Your playbook for a healthy Super Bowl Sunday

One of the best parts of the Super Bowl is gathering with friends and family to enjoy the game – and the commercials.

It’s not all fun, though – the average fan eats about an entire day’s worth of calories during the game – one of the biggest calorie fests of the year for many Americans.

However, you don’t have to wreck your diet – or eat a boring, bland meal. Try these eating strategies to have a fun and healthy Super Bowl.

If you’re watching the game at a bar or restaurant, try these helpful tips:

  • Check the menu first – avoid anything fried, and look for healthier grilled, baked or steamed options.
  • If you order a salad, get the dressing on the side – then you can control how much you use.
  • Split an entrée with a friend. Half the meal means half the calories.
  • Drink plenty of water – especially if you’re drinking alcohol. Have a full glass of water after each drink.
  • For pizza, try vegetable toppings instead of meat.

If you’re eating at home or at a friend’s house, try these healthy substitutions:

  • Instead of chips or crackers, try fresh vegetables like celery or carrots for dips.
  • Eat baked tortilla chips instead of regular, fried chips.
  • Use ground turkey instead of beef for chili or burgers.
  • Swap low-fat Greek yogurt for sour cream.
  • Bake sweet potato fries instead of regular French fries.
  • Try making mini pizzas on English muffins or corn tortillas – and load them up with vegetables.

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6 ways to help prevent birth defects

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness of the causes and impacts of birth defects.

In the U.S., a baby is born with a birth defect every 4 ½ minutes. Birth defects are a leading cause of infant mortality, and babies with birth defects have an increased risk for developing life-long physical, cognitive or social challenges.

Not all birth defects can be prevented, but the chances of having a healthy baby can be increased by adopting healthy behaviors before and during pregnancy.

Here are a few things both men and women can do to prevent birth defects:

  1. Get vaccinated. Women should get both the flu shot and the whooping cough vaccine during pregnancy, and become up-to-date with other vaccines before getting pregnant.
  2. Prevent insect bites. Use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside and consider avoiding travel to areas with Zika virus.
  3. Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and water, and avoid putting a young child’s cup or pacifier in your mouth.
  4. Choose a healthy lifestyle. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
  5. Avoid harmful substances. Quit smoking, avoid alcohol and do not use “street” drugs. Men also shouldn’t drink excessively.
  6. Talk to your healthcare provider. Discuss any medication you’re taking and what you can do to prevent infections and sexually transmitted diseases that might increase risk of birth defects.

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Try these simple tips to lower your diabetes risk for a healthier 2018

Resolving to live healthier in 2018? If you’re among the 84.1 million people in the U.S. at high risk for diabetes, resolving to lower that risk may be the best health move you could make.

Diabetes, which affects the way that our bodies process blood sugar, is a dangerous disease in itself, but it can also lead to other serious health issues – like heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. Type 2 diabetes develops most often in people over age 45, but more and more children and teens are affected by the disease.

While some risk factors for diabetes – like genetics or family history – can’t be changed, there is good news. Many cases of Type 2 diabetes, generally caused by being overweight or inactive, can be prevented through a few healthy changes.

Here are five tips that can reduce your diabetes risk and help you kick-start a healthy 2018:

  1. Exercise regularly. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five times a week. If that seems overwhelming, start slowly and build up to your goal.
  2. Eat a healthy diet. This should include fiber and whole grains – foods that will help you feel more full and maintain a healthy weight. Read more about how to eat here.
  3. Drink water, not soft drinks. The excess sugar found in soft drinks and other sugary drinks has been linked not only to diabetes, but also heart disease and obesity.
  4. If you smoke, try to quit. Smokers are much more likely than nonsmokers to develop diabetes. Get help quitting.
  5. Have regular health checkups. Warning signs for Type 2 diabetes can be hard to notice, so keep your appointments and talk to your doctor about maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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For the New Year, resolve to treat your gut bugs right, says UK expert

Sara Police

Written by Sara Police, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Nutritional Sciences at the UK College of Medicine.

The top New Year’s resolution in 2017 was to “lose weight/eat healthier.” That’s a great goal, but as we flip the calendar to 2018, I challenge you to make a different type of resolution: a resolution for your gut bugs.

At this very moment, there are trillions of bacteria living in your body – the majority in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Collectively, these bacteria are known as the microbiome. The bulk of them are symbiotic – in other words, they are mutually beneficial. We help out microbiome survive, and it helps us survive. Researchers are continually uncovering diverse and important functions of the microbiome related to energy metabolism, immunity, GI and mental health – among others.

Weight loss resolutions are relevant in this regard, since the gut microbiome affects the rate of absorption, metabolism and storage of calories. For example, specific bacterial strains, such as Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, shift during obesity – potentially increasing energy harvest from food.

