High Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure

Both high cholesterol and hypertension (high blood pressure) raise the risk of heart disease. Further, both are silent: neither high cholesterol nor hypertension carry any outward signs. Oh, and both increase with age.

So in addition to keeping your cholesterol low, it’s important to monitor your blood pressure to ensure it’s not silently creeping up.

Measuring will keep you on track. While an annual fasting blood test will help ensure your cholesterol is okay, it’s far easier to test your blood pressure. And maybe more important – as high blood pressure is often referred to as ‘the silent killer.’

Here’s what you need to know about blood pressure readings. The top number (systolic) should be less than 120, and the bottom number (diastolic) should be less than 80. If, like me, you are surprised to find that your blood pressure is between 120-140 / 80-90, you have ‘prehypertension’ and you should reduce salt / make other lo-co-like lifestyle changes. You officially have hypertension if your BP is 140-159/90-99. Here’s an at-a-glance chart from the American Heart Association (the link above has more info):

How I found out my blood pressure was high was at a regular checkup. In fact, my blood pressure was high enough that my ob/gyn insisted I call a cardiologist. He recommended I reduce salt, as in the American Heart Association page above. And that I buy a blood pressure monitor and take my BP each morning to keep track of things.

The first thing I found out is that how you take your blood pressure matters: it should be first thing in the morning, before you exercise or drink any caffeine, and you should be sitting straight up, with both feet on the floor and your arm on the table. The CDC’s article, Are You Wrong About Your Blood Pressure explains in more detail. And there is useful information like cutting salt out of your diet – and exercising – to help lower blood pressure.

The technology offered in today’s blood pressure monitors makes it so much easier to track – the machine I chose uses bluetooth to record my readings and send right to my phone. Or I can navigate to their site, sign in, and create a graph in Excel (I know that does not sound fun to many, but it makes me smile). I actually printed my readings out over a few months and brought it to my cardiologist – and avoided blood pressure medication. (Though it must be said he told me to stop it with the daily monitoring!)

There are many options, I’m sure – but the machine I purchased also enables you to test and track 2 separate users, so it was handy when my husband needed to track his blood pressure as well.

If you have high cholesterol and aren’t checking your blood pressure (at least occasionally, certainly more often than just annually at the doctor’s office) then get thee to a pharmacy with a blood pressure measuring machine or buy one.  The Omron BP786 is what I purchased, and it’s only $52 at the moment on Amazon. I like this particular machine – you might even have fun with a graph while finding out if your blood pressure is A-OK or high enough that you want to get checked by your doctor.

However you choose to, monitor your blood pressure in addition to your cholesterol for heart health.

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Going Lo-Co published in Healthline

Last week, a delightful Program Manager at Healthline Media reached out to me.(Healthline.com is billed as ‘the fastest growing health and information website’). Based on the content & writing she found on my Going Lo-Co blog, she asked if I would be interested in writing an article for Healthline about the steps I’m taking to help manage my high cholesterol.

As Healthline has been providing ‘expert content’ online since 2005 and is ‘certified by Health on the Net,’ I was psyched about being asked to provide content for this large, respected site. Further, I loved their mission statement, as it fits right in with what I try to do with this blog:

“As the fastest growing consumer health information site — with 65 million monthly visitors — Healthline’s mission is to be your most trusted ally in your pursuit of health and well-being.”

So write I did – after negotiating a due date and price, of course! And my article, I’m Taking These Four Steps to Help Lower My Cholesterol, was published on Healthline.com yesterday.

While all the elements in the article have been mentioned in this blog, this is the first time I’ve put it all together in four steps. Which proved interesting. I hope you’ll have a read – and maybe Facebook Share, Tweet or email it from the Healthline.com site!

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The Most Delicious Dish I’ve Ever Made…

Melissa Clark is one of my favorite cookbook authors – I find her recipes well researched, easy-to-follow and consistently delicious. But the depth and complexity of flavor in her Coconut Pork Stew with Garam Masala make this recipe, hands down, the most delicious dish I’ve ever made.

And it wasn’t even difficult. (To be fair, two elements require day-before preparation, so planning is required. But making a list is about as complicated as this recipe gets.)

I decided to make this recipe because I found the enveloping NYT article, Pork Stew Gets A Chile Kick intriguing, and I like Indian flavors and coconut curries. Plus, we were having an east coast March ‘blizzard’ on Tuesday, so I knew we’d be house-bound and I’d have a good three hours in the afternoon to let this bake. So Monday evening I had my butcher cube and trim two-and-a-half pounds of ‘pork butt’ (which I’d never heard of before) and collected the rest of the ingredients.

Normally, I reject recipes which require day-before prep and/or browning the meat first (too much of a hassle), but because I’d watched Ms. Clark’s video, I knew the day-before prep was simple and the browning step wasn’t fussy – just toss the cubes into the pot and let them ‘get golden’ for about 5 minutes.

