Mood Boosting Ingredients to CURE the Winter Blues!


Many of us experience the winter blues… the time of year when the days are short and energy levels are low. For my patients, I prescribe the following 7 ingredients to help give them a daily boost during these difficult days. I’ll share with you my favorite tea that I drink throughout winter (see below). Or if you prefer, you can also find these mood enhancers in my favorite Pressed Juicery products.

 Cacao (Chocolate Almond): Cacao beans are among the richest natural source of antioxidant polyphenols that together with its high content of magnesium improves blood flow to our brain and provides increased focus and concentration. Cacao beans also contain the chemical anandamide that is similar in composition to marijuana’s THC and may account for the euphoric mood that is commonly experienced.

Cardamom (Spiced Almond): This mood elevating spice contains cineole, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound. Cardamom can lower heart rate and blood pressure but is also a mood enhancer. In a study of cigarette smokers trying to kick the habit, chewing gum flavored with cardamom reduced the anxiety and depression caused by cigarette withdrawal.

Cinnamon (Coconut Cinnamon): Cinnamon is one of my favorite recommendations to patients. In addition to lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and helping to regulate blood glucose levels, cinnamon also boosts memory and alertness. Without question, it will reduce irritability and put you in a better mood.

Cayenne (Greens 4): contains the powerful anti-inflammatory/antioxidant, capsaicin that not only enhances fat burning but also has an appetite suppressant effect. Another very cool and recently discovered property is cayenne’s protection against aging and age related diseases. It is one of the most powerful endorphin releasers and will energize you during the winter doldrums.

Ginger (Roots 3): Exciting research shows that ginger inhibits growth and buildup of proteins that cause Alzheimer’s Disease. Ginger’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties also reduce menstrual cramps, arthritic pain and migraines. By increasing levels of brain neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, ginger is also among the best natural sources for an uplifting mood.

Turmeric (Fruits): Turmeric is the new kale. It contains curcumin, one of nature’s most powerful antioxidant/anti-inflammatory compounds that fights cancer, improves vascular health and regulates blood glucose levels. Turmeric has also been shown to reduce episodes of depression and may play a role in degenerative brain disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease.

Vanilla bean (Matcha & Hemp): The chemical vanilloid (similar to capsaicin) has antioxidant/anti-inflammatory properties that may slow cellular aging. Like cacao, the vanilla bean is also an aphrodisiac that enhances arousal and mood and a recent study found that it reduces anxiety and claustrophobia.

Winter Sun Turmeric Tea: I keep a jar of the paste on my desk and just add hot water, lemon and sometimes ginger or cayenne pepper. Could not be easier!

Make a paste using 1/3 cup of honey and 1-1/2 teaspoons of dried turmeric. Give a couple of grinds of fresh black pepper and stir to combine. To make the tea, take 1 teaspoon of the paste and place in mug. Pour hot water over and a squeeze of lemon. (If you want extra heat, add 1/8th teaspoon of cayenne pepper).


This blog was originally posted to The Chalkboard on Friday Jan 13, 2017





Havana: An Energizing Experience

max-havana-clubilana-cuban-childOur recent trip to Havana was filled with a sense that this once favorite American destination will return to its former glory once some travel related kinks are ironed out. We departed from Ft. Lauderdale taking a Jet Blue flight and purchasing the required tourist Visa by simply checking off one of the 12 reasons for visiting Cuba (ours was to support the Cuban people). The flight was quick and smooth, landing approximately 1 hour after takeoff.   However, it took an additional hour to retrieve our luggage (presumably due to a single baggage handler). For exchanging money, I would recommend bringing euros or Canadian currency rather than the U.S. dollar that currently carries a 10% surcharge. If you plan to use a credit card, it must be International because neither American Express nor VISA credit cards issued by U.S. banks are accepted. We opted not to stay at one of the Government run hotels but rather selected from airbnb, a converted palace in Vendado ( sandwiched between architectural gems and downtrodden buildings, representing the economic paradox of the City.  A similar sentiment holds true for the colorful bounty of classic 1950’s American cars seen throughout Havana. Food continues to be in relative scarce supply and it is not uncommon for a restaurant to reduce its selection of menu items within several hours after opening. Our favorite dining experience was El del Frente, located at 303 O’Reilly Street (

Yet despite language barriers and economic shortcomings, I was most impressed by how proud the Cuban people are. They are very friendly, hard working people with positive energy who seemed genuinely happy to have us visit their country.   If you plan to visit Havana in the near future, I recommend bringing the following:

Are All Sugars Created Equal?

sugar-623371_1920Our love affair with sugars is undeniable, as each of us is likely to consume at least 150 pounds of added sugar this year alone! Compare that to the 1800s when the average daily sugar intake only added up to 2 pounds per year. Just within the past 30 to 40 years, our sugar consumption has increased by more than 25 pounds per year, which helps explain why rates of obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed.

