For Valentine's Day and always -- Look after your heart. Here's how.

Dr. Brenda Gill.  Photo by Larry Doell
Dr. Brenda Gill. Photo by Larry Doell


            It’s always wonderful to give and receive expressions of thanks, acknowledgment, gratitude and love on St. Valentine’s Day. It’s those small things in life that really make a difference in all our lives on a mental and emotional level.  We also want to give our hearts healthy food and drinks to keep it functioning well and supplement if necessary. 

            Let’s discuss the main tools to keep our heart performing properly for many years to come.

Food and Drinks:    

1.     Eat a balanced breakfast every day with equal amounts of protein, such as tempeh, tofu, eggs, yogurt, nuts and seeds together with complex carbohydrates in the form of veggies or fruit. This helps to increase the metabolic rate in the morning and turn on the body to start burning calories to maintain your proper weight. Keeping the protein and carbohydrates equivalent maintains the blood sugar balance which not only prevents damage to arteries and veins, but, maintains proper cortisol levels, that keeps the blood pressure stable.  

2.     Eliminate snacks between meals and maintain 3 meals per day approximately 4 to 5 hours apart. Snacks are typically high in saturated fats and sugar, so best eliminated.  By allowing space between meals, you will encourage your body to look for the calories it needs from storage, thus eliminating excess fat. 

3.     Remove empty, refined calories from the diet by eliminating most things in a can, box or jar. Try to gather most of your groceries from around the outside of the grocery store -- those are the fresh, healthy foods. 

4.     Eliminate all saturated, hydrogenated fats  such as Crisco, Mazola Oil, margarine or any artificial spread. These all contribute to heart disease, atherosclerosis and other circulatory problems. Use the unsaturated fats such as olive oil or coconut oil for cooking and baking and olive, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin or hemp oil for salads or dressings.

5.     Replace butter with coconut oil or nut and seed butters for bread. These could be almond, cashew, hazelnut, sunflower, sesame or pumpkin butter. These oils lubricate your joints, keep your skin moist, increased concentration, focus and memory, repair nerve tissue damage and prevent heart disease as well as many cancers!

6.     Eliminate cow dairy fat.  Again it is saturated and will not only contribute to heart disease and coronary artery disease by forming plaques in the vessel walls, but, increase inflammation in the body. For milk, use almond, coconut, goat, quinoa or hemp milk instead. For cream use coconut cream. For cream cheese, you can easily substitute it with nut or seed butters or the soft goat cheeses called chevres. For sour cream, use goat or sheep yogurt or 0% organic cow yogurt and for ice cream, frozen organic yogurt, Soy Delicious, Rice Dream ice cream, Almond milk ice cream, coconut milk ice cream or sorbets are just as delicious.  Cow cheeses can be replaced with the wonderful goat and sheep cheeses that are now available. Some of the ones you may like are sheep crotenese that replaces a sharp cheddar, manchego that is similar to romano, pecorino to use instead of parmesan, Roquefort to swap for Blue cheese  and the goat goudas, feta and mozzarella. Many of the local stores now stock these cheeses and will allow you to sample them to see which you prefer. Give them a try!   

7.     Eliminate white and brown sugar found in desserts, jams and jellies, sweetened cereals and other processed foods, or added sugar on dry cereal, in coffee or teas. Replace this with stewed fruit in jams or jellies, apple or pear sauce in muffins, quick breads or cookies, or fruit to cereals. Otherwise maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar or stevia could be used sparingly and always add just enough to taste. This maintains the proper blood sugar levels and prevents the conversion and deposit of fat.   

8.     Use whole grain cereals such as muesli or homemade granola and cooked cereals such as oatmeal, quinoa or brown rice cereal instead of dry cereals. This allows you to control the type of sweetener added, such as fruit and keeps the blood sugar balanced. Cook with brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice, whole mixed grain bread instead of “enriched” white bread, homemade multi-grain muffins/seed/nut bars rather than cookies  and doughnuts. This again stabilizes blood sugar and gives you fibre which prevents cancer. Avoid commercial baked goods because they are usually high in sugar, fat, chemicals and artificial ingredients. All of these contribute to cancer and heart/circulatory disease.

