Other Countries Labeling

 Over 60 countries including members of the European Union, Japan and China, already label genetically engineered foods. Why isn’t labelling of GMO foods required in the United States?

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the increased use of pesticides:

  • The introduction of GMOs has had a profound effect on the level of pesticides present on and in our food, and potentially on the health of human beings and the environment.
  • Since most GMOs are engineered for herbicide tolerance, the use of toxic herbicides like Roundup has increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced.

What are the possible risks of pesticides?

  • Some studies have indicated that using pesticides, even at low doses, can increase the risk of certain cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
  • Children and fetuses are most vulnerable to pesticide exposure because their immune systems, bodies, and brains are still developing. Exposure at an early age may cause developmental delays, behavioral disorders, autism, and motor dysfunction.
  • Pregnant women are more vulnerable due to the added stress pesticides put on their already taxed organs. Also, pesticides can be passed from mother to child in the womb, as well as through breast milk. Some exposures can cause delayed effects on the nervous system, even years after the initial exposure.
  • Most of us have an accumulated build-up of pesticide exposure in our bodies due to numerous years of exposure. This chemical “body burden” as it is medically known could lead to health issues, such as headaches, birth defects, and added strain on weakened immune systems.
  • The widespread use of pesticides has led to the emergence of “super weeds” and “super bugs,” which can only be killed with extremely toxic poisons like 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (a major ingredient in Agent Orange).
  • There are growing concerns about the role of agricultural antibiotics leading to new antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

Identifying GMOs in the U.S.:

  • Unfortunately the U.S. does not require GM or GE foods to be labeled.
  • You can find out whether or not your produce is genetically engineered by looking at its PLU (price lookup) code on the sticky label added to grocery store produce:
    • Conventionally grown foods have a 4-digit code……………………Conventionally grown banana: 4011
    • Organically grown foods have 5-digits starting with #9………… Organically grown banana: 94011
    • Genetically modified foods have 5 digits starting with #8……….GMO or GE banana: 84011

Organic farming and locally grown produce:

  • Instead of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, organic farmers rely on biological diversity in the field to naturally reduce habitat for pest organisms.
  • Organic regulations ban or severely restrict the use of food additives, processing aids (substances used during processing, but not added directly to food) and fortifying agents commonly used in nonorganic foods, including preservatives, artificial sweeteners, colorings and flavorings, and monosodium glutamate.
  • Organic produce has lower levels of pesticide residue than conventional fruits and vegetables.
  • Organic farmers purposefully maintain and replenish the fertility of the soil.

Organic versus non-organic produce:

  • Organic produce:
    • No pesticides are used in production.
    • Grown with natural fertilizers (manure, compost).
    • Weeds are controlled naturally (crop rotation, hand weeding, mulching, tilling).
    • Insects are controlled using natural methods (birds, good insects, traps).
    • Organic farming practices are designed to benefit the environment by reducing pollution and conserving water and soil quality.
  • Conventionally grown produce:
    • Pesticides are used.
    • Grown with synthetic or chemical fertilizers.
    • Weeds are controlled with chemical herbicides.
    • Insecticides are used to manage pests and disease.
    • Conventional farming increases the risk of environmental degradation, water, soil, and air pollution, due to the large amount of toxic chemicals used.

Organic food buying tips: 

  • Set some priorities, so you can purchase organic food and stay within your food budget: Purchase organic versions of foods you eat the most and those that are highest in pesticides if conventionally grown.
  • Shop at farmers’ markets: Many cities and small towns host a weekly farmers’ market, where local farmers bring their wares to an open-air street market and sell fresh produce direct to you, often for less than at a grocery store or supermarket.
  • Join or shop at a food co-op (natural foods co-op, also called a cooperative grocery store) in your area: Co-ops offer lower prices to members, who pay an annual fee to belong. However, you do not need to be a member to shop at a food co-op.
  • Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm to purchase “shares” of produce in bulk, directly from a local, often organic, farm.
  • Buy in season: Fruits and vegetables are cheapest and freshest when in season. Ask when produce is delivered to your market, so you can buy the freshest food possible.
  • Shop around: Compare the price of fresh and frozen organic items at the grocery store, farmers’ market and any other venue.
  • Note that organic doesn’t always equal healthy: Making “organic” junk food sound healthy is a common marketing ploy in the food industry. Organic baked goods, desserts, and snacks are usually very high in sugar, salt, fat, or calories.
  • Always read food labels carefully!

Why is organic food often more expensive than conventionally grown food?

  • The higher price is related to natural fertilizer and labor-intense pest control tactics, since regulations limit the number of pesticide products available to organic producers.
  • Organic food is more labor intensive because the farmers avoid pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and drugs.
  • Organic certification and maintaining this status is expensive.
  • Organic feed for animals can cost twice as much.
  • Organic farms tend to be smaller than conventional farms, which means fixed costs and overhead must be distributed across smaller produce volumes.
  • Most organic farms are too small to receive government subsidies.

Reference:

“Over 60 countries including members of the European Union, Japan and China, already label genetically engineered foods.” Vermont Right to Know GMOs. www.vrighttoknowgmos.org.

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Oven Roasted Marinated Tofu

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

Tofu is made from the curds of soybeans (pictured above).
It is naturally gluten-free and low calorie, contains no cholesterol, and an excellent source of protein, iron, and calcium.
USDA organic, non-GMO tofu is a very good source of inexpensive protein and can be used in numerous recipes. Silken tofu blends easily into dressings, sauces, and smoothies, while firm tofu can be cut, roasted, used in curries, salads, soups, stews and as mock meat in Shish Kabob. While the color and taste of tofu is somewhat bland right out of the package, it doesn’t take much to enhance it’s flavor for a satisfying meal. A little salt, pepper, and soy sauce rubbed into tofu before baking or frying it makes for a great stir-fry meal.

Nutrients in tofu:

  • Soy, the prime component of tofu, is a complete source of dietary protein, providing all 8 essential amino acids needed in the diet. Soybeans are also high in healthy polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid.
  • A half-cup serving of tofu contains 94 calories, 2 grams of carbohydrate, 5 grams of fat, and 10 grams of protein.
  • Tofu is a very good source of your daily needs for calcium (44%), iron (40%), magnesium (9%), as well as, small amounts of vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, folate, choline, phosphorus, manganese and selenium.
  • Tofu is also a good source of magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1.

Health benefits of consuming tofu:

  • Consuming plant-based foods of all kinds has been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Increasing consumption of plant-based foods like tofu decreases your risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
  • Tofu made from soybean curds is naturally gluten-free, low calorie, an excellent source of protein, iron, and calcium, and contains no cholesterol. It is an important source of protein especially for vegans, vegetarians and those seeking a more plant-based diet.
  • To make tofu, soymilk is first coagulated to separate the curds from the whey. The resulting curds are then pressed and compacted into the gelatinous white blocks recognized as tofu.
  • Tofu is a good source of iron which facilitates oxygen circulation throughout the body.
  • Isoflavones, compounds also known as phytoestrogens, in soy foods have been linked to a decreased risk for osteoporosis, while the calcium and magnesium in soy may help to lessen PMS symptoms, regulate blood sugar and prevent migraine headaches.
  • Due to its large quantities of isoflavones, tofu consumption is associated with lower risk of several specific age- and lifestyle-related diseases, such as:
    • Cardiovascular disease: Consuming tofu rather than animal protein lowers levels of (low density lipoprotein) LDL cholesterol, which helps to decrease the risk of atherosclerosis and high blood pressure.
    • Breast and prostate cancer: Genistein, the predominant isoflavone in soy, contains antioxidant properties that inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Moderate amounts of soy foods do not affect tumor growth or a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, at least 10mg of soy per day can decrease breast cancer recurrence by 25%.
    • Type 2 diabetes: People who suffer from type 2 diabetes often experience kidney disease, causing the body to excrete an excessive amount of protein in the urine. Evidence from a recent study has indicated that those who consumed only soy protein in their diet excreted less protein than those who consumed only animal protein.
    • Osteoporosis: Soy isoflavones are known to decrease bone loss and increase bone mineral density during menopause, and have also been reported to reduce other menopausal symptoms.
    • Liver damage: Tofu of all types that have been curdled with various coagulants can be used to prevent liver damage caused by free radicals.
    • Age-related brain diseases

Are soy products a good alternative to meat?

