Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Heart Health Tips for the Holidays

Beware of the office break room! Baskets of scrumptious treats, homemade cookies with sprinkles, fudge…mmm, fudge. Pick your treat, pick your vice, and celebrate in style. The problem is most of our intended “good eating habits” seem to just melt away when confronted with holiday temptations.

How do we avoid this fate? Is there a way to celebrate and be heart-healthy? Here are my tips for success:

1. Moderation is the answer. Instead of wholesale cuts, realize how to restrict quantities and frequency. Portion size, and as a result, our waist lines, have continued to drastically expand in this country. Don’t listen to Mom – you don’t have to finish everything on your plate. Reduce your meal sizes and the frequency of your indiscretions.

2. Avoid the Salt. This is essential for those with heart disease. Holiday meats and dinners are loaded with sodium which dramatically alters your body’s ability to control blood pressure. It also may lead to significant fluid retention, which can be life-threatening to those with heart failure. One serving of honey-baked ham has over 1 gram of sodium, and over 40% of your daily intake.

3. Is there a better New Year’s Resolution than to stop smoking? No more excuses. It will give you extra money for the holidays and save your life. Tobacco use is the #1 modifiable and preventable risk factor for heart attacks and death. Male smokers die an average of 13 years earlier than male non-smokers and female smokers die an average of 14 years earlier than non-smokers. Your physician can help with medicines and counseling, but you have to be invested and ready to quit.

4. Simple sugar. If you are diabetic, you know better. For everyone else, simple, processed sugars are a recipe for extra pounds and health problems. Seek balanced diets with whole grains and complex carbohydrates. I recommend Mediterranean-style diets for my patients with heart disease.

5. Make it a skinny. Don’t load up your coffee or smoothie. Use skim or non-fat milk and go tall versus venti. Smoothies seem healthy, but many are overloaded with calories. And come on….blended-coffee drinks are really just milkshakes…be honest with yourself.

6. The “holiday heart.” This is a known syndrome where binges of alcohol can trigger abnormal heart rhythms, including atrial fibrillation. Prolonged use can also lead to a cardiomyopathy (a form of weakened heart muscle and heart failure), cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, and other problems such as liver disease. However, don’t fret. Research suggests moderate consumption (1-2 drinks/day in males and 1 drink/day in women) is associated with reduced risk of heart attacks. But remember, one drink is 12 oz of beer or 4 oz of wine…not based on your cup size.

7. Dark chocolate. Not everything is bad. Dark chocolate has anti-oxidant properties and positive long term effects. It can lower blood pressure and is also associated with lower stroke and heart attack rates. This is pure dark chocolate (72% cocoa) – not chocolate covered everything else. Stick to one square a day, or one ounce maximum, and sorry diabetics, this treat is not for you.

8. Take a walk. Put on your rain jacket and start walking every day. Be realistic and start slow. Take walks every day for 20 minutes and increase your pace in coming weeks. Adequate exercise requires at least 20 minutes at your target heart rate and optimally 5 days per week. When you progress, you may be ready for the gym, but save your money for now.

The holidays can be wonderful, but be honest with yourself and set realistic goals and strategies. Your heart depends on it.

Dr. Kevin Thompson is an Interventional Cardiologist with Salem CardioVascular Associates, PC. He can be reached at 503-585-5585.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Obama Administration Cuts Cellulosic Ethanol Target

The Obama administration Monday conceded that cellulosic ethanol producers won't come close to hitting a congressional target to deliver 250 million gallons of fuel next year made from grasses and other vegetation not used for food.

The Environmental Protection Agency set at 6.6 million gallons the amount of cellulosic ethanol that must be blended into vehicle fuels in 2011. The EPA set the target as part of an annual process for implementing a 2007 law that orders oil companies to blend in an ever-increasing amount of renewable fuel into the gasoline and diesel supply. Overall, some 13.95 billion gallons of biofuels are supposed to be blended into motor vehicle fuels next year, accounting for about 8% of total fuel consumption. 

Congress had mandated that 250 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol be added next year, but without any large-scale commercial plants, the supply isn't available. The U.S. Energy Department has yet to approve a loan guarantee for one of the biggest planned projects, which is backed by oil company BP PLC. 

"By reducing the standard for cellulosic biofuels, EPA is accurately reflecting the difficulties cellulosic biofuel technologies have encountered in obtaining the capital needed to fully commercialize," Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said in a statement. "However, being aware of this fact, EPA should have been and must be careful to keep cellulosic biofuel targets ambitious so as to stimulate the kind of investment these technologies need to finish commercialization." 

Refiners can't use ethanol produced from corn to make up for the shortfall in cellulosic ethanol. Only other fuels that count as advanced biofuels qualify. A total of 1.35 billion gallons of advanced biofuels must be added to the fuel supply next year. 

Congress has yet to act on extending a 45 cents a gallon tax credit for ethanol that expires at the end of the year. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ask Larry: Whp does the world golf rankings?

Q: You keep talking about the world golf rankings. Who exactly puts the world golf rankings out? Is it the PGA Tour?

A:Well, the PGA Tour is involved, but only in a small way.

The Official World Golf Rankings have been around 24 years as a way to quantify what golf fans had only been able to debate subjectively for decades: who is he best player in the game?

To produce the rankings, the powers of the game had to come together to put a legitimate system together. The six golf associations that are part of the International Federation of PGA Tours (the PGA Tour, the European Tour, the Japan Tour, the Asian Tour, the Australasian Tour and the Sunshine Tour), agreed to participate. So did the four major championships of the of the game, the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship.

Other tours, like the Canadian Tour, are also involved.

The approval of all those organizations was needed in order to use their tournaments as events where players could gain points in the rankings. At one time, the PGA Tour alone could be used to measure the greatest of a player, and no one argued the Jack Nicklaus was the game’s best played.

By the late 1980s, with European players like Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros winning majors and the European tam winning the Ryder Cup, a broader, more international formula was used. Still, the PGA Tour had the biggest tournaments and the strongest, deepest field.

The system takes into consideration 104 weeks, with more recent tournaments counting more. Points are awards for finishes in tournaments, with each tournament given a certain number of points based on the strength of the field.

Of the 14 players to hold the No. 1 rankings at least one week, only four have been Americans: Woods, Fred Couples, Tom Lehman and David Duval. Woods has held the title the longest at 623 weeks over three different spans. That’s one week short of 12 full years in the 24-year history of the rankings.