While the white-beared, red-suited St. Nick is busy looking back over the past year and assessing how nicely you’ve treated friends and family, the depths of your generous spirit, even the cleanliness of your room, Dr. Mike Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic, knows whether you’ve been Bad or Good based on completely different criteria, namely your healthy — or not-so-healthy — habits. Here’s how he’ll decide which gifts you’ll get under the tree this year.
Bad or Good: Have you been eating fruits and vegetables?
Get four servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables a day — then you’ll be Great, not just Good. That’s enough to provide you with the vitamins and fiber you need without excess calories. Eating lots of different colored vegetables and fruits increases your intake of phytonutrients, plant-based nutrients and compounds that are believed to help fend off chronic illnesses ranging from cancer to arthritis — and potentially help slow down aging itself.
A serving is probably smaller than you think — just half a cup, or roughly the size of a Christmas ornament (or tennis ball) cut in half.
Some of Dr. Roizen’s favorite ways to increase your enjoyment of fruits and veggies:
• Put other vegetables in addition to lettuce and tomato in your sandwiches
• Add sautéed vegetables to omelets
• Toss steamed vegetables into pasta
• Add fresh fruit to cereal
• Add fruit to green salads
• Serve grilled fruit on skewers for dessert
For help measuring servings, try one of these portion control tools.
Bad or Good: Have you been walking 10,000 steps a day?
If you haven’t been walking, you’re missing out on one of the nicest ways to add years to your life and to cheer your physical and mental health. Walking helps you lose weight, get fit, boost your mood, improve your sleep, reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, keep your bones and your brain healthy, and even reduce food cravings! Another great thing about walking is that it’s inexpensive and relatively easy to do, which most likely explains why it has the highest compliance rate of any exercise. While you’re out, give a “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas” cheer to any neighbors you pass on your merry way.
To get the most benefit, rack up 10,000 or more steps each day, says Dr. Roizen. As much as half of that can easily come from your normal daily routine. Need motivation? Wear a pedometer. Even better, give a few to friends and family this holiday season and challenge one another to reach 10,000 steps every day, no naughty excuses (the doc will find out!).
You can find Dr. Roizen’s favorite pedometers in our Wellness Store.
If one 30- to 40-minute stretch of exercise is too difficult, start your day with a 10-minute walk, then grab two or three more 10-minute walks throughout the day. Anyone with high blood pressure, this is actually a good plan for you: Grabbing 10 minutes here and there provides you with more nice benefits, including even better control over your blood pressure than a single 40-minute treadmill session.
Bad or Good: Have you cut out unhealthy fats?
“Trans fat is poison for your body,” says Dr. Roizen. Trans fat alters metabolic processes and increases the hardening (and thus aging) of your arteries. Studies show that the more trans fat a person eats, the faster the cardiovascular system ages.
Also called trans fatty acid, it’s most often found in cookies, crackers, chips and fast foods — especially fried foods. When you’re reading a food label, don’t be fooled if it doesn’t say trans fat. Watch for the words partially hydrogenated or even hydrogenated vegetable oils. If partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or vegetable oil blend is near the top of the ingredient list or is listed before healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the product most likely contains plenty of the bad stuff.
Unlike trans fat, which is created artificially, saturated fat occurs naturally. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. (Cyanide and arsenic are natural too.) Saturated fat ages your arteries by causing the buildup of fatty tissue on their inner linings. Not Nice! Found in red meats, full-fat dairy products, palm and coconut oils, and to a lesser extent in poultry skin and other animal products, saturated fat makes it easier for the level of bad cholesterol to increase in your bloodstream.
In contrast, polyunsaturated fats seem to decrease aging. And monounsaturated ones help boost the level of healthy cholesterol in your blood. You should eat both monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats in moderation and limit (if not totally nix) the other two.
If you’re looking for foods with the good stuff, reach for olive oil, avocados, nuts and fish. And keep the Christmas cookies to a minimum!
To add olive oil to your diet, start with this nice sampler box.
Bad or Good: Have you been taking vitamins and supplements?
If you have yet to jump on Dr. Roizen’s “Fab 5” bandwagon, here are the five essential vitamins and supplements he recommends as an insurance policy against an inadequate and not-Nice diet:
• Multivitamin: Morning and night, half a multivitamin is an insurance policy for a less than perfect diet. Think of it as a “why not?”
• Calcium/Magnesium: 600 and 200 mg. Calcium supports bone strength and is associated with a decreased risk of death from bone fractures. Magnesium has gastrointestinal benefits of particular importance when taking calcium, because it helps fight constipation and bloating.