  • It depends. Studies indicate that excessive amounts of soy products should be avoided by people, especially babies and young children.
  • Traditional fermented products such as tempeh and miso made from whole soybeans are the healthiest soy alternatives. That’s because the fermentation process removes phytates that prevent absorption of important minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc. Fermentation also reduces enzyme inhibitors that prevent effective digestion of protein, thereby making the beneficial ingredients more available to your body.
  • Soy protein contains isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen, which bind to estrogen receptors in the body and are known to disrupt endocrine function. Some studies suggest that high levels of phytoestrogens may raise the risk of certain forms of cancer, while other studies suggest they may actually decrease the risk of cancer and menopausal symptoms. Because of this uncertainty, the FDA has declined to classify soy isoflavones as generally regarded as safe (GRAS).
  • Most soy consumed in the US is highly processed and refined with chemicals. The initial process relies on a petroleum-based hexane solvent to extract the soya oil. The de-fatted soybean flakes or soybean meal are then further processed using a variety of chemical solutions and extreme heat and pressure, which turn it into soy protein isolates, soy isoflavones and other soy proteins such as “texturized vegetable protein” used in meat substitute products, including soy veggie burgers or sausages. Because of these chemical processes, soy products may contain traces of carcinogenic substances. They also have higher levels of isoflavones than fermented soybeans.
  • Tofu and all soy products contain large amounts of oxalate. Individuals with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid excessive consumption of soy products.
  • Soybeans and soy products contain significant amounts of purines, a class of organic compounds. People with gout should limit their consumption of tofu or other soy products.
  • Women who have or have had estrogen-sensitive breast tumours should restrict their soya intake to no more than 4 servings per week.
  • Too much soy intake may increase the risk of reproductive issues in males and females and possibly cause early puberty.

Oven Roasted Marinated Tofu

Easy Baked Tofu

Slow roasting helps marinated tofu develop a deliciously rich, sweet flavor and a firm yet tender texture. Serve roasted tofu hot or warm by itself or with a favorite sauce, or cold in salads and sandwiches. 

Baked tofu is crispy on the outside, creamy inside, and quite flavorful. It is delicious eaten as is, hot or cold, or in sandwiches, salads, and stir-fries.

The following recipe is easy to prepare and serve, either hot or cold, in a salad, sandwich, or as a healthy snack. It is appropriate for anyone on a dairy-free, gluten-free, wheat-free, low sodium, vegan, vegetarian diet. Try to remove as much water as possible from tofu before marinating it, to help the tofu absorb the marinade flavors and cook up crisp, rather than mushy. Toss tofu cubes with your favorite spices or herbs before or after baking for extra flavor, if desired.

Servings: 4-6
Ingredients:
  • 2 (14-ounce) packages firm or extra firm tofu
  • 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon+ dried or 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme, oregano and/or parsley (I add extra dried or fresh herbs for crunch and flavor!)
Directions:
  1. Drain tofu and place on a plate. Cover with another plate and weight the top with a heavy food can or other object of about 1 pound. Let stand 20-30 minutes to extract excess liquid. Pour off liquid and cut tofu into 3/4 -inch-thick slices. Place slices in a single layer in a shallow dish. (You can also drain and wrap tofu in 4-5 layers of clean paper towels before setting on the plate. Cover with a second plate and balance a heavy can or two on top to weigh down the plate. Press down on the tofu and set aside to extract excess liquid for 20-30 minutes. Remove wet paper towels, replace with dry paper towels, and repeat this process a second time.)
  2. After draining the tofu, slice it, put in a watertight container with the marinade ingredients, and refrigerate for 1/2 hour or more (1 hour is better), shaking or turning upside-down every 15-30 min (you can even open the container up and rearrange things to help ensure maximum absorption).
  3. Remove wet paper toweling, pour off any liquid, and cut tofu into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Place slices single layer in a shallow dish.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard and herbs. Pour mixture over the tofu and allow to marinate 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  6. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove tofu from the marinade and place on the baking sheet. Bake until firm and lightly browned, about 1 hour.

Nutrition per serving: 240 calories (120 from fat), 13g total fat, 2g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 110mg sodium, 8g carbohydrate (2g dietary fiber, 6g sugar), 22g protein.

Additional marinade suggestions for 1 cake of tofu, or 2-4 servings:

Lemon herb tofu:

  • 1 cake firm tofu (about 16 oz)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp dried herbs such as rosemary, dill, or oregano (I use 1-1/2 tsp rosemary, plus 1/2 tsp oregano)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced (optional)

Emily’s magical baked tofu (For this recipe, toss tofu with herbs only after the tofu is baked):

  • 1 cake firm tofu (about 16 oz)
  • 2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili powder
  • 1 tsp. dark sesame oil
  • 2-4 Tbsp cilantro, basil, or parsley
Soy sauce/orange juice tofu:
  • 1 pound extra-firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon olive or canola oil
  • Cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Slice tofu into 1/2-inch-thick slabs and lay the slices on top of paper towels. Use more paper towels (you’ll probably need three) and firmly pat the tofu in order to remove as much of the water as possible. Cut the tofu into 3/4-inch cubes.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, orange juice, sesame oil, and canola oil. Add the tofu cubes and toss gently. Cover and let the tofu marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, and up to 24 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Spray a large shallow baking dish with cooking spray. Place the tofu in a single layer in the baking dish. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Garlic dijon marinade (Delicious for roasting tofu to be added to creamy soups and pasta dishes. This marinade can be used as a salad dressing or tossed with steamed vegetables, whole grain pasta, or poured on baked potatoes):

  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp vegan mayo
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 fresh basil leaves or 1 tsp dried basil
  • A pinch of salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Whip ingredients together in a small bowl, or put them in a mason jar, close the lid, and shake vigorously.
  2. Soak tofu in any of these marinades for at least one hour before using it. Note that the longer you marinate tofu, the more flavorful it will become. If possible, marinate tofu overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. This marinade will stay fresh in the refrigerator for about a week.

Reference:

  1. “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health: FAQ’s.” Environmental Working Group (EWG). 1436 U St. N.W. Suite 100, Washington, DC, 20009. 2011. (Sources: http://www.ewg.org › Home › Report and http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/frequently-asked-questions/#question_22)
  2. “Oven Roasted Tofu.” Whole Foods Market. 2015. (Source: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/…/oven-…)
  3. Ramiccio, Marisa. “The Amazing Health Benefits of Tofu.” 10/12/11. (Source: http://www.symptomfind.com/nutrition-supplements/health-benefits-of-tofu/#kypqPV1f1pcYGYhZ.99)

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Foods Which Raise Blood Pressure

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

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Eating with hypertension isn’t about deprivation. Instead, it’s about eating smart and healthy for all the organs in your body. Cut back on bad foods listed below. Find healthier options for meals and snacks, such as more fresh fruits and vegetables; unsalted beans, lentils, edamame, nuts and seeds; low-fat and non-fat dairy products (yogurt, milk, kefir), whole grains (plain old-fashioned or steel-cut oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, shredded wheat), lean sources of protein (healthy fish, skinless poultry, tofu), and salt-free or reduced-sodium, trans-fat free nutrient-dense foods:

Foods which raise blood pressure:

