Women Are More Likely To Be Low In These 7 Nutrients

In order to optimize our health, we chow down on kale-filled salads, stir collagen into our beverages, and blend trendy superfoods like beet juice into our smoothies. But as healthy as we may eat—or at least think we eat—we still may not get enough of all the important nutrients we need. According to the CDC, these nutritional holes can be especially common (and problematic!) for women.

Ladies, you can thank your wonderful hormones for your increased risk of certain nutrient insufficiencies, since factors like menstruation, pregnancy, lactation, and menopause increase your needs for certain nutrients. That’s why dietitian Rachel Begun, R.D. recommends women have basic blood-work done at every annual physical. That way, your doc—or a dietitian—can suggest upping your intake of certain food groups or adding a supplement to your routine to ensure you meet your nutritional needs.

Not quite sure what to look for? Here are the top seven nutrients women may fall short on.

1. Potassium

The mineral and electrolyte potassium helps regulate fluid levels in our body, supports communication between nerves and muscles, and improves blood vessel function—but “fewer than two percent of Americans, women included, hit the recommended 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day,” says dietitian Kim Larson, R.D.N., N.B.C., H.W.C., nutrition and health coach at Total Health in Seattle, WA. In fact, our potassium shortcomings are so severe that The 2015 USDA Dietary Guidelines actually called out potassium as a nutrient of public health concern, and the FDA will soon require food manufacturers to call out potassium on food labels. Low intakes are associated with weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps, and constipation.

Luckily, potassium can be found in a number of fruits and veggies, such as dark green leafy vegetables, mango, avocado, bananas, parsnips, beans (especially soy beans), tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, pumpkin, and carrots, says Larson. Since potassium supplementation can potentially lead to heart arrhythmias and kidney damage in those with kidney issues, talk to your doc before adding a supplement (like The Vitamin Shoppe brand Potassium Citrate) to your routine.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium, another electrolyte mineral, is an essential nutrient, meaning we cannot make it ourselves and must get it from food or supplements. Magnesium is involved in hundreds of body processes, including muscle and nerve function, blood sugar management, blood pressure regulation, and protein, bone, and DNA production. It also has a calming effect on the nervous system and promotes relaxation.  All important stuff!

Unfortunately, “it’s estimated that 68 percent of Americans are magnesium deficient because they aren’t eating foods like pumpkin, spinach, artichokes, soy and other beans, tofu, brown rice, or nuts (especially Brazil nuts), which are high in the mineral,” says Larson. Low magnesium levels can leave us fatigued and cause muscle spasms, cramps, and weakness—and one study published in Behavior Genetics suggests it may even be linked to sleep issues.

Magnesium supplements can interfere with certain medications, but if you’ve got the green light from your doctor, Larson recommends looking for a supplement that contains 300 to 320 milligrams, which provides all of women’s daily needs. Look for magnesium aspartate, citrate, lactate, or chloride, which are digested and absorbed more easily. (Garden of Life’s Doctor Formulated Relax & Restore Whole-Food Magnesium mixes easily into water and tastes great.)

3. Calcium

When it comes to getting ample calcium, women have a lot at stake. The mineral is the best nutritional defense against declining bone density, which can start to occur in women as early as in their twenties, says Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But calcium doesn’t just help with strong bones and teeth,” he says.  “It’s also important for muscular function, nerve transmission, intercellular communication, and hormone secretion.”

Related: Why All Women (Yes, ALL Women) Need To Strength Train

About half of Americans don’t get enough calcium (women need 1,000 milligrams per day) from their diets, and insufficiency often goes undetected—though it can cause muscle spasms in extreme cases. You’ll find the mineral in seeds, cheese, yogurt, salty fishes, beans, lentils, and nuts and nut butters, as well as in fortified foods. If adding a calcium supplement to your routine, Valdez recommends calcium citrate, which optimizes bioavailability. (The Vitamin Shoppe brand Calcium Citrate provides about a third of your daily calcium needs.)

4. Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium, making it especially important for women’s bone health. (It also supports immune function.) And while we could technically meet our daily vitamin D needs through adequate exposure to strong sunlight, living far from the equator, working inside all day, and using sunscreen all make that pretty much impossible.

To make matters worse, this nutrient is quite hard to come by in food (though it can be found in fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified dairy and non-dairy milks), and 40 percent of Americans are deficient, which can increase your likelihood of developing bone and back pain, and lead to bone and hair loss, explains Valdez. If you don’t consume fortified dairy or non-dairy milks or orange juice every day, Valdez recommends supplementing with at least 400 IU to help meet your 600-IU-a-day needs. (Garden of Life’s My Kind Organics Vegan D3 provides 2,000 IU of vitamin D in a tasty raspberry lemon chew.)

5. Iodine

Many of us don’t know much about iodine other than the fact that it’s in table salt, but this mineral is important for making thyroid hormones, which control our metabolism. It’s also particularly important for pregnant women, as it plays a role in fetal bone and brain development. However, women between the ages of 20 to 39 actually tend to have lower levels of urinary iodine than women of other ages.

When you’re low in iodine, you may feel tired or cold all the time, and experience thinning hair, says dietitian Jessica Crandall R.D., spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It’s common for food manufacturers to add iodine to salt but as many women cut back on salt in their diets, they lose that source of iodine,” Crandall explains. We need 150 micrograms (mcg) of iodine in our diets every day, which we can find in seafood and sea vegetables (like seaweed), and dairy products. If you’re considering a supplement, Valdez recommends one that contains 0.075 to 0.15 milligrams of iodine. (You’ll get 0.225 micrograms per serving of Trace Minerals Research Liquid Iodine.)

6. Iron

The mineral iron keeps our red blood cells healthy so they’re better able to transport oxygen throughout our bodies, which helps us feel energized and supports our brain function. Women have higher iron needs during puberty and pregnancy, which involve rapid growth and development, and are at higher risk of iron deficiency during their child-bearing years because of the blood lost during menstruation, explains Begun. Women of menstruating age need 18 milligrams of iron per day, and may develop iron deficiency anemia—which is often marked by fatigue, shortness of breath, pale skin, lightheadedness, and cold hands and feet—if they fall short.

We typically associate iron with meat, but you can also find the mineral in foods like dark chocolate, beans, lentils, and spinach. Still, vegetarians and vegans should take extra care to eat plant-based iron-rich foods. If you’re concerned about your iron levels, Valdez recommends looking for a supplement that contains around 18 milligrams of iron in the form of ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, ferric citrate, or ferric sulfate. Just be warned: Too much iron may cause nausea or constipation. (The Vitamin Shoppe brand Comfort Iron uses a clinically-tested, non-constipating form of iron called iron bisglycinate.)

7. Folate

Folate (or folic acid) is a B vitamin best known for facilitating conception, aiding in fetal development, and preventing neural tube defects, like spinal bifida. It also plays a role in helping your nails grow, balancing your mood, and combating inflammation, says Valdez.

Women need 400 micrograms of folate per day, and you can find it in foods like dark leafy greens, avocado, beans, and citrus fruits. If you’re taking a folic acid supplement, keep in mind that it’s 85 percent absorbed when taken with food, and closer to 100 percent absorbed when taken on an empty stomach, Valdez says. (Solgar’s Folate provides 1,000 micrograms of the important B vitamin.)

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.

8 Nutrition Myths That Hurt Dietitians’ Feelings

With every Instagrammer in your feed dishing out nutrition advice these days, it’s never been trickier to decipher fact from fiction. Not only is this social media misinformation confusing, but it can keep you from being your healthiest self.

To set the record straight, I asked some of my expert pals to bust the most frustrating food-related falsities out there. Keep these myths in mind the next time you’re scrolling through the social media static.

Myth #1: You Should Only Shop The Perimeter Of The Grocery Store

Food shopping can be so tricky that I wrote an entire book on it! The perimeter of the grocery store may house many of the whole foods we’re told to fill our diets with—like produce (my favorite section), animal proteins (like poultry and meat), and refrigerated dairy—but that doesn’t mean the middle aisles don’t have healthy foods to offer! Soda, cookies, and chips aside, those center aisles contain plant foods like beans, whole grains, and nuts, which are nutritious, versatile, affordable, and easy to store. These ingredients can help you create an endless number of delicious, nutritious meals and snacks, like bean-filled soups and salads, homemade trail mix, and more.

Myth #2: Foods With More Than Five Ingredients Aren’t Healthy

While long ingredient lists that include sugar and its aliases, preservatives, and artificial flavors and colors should be questioned and perhaps avoided, not all multi-ingredient foods are unhealthy.  It’s the quality of a food’s ingredients—not the quantity—that matters most. If a product’s ingredients are whole foods you’d already stock your kitchen with—like whole grains, fruits, veggies, and spices—then it’s probably an okay choice. (Consider this: My favorite bread, Dave’s Killer Bread, contains 32 organic ingredients, 21 of which are whole grains and seeds.)

Myth #3: Avoid Nuts; They’re High In Fat

It’s true, nuts are mostly fat and fat is more calorie-dense than carbs or protein—but the majority of the fat in nuts is healthy unsaturated fat, which keeps us feeling full, and supports healthy blood sugar and a healthy heart. Plus, nuts are naturally packed with protein, fiber, and many other nutrients (like minerals!), says Patricia Bannan, M.S., R.D.N., author of Eat Right When Time is Tight. A serving of nuts (about a handful or two) is a great snack choice and can actually support weight loss by keeping you satisfied and making you less likely to munch on less valuable foods.

Myth #4: Gluten-Free Foods Are Better For You

Newsflash: Donuts are donuts! Plenty of the gluten-free foods out there are highly-processed and low in nutritional value. That ‘gluten-free’ label doesn’t say anything about how much protein, fat, fiber, sugar, or calories the product contains, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., author of The Superfood Swap. And unless you have a condition like celiac disease, your health doesn’t depend on avoiding gluten, anyway. So if you’re reaching for those gluten-free donuts because you think they’re somehow better, think again.

Related: What Going Gluten-Free Can And Can’t Do For Your Health

Myth #5: Carbs Make You Fat

Along with protein and fat, carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient, which means they’re essential for our bodies’ proper function. In fact, they’re broken down into glucose, which is our primary source of fuel! Because our bodies prefer to use carbs for energy, we actually resist storing them as body fat, says Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., R.Y.T., Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. When we don’t eat enough carbs, our bodies become desperate for glucose, and may even start to break down the protein found in our muscles to turn into glucose, which is bad news for our muscles, metabolism, and fitness.

Sure, regularly chow down on big portions of refined carbs (think bagels, sub sandwiches, and pasta) and you’re likely going to pack on the pounds. However, stick to whole grains, starchy vegetables, and fruit—and eat your carbs alongside fat and protein—and you’ve got yourself a balanced, waistline-friendly diet.

Myth #6: Coffee Is A Bad Habit, Not A Health Food

We often assume that if something feels good, it must be bad for us—and while that may be true with highly-processed, addictive foods, it’s not the case with coffee. While some people who are caffeine-sensitive may experience shakiness, upset stomach, or sleeplessness after drinking coffee, studies have suggested that it can protect against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, and gout, so go ahead and enjoy that morning (or early afternoon) brew.

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Myth #7: White Foods Aren’t Nutritious

When we talk about the importance of ‘eating the rainbow,’ white tends to get left out—even though there are plenty of white-colored foods out there that deserve a place on your plate. Cauliflower, potatoes, white beans, some mushrooms, and garlic are all white in color and packed with healthy nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, B vitamins, and fiber, says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. Meanwhile, dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese provide calcium and protein. Instead of judging a food by its color, check the Nutrition Facts to see whether it provides nutritional value, like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The white foods that won’t make the cut: processed foods like white bread, white rice, and pastries.

Myth #8: Organic Is The Only Way To Go

There are plenty of reasons people choose to switch to organic foods, like the fact that they don’t contain certain man-made pesticides or fertilizers and are non-GMO. But that doesn’t mean your conventionally-grown produce doesn’t offer nutritional value. In fact, research has found that, nutritionally speaking, organic foods have little extra to offer than conventionally-grown foods, says Alissa Rumsey M,S., R.D., founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. (The exceptions: Animal products like chicken, milk, beef, and eggs, whose organic versions have been shown to contain more omega-3 fats.) Since going green can cost more green, stick to produce that’s in-season, keep an eye on sales, and shop the store brand when you want to buy organic. Otherwise, just make sure to wash your conventional fruits and veggies before eating them; no excuse to pass on produce!

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.

8 Supplements Nutritionists Can’t Live Without

As a dietitian nutritionist, I’ve always believed in food first. I try to get most of my nutrients from my kitchen, but realistically, I know it’s not possible to meet all of my needs all of the time. That’s where supplements come in. No, they can’t replace a healthy diet—but they can balance out your nutrient intake, and are especially helpful when you’re dealing with a health issue or extra stress (from anything from athletic training to pregnancy).

We often look to dietitians to give us the lowdown on health and wellness trends like bone broth, collagen, and prebiotics. Here’s a glimpse at the supplements we actually take ourselves.


1. Multivitamins

With so many different vitamin blends and sources out there, few wellness tasks are as stupefying as shopping for a multivitamin.

Luckily, your standard multivitamin will fill out most common nutritional gaps for pretty cheap, says Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. (60 days-worth of The Vitamin Shoppe One Daily multivitamins costs just $9.99.)

