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Three Important Healthy Eating Tips From the American Heart Association

New studies from the association's yearly conference show easy and effective ways to slim down and keep your heart healthy

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If you want a healthy heart and a number you’re happy with on the scale, buy a bag of Brazil nuts, put your fork down at 6 p.m. and weigh yourself every day — or so say the findings of several studies released ahead of American Heart Association’s yearly meeting for advances in cardiovascular science. 

Snack on Brazil Nuts

We’ve known noshing on nuts instead of empty calories is healthy, but now researchers have zeroed in on what may be the best nut for keeping off extra pounds — Brazil nuts. Their slimming secret comes from their especially high content of the mineral selenium, which is used to make a hormone that regulates body weight; low levels of the mineral have been reported in obese people, says Mee Young Hong, a professor in the School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at San Diego State University. While the average nut has anywhere from 3 to 5 micrograms of selenium per ounce, Brazil nuts have a whopping 544 micrograms.

Hong’s study, released today, compared the impact pretzels versus Brazil nuts had on blood sugar in a small group of healthy adults. He found that while pretzels caused blood sugar to spike, Brazil nuts helped to stabilize levels. Moreover, after eating Brazil nuts, people reported feeling fuller longer. In general, nuts are a good source of protein, fiber and healthy fats — and “all of these nutrients take longer to process and absorb, so the sensation of satiety lasts for a longer period,” Hong explains.

Brazil nuts aren’t your favorite? A tandem study, also released today, shows that eating 1 ounce daily of any nut — even peanuts — can help you stave off the one pound most adults gain each year. That’s what researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health found in a study that analyzed data from records of more than 125,000 adults. Having nuts in your diet, researchers found, also helped people keep the weight off over a four-year period. Nuts were particularly helpful when eaten in place of red meat, french fries, chips or desserts, says Xiaoran Liu, lead author of the study and a research associate in the nutrition department of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Helpful Tip

Package nuts in roughly one-ounce servings and carry them with you for snacks. If you pack Brazil nuts, stick to the serving size. Too much selenium can cause gastrointestinal issues, bad breath, skin rashes and fatigue.

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Put your fork down by 6 p.m.

The new culinary curfew is 6 p.m. for those who want to stay heart healthy, according to another study to be presented at the American Heart Association’s conference, this one from Columbia University.

Surprisingly, this study did not find that late-night eating leads to weight gain. Instead, after examining meal timing of 12,708 people, ages 18 to 76, results showed eating 30 percent of a day’s calories after 6 p.m. increased the risk of high blood pressure and prediabetes; even a 1 percent increase in calorie consumption past 6 p.m. could push your risk factors for diabetes into dangerous territory.

The reason behind the 6 p.m. deadline has to do with our circadian rhythm, an internal clock of sorts that tells our bodies when to sleep, when to wake and when to eat, says Nour Makarem, a postdoctoral fellow in cardiology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “These clocks are regulated by bright light exposure, but also by behaviors, particularly food signals,” says Makarem, lead author of the study. “When we eat at unconventional times … clocks in our organs become misaligned.”

Eating that's out of sync wreaks havoc on your body’s ability to metabolize sugar and makes it more likely that your blood pressure will reach unhealthy levels, leaving you at risk for diabetes and heart disease. This study was conducted on a strictly Hispanic population, but researchers say it’s reasonable to assume the findings apply to other populations. 

Helpful Tip

Try setting a daily alarm on your phone for 5:30 p.m. When you hear it go off, you’ll know you’ve got 30 minutes until you need to stop eating for the day.

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Weigh yourself daily

Advice about how often to hop on a scale has gone back and forth over the years, but a study just released by the University of Pittsburgh bolsters more recent thinking that weighing yourself daily is best.

After looking at the habits of more than 1,000 adults over the course of a year, researchers found that people who got on the scale only once a week, or not at all, did not lose weight, while those who weighed themselves at least six times a week did — to the tune of almost 2 percent of their body weight. To arrive at that finding, the study held other factors constant, meaning that the act of monitoring their weight itself somehow influenced peoples’ behavior in a way that kept their weight down, say the researchers.

Helpful Tip

Slip a scale close to your bed or next to the tub, then make a habit of weighing yourself every morning. Because your weight can fluctuate throughout the day, it’s best to weigh in around the same time each day. 

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