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Appeals Court Says It’s Cool for Employers to Discriminate Against Dreadlocks. WTF?!

Last time we checked, hair styles had nothing to do with crushing it at work. Even if you're in the food service industry, where a stray hair could end up in someone's food, all you've got to do is put on a hat or hair net, and you're good to go. But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that it's legal for companies to discriminate against employees with dreadlocks. The ruling comes from a suit filed by Chastity Jones, an Alabama woman who had her job offer rescinded after an HR manager said dreadlocks "tend to get messy," so they wouldn't be appropriate in the workplace. The HR manager allegedly told Jones, "I'm not saying yours are [messy], but you know what I'm talking about." Well, if you're asking us to read between the lines, it doesn't sound like you're talking about a messy bun. The company's grooming policy stated "hairstyle should reflect a business/professional image. No excessive hairstyles or unusual colors are acceptable." So dreadlocks are either unprofessional or excessive. It seems like some thinly veiled racism here, huh? The appeals court didn't agree. The justices said that while hairstyle can be associated with a person's heritage, the HR managers actions were not discriminatory because hair is a physical characteristic you can change. So by this logic, an overweight person could be denied a job because that's something they could change. Ultimately, we should be hiring people based on their ability to do the job, not on the way they look.

What Dating a Sober Guy Taught Me About Myself

We were watching The Lego Movie. I remember it clearly, because it felt odd to be stressing out while listening to the movie's upbeat theme song: Everything is awesome; everything is cool when you're part of a team. But nothing was awesome, and I was anything but cool. I was about to have sex with someone new, without being my usual three vodka sodas (at least) deep. While little Legos danced across the TV, I tried to ignore the panic starting to creep in. The guy I was dating didn't drink. Up to this point, it had been a welcome break from the usual bar scene. But in those minutes before my clothes were about to come off, I actually thought about sneaking out of his bedroom and grabbing something from his roommate's liquor cabinet to calm my nerves. I missed having alcohol as a security blanket during encounters like this—how a few drinks could dull my insecurities and make me feel like a catch. Now, sober during the act, I focused on positioning my body to look its most flattering, avoiding eye contact with my partner, and honestly, waiting for it to be over. Why didn't I feel hot enough to sleep with someone new unless I was hammered? Later that night I took a hard look at how I'd ended up there. Why didn't I feel hot enough to sleep with someone new unless I was hammered? How have I managed to be sloshed every time I've had sex with a new guy, without ever having to go out of my way (or raid someone's liquor cabinet) to do so? The answer: I was locked into a pattern—one that will probably sound familiar to any 20-something dating in a big city. The beginning of any new relationship went something like this: For the first date, we meet at a low-lit bar. I order a drink that I chug way too fast because I feel uncomfortable. Over drink No. 2, I continue to drown out how awkward I feel by asking the standard questions: "What do you do?" "Where are you from?" "Do you know my friend so-and-so? She went to the same college as you." Drink No. 3 makes me feel even more confident and bold, and my date and I get closer to each other. Make out over drink No. 4. Dates three through five repeat this format again and again, subbing in questions that are less surface level and make it seem like we're actually getting to know one another. Eventually we have sloppy, drunk, first-time sex. But it's OK that it's sloppy. Because we're both drunk and can use booze as a scapegoat. This is not the case when you're getting it on stone-cold sober in the middle of the afternoon to the rhythm of "Everything Is Awesome." Alcohol makes a lot of things easier—conversations with strangers who you'd potentially like to make out with being one of them. It also helps drown out the things you're feeling insecure about. Booze makes awkward moments feel bearable. It makes you feel loose, relaxed, and at ease. But it also clouds your judgment and distorts your perception. Alcohol put a rose-colored (beer-goggled?) filter over whomever I was dating, obscuring the obvious flaws. After three months of dating someone, I’d suddenly become aware of something I hadn't noticed while we were sloshed, like his short temper or jealous streak. I'd stick around for longer than I should've, remembering the good times that I only thought were good because I was wasted for most of them. Alcohol put a rose-colored filter over whomever I was dating, obscuring the obvious flaws. Granted, getting out of the bar and away from the drunk-interview style of dating wasn't easy. There were times I missed having that vodka soda in my hand so much that I'd stand as if I were still holding it, like a phantom limb. But for the most part, I haven't found myself on many dates where we're both just standing around, because dating sober requires you to get creative. And let me tell you, even the process of making plans that don't involve picking a bar that's convenient for both of you can tell you a lot about the person you're dating. Spending a day firing an AR-15 at a gun range? Trying to sneak into Brooklyn's fanciest rooftop pools on a Sunday afternoon? Not for everyone. But there's a bond that gets created when you’re trying something out of the ordinary and outside your comfort zone. Without alcohol as a crutch for conversation, I've had to learn how to be comfortable with awkward silences. Or take the time to fill them with something thoughtful instead of stream of consciousness babbling. I've had to own whatever stupid thing I've said that didn't come out right. I had always considered myself a good listener; I'd just blame my zoning out on the blasting background music at whatever bar I was at. But dating sober has made me better at having a conversation and actually paying attention to what's being said. I'm not saying everyone should quit the sauce and plan an adrenaline-spiking first date. But I do think anyone who's out there trying to meet someone could benefit from a few dates that get you both off the bar stool. It's a way better gauge of compatibility than seeing who can shoot the most whiskey. As for sex without the vodka? I'm still learning how to get out of my head and be present in what's happening, without critiquing myself the entire time. But that's easier to do when you're actually feeling everything that's happening to you. There are no dulled sensations. Nothing feels watered down. Everything is awesome.