Integrative medicine nutritionist Sheila Dean, D.Sc., R.D.N., L.D.N., C.C.N., I.F.M.C.P., co-founder of the Integrative & Functional Nutrition Academy, prefers a high-potency multivitamin, which contains more than 100 percent of your daily needs for each vitamin and mineral, that contains easier-to-digest methylated B vitamins.

If you’re really concerned about getting the most comprehensive multi possible, Erin Palinski-Wade, R.D., C.D.E., author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet, swears by a multivitamin that contains often-forgotten nutrients like choline, an essential nutrient that’s key for cellular structure and function.


2. Calcium

Another staple of many nutritionists’ wellness routines is calcium, which is crucial for muscle and nerve function, blood clotting, and healthy bones. Ward takes 600 milligrams every day because she does not eat the recommended four daily servings of dairy. (The Vitamin Shoppe’s Caramel Calcium Soft Chews taste like a treat and pack 1,000 milligrams of calcium per serving.)


3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for bone health because it helps our bodies absorb calcium. And while we can meet our daily vitamin D needs with adequate exposure to strong sunlight, most of us don’t get anywhere close to the amount of sun required, and the vitamin is hard to come by in food. “I take 400 IUs of vitamin D every day because I live in the Northeast where the sun isn’t strong enough to help our bodies make vitamin D six months out of the year,” says Ward. (Rainbow Light’s Berry D-Licious gummies are a delicious way to meet your D needs.)


4. Adaptogens

Adaptogens may be a newly-hot topic, but these stress-fighting herbs and mushrooms have been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese schools of medicine for centuries. Recent research confirms adaptogens’ benefits, demonstrating their ability to reduce stress, improve attention, up endurance, and fight fatigue.

Plant-powered dietitian and author of Plant-Powered for Life, Sharon Palmer, R.D.N., loves using the herb ‘ginkgo’ (a.k.a. ginkgo biloba), an antioxidant that boosts blood flow, to support cognition and focus.

Anne Elizabeth Cundiff, R.D., L.D., F.A.N.D., meanwhile, is all about Maca root, and uses it daily in smoothies. Cundiff, who is in her early forties, has noticed hormone and energy-related benefits since adding maca to her recipes. You can take Maca in powder form (try Sunfood Superfoods Raw Organic Maca Powder) or capsule form (try plnt Maca).


5. Sleep Support Supplements

There are few things more frustrating than trying to fall asleep and spending the next hour staring at the ceiling—and it’s a struggle about 30 million Americans (nutritionists included) deal with.

Palinski-Wade uses a supplement that combines valerian (an herb that has long been used to support relaxation and may increase levels of GABA, a chemical that regulates our nerve cells), hops (a flowering plant known for its calming effect), and magnesium (a mineral that promotes calm throughout the body), to support her body’s natural production of the sleep-friendly hormone melatonin and ward off the sleep-stealing hormone cortisol.

When dietitian Danielle Omar, M.S., R.D., has trouble sleeping, she goes for a melatonin supplement. “It’s also great for when I’m traveling and trying to adjust to time-zone changes,” she says. (The Vitamin Shoppe Strawberry Melatonin Gummies are a popular option.)


6. Collagen

Collagen is the most abundant type of protein in our bodies; it’s crucial for the connective tissues in our body like our hair, skin, nails, and joints—and is arguably one of the buzziest supplements out there right now. You’ve no doubt seen Vital Proteins’ iconic blue tub of Collagen Peptides on Instagram at some point or another…

In fact, it’s dietitian Lauren O’Connor, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., favorite ‘can’t live without it’ supplement.  “It whips well into almond milk for a fantastic smoothie or a delicious coffee latte,” she says. Omar is also a collagen fan and uses an unflavored bovine-based collagen protein powder, which dissolves undetected into all sorts of drinks.


7. Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are largely found in fish, support heart, brain, and eye health—and are largely missing from the standard American diet, especially for vegans and vegetarians. That’s why Palmer (who keeps a plant-based diet) starts her morning with an omega-3 supplement.

Omega-3’s are also nonnegotiable for Roberta L. Duyff, M.S., R.D.N., F.A.N.D., author of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, who takes a lemon-flavored liquid fish oil every day—even adding it to recipes. “The oil adds a citrus-y flavor to my morning yogurt and fruit smoothies, salad dressings, marinades, and sauces,” she says. Want to get creative with your fish oil? Try Nordic Naturals Lemon Omega-3 Oil.


8. Magnesium

The mineral magnesium is involved in over 300 body processes, though it’s often credited for its roles in energy production and nervous system function.  Magnesium has a calming effect on our bodies—and low magnesium levels have been linked with mood and sleep issues. “Since I’ve started taking magnesium, I’ve had better sleep and I wake up feeling well rested,” says dietitian Rachel Berman, R.D., General Manager of health and fitness website Verywell. She takes between 150 and 300 milligrams before bed. Try stirring a serving of Natural Vitality’s Raspberry Lemon Natural Calm into water after dinner.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.

6 Foods That’ll Put You To Sleep

From work to hyper kids to newly-released shows on Netflix, there are a million reasons why many of us (one in three, to be exact) fail to get the Zzz’s we need. And in addition to our already-late bedtimes, many of our sleep cycles are also sabotaged by our late-night eats (like ice cream, cookies, and even wine) or four o’clock cappuccinos.

One way to ensure you drift off to dreamland as soon as your head hits the pillow? Switch out your usual nighttime snack for one that works with your body to help you sleep. Below are six foods that’ll wind you down; if they could talk, they’d practically sing you a lullaby.

1. Cheese

This protein-packed snack is also chock-full of calcium, magnesium, and tryptophan, all of which support sleep.

Tryptophan (which so many of us associate with turkey) is an amino acid that produces the ‘feel-good hormone’ serotonin, which stimulates the production of melatonin, the hormone our body releases when it’s time to slow down and sleep. Calcium helps our brain use that tryptophan, while magnesium also activates sleep-related neurotransmitters and regulates melatonin.

Just choose a lower-fat cheese and stick to one serving, since eating more calories—especially from fat—before bed can leave you counting sheep.

2. Chamomile Tea

A relaxing mug of chamomile tea should be a bedtime staple—especially if you’re frequently kept up by digestive issues. Chamomile has long been used in traditional medicine for its calming, relaxing effect—both on our mood and bellies—plus, the tea’s warmth has the power to soothe.

Related: How To Find The Best Herbal Tea For Your Needs

3. Tart Cherries

Tart cherries are magical in that they actually contain that sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. In fact, research shows that drinking tart cherry juice can even help troubled sleepers score a whopping 85 extra minutes of shut-eye. What’s more, the cherries are jam-packed with antioxidants, and their sweet-tart flavor may squelch late-night cravings.

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If you’re going for dried tart cherries, stick to a quarter cup to avoid calorie and sugar overload—but you can also drink tart cherry juice or munch on the fruit fresh in the summertime when they’re in season.

 4. Bananas

Bananas are a natural source of melatonin, and take literally zero work to prepare. As an added bonus, research published in Sports Health suggests that the potassium in bananas may prevent you from waking up during the night with muscle cramps after tough workouts. When you’re craving ice cream, mash up a frozen banana for a healthy, sleep-supporting substitute.

5. Kiwi

The fuzzy brown fruit makes a great vitamin C and serotonin-filled bedtime snack. In fact, research published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate two kiwis one hour before hitting the hay slept almost an hour longer than those who didn’t.

6. Nuts

Different nuts provide different nutrients, but many varieties can help promote a quality snooze.

Let’s start with almonds: These popular snack-time nuts contain tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, and protein, so they can both satisfy cravings and promote rest. Next: walnuts, which have been shown to increase our production of melatonin. And last but not least: pistachios, which are basically the bedtime jackpot because they contain protein, magnesium, and vitamin B6, which plays a role in our production of certain neurotransmitters and processes related to sleep.

Pin this infographic for the perfect sleepytime snack in a pinch:

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.

8 New Year’s Resolutions Nutritionists Want You To Make

It’s that time again! Before you know it, we’ll be making and breaking (and then re-making!) another round of New Year’s resolutions.

Think about it: How many years have you resolved to lose a bunch of weight, exercise every day, or never touch junk food again? And how many years have these big, life-overhauling plans fallen off-course after a few weeks? (It’s okay—us too).

As a dietitian, I help people reach their health goals every day, and I promise you that reaching yours can be much easier than you think. This year, I want you to try a different approach: Instead of making a grand, Hollywood-style New Year’s resolution about your health, focus on small, actionable changes that will make you feel accomplished on a daily basis, boost your health, and help you both feel and look your best.

Put the following eight mini-resolutions (straight from nutrition pros) to work for you and you’ll have your healthiest year yet!

Don’t look for a ‘new you’ in this New Year. There’s nothing wrong with the current ‘you’! Sure, we could all improve, but I encourage you to celebrate your strengths instead of focusing on your shortcomings. Breaking bad habits and forming healthier ones can be tough, but having the right attitude is half the battle—so I want you to applaud every little victory (like making time to eat a healthy breakfast, bringing lunch to work one day a week, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator). Keep a running list of even your smallest accomplishments to ensure you give yourself credit for every change and see just how much these little wins add up.

A good breakfast sets the tone for the rest of your day and fuels your body for whatever tasks you have coming your way. That’s why incorporating a healthy breakfast into your morning routine is a worth resolution this year, says dietitian Brynn McDowell, R.D. Take it one week at a time and make it easier by keeping your meal simple.

Breakfast-Friendly Protein Supplements

Try plain oatmeal with a spoonful of almond butter stirred in or a slice of whole-grain toast topped with cottage cheese and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. When a healthy breakfast is a part of your routine, you’ll have a fresh start every morning—even if a day ends with a late-night snack and an extra glass of wine.

Not only does protein helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer and less likely to reach for lower-nutrient foods, but protein-rich foods—including dairy, eggs, meat, seafood, legumes, and nuts—are packed with many other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Your task this year: “Try eating enough protein (20 to 30 grams) at every meal and including some in your snacks,” says Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. That’s roughly a three-ounce serving of meat (like chicken, which packs 21 grams of protein). Bump up your protein intake between meals by adding a tablespoon of chia seeds to your smoothie or dipping fruit slices in Greek yogurt.

“There are so many benefits to meal planning, including saving time and money, reducing food waste, and ensuring a healthier, more balanced plate,” says Jessica Levinson, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. Start by planning out one day of meals per week and bump it up to two when you’re ready. As you start to see the benefits of thinking ahead, you’ll naturally want to plan out more, and before you know it you’ll be planning the whole week, she says. (Quick tip: Take stock of what you already have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry so you can plan meals that use what you already have on-hand. This way, you can save money on groceries and prevent food waste.)

No, you don’t need to ring in the New Year with a three-day juice cleanse. As many resolutioners know, fad diets and cleanses may seem to work in the short-term, but inevitably end in weight gain after we call it quits. That’s why dietitian Sharon Palmer, R.D., warns against getting caught up in fads—especially if they eliminate whole food groups. Instead, find a more sustainable way of eating by focusing on upping your intake of whole plant foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

When we want to shed fat—as part of a New Year’s resolution or not—we tend to get caught up in calories in versus calories out. But not this year! “Fixating on the number of calories in food not only makes your overall eating experience less enjoyable, but can also welcome the wrong choices,” says Mandy Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., creator of Nutrition Nuptials. Instead, your food decisions should be based on the foods’ overall nutritional value. When considering what to eat, ask yourself: Does this food contain vitamins and minerals? Does it have fiber? And, does it add to my health? Taking this approach will encourage you to eat more healthy foods like veggies, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, beans, nuts, and seeds, and save the nutritionally ‘less valuable’ treats for special occasions.

Related: 6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

Your stomach is about the size of two of your fists put together—and it probably gets full before your mouth and mind are satisfied. It’s so common for us to eat more than our stomach’s natural capacity—which is easy to do when we’re scrolling through our phones or eating foods loaded with added sugars and fats—that many of us have lost touch with the sensations of hunger and fullness. So, this challenge is two-fold. First: When you eat, just eat—no distractions! And second: Focus on the feeling of fullness as you eat. When your stomach is satisfied, stop eating. The more in-tune you are with your body’s sensations, the more physically and emotionally satisfied you’ll feel after eating—without going overboard.

Related: ‘Mindful Eating’ Is Everywhere—Here’s How To Actually Do It

According to a 2016 Harris poll, 40 percent of Americans gather for family dinner three times a week, or even less often. As busy as we may be with work, after-school activities, doctor’s appointments, and more, finding the time to come together for family meals has major benefits—especially for kids. Family meals are linked to better eating habits, healthier body weights, stronger academic performance, and lower risks of disordered eating and substance abuse, says Liz Weiss, M.S., R.D.N., of Liz’s Healthy Table. Even if it means having breakfast together instead of dinner or focusing on eating together over the weekend, every meal families share together makes a difference, she says. To make meals as enriching as possible, involve the kids in meal planning and prepping and put phones away.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.

7 Healthy Alternatives To Ranch For People Who Love To Dip Things

Whether you’re at a football tailgate, a holiday party, or simply standing in front of your refrigerator, few things are more fun to eat than dip. Something about dipping, scooping, and dunking food is just so satisfying.

Dips have a pretty bad rep, though—and that’s because they’re often loaded with calories and not-so-healthy ingredients like refined oils and added sodium. A quarter cup of your average ranch dressing clocks in around 260 calories and 27 grams of fat—yikes!