  • Fast Food: The heavily processed nature of fast food means that you’re eating additives, fat, sodium, sugar, and sometimes caffeine with almost any meal you get. The high total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat content can make you lethargic, unmotivated and instantly raise your blood pressure.
  • Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can increase blood pressure, even for people who only drink occasionally. Having more than 3 drinks in one sitting may cause a temporary and sometimes dangerous spike in blood pressure. Repeated drinking can lead to long-term blood pressure problems. Alcohol can prevent any blood pressure medications you may be taking from working effectively. Since alcohol is full of empty calories, it can lead to weight gain. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to have high blood pressure. Therefore, save alcohol for special occasions. If you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it may be best to avoid it completely. If you drink too often or need help cutting back, speak with a healthcare provider. Note that one drink can be 1.5 ounces of liquor, 5 ounces wine, or 12 ounces beer.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine stimulates the body physiologically and raises your heart rate. If you’ve become addicted to caffeine and feel like you need it to start functioning at the beginning of each day, consider reducing your intake or weaning yourself off of it. Caffeine withdrawal headaches that occur when you’re trying to quit indicate that your body has become addicted to it. If you do not regularly consume caffeine, having a cup of coffee (or other beverage containing caffeine, such as caffeinated tea, soda, energy drinks) can temporarily cause a sharp increase in blood pressure. Experts are unsure of what causes the spike; It may be that caffeine blocks adenosine, a hormone which keeps blood vessels widened or stimulates the adrenal gland, causing it to release more adrenaline and cortisol, both of which increase blood pressure.
  • Salt: Salt is mostly made up of sodium which occurs naturally in the majority of whole foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people with hypertension or prehypertension limit daily sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams or less. The average American eats more than twice that amount, or about 3,400 milligrams a day. More than 75% of the sodium you eat daily is usually from packaged foods, not what you add at the table with a saltshaker. Some of the saltiest sources of pre-packaged foods include deli meats and cheeses, frozen pizza, canned soups; canned or bottled foods, tomato products, and vegetable juices.
  • Processed and prepared foods: Many contain high salt levels. Most manufacturers of processed foods add extra salt, in order to increase shelf life. Restaurants do the same to enhance flavor. The problem is that the increased sodium in these foods can lead to blood pressure spikes. Avoid processed foods such as chips, crackers, pickled foods, pretzels, salted nuts, popcorn, frozen mixes, condiments, ketchup, salad dressings, dried soup mixes, lunch and deli meats.
  • Processed deli lunchmeats, ham, hot dogs, cheeses: These are often cured, seasoned, and preserved with salt. A 2-ounce serving of some lunchmeats can provide 600 milligrams of sodium or more. If you eat a larger serving, you’ll ingest even more. Adding bread, cheese, condiments, and pickles will also increase your sodium intake.
  • Frozen pizza: Most pizzas tend to be high in sodium, due to the combination of cheese, cured meats, tomato sauce, and bread, but frozen pizza may be worse for hypertensive people. To maintain flavor in the pizza once it has been cooked, manufacturers often add extra salt. One-sixth of a frozen pizza can have as much as 1,000 milligrams, sometimes even more. The thicker the crust and the more toppings you have, the more sodium you’ll get.
  • Pickled foods: Preserving any food requires salt. Salt stops the decay of food and keeps it edible longer. The longer vegetables sit in canning and preserving liquids, the more sodium they absorb. A whole dill pickle spear can contain as much as 300 milligrams of sodium. Reduced sodium options are available, containing about 100 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Canned soups, packaged broths/stocks: Some soups have 890 milligrams or more of sodium in just one serving. Consume the entire can and you might ingest 2,225 milligrams of sodium. Low- and reduced-sodium options are available or make your own from a low-sodium recipe.
  • Canned/bottled tomato products: Canned tomato sauces, pasta sauces, and tomato juices are often high in sodium. A half-cup serving of classic marinara sauce can have more than 450 milligrams and a cup of tomato juice about 650 milligrams of sodium. Choose low- or reduced-sodium versions of these.
  • Butter, margarine, shortening, commercial salad dressings, condiments, flavored oils, sauerkraut, soy sauce, sauces, vegetable juice, tacos
  • Foods high in saturated animal fat and trans fat (partially hydrogenated oils): People with diets rich in saturated animal fat (red meat, poultry skin, full-fat dairy products like butter, cheese, cream, whole milk, ice cream, eggs, etc.) tend to have higher blood pressure levels than vegetarians. That is because plant-based diets contain no cholesterol or saturated animal fat and include a great deal of fiber and polyunsaturated fats, all of which help lower to blood pressure. Additionally, many vegetables and fruits provide potassium which also reduces blood pressure. While trans fats are found naturally in small amounts in fatty meats and dairy products, the biggest contributor of trans fats is packaged and prepared foods. Trans fats are created in a process called hydrogenationLiquid oils are infused with air to make a solid oil. Hydrogenated oils increase packaged foods’ shelf life and stability. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), consuming too many saturated and trans fats increases your low density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad, cholesterol. High LDL levels may worsen hypertension and eventually lead to the development of coronary heart disease.
  • Sugar: Most Americans eat about 240 pounds of sugar each year, much of which gets stored in the body as fat. High sugar intake has been correlated with an increased risk of weight gain, obesity, cancer, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Dietary sugar, especially from sugar-sweetened drinks, has contributed to obesity in all age groups! High blood pressure is more common in individuals who are overweight or obese. Although the USDA does not have a recommended daily limit for sugars, the American Heart Association recommends that women limit added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons per day and men to 9 teaspoons per day. Less is best!
  • Energy and sports drinks: Gatorade, Powerade, Monster, Red Bull, etc. contain high levels of sodium and/or caffeine.

References:

  1. “Health Risks of Energy Drinks.” Dianesays.com. 10/24/12.
  2. “Blood Pressure Health Tips” category. Dianesays.com:
    • “Foods Which Lower Blood Pressure.”08/05/15.
    • “Lifestyle Changes Which Can Help Lower Your Blood Pressure.” 07/22/15.
    • “Medications and Supplements That Can Raise Blood Pressure.” 07/20/15.
    • “What is Blood Pressure?” 07/20/15.
    • “How to Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure.” 10/17/12.

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Substitutes for Coconut Milk

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

The thick, creamy, delicious flavor of coconut milk is the backbone of many curries, rice dishes, soups, stews and desserts. Unlike cow’s milk, coconut milk is lactose-free and can be used as a milk substitute by people with lactose intolerance. It is also popular with vegans and vegetarians as a dairy alternative in smoothies, milkshakes and baking.

Unfortunately, coconut milk is very high in calories and saturated fat. A major component of coconut milk is coconut oil. The high oil content is responsible for coconut milk’s color, rich taste, caloric and saturated fat levels which can increase one’s risk for cardiovascular disease. Some people may wish to take steps to reduce these levels, especially if they use coconut milk often in their cooking.