The American Heart Association has been so concerned about this alarming trend that they recently recommended that women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar, or about 100 calories a day, and men consume no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar, or 150 calories a day.

Most added sugars come from soft drinks, processed foods and condiments (especially ketchup), but reducing our daily sugar intake isn’t as easy as simply eliminating those foods. There are several misconceptions about added sugars for which my patients commonly request clarification. Here are the top three…

MISCONCEPTION ONE: All Sugars Are Created Equal.


Many think a teaspoon of added sugar is the same as sugar from natural sources, such as that found in lemons. The answer is yes in terms of the number of calories, but the sugar sources (and what each type offers our bodies) are different. In contrast to the heart healthy vitamins, minerals and potent antioxidants found in lemons – such as hesperetin and liminoids – added sugars are totally empty calories with no nutritional value. In other words, the only thing that added sugars truly add is an increase to our waistline that an adversely affect heart health over time.

Many natural juices do not contain any added sugars. As a result, potential health benefits include favorable effects on risk factors for heart disease such as blood pressure, cholesterol and overall vascular health.

I recommend that my patients aim for products that contain 5 grams or less of “added sugar” per serving. As current labeling practices don’t allow consumers to differentiate between natural and added sugars, we’re looking forward to new breakthrough labeling measures that will help all of us to choose better products with the right kinds of heart healthy sugars in them.

MISCONCEPTION TWO: Food Labels Are Transparent.

It’s fair to assume that food labels reliably tell us the amount of added sugar in a product. The truth is, today’s food labels fall short of that objective by only stating the total number of sugar calories. The good news, however, is that food labels are all set to change by July 2018, when companies will be required to provide not only the total sugar content, but also the quantity and percent of the recommended daily amount of added sugars per serving. This is important because the American Heart Association recommends that no more than 10% of daily calories come from added sugar. These new labels will allow for better monitoring our daily sugar intake.

MISCONCEPTION THREE: Fructose is the Enemy.

People often assume that all sugars are equal with respect to heart health. Fructose is a natural sugar found in agave, honey, pears, dates and other fruits. Consuming natural fructose containing foods has no adverse effect on health because the total amount of fructose is relatively modest (less than 50 grams) – unless of course you are binging on a dozen or more pears each day and coat all of your foods with honey or agave.

The problem occurs when the amount of high fructose corn syrup exceeds 100 grams daily, which is the equivalent of 4 12-ounce cans of cola. In my practice, this is not an unusual occurrence. Unfortunately, very high amounts of fructose cannot be effectively processed resulting in high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in blood, a fatty liver and eventual heart disease. As it turns out, fructose in high quantities may be more harmful to the heart than table sugar (sucrose) or milk sugar (lactose).

This post was originally published on The Chalkboard Magazine.




7 Surprising Health Benefits of Rosemary

rosemary In the wake of a recent NYT article suggesting that cooking with Rosemary, a daily ritual in the Italian city of Acciaroli,  contributes to healthy longevity (living to 90 and older with excellent brain and heart function), let’s review 7 surprising health benefits of Rosemary and why it should also be part of your everyday diet!

  1. Improves Mood and Concentration: The aroma of rosemary oil can improve mood and concentration (  Not only does rosemary increase alertness in healthy men and women but studies found cognitive improvement in patients Alzheimer’s disease when Rosemary was used as part of aromatherapy over 1 month (
  2. Restores Hair: A recent study comparing rosemary oil to minoxidil (Rogaine), in bald men and women found significant increases in hair counts after 6 months in both groups.  However, there were fewer side effects following daily application of rosemary oil to the scalp (
  3. Reduces Anxiety & Stress:  As with lavender oil, the use of rosemary oil as aromatherapy also reduces anxiety.  This was especially pleasing to nursing students where this treatment reduced stress levels and improved their overall final test scores (
  4.  Regulates Blood Glucose: Recent studies have found that rosemary extract improves glucose uptake in muscle suggesting that rosemary may be useful in the fight against insulin resistance and diabetes (
  5. Improves Blood Flow.  In a group of young healthy volunteers, rosemary extract dilated blood vessels, improved blood flow and reduced susceptibility to blood clot formation (
  6. Has Anti-Cancer Properties:  Rosemary extract contains powerful antioxidant chemicals (polyphenols) that inhibit the growth and accelerate death of cancer cells (
  7. Prevents Wrinkles: Rosemary also possesses anti-inflammatory properties and studies have found that rosemary extract accelerates wound healing and may reduce wrinkles and skin aging (

For more information, see Dr. Miller’s website:

His latest book “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” is Amazon’s top rated book in Heart Disease. Proceeds from Dr. Miller’s book are donated to the American Heart Association.