Ai-Ling Lin, assistant professor at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, is investigating the impact of the microbiome on the aging brain and mental health. Her research findings demonstrate that a healthy microbiome is associated with reduced anxiety and risk for dementia with aging.

A well-known role of the gut microbiome is protection of the GI tract’s health and function. This is why some antibiotics can cause loose stools or diarrhea. Of note, probiotic supplementation has been shown to be effective in the treatment of antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

Maximize your beneficial and defensive features of the microbiome by nourishing and protecting it, every single day. Here are some tips to nurture the good bugs with during the coming year:

Choose complex carbohydrates. A primary source of energy for the microbiome is complex carbohydrates. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts are sources of resistant starch and dietary fiber – also known as “prebiotics.” Prebiotic-rich foods (not refined, sugary foods) give gut bugs plenty of fuel to flourish.

Include natural probiotics in your diet. Enrich your microbiome with a serving of yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut or fermented vegetables regularly. Beyond vitamins and minerals, these foods are rich sources of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which may boost immunity and overall health. Effects of probiotics vary from person to person since everyone’s microbiome is unique.

Get plenty of sleep. Even gut bugs need a good night’s rest. The microbiome shifts in composition and function when the sun goes down. Research indicates that irregular circadian rhythms (associated with jet lag in frequent flyers, for example) lead to shifts in the microbiome associated with metabolic changes. Taking steps toward getting a good night’s sleep will safeguard your gut bugs’ health and functionality.

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Eat more plants for a healthier heart, says UK’s Dr. Gretchen Wells

Dr. Gretchen Wells

Written by Dr. Gretchen Wells, director UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute’s Women’s Heart Health Program

Most people don’t realize that the power to prevent many diseases is in their own hands.

By exercising – even a little – and quitting smoking, you greatly reduce your risk for diabetes, heart disease and even dementia. But perhaps the easiest way to tip the odds in your favor is to change your diet. If you’re looking for a way to eat healthier, consider a plant-based diet.

A plant-based diet is based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. It excludes or minimizes meat, eggs and dairy products, as well as highly processed foods like bleached flour, refined sugar and some oils.

Numerous studies have linked a plant-based diet to lower risks of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease – as much as 30 percent, according to one Harvard study.

Don’t know where to begin? Here are some guidelines:

  • Veggies: Any vegetable, especially leafy green or yellow vegetables with high water content.
  • Fruits: No limits here, but deeply colored berries are a plus.
  • Starches: This includes starchy vegetables like potatoes as well as whole grains like oats, rice or quinoa.
  • Beans and legumes: These are starchy, but generally have a higher protein content. Consider beans, lentils and dried peas.
  • Nuts and seeds: Use sparingly to avoid weight gain.

You can adjust slowly to a plant-based diet. Adopt the popular “Meatless Mondays” trend in your home and add Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. as you go. Or experiment by adjusting your favorite recipes to be plant-based: make your chili all beans, or prepare a stir-fry with tofu or edamame instead of chicken.

Heart-healthy cooking demo at UK HealthCare

If you want some ideas, come to UK HealthCare on Saturday, Nov. 18, for “Feeding Your Heart and Soul” featuring best-selling cookbook author Jane Esselstyn. Esselstyn, who has spent most of her life advocating for a plant-based, meatless, whole-food diet, will demonstrate recipes from The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook, which she co-authored with her mother, Ann. You’ll also get the opportunity to taste some of her dishes and see for yourself that a plant-based diet can be healthy and delicious.

The morning will begin at 8 a.m. with an optional free yoga session. Esselstyn will take the stage for a brief lecture at 9 a.m., followed by a cooking demonstration at 10 a.m. and tastings at 11 a.m.

The registration fee for “Feeding Your Heart and Soul” is $15 and includes a free copy of The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook and tastings.

For more information or to register, call 859-218-0121.

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Gluten-free: Fad or medical necessity?

It’s common these days to hear people say they are avoiding gluten, and gluten-free foods are everywhere. While it’s true that going gluten-free is just a dietary fad for some people, for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, there’s a genuine medical need to avoid gluten.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in certain grains, including wheat, rye and barley. It acts as a sort of glue that holds food together, giving it its shape.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a genetic illness that makes a person unable to digest gluten. Eating gluten causes the body to mount an immune response that inflames and damages the small intestine, and the small intestine stops absorbing nutrients properly. This creates a host of uncomfortable symptoms, including stomach problems such as gas and diarrhea. Those with the disease might lose weight and feel tired and achy. Other symptoms include:

  • Bone, joint pain or arthritis.
  • Depression or anxiety.
  • Tingling numbness in hands and feet.
  • Fatigue.
  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Sores in the mouth or tooth discoloration.