Fortunately, though, fun, flavorful, and nutritious dips are easier to make than you think. Here are seven nutritionist-approved dips so you can get to dunking, guilt-free.

photo: Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N.

1. Guac-Humm-Mole

Can’t decide whether to have guac or hummus? Now you don’t have to! This simple recipe jazzes up any store-bought hummus with a few fresh ingredients.

½ cup plain hummus
2 avocados, mashed
¼ cup Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp onion, chopped
2 Tbsp parsley or cilantro
1 lime, juiced
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
3 plum tomatoes, chopped

Add everything except the tomatoes to the food processor. Combine until creamy, and then add three chopped plum tomatoes. Pulse a few times and voila!

Related: 5 Protein Myths—Debunked

The hummus provides some fiber and protein, the Greek yogurt adds a boost of protein and creaminess, and the avocados offer heart-healthy fats. Serve your guac-humm-mole with a bunch of veggies or baked chips.

Our Dipper Pick: Beanitos Sea Salt Restaurant Style White Bean Chips, made with whole beans and whole-grain rice

photo: Judith Scharman Draughon, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.

 2. New Holiday Fit Dip

This creamy cashew-based dip from Judith “Judes” Scharman Draughon, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., author of Lean Body, Smart Life, is creamy, delicious, and versatile. All you need is a blender and a handful of super-simple ingredients.

1 cup raw cashews
1/3 cup water
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp garlic
1-2 Tbsp fresh dill, thyme, basil OR 1-2 tsp dried seasonings
½ tsp sea salt and pepper
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar

Soak the cashews in water for 15 minutes, and then combine in the blender with the other ingredients. Blend until creamy and stash in the fridge. Scharman Draughon serves this heart-healthy, vegan dip with fresh veggies or pita bread.

Our Dipper Pick: Mary’s Gone Crackers Organic Super Seed Crackers, made with seven types of whole grains and seeds

photo: Catherine Brown, R.D., L.D., C.D.E.

3. Almond Butter Lime Dip

This yummy, Asian-inspired dip is low in fat and full of flavor—and unlike many similar sauces, it’s no issue for those with peanut allergies.

¾ cup coconut milk
2 Tbsp ginger, minced
2 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 small red chili pepper, finely chopped
½ cup almond butter
2 limes, juiced and zested
2 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

Whisk all ingredients in a bowl or blend together until well combined. Chef and culinary nutritionist Catherine Brown, C.D.M., C.F.P.P., loves serving this dip with veggie sticks or grilled potato skewers, or drizzling it over sticky rice balls.

Our Dipper Pick: Food Should Taste Good Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips, which balance beautifully with this flavor-packed dip

photo: Sarah Schlichter, M.P.H., R.D.N.

4. Lemon Tahini Lentil Dip

This hearty dip from Sarah Schlichter, M.P.H., R.D.N., is unique because it’s satisfying and nutritious enough to be eaten all on its own—though it’s plenty delicious as a dip.

1 cup green lentils
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup tahini
2 Tbsp lemon juice
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp cumin
¼ tsp curry
1 sprig rosemary
1 large tomato, diced
2 cups kale, or other green

While cooking the lentils, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat and add garlic. Once fragrant, add the rest of the ingredients and cook for a few minutes over medium-low heat. From here, spoon it up straight, serve it over greens or quinoa, or scoop it up with whole-grain chips.

Just a quarter cup of lentils provide about 20 percent of your daily iron needs, half of your daily fiber needs, and a solid 13 grams of protein, says Schlichter.

Our Dipper Pick: Way Better Snacks Sweet Chili Whole-Grain Corn Tortilla Chips, made with sprouted whole grains and seeds and natural seasonings

5. Best Ever Four-Layer Veggie Dip

A healthier take on your usual seven-layer dip, this four-layer dip offers a variety of flavors and textures without sending you into calorie overload.

2 cans black beans, drained
2 chipotle peppers, canned in adobo sauce
3 limes, juiced
1 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
2 tsp cumin
4 avocados, mashed
½ cup Greek yogurt
3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 hothouse cucumber, chopped
½ cup red onion, chopped
1 green or red bell pepper, chopped
1-3 jalapeños, seeded and chopped

Combine beans, chipotle peppers, juice from two limes, half a cup cilantro, and cumin to the food processor. Blend until smooth and spread into a casserole dish. Then, mix together mashed avocados, remaining lime juice and half a cup cilantro. Spread on top of the beans. Then, spread Greek yogurt on top of the avocado layer. Finally, mix together chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, and cilantro, and spread on top of the yogurt. Serve cold with tortilla chips, cucumber or zucchini slices, or carrot sticks.

You’ll scoop up fiber and protein from the beans, extra protein and calcium from the yogurt, healthy fats from the avocado, and plenty of crunchy produce from the top layer, says Jennifer Bowers, Ph.D., R.D. Plus, you can tailor the heat level by adding more or less chipotles or jalapeños.

Our Dipper Pick: Frontera Lime & Sea Salt Tortilla Chips, the artisan-quality version of your favorite lime-y tortilla chips

photo: Judy Barbe, R.D.

6. Roasted Red Pepper Dip

This tangy and fun Middle Eastern-inspired dip from Judy Barbe, R.D., author of Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest: Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being is chock-full of the good stuff. It’s truly a powerhouse: Red peppers provide antioxidants (vitamin A and vitamin C), walnuts provide protein, fiber, potassium, and omega-3 fats, and the spices offer their own antioxidant power.

7-8 oz roasted red peppers (drained if jarred)
2/3 cup walnuts, toasted
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp red chili flakes
½ tsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp + ½ tsp olive oil, divided

Toast walnuts on a baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients except the half teaspoon of olive oil in the food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a bowl and drizzle the remaining olive oil on top. Barbe likes serving this dip with cucumber or jicama slices, or whole-grain crackers. You can also spread it on sandwiches and burgers, or toss it into cooked pasta.

Our Dipper Pick: Simple Mills Rosemary & Sea Salt Almond Flour Crackers, which pack an extra punch of nutrition from healthy fats

photo: Bethany Frazier, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.

7. Healthy Queso Dip

You’ll never know this cheesy, creamy dip is a lot lower-calorie—and a lot more nutrition-packed—than your average queso. This nacho-worth queso from Bethany Frazier, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., contains a secret, health-boosting ingredient: pumpkin.

1 ½ cups low-sodium broth
1 15 oz can pumpkin
¼ cup flour
2 tsp cumin
½ tsp dried chipotle powder
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

In a medium post, whisk together all ingredients except the cheese and tomatoes over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir until thick, then stir in cheese and tomatoes. Frazier likes to dunk broccoli, carrots, or tortilla chips in this lightened-up classic.

Our Dipper Pick: Protes Zesty Nacho Protein Chips, which level-up the dip’s cheesy flavor and protein power

Check Out All Of Our Favorite Chips And Crackers

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.

8 Foods Nutritionists Always Have In Their Fridges And Freezers

Keeping your kitchen stocked with staple foods and ingredients can make healthy eating quick and easy. I recently shared the 10 foods nutritionists always have in their pantries, and now it’s time to help you build the healthiest fridge and freezer possible. These must-have basics will help you build nourishing meals and snacks at any time.

For The Refrigerator

1. Fruits And Veggies

I like to plan out the week’s meals before I food shop to make sure I don’t end up wasting any produce, but I do have a few go-to’s that last a little longer and can be used in a number of ways. Fruit provides potassium, which is important for the prevention of heart disease and stroke, and it’s got fiber to help keep things moving through your body. When it comes to fruit, I usually keep a mix of sliced mango and berries to add to bowls of cereal or cottage cheese, along with some heartier, longer-lasting fruits, like apples and pears, which I can snack on, use in a weekend cobbler, or poach for dessert.

When it comes to veggies, you’ll always find onions, carrots, peppers, broccoli, and some sort of potato in my fridge because they are super versatile and can last throughout the week.

Related: Why Everyone Needs To Stop Hating On White Potatoes

I also stock up on bagged, pre-washed salad greens. Just top them with grilled poultry, fish, seafood, or beans for a quick lunch or dinner, or add nuts and dried fruit along with a drizzle of balsamic glaze for a simple side dish. Some brands even make salad kits that come along with dried fruit, nuts, and dressing. (Two cups of leafy greens is equivalent to a cup of veggies, helping you put a decent dent in your recommended two to two and a half cups of veggies per day.)

And if buying pre-cut produce will ensure that you get your veggies in, do it!

2. Milk

My fridge is never without several types of milk. I like skim or one-percent low-fat milk for cereal, almond milk for smoothies and baking, and reduced-lactose milk for my hubby. All of these milks help boost intake of bone-building calcium and vitamin D and can be woven into a wide range of recipes.

3. Eggs

Eggs are an easy-to-prepare and versatile source of protein, with about seven grams in an egg. They are also rich in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are both important for eye health. Ward often uses eggs in omelets and frittatas, and to make egg-cheese-avocado sandwiches with whole-wheat English muffins.

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4. Yogurt

Not only is plain yogurt delicious with fruit and nuts mixed in, but it’s also a great substitute for sour cream or mayonnaise. Mandy Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., creator of the couples nutrition blog Nutrition Nuptials, prefers plain skyr, an Icelandic-style yogurt that’s strained four times, so it’s higher in protein and lower in carbs than conventional yogurt. Its thicker consistency makes skyr a great ingredient for spreads, sauces, dressings, and dips. Plus, it’s a great way to add calcium to your meals. (A serving provides 20 percent of your daily value.)

5. Sauerkraut And Kimchi

“These fermented foods naturally contain probiotics, which studies suggest may promote a healthy gut microbiome,” says Michelle Loy, M.P.H., M.S., R.D.N. Plus, these foods are made from cabbage, which supplies immune-supporting compounds such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, and indoles. Cabbage is also a good source of fiber, promoting healthy blood sugar levels, bowel regularity, and enhanced satiety. Loy enjoys eating sauerkraut and kimchi as side dishes or condiments. “I’ll toss sauerkraut onto scrambled eggs or serve it alongside roasted chicken, and I like mix kimchi into a bowl with brown rice, seasoned ground turkey, and other veggies, or eat it alongside fish, like grilled salmon,” she says.

For The Freezer

1. Frozen Fruits And Vegetables

The fruits and vegetables you find in the freezer aisle are usually flash-frozen when they’re ripe to help preserve nutrients. Because of this, they may contain even more nutrients than produce that’s picked, shipped long distances, and exposed to light and heat before arriving at our supermarket.

“I don’t always remember to eat fruit, and sometimes it spoils before I have a chance to enjoy it,” Enright admits. So she stocks up on frozen fruit so she’ll always have some on-hand without worries of it going bad. Whether you’re feeling berries, pineapple, peaches, your favorite frozen fruit is easy to toss into oatmeal, yogurt, and smoothies. You can even freeze fresh fruit you have on-hand to keep it from spoiling, Enright suggests.

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And whether you’re in the mood to make a soup, a stew, omelet or quiche, frozen vegetables (like corn or blends of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots) can come in handy and add a nutritional punch to any meal or snack—without having to leave the kitchen. The fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants in veggies help to protect us from diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, while keeping us feeling full with very few calories.

2. Frozen Edamame

Soy beans are packed with protein (10 grams per cup) and make for a quick snack or plant protein add-in to meals, says Liz Ward, R.D.N. She likes to snack on steamed edamame straight from the pods and using the shelled type to punch up the protein and plant power in salads and side dishes.

3. Frozen Meals

With more and more healthy options in the freezer aisle, frozen meals can be a part of a healthy diet and come in handy when you don’t have time to cook. Just pair it with a salad or fruit on the side to bump up your produce intake. Pick the healthiest frozen meal possible by looking for the following: a short, simple ingredient list, 300 to 500 calories total, 15 to 20 grams of protein, at least five grams of fiber (preferably from whole grains and veggies), and as little sodium as possible (140 milligrams or less). And make sure to check serving sizes so you don’t accidentally down two dinners!

Take this shopping list with you the next time you run out for groceries:

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.

Your 2-Week Guide To Cutting Out Highly-Processed Foods

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

You’d be hard-pressed to make a case for eating processed foods. But considering processed foods are staples of most people’s diets (technically, everything from baby carrots to whole-grain bread to yogurt to poultry is processed somehow), the idea of cutting them out completely is completely overwhelming.

There are tons of processed foods that are actually still healthy, even if they contain tongue-twister ingredients. (Consider this: You might be alarmed by a word like ‘cyanocobalamin’ in an ingredients list, but that’s just a chemical name for vitamin B12.) So while you don’t need to nix all the processed foods from your diet, there are some—we call them ‘highly-processed foods’—that you really should consider cutting out.

Highly-processed foods are the ones laden with unhealthy trans (hydrogenated) fats, sugars, sodium, additives, colorings, and preservatives. They also often lack fiber and other important nutrients, like antioxidants, that help support our health. In fact, diets laden with highly-processed foods spike our risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, digestive issues, and cancer, and they contribute to obesity.

Cutting out these highly-processed foods can keep your waistline from expanding and generally make you feel better inside and out. I know it’s easier said than done, so I’m here to help you clear up any confusion, shop smarter, and clean up your diet step by step.

