Real World Health Care Blog

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World Heart Day Underscores Why Exercise and Diet Count

This year’s World Heart Day on Sunday, September 29 will focus on raising awareness around changes that individuals – especially women and children – can incorporate into their daily habits to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Created in 2000 by the World Heart Federation (WHF) to highlight heart disease and stroke as the world’s leading causes of death claiming 17.3 million lives each year, advocates will educate the public about prevention strategies through talks and screenings, walks and runs, concerts and sporting events.

It is expected that by 2030, 23 million people will die of CVD, more than the entire population of Australia. Together with its members, WHF reports that 80 percent of premature deaths from CVD could be reduced if individuals take the following actions:

  • Reduce or discontinue use of tobacco
  • Eat healthfully
  • Engage in physical activity

CVD can affect people of all ages and population groups, including women and children, as illustrated in WHF’s infographic that also shares practical tips on how to eat more healthfully and exercise more frequently. To teach children about healthy heart living, WHF also created a leaflet along with a character, “Superheart,” that encourages:

  • Playing outdoor games
  • Cycling
  • Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends increasing daily servings of mostly plant-based foods to help improve cardio health, acknowledging that “many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease (which causes heart attack), high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus and some forms of cancer.”

To support better coronary health outcomes, AHA created five goals for healthy eating that encourage individuals to:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Consume more whole grain foods.
  • Use liquid vegetable oils such olive, canola, corn or safflower as your main kitchen fat.
  • Eat more chicken, fish and beans than other meats.
  • Read food labels to help you choose the healthiest option.

AHA also published an info sheet about the warning signs of a heart attack, which often starts slowly and usually goes unnoticed. This is especially true among women, whose symptoms can often mimic those of the flu. Additionally, it is common among women to put others first, especially their children, and so they usually do not recognize symptoms until it is too late. To address this public health challenge, AHA initiated the Go Red for Women campaign to empower women to know their risk, live more healthfully and share their stories.

The primary warning signs of a heart attack remain the same regardless of gender, however:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light headedness

Now tell us your story. Do you know anyone who experienced a heart attack or other heart condition? Are you aware of your own risk level? What could you, your friends or loved ones do differently to live more healthfully?

Turning DASH Strategy into Reality for Improved Cardio Wellness Outcomes: Part II

As part of their health & wellness program, the largest health insurer sent me a refrigerator magnet highlighting the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension Diet (DASH).  In their accompanying letter, the company stated that the refrigerator magnet is a “tool to help you manage your blood pressure.”

Shawn J. Green

Shawn J. Green

The DASH Eating Plan refrigerator magnet was a nice gesture to remind clients to consume less sodium and incorporate more vegetables and fruits into their diet to lower blood pressure.  However, is this the most effective wellness tool to engage and motivate individuals to change their eating habits?

As we learned in last week’s post, plant-based diets – especially those rich in leafy greens, such as spinach and arugula – elevate cardio-protective nitric oxide.  For many pre-hypertensive individuals, staying with a plant-based diet is a critical driver to prevent elevated blood pressure and the diseases associated with hypertension.

Yet many Americans continue to fall far short of eating recommended daily servings of vegetables that elevate natural nitric oxide levels in our body.

A new model is needed to drive behavioral change. So how do we consistently integrate cardio-protective plant-based diets into our daily dietary lifestyle?

Berkeley Test may be a start.

Berkeley Test’s Saliva Nitric Oxide Test Strips and its iPhone Cardio Diet Tracker are designed to break bad habits and empower folks from various walks of life to incorporate plant-based foods into their daily diets.  These engaging tools provide a model to influence dietary change on a personal level that supports lasting compliance with measurable outcomes.

Designed to detect nitric oxide status in the body throughout the day, Berkeley Test developed the next generation proprietary nitric oxide test strip; for less than 70-cents, an easy-to-use, 1-minute saliva test strip enables consumers to make immediate and real-time dietary lifestyle adjustments.

Once users finish the strip test, they can use Berkeley Test’s Cardio Diet Tracker App to compare their results to a color-coded indicator showing whether nitric oxide levels are on target. After 2-3 hours, the user is alerted to check their nitric oxide status.  Users can leverage the Cardio Diet Tracker App to more effectively adhere to plant-based diets by tracking nitric oxide status in conjunction with the type, frequency, and amount of nitric oxide-potent foods eaten to sustain their levels.

Michael Greger, M.D., of NutritionFacts.org, suggests that Berkeley Test may offer hope by bringing plant-based foods into our dietary lifestyle in an engaging fashion. At the very least, it will remind us to eat our greens on a more frequent basis, he says.

Berkeley’s strip-app bundled technologies demonstrate that self-assessing, analyzing, and fine-tuning wellness outcomes with a shared, open, interactive community can be a catalyst to sustain plant-based cardio-protective diets in our daily lifestyle. The value of Berkeley Test’s model is not only demonstrated in how it equips consumers to make healthier dietary choices, but also in its ability to connect users by allowing them to share dietary successes with their Facebook friends.  In today’s society, wellness outcomes and fitness is highly social and valued.

Individuals – who range from Olympians seeking to boost their physical endurance to baby boomers looking for an easier way to eat healthfully and prevent high blood pressure – are embracing these innovations.  As more people turn to Berkeley’s strip and mobile App to improve adherence to plant-based diets, such as DASH and Ornish, natural communities of mutual support are growing.  These networks offer a unique venue to share experiences, provide strategies for success and a forum to discuss common challenges, refine approaches and achieve desired outcomes.