Much of the challenge of substituting for this milk is it’s thickness and consistency. However, you can still make many of your favorite recipes with the following easy substitutions:

Coconut milk substitutions:

  • Spiced milk: A popular substitute for coconut milk while still providing some of it’s thickness. Use any type of milk you have and start warming it in a saucepan on the stove. If using cow’s milk, constantly stir it to prevent the milk from burning. While the milk is simmering, add spices like nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, curry or peppers and continue to heat, so that the spices are absorbed into the milk and the desired thickness is achieved. Then add it to your favorite recipe (Some stores sell “coconut flavored” evaporated milk).
  • Yogurt: A commonly used substitute for coconut milk, yogurt has a creamy flavor, thick consistency, is lower in calories than coconut milk, but full of essential vitamins, proteins and minerals. Try a variety of plain flavors until you find one best for your recipes. Greek yogurt is a popular option for those desiring a thicker consistency.
  • Unsweetened, unflavored soy milk or almond milk as alternatives: A drawback of using soy or almond milk as a substitute is that these have a slightly thinner consistency than coconut milk. If you wish a thicker consistency, whisk 1 teaspoon of cornstarch into the milk before adding it to a curry, and stir the sauce as it approaches a boil.
    • Soy milk: Available everywhere and often lasting a longer time in the refrigerator than cow’s milk. Soy milk powder is also available, allowing you to increase the thickness of soy milk to a desired consistency. Soy milk contains fewer calories and fat than coconut milk, is a good source of protein, and its neutral flavor will take on the flavor of food in your recipe. It is also a good choice for those who are lactose intolerant or dislike the taste of dairy. Soy milk is made from soybeans and has more than 30% of your daily needs for vitamin D, riboflavin and calcium. One cup also contains 50% of the amount of Vitamin B12 you need daily, a nutrient difficult for strict vegetarians or vegans to get.
    • Nut milks: Nut milks, like almond and cashew, are widely available. Their nutty flavors can be a good addition to coconut-based recipes. Try to purchase plain, unflavored milks with limited added sugars. Add a bit of gelatin or cornstarch to thicken the milk, if a heavier consistency is needed.
  • Mix 1 cup yogurt or milk with 1 cup coconut milk (or low-fat coconut milk), or blend a smaller portion of coconut milk with more yogurt.
  • Blend 1 cup  milk (either whole, reduced- or low-fat) or 1 cup  yogurt or 1 cup evaporated skim milk with 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract, for a lower fat substitute. Mix well. Not as good as regular coconut milk but lower in calories.
  • Milk/cornstarch/coconut extract recipe: Combine 1/3 cup milk with 1 teaspoon cornstarch in a small saucepan. Stir constantly over high heat until mixture boils and thickens. Immediately pour into a small bowl; stir in 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract.
  • Make your own coconut milk with water and unsweetened desiccated coconut flakes: Heat water (make sure it doesn’t boil), add the flakes and blend. Pour through a colander to filter out the coconut pulp, then squeeze through cheese cloth to filter out the smaller pieces of coconut. Use immediately or store in the refridgerator for 3-4 days.

References:

  1. “Coconut Milk.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 08/11/15.
  2. Lewin, Jo, Associate nutritionist. “The health benefits of…coconut milk.” BBC Good Food. (Source: www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/ingredient-focus-coconut-milk)

 

 

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The thick, creamy, delicious flavor of coconut milk is the backbone of many curries, rice dishes, soups, stews, and desserts. Unlike cow’s milk, coconut milk is lactose-free and can be used as a milk substitute by people with lactose intolerance. It is also popular with vegans as a dairy alternative in smoothies, milkshakes and baking.

What is coconut milk?

  • Coconut milk is the liquid resulting from the grated meat of a brown coconut*
  • Coconut milk contains minerals, vitamins and electrolytes such as calcium, potassium and chloride.
  • A major component of coconut milk is coconut oil.
  • The high oil content is responsible for the color and rich taste of coconut milk.
  • Most of the fat in coconut milk is saturated fat.
  • A popular food ingredient in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Southern China and the Caribbean.
  • Once opened, canned coconut milk must be refrigerated and is usually good for a few days. Otherwise, the milk will sour and spoil quickly.

How is coconut milk made?

  • The coconut flesh must be finely grated and steeped in hot water.
  • Next, the soaked pieces are squeezed through cheesecloth, and the liquid collected is coconut milk. This process may be repeated once or twice to produce lighter coconut milk, since different consistencies are required for different recipes.
  • When the first pressing is allowed to sit for a while, coconut cream rises to the top. This ingredient is often used in desserts or rich sauces.

Coconut milk nutrition:

  • Coconut milk is very high in calories and saturated fat.
  • Rich, thick and more like cream than milk, 1 cup of coconut milk contains 445 calories and 48 grams of fat, 43 grams of which are saturated fat!
  • Good points: no cholesterol, very low in sodium, high in manganese.
  • Coconut milk is lactose-, soy-, and gluten-free, so people allergic to such substances can also use it.
  • A dairy-free alternative, coconut milk can be used as a milk substitute by those with lactose intolerance and animal milk allergies .
  • Consuming excessive amounts of coconut milk may lead to weight gain. The high amounts of saturated fat in coconut may also contribute to weight gain. To avoid eating too much fat, limit your daily intake to 25-35 % of your caloric intake.
  • Substituting “lite” coconut milk for traditional coconut milk will reduce the fat and calories by two thirds, without sacrificing flavor.
Serving Size: 1 tbsp (15 g)
Per Serving % Daily Value: Based on a 2000 calorie diet
  • Calories 35/Calories from Fat 32
  • Total Fat 3.6g 6%: Saturated Fat 3.2g 16%/Polyunsaturated Fat 0g/Monounsaturated Fat 0.2g
  • Cholesterol 0mg 0%
  • Sodium 2mg 0%
  • Potassium 39.45mg 1%
  • Carbohydrates 0.8g 0%: Dietary Fiber 0.3g 1%/Sugars 0.5g
  • Protein 0.3g
  • Vitamin A 0%,  Vitamin C 1%, Calcium 0%, Iron 1%
A 100ml serving of canned coconut milk
154 calories 1.4g protein 15g fat (13.2g saturates) 3.4g carbohydrate

 

Coconut milk health concerns:

  • Unlike nuts and seeds which are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (which lower bad cholesterol levels) and omega-3 fatty acids, coconuts contain significant amounts of fat mostly in the form of medium chain saturated fatty acids (MCFAs), especially one called lauric acid.
  • The saturated fat content in coconut is made up of short and medium chain fatty acids.
  • These fatty acids are quickly converted in to energy instead of storing as fat in the body.
  • The medium chain fatty acids present in coconut milk are full of lauric acid.
  • Lauric acid is converted by the body into a compound called monolaurin, an antiviral and antibacterial that appears to destroy a variety of disease-causing organisms. Consumption of coconut milk may possibly help protect the body from infections and viruses.
  • MCFAs are rapidly metabolized into energy in the liver. Unlike other saturated fats, it is believed that MCFAs are used up more quickly by the body and less likely to be stored as fat. This does not exempt them from contributing to heart disease. MCFAs are still a fat, but with a different effect than saturated fats.
  • The link between excessive consumption of dietary saturated fats and coronary heart disease (CHD) is well established. Because of coconut milk’s high content of saturated fatty acids, consume it in moderation.
  • The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), International College of Nutrition, United States Department of Health and Human Services, American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, British National Health Service, and Dietitians of Canada all recommend against consuming significant amounts of coconut oil, a major component of coconut milk, due to its high levels of saturated fat.
  • The British Heart Foundation recommends avoiding the use of coconut oil for cooking.
  • Coconut milk, especially the lower fat version, can be used in moderation (1-2 times per week).
  • People who suffer from food allergies, especially tree nut allergies, should consume coconut and it’s components with caution. Coconut is considered a tree nut by the FDA. Manufactured foods that contain coconut usually carry a warning that the product contains tree nuts. Most people who are allergic to coconut react to proteins in the fruit, not the oil. Coconut oil allergies are rare, but may be life-threatening.

Guidelines for selecting coconut milk sold in cartons or cans from the many store brands or other less popular brands:

  • Choose brands with no added sugar.
  • Choose brands without carrageenan.
  • Choose brands made with organic coconut when possible.
  • Avoid brands with BPA-lined cans.
  • Avoid brands that use preservatives like sulfites (ex., potassium metabisulfite, sodium metabisulfite).
  • Be wary of vitamin A palmitate based on your total vitamin A intake.

*Do not confuse coconut milk with coconut water, the clear liquid inside young green coconuts (fruits of the coconut palm).