Days 1-2: Make Friends With Food Labels

With thousands of products to choose from every time you step foot in the supermarket, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Reading just one food label can be confusing, let alone five! It’s no wonder that just 13 percent of Americans always read food labels, even though 61 percent are concerned about calories, sugar, salt, and fat in packaged foods, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.

The first step toward making the best food choices for you is feeling comfortable reading a food label—and I promise you don’t have to be a dietitian or mathematician to do it. Just look out for a few general red flags when scanning a food label.

Most importantly, the ingredient list: If a food lists some form of sugar (like brown rice syrup, cane juice, or anything ending in ‘-ose’) or a refined grain (anything not labeled as ‘whole’) as one of the first ingredients, or contains any trans fats (they’ll be identified as ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially-hydrogenated’), it’s not a healthy option.

How you prioritize the rest of numbers on a label depends on your particular health needs. If you have blood pressure issues, for example, you need to watch sodium; if you have blood sugar concerns, you need to watch sugar; if you’re trying to lose weight, you need to watch calories.

A dietitian can help you fine-tune your shopping for your individual needs, but avoiding those red flag ingredients is a huge step in the right direction.

Days 3-4: Make The Most Of The Middle Aisles

We’re often told to ‘shop the perimeter of the grocery store,’ where we’ll often find whole foods like produce, dairy, meat, and poultry. Often we associate the middle aisles of the supermarket with two-liter bottles of orange soda and giant backs of cheese doodles. Yes, it’s true that the center aisles house many highly-processed foods, but if you look closely, you’ll also find healthy foods like beans, nuts, and cereals that are easy on your budget, easy to store, and even easy on your waistline if you choose wisely.

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Some of the middle aisle staples I stock up on: whole grains like brown rice, farro, and quinoa, canned tuna fish, all-natural no-sugar-added peanut butter, canned tomatoes, and canned beans like chickpeas and black beans.

Related: 10 Foods Nutritionists Always Have In Their Pantries

When shopping the middle aisles for these foods, be wary of added sugar or tons of sodium. Steer clear of canned fruit or veggies that list sugar in the ingredients and rinse veggies and beans before using. By rinsing canned beans, for example, you can ditch up to 40 percent of the sodium listed on the label.

Days 5-6: Revisit Your Creamer

If you look forward to half-and-half with a few packets of sugar or flavored creamer in your coffee, you may be taking in lots of excess sugar, fat, and more. Many flavored creamers are made with artery-clogging hydrogenated trans fats and artificial flavors, too. While you may not be pouring a full cup of the stuff into your coffee, if you’re drinking multiple mugs a day, the calories, sugars, and fat really add up.

Step one: Ditch any creamer that contains added sugar or anything artificial.

Step two: Try diluting half-and-half in skim or almond milk.

Step three: Slowly switch over to just skim or almond milk. Before you know it, you’ll acquire a taste for a less-sweet cup of Joe and appreciate the rich, robust aroma of your coffee even more.

Days 7-8: Be A Sugar Sleuth

One of the biggest issues in packaged foods—and in our diets—is sugar. It’s often added to boost the flavor in low-fat and fat-free foods, but adding sugar to these foods can actually be more harmful than just keeping the fat. Sugar gets metabolized by our body quickly, so when we eat sugary foods we often don’t feel satisfied and end up overeating, gaining weight, and increasing our risk for related health issues.

Scouting out added sugar can be a little tricky, because not all of the grams of sugar in a product are necessarily ‘added.’ Foods like milk and fruit contain naturally-occurring sugars along with their other nutrients, and are an a-okay part of your diet. Meanwhile, the added stuff offers little to no nutrition along with a higher risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

To determine whether there’s added sugar in a food, you need to look at the ingredients list—just don’t always expect it to be spelled S-U-G-A-R. Sugar has been a master of disguise for decades, so you might see it listed on labels as molasses, high-fructose corn syrup, organic cane juice, among many other names. (Check out some of its other fake identities here.) The closer sugar (and its aliases) are to the top, the more sugar the food contains and the less worthy it is of making it into your cart.

Days 9-10: Shake The Salt Habit

If you’re shunning the salt shaker but still eating a lot of highly-processed foods, you’re probably not cutting down on sodium as much as you think. Most of the sodium in our diets actually comes from highly-processed foods—even those we don’t identify as ‘salty,’ like baked goods. (A NYC bagel, for example, contains more than 750 milligrams of sodium!)

Related: Are There Any Benefits To Eating Salt?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest we limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams—or about one teaspoon of salt—per day. Whenever possible, purchase ‘low-sodium’ soups, sauces, olives, pickles, and pre-made dishes, which 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving.

Days 11-12: Overhaul Your Freezer

The freezer is often home to some of the least-healthy eats in the house, so first things first: Chuck anything that contains any of the food label red flags we talked about on days one and two. Sodium, unhealthy fats, additives, and preservatives run rampant in many frozen meals, sauces, and other foods.

Then, replace those foods with basic staples, like frozen berries and other fruit for smoothies, frozen mixed veggies for soups, and frozen edamame for snacking. When you buy frozen foods that contain just the fruit or vegetable you’re looking for, you set yourself up for healthy meals on-the-fly later on.

Some frozen produce packs even more nutrients than its fresh counterparts, because it’s harvested and frozen at the height of freshness. Meanwhile, fresh produce often travels across the country or globe, sits on the shelf at your local store, and then sits in your fridge until you’re ready to serve it. All that exposure to the elements (varying temperatures, light and air) takes a toll.

Days 13-14: Go Whole Grain

‘Wheat flour’ doesn’t say much about the grain your bread, pasta or cereal is made of. When grains are highly-processed—think white bread, pasta, and crackers—only some parts of the grain are used, stripping the end product of essential nutrients.

Whole-grain foods, though, use the entire seed—the bran, endosperm, and the germ. So while refined grain foods are often stripped of important nutrients and may increase risks of developing diabetes and heart disease (notice a pattern here?), whole-grain foods provide fiber and other nutrients that help keep you feeling full satisfied and offer heart and digestive health benefits.

Make sure any grain-based products in your cabinet list ‘whole-grain’ or ‘whole-wheat’ as the first ingredient. That goes for breads, pastas, crackers, cereals, and even baked goods. And don’t be fooled by the “multi-grain” term on many labels. While this indicates that a product contains more than one type of grain, it doesn’t mean those grains are whole grains.

Related: Shop for wholesome snacks like pretzels, crackers, and cookies, made from ingredients you can trust.

10 Foods Nutritionists Always Have In Their Pantries

Having a well-stocked pantry is key to eating well year-round. Whether you want to create a decadent Sunday night meal or need to throw together a weeknight dish in five minutes, you’ll have a variety of healthy foods at your fingertips and no excuse to rely on takeout.

Whether you’re in the produce aisle, the dairy section, or an aisle chock-full of boxes and cans, there are plenty of worthwhile staples all over the grocery store. Here are the foods dietitians always keep stocked in their pantries to make healthy eating as easy and delicious as possible.

1. Almond Milk

You’ll often find almond milks in both the refrigerated section and the center aisles, because you can actually store them unopened fridge-free for a year. (Once you open it, though, you’ll need to pop it in the fridge and use it within 10 days.) This beverage is often fortified to include ample amounts of calcium and vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin A. A cup of unsweetened almond milk is just 30 calories and is a versatile ingredient that comes in handy in sauces, stews, muffins and quick breads, smoothies and lots of other recipes.

2. Nuts

Whether it’s almonds, walnuts, pistachios, or cashews, I’m nuts about nuts. Especially because I know that along with a mouthful of crunch, I’m getting heart-healthy fats—which have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels—some fiber (about two grams per ounce, and which we don’t get enough of), and around six grams of plant protein. I add nuts to salads, roasted veggies, hot or cold cereal, or just enjoy them right out of the package.

3. Whole Grains

Non-perishable whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat, barley, sorghum, whole-grain pasta, farro, freekeh, and quinoa come in handy when you need a nutrient-rich carb to add to your plate. “Grains such as these provide a dose of fiber that promotes heart and gut health, along with protein that aids in replenishing muscles,” says Collette Sinnott, R.D., C.P.T. Grains make for a great base because you can top them with veggies, protein, and a light sauce. Sinnott loves to use brown rice and quinoa as bases for Mexican and Indian-inspired meals and whole-wheat pasta as a base on busy weeknights.

4. Canned Tuna Fish

Need to prep a meal last minute? Canned tuna is a lifesaver. “Experts suggest eating fish at least twice a week, and canned fish is a relatively inexpensive and shelf-stable source of protein,” says Liz Ward, R.D.N. Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that help boost circulation to maintain your heart and brain function, and may also support mood. I like to use tuna in sandwiches and casseroles, or to top a colorful salad.

5. Peanut Butter

Good ‘ole PB is a good source of protein (around four grams per tablespoon) and provides heart-healthy unsaturated fats. It’s also a source of bone-building magnesium and fiber. “Peanut butter is also low in cost compared to other nut butters and can be added to oatmeal, plain yogurt, and smoothies, or spread onto sandwiches or whole-grain crackers,” says Ward.

6. Canned Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes actually contain more of the antioxidant lycopene than fresh tomatoes and can be used in everything from soups to sauces—even when good fresh tomatoes are hard to find. “I count on canned tomatoes to be there year round for my favorite chili and fish recipes,” says Ward.

7. Canned Beans

Beans are the most underrated superfood in the book. First off, they’re rich in complex carbs, and offer an array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Beans also supply around six grams of protein per half cup—and unlike some animal proteins, they contain little to no fat and no cholesterol. To top it off, they also pack a hefty dose of soluble fiber (eight grams per half a cup), which may help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. But since canned beans are often high in sodium, just rinse them before using. (By doing this, you can ditch up to 40 percent of the salt!)

8. Dried Fruit

Dried cranberries, raisins, or apricots make the perfect addition to homemade trail mix, baked goods, or cereals. You can also add a tablespoon or two of dried fruit to typically bitter veggie dishes, like sautéed broccoli rabe or spinach, to take the edge off. Dried fruits are rich in iron and cranberries in particular contain antioxidants called proanthocyanidins (PACs) which may help prevent urinary tract infections.

9. Low-Sodium Broth

Chicken or veggie broth can add flavor when cooking grains, steaming veggies, or loading up the crockpot, according to Mandy Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., creator of the couples nutrition blog Nutrition Nuptials. Low-sodium broths contain about 45 milligrams of the salty stuff per cup, versus as much as 850 milligrams in regular broth.

10. Nutritional Yeast

This versatile ingredient adds savory flavor to a variety of dishes. Ginger Hultin, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.O., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics uses it to add a cheesy taste to popcorn, sauces, salad dressings, and soups. Nutritional yeast costs less than a dime per serving, provides some protein (1.5 grams per teaspoon) and fiber (almost a gram per teaspoon), and is fortified with B vitamins, which are important for a healthy nervous system.

Take this shopping list with you the next time you run out for groceries:

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

6 Delicious Ways To Eat Kefir (Plus How To Pronounce It)

Fermented foods have never been trendier. And while you’ve probably eaten your fair share of Greek yogurt and sipped on some kombucha, I’m willing to bet there’s one fermented food you’ve never tried (or were even able to pronounce): kefir.

For the record, it’s pronounced kuh-FEER.

Kefir is a milk drink cultured with yeast and bacteria. Like yogurt, kefir contains protein, calcium, B vitamins, potassium, and probiotics—you know, those good bacteria that support your gut health. But while you eat yogurt with a spoon, you can drink kefir—it’s just a little thicker than regular milk. It’s typically made with cow’s milk, but you can also find non-dairy alternatives made with almond milk, coconut milk, or rice milk. A cup of plain kefir is tart, and weighs in at around 110 calories, 11 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 12 grams of sugar, and two grams of fat per cup.

Stick to the plain stuff to avoid the added sugar in flavored varieties. (Some have 15 grams of added sugar per cup.) If your taste buds really can’t deal with the tartness, mix half a cup of plain kefir with half a cup of a flavored one—and choose the brand with the least sugar.

While a tall glass of kefir makes for a good breakfast or late-afternoon snack, it can do so much more! Here are six delicious, nutritionist-approved ways to use it:

1. Whip up homemade salad dressing.

We all love creamy dressings, but they’re often high in fat and devoid of protein—unless you use kefir as your base. I like to add mustard, horseradish sauce, a spoon of balsamic glaze, and spices to plain kefir for a dressing that bursts with flavor.

photo: Bonnie Taub-Dix

2. Bake sweet potato muffins.

Whether it’s fall or not, these muffins are a flavorful pick-me-up and a great after-school snack. Just bake up a few sweet potatoes—which are a great source of vitamin A and provide fiber—and you’ve got the makings of a delicious treat. Plus, the kefir adds some protein and a heavenly texture to this recipe. These muffins freeze well and pair perfectly with a dollop of cottage or ricotta cheese for an extra protein bump.

3. Add it to pancake or waffle batter.

Starting the morning with a warm stack of pancakes or waffles? Swap the buttermilk in the recipe out for kefir to nix some fat and gain some protein.

photo: Samina Qureshi

4. Blend up a smoothie.

According to Samina Qureshi R.D.N., L.D., of Wholesome Start, a solid smoothie needs five things: a liquid base, nutrients, protein, flavor, and a natural sweetener. And good ‘ole kefir covers three of the five, with its creamy texture and the protein and nutrients it provides. Qureshi’s berry kefir smoothie combines plain kefir, frozen berries, frozen banana, mixed greens, nut butter, and chia seeds for a balanced smoothie that makes a great snack, on-the-go meal, or post-workout fuel.

photo: Jessica Levinson

Or, keep things simple by blending plain kefir with frozen strawberries, lemon juice, and honey, for a sweet and easy snack. This smoothie, from Jessica Levinson, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., founder of Small Bites by Jessica provides vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants. It’s a good starter smoothie for those a little intimidated by kefir’s tart flavor.