Dietary supplements are a multibillion dollar per year industry and they are not regulated by the FDA compared to over the counter (OTC) products such as Advil and Nexium.   Dietary supplements come in many forms and they include vitamins, minerals, herbs and amino acids.   Several manufacturers of herbal supplements have fallen under scrutiny recently for allegedly failing to include herbs.

There is another big problem with dietary supplements when it comes to heart health.   That is, even when all active ingredients are present, there is no evidence that they work better than a placebo pill! In fact, research has shown that Vitamins A, B, C and E in supplement form do not reduce “hard endpoints” such as risk of heart attacks, strokes or improve survival. They don’t even reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood glucose. The jury on Vitamin D and omega-3 fish oil supplements is still out with a large NIH funded trial nearing completion, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, an alarming trend in the medical community is the growing number of doctors who are selling dietary supplements in their medical practices. They peddle these compounds without telling their patients that in most cases, they are simply swallowing very expensive placebo pills.   One example is nitric oxide (NO) supplements that are reported to dilate blood levels and improve vascular health. Yet, clinical trials to date have not shown that NO supplements either reduce heart attacks or even improve the health of heart attack survivors.

My colleagues and I who take care of patients at major academic Medical Centers take great pride in conducting randomized clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of treatments aimed at improving heart health. We do not prescribe dietary supplements because they lack sound scientific evidence and do not replace or supplement optimal lifestyle recommendations provided.   In the same vein, doctors who prescribe their brand of supplements also bear the responsibility of informing their patients of the “proven benefits”. This should not imply a “trust me, I’m the doctor” exchange but rather should include reprints of studies published in peer review medical journals. If your doctor(s) cannot provide that information, then I would be wary of their practice.

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He is Chair, Governor Hogan’s Advisory Panel on Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, Section Editor for the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (the world’s premier cardiology journal) and a member of the American Heart Association Leadership Council.

His book “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” is Amazon’s #1 Rated book in Heart Disease. All proceeds from Dr. Miller’s book are donated to the American Heart Association.

The MUFFIN study

The American Heart Association recommends that we reduce our intake of saturated fats to about 5% of total calories. In the past, when we’ve replaced sat fats with carbs, the result was usually weight gain. That’s because much of the carbs being replaced were “non-filling” simple sugars. If you’ve ever had a “low fat” cake, you know exactly what I’m talking about. That’s because without a feeling of “satiety” or sense of fullness, you can easily eat much of that cake in a single sitting! And those calories will add up quickly even though the number of calories per gram of carbs is much lower than for fat (4 versus 9 calories). That leaves us with replacing sat fat with more complex carbs such as fiber or replacing sat fat with other fats.

The idea for the MUFFIN came about when we realized that no study had directly compared fats enriched in monounsaturated fats (MUFA) such as olive oil with fats enriched in polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) such as safflower, sunflower and canola oil.

We contracted with USDA to prepare the MUFA and PUFA muffins for our study. These muffins were delicious and our participants consumed 3 MUFA or PUFA muffins daily.

After 6-months of the assigned diet, both groups lost weight with the PUFA participants losing 10 pounds on average compared to 5 pounds lost with MUFA. Assignment to PUFA was also associated with greater reductions in blood pressure and triglycerides than MUFA. Perhaps most importantly was that 1 in 4 PUFA subjects were no longer classified with the metabolic syndrome compared to 1 in 10 assigned to MUFA.

So why did PUFA subjects lose more weight than MUFA subjects? Recent studies suggest that PUFA contains a chemical compound that suppresses appetite. This chemical compound is present to a greater extent in PUFA than in MUFA or sat fat.

Bottom line: You can have your (PUFA) muffins and eat ’em too.

For more information:

Has HDL (the good cholesterol) finally lost its luster?

Back in 1995, I asked one of my colleagues, a well-known researcher at the Framingham Heart Study if we could determine whether HDL (the good cholesterol) was an independent risk factor for heart disease after factoring in triglycerides (the blood fats). The median (50th percentile) level of HDL is 45 mg/dL for men and 55 mg/dL for women.

Thanks to the Framingham Heart Study, HDL was discovered to be an important risk factor for heart disease. Low levels of HDL (less than 40 in men and 50 in women) were associated with an increased risk of heart disease whereas high levels (more than 50 in men and 60 in women) were viewed as protective to the heart. In fact, some folks with high HDL may have been reassured that their heart was in great shape only to suffer a heart attack or stroke.

Now 21 years later, with a follow-up study in Framingham Offspring, we finally have a better idea why. It turns out that the risk associated with HDL is tightly linked to levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides (blood fats). If these levels are normal (less than 100), then a high HDL is indeed protective while a low HDL does not weigh heavily on the risk of heart disease.  However, if both LDL and triglyceride levels are above 100, watch out!  Not only do folks with low HDL increase their risk of heart disease (by about 60%), but the high HDLers (especially the top 1%ers) also lose their cardioprotection.

