6 Possible Reasons Why You’re Having Crazy Dreams

Have you ever been jolted awake in the middle of the night by a weirder-than-usual dream, and wondered what the heck was going on in your noggin?

Whether frightening or funny, extra-vivid dreams may seem random—but that’s not necessarily the case. According to top sleep experts, there are a number of factors that can trigger wacky, intense dreams. Here are six you should know about.

1. You’re Seriously Stressed

Can’t ever seem to relax? It could explain your nightmares. “Some data suggests that if you have negative thoughts right before you go to bed, they can have an effect on your dream content,” says board-certified sleep specialist Michael Breus, Ph.D., advisor for SleepScore Labs.

To nix negative thoughts—and ward off crazy dreams—Breus suggests writing a gratitude list before bed. Just jot down five things you’re grateful for. Big or small, it doesn’t matter what they are, just that they’re positive.

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For stress support, also try adding adaptogens, like ashwagandha, your everyday supplement routine. These herbs have been shown to help the body adapt to stress and promote energy and vitality.

2. You’re Taking The Wrong Dosage Of Melatonin

Melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in your brain, regulates your sleep-wake cycle, (a.k.a. ‘circadian rhythm’ or ‘biological inner-clock’). Your body cranks up production at nighttime to help you fall asleep, but the hormone is also commonly taken in supplement form. While melatonin supplements can support a restful night’s sleep, taking the wrong dosage can make you have totally out-there dreams.

Many supplements contain anywhere from three to 10 milligrams of melatonin—but if you’re intent on avoiding intense dreams, Breus recommends taking just a half to one milligram at a time.

Doctors don’t know for sure why high doses of melatonin cause strange dreams, but the hormone can impact the quality—and even length—of REM, (a.k.a. rapid eye movement) the deep stage of sleep during which we dream. (Experts believe the activation of the regions of the brain responsible for learning and memory may be involved.)

Stick to a smaller dose of melatonin, and take it 90 minutes before bed (that’s how long it takes to kick in), recommends Breus. The Vitamin Shoppe brand’s 1 Milligram Melatonin Tablets make supporting solid shut-eye easy.

3. You’re On Certain Meds

SSRIs—a type of antidepressant (Zoloft and Prozac are two examples)—have also been known to cause vivid dreams, because they cut the amount of time you spend in REM in half, or even more. “When you condense a dream state like REM down that much, you can change the continuity of the story being told in your dreams,” says Breus.

Think of it like this: If you took the storyline of a half-hour sitcom and crammed it into 10 minutes, it probably wouldn’t make all that much sense. That’s exactly what these antidepressants can do to your dreams.

Blood pressure meds can also cause odd dreams because they slow your heart rate down enough to decrease the flow of oxygen to your brain. This can affect your brain function, sleep quality, and thus, your dreams, Breus explains.

In some cases, adjusting when you take your medication—and making sure it’s not too close to bedtime—is all you need to do to squash those zany dreams, Breus says. But always talk to your doctor before making any changes.

4. You Have Sleep Apnea

If your weird dreams have ever involved being underwater, swallowing a giant marshmallow, or trying to eat your pillow, you might have a condition called sleep apnea, in which your upper airway becomes blocked while you snooze. “These dreams are a manifestation of the fact that you’re not breathing when you’re sleeping,” Breus says. No joke.

Snoring, waking up gasping or choking, feeling tired all day, and waking up with headaches are all indicators of sleep apnea. If you think you have sleep apnea, head to a sleep doc. They can run tests to confirm the condition and figure out a treatment plan, which often includes wearing a breathing device (called a CPAP machine) that keeps your airway open during sleep, Breus says. Once you begin treatment, those underwater dreams should subside.

5. You Hit The Bottle Hard

If you think that drinking a few cocktails or glasses of wine before bed will ensure a restful night’s sleep, think again. Booze actually suppresses the first couple of cycles of REM sleep, because your body can’t enter REM until your liver metabolizes all of the alcohol in your system, which can take upwards of three to five hours depending how intoxicated you are, says neurologist Jeffrey Durmer, M.D., Ph.D., co-founder and Chief Medical Officer of FusionHealth. Once your body can get into REM, it’s likely to stay there for longer than normal, which can lead to more intense dreams. (Alcoholics who are in withdrawal often have straight-up hallucinations as their brains try to make up for all the REM they’ve missed.)

Related: Exactly What To Do At Night To Have A Great Sleep

You already know to keep alcohol consumption low or moderate (one drink per day for women and two for men) for optimum health, but you should also steer clear for at least three hours before bedtime, Durmer says.

6. You Watched Something Weird Before Bed

Yes, Black Mirror is totally addicting, but it’s probably not ideal bedtime entertainment. Why? “You often dream about whatever you think about right before you fall asleep,” says Breus. So if you watch a horror movie—or just something weird—right before crawling under the covers, you pretty much set yourself up for  equally weird dreams.

Skip the pre-bed thriller and watch something less stirring (like Food Network or The Office) before you hit the hay.

Keep this infographic handy the next time your slumber isn’t so smooth…

5 DIY Skin Treatments Beauty Experts Swear By

We all have our go-to skin-care products—you know, the ones we always have stashed in our purses—but sometimes it’s fun (and super-effective) to play beauty chemist and whip up our own natural recipes. That’s why we asked five beauty pros to share their best DIYs; here are their favorite formulas for face masks, soothing spot treatments, and more.