References:

  1. “Coconut Milk.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 08/11/15.
  2. Lewin, Jo, Associate nutritionist. “The health benefits of…coconut milk.” BBC Good Food. (Source: www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/ingredient-focus-coconut-milk)

 

 

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Types of Dietary Fat

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

The four main types of fats that make up the fat in our food include monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fats:

  • Healthy fats (unsaturated):
    • Monounsaturated fats/Monounsaturates
    •  Polyunsaturated fats/Polyunsaturates
      • Omega-3 fatty acids
      • Omega-6 fatty acids
  • Unhealthy fats:
    • Saturated fats
    • Trans fats

Each type of fat behaves differently in our bodies, causing varying effects on our risk for certain diseases:

Healthy Fats

Type of Fat Major Food Sources
Monounsaturated Fat / Monounsaturates Olive, canola and peanut oils, avocados, non-hydrogenated margarines, nuts and seeds
Polyunsaturated Fat / Polyunsaturates

  • Omega-6 Fat

 

  • Omega 3 Fat
Safflower, sesame, sunflower and corn oils, non-hydrogenated margarines, nuts and seeds 

Fattier fish, canola and soybean oils, flax seed, omega-3 eggs, walnuts

Unhealthy Fats

Type of Fat Major Food Sources
Saturated Fat / Saturates 

 

Trans Fats

In many prepared foods made with hydrogenated oils, as well as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, butter, lard, coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil and cocoa butter

In all foods made with shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and many snack foods, fast foods and ready-prepared foods

 

Reference:
“Different Types of Fat.” Health Check Program. Heart and Stroke Foundation. 2010.

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 If Mother Nature wanted us to take supplements, she would have given us trees with the pill bottles hanging from the branches!…Well… she didn’t!

Definition of bruises:

Medically known as contusions, bruises are red, purple or black colored marks that develop under the skin as a result of a blow, fall or other injury. The impact to the soft tissues may cause capillaries, small blood vessels under your skin, to break. Red blood cells then leak out of the capillaries and collect under the skin, accounting for the color of the bruise. Color changes in bruises over time indicate that healing is in progress, and the body is metabolizing the blood cells in the skin. The body eventually reabsorbs the leaked blood, and the bruise disappears. A vitamin B12 deficiency is sometimes implicated when a person bruises too easily.

Symptoms of bruises:

  • A bruise first appears as a tender bump on the skin that is red or purplish in color.
  • After a few days, the area turns black and blue.
  • About a week later, the bruise may look yellow or greenish before fading to light brown and then disappearing.
  • Most bruises heal in about 2 weeks without treatment.

What causes bruising? 

  • Impact injuries
  • Getting older: As you age, your skin becomes thinner and loses some of the protective fatty layer that helps cushion your blood vessels from injury. Blood vessel walls thin with age, as well, and may become so fragile that a bruise appears, even though you have not impacted anything with sufficient force to notice the event.
  • Some people, especially women, are more prone to bruising than are others.
  • A medical problem: Bruising easily, or even spontaneously without trauma, may signify a medical problem that needs attention. It could mean that your bone marrow is not producing enough platelets, components of blood that plug leaks in the walls of injured blood vessels. This disorder, thrombocytopenia, may be symptomatic of alcohol abuse or one of several diseases, such as anemia or leukemia. A complete blood count can rule out these possibilities.

Some vitamins, deficiencies and supplements may increase the risk of bruising:

  • Drug or supplement side effect: Chlorothiazide, Warfarin (coumadin), aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, quinine (for restless legs) and quinidine (for cardiac arrhythmias) can all contribute to easy bruising, as can long-term use of corticosteroids such as prednisone.
  • Fish oil: Obtained from eating oily fish such as mackerel, herring and salmon or by taking a supplement, fish oil is an important source of the omega-3 essential fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and may be useful for treating health conditions like depression, high blood pressure, age-related macular degeneration, menstrual pains and asthma. However, fish oil has a blood-thinning effect in the body and can increase your risk of bruising.
  • Vitamin E: An essential nutrient found naturally in green leafy vegetables, eggs, vegetables oils and wheat germ and also available in supplement form. Vitamin E may help conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, burns, Parkinson’s disease, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. However, the American Pregnancy Association warns that an overdose of vitamin E can cause bleeding and skin bruising.
  • Prenatal vitamins: During pregnancy, a woman’s need for certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron, folic acid and calcium, increases, since these nutrients are essential for fetal development and growth. Prenatal multivitamins provide these additional nutrients. However, an overdose of prenatal multivitamins can cause bruising of the skin and other symptoms.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency: Vitamin B12 helps to maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. Good sources of vitamin B12 include meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Vegetarians can get vitamin B12 from fortified cereals, tofu, blue-green algae and kelp. The recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 is 2.4 g, according to the World Health Organization.
  • Vitamin K deficiency: Vitamin K is a fat soluble vitamin that plays an important role in blood clotting. Although vitamin K deficiency is rare, it can raise your risk of bruising and bleeding. You’re most likely to run low on vitamin K, if you’ve taken antibiotics that destroy vitamin K-synthesizing microorganisms in the digestive tract.  Vitamin K is normally found in dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach, dandelion and mustard greens, cabbage, cauliflower, and cereals.
  • Vitamin C deficiency:  Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is essential for the synthesis of collagen and other compounds that maintain strong blood vessels and improves the skin’s and blood vessel’s ability to withstand impacts that lead to bruises. A deficiency may result in weak capillaries that are easily damaged on impact, causing you to bruise more easily. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, red and green peppers, broccoli, strawberries and cantaloupe.
  • Glucosamine sulfate and turmeric: Both act like blood thinners. When taken together or often, they potentiate the side effects of each other and increase your risk of bruising.
  • Leaves of the herb ginkgo biloba: Often used to make medicinal extracts. Ginkgo may be useful for health conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, vertigo, mood disturbances, headaches and ringing in the ears. However, ginkgo can increase the risk of skin bruising, due to its blood-thinning properties.
Try to get most of your nutrition from wholesome, natural foods that Mother Nature provided, rather than supplements:
  • Note that some foods can promote fragility of blood vessels and bruising, including green tea and red wine.
  • Any herb or supplement with blood thinning properties can cause bruising, as well.
Some herbal supplements may increase your risk of bruising: 
  • Herbs may sometimes cause side effects or interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, take herbs with care, under the supervision of a professional health care provider.
  • Herbs including garlic, gingko biloba, ginseng, ginger, glucosamine, turmeric, angelica and clove all have the potential to thin blood slightly. This can make bruising more likely, especially if more than one of these herbs are taken together. Moreover, if you’re on a prescription medication that thins your blood, these herbal supplements may cause excessive blood thinning and bruising.
  • In most healthy individuals, eating garlic in normal quantities as part of a balanced diet is unlikely to cause abnormal bruising or bleeding. However, taking garlic supplements can cause bruising in some individuals as a result of the blood-thinning properties of garlic
  • If you are using blood-thinning drugs such as heparin, aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin), talk to your doctor before using garlic supplements or large amounts of raw garlic, as these may increase your risk of bruising.
Take precautions if you eat garlic and are pregnant or will undergo surgery:
  • Patients may be advised to avoid or limit garlic consumption before surgery, in order to prevent unnecessary bleeding.
  • Pregnant women approaching their due date may be advised to avoid garlic due to it’s blood-thinning properties. If you are due to undergo any surgery or are pregnant, talk to your doctor about the use of garlic.
  • In addition to blood-thinning drugs (heparin, aspirin, warfarin), there are several other drugs that may interfere with garlic. While these medications may not cause your skin to bruise after eating garlic or using garlic extracts, they may cause other unwanted health effects when combined with garlic. These medications include, but are not limited to, antiviral drugs and birth control pills.
Supplements which can increase blood vessel fragility and make the appearance of bruising more intense: 

Herbs and roots:

  • Dong Quai
  • Garlic
  • Ginseng
  • Ginger
  • Ginkgo Biloba
  • Sweet Clover
  • Sweet Woodruff
  • St. John’s Wort

Vitamins:

  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin B6
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Fish oil/Omega-3 fatty acids
While herbs and supplements are often used to improve one’s health, some can cause side effects or interact with other herbs, supplements, and medications. 
 Supplements to the natural diet can do more harm than good in some cases, raising the risk of ulcers, bleeding, and bruising within your skin and internal organs. Always consult your doctor before taking such products and report any unusual bruising or side effects as soon as possible.