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan's $3 Billion Pledge to Cure Disease Is Great, but It Won't Work

When you're the creator of Facebook, you have some spare change lying around. Thankfully, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have pledged to donate the majority of their fortune to charity through their foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Yesterday the couple announced plans to spend $3 billion over the next ten years to "cure disease." This influx of cash is huge, but if history has taught us anything, pumping lots of money into scientific research won't magically make disease go away. Chan, a pediatrician, said the foundation will focus on four major diseases (heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and diabetes) with the goal of bringing together the world's best scientists to develop new technologies for a cure. But the government already does this. You can argue that the current system doesn't incentivize scientists to collaborate (something Zuckerberg and Chan want to improve), but it's undeniable that the National Institutes of Health already pumps huge amounts of research dollars into studying these diseases. In the last 5 years, the NIH spent $8 billion on heart disease research, $5 billion on diabetes research, and $7 billion on lung disease research. Not to mention, since beginning the "war on cancer" in 1971, the government has spent $105 billion on research. We have made huge advancements in how we treat these four diseases, but we aren't anywhere close to finding a cure. We really hope these two prove us wrong, but for now, we're not convinced this major pledge will have the gigantic effect it promises.

GreatistYou Confessions: Darby and Adrienne's Story

We asked our GreatistYou contestants to reflect on their six-week journeys. Darby and Adrienne set out to establish healthy habits and run their first 10K. Here's how they did it. Darby: In the beginning I was nervous about eating right. I knew that was going to be hard for me, but I cut back on snacks and fried foods. I also made a conscious decision to drink less. It was hard in the beginning, but by the middle of the challenge, I found myself not really missing fried foods. I ate more salads and lean meats, which I think led to me dropping around five pounds over the past six weeks! And the better I ate, the better I felt. Adrienne: I was most nervous about my knee situation—and that did prove to be quite the challenge. But whereas before I felt like I needed to sit out of everything, now I'm happy I have different options. For example, I began swimming at my local pool. I started out doing 45 to 60 minutes of any stroke to get my heart rate up, but then my physical therapist told me which strokes would be least harmful for my knee (apparently the breast stroke can be really hard on your knees!). I stuck to freestyle for 30 to 45 minutes and then did about 10 minutes with a foam piece between my knees. I also did vinyasa yoga at Yoga to the People and used towels or extra mats to support my knee. Darby: I was also really looking forward to feeling athletic again, and the 10K race made me feel that way. I was uncomfortable at times, and that reminded me of when I used to train for tennis in college. Adrienne: I think I was most excited about establishing some good habits. With all the changes we were going through (moving, getting a new job), setting up good routines was key. We created a weekly schedule with rest days, cardio days, and strength days. Monday was supposed to be our rest day. But we soon found out that lots of things can come up—particularly during vacation and wedding season. As time went on and my knee started to feel better, I was able to do more things at home and run outside instead of having to work around pool and studio schedules. My backup plan, if I couldn't make it to a class, was running or yoga at home. Darby: I also set my weekly schedule every Sunday night. My goal was always to exercise after work. Whenever I had plans, I would wake up extra early and go running. Or if I was crushed for time, I would jump rope right outside the apartment or do jumping jacks. Adrienne: If I were going to offer advice to someone else starting a new challenge, I would say, "Make a schedule, be realistic, and always have a plan B." Darby: I would also say, "Don't limit yourself. Don't be afraid to try new things or go out of your comfort zone. And don’t be afraid to make sacrifices so you can stick to your goal." We've been pretty supportive of each other throughout the whole thing. I know Adrienne really supported and pushed me, and it's been really exciting to look forward to the race, to have that goal. Adrienne: What I'd like to do next is explore some of the alternative exercises I found throughout this experience—more yoga, more swimming. I want to do things that are a little less damaging to my body. I’m excited to continue with those activities and also run in a more responsible manner. Darby: Honestly, I want to do another race. I find the whole idea of timing yourself and what place you come in intriguing, so I'm looking forward to continuing to train and getting back into an athletic mindset. That's what really boosted my mood and confidence. Adrienne: Darby thrives in situations where she can challenge herself. Darby: I don't know if my future is a triathlon, but... Adrienne: You could do it! Darby: It's just been fun to compete. We really had a blast doing the 10K. It was challenging but super worth it. You can check out Darby and Adrienne's entire six-week journey on Instagram. Or catch up on all the GreatistYou action here.

