Good For Your Heart

If you’re looking for a hot date on Valentine’s Day, why not choose one that’s good for your heart? And no, I don’t mean Paul Rudd or Idris Elba. I mean red hot chili peppers (not the band)!

In a study published in the Journal of The American College of Cardiology in 2019, Italian scientists observed that people who eat hot peppers 4 or more times per week were 40 percent less likely to die from heart attack and 60 percent less likely to die from cerebrovascular disease compared to those who do not consume chili peppers regularly.

The study was based on data from over 22,000 subjects and the results held true whether the rest of the diet was healthy or not. Health status was tracked over a period of 8 years.

Another study with about the same number of subjects demonstrated a reduced risk of death in those who eat spicy foods six to seven days per week. This Chinese study was published in the BMJ in 2015 showing a 14% relative risk reduction in death. The study spanned seven years.

As with most dietary observations, it’s hard to draw a hard fast line between the specific properties of chili peppers and their positive effects. Is the microbiota of each person’s gut the key? Is it the antioxidant effect of capsaicin that does the trick? Is it the antiobesity effect of capsaicin? Does vitamin D have an effect in individuals with hypertension? All of these may be a piece of the puzzle. And we may never put the puzzle together perfectly.

While that may mean we don’t have enough information to formulate a soup that perfectly protects the heart, we can rely on the take away that chili peppers have a positive effect even when the rest of the diet is less than ideal. That gives us the opportunity to up our spice game on a regular basis.

There’s no better day to get started than today! Add some cayenne to your chocolate covered strawberries, throw some spiced pecans in your brownies, or serve black cherry blooms for happy hour. It’s easy to keep it festive and make it healthy on Valentine’s Day!

To that I say, “Bring on the heat!” Your heart with thank you for it.

Food Preferences

I’ve been pondering food preferences. I prefer ice in my water. I hate sweetened tea. I love hot coffee, like iced coffee with milk, and cannot stand room temperature coffee.

The origin of some of my preferences is clear. My dislike for sweetened tea began when I was three or four. My grandmother wouldn’t let me have a glass of sweet tea until I’d had one without sugar. At some point, the sweetened tea began to taste overwhelmingly sweet and I no longer preferred it. But I can’t explain my coffee preferences or why I like blanched broccoli better than raw broccoli (even in salad).

While my tastes lean toward specific preparations of a wide variety of foods, others only like a narrow variety of flavors or textures. Some preferences may be learned. Others stem from visceral response. Still others may be attached to memories that aren’t specifically food related.

Then there are preferences related to biology. Some foods can activate the mesolimbic reward system in a manner similar to alcohol and frequently abused drugs. For instance, studies have shown that consuming fat and sugar produces an increase in the synthesis and secretion of opioids and dopamine within the central reward system. No wonder it’s so hard to get kids to stop eating sugary treats.

Obviously, it’s preferable for food to be pleasing to our senses. But if that leads to habitually unhealthy food choices, perhaps pleasure shouldn’t be the primary goal of an eating plan. And while most of us might argue it’s not, we tend to choose each individual meal within our plan based on what we find appetizing that day.

The key is how often what we find appetizing in the moment is at odds with our overarching health plan. For some people, the two will almost always be in sync. For me, the problem area doesn’t fall so much in planned meals. I love fresh vegetables, meat, poultry, and fish fixed millions of different ways. And I love playing with flavors.

My problem area is quick grab meals and snacks. I am more likely to want to reach for chips, crackers, or chocolate than raw carrots as a snack. As long as that’s rare, it’s no big deal. When it’s daily, it’s not healthy.

There are many ways for me to manage my choices. And because I love to sink my teeth into a fresh tomato or juicy peach, it doesn’t take too much planning. But watching my grandchildren, I wonder whether that management will be more difficult for them. Their preferences are being set with a less robust variety of fresh, unprocessed food and many more packaged products.

I think we’ve already answered that question with the increase in childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. And yet, I’m not sure we’ve spent much time researching the issue from a parenting for healthy eating perspective. Which brings me to the reason I’m pondering food preferences.

There seems to be a huge opportunity for learning and teaching. I love a good opportunity!


Is fortitude key to thriving?

In the past 30 days, I’ve had two days off. For the past two weeks, I’ve worked 12 plus hours per day. This temporary gig requires patience and humor. Without a great deal of fortitude, I’d be sunk. As an entrepreneur, I have long been aware that tenacity, fortitude, and flexibility are more important to achievement than intelligence, knowledge, and contacts.

Fortitude is what gets you through when you do everything right and things still turn out wrong. It’s what allows you to get out of bed and be excited about a project no one else appreciates. It’s what enables you to be ethical even when it means your bottom line will take a hit. And fortitude supports the patience it takes to slowly build a successful endeavor. Most importantly, fortitude is what allows us to weather the storms that come our way, slog through the aftermath, and emerge better for having had the experience.

I’d be willing to wager that those who had previously developed fortitude have been less detrimentally affected by the pandemic than others. That doesn’t mean they felt the losses and inconveniences any less, it just means they had a well of mental and emotional strength to draw from while envisioning ways to navigate the rapidly changing environment.

While most years won’t bring a pandemic, all will bring unexpected challenges beyond our control. So how does fortitude fit into everyday life?