Along that same vein, there’s not even much to chop or mince in this recipe – especially if you use fresh, already-diced onions. Which I always do. That said, in my view the chopped cilantro garnish is absolutely not optional – it adds a lot to the dish.

My only concern with this dish was nutritional. This recipe calls for coconut oil, which has a lot of saturated fat, a lo-co no-go. For information on why, in general, you should avoid coconut oil, read The Cleveland Clinic’s Olive Oil vs Coconut Oil: Which Is Heart-Healthier?

That said, if you omit the garlic-coconut oil topping (which doesn’t add a lot IMHO, other than another pan to clean!) this recipe really doesn’t have THAT much coconut oil and thus, is not so terrible, lo-co wise. (And certainly better than Shake Shack or fast food!) And, always good to serve with a green vegetable – I steamed green beans – or a salad.

I followed this recipe exactly and have no edits at all – it’s easy to follow and the steps make sense. My only quibble is that Ms. Clark suggests the yellow split peas are the dish’s starch. For me (and other commenters on her recipe page) the split peas were just not enough. I served it with basmati rice (yes, a better choice would be brown rice but I didn’t have that on my shopping list as it was not in the recipe. LOL.)

I also love that the NYT recipes now – finally! – have nutritional information!  Without rice, the nutritional analysis proffered on the recipe page indicates 19 grams of saturated fat. When I uploaded this recipe into ‘My Fitness Pal’ and included about 3/4 cup of basmati rice, I got a whopping 24 grams of saturated fat – 118% of of daily allowance! Not good.

But omitting the garlic-coconut oil drizzle brings that to a still-high-but-more-reasonable 15 grams of saturated fat or 73% of daily allowance.

So if this recipe sounds appealing (and believe me, the complexity and depth of flavor are ‘restaurant-quality’ which is not something I can usually easily deliver!) just make sure you’re not overdoing it with other high-saturated-fat dishes that day!

If you prefer, download a PDF of the Coconut Pork Stew With Garam Masala recipe.

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Is Your Heart Older Than Your Actual Age?

February is “American Heart Month,” which the CDC calls in the “Strong Men Put Their Health First” post as “a great time to commit to a healthy lifestyle and make small changes that can lead to a lifetime of heart health.”

While I agree making changes that can lead to a lifetime of heart health is important, why the CDC wrote this post about men is beyond me. Especially because heart disease is THE NUMBER 1 KILLER OF WOMEN in the US. Though this is frustrating, I provided a link to the CDC male-oriented page because there’s useful general info there. And here’s a link to About Heart Disease In Women – and as a reminder, heart attack symptoms can be different for women – jaw pain or heartburn in women as opposed to crushing chest pain, for example!  Read more in my blog post, Heart Attack Symptoms In Women.

The CDC also has an initiative called “Million Hearts” (@MillionHearts) and their main online page has a great “Additional Resources and Events” section with links to info on preventing heart disease, physical activity, and heart-healthy recipes. There are Facebook and Twitter links to follow, and something called HOW OLD IS YOUR HEART in both video and online calculator form.

This ‘How Old Is Your Heart’ thing intrigued me, so I clicked on the video which explains that your heart can be older than your actual age. While slightly amusing, the more important bit, IMHO, is the CDC’s actual ‘heart health calculator.’ (Note, the calculator is only for people 30-74 with no history of heart disease.)

I was surprised that to use the CDC’s Heart Health Calculator you need only two inputs: your systolic blood pressure (the top number) and your BMI. No cholesterol input at all! And, not to worry that you don’t know your BMI – you can quickly calculate it with the simple online BMI calculator (this is the official one from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute – frankly, googling ‘BMI calculator’ nets one that’s easier to view.)

As I said, I was stunned to see not one mention of cholesterol.

OK, I thought. Let me give it a go anyway – even with no cholesterol input. Given that I am not a smoker, and don’t have diabetes (the other inputs on this heart age calculator), I expected that my calculated heart age would be lower than my actual age, because I’m fit, with normal blood pressure.

I was stunned to find heart age using this calculator exactly equalled my actual age.

How could that be? If my all-pretty-positive inputs into the calculator resulted in a ‘same as age’ heart age result, that must mean that many (most?) using this calculator must end up with a calculated heart age OLDER than their actual age.

Really?  Could that be true?

And why isn’t cholesterol figured into the ‘heart age’ equation?

Puzzled, I played with the inputs to see what causes the heart to ‘age’ most in this calculator.  It’s not the BMI (mine is a pretty low/normal 22) – changing that a few points didn’t affect heart age much. Turns out, the key measure must be blood pressure because changing the systolic blood pressure by just a few points had a pretty drastic effect on heart age. Thus, it seems that – at least for this ‘heart age calculator’ – high blood pressure is the most dangerous condition / ages your heart the most. Certainly more than the not-even-mentioned cholesterol.