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Foods Which Lower Blood Pressure

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

Plant-based diets and diets rich in whole fruits and vegetables are strongly associated with lower blood pressure, so much, that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) officially recommends adopting healthy eating practices as one of the best ways to prevent or lower high blood pressure and hypertension.’ A healthful diet can also reduce your risk of future cardiovascular problems. 

Follow a heart-healthy diet:

  • Keep a food diary: Write down what you eat, how much, when & why, even for just a week, to monitor your true eating habits.
  • Increase your dietary intake of potassium: Potassium can counter the effects of sodium on blood pressure. The best source of potassium is natural, unprocessed food such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements.
  • Make a shopping list before going to the supermarket to avoid buying junk food. Read food labels whenever you shop and follow a healthy-eating plan when dining out, too.
  • Eat more poultry (skinless chicken breasts, turkey), fish, nuts, and legumes (beans), tofu and less red meat.
  • Avoid frozen and breaded products, pre-marinated meats and poultry, processed chicken, bacon, sausage, deli meats which tend to be high in sodium and fat.
  • Choose low-fat or nonfat milk and other dairy products instead of full-fat versions.
  • Eat vegetables and fruits instead of sugary or salty snacks and desserts.
  • Select breads, pasta, cereals, and other carbohydrate-rich foods made from whole grains, instead of highly refined white flour.
  • Eat fruit instead of drinking fruit juice.
  • Use unsaturated fats like olive, canola, soybean, peanut, corn, or safflower oils, instead of butter, coconut oil, partially hydrogenated oil, or palm-kernel oil.
  • Choose fresh or frozen foods instead of canned and processed foods.
  • Choose low-sodium foods when possible; use herbs, spices, vinegar, and other low-sodium flavorings instead of salt.
  • Don’t skip meals; try to eat 1/3 of your calories at breakfast.

Reduce the amount of sodium you consume:

  • Estimate and record how much sodium is in what you eat and drink each day.
  • One level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Limit sodium to this amount each day or less, to help reduce your blood pressure.
  • A lower sodium level, 1,500 mg a day or less, is recommended for people 51 years of age or older, and individuals of any age who are African-American or have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
  • Read food labels: Choose low-sodium or salt-free alternatives of foods and beverages you normally buy.
  • Avoid foods high in sodium, such as canned foods, instant rice and pasta mixes, snacks like chips and crackers, foods that have been preserved or pickled, frozen entrees and fast foods.
  • Eat fewer processed foods; Potato chips, crackers, frozen dinners, bacon, processed deli meats and cheeses are all high in sodium.
  • Use herbs, spices and citrus juices, rather than salt, to add more flavor to your food.
  • If you have difficulty eliminating sodium from your diet, cut back gradually: Your palate will adjust over time.
  • Buy fresh, plain frozen, or canned no-salt-added beans and vegetables.
  • Use fresh fish, poultry and lean meat, rather than canned or processed foods.
  • Use herbs, spices, citrus juice, and salt-free seasonings in cooking and at the table.
  • Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt. Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes which usually have added salt.
  • Choose “convenience” foods that are lower in sodium.
  • Reduce your consumption of frozen dinners, pizza, packaged mixes, canned soups or broths, and salad dressings.
  • Rinse canned foods, such as beans, salmon or tuna, to remove some of the sodium.
  • When available, buy low- or reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added versions of foods.
  • Choose breakfast cereals without or lower in sodium.
  • The National Heart Lung Blood Institute (NHLBI) suggests eating at least 3,500 mg of potassium a day, from foods such as yogurt, cantaloupe, spinach, and bananas. Potassium may help rid the body of too much sodium by acting as a diuretic.
  • Drink plenty of water to help flush excess sodium from your body.

Avoid tobacco products and secondhand smoke:

  • Nicotine in tobacco products can raise blood pressure by 10 mm Hg or more for up to an hour after you smoke.
  • Smoking throughout the day may keep your blood pressure constantly high.
  • Inhaling smoke from others puts you at risk of various health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease.

Reduce your intake of alcohol:

  • While alcohol in small amounts may lower blood pressure slightly, too much alcohol (more than 1 drink/day for women and men older than age 65, or more than 2/day for men age 65 and younger) will raise blood pressure.
  • If you normally avoid alcohol, don’t start drinking as a way to lower your blood pressure: There’s more potential harm than benefit to drinking alcohol.
  • Drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol can raise blood pressure by several points, as well as, reduce the effectiveness of high blood pressure medications.
  • Keep an alcohol diary to track your true drinking patterns. One drink equals 12 ounces (355 milliliters, or mL) of beer, 5 ounces of wine (148 mL) or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor (45 mL). If you’re drinking more than these amounts, cut back.
  • Reduce your intake slowly: If you are a heavy drinker, suddenly eliminating all alcohol can actually trigger severe high blood pressure for several days. Therefore, reduce your alcohol intake with the supervision of your doctor, or taper off slowly over one to two weeks.
  • Avoid binge drinking: Having 4 or more drinks in a row can cause sudden, large increases in blood pressure, in addition to other health problems.

Reduce your intake of caffeine:

  • Drinking caffeinated beverages can temporarily cause a spike in blood pressure, but whether the effect is temporary or long lasting is unclear.
  • To see if caffeine raises your blood pressure, check it within 30 minutes of drinking a cup of coffee or another caffeinated beverage you regularly drink. If your blood pressure increases by 5-10 points, reduce your intake.