If you think you have celiac disease, your doctor can do a test to be sure.

Gluten sensitivity

Gluten sensitivity includes many of the unpleasant symptoms of celiac, but tests for celiac come back negative. While the symptoms are real, a recent study published in Gastroenterology suggests gluten sensitivity may not be sensitivity to gluten at all, but a reaction to something called FODMAPs, short-chain carbohydrates that coincidentally are found in many foods containing gluten. If you think you are gluten-sensitive, it may really be FODMAPs that are causing your problems, so do some research or talk to your doctor to make sure you’re avoiding the right foods.

Foods to avoid

If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, avoiding gluten is imperative. But there’s also nothing wrong with going gluten free if you choose to do so.

Avoiding gluten isn’t so easy – it’s found in an amazing variety of foods and drinks. Here’s a short list:

  • Beer.
  • Breads.
  • Cakes and pies.
  • Candies.
  • Cereals.
  • Cookies and crackers.
  • French fries.
  • Pastas.
  • Processed lunch meats.
  • Salad dressings and sauces, including soy sauce.
  • Seasoned rice mixes and snack foods, such as potato and tortilla chips.
  • Soups and soup bases.

What CAN you eat?

The news is not all bad. Here’s a list of things you CAN eat if you have celiac disease:

  • Fruits.
  • Vegetables.
  • Most meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
  • Dairy.
  • Beans, legumes and nuts.

Gluten-free also doesn’t mean you have to give up bread. There are many safe breads and snacks made with gluten-free ingredients. These foods are made with grains and starches from plants including rice, corn, quinoa, gluten-free oats and many others. Wheat-free doesn’t always mean gluten-free, so check nutrition labels.

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Author of heart-healthy cookbook to speak at UK on Nov. 18

Popular cookbook author Jane Esselstyn is coming to UK HealthCare on Nov. 18 for a lecture and cooking demonstration about the benefits of a plant-based diet for heart disease prevention.

Esselstyn, a former health educator, has spent most of her life advocating for a plant-based, whole-food diet. A collection of her recipes is featured in The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook, which she co-authored with her mother, Ann.

The event is part of the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute Women’s Heart Health Program’s “Feeding Your Heart and Soul” initiative. Dr. Gretchen Wells, the program director, is an enthusiastic voice in the campaign to reduce the incidence of heart disease in Kentucky.

Numerous studies have linked a plant-based diet to lower risks of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease – as much as 30 percent, according to one Harvard study, Wells said. Plant-based doesn’t mean vegetarian, however: Smaller amounts of lean meats such as chicken or fish are OK.

“One of our missions at the Gill is to educate Kentuckians about lifestyle and encourage them to make changes that reduce their risk for heart disease,” Wells said. “Jane can provide them the tools to live healthier lives, so bringing her to Lexington was a logical fit.”

The event takes place in the UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital Pavilion A Auditorium and will kick off at 8 a.m. with an optional free yoga session. Esselstyn will take the stage for a brief lecture at 9 a.m., followed by a cooking demonstration at 10 a.m. and tastings at 11 a.m.

Some of the recipes Esselstyn will be demonstrating include: kale bruschetta, corn muffins with jalapenos and salsa, chocolate-raspberry mango parfait, smoky little devils (a healthy take on deviled eggs), and several salad dressings. Samples of most recipes will be available for tasting following the demonstration.

The $15 registration fee includes the tastings and a copy of her Esselstyn’s cookbook.

Registration ends Nov. 10 and is limited to the first 125 people. Free parking is available in the UK HealthCare parking garage at 110 Transcript Ave., directly across South Limestone from Chandler Hospital.

To register, contact Karen Michul at or call 859-218-0121.

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DASH diet

The DASH diet is easy to follow and good for your health

Do you want to eat better, but don’t know where to start? Consider the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet.

The DASH diet was initially created to help lower blood pressure. But studies have also found the DASH diet to be one of the best options to prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even some forms of cancer. Research also shows the DASH plan is safe and effective for short-term and permanent weight loss.

The best news is the DASH diet is easy to follow because it does not restrict entire food groups. Because the plan focuses on fresh fruits and veggies, controlling your calories is easier, too. Learn more about the DASH diet below.

What is the DASH diet?