7 Game Day Recipes Better Than a Greasy Pile of Wings

The start of fall = kickoff to football season. And for some, the very word "football" means running to the nearest couch and posting up with a mountain of wings. But we've got a little something else in mind. So does this week's featured foodie, Kate Taylor of Cookie and Kate. Kate knows that super-tasty game day food doesn't have to be deep-fried or smothered in ranch dressing, and if you don't believe us, check out these seven recipes. 1. Sweet Potato and Bean Quesadillas Game day is all about the snacks, but who says there can’t be something a little more substantial on the table? Quesadillas are a crowd-pleaser—seriously, they’re essentially bread and cheese—and so easy to assemble. Sweet potato and black beans make a rich filling that’s practically begging to be dipped in salsa verde, but you can throw in whatever you like. Hint: If you don’t have a spiral slicer, follow the instructions for cubed sweet potatoes instead. 2. Lemon-Parsley Bean Salad A salad that doubles as a chunky dip? Sign us up. Half deconstructed hummus, half protein-heavy salad, this kidney bean and chickpea side is just as refreshing scooped up on a pita chip as it is piled onto a plate alongside a meal. Don’t skip the fresh herbs in this one; when paired with the tart lemon vinaigrette, there’s nothing better to complement the rich beans. 3. Peanut Dipping Sauce Ranch and veggies is a perfectly fine snacking option, but we’re not interested in mediocrity. Try a salty peanut dip this weekend for an elevated munching experience. Looking to utilize this dip for heartier eating? Skewer some pieces of last night’s baked chicken and dunk away. (Note: Frozen chicken tenders also work well here.) 4. Maple-Almond Butter Caramel Popcorn It’s important to balance your salty snacks with sweet for optimal taste-bud pleasure, so we present this nutty, maple-y, caramel-y popcorn. Pour a gooey almond butter and maple syrup caramel over freshly popped popcorn, then add a shower of toasted slivered almonds and cinnamon. Hello, new favorite midnight snack. 5. Kale Guacamole Oh, guac. The dip we always expect to see on a snack table and rarely ever tire of scooping. Much as we love the classic, we’re not at all opposed to adding extra veg to the original recipe—it means we can just eat more, right? Add a few handfuls of chopped kale for an extra-green dip that’s sure to be gobbled up in about ten minutes. We recommend a double batch. 6. Cabbage Slaw With Lemon Dressing Cooling cabbage slaw is the antidote to a buffalo chicken wing-burning mouth. A zingy lemon vinaigrette instead of mayo lets the crisp flavor of the veg shine in this untraditional slaw. Without the classic creamy dressing, there’s room to explore more texture in this dish; toasted nuts and seeds add richness to the slaw without loading the cabbage down with thick sauce. 7. Salsa Verde Tell a friend to pick up a jar of red salsa on their way over so you can focus on homemade salsa verde. Roast tart, fruity tomatillos with jalapeños until charred. Blend the smoky veg with onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Add avocado for super-creamy dip if you’d like, or just break open the closest bag of chips. Kate Taylor is the writer, photographer, and recipe developer behind Cookie and Kate, a food blog featuring fresh vegetarian recipes. Kate lives in Kansas City with a funny mutt named Cookie. Her first cookbook, Love Real Food, comes out next spring. For more from Cookie and Kate, follow them on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

These 9 Desserts Prove Dairy-Free Is Still Delicious

If you avoid milk-based products, you probably think it's slim pickings when it comes to desserts. Time to moo-ve those thoughts aside, because the world of dairy-free sweets is just as chocolaty and satisfying as those heavy cream-steeped treats your friends are eating. Just keep in mind that “dairy-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “vegan,” so if you stick to a specific diet, check the recipe ingredients. 1. Fig, Cocoa, and Almond Cookies These chocolaty fig and almond cookies are a dairy-free marvel. Chewy and super satisfying, they make a perfect snack along with a cup of tea. Good luck eating just one. 2. Vanilla Caramel Doughnut Holes These doughnuts need neither dairy nor frying oil. Whip together a mixture of oats, add dates and soaked nuts to bind everything together, and roll into balls. Freeze the baby doughnuts, then dunk in a vanilla glaze. Finger licking not optional. 3. Peanut Butter Cookies Look in your kitchen cabinet. If you have nut butter, maple syrup, coconut oil, salt, and flour, you’re ten minutes away from cookies that taste so buttery you’ll think it’s a joke that they’re dairy-free. But we wouldn’t lie to you! 4. Roasted Wine-Soaked Stone Fruit If you can’t have dairy, why not add a little wine to your fruit? This riff on peaches and cream uses fresh fruit right from the farmer's market. The whipped “cream” is actually aquafaba, also known as chickpea water (it’s a thing). If you’re not about this garbanzo bean whip, you can easily use coconut whipped cream, vegan yogurt, or any other dairy-free alternative. 5. Chocolate Olive Oil Cake If you’ve never used olive oil in baked goods before, we strongly recommend you pick up a bottle (or just use the one sitting in your pantry). An alternative fat to butter or canola oil, its savory flavor also pairs perfectly with chocolate. Eggs make the cake light and airy, and a shower of salted maple almonds on top gives a satisfying crunch. Go ahead, get out that cake pan—who cares if it’s not your birthday? 6. Chocolate Chunk Nut Butter Blondies Nut butter and chocolate are at it again—and we're not mad about it. Combined with eggs that give these bars their fluffy texture and coconut sugar for that touch of sweet, these blondies really do have more fun. Use nut butter in place of a richer fat (the darker the butter, the more caramel-colored the blondie!) and super-dark chocolate for a bar to pack for lunch... or to munch on after you pass through the kitchen. 7. Rainbow Carrot Cake Muffins These carrot muffins are so rich and cakey they might as well be cupcakes. And what’s the point of eating carrot cake without a tall smear of cream cheese frosting? (Answer: no point.) Dairy-avoiders need to try this cream cheese-free frosting—it tastes like the real deal thanks to cashews, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and maple syrup. 8. Mint-Cayenne Mango Gelato Instead of focusing on what you can’t have when you’re dairy-free, embrace the fruity, spicy, and creamy elements of this gelato. Blend frozen mango and coconut cream with mint and a dash of cayenne. Squeeze in some lemon to balance the pepper and fruit. 9. Dark Chocolate Avocado Mousse Dairy-free chocolate mousse isn’t just something you dreamed about last night. With a little help from avocado, a lighter-than-air chocolaty dessert is in your near future. And while we wouldn’t necessarily encourage eating dessert for breakfast, this recipe is so good for you we’ll let it go just this once...