Related: Is That Smoothie Bowl As Healthy As It Seems?

photo: United Dairy Industry Association

If you’re feeling adventurous, mix up your flavors and add a little spice with a kefir-based pumpkin pie smoothie. All you need is plain kefir, ice, canned pumpkin puree, almond butter, pumpkin pie spice, and maple syrup or honey to whip up a drink that’s much more satisfying than the average pumpkin spice latte. In addition to a number of nutrients from the kefir, you’ll get fiber, potassium, and vitamin C from the pumpkin, according to Lanier Dabruzzi, M.S., R.D., L.D., of the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association.

photo: Liz Weiss

5. Soak some overnight oats.

Overnight oats starring kefir are a convenient make-ahead breakfast. Stash a simple combo of kefir, rolled oats, fruit, and chia seeds in the fridge overnight, and add toppings in the morning. These strawberry peanut overnight oats from Liz Weiss, M.S., R.D.N., taste like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and provide seven grams of fiber and 16 grams of protein.

6. Bake, well, anything.

You can swap kefir in for milk, cream, or yogurt in pretty much any baking recipe, whether it’s for bread or cupcakes. Why not treat yourself to some extra protein and probiotics?

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Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

5 Healthier Versions Of Your Favorite Comfort Foods

We all have foods we turn to when we want to soothe our souls. It’s easy to go straight for the cheesy and carby goodness of a pizza, or a full plate of Entenmann’s finest—but it is also possible to enjoy the flavors of our favorite comfort foods in a way that’s a little healthier. With a few tweaks and swaps, you can make your favorite meals or treats more nutritious and less food baby-inducing, and savor every bite without a shred of guilt.

Below are a few of the classic comfort foods I turn to, and how I transform them into lighter—but still delicious—dishes.

1. Meatloaf

Nothing beats pulling a juicy meatloaf out of the oven—but depending on the type of meat you use and how breadcrumb-crazy you go, the calories can really add up.

I like to lighten up traditional meatloaf by swapping beef for lean turkey to save fat and calories, and boost the protein. (While 3-ounces of 85 percent lean ground beef is 212 calories, with 13 grams of fat and 22 grams of protein, the 93 percent lean ground turkey I use is just 129 calories, with 7 grams of fat and 16 grams of protein.) Ground turkey also provides vitamins B6 and B12, along with niacin, choline, selenium, and zinc.

I also add diced veggies—like onions, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and carrots—to my meatloaf to bulk it up and add some additional fiber and nutrients. When it comes to breadcrumbs, I prefer whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs because they offer a light and crispy crunch, but if you’re looking for a gluten-free option, you can use gluten-free oats, crackers, or even some cooked brown rice.

Check out my full turkey-veggie meatloaf recipe here. You can even transform this meatloaf into meatballs to serve over zucchini noodles!

2. Cake

Anyone with a sweet tooth knows how hard it can be to beat back sugar cravings. Instead of turning to sugar and fat-laden cake, brownies, or cookies, bake up a lighter sweet treat, like banana muffins.

Your average cupcake or muffin comes in around 220 calories with 12 grams of fat and 22 grams of sugar. (Plus, most are made with white all-purpose flour, which is pretty devoid of nutrients—especially fiber.) My banana-almond bread muffins are just sweet enough (they have chocolate chips in there!) and offer the added benefit of potassium and fiber from the bananas and whole-wheat pastry flour. They’re about 200 calories, but with eight grams of fat and half the sugar of a cupcake. No, a banana muffin may not be quite the same as a funfetti cupcake, but I promise it’ll get the job done!

You can boost the health value of this baked good even further by swapping out the oil for an equal amount of mashed avocados. Unlike oil, avocados are a good source of fiber and potassium. Applesauce can also be subbed in for oil—you’ll save tons of calories—but fair warning: While the muffins’ flavor will still be spot-on, they may have a slightly different texture.

3. Pizza

Pizza is the perfect marriage of cheese and carbs—but it’s often a one-way ticket to Food Coma City. Swapping takeout for a DIY pie makes it easier to cut back on calories and bump up the healthy factor of your meal.

In my house, we start with a whole-wheat crust and top it with a variety of vegetables, like fresh spinach, crushed tomatoes, garlic, and mushrooms, and a medley of cheeses. We go lighter on the cheese and heavier on the vegetables to reduce calories, while adding vitamins, minerals, fiber and all the powerful antioxidants vegetables offer. Stick to two cups of shredded mozzarella, so each slice has just about 90 calories worth on it.

To add even more veggie power to your pizza (and slash carbs), build your pie with a cauliflower crust. Cauliflower provides an assortment of nutrients, like vitamins C, K, and B6, folatepantothenic acid, choline, and dietary fiber—and one cup is just 22 calories and five grams of carbs. You can buy cauliflower pizza crusts pre-made in many supermarkets these days (check the freezer aisle) or make them at home.

I like to make my own by mixing together a bag of riced cauliflower, three eggs, half a cup of grated mozzarella cheese, half a cup of chopped nuts (like almonds, pecans, or pignoli nuts), and fresh herbs and Italian seasoning. After combining the ingredients, I flatten the crust onto a pizza stone and bake in the oven at 425 degrees until lightly browned. To really keep the calorie count low, cut down on the amount of mozzarella you use in the crust.

4. Spaghetti

I’m a huge pasta fan, but this often-heavy meal doesn’t always fit into a day of healthy eats. To boost the nutrition of any pasta dish, I always recommend going for a whole-wheat pasta. (While a cup of cooked white pasta has two grams of fiber, a cup of whole-wheat pasta packs around five—and that makes it easier to feel full and stop twirling after one serving.)

Related: 5 Healthier Noodles (That Aren’t Zoodles) For When You’re Craving Pasta

When I want to put veggies at the center of this dish, I use a spiralizer to curl out some zucchini noodles, which saves about 150 calories and 28 grams of carbs. I top my zoodles with tomato sauce, a few chunks of chicken, tofu or cheese, sliced veggies (like red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, and mushrooms), and garlic.

5. Pie

A traditional slice of pie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream can set you back close to 700 calories, often with around 25 grams of fat and 95 grams of carbs (most of which come from sugar). Delicious, yes, but definitely worth saving for special occasions.

I love the flavors of pie, though, so I ditch the dough and create a cobbler instead. You’ll mix together your favorite fruit—like apples—with seasonings and just a bit of sugar, and top them with an easy and scrumptious crumb topping made from granola and chopped nuts. Top my apple cobbler recipe with a scoop of frozen yogurt and you’ve got a dessert that hovers around 350 calories.

To kick the health factor up yet another notch, go for a baked apple. Core an apple and fill the core with crunched-up graham cracker and cinnamon. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Top it with a small scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt or a few spoons of vanilla Greek yogurt. It may not be a piece of pie, but at 200ish calories, it’s a bargain in comparison.

Related: Check out protein snacks and puddings to satisfy cravings on-the-go.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

7 High-Calorie Foods You Should Totally Be Eating

We talk about calories a lot. So much so that new food labels will highlight calories in a big, bold font. But as much as we obsess over them, calories don’t always tell the full story of a food.

Beyond calories, we need a variety of nutrients to keep our bodies and minds as healthy as possible. After all, three-hundred calories of whole-grain bread, turkey, lettuce, tomato, and sliced avocado are far different than the same amount of calories from a candy bar. While the number of calories in your diet can determine your weight, the quality of your calories determines your health.

When we get too caught up with calories, we may end up writing off a number of healthy foods that absolutely deserve a spot on our plates. Allow me to make my case for a few of these foods.

1. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds may be tiny, but the calories add up as fast as you can sprinkle them. Don’t let their calorie count—138 calories per two tablespoons—scare you off, though. Those two tablespoons provide a powerhouse of protein (five grams, which is about as much as an egg) and fiber (10 grams).

Try topping a cup of plain Greek yogurt with some fresh-cut mango, half a cup of high-fiber cereal (at least five grams), and a tablespoon of chia seeds. Stash in the fridge overnight and you’ll have a pudding-like breakfast you’ll want to jump out of bed for in the morning.

2. Full-Fat Yogurt

If you haven’t already noticed, full-fat Greek yogurts are taking up more and more shelf space in the dairy aisle. When my patients tell me they don’t like plain Greek yogurt, I usually recommend they give the full-fat version a go. Here’s why: Although a serving of full-fat yogurt is 130 calories (versus 80 for the fat-free stuff), it packs a richer, creamier texture. And, of course, it still provides the usual protein (13 grams, which is about as much as two ounces of chicken). You’ll also get 15 percent of your daily needs for calcium, plus some potassium, zinc, and vitamins B6 and B12. What’s more, the probiotics in yogurt fuel the friendly bacteria in your gut to help boost your immune system. All this goodness is certainly worth 130 calories.

Try swapping full-fat plain Greek yogurt in for sour cream on your next baked potato. The yogurt packs four times as much protein as sour cream and will help you feel fuller for longer.

3. Oil

Oil might make you think, ‘calorie bomb’—and rightly so, considering a single cup of oil is almost 2,000 calories. If you’re mindlessly drizzling it all over your salads and veggies, you might be taking in hundreds of extra calories, but as long as you limit oil to a tablespoon or so, you can benefit from its health benefits without going overboard on the cals. Two of my favorite picks are olive oil and avocado oil, because they contain healthy monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated (PUFA) that can support your heart and cholesterol.

When making salad dressings, focus on using less oil and more vinegar. Adding a thick balsamic glaze to your dressing can help keep you from going to oil-heavy—and just a tablespoon provides about a third of the calories as a tablespoon of oil. Just combine balsamic vinegar and a little sweetener in a saucepan and simmer, stirring occasionally until the liquid thickens.

Related: Shop a variety of flavorful, healthy oils.

4. Nuts

Full disclosure: I am nuts about nuts. If there’s any food that I admittedly overdo, it’s nuts. A one-ounce serving of nuts is about 170 calories, with six grams of protein, two grams of fiber, and an array of nutrients coming along with those healthy fats.

Here are a few reasons to eat more nuts (in proper portion sizes, of course): Almonds provide bone-building calcium as well as vitamin E, a nutrient that supports healthy skin. Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium, which is needed to help boost immunity and wound healing. Cashews provide iron, which helps build blood cells. Pistachios are rich in vitamin B6, which supports your nervous system, and lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that play a role in eye health. Walnuts are rich in the beloved omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart health.

Sprinkle sliced, slivered, or crushed nuts over salads, veggie dishes, or even your oatmeal to satisfy your hunger with every crunchy mouthful.

5. Bread

We love to ditch bread when we’re trying to lose weight—but it’s one of the most satisfying, energizing foods out there! While you can feel free to skip the bagels (which often pack around 500 calories even before the cream cheese), a slice of bread is typically about 100 calories. My advice: Instead of giving up bread completely, stick to whole-grain. Whole-grain bread provides more fiber (about two grams versus 0.8 in the white stuff) to promote healthy digestion and fill you up. You’ll also get a dose of B vitamins, which support energy and your nervous system, and the carbs your body needs for fuel. Just look for a loaf that lists ‘whole grain’ as the first ingredient.

Treat yourself in a healthful way by making French toast with whole-grain bread and topping it with fresh fruit instead of syrup.

6. Beans

Beans are not given the superfood status they deserve! These plants pack tons of nutrition into a half-cup serving, which is about 100 calories. Beans are rich in fiber (eight grams), protein (six grams), and goodies like B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, and zinc. Not to mention, they are easy to find in any supermarket, affordable, and simple to store. The soluble fiber in beans has been shown help ward of high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes—whew! Just avoid pre-made bean dishes or sides that are often packed with added sugar.

Beans are great alongside your morning eggs, atop your salad at lunch, or in a soup with dinner. You an even enjoy beans in the form of dip (like chickpeas in hummus) for a fiber and protein-filled snack. I like to jazz up store-bought hummus with chopped veggies, pesto, herbs, spices or honey, and tons of veggie sticks for dunking.

7. Cheese

Cheese pretty much speaks straight to our souls. And while a serving of cheese isn’t quite as much as we wish it was, it provides some valuable nutrients. A one-ounce portion (about the size of two dice) is 110 calories of mostly protein or fat, depending on the variety. You can get up to seven grams of protein per ounce of cheese, plus about 20 percent of your daily calcium needs.

Most cheeses also contain phosphorous, which is important for building strong bones and teeth, as well as zinc, which enhances our ability to taste and smell. Cottage cheese is one of my favorites because you get lots of value (six grams of protein) for little fat—even the full-fat types weigh in at just 55 calories per two ounces.