The DASH plan is promoted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. The plan helps reduce the risk for serious health problems because it is low in:

  • Saturated fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Total fat
  • Red meat
  • Sweets
  • Sugary beverages

The DASH diet encourages:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products
  • Whole-grain foods
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Nuts

The DASH diet is also rich in important nutrients such as:

  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Protein
  • Fiber

Tips for following the DASH diet

To reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, try these steps:

  • Choose fresh, frozen or canned vegetables that have low sodium or no added salt.
  • Use fresh poultry, fish or meat instead of canned, smoked or processed options.
  • Limit cured foods such as bacon and ham, foods packed in brine, and condiments.
  • Cook rice or pasta without salt.
  • Cut back on frozen dinners, packaged mixes, and canned soups or broths.
  • Rinse canned foods such as tuna and canned beans to remove some of the salt.
  • Use spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
  • Add fruit to breakfast or have it as a snack.
  • Treat meat as one part of the whole meal, instead of the main focus.

Some days you might eat more sodium or fewer foods from one group than the plan suggests. But don’t worry. Try your best to keep the average on most days close to the DASH plan levels.

Following the DASH diet

Here’s how much of each food group you should eat every day, based on eating 2,000 calories per day.

6-8 servings of whole grains. A serving size is about one slice of bread, 1 ounce of dry cereal or 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta.

4-5 servings of vegetables. A serving size is about 1 cup of raw, leafy vegetable or a 1/2 cup of cut-up raw or cooked vegetables.

4-5 servings of fruits. A serving size is about one medium fruit; 1/4 cup of dried fruit; 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit; or 1/2 cup of real fruit juice.

2-3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy. A serving size is about 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1 1/2 ounces of cheese.

Up to 6 servings of lean meat, poultry, fish. A serving size is about 1 ounce of cooked meat, poultry, or fish, or one egg.

4-5 servings per week of nuts, seeds, legumes: A serving size is about 1/3 cup or 1 1/2 ounces of nuts, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, 2 tablespoons or 1/2 ounce of seeds, 1/2 cup of cooked, dry beans or peas.

2-3 servings of fats and oils: A serving size is about 1 teaspoon of soft margarine, 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon of  mayonnaise or 2 tablespoons of salad dressing.

Up to 5 servings per week of sweets: A serving size is about 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 tablespoon of jelly or jam, 1/2 cup of sorbet or gelatin or 1 cup of lemonade.

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coconut oil

Check out these healthy alternatives (really!) for coconut oil

If you’ve been cooking with coconut oil with the idea it’s healthy, you’re not the only one. Cooking blogs, specialty food stores and many health-conscious eaters have embraced coconut oil as a healthy alternative to other cooking fats, such as butter.

Unfortunately, that healthy reputation may have been too good to be true. According to a recent American Heart Association advisory, coconut oil is 82 percent saturated fat – the type of fat you want to avoid in large quantities. Studies show saturated fat can raise your LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, as much as butter, beef fat or palm oil. Canola oil, on the other hand, has only 7 percent saturated fat, and might be a healthier option for cooking.

All fats and oils have varying levels of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. Saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol, which can cause atherosclerosis, a condition marked by the hardening and clogging of arteries that can lead to heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases.

Replacing saturated fat with the healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat in the diet lowers cardiovascular disease risk as much as cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, according to the advisory.

So, which oils should you be using in your kitchen? Here’s what the AHA recommends:

Healthier cooking oils

  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Olive oil

Cooking oils and fats to avoid or limit

  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Beef tallow
  • Palm oil
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Coconut oil

The AHA recommends that saturated fat should make up less than 10 percent of daily calories for healthy Americans and no more than 6 percent for those who need lower cholesterol.

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screen time

Is too much screen time affecting your health?

If you’re feeling overly stressed or unproductive, it might be a sign that you’re spending too much time staring at your smartphone.

That’s not surprising. In fact, data from a 2016 Nielsen study shows the average American spends almost 11 hours in front of screens each day. All that exposure to technology takes a toll on our overall health.

A growing body of research suggests that time staring at a screen can lead to health issues such as obesity, depression, anxiety, blurred vision and lack of productivity. Although it’s hard for all of us to go more than a few hours without technology, there are benefits to putting down your smartphone and enjoying the digital-free life.

These benefits include:

  • Reduced stress.
  • Healthier sleep habits.
  • Improved mental and physical health.
  • Boosts in productivity and creativity.

Here are some tips to limit screen time:

  • Use a device other than your smartphone as an alarm.
  • Charge your phone and other electronics outside of your bedroom.
  • Avoid checking emails after work.
  • Limit phone use an hour before going to bed.
  • Spend only 30-40 minutes on non-work-related devices each day.
  • Eat dinner at a table instead of in front of the TV.
  • Use the 20/20/20 rule to keep your eyes healthy. For every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, look at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds to help reduce strain on your eyes while at work.
  • Get moving. Aim for 30 minutes of brisk activity five days a week. A bike ride or walk with friends gets you away from your smartphone and works wonders for your overall health, too.

Sources: National Institutes of Health, The Vision Council

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