• Vitamin D3: 1,000 IU. Needed for calcium absorption, D3 is even more powerfully associated with decreased risk of memory loss, heart and vascular disease, skin aging, impotence and cancer rates. It’s also been linked with increased orgasm quality!
• DHA: 900mg. DHA aids absorption of other fat-soluble vitamins and is associated with decreased vascular events such as heart attacks, stroke, impotence and skin wrinkling. It also supports memory and vision.
• Probiotics: Taking probiotics aids in gastrointestinal health and is also associated with a decreased infection and inflammation rate.
Get Dr. Roizen’s Fab 5 Vitamin & Supplement Combo Pack delivered right to you from our Wellness Store.
Bad or Good: Have you quit smoking?
Kicking the habit and staying away from secondhand smoke is the most important thing you can do to be Nice to yourself and to prevent chronic diseases, according to Dr. Roizen. Smoking puts you at increased risk for diseases like lung cancer, emphysema, bronchitis, heart disease and diabetes, just to name a few. Smoking also ages you: It can make you look and feel eight to 13 years older than you really are, says Dr. Roizen. And the sad news for those of you who don’t smoke but spend time around those who do? The smoke that burns off the end of a cigarette or cigar actually contains more harmful substances than the smoke inhaled by the smoker! This means that people who don’t smoke but are regularly around those who do are exposed to the health risks of cigarette smoking. If you haven’t quit smoking or convinced the loved ones in your life to stop putting themselves and you at risk, don’t wait any longer — just do it.
Bad or Good: Have you reduced your sugar intake?
There are two main types of sugars: Nice sugar that occurs naturally in foods like vegetables and fruits, and Naughty refined sugar and syrups (aka simple sugar), which are added to foods for sweetness. Added sugar is any sugar that does not naturally occur in the food. Extra sugar increases your blood sugar quickly, causing the proteins in your body to be less functional and, as a result, directly ages your immune and arterial systems and even your joints.
A food is likely to be high in added sugar if one of the following substances is first or second in the list of ingredients (or if several of them are present): brown sugar, corn sweetener, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, table sugar. Also watch out for concentrated fruit juice and expeller-pressed organic rice extract.
Bad or Good: Have you switched to whole grains?
Whole grains contain a lot of fiber, which is important for preventing arterial aging and reducing the risk of cancer. Whole grains also help keep blood sugar levels steady, help you feel full and lose weight, and keep your digestive system regular. Whole grains are grains that have not been stripped of their outer layers, the source of many key nutrients, and haven’t been refined, which means they retain most of their vitamins and minerals. The problem is that unless the bread or pasta you’re eating is made from (and says) 100 percent whole grain (and says so in the number one spot in the ingredient list), it’s not much better for you than white flour products that have been stripped of the healthy outer shell and germ, says Dr. Roizen. When you eat these products (breads and pastas made with enriched, bleached, unbleached, semolina or durum flour), your body quickly converts this carbohydrate to sugar in your bloodstream and you’re back to the same health problems you get from consuming added sugars. One-hundred percent whole grains, meanwhile, take longer to convert to sugar and also stay in your intestines longer, which means you stay fuller longer.
You may have heard that getting three to five servings of whole grains a day is the way to go. That’s certainly admirable, but to keep your body as young and healthy as it can be, shoot for six or more servings a day, preferably from a diverse mix of sources, such as brown rice, whole-grain pasta, wheat bread, quinoa, barley and oats.
Bad or Good: Have you been controlling your stress?
You may believe that stress is simply a natural price to pay for an active, fulfilling life. But uncontrolled stress can hurt your health — from increasing your chances of catching a cold to raising your risk of heart disease. And it’s no wonder that it can age you faster than necessary!
When you feel overwhelmed by stress, try relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation or yoga — or the award-winning stress management program at ClevelandClinicWellness.com, Stress Free Now. Simply paying attention to the present moment without judging it (typically done through meditation and conscious breathing) slows breathing and improves your outlook. Even certain foods can help when you’re feeling stressed, especially those high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, albacore tuna, walnuts and flaxseed, which can reduce the volume of cortisol (the stress hormone) that your body produces. Foods high in folic acid, such as leafy greens, and foods high in vitamin B12, such as lean animal proteins, are also a good bet, as they can help regulate your mood.
Another stress-relieving tip from Dr. Roizen: Find a buddy you can rely on — someone you can confide in, be vulnerable with, talk things over with. “Stress is the leading cause of aging,” says Dr. Roizen. “Talking releases stress.”
Learn more about the online stress management program Stress Free Now.