A dynamically open community to share new knowledge about wellness and create a model for achieving and maintaining healthy living and eating is what we hope Berkeley’s ‘health biomarker’ test strips (such as nitric oxide and mobile App combo) provides.

So, what is your nitric oxide level, today?

More Patients DASH to New Solution to Reduce High Blood Pressure: Part I

Shawn_J_Green

Shawn J. Green

What’s the solution to reversing the tide of hypertension, the most commonly diagnosed condition in the United States?  More evidence indicates that the answer begins with the food choices we make every day.

An underlying cause of heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease, one in three American adults now experiences high blood pressure – the single-largest contributor to death worldwide. It is also becoming more resistant to the pharmaceutical drugs used to lower it. In fact, blood pressure remains elevated in nearly one-third of all treated hypertensive patients on pharmaceutical drugs.

Instead of relying on prescriptions, more patients are turning to a healthier eating approach: Keeping sodium intake low and making consumption of nitric oxide-rich vegetables and leafy greens high. This cardio-protective daily diet, known as the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan, is emerging as an effective way to delay or prevent high blood pressure altogether.

The value of nitric oxide was spotlighted when the Nobel Prize was awarded in 1998 for discovery of this naturally produced cardio-protective factor. A string of clinical studies underscored that vegetables (like red beet roots) and leafy greens (such as spinach and arugula) are replete with nitric oxide.

Diets known for promoting heart health and lowering rates of diabetes and obesity – like Japanese diets, Mediterranean diets and plant-based diets, such as DASH, among others including TLC, Ornish, and Pritikin – incorporate these natural whole foods. The need to consume more nitric oxide-potent vegetables and leafy greens becomes even more critical as we age because our bodies are less able to synthesize this natural hypertensive-fighting factor.

Reducing hypertension would not only improve health outcomes for individual patients, but would also benefit the health system as a whole. Although the percentage of resistance to antihypertensive drugs is relatively lower in the U.S., elevated blood pressure among a rapidly growing number of baby boomers will mean more challenges for health care in the long run unless we identify tools that work and make them as accessible and user-friendly to the public as possible.

DASH holds great promise to fuel compliance – a critical driver to prevent elevated blood pressure – among those living with hypertension. But a healthful eating strategy alone will not mean better outcomes for patients without a model to help them break bad habits and support dietary changes on a personal level, one day at a time.

So how do we get there?

Join us here next Thursday for the second post in our two-part series. Discover what innovative tools can empower patients to make the DASH Diet a part of their arsenal in the fight against hypertension.

Good for Your Body and Your Budget

Does stocking your shelves with nutritious foods always mean breaking your budget at the grocery store or local market? You probably think the answer is yes, but what we found might shock you.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Dawn Undurraga, a consulting nutritionist for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and registered dietitian, tells a different story: Purchasing healthy foods and saving money can go hand in hand.

“Maintaining a delicious diet that’s good for you and the planet doesn’t have to be expensive,” she says. “You can eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables for less than the cost of a bus ride, for example. But people need the tools to help make this happen.”

And that’s exactly what the EWG “Good Food on a Tight Budget” free shopping guide provides, to help people eat cheap, clean, green and healthy.

“We focused on the things that you can do and the changes you can make to save money,” Undurraga says, based on recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as well as feedback from groups that have on-the-ground expertise empowering consumers to navigate through the issues surrounding tight budgets, like Feeding America and Share Our Strength.

This guide includes lists that open the door to purchasing foods with the most nutritional value for the lowest price, including 15 practical recipes that on average cost less than $1.

Tips enable shoppers to spend their dollars smartly, specifying which items are best to purchase frozen (like corn) or fresh (like lima beans), as well as how to prepare dishes at home and how to make your foods last longer.

One key recommendation for saving money on a nutritious eating regimen is to plan meals ahead, budget your time while shopping and to know what you want at the store beforehand.

“When you do, you’ll find you waste less food. Not wasting food by having a good plan can save you money too. When you shop with a meal list and a timeline, you can get in and out of a store quickly,” without going outside your budget by getting distracted and purchasing less healthy foods you don’t want or need, Undurraga explains.

The EWG created “Good Food on a Tight Budget” based on specific measures to establish the amount of pesticides that the foods contain, also comparing and rating the foods to organize the guide on a balance of five factors.

  • Beneficial nutrients
  • Nutrients to minimize (i.e. sodium)
  • Price
  • Extent of processing
  • Harmful contaminants from environmental pollution and food packaging

The USDA also underscores that planning your meals for the week and doing an inventory of foods you already have before making a list are essential. They also encourage buying non-perishables in bulk during sales and to purchase foods in season to get the lowest prices while optimizing freshness.

Similar strategies for making healthy shopping choices on a budget can also be found herehere and here.

All the research, planning and preparation involved in being a selective shopper might seem daunting at first, but the payoff to your health and budget is worth the investment.

“There’s so many ways to put together a diet. The shoppers who often make the most of their budget are those already on a tight budget. It’s tough but possible,” when you incorporate approaches that work best for you, Undurraga says.

Have you used any of these tips when grocery shopping? Did they help make it easier to purchase healthy foods and stay within your financial means? Tell us why or why not.

Categories: Cost-Savings