Related: The Highly Underrated Protein Source You’re Probably Not Eating

Just don’t confuse cheese and cream cheese. Cream cheese is composed mostly of fat (10 grams per ounce) and offers little protein (2 grams per ounce). And when adding a little cheese to your eggs, use shredded cheese instead of sliced cheese. A tablespoon of shredded cheese is just 40 calories, while a slice can be closer to 100.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

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9 Nutrients You May Be Short On If You Don’t Eat Dairy

Just about everyone has dietary restrictions these days—in fact, many people cut out entire food groups, like dairy. Whether you have a milk allergy, are lactose intolerant, or just aren’t a fan, it’s important to be aware that ditching dairy may mean potentially missing out on a number of key nutrients.

Thing is, dairy foods are pretty jam-packed with the good stuff. Cow’s milk contains nine essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin B2 (riboflavin). Cheese also provides protein, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B2, and vitamin B12. And yogurt (especially Greek yogurt) packs a good dose of protein, plus calcium and ever-important probiotics.

Don’t worry, though, you can find these nutrients in non-dairy sources. Just know that you may need to eat several different types of those foods to reach the amount of the nutrients in dairy.

1. Protein

We’ve put protein on a pedestal because of its ability to squash hunger and support and repair tissues and muscles. A cup of dairy milk contains eight grams of protein—but this is one nutrient you’ll have no problem making up for elsewhere. (Men need a bare minimum of 56 grams per day and women need at least 46 grams—but most of us get much more.)

Just one ounce of most animal proteins like meat, poultry, and fish provides as much (if not more) protein as that glass of milk. (A three-ounce chicken breast gets you about 26 grams.) Eggs come close with six grams of protein per egg. Plus, plenty of plants also provide similar levels of protein as milk. Tofu comes in around 10 grams of protein per four ounces, beans provide about six  grams per half-cup, nuts provide about six grams per ounce, and whole grains contain about three grams per quarter-cup serving.

Related: 7 Vegetarian Protein Sources

2. Calcium and Vitamin D

I’m putting these two together because the pair is crucial for your bones—and many Americans fall short on both nutrients. (Vitamin D also plays an important role in your immune function.) Adults need about 600 IUs of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.

One cup of milk contains about 305 mg of calcium, while an ounce of hard cheese contains about around 200. Most milk is fortified to provide about 120 IUs of vitamin D, while that cheese supplies about six IUs. Many almond milks are also fortified with enough calcium and vitamin D to be a fair replacement for cow’s milk.

Other sources of calcium include canned salmon (including the soft bones), which offers 180mg per three ounces, firm tofu (320 mg per half a block), almonds (80mg per ounce), spinach (240mg per cup), and broccoli (180mg per cup).

Vitamin D, which is pretty darn tough to get from food, can be found in sockeye salmon (440 IUs in three ounces) and eggs (40 IUs per whole egg).

Related: Find a vitamin D supplement to help you fill nutritional (and sunshine) gaps.

3. Phosphorus

This mineral tag-teams with calcium to keep bones and teeth strong, and also helps strengthen your immune system. You’ll get 224mg phosphorus in a cup of milk, and adults need 700mg per day.

You’ll find phosphorus in other animal proteins like turkey (131 mg per three ounces), and sardines (215mg per three ounces, canned), and scallops (340mg per three and a half ounces). It’s also found in plant sources like quinoa (149mg per half -up), almonds (880mg per ounce), Brazil nuts (885mg per ounce) and in chia (265mg per tablespoon) and sesame seeds (21mg per tablespoon).

4. Potassium

This electrolyte (a type of mineral) is a key player in establishing normal heart rhythm and stable blood pressure levels. Milk provides around 342 mg potassium per cup, and adults need about 4,700mg a day.

When dairy is off the table, turn to produce for your potassium—it’s pretty easy to find! Fruits and veggies like bananas (422mg per banana), white potato (1626mg per baked tater with skin), apricots (650mg per two ounces, dried) and kidney beans (655mg per cup) are some of the richest sources out there.

5. Vitamin A

Vitamin A protects your skin and promotes good vision. Most milk is fortified with vitamin A, providing around 499 IUs per cup. We need about 10,000 IUs a day.

Our bodies convert beta-carotene, which gives plants their orangey color, into vitamin A. Sweet potatoes (a whopping 11,916IU per three ounces), carrots (10,691IU per half-cup, chopped), cantaloupe (5987IU per cup), and winter squash (22,869IU per cup) all provide some. You can also get vitamin A from spinach (2,183IU per cup).

6. Riboflavin

Also known as vitamin B2, this vitamin impacts energy production at a cellular level and generally helps keep cells in good shape. A cup of milk provides about 0.5mg, which is half of an adult’s daily B2 needs.

Beef liver (2.9mg per three ounces), clams (0.4mg per three ounces), and mushrooms (0.3mg per half-cup) all supply some riboflavin. This is another one that’s found in fortified cereals (1.7mg per serving).

7. Magnesium

The most abundant mineral in our body, magnesium plays a role in hundreds of different processes. (A few: blood sugar function, cardiovascular function, and digestion.) You’ll find 28mg of magnesium in a cup of milk. While women need about 320mg per day, men need about 420mg.

Plant foods like almonds (105mg per quarter cup) and sunflower seeds (128mg per ounceounce) contain magnesium. You can also find it in shrimp (36 mg per three ounces).

8. Zinc

Zinc is important for proper wound healing and actually impacts your perception of taste and smell—fun fact! Milk has 1.1mg of zinc. Guys need about 11mg a day, while women need about eight.

Get your fill of zinc from non-dairy foods like oysters (74mg per three ounces), crab (6.5 mg per three ounces), beef (7mg per three ounces), and baked beans (2.9mg per half-cup).

9. Probiotics

Last but not least are probiotics. These beneficial bacteria help your gut take better care of you; they boost immunity and can help ward off digestive woes. When you think probiotics, you probably think yogurt or kefir—and although the amounts and strains of probiotics in yogurts vary, varieties labeled “contains active, live cultures” are sure to provide some of the good stuff.

Luckily, probiotics are also pretty easy to find in non-dairy foods. Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and pickles are natural sources of probiotics. You can also find it in super-trendy kombucha, a drink made from fermented tea.

Related: I Drank Kombucha Every Day For Two Weeks—Here’s What My Gut Had To Say

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

11 Meat-Free Meals That Still Pack Plenty Of Protein

The buzz around plant-based eating is growing faster than the weeds in our backyards this summer—but you’re not alone if you’re not quite sure what it all means. Allow me to clarify: Plant-based eating doesn’t mean placing your 16-ounce veal chop on a bed of greens, nor does it mean that you have to become a strict vegan or vegetarian. This style of eating basically means that meat (and other animal products) takes a step to the side while letting plants play the starring role on your dinner table.

A diet rich in vegetables and other produce has been shown to reduce risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And, besides keeping people healthy, plant-based eating can also benefit our planet by decreasing global greenhouse gas emissions caused by food production practices, according to research published in Nature.

I know what you’re thinking: How can I possibly get enough protein in a meal without meat? It can be done! Combine a couple of plant-based protein sources into your meal and you can rack up more protein than you think. And considering the Institute of Medicine recommends a baseline of 56 grams of protein per day for men and 46 grams for women, you may not need to eat quite as much as you think. Of course, personal protein needs may vary depending on your goals, height, weight, and activity level, but many of us tend to go overboard on animal protein, eating steaks and burgers the size of our heads on the reg.

That said, a meal without meat doesn’t have to leave you lacking the macronutrient you need to build muscle and keep your body strong. These veggie-focused recipes pack between eight and 26 (yes, really!) grams of protein—and are guaranteed to win you over to the plant-based team.

1. Avocado Mini Muffins

My avocado mini egg muffins are a great portable way to sneak extra protein and veggies into your day. The eggs, egg whites, and feta cheese are our main protein contributors here, providing about eight grams of protein per two mini muffins.

These muffins are bursting with color from the tomatoes and spinach in the recipe—both of which are good sources of vitamin C! And, last but not least, heart-healthy avocado supplies a creamy texture while its fiber helps you feel full longer. Make my recipe your own by adding anything you have sitting in your fridge—like peppers, mushrooms or beets.

2. Sunflower Caesar Salad

Throw together this quick but satisfying salad from Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., author of The Superfood Swap, for a hefty dose of plant-based protein. It packs more than 15 grams of protein (from the chickpeas, sunflower seed butter, and sprouted bread) and about as much fiber.

First, toss as much romaine lettuce as you’d like with grape tomatoes, sliced red onion, and a half-cup of canned chickpeas. Then, toast two slices of sprouted whole-grain bread and cut them into croutons. Make your own dressing by whisking together two tablespoons of water, a tablespoon of sunflower seed butter, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, half a clove of minced garlic, and a sprinkle of sea salt.

photo: Mandy Enright

3. Freekeh Sunflower Burger

This one’s for all you burger lovers out there! This freekeh sunflower burger combines protein from several seeds (sunflower, pepita, chia, and hemp) and the freekeh (a whole grain also known as ‘farik’) to provide 16 grams of protein per patty. You can boost protein further by topping your burger with soy cheese (three grams per slice) or regular cheese (six grams per slice). Serve with lettuce and tomato on a whole grain bun. Mandy Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., loves that this burger has a dense texture—much like your regular ‘ole meaty burger.

photo: Brittany Sparks

4. Vegetarian Split Pea Sweet Potato Soup

This veggie-lovers comfort food is budget friendly and loaded with nutrients. Thanks to the split peas and lentils, just a half-cup bowl of this soup provides around 15 grams of protein. The lentils and split peas also offer fiber, folate, iron, zinc, and potassium, according to Brittany Sparks, R.D.N., C.S.R. This soup is delish hot or cold, and makes for a great main meal or vegetable-packed side.

photo: Sharon Palmer

5. Savory Steel-Cut Oats With Spinach, Mushrooms, And Tofu

The thought of oats combined with spinach, mushrooms, and tofu may feel a little strange, but hear us out. This vegan, gluten-free dish will make you rethink your favorite breakfast staple. Herbs and spices like black pepper, salt, and basil, along with aromatic garlic and tasty sun-dried tomatoes, give this bowl all of the flavor it needs. In a serving, you’ll load up on a whopping 26 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber, plus iron and folic acid (from the spinach), says Sharon Palmer, R.D.N. Steel-cut oats have a chewy texture and mild flavor, so you can swap them in for other whole grains, like brown rice, whenever you feel like mixing it up.

Related: 7 Vegetarian Protein Sources

photo: Whitney English

6. Vegan “Egg” Salad Sandwich

This breakfast-inspired sandwich is easy to whip up and makes for the perfect take-to-work meal. Mashed tofu combines with nutritional yeast, avocado oil, and a few spices (paprika, turmeric, garlic powder, salt, and pepper) to form an animal-free scramble that’ll satisfy even the biggest egg lover. The scramble packs 15 grams of protein and comes together in just five minutes, says Whitney English, M.S., R.D.N., C.P.T. Nosh on it as is, on top of a bed of greens, or between two slices of sprouted whole-grain bread.

photo: Jennifer Hunt

7. Quinoa Edamame Salad With Citrus Vinaigrette

This fresh and flavorful meal is a great lunch or light dinner option. The salad, from Jennifer Hunt, R.D.N., L.D., combines quinoa, edamame, and a touch of feta for a meal that supplies 20 grams of protein per serving. The DIY citrus vinaigrette uses flavors like orange juice, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and honey, for a bright burst of goodness. It’s a great balance of complex carbs for energy, plant protein to keep you satisfied, and fat to help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins, Hunt says.

photo: Judy Barbe

8. Walnut Mushroom Lasagna Rolls

Sometimes the soul just needs pasta. And who are we to deny the soul? This lasagna recipe from Judy Barbe, R.D., author of Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being, still offers about 20 grams of protein per serving, without a touch of meat. Here, the protein comes from walnuts, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, and egg. Barbe loves ricotta cheese because it’s rich in calcium and has a mild flavor that plays well with other ingredients. Meanwhile, walnuts provide healthy fats and fiber, while mushrooms provide rich, savory flavor and valuable vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D.

9. Lemony Mint Quinoa

A cold quinoa salad is a great make-ahead meal to stash in the fridge and spoon out throughout the week. Quinoa, which is one of very few complete plant proteins, is also high in fiber and provides iron and calcium—helping this summery-tasting salad hit about eight grams of protein and eight grams of fiber per cup, says Cheryl Harris, M.P.H., R.D. Harris likes to add halved grape tomatoes to her salad, but you can pump up the veggie power with any other additions, like cucumbers or peppers. Add a half-cup of red beans or edamame to boost the protein count to 15 grams.

photo: Julie Harrington

10. Chickpea Walnut Sandwich

Give your usual tuna or chicken salad a plant-based makeover with this recipe from culinary nutritionist consultant Julie Harrington, R.D. Because they have a firm texture, chickpeas are the perfect pulse for a veggie-based salad. You’ll combine plain Greek yogurt, chickpeas, walnuts, and a few extra flavors to create a sandwich-ready salad complete with plenty of crunch. Layer your salad between two pieces of sprouted whole-grain bread with some lettuce, tomato, and onion, and you’ve got an all-star sammie that provides almost 20 grams of protein.

11. Mix-And-Match Power Bowl

Looking for an easy, throw-together dish? A bowl full of veggies, whole grains, and legumes or pulses—with a dollop of flavorful dressing—is a quick formula for a balanced meal. Try combining a cup of greens, a half-cup of cooked farro, a half-cup of cooked lentils, and a half-cup of roasted veggies. Top your mixture with a drizzle of sriracha, two tablespoons of garlic hummus, and a sprinkle of hemp seeds. Kelly Jones M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D. likes this meal because it’s filled with a medley of flavor and textures and provides more than 20 grams of protein, plus plenty of fiber and healthy fats to keep you feeling satisfied for hours.