Foods which can help lower your blood pressure or reduce your need for medication. Consume these as part of a comprehensive approach, including increased exercise and other lifestyle changes:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (5 cups a day): Rich in antioxidants, fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, these will help you to lower your cholesterol, lose weight, and improve your heart health. Choose these first whenever you need something to eat!
    • Apples
    • Asparagus
    • Avocados in moderation, due to their high fat, high caloric content
    • Berries: Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries contain natural anthocyanins, compounds that protect against hypertension.
    • Whole beets and beet juice
    • Bell peppers
    • Broccoli
    • Cabbage
    • Carrots
    • Cauliflower
    • Celery or celery root
    • Dark leafy greens like bok choy, dandelion and mustard greens, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, turnips)
    • Eggplant
    • Green beans
    • Grapes
    • Guava
    • Kiwis
    • Melons: Cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, etc.
    • Onions
    • Oranges
    • Papaya
    • Peaches
    • Organic fresh or frozen peas
    • Pears
    • Plums
    • Squash
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Tomatoes
    • Zucchini
  •  Low-fat or nonfat dairy products naturally high in calcium (Avoid cream)
    • Buttermilk, low-fat or nonfat
    • Cheese, nonfat or reduced-fat
    • Cottage cheese or ricotta cheese, nonfat, 1%, unsalted if available
    • Cream cheese, nonfat or light
    • Skim or low-fat milk
    • Non-fat or low-fat yogurt
    • Non-fat or low-fat frozen yogurt
  • Almond milk, soy milk, and other non-dairy products: These can be options, especially if fortified with calcium, Vitamins A and D, and other nutrients, but buy unsweetened versions to avoid added sugar.
  • Fish, poultry, lean meats, and meat substitutes: The American Heart Association suggests 2 servings of fish a week. Eat more heart-healthy tofu and other soy protein and limit fatty cuts of meat, cold cuts, sausage, and other processed meats.
    • Beef, lean cuts and lean ground round or sirloin
    • Chicken or turkey breasts and tenders, skinless, boneless
    • Chicken or turkey, ground
    • Fish, high in omega-3s: Arctic char, herring, mackerel, wild Alaskan salmon, wild Pacific cod, sardines, tilapia, trout, tuna
    • Pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat
    • Seitan
    • Tempeh
    • Tofu
  • Frozen Foods: When your favorite fruits and vegetables are out of season, choose frozen ones for nutritious desserts, side dishes, and snacks.
    • Fruits without added sugar, such as frozen blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries
    • Soybeans (edamame)
    • Vegetables and vegetable mixtures without added sauce, gravy, or sodium
  • Beans, grains, soups, and sauces: Beans and whole grains like bran flakes, oatmeal, oat squares, shredded wheat, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa , and wheat berries offer fiber to help lower your cholesterol.
    • Beans and lentils, canned (select unsalted or reduced-sodium)
    • Beans and lentils, dried
    • Broth, reduced-sodium vegetable, chicken, or beef
    • Whole-grain cereals with 5 or more grams of dietary fiber and less than 8 grams of sugar per serving
    • Flaxseed, ground or whole
    • Whole wheat flour
    • Whole grains such as barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgar, oat bran and rolled, steel-cut, or Irish oats, wheat berries, couscous, polenta, millet, and quinoa
    • Pasta sauce, low-fat or fat-free
    • Pasta, whole wheat, spelt, or kamut (Note: These whole-grain pastas come in bowtie, fettuccini, lasagna, spaghetti, fusilli, spiral, elbow macaroni, and ravioli varieties.)
    • Rice: brown, wild, and brown basmati
    • Soups, low-sodium, and 98% fat-free cream of mushroom
    • Soy flour
    • Tomato paste
    • Tomatoes, whole or diced, reduced-sodium
    • Vegetarian or nonfat refried beans
  • Condiments: Watch out for high amounts of salt in condiments and sauces.
    • Barbecue sauce, low-sodium
    • Ketchup, reduced-sodium
    • Mayonnaise, reduced-fat or nonfat
    • Mustards: whole grain, honey, Dijon, yellow
    • Soy sauce, reduced-sodium
    • Vinegars such as rice, red wine, balsamic, apple cider, raspberry make delicious salad dressings.
  • Use healthy oils, like olive and canola, instead of butter and margarine:
    • Nonfat cooking sprays
    • Olive oil and canola oil
    • Use applesauce, fruit puree, or yogurt as a substitute for fat (butter, shortening) or sour cream when baking
    • Salad dressings, reduced-fat or nonfat
  • Stock your pantry with nuts, dried fruit, and whole grain products for snacks and meals:
    • Unsalted nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds)
    • Dried fruits like unsweetened figs, raisins, prunes, dates
    • Popcorn cakes or brown rice cakes
    • Plain, unsalted popcorn
    • Whole grain breads, tortillas, pitas
    • Whole-grain, trans-fat-free, low sodium crackers
    • Whole grain pretzels
    • Baked, trans-fat-free tortilla chips
  • Use the following spices and herbs to flavor your food instead of salt: 
    • Allspice
    • Basil
    • Bay leaves
    • Black pepper
    • Caraway seeds
    • Cayenne
    • Chili powder
    • Chinese five-spice
    • Cinnamon
    • Cloves
    • Coriander
    • Cumin
    • Curry powder
    • Dill
    • Garlic powder
    • Ginger
    • Italian seasoning
    • Marjoram
    • Mint
    • Nutmeg
    • Onion powder
    • Oregano
    • Paprika
    • Parsley
    • Red pepper flakes
    • Rosemary
    • Thyme
    • Sodium-free seasonings
  • Sweeteners: Reduce your intake of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and brown rice syrup which has been found to be high in arsenic. These provide non-nutritive (empty) calories and will only increase your appetite. Instead, use honey or maple syrup in moderation when a sweetener is needed.

In addition to regular physical activity, follow a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, whole grains, with low-fat dairy products and less saturated fat, cholesterol, salt and sugar, in order to lower your blood pressure naturally!

References:

  1. American Dietetic Association: “Fresh, Canned, or Frozen?”
  2. American Heart Association: “Eating Low-Fat Dairy Foods May Reduce Your Risk of Stroke.” 04/19/12.
  3. American Heart Association: “Eating Fish for Heart Health.” 05/15/15.
  4. American Heart Association: “Fats and Oils.” 10/15/14.
  5. American Heart Association: “Shaking the Salt Habit.” 05/18/15.
  6. American Heart Association: “Sugars, Added Sugars, and Sweeteners.” 06/29/15.
  7. “Cholesterol and Triglycerides Health Center: Your Heart-Healthy Grocery Shopping List.” WebMD, LLC. Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH: 07/02/14. (Source: http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/heart-healthy-kitchen?page=2)
  8. “Health Risks of Energy Drinks.” Dianesays.com. 10/24/12.
  9. “Blood Pressure Health Tips” category. Dianesays.com:
    • “Foods Which Raise Blood Pressure.”08/17/15.
    • “Lifestyle Changes Which Can Help Lower Your Blood Pressure.” 07/22/15.
    • “Medications and Supplements That Can Raise Blood Pressure.” 07/20/15.
    • “What is Blood Pressure?” 07/20/15.
    • “How to Maintain a Healthy Blood Pressure.” 10/17/12.

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Some daily lifestyle changes can help reduce your high blood pressure to within safe limits:

  • Avoid smoking, or smoke less and try to quit.
  • Get regular physical activity, walk for at least 30 minutes each day, take stairs instead of elevators, dance, garden, engage in a healthy hobby and spend less time sitting.
  • Drink more water (at least 50% of your body weight in ounces).
  • Take a walk after meals whenever possible.
  • Try to get more natural Vitamin D from the sun.
  • If you are overweight, try to lose some weight.
  • Eat a healthier diet naturally rich in antioxidants, magnesium, potassium, calcium, vitamins C and D:
    • Eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, low- or non-fat dairy products, plain unsalted nuts and seeds, lean sources of protein (beans, lentils, fish, lean meats)
    • Eat less animal fat, saturated fat, cholesterol (butter, cakes, cheese, cookies, crackers, meats, cold cuts), sugar and salt.
    • Avoid trans fats of any kind (partially hydrogenated oils, tropical oils)
    • Avoid heavily salted food.
    • Reduce your intake of cold cuts, processed, prepared and restaurant foods.
    • Cook and eat foods with no or little salt added, by using natural herbs, spices, and citrus juice instead to enhance flavor.
    • Reduce your intake of alcohol, caffeinated beverages, energy drinks, sodas, fruit punches.
    • Avoid products containing the preservative sodium benzoate, an unhealthy source of sodium.
  • Spend more time outdoors doing safe activities that you enjoy, hiking and appreciating nature, visiting family and friends, and less time indoors with your TV, computer, and other electronic or wireless devices.
  • Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Practice meditation, tai chi, yoga and/or express gratitude for the good things in your life. Slow breathing and meditation decrease stress hormones which elevate renin, a kidney enzyme that raises blood pressure. Try 5 minutes in the morning and at night. Inhale deeply and expand your belly. Exhale and release your tension.
  • Take steps to reduce stress in your life.
  • Seek support from your family and friends when you need help in accomplishing tasks or dealing with problems. Otherwise, try to join a support group to talk with people who can help you cope with your situation or give you physical, emotional or spiritual help.

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Some prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, supplements and other substances can raise your blood pressure. They may also interfere with medications intended to lower your blood pressure. If you are taking any of the following medications or supplements and are concerned about their effect on your blood pressure, talk with your doctor:

Acetaminophen:

  • People who take acetaminophen (Tylenol, other versions) daily are more likely to develop high blood pressure than people who don’t take acetaminophen. However, taking acetaminophen occasionally is not known to cause a long-term increase in blood pressure.
  • Tell your doctor if you take acetaminophen regularly. Your doctor may recommend alternating between acetaminophen and other pain relievers. Because pain relievers affect blood pressure in different ways, alternating between them may give your body a break.
  • Try other ways to control pain, such as an anti-inflammatory diet, warm or cold compresses, stretching, exercise or massage.