9.     Utilize meats that improve heart health, such as fish. Wild salmon, halibut, herring, sardines or mackerel have the omega 3 fats or DHA and EPA’s that prevent heart/circulatory disease, lubricate our joints, keep our skin moist and hair shiny, improve concentration and focus, as well as memory. Buffalo, lamb or wild meat could also be part of your protein sources. Minimize your intake of beef & pork, since these contribute to inflammation, heart and vascular disease.

10.            Eat between 6-8 eggs per week. Eggs are a good source of protein for breakfasts or lunches and easily added to soups or stir-fries. The cholesterol in eggs are easily broken down by the enzymatic constituents in the egg, so, rarely contribute to increased problematic cholesterol. Try to keep the yolks intact by poaching or soft-boiling. Those dated studies showing eggs were not good to eat were using eggs that had been fried in bacon fat -- that was the culprit!

11.            Eat a fruit for dessert after supper if your body is used to something sweet to signal the end of the meal. Unfortunately many of us were raised with food used as a reward or at the end of meals, so our bodies are conditioned to think the meal isn’t finished without it or we are drawn to sweets when feeling low. Making baked apples or pears with ground nuts/seeds/cinnamon, sprinkling apple wedges with cinnamon or stewed berries will usually be enough to tell the body the meal is over or to make the body feel assuaged.

12.            Minimize added salt to your diet. Use Himilayan or sea salt sparingly as a condiment. We need a little salt, but, not too much -- that raises blood pressure.  

13.            Drink ½ your weight (in pounds) in ounces of filtered water or herbal infusions. So, if you are 140 pounds, you should be drinking 70 oz/day or 7-8 glasses of water or herbal infusions per day. This is similar to having a shower from the inside. It flushes out any toxins, metabolites or hormones from the system, hydrates the cells such as the vertebral discs and moisturizes the skin. You actually gain height when you drink water! Check the pH of your drinking water. It should be between 7-7.5 and if below that, you need to consider buying a solid carbon block/porcelain filter that will remove not only bacteria, parasites and viruses, but also chemicals, such as chlorine. Any herbal infusions are fine, such as peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, nettles or spicy teas with cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, licorice or fennel.        

14.            Eliminate soft drinks and substitute 1/3 fruit juice with 2/3 water. Soft drinks (pop) not only have many chemicals that contribute to heart disease and cancer, but also a HUGE amount of sugar  which raises the blood levels so high, the body perceives it as a danger and will immediately convert it to fat.

15.            Keep coffee, tea (black, green, white), herba mate, honeybush and rooibos to 2-3 cups/week. These are all stimulants and will not only raise cortisol levels, therefore increase fat storage, reduce the ability to handle stressors and diminish restful sleep, but are diuretics that cause an imbalance in water levels in the body and can lead to dehydration and kidney problems.    

16.            Use alcoholic beverages sparingly, between 2-3 per week. Alcohol is converted quickly to sugar and therefore fat.


1.     Get regular, moderate exercise for 5 hours per week. This not only strengthens the heart, increases circulation and oxygen to the arteries, veins and capillaries, but, gets you out of your head and into your body, facilitating better coping with stress. Fresh air and sunshine not only contribute to the ideal functioning of the physiological processes in the body, but help our bodies produce Vitamin D and serotonin. Vitamin D is important for bone structure as well as immune function.  Serotonin helps us cope well w stress, keeps our moods stable and creates a restful sleep.

2.     Make sure you are getting at least 7-8 hours/night of rest. Every hour before midnight is worth 2 hours after midnight to repair any tissue in the body, especially the adrenal glands which are responsible for handling stressors.

3.     Have a regular physical check-up once a year to prevent heart problems.   

4.     Maintain the proper weight for your height and bone structure.

5.     Learn ways to manage your stress effectively. This not only keeps cortisol low and serotonin high, but, makes you much more enjoyable to spend time with!

This should give you some great tips to prevent heart and circulatory issues.

For those who would like a more detailed and individualized plan, make an appointment with Dr. Brenda Gill at 250-362-5035.

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