Related: Find a plant-based protein supplement to fuel your body.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

Why Is Jackfruit The New ‘It’ Food—And What Can You Do With It?

It seems like we’re constantly obsessing over a new ‘superfood’—and right now the one everyone’s talking about is the jackfruit, a ginormous, unique fruit that makes for a mean pulled pork substitute and packs plenty of nutrients. Intrigued yet? Here are all the details you didn’t know you needed to know about jackfruit—and a few tips for taking advantage of this trendy food.

What the Heck is a Jackfruit?

Native to Southeast Asia, jackfruit is the largest tree fruit in the world. Seriously, this isn’t a fruit you’ll casually carry home from the supermarket. According to Purdue University, jackfruits can weigh anywhere from 10 to 100 pounds and grow up to three feet long. Beneath its bumpy green exterior are bulbs of yellow flesh, each with a large seed inside.

You’ll find jackfruit in specialty health or ethnic food stores in the U.S., and they’re all over markets in places like India and Bangladesh. You can find them fresh, canned, or dried. (Other parts of the plant have been used for clothing dye, animal feed, building material, and glue in these parts of the world, too.) Jackfruit is stealing the spotlight right now because it’s easier to grow and maintain than some other staple crops (like wheat and corn) and thrives in a more tropical climate—a plus for environmentalists concerned about climate change and food sustainability.

The meat of the fruit has a subtle, sweet taste and contains vitamin C ,as well as B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, folic acid, and B6. (Good luck finding another fruit that contains as many B vitamins!) On top of that, its seeds contain protein, potassium, calcium, and iron. A serving of jackfruit (about 3.5 ounces or 100 grams) is about 95 calories, with 25 grams of carbs, two grams of protein, 21 grams of sugar, and a gram of fiber.


How Exactly Does One Eat A Jackfruit?

Sure, it’s a fruit, but because of its mild flavor it’s a total chameleon on the plate. Sweet, savory, main dish, or dessert, the versatile jackfruit can do it. It’s a blank canvas, ready to soak up the flavor of other foods and spices paired with it—much like tofu!

The jackfruit use you may have heard about in the U.S. is an unexpected one: vegan pulled pork. The stringy texture of the fruit’s flesh makes a good stand in for meat (just keep in mind that it’s not nutritionally equivalent to an animal protein) or even some other plant-based protein sources. A serving of jackfruit contains just about two grams of protein, while an equal serving of animal protein—like fish or poultry—packs 21 grams. So don’t count on jackfruit to be a main source of protein in your meal! On the flipside, one perk of substituting jackfruit for meat is that it doesn’t contain any cholesterol or saturated fat.

Related: How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

You can enjoy plain jackfruit as a snack, blend the flesh into a smoothie, slice and bake it into chips, freeze and puree it into ‘nice cream,’ or even bake with flour made from its seeds. You can also add chunks of the fruit to your next stir fry or curry dish, just as you would add tofu or a veggie! It’s a great way to add volume to your food and really help you feel full, while gaining nutrients without a lot of extra calories.

photo: Minimalist Baker

Try the trend on for size with this BBQ jackfruit recipe from The Minimalist Baker. All you need are two cans of young green jackfruit, barbecue sauce, and a few extra seasonings like paprika, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and chili powder. To bump up the protein, I’d pair this with a serving of your favorite beans (black beans provide six grams of protein per half cup) or sautéed tofu (about seven grams in three ounces).

Related: Bump up your daily intake with a plant-based protein supplement.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

8 Eating Habits That Could Be Messing With Your Weight

Sure, we know eating fast food all the time probably isn’t the best move for our waistline—but there are some less obvious, often overlooked eating habits that could be affecting the scale without you even realizing it.

You may be eating all of the right foods for your body, but have you ever thought about the way you are consuming these foods? Perhaps you’re skipping breakfast, inhaling your lunch, or just saving all of your calories for dinner.

Any of the following bad habits sound like you? In the end, your eating habits probably make more of a difference than you think. Time to reevaluate your routine and get that scale moving in the right direction!

Bad Habit #1: Eating At Your Desk

If your keyboard is basically your place mat, it’s time to change up your lunch game. First of all, sitting all day without so much as a lunchtime walk can wreak havoc on your long-term health. In fact, research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a relationship between time spent sitting and all-cause mortality (including cardiovascular issues and cancer)—even in people who exercise. Plus, eating while hunched over your desk and focusing on your next deadline can lead to some major indigestion.

Use your lunchtime as an opportunity to get up out of that chair, walk around, and get your blood flowing after you eat—you’ll not only burn calories, but you’ll beat bloat, too, since exercise helps gas pass through the digestive tract more quickly.

Bad Habit #2: Multitasking While You Eat

Whether you’re staring at your phone, computer, or TV screen, munching while doing something else can lead to mindless eating and a lack of appreciation for the food that is in front of you. How many of us have accidentally blown through an entire bag of popcorn or finished our dinner without even realizing it because we were fixated on Netflix?

Next time you catch yourself snacking while staring at the screen, step away and focus on the flavor, temperature, texture, and sound of your food. You’ll eat more slowly, feel much more satisfied, and your stomach, taste buds, and waistline will thank you later.

Bad Habit #3: Not Balancing Your Plate

Ever feel like you need a nap after scarfing down a plate of pasta for lunch? When you go hard on carbs, without any protein or fat, your blood sugar—and energy levels—pay the price. That’s because when your body breaks down carbs your blood sugar soars and then it plummets, so you feel a rush of energy followed by a crash. Protein and fat help to slow down the digestion of carbs, so they keep blood sugar levels more stable, which is good for your satiety and waistline.

Still not a believer? Check this out: A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that overweight participants who ate a diet of about 45-percent carbs (30 percent fat and 25 percent protein) lost more weight over the course of six months than those who ate a diet of 58 percent carbs (30 percent fat and 12 percent protein).

Set yourself up for a satisfying, stable, blood sugar-supporting, and weight-loss friendly meal by including each of the following in every meal or snack: healthy fats (like salmon, avocado, or seeds), complex carbs (like starchy veggies, oats, or brown rice), and quality proteins (like chicken, tuna, or lentils).

Related: What You Should Know If You’re Considering Cutting Refined Carbs

Bad Habit #4: Eating While Standing At The Fridge

When we stand there gazing into the refrigerator looking for just the right snack, we often end up picking bits from here and there (hello random cheese slices and cold leftovers) until we’re suddenly full from our nibble rampage.

Decide what you’re really in the mood for or what snack best fits your healthy eating or weight-loss goals before you go anywhere near the fridge. When you plan out your snacks ahead of time, you won’t be left with hands wandering around the fridge in a pinch. Instead, you can focus on really savoring your snack.

Bad Habit #5: Skipping Meals

If you’re trying to lose weight and think skipping breakfast is a good idea because it means you’ll eat fewer calories, think again. Regardless of the intention, a skipped meal welcomes wonky blood sugar, low energy levels, hunger pangs, headaches, and even a sluggish metabolism. (When you don’t consume enough calories, your body essentially thinks you’re starving and slows down your calorie-burn to conserve energy.) A missed meal can also impact your mood and make you “hangry” and irritable, possibly because of your plummeting blood sugar levels.

Your body depends on food for fuel; skipping meals pushes us into an anxiety-driven starvation mode, in which our body thinks there’s no sustenance to be found. To avoid this situation, try to eat breakfast within an hour or two of waking up.

As a general rule, try never to go more than five hours without eating a meal or snack, and make sure that when you do snack, it contains a balance of protein, fat, and carbs.

Related: 11 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Metabolism

Bad Habit #6: Eating For The Wrong Reasons

Stressed, bored, or blue? We’ve all been there—and while these emotions often make us want to eat, they don’t mean we’re actually hungry. Reaching for our favorite foods seems like a comforting idea, but when we eat with this sort of motivation, we often overdo it and end up feeling even worse. This can lead to a vicious cycle of emotional eating and guilt.

Next time you feel down, try writing down how you’re feeling or give yourself 20 minutes before diving into your comfort foods. You may realize that you’re not actually hungry, on top of starting the process of working through whatever is on your mind.

Bad Habit #7: Eating Too Fast

Crazy-busy days often lead us to eat on-the-run instead of at the table. But unless you’re planning on entering a hot dog eating contest (not recommended), it’s worth taking the time to slow down and just eat. When we rush through a meal, we often end up eating more than our body needs to feel satisfied.

Fun fact: It often takes about 20 minutes after you start eating for your brain to realize that your stomach is adequately full. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology found that the faster people reported eating, the higher their body mass indexes (BMIs) tended to be.

So sloooooow down! Take a few deep breaths before you begin your meal and put your fork down in between bites. It sounds silly, but you can even try closing your eyes as you chew to really tune into the textures and flavors of your food. These simple little tactics will not only help you enjoy your meal more, they’ll also keep you from overeating—good news for your pant size.

Bad Habit #8: Eating Because There’s Food In Front Of You

Whether it’s bagels at an early office meeting or dessert that comes with a fixed-price dinner—we often end up eating just because the food is there. And this extra, unplanned eating can be a problem when it means taking in more calories than our body needs.

Stay hydrated throughout the day so that you don’t confuse thirst for hunger in these random moments, and ask yourself, “Do I really feel hungry?” before grabbing that leftover meeting muffin. Just because it’s in front of you, doesn’t mean you need it!

Related: Shop a variety of health-conscious snacks for in-between meals.

7 Snack Combos That’ll Fill You Up FAST

When we’re I-could-eat-a-horse hungry, it’s pretty easy for healthy eating to go out the window. At this point, vending machine chocolate bars practically wink at you.

To prevent these sorts of tempting moments from taking over, the smartest plan of action is to eat satisfying foods. To do this, you’ll need a combo of protein, whole-grain carbs, and healthy fats. The wholesome carbs provide energy, while the protein and healthy fats slow down your digestion, keeping your blood sugar levels stable and you feeling full for longer.

These seven power combos are my go-to eats for keeping my belly happy until my next meal:

  1. Whole-Grain Toast With Nut Butter

Whether I’m running out the door or packing snacks for a flight, one of my fave snacks is crunchy nut butter on whole-grain toast. So many of us are still fat-phobic, but fat is the nutrient that keeps us full for the longest! The monounsaturated fats in nut butter can support heart health—win! Plus, whole-grain breads take longer to break down and contain more fiber and nutrients than refined grains, so they make for a satisfying and healthy option. I like Dave’s Killer Bread because just one slice contains five grams of protein and 260 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids.

  1. Chia Pudding

Make this snack ahead of time and keep it stashed in the fridge for smart snacking when hanger strikes. Combine one cup almond milk, one teaspoon almond butter, two tablespoons chia seeds, a quarter-teaspoon vanilla extract, a pinch of cinnamon and cocoa powder, and blueberries in a jar. Stir and store in the fridge overnight. Chia pudding packs protein (from the chia seeds and almond butter), calcium (from the almond milk, which is usually fortified), and fiber and antioxidants (from the fruit). Talk about well-rounded.

Related: Get your on-the-go snack fix with a protein bar.

  1. High-Fiber Cereal And Milk

Grab a bowl and a spoon and prepare to make one of the quickest snacks in the book. Look for whole-grain cereal that contains at least five grams of fiber and less than five grams of sugar per serving. Plenty of cereals are fortified with essential nutrients like iron, too, which are hard to come by in a lot of snack foods. You can also add fresh fruit and chopped, unsalted nuts to your bowl to add extra vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and healthy fats to your snack. Dairy milk provides nine essential vitamins and minerals including calcium, potassium and vitamin D, but if you’re lactose intolerant or vegan, you can go for a plant-based milk, like unsweetened almond milk, instead.

  1. Egg And Avocado Muffins

Egg muffins are another great make-ahead snack for supremely satisfying nutrition in a pinch. My California avocado egg muffins are an eggs-cellent (sorry, had to), source of protein and the yolks are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that support eye health. They also provide vitamins A and B12, and selenium, which supports your immune system. And who doesn’t love avocado? This satiating source of monounsaturated fats also contains an array of 20 vitamins and minerals, including potassium, vitamins C, E, K, and B-6, as well as riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, and magnesium.

Related: Are You Getting Enough Magnesium?

  1. Toasted Whole-Grain Waffle With Cottage Cheese

Don’t you love the scent of a toasted waffle? Try topping a whole-wheat waffle with two tablespoons of low-fat cottage cheese, pear slices, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Cottage cheese is loaded with protein and the pear provides fiber and antioxidants, two things we can’t get enough of!

  1. Greek Yogurt Dip With Veggie Sticks

Too many store-bought dips are loaded with fat and sodium—while skimping on the nutrients. DIY your dip by mixing your favorite seasonings and spices into a few dollops of plain Greek yogurt. I practically drool just thinking about Penzey’s Turkish spices, which includes turmeric, curry, paprika, and a number of other spices. A cup of Greek yogurt provides about 15 grams of protein and 20 percent of your daily calcium needs. Some of my favorite dipping veggies are carrots, zucchini strips, sugar snap peas, and jicama, which are all delightfully crunchy.