What's Really Making Your Back Hurt?

Back pain is one of the most common complaints doctors hear from their patients. In fact, studies show that more than 80% of Americans will suffer from at least one episode of back pain during their lifetime. Back pain can range from mildly annoying to completely debilitating depending on the cause and severity of the symptoms.    So what really causes back pain? The answer is complex, but what we do know is the following people are at a greater risk of lower back pain: 

  • Adults between the ages of 30 and 55.
  • People who smoke. (Researchers theorize that smoking may decrease blood flow to intervertebral discs which can lead to accelerated cell death.)
  • Adults who had episodes of low back pain as teens.
  • People whose occupational activities require heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, etc. 
  • Those with a history of depression, anxiety or insomnia. (These conditions may affect a person’s ability to deal with pain.) 
Beyond these risk factors, there are a variety of problems that cause lower back pain. Here are the five most common causes of back pain—and what you can do about it.    Strains or Sprains to Back Muscles Strains (injuries to a muscle or tendon) and sprains (injuries to a ligament) are the most common causes of back pain. Moving suddenly, twisting or lifting heavy objects can cause microscopic tears in the muscles, tendons or ligaments in your back. Depending on the severity of the tear, this can cause mild to severe pain that comes on immediately or soon after an activity such as heavy lifting. The lower back area can be sore to the touch and achy, and muscle spasms can also occur.   Treatment:  Strains and sprains often heal on their own with home remedies, such as rest, ice and/or heat, gentle stretching and anti-inflammatory medication. Ice is generally used to reduce inflammation and swelling, while heat can help reduce muscle spasms. However, if you can’t walk more than four steps without significant pain, can’t move the affected area, or have numbness, you should see a doctor right away.   Degenerated Spinal Discs Spinal discs are soft, fluid-filled "sacs" located between each vertebra of the spine. They provide a cushion for the vertebrae, helping absorb impact and shock. Over time, the discs can degenerate or wear out, especially in the lumber (lower back) region. Some disc degeneration is part of the normal aging process. Other disc issues can be caused by injury or trauma to the back. The wearing down of intervertebral discs causes chemical and physical changes within the discs that can lead to inflammation and nerve-related pain, usually contained in the lower back region and not extending into the arms or legs. It is usually brought on by activities that compress the spine, such as bending forward from the waist, sneezing, coughing or sitting for prolonged periods of time. Often, it is relieved by a change in position such as standing up or lying down.        Treatment:  In most cases, anti-inflammatory medications and exercises that strengthen and stretch the back muscles can help.   Herniated Discs With age, spinal discs become less elastic, increasing the risk of rupture. When a rupture occurs, a portion of the disc is pushed outside of its normal boundaries; this is referred to as a herniated disc. The most common area where people experience herniated discs is in the lumbar (lower back) region of the spine. Injury or trauma to the spine can also cause a disc to rupture as can prolonged sitting (which puts pressure on lower back discs) and heavy lifting.   A herniated disc results in sharp or throbbing lower back pain that can come on suddenly (as the result of a fall, sudden movement or accident) or gradually. Some people feel less pain when lying down; others experience less pain with increased movement or standing. Depending on the severity of the rupture and its location near the nerves, some people may experience nerve-related numbness, tingling, weakness or pain that shoots down the leg.   Treatment: Dealing with a herniated disc depends on a number of factors, including age and severity of symptoms. Treatment typically starts with rest and refraining from activities that aggravate the condition. Many times, the condition will resolve itself given time. Ice, heat and anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve symptoms. Physical therapy can also help to improve the stability and strength of the lumbar region to reduce the risk of further injury.    Sciatica "Sciatica" refers to pain along the sciatic nerve, which starts in the lower back and runs down the hip and buttock on each side of the body. Sciatica commonly occurs when a herniated disc or bone spur compresses part of the sciatic nerve. Sciatic pain is usually limited to one side of the body. It can result in inflammation and numbness in the affected leg, and can get worse with standing, sitting, sneezing or heavy lifting. Pain varies from a mild ache to a jolt or shock.    Treatment: Prolonged inactivity can make sciatica symptoms worse, so it’s important to continue with regular activity (assuming it’s not the activity that caused the problem in the first place). Cold packs, heat packs, stretching the hamstrings and piriformis (which runs across the buttocks to the outer hip) and pain relieving medication can be helpful ways to self-treat the problem. If those aren’t successful, your doctor might prescribe stronger medication and/or physical therapy to help correct the problem.    Spinal Stenosis This is a narrowing of the open spaces within the spinal canal, which can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves that travel through the spine. Degenerative changes typically cause this narrowing process to occur, which is why the condition normally affects people over age 50. Spinal stenosis can cause cramping in the legs (when sitting or standing for long periods of time), and pain, numbness or weakness in the back or legs. It can also lead to problems with bowel or bladder control.   Treatment: Anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants and other types of medication might be prescribed by your doctor to relieve spinal stenosis pain. Exercises to improve balance, increase flexibility and stability of the spine and increase overall strength are also often part of a comprehensive treatment program.   Special Exercise Considerations for Back Pain Although two-thirds of patients with back pain report improvements within seven weeks, as many as 40 percent will see a relapse within six months. The good news is that, in general, those who engage in a regular physical activity program are less likely to have back pain now and in the future. And for most individuals, exercise will be a key component of their treatment program. Although the standard recommendation for people with back pain used to be rest, recent research has shown inactivity may not only delay recovery, but can also make the symptoms worse.     For most acute low back pain issues, low-impact cardiovascular activities such as walking are recommended. Patients are encouraged to resume daily activities as soon as possible. Specific back exercises, heavy lifting and prolonged sitting should be avoided when the issue is acute.   For many chronic low back pain issues, physical therapy is often helpful to correct muscle imbalances and prevent future problems. The goal is typically to develop a specific set of exercises that will increase strength, endurance and flexibility and also to learn correct movement techniques that will benefit the patient for the rest of their life.    With the proper guidance, it's possible for many back pain sufferers to resume normal activities and exercise in a safe, pain-free manner.   Sources Solomon, Jennifer. “Low-back Pain.” In ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist Manual, edited by Cedric X. Bryant and Daniel J. Green, 489-507. 2012., "Herniated Disc,", accessed on July 2, 2013., "Discogenic Back Pain,", accessed on July 2, 2013.   Mayo Clinic, "Spinal Stenosis,", accessed on July 2, 2013.   Mayo Clinic, "Sciatica,", accessed on July 2, 2013.   Spine Health, "Lower Back Pain Symptoms and Causes,", accessed on July 2, 2013.                 Article Source:

Supplements for a Healthy Heart

So you just found out that you have high cholesterol, or perhaps you have a strong family history of heart disease and want to do your best to prevent it. So you head to the pharmacy or health food store for help, only to be bombarded by countless supplements that tout their heart healthy benefits. Which should you choose? Are they all good for your heart? Are supplements necessary to improve your health and reduce your risk of heart disease? Before you buy into the billion-dollar business of dietary supplements, remember a few key things.

  1. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same way as medications are regulated. Manufacturers have a lot of leeway in their ability to make health claims on their bottles—much more than most health professionals would like—and these claims can be very misleading. Some claims are not even true or are not based on good scientific research. Never trust what a bottle or advertisement tells you about a product. After all, the goal of both is to get you to buy it. Do your own investigation first.  
  2. Dietary supplements are NOT a must for a healthy heart. Many people can reduce their risk of heart disease and improve their heart health by making simple lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and following the heart-health plan provided by their health care provider. Supplements alone cannot and will not undo an unhealthy (poor quality) diet or inactive lifestyle. If you do prefer to take supplements, think of them as an added insurance plan to the heart-healthy changes you're already making.  
  3. Supplements can interact with other medications. Even something as seemingly benign as a vitamin or mineral supplement can cause adverse reactions when combined with certain over-the-counter and prescription drugs, so ALWAYS keep a list of all supplements you take and share it with your pharmacist and health care provider.  
  4. Talk to your doctor first. Before taking any supplement, get advice and recommendations from your health care provider.
Here's a list of common supplements (listed in alphabetical order) that make heart health claims. Read on to find out which may help, and which supplements you should leave on the shelf according to evidence-based research. B Vitamins: Folic Acid, Vitamin B-6 and Vitamin B-12 The B-complex vitamins, which include folic acid, help keep your nerves and red blood cells healthy and strong. They are also involved in the metabolism (and reduction) of homocysteine, an amino acid that, when elevated, is linked to heart disease, blood clots, heart attack and strokes. Several controlled research studies indicate that a combination of vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, and folic acid can decrease homocysteine levels; but other studies have shown no benefit in reducing the risk of heart disease. Therefore, the American Heart Association has concluded that there isn't enough evidence to say that B-vitamin supplementation reduces cardiovascular risk. It is important to work with your physician before taking B-complex vitamin supplements to improve heart health. Baby Aspirin This little over-the-counter pain reliever has been shown to have some great heart-healthy benefits as well. Aspirin interferes with your body’s blood clotting ability. For someone with narrowed blood vessels, a decrease in blood clotting may help to prevent a blockage and thus prevent a heart attack or stroke. To determine if you would benefit from taking an aspirin daily, talk to your doctor first about usage and dosage. If you have already had a heart attack or stroke, your doctor has probably already discussed this treatment option. If you have strong risk factors for heart disease, you may also benefit from taking a baby aspirin daily. There is no standard dosage for aspirin usage and heart health: It can range from 75-325 milligrams. A baby aspirin (81 mg) is often prescribed. Some medical conditions such as bleeding disorders, asthma, stomach ulcer, or heart failure could become more dangerous if a baby aspirin was consumed daily. Aspirin can also interfere with certain medications, herbal supplements and dietary supplements, too, so talk to your doctor first. Calcium The mineral calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth, but the heart, nerves, and blood-clotting systems also need calcium to work properly. In people with high blood pressure (hypertension), calcium supplementation appears to have a modest effect by lowering systolic blood pressure by 2–4 mmHg, but it appears to have little effect in people with normal blood pressure. Calcium seems to be most effective in salt-sensitive people and people who normally get very little calcium in their diet. For people with high cholesterol, taking calcium supplements along with a heart healthy diet may modestly reduce LDL "bad" cholesterol by 4.4% and increase HDL "good" cholesterol by 4.1%. Taking calcium alone, without the heart healthy diet, does not seem to lower cholesterol. Other studies suggest that simply eating a calcium-rich diet (not supplementing it) can improve heart health. Research has shown that individuals who eat a vegetarian diet that is high in minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium) and fiber, and low in fat tend to have lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease. Similarly, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study was conducted to test the effects of three different eating patterns on blood pressure: the "typical" American diet; a diet high in fruits and vegetables; and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, now known as the DASH diet. The third group experienced the greatest reduction in blood pressure among the three groups, which signals that dietary calcium plays an important role in heart health. A heart-healthy goal for calcium intake is to consume at least 1,000-1,200 milligrams daily. Determine how much calcium you are getting daily through your diet (tracking your food on SparkPeople's free Nutrition Tracker will do the math for you!) and then add a supplement to meet the remaining amount, if necessary. Coenzyme Q-10 Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10) is a vitamin-like substance found throughout the body, especially in the cells of the heart, liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It is involved in generating energy, cell respiration and cell transport. It occurs naturally (in small amounts) in meats and seafood, but can also be made in a laboratory for medicinal and supplementation purposes. Preliminary research indicates that Coenzyme Q-10 supplementation MAY:
  • Reduce blood pressure enough that people taking medication for hypertension can decrease or discontinue their dosage (under a doctor's care, of course).
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease complications when started within 72 hours of having a heart attack and taken for one year.
  • Help treat congestive heart failure when taken in combination with other heart failure medications and treatments.
  • Improve exercise tolerance in patients with chest pain (angina).
  • Help prevent the muscle pains and liver damage often experience by people using statin drugs.
Work closely with your physician when using or considering this supplement. Fish Oil Fatty fish that are especially rich in the beneficial oils called omega-3 fatty acids include mackerel, tuna, salmon, sturgeon, mullet, bluefish, anchovy, sardines, herring, and trout. The omega-3 fatty acids can improve heart health due to their anti-inflammatory action. Fish oil can be obtained from eating fish or by taking fish oil supplements. Studies indicate the fish oil can help prevent heart disease and lower the risk of additional complications in people who already have heart disease. Some research indicates that fish oil can: reduce triglycerides by up to 20-50%; modestly lower blood pressure by expanding blood vessels; and offer greater heart-protection benefits when combined with statin drugs (cholesterol-lowering medications). Be sure to talk to your doctor about the amount of fish oil you should be taking. Your doctor will follow specific dosing guidelines based on your medical needs. A dose of 1 to 4 grams daily (with 240 milligrams of DHA and 360 milligrams of EPA per gram) is fairly typical, but the prescribed dosage will vary depending on your heart health and lipid profile. Warning: Taking high doses of fish oil can be dangerous; more than 3 grams per day can keep blood from clotting properly and can increase bleeding in your body. High doses of fish oil might also reduce the functioning of your immune system. Taking fish oil supplements in large amounts can also increase levels of the LDL "bad" cholesterol in some people. Green Tea Extract Green tea extract can be made from the dried leaves of the Camellia sinesis plant, a perennial evergreen shrub. Since green tea is not fermented (as black tea is) and is produced by steaming fresh leaves at high temperatures, it maintain important molecules called catechins, a type of flavonoid thought to be responsible for many of the benefits of green tea. Epidemiological evidence suggests that people who drink more green tea have healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In one study, participants who ingested 375 milligrams of an oral theaflavin-enriched green tea extract daily for 12 weeks experienced reductions in total cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Typical recommendations encourage the drinking of freshly brewed green tea, which appears to offer more benefits than supplementation. Drink up to 5 cups of green tea daily for heart health, or supplement with 375 milligrams of green tea extract daily. Talk to your doctor for more specific guidelines based on your medical needs. Niacin Niacin and niacinamide are forms of vitamin B-3, which is found in many protein-rich foods including poultry, fish, beef, pork, peanut butter, and legumes. It is also added to many enriched and fortified grain products (think cereals and breads). Niacin and niacinamide are required for fats and sugars to function properly in the body and for the maintenance of healthy cells. Research has shown that in high doses, niacin and niacinamide can help prevent heart disease by interfering with the body’s blood clotting action and possibly lowering triglyceride levels. Therefore, individual niacin supplements are sometimes used as a treatment for high cholesterol. Only niacin—not the form niacinamide—appears to lower cholesterol. Some niacin supplements are FDA-approved as prescriptions for treating high cholesterol. These prescription niacin supplements typically come in 50- milligram doses or higher, while over-the-counter supplements (which are not regulated by the FDA) come in strengths of 250 milligrams or less. Since very high doses of niacin are required for the treatment of high cholesterol, dietary niacin supplements is usually not effective or appropriate for this purpose. Niacin is safe for most adults. A flushing reaction is a common effect of niacin supplementation. This can occur as a burning, tingling, itching, and redness of the face, arms, and chest. Often starting with a smaller dose of niacin and taking aspirin before each dose of niacin will help reduce the flushing effect. Usually, this reaction goes away as the body gets used to the medication. Other side effects of niacin are stomach upset, gas, dizziness, and pain in the mouth. Serious and toxic side effects can occur when an individual consumes 3 grams or more per day. Talk to your doctor before using niacin as a treatment option for high cholesterol. Plant Sterols and Stanols Plant sterols and plant stanols are components of certain plant membranes. They are found naturally in small amounts in some vegetable oils, nuts, grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Research has shown that plant sterols and plant stanols have the ability to help lower total cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol. When you eat food that contains dietary cholesterol (found in animal products) your intestinal tract absorbs that cholesterol and puts it into the bloodstream. When the sterols and stanols travel through your digestive tract, they get in the way of dietary cholesterol, preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Therefore, less total cholesterol is absorbed by your body when plant sterols and stanols are present. The cholesterol that is not absorbed leaves the body as waste. To be beneficial, plant sterols and stanols must be consumed in the correct amount on a daily basis. The National Cholesterol Education Program’s Adult Treatment Panel III recommends an intake of at least 2 grams of plant sterols and plant stanols daily to be effective at lowering cholesterol