Maybe cholesterol is missing because the medical community is still at odds over the changed 2013 Guidelines for Cholesterol Treatment (and the faction who is behind this calculator doesn’t believe cholesterol is a big deal?) Or maybe I’m reading too much into all this…

Net, while I’m not entirely positive what the key takeaway here is, it does seem prudent to continue to monitor cholesterol along with blood pressure. Because frankly, a lo-co lifestyle – exercise and diet to lower cholesterol – will also help keep blood pressure down!

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Steamed Whole Fish

It seems many people find fish hard to cook — or fear it’ll be ‘smelly.’ But both are so far from the truth! To me, baking or grilling fish is one of the easiest (and healthiest) dinners possible, and I’ve never suffered a fishy-smelling kitchen. If you’re game to try for the first time, the simple overall cooking concept is to slick with oil and bake at high heat for about 10-15 minutes.

Prefer more specific directions to bake a piece of fish?  To bake Arctic Char, Salmon – basically any reasonably thick (1/2″ or more) fillet — all you do is this:

  • Preheat oven to 450. Place a thick piece of Arctic Char or Salmon (or any fillet) on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil; if 1 end of fish is thin, tuck it under.
  • Generously salt the fish and sprinkle with fresh pepper to taste.
  • Slick on some olive oil – just enough to barely cover entire fillet.
  • Sprinkle on a bit fresh or dried herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc)
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

If you want something ‘fancier’ you can find many fish recipes on my Lo-Co Recipe page; here are a few quick links to blog posts with recipes and directions:

While preparing fish using any of these methods is easy, quick and delicious, steaming a whole fish is another story. While steamed whole fish is terrifically healthy and an amazing presentation for serving guests (you cook the fish right in the dish you’ll serve it in!) it can be a bit more complicated … leftovers and bones can emit that fishy smell.

But it’s so worth it. And really fun to do with guests. We steamed a whole red snapper with our friends Chris and Dave on the eve of Christmas Eve this year – it was a fun to prepare together, and incredibly tasty.

I’d tried steaming a whole fish once before using a bamboo steamer and following David Tanis’ Steamed Whole Fish recipe – and though it was delicious, it was a fail in concept as I had to make it using a fillet as a whole fish didn’t fit in my steamer. (Read my The Trick To Steaming Whole Fish post about Mr. Tanis’ reply to my twitter query!)

After unearthing a very large pan with both a lid and a rack insert from my ‘magic closet’ I realized I now had the tools to try steaming a whole fish again. I re-read Mr. Tanis’ directions and actually watched (I never do this!) a Martha Stewart video that’s embedded on her Steamed Whole Fish page – and essentially prepared it using Martha’s recipe. The recipe is on that page too; I created a PDF of Martha’s recipe.

First, I bought a 2 1/2 pound wild-caught whole red snapper. I asked my favorite fish monger, Pagano’s, to prepare it as Martha’s video suggested: they descaled it and removed the fins and tail, so all I had to do was rinse and dry it, then lay it on the serving platter I was going to cook it on. It was helpful to watch Martha’s video, but they natter on for a long time about other things, so here’s a tip: they start talking about this fish recipe at about 3 minutes into the video; at about 6 minutes in they talk about the ingredients and at about 7:50 they talk about the fish preparation. Frustratingly, they never talk about serving it, which would have been incredibly helpful…

Then, I made my ‘mise en place,’ following what Martha and her accomplice did at about 6 minutes – because her actual written directions don’t explain/follow what they do in the video (sigh, I hate when that happens). This takes a while and you’ll want to do this before taking your fish out of the refrigerator! Then we added the ingredients to the platter and placed the platter (carefully) onto the rack set inside the very large roasting pan with an inch of boiling water we had set to go on the stovetop. If you look closely, you can see the steam rising above the top of the platter! Then we covered the roasting pan with its lid (if like Martha you are using a roasting pan with no lid, you’d cover the fish with parchment THEN tightly cover that with foil – you can’t have foil touching the fish!)

Twenty-five minutes later, (about 10 minutes per pound) and straight out of the pan, it looked like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then pulled the fish from the bones – and served it like this (you’ll notice only cilantro and scallions atop the fish – the ginger and lemongrass and other ingredients were just ‘aromatics’ – they don’t get served!):

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this of course (yes, that’s all that was left of the first bottle of white wine we drank while cooking the fish!):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s worth watching the Marta Stewart video for pointers, and here’s the full recipe in a PDF format, Steamed Whole Fish, that I modified to include directions they left off the website recipe. Give it a whirl – wrap up the bones tightly or they will smell (better yet, make fish stock – but who am I kidding, I’d never bother!)  And of course, always best to do all your slicing before you drink the wine. (That was a lesson learned the hard way for me.)

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