  1. Sweet Potato And Greek Yogurt Smoothie

This delicious drink makes for an easy, nutrient-packed snack. Blend the following: half a baked sweet potato, half a cup Greek yogurt (plain or vanilla), half a banana, half a cup of skim milk, and two ice cubes into a smoothie. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A, which is important for good vision and clear skin, and a good source of vitamin C, fiber, B vitamins, and potassium. Plus, you’ll get some potassium from the banana, and calcium and protein from the yogurt and milk.

Related: How To Make The Best Smoothie For Your Goals

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.


Keep this infographic handy for a satisfying snack idea in a pinch:

8 Nutritionists Share The Best Low-Carb Snacks To Keep You Full And Satisfied

As much as we may love them, carbs get a bad rap. And that’s probably because they’re a little confusing. Carbs are our body’s primary energy source, and whole-food sources of carbs (like whole grains, fruit, veggies, yogurt, and legumes) also provide a variety of valuable nutrients.

It’s the carbs from sugar or refined foods, like white bread, that tend to be limited in their nutritional value. They can wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels, often leading to bloating, fatigue, and even weight gain when consumed in excess. But, heck, when portions aren’t in check, even those healthy carb sources can keep you from feeling svelte!

Research suggests carb-controlled diets can help stabilize blood sugar—which is crucial for those with diabetes or hypoglycemia—and reduce triglyceride levels, which cuts risk for heart disease. But because wholesome carb sources contain other nutritional benefits—on top of your body needing fuel—I don’t recommend completely ditching carbs long-term, even when you’re trying to lose weight. (I’ve seen severe carb restriction lead to carb overload too many times.) Still, though, your health—and midsection—will thank you for cutting back on those processed, sugary carbs.

Related: What You Should Know If You’re Considering Cutting Refined Carbs

So if you’re looking for carb-controlled snacks, but don’t want to go full-on Paleo or Whole30, these satisfying, nutritionist-approved bites should squelch that stomach rumbling between meals:

chicken jerky sized

  1. Chicken Jerky

This portable, protein-rich snack can be a good on-the-go nibble when you’re going easy on the carbs. Your average serving of chicken jerky comes in around 80 calories, with nine grams of protein, three or four grams of fat, three grams of carbs, and three grams of sugar. Many jerky varieties are packed with sodium, so look for an option with less than 300 milligrams.

nuts sized

  1. Nuts

A handful of nuts is one of the easiest, most satisfying snacks in the book. And they provide a nice balance of protein, fat, and fiber without many carbs, says Sharon Palmer, R.D.N. An ounce of nuts weighs in at about 160 calories, six grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, three grams of fiber, and six grams of carbs—though exact nutritional info varies from nut to nut. Just go for an unsalted variety to avoid unnecessary sodium and keep thirst at bay, she says.

apple almond butter sized

  1. Apple & Almond Butter

Camilla Lee R.D.N., owner of Bloom Wellness, munches on this crunchy, creamy apple-and-almond butter combo when she has a hankering for something sweet and satiating. It packs antioxidants from the apple in addition to healthy fat, fiber, and protein from the nut butter. A small, peeled apple with two tablespoons of almond butter makes for a balanced snack when your inner hunger monster is really rearing its head. The combo clocks in around 265 calories, with seven grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, six grams of fiber, and 23 grams of carbs.

Related: 4 Deliciously Sweet Snacks That’ll Help Stop Cravings In Their Tracks

chicken salad sized

  1. Protein & Produce Bento Box

A container of fresh veggies and pre-made protein can help you tackle hunger when you’re on-the-go, says Julie Stefanski, MEd, R.D.N., C.S.S.D., L.D.N., C.D.E. Stefanski recommends packing chunks of grilled chicken or cheese for your protein, along with produce like avocado (which pack heart-healthy fats that may reduce cholesterol levels), and grape tomatoes (which are rich in the antioxidant lycopene).

PB carrots sized

  1. Baby Carrots & Peanut Butter

Carrots are an excellent source of beta carotene, an antioxidant that’s essential for eye health, while peanut butter provides decadent, healthy fat and protein to keep you feeling full, says Lauren Manganiello, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. A combo of 12 baby carrots with two tablespoons of peanut butter is about 250 calories, with 9 grams of protein, 18 grams of fat, 4 grams of fiber, and 16 grams of carbs.

blueberry yogurt sized.jpg
photo: Mary Ellen Phipps
  1. Blueberry Pistachio Frozen Yogurt

The pistachios’ healthy fats and blueberries’ light sweetness really jazz up the Greek yogurt in this recipe from Mary Ellen Phipps, M.P.H., R.D.N., L.D., owner of Milk & Honey Nutrition. This sweet snack (or dessert!) is 235 calories, with 18 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat, three grams of fiber, and 18 grams of carbs. Just make sure to read your labels and go for the Greek yogurt with the lowest sugar count, she says.

egg salad veggie sized
photo: Trish Casey
  1. Egg Salad With Veggie Sticks

Eggs are budget-friendly proteins that supply lutein and zeaxanthin (nutrients that promote eye health), among other important vitamins, like vitamin D. This four-ingredient egg salad from Trish Casey, MS, RDN, LDN, co-owner of Advanced Nutrition Consultants, makes a great dip for veggie sticks, like baby carrots, celery, or raw zucchini. A serving of the egg salad is just about 100 calories, and provides 10 grams of protein, six grams of fat, and five grams of carbs. It’s a great (and unexpected!) high-protein, low-carb snack.

nut bites sized.jpg
photo: Amy Gorin
  1. Almond Pistachio Bites

These flavorful nut bites from Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., are the perfect make-ahead snack for when you need to satisfy your sweet tooth in a pinch. Each bite contains oats, nuts, and seeds, and is flavored with vanilla extract and unsweetened cocoa powder—no added sugar! One bite clocks in at 180 calories, with six grams of protein, 13 grams of fat, five grams of fiber, and 12 grams of carbs.

Related: Find a low-carb protein bar for grab-and-go nutrition.

 Pin this handy infographic for the next time you need a healthy snack idea in a flash: 

Low Carb Snacks.jpg

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

Why Everyone Needs To Stop Hating On White Potatoes

Poor potatoes—they’re so misunderstood. People think that because taters are white in color and contain carbs that they’re an unhealthy food. But that just ain’t true!

First, let’s talk about this ‘avoiding white foods’ myth that seems to be everywhere. We always hear that we should ‘eat the rainbow,’ since a colorful plate ensures a variety of powerful vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. But that doesn’t mean that white produce like mushrooms, cauliflower, onions, garlic,—and of course, potatoes—are any less valuable. These rather bland-looking foods still offer nutritional benefits, often including fiber and antioxidants, so the color white definitely has a place on the health spectrum (when it’s produce, not white bread).

Still don’t believe me? Hear me out—and then give yourself permission to go pick up some potatoes:

  1. They’re not high in calories.

Though we seem to think of potatoes as being calorie bombs, your average white potato comes in around 165 calories. That puts the half a baked potato we all know and love at about 82 calories—not bad, right?

It’s often what we put on our taters that gets us into trouble. A couple tablespoons of butter, some bacon bits, and a big ‘ole dollop of sour cream can really rack up the calories. Instead, try using plain Greek yogurt, mustard, or horseradish instead of those fat-laden, nutritionally-lame condiments.

  1. They won’t drive you into carb overload.

That 165-calorie potato contains 37 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber. The fiber in that tater will slow down your body’s absorption of the carbs, lessening its impact on your blood sugar and keeping you satisfied.

  1. They’re more nutrient-packed than you think.

When it comes to potassium, we think of bananas as the gold standard. But it’s potatoes that actually deserve the glory. While a banana contains 422 milligrams of potassium, a medium baked potato (with the skin) packs 951 milligrams. Betchya didn’t know that one!

Plus, potatoes also provide vitamin C (perhaps the best-known antioxidant, which helps support healthy tissues and gums), vitamin B6 (which is important for a healthy nervous system), and magnesium (which helps supports your heart function and keeps your GI tract moving). And, fun fact: vitamin C enhances our absorption of iron, so having a side of potatoes with meat or poultry can help you get the most of that important mineral, which we need in order to produce a part of our blood cells, called hemoglobin.

  1. They make for supreme post-workout eats.

Because of potatoes’ carb and potassium content, they make a great addition to your post-workout grub—especially if you’d rather have something savory instead of a sweet, sweet banana. Your body needs carbs to replenish the fuel you used up during exercise and to store energy for your next workout. And since you lose some potassium (which is key for heart, nerve, and muscle function) in your sweat, you’ll need to replace that through food, too.

Related: The Best Post-Workout Snack For Your Goals

We’re total potato-heads in my house! One of my favorite ways to eat spuds is tossed in with other veggies and then roasted. But I also love a classic baked potato topped with cottage cheese—not very colorful, I know, but pair it with a salad and you’ve got a powerhouse variety of valuable nutrients.

And in the spring and summer, this red, white, and blue potato salad is one of my go-to’s. Talk about a patriotic dish!

red white blue potatoes.jpg
photo: Bonnie Taub-Dix

Red, White & Blue Potato Salad

You’ll need:

  • ½ pound each: red, white, and purple potatoes
  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • ¼ cup yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • ¼ cup carrots, shredded
  • ¼ cup light mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

Microwave the potatoes on high for nine to 11 minutes, or until tender. When cooled, cut potatoes into pieces and combine in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients. Toss gently to coat evenly. Serve warm or refrigerate for at least an hour to serve cold.

Per one 2/3 cup serving: 140 calories, 25g carbs, 3.5g fat, 3g protein, 2g fiber, 2g sugar.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

7 ‘Shrooms You Should Be Eating For Major Health Benefits

The selection of mushrooms in produce aisles everywhere has been expanding lately, and for good reason. Mushrooms are loaded with nutritional value, while being low in calories—yet many people overlook them because, well, they’re a little weird.

Yes, a mushroom is a fungus. Sure, that doesn’t sound too appealing, but we’re not talking about toe fungus here! If there’s a type of fungus you do want in your life, it’s mushrooms. Consider this: Mushrooms are the only source of vitamin D you’ll find in the produce aisle, and unless you drink fortified milk or eat cod liver oil, it’s pretty hard to get in your diet. They also contain some fiber—about a gram per cup. While that might not sound like much, the type of fiber is beta-glucan, which is beneficial for blood sugar and cholesterol management. Oh, and did I mention a cup of mushrooms is only 20 calories?

Also, mushrooms tantalize your tastebuds with something called ‘umami’ (pronounced o’o-MAH-mee’), which is the fifth element of taste after sweet, salty, bitter and sour. Mushrooms are dynamic because they’re savory, with a hearty flavor that comes to life even more when they’re cooked. They taste almost meaty, but without the fat and cholesterol found in many animal proteins.

Not sure what variety to pick up on your next grocery run? Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular types of mushrooms—and what makes each so great:

White button mushrooms: Also known as ‘crimini mushrooms,’ these are probably the most common type of mushrooms you’ll see at salad bars and supermarkets. These guys contain selenium, a trace mineral that’s important for cognitive function and a healthy immune system—and supports prostate health.

Portobello mushrooms: Portobellos are an excellent source of riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2), a vitamin that is important for energy production because it helps the body break down carbohydrates into sugar for fuel. Portobellos are also a good source of selenium.

Porcini mushrooms: Many of us don’t seem to get enough potassium—but luckily porcini mushrooms are a good source of this mineral, which keeps your brain, heart, and muscles functioning properly. Porcinis also contain ergosterol, a compound needed to make vitamin D3. Finally, these mushrooms possess antioxidant properties that may help the body ward off damage from free radicals.

Related: What Makes Antioxidants So Good For You, Anyway?

Reishi mushrooms: This variety is trendy right now for its potential immune system and cardiovascular benefits. These ‘shrooms pack beta-glucan, that type of fiber I mentioned earlier, which also helps activate and support the function of immune cells. Reishi mushrooms also contain ganoderic acid, a substance that is said to support healthy cholesterol levels.

Shiitake mushrooms: Shiitakes are a good source of soluble fiber, which supports healthy cholesterol levels. They also contain those beta-glucans found in reishi mushrooms. Plus, shiitakes contain a compound called lentinan, which helps to strengthen the immune system.

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Enoki mushrooms: These ‘shrooms are rich in B vitamins, particularly niacin (vitamin B3), which promote cardiovascular health and are key for energy production.

Maitake or ‘Hen of the Woods’ mushrooms: These mushrooms actually resemble the feathers of a fluffed chicken and are a popular ingredient in dietary supplements and powders. Preliminary animal studies suggest these funky-looking mushrooms may promote a healthy insulin response and support healthy blood sugar levels.

You can probably find many of these mushrooms fresh in the produce section of the supermarket, but you can also buy them canned.

Cleaning fresh mushrooms can be a little tricky: They’re all dirty but you’re not supposed to wash them! (Trust me, they get slimy and lose flavor.) Instead, try wiping your mushrooms off with a damp paper towel before prepping and cooking them.

Ready to make these tasty fungi a more regular part of your grub? Try sautéing mushrooms with other veggies and folding them into an omelet or adding them to your next stir fry. You can even mix diced mushrooms into ground meat or poultry when making burgers—their flavor and texture fit right in.

One of my favorite ways to eat mushrooms is simple: I sauté a variety of mushrooms with olive oil and garlic. Fragrant and flavorful!

Related: Pack ‘shrooms into smoothies and more with a supplement.

Your refrigerator guide to fungi: 

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Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.