What does this mean?

  • If you have a low HDL, work toward lowering high levels of LDL and triglycerides through weight loss (if overweight), blood pressure (if hypertensive), blood glucose (if diabetic or prediabetic) and do not smoke.
  • If you have a high HDL, you should no longer carry around a false sense of security unless LDL and triglycerides are normal (less than 100 mg/dL) and you do not have other risk factors for heart disease.

Here is the link to our new study:


Chocolate Chip-Beet Cake

chocolate beet cakeA favorite dessert in our home because it  contains natural heart healthy antioxidants, blood pressure lowering and mood boosting compounds that with added chocolate chips will make your day!

What you need:

1 cup almond flour

2/3 cup coconut sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons grape seed oil

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup orange juice

2 medium beets (I recommend “Love Beets“), cooked and shredded

1/3 cup dark chocolate chip

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Coat an 8″ x 8” baking pan with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk the oil, egg, vanilla and OJ until blended. Stir oil mixture into flour mixture, using a wooden spoon.  Fold in the beets and chocolate chips.  Pour the batter into the baking pan.  Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry.  Cool the cake in the pan on a rack before serving.

Garnish with blueberries, raspberries and a sprinkle of powdered sugar (optional). Enjoy!

Makes 8 servings: Nutrition content per serving, 270 calories, 6 grams protein, 31 grams carbs,  3 grams fiber, 3 grams sat fat, 242 mg sodium.

From “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease” (Rodale).




What is the “Happy Heart Syndrome”?

A paper published this week in the European Heart Journal found that a very small group of people who were overcome with joy experienced temporary “stunning” of their heart, also known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy.  Takotsubo is a Japanese term that means “octopus pot” to signify a large round bottom and narrow neck.  Takotsubo cardiomyopathy was named for this unusual appearance of the heart that can occur after experiencing a severe episode of stress.  The outpouring of the “fight or flight” chemicals (catecholamines) overwhelms the heart and reduces its ability to contract properly (hence the term,”broken heart syndrome”).  Symptoms commonly include shortness of breath and chest discomfort and the condition may be confused with a heart attack.  Anyone suspected of having “broken heart syndrome” requires hospitalization with heart monitoring and supportive treatment as required.

The new study reported on 1750 men and women all of whom developed takotsubo cardiomyopathy.  Of these, an emotional trigger was identified in 485 patients and 96% of these patients experienced overwhelming (negative) stress such as death of a loved one.  The remaining 20 patients, who were primarily postmenopausal women, developed this condition after experiencing an episode of extreme joy such as a wedding, birth of a grandchild, etc.    So what should we make of this new syndrome?

First the good news is that takotsubo cardiomyopathy, if properly diagnosed, is virtually always reversible though it may take up to several months for heart function to return to normal.  Overall, it is a rare condition with less than 5% of all cases resulting from an overwhelming joyful experience.  It would interesting to explore the extent to which these 20 individuals had positive emotional experiences on a regular basis. My suspicion is that they did not and as a result were unable to “biochemically adapt” to the joyful experiences that would have left most of us feeling great.

The bottom line: if we prime our hearts with happy experiences and laugh on a regular basis, we ought to be immune from ever developing the “Happy Heart Syndrome”.

Why some people should not shovel snow

While most of us survived the record snowfall that befell the East Coast this past week with only minor inconveniences, there were a few less fortunate who experienced sudden death while shoveling snow. At the University of Maryland Medical Center Coronary Care Unit, we treated a number of patients who were lucky enough to survive their heart attack after shoveling snow. Of interest is that these men and women between the ages of 45 and 65 had no prior history of heart disease, were not diabetic and thought that they were in otherwise good health. So why did these seemingly healthy middle-aged men and women suffer a heart attack? We know that when shoveling snow, we should be well hydrated, work slowly and take frequent breaks. In fact, most of our patients did just that. But the one common link they all shared was that none of them used their arm or chest muscles for exercise on a regular basis. For example, they did not swim, do daily pushups, or tone their muscles through isometric exercise.   When inactive muscle groups are suddenly asked to perform rigorous activity, the demand on the heart is great. Oxygen requirements are increased and the likelihood of plaque rupture is higher. On the other hand, toned muscles are less likely to be demanding on the heart, especially if all the proper precautions are taken. For middle-aged men and women, that means for every foot of snow on the ground to remove no more than 4-6 inches off the top at a time, drink 6-8 ounces of water and take a break every 10-15 minutes.  If you are 45 or older and do not actively exercise your arm muscles, snow shoveling is not the best time to start.