and LDL levels. Plant sterols and stanols are now added to some margarines, orange juices, yogurts and other specialized foods. They are also available as a supplement. To assure that one gets the 2 grams daily needed for effectiveness, many doctors now suggest taking plant sterols and stanols as a supplement. Psyllium Blond psyllium seed and psyllium husk (the outer covering of the seed) are primarily used as to make laxatives for constipation and fiber supplements such as Metamucil. You can also find psyllium added to cereals, breads and snack bars that are marketed as "high in fiber." In addition, psyllium alone can be found as a supplement. The fiber from psyllium can reduce LDL "bad" cholesterol. Studies have indicated that taking blond psyllium in a dose of approximately 10-12 grams daily can reduce levels of total cholesterol by 3% to 14% and LDL "bad" cholesterol by 5% to 10% after 7 weeks of treatment. Warnings: Blond psyllium is safe for most people when taken with plenty of fluids to prevent the fiber from forming an obstruction in the esophagus. Blond psyllium can lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, so monitor blood sugar levels closely. It can also decrease the absorption of certain medications. In some people, blond psyllium might cause gas, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. For these reasons, make sure you talk with your doctor before using psyllium seed or psyllium husk. Red Yeast Rice Red yeast rice supplements come from the rice that is fermented with Monascus purpureus yeast. The active ingredient in red yeast rice supplements is similar to the active ingredient in the cholesterol-lowering prescription drugs (statins), such as lovastatin (Mevacor). While red yeast rice supplements can be used to maintain normal cholesterol levels in healthy people, and in reducing cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides in people with high cholesterol, it can also cause all the same side effects as statin drugs: liver damage, muscle pain, and muscle damage. Some red yeast supplements contain none of the active ingredient, and some contain significant amounts. Therefore, the American Heart Association warns against using red yeast until the results of long-term studies are available and the quality of the products become more standardized. It can cause stomach discomfort, heartburn, gas and dizziness. You should talk with your healthcare provider before taking red yeast rice. Selenium Selenium is a mineral found in foods and water sources. The amount of selenium in the foods you eat depends on where it is grown or raised; the amount of selenium in soils varies greatly, which means that foods grown in different soils have differing selenium levels. Crab, liver, fish, poultry, and wheat are generally good selenium sources. There is some preliminary evidence that selenium may help to lower LDL "bad" cholesterol and decrease plaque build-up in the arteries. However, in people with coronary heart disease, selenium supplementation in combination with beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E does NOT seem to protect against the progression of heart disease. Currently there is insufficient evidence available to recommend selenium supplements for the prevention of heart disease. Vitamin C Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin helps form and repair red blood cells and other body tissue. It helps keep blood vessels firm, prevents bruising, and helps keep the immune system strong. Good sources of vitamin C are fresh fruits (especially citrus) and vegetables, especially citrus fruits. Synthetic vitamin C can also be made in a laboratory to be used in supplements. Taking vitamin C along with conventional high blood pressure medications appears to decrease systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) by a small amount, but does not seem to decrease diastolic pressure (the bottom number). Taking vitamin C supplements alone, though, doesn’t seem to affect blood pressure. Regarding cardiovascular disease, evidence from many epidemiological studies suggests that high intakes of fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, partly due to the antioxidant content of these foods. However, results from research examining vitamin C intake and cardiovascular disease risk are conflicting. Results from most clinical intervention trials have failed to show a beneficial effect of vitamin C supplementation on the prevention of cardiovascular disease. So you're better off saving your money and just eating more fruits and vegetables to get the heart-protecting benefits of vitamin C. Vitamin E Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin found in many foods including vegetable oils (such as soybean, corn, cottonseed, and safflower oil), as well as margarines and salad dressings made from such oils. Nuts, seeds and wheat germ are also good sources of vitamin E. It is known as a powerful antioxidant, and for years, vitamin E supplements were touted as having a protective effect on the heart. Several observational studies have associated high dietary (not supplemented) intakes of vitamin E with lower rates of heart disease. However, clinical trials have not shown vitamin E supplements to be effective in preventing heart disease, stroke or chest pain. In fact some studies indicate that vitamin E supplementation actually increased heart failure and mortality. Overall, clinical trials have not provided evidence that routine use of vitamin E supplements prevents cardiovascular disease. While taking vitamin E supplements may not help prevent heart disease, increasing your intake of vitamin E by eating more foods that contain it may be beneficial. Sources Davis, Jeanie Lerche. "Supplementing Your Heart Health: Omega-3, Plant Sterols, and More," accessed March 2011. Grogan, Martha, M.D. "Calcium supplements: A risk factor for heart attack?," accessed March 2011. Grogan, Martha, M.D. "Can vitamins help prevent a heart attack?," accessed March 2011. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH," (PDF) accessed March 2011. Office of Dietary Supplements. "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets," accessed March 2011. Therapeutic Research Faculty. "Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database," accessed March 2011. Woolston, Chris. "Why Supplements May Do Your Heart More Harm Than Good," accessed March 2011. Source:

Garlic: The Big Flavor with Benefits

Garlic is a great way to add bold taste to your cooking without extra calories or sodium. But did you know that garlic offers more than big flavor? It's such a common ingredient in so many dishes that it's easy to overlook its health benefits.   Garlic is a member of the Allium family, along with onions, leeks and shallots. Like a tulip or daffodil, garlic grows from a bulb underground, producing leaves and a flower stalk. The underground bulb, with its individual cloves, is what humans have cooked with for more than 6,000 years.   Garlic originated in central Asia. Although Gilroy, Ca, calls itself the garlic capital of the world, China is the world's dominant garlic producer. Garlic shows up in many world cuisines, from garlicky Asian sauces, to Italian pasta dishes, to the classic French sauce, aioli.   Ancient Greeks and Romans embraced garlic for its health benefits; the Roman physician Galen praised its cure-all properties. Today, the National Institutes for Health notes that garlic is used as medicine for many conditions involving the heart and blood system, and for treating the immune system. Garlic also has anti-inflammatory and infection-fighting properties. According to the NIH, garlic is ''possibly effective'' when used as treatment for high blood pressure, fungal infections of the skin, hardening of the arteries, and colon, rectal and stomach cancer. When used medicinally, garlic is typically concentrated into extract or powder and given as tablets or capsules.   Varieties Garlic comes in hardneck and softneck varieties. Softneck varieties have a flexible flower stalk (which can be braided) and smaller cloves; most commercially available garlic is of this variety. Hardneck garlics have a firm, edible flower stalk (called a scape) and larger cloves. Increasingly, small farmers are growing heirloom hardneck varieties, some of which date back hundreds of years. You can find these varieties at many farmers markets.   Nutrition Data Garlic has been shown to moderately reduce cholesterol, and its sulfur compounds have been shown to reduce blood pressure. It's also low in calories (4 calories per clove) and high in vitamin C, selenium and magnesium. Very preliminary research has suggested that garlic may inhibit the production of fat cells in the body. A Note on Prepared/Processed Garlic Allicin, a unique sulfur component, is responsible for garlic's pungent flavor and also for some of its health benefits. Allicin is released when a clove of garlic is chopped and is at its most potent when used soon after chopping. For this reason, prepared minced garlic sold in jars in the grocery is less flavorful and less beneficial than fresh garlic. Pre-minced garlic is packaged with oil and preservatives like citric or phosphoric acid. Since it's so easy to peel and chop garlic, using fresh is recommended. You can even grow it at home pretty easily.  

Buying and Storing Look for garlic bulbs that are undamaged, with their papery skins intact. Choose bulbs that have larger cloves, as these are easier to peel. Garlic can be stored in a cool, dark place for three to six months; discard any cloves that have dried out or begun to sprout.   Cooking Garlic can be eaten raw or cooked. Cooking tempers the flavor (and lessens garlic breath). To prepare garlic for cooking, remove the papery skin and the hard root end from each clove, then chop according to recipe directions. (Some research has shown that cutting or crushing garlic activates its enzymes and that it's beneficial to wait five minutes before continuing with the recipe.) You can infuse olive oil with garlic by simmering a half cup of oil in a saucepan with 2-3 chopped garlic cloves. Garlic can be roasted, which creates a soft, caramelized texture and sweet, rich flavor. Note: Garlic is also sold in powdered or granulated form, which is appropriate for use in recipes like dressings, sauces or dips. Garlic powder is not a good substitute in recipes that call for sautéing or cooking fresh garlic. Granulated garlic, garlic powder and garlic salt are three different ingredients and shouldn't be used interchangeably, so pay attention to your recipe. Avoid garlic salt if you're watching your sodium levels. Healthy Recipes that Feature Garlic   Chef Meg's Favorite Ginger-Garlic Sauce This versatile recipe can be used to add bold flavor as a marinade or sauce for grilled meats or vegetables.   Low-Fat Slow-Cooker Garlic Mashed Potatoes Perfect for a crowd, this recipe can be made ahead for family gatherings. Chef Meg's Grilled Citrus Garlic Flank Steak Garlic adds a ton of flavor to this healthy, lean cut of beef.   Chef Meg's Herb-Roasted Garlic Sweet, softened roasted garlic is terrific on toasted bread slices, or in soups and stews. So, what are you waiting for? Start adding more garlic to your meals--the flavor and health benefits will be worth the garlic breath!

  Sources   National Institutes of Health. ''Garlic,'' accessed July 2012.   The World's Healthiest Foods. ''Garlic,'' accessed July 2012.  

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