As a cardiologist, I am continuously telling my patients about the importance of heart health. While many people wait until the new year to focus on their health, the holiday season provides the perfect time for them to make a conscious effort to eat items that are heart healthy.
So how can you make your products healthier—and specifically more heart-healthy—during the busy holiday season?
Research shows that diets high in saturated fats and simple sugars can increase the risk of heart disease. Diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and olive oil have been shown to decrease the incidence of heart disease. To help provide your customers with heart-healthy options, try to incorporate some of the following ingredients into your products:
Dark chocolate—can assist in cardiovascular health due to its antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties and components that help dilate arteries. It may cause blood-thinning effects and help lower blood pressure.
Nuts—in addition to providing vitamins, minerals and monounsaturated fats, they have low levels of saturated fats. They can help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar.
Whole grains—these nutrient powerhouses contain antioxidants, phytoestrogens, phytosterols and fiber, all of which may help protect against coronary heart disease.
Raisins—the antioxidants in raisins help fight inflammation and gum disease, and people with gum disease are twice as likely to suffer from heart problems.
While incorporating these ingredients into products can help people fight against heart disease, it is not a complete solution. In addition to eating well, individuals need to de-stress during the holidays, be aware that their dietary choices could increase their cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and continue to monitor their health. Good eating choices need to be accompanied by exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week and two days of strength training a week to help adults combat heart disease. As hectic as holiday time is, paying attention to the lifestyle choices of diet and exercise continue to be the cornerstone of a heart healthy life.
Studies have also shown that the holidays are one of the greatest sources of stress, leading people to make unhealthy dietary decisions. Making sure that healthy foods are accessible and available, even among the more unhealthy choices, is a critical step that people must take when preparing for this time.
The holidays are notorious for parties, receptions and get-togethers—often leading many of us to overindulge and overeat. While the common perception is that we gain upward of 5 to 10 pounds, one study found that, in reality, holiday-related weight gain is typically only 1 to 2 pounds (“A Prospective Study of Holiday Weight Gain,” The New England Journal of Medicine, March 23, 2000). However, the weight gained in December is likely to stay on all year long. These few additional pounds can result in more-significant weight gain over time. Incorporating healthy ingredients into your products—particularly seasonal favorites—can help consumers’ curb this trend.
While we all indulge during the holidays, there is no reason to completely disregard health during this time of year. Don’t wait until 2016 to provide your customers with healthy options. Give them the gift of getting a jumpstart on their New Year’s resolutions and keeping heart health top of mind.