Life is a game.

We seem to recognize the value of fortitude in sports competition. We expect elite athletes to train relentlessly, endure painful injuries, and still perform. We expect them to be able to focus and deliver peak performance no matter what is reported about them in the press. We feel free to bash them publicly when they struggle with their head game. And yet many of us allow ourselves to be mentally and emotionally lazy.

But life is the overarching game. And creating the life we desire is infinitely more achievable when we are mentally tough and emotionally balanced. We are all capable of improvement. All we need is to prioritize and practice building our skills.

The sooner, the better.

I’ve seen adults who had very little difficulty early in life self-destruct when hard times finally found them. Perhaps if they had developed fortitude sooner, they could have continued their early success.

Failure and fortitude go hand in hand.

No matter what you’re attempting, you will sometimes fail. As long as you keep learning from momentary setbacks, you will remain on a path to success. Each failure helps build fortitude.

Everyone’s tolerance is different.

Developing mental toughness requires difficulty. Removing all difficulty and pain will not help a child, for instance, develop fortitude. But each child will have a different level of tolerance. And each will require a unique approach for absorbing difficulty as a positive experience. Finding that approach and encouraging children while allowing them to feel disappointment, frustration, fear, sadness, and anger are key roles of parenting. Adults can be guided similarly by spiritual leaders, life coaches, therapeutic techniques, and even trusted friends or empathetic bosses.

Avoidance may be more pleasant in any given moment, but in the long-term can contribute to additional avoidant behaviors, more chaos, less resilience, a lack of follow-through, an inability to stick with a plan, and a tendency to quit rather than persevere. A bit of struggle is a good thing so long as it doesn’t overwhelm to the point of becoming traumatic.

Boundaries are essential.

When you are capable of more, you will be asked to do more. No matter how tough you are, there is a point at which taking on more is unhealthy. Setting and enforcing boundaries is essential for keeping your load at a level that allows you to thrive.

Building fortitude can help you reframe “I can’t.” to “How can I best approach this?” That tiny shift can make all the difference in how you feel.

That can be the difference between surviving and thriving.

Dual Purpose

Paper plates as dustpans, quarters as screwdrivers, and duct tape for everything – everyday items can serve a dual purpose! When things go according to plan, the perfect tool can make a job easier. But life often doesn’t go according to plan. Being able to improvise using what’s available is a skill worth cultivating.

Some of us naturally view each day as a puzzle to be solved. When a problem arises, our minds are quick to look for possible solutions. For others of us, a problem stops us dead in our tracks if we don’t have exactly what we would need to fix it if we lived in an ideal world. It may always be a stretch to envision doing things in a unique way, but anyone can do it with some practice.

Conserve your energy.

Fear, panic, and flailing about use energy that can otherwise be spent on problem solving. It is normal to feel anxious or scared sometimes. It is normal to feel overwhelmed or inadequate sometimes.

Register the feelings and set them aside for a moment if you’re in a critical situation. Otherwise try sitting with the feelings until you feel them dissipate, then return to the task.

Observe the environment.

The solution to a problem will become apparent more quickly when you make a habit of observing your environment. Keeping a mental visual map of your surroundings will reduce search time you might otherwise incur when an issue arises.

As a short person, I’m always looking for a way to reach something. I have been known to use a bread knife to tilt a plastic cup on a high shelf until it falls off into my hand. That may not be the ideal second purpose for a knife, but it works!

I also have some inexpensive metal tongs that I use to grab spices off the top shelf. It’s easy to apply enough pressure to pick up the small jars and it works beautifully.

Prioritize function.

An item serving a dual purpose may not look or feel like the original. The most important thing is that the replacement function similarly enough to accomplish the task without creating further complications.


Everything seems bigger and harder when you think about it. A sink full of dishes feels like it will take forever to wash until you start. The key is getting started. Once you jump in and begin, much of your anxiety will subside and everything will seem easier. Knowing that, you can practice thinking about projects differently.

I so this all of the time. If I see on the news that a bridge collapsed and cars drove into the water, I mentally develop a plan for what I would do in that situation. Would I roll down my window? How far? Would I leave my seat belt hooked? What could I use to cut it if it were stuck….

Here’s how the process goes: Pretend X happens. Break down what you will do first, second, third, etc. into simple steps. You’ll probably want to begin with diagnosing the issue to be fixed. Then you may want to explore the possible causes of the problem. From there, list possible remedies. That will take you to the point that you can determine the tools you need.

Remember, this is just a mental exercise for now. There is no failing. Each new idea you have is a success even if it feels improbable as you think of it.

If this seems pointless, remember that you’re developing a new grove for thinking patterns. The reward will come when a problem arises and you’re able to solve it more quickly and easily.

Have fun.

Exaggerate your solutions. Get the kids involved. Think of the most outrageous fix you can and explore that. What if there were no gravity? How would that change your plan?

So often, we fail to see the solutions right in front of us because we have one particular vision of what they should look like. The truth is, there are many ways to approach a problem.

Understanding how many workable options surround us at any given moment opens the world to much greater possibility and so many things to being dual purpose. It can also enhance a feeling of competency and accomplishment.

And it can put many a rarely used object to use as you discover that it has a dual purpose.