almost enough to match those of the mice in the healthy diet group, researchers believe such a supplement may help round out a healthy weight loss program.

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