Antidepressants:

  • These change your body’s response to brain chemicals that affect your mood, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, and may also raise your blood pressure:
    • Venlafaxine (Effexor, Effexor XR)
    • Bupropion (Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin SR, Wellbutrin XL)
    • Desipramine (Norpramin)
    • Phenelzine (Nardil)
  • If you take antidepressants, have your blood pressure checked regularly. If your blood pressure increases or isn’t well controlled, ask your doctor about alternatives to these medications.
  • Lifestyle changes (eliminating salt, cold cuts, condiments, processed and prepared foods from your diet, exercising more often, learning better ways to manage stress, engaging in a favorite hobby, etc.) or different medications may improve both your blood pressure and depression.

Birth control pills and other hormonal birth control devices:

  • These contain hormones that may increase your blood pressure by narrowing smaller blood vessels. Almost all birth control pills, patches and vaginal rings warn that high blood pressure can be a side effect.
  • Not all women will have increased blood pressure from using hormonal birth control. If you’re worried, have your blood pressure checked at least every 6-12 months. If you already have high blood pressure, consider using a different form of birth control.
  • While nearly all birth control pills can raise blood pressure, your blood pressure may be less likely to increase if you use a birth control pill or device that contains a lower dose of estrogen.

Caffeine:

  • Can temporarily raise blood pressure by blocking a hormone that keeps blood vessels widened, allowing blood to easily flow through them. Caffeine may also stimulate cortisol and adrenaline production, which makes your blood flow faster, thus increasing your blood pressure.
  • Caffeine-containing medications and products include:
    • Caffeine pills (Vivarin, others)
    • Caffeine in coffee, energy drinks, tea and other beverages
  • Although caffeine has not been shown to raise blood pressure long term, try to limit your daily amount of caffeine to no more than 200 milligrams (about the amount in two 12-ounce [355-milliliter] cups of coffee).

Corticosteroids:

  • All corticosteroid drugs, including prednisone, can cause sodium retention, resulting in dose-related fluid retention.
  • Those with strong mineralocorticoid effects (e.g., fludrocortisone, hydrocortisone) cause the greatest degree of fluid retention.
  • Those with weaker mineralocorticoid activity (e.g., dexamethasone, triamcinolone, betamethasone) may produce minor fluid retention.
  • Corticosteroid-induced fluid retention can cause hypertension; Patients with preexisting hypertension may develop elevated blood pressure when taking such drugs.

Cough and cold medicines (decongestants):

  • Many cough and cold medications contain non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve pain and/or decongestants. Both of these drugs can narrow your blood vessels, making it harder for blood to flow through them, and thus increase your blood pressure.
  • Decongestants can worsen blood pressure by:
    • Raising your blood pressure and heart rate.
    • Preventing your blood pressure medication from working properly.
    • Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) is a specific decongestant that can increase blood pressure.
  • Some decongestants which can increase blood pressure include:
    • Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
    • Phenylephrine (Sudafed PE)
    • Oxymetazoline (Afrin, others)
  • Always check the label of any allergy, cough and cold medication to see if it contains a decongestant or NSAID. If you have high blood pressure, avoid using such drugs, especially pseudoephedrine. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about safer ways to ease congestion symptoms such as antihistamines or nasal sprays which should minimize cardiovascular effects.

Herbal supplements:

  • Always tell your doctor about any herbal supplements you take or are thinking about taking, since some supplements can raise blood pressure and/or interact with blood pressure medications.
  • Herbal supplements that can affect blood pressure and/or blood pressure medications include:
    • Arnica (Arnica montana)
    • Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium)
    • Ephedra (Ma-huang)
    • Ginseng (Panax quinquefolias and Panax ginseng)
    • Guarana (Paullinia cupana)
    • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
    • St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)
    • Senna (Cassia senna)
  • Herbal supplements aren’t necessarily safe just because they are labeled as “natural.” Check with your doctor before taking any herbal supplements. You may need to avoid those that raise blood pressure or interfere with your blood pressure medications.

Immunosuppressants:

  • Some immunosuppressants can affect your kidneys and raise your blood pressure.
  • Immunosuppressants that can increase blood pressure include:
    • Cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune)
    • Methylprednisolone (Medrol)
    • Tacrolimus (Prograf)
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If your blood pressure increases or isn’t well controlled, ask your doctor about alternatives to these medications. Lifestyle changes or additional medications to control your high blood pressure may help.

Illegal drugs:

  • These can raise blood pressure by narrowing arteries that supply blood to your heart. This increases your heart rate and damages your heart muscle.
  • Illegal drugs that can affect your heart include:
    • Amphetamines, including methamphetamine
    • Anabolic steroids
    • Cocaine
    • Ecstasy
    • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • If you are using illegal drugs, you must stop. Ask your doctor for information on counseling or drug treatment programs.

Migraine headache medications:

  • Some migraine medications constrict blood vessels in your head to relieve migraine pain. However, they also constrict blood vessels throughout your body. This makes your blood pressure rise, sometimes to dangerous levels.
  • If you have high blood pressure or any other type of heart disease, speak with your doctor before taking a drug for migraines or severe headaches.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):

  • NSAIDs include both prescription and over-the-counter medication and are often used to reduce inflammation or pain from conditions such as arthritis. However, they may cause your body to retain fluid, stress and decrease the function of your kidneys, and consequently raise your blood pressure, putting even greater stress on your heart and kidneys!
  • Some NSAIDs that can raise blood pressure include:
    • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others)
    • Meloxicam (Mobic)
    • Naproxen (Naprosyn)
    • Naproxen sodium (Aleve)
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly. Talk to your doctor about which pain medication is best for you. If you must continue taking an NSAID that increases your blood pressure, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or additional medication to control your blood pressure.
  • NSAIDs are sometimes included in over-the-counter medication for various health problems, such as cold medicines. Therefore, before you buy an over-the-counter drug, always check the label for NSAIDs. Ask your doctor if any NSAID is safe for you to use. Sometimes an alternative, such as acetaminophen, may be better than NSAIDs.

Stimulants:

  • Some, like caffeine and methylphenidate (Ritalin), can cause your heart to beat faster or irregularly, raising your blood pressure.
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly, if you take a stimulant. If your blood pressure increases or isn’t well controlled, ask your doctor about alternatives to these medications. He/she may recommend lifestyle changes or additional medications to control your high blood pressure.

Weight loss drugs: 

  • Appetite suppressants tend to “rev” up your body. This can increase your blood pressure and stress your heart. Some weight loss drugs are known to worsen heart disease.
  • Before using any weight loss drug, whether prescription or over-the-counter, speak with your doctor. While these medications may be useful for weight loss, they may do more harm than good.

Rebound hypertension occurs when blood pressure rises after you stop taking, or lower the dose of, a drug that influences blood pressure (typically a high blood pressure medication):

  • To avoid medical problems, only take medications that are safe for people with high blood pressure.
  • Give a list of ALL medications you use, both prescription and over-the-counter, to each doctor you visit.
  • Read medication labels before buying over-the-counter products.
  • Make sure the medicine does not contain ingredients that could worsen your high blood pressure, such as NSAIDs or decongestants.
  • Talk to your doctor and pharmacist before using any over-the-counter medication, herbal preparation, vitamins, or other nutritional supplements.
  • Ask for alternatives to potentially harmful medicines.

References:

  1. “Medications and supplements that can raise your blood pressure: From acetaminophen to stimulants, know which drugs and supplements can affect your blood pressure.” Mayo Clinic staff. 2015. (Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/blood-pressure/MY00256)
  2. “The Harvard Medical School Family Heath Guide: Don’t Let Decongestants Squeeze Your Heart.” © 2010 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. WebMD Medical Reference. Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on 10/19/11.
  3. “Hypertension/High Blood Pressure Health Center: Medications That Cause High Blood Pressure.” (Source: http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/medications-cause)

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