1. Hydrating Facial Mist

When you’ve been out in the heat or just worked up a sweat at the gym, spritzing on a facial mist is a great way to calm and cool down your skin. The following recipe—courtesy of Shannon Smyth, founder of the beauty blog A Girl’s Gotta Spa!—contains aloe vera (which research has shown to have moisturizing properties) and a nourishing oil of your choice. (We suggest lavender oil, since studies have found it to be relaxing.)

95 milliliters spring water
1 Tbsp pure aloe vera gel
5 drops pure lavender essential oil or pure orange essential oil
1 to 4 drops virgin olive oil or coconut oil

Directions: Combine all of the ingredients in a 100-milliliter spray bottle. Choose how much olive or coconut oil you add based on how dry your skin is, and leave it out altogether if you’re very oily. If you have sensitive skin, start out with just a drop of essential oil, since their concentrated potency can be irritating. Once your ingredients are all added, give the bottle a shake and spritz your face a few times whenever you need a pick-me-up. If you’re misting post-workout, just make sure to wash your face (you can use a towelette if you’re in a rush) first to get rid of any dirt and grime. Otherwise, you can spritz yourself whenever—it shouldn’t mess with any makeup you have on.


2. Moisturizing Face Mask

One of the sweetest ingredients in your cabinet—honey—has some serious skin-care benefits, with research published in An International Quarterly Journal of Research in Ayurveda supporting its ability to moisturize and soften skin. Makeup artist and beauty blogger Hillary Kline loves this face mask when she’s feeling dried out.

2 tsp honey
3 drops rose water

Directions: Mix honey and rose water together to create a thick paste. Apply a thin coat all over your face. Let sit for 15 minutes, rinse off with cold water, and then follow up with moisturizer.

Related: 8 All-Natural Goodies To Make Your Face Glow


3. Soothing Spot Treatment

Dry, itchy patches of skin are a downer for anyone—unless you know a way to nix the discomfort. Enter this spot treatment recipe from Eliss Halina, esthetician and owner of Saul’s Beauty Shop in Toronto. The recipe features oatmeal, which a study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology has shown to effectively soothe dry, itchy skin, and peppermint for instant cooling relief.

1 cup milk
1 peppermint tea bag
¼ cup plain oats

Directions: Warm a bowl of milk in the microwave until hot, then steep a peppermint tea bag in it. As it steeps, grind your oats in a food processor. Place the ground-up oats in the center of a few layers of cheese cloth and pull the corners together to make a ball. Tie a string around the top of the ball to hold it shut, and place it into the milk. (When your finely-ground oats are placed in the hot liquid, they become ‘colloidal oats,’ the form that has been most widely studied and used in skin-care products.) Once the milk has cooled, dab the cheese cloth onto and itchy, dry patches.


4. Skin-Softening Body Scrub

One of the best ways to smooth rough patches of skin is by exfoliating—and body scrubs are quick and easy to whip up with ingredients you have at home. Roberta Perry, founder of ScrubzBody Skin Care Products, shares a simple scrub recipe made with moisturizing coconut oil and exfoliating sugar.

1 cup white table sugar
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
2 Tbsp coconut oil
4 to 6 drops essential oil

Directions: Pour sugar into a bowl and add the oils one at a time. (For a grittier scrub, use one less tablespoon of each oil.) Stir the mixture thoroughly and add your essential oil fragrance a couple drops at a time until you’re happy with the scent’s potency.


5. De-Puffing Face Mask

Ever used cucumber slices to relax the skin below your eyes—or at least seen it in a movie? Well, there’s a reason this natural remedy is so popular: Cucumber contains vitamin C, an antioxidant that can soothe skin, says Zondra Wilson, creator and founder of the USDA organic Blu Skin Care. Her de-puffing face mask pairs cucumber with nourishing honey.

1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 tsp honey

Directions: Puree cucumber slices in a food processor and pour into a bowl. Mix the honey in with a spoon. Massage the mask in a circular motion all over your face and lie down on your back with a towel under your head in case the mask drips. After 10 minutes, rinse the mask off with lukewarm water and follow up with your regular moisturizer.

To Wash Or Not Wash Your Veggies: Health Experts Weigh In

Be honest: Do you always (or ever…) wash your fruits and veggies before eating them? We’ve all wondered whether this food prep step is truly necessary—especially when we’re rushing to throw together a meal last minute—so we turned to the experts to set the record straight. The consensus: Heck yeah.

The Case For Washing Your Fruits And Veggies

Though the Environmental Protection Agency asserts that all pesticides used on foods have been tested and are safe to consume, and outside research also shows that the pesticide residue found on even non-organic foods is minimal enough to not be harmful, many Americans worry about the pesticides on the produce we eat.

Whether you choose to buy organic produce or not, though, there’s still one major reason you should wash it before noshing: contamination. Fruits and vegetables can be vessels for germs like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria, which can leave you with nasty symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps for up to a week, and even be life-threatening in some cases. According to the FDA, nearly 48 million people get sick from contaminated food each year.

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“Washing fresh produce is an important preventive practice,” says Sanja Ilic, Ph.D., assistant professor and State Food Safety Specialist at The Ohio State University. You don’t have to worry about produce that can be peeled (like oranges and bananas), but otherwise you should wash your fruits and veggies—especially those with rough skin. “Cantaloupe, for example, has a rind with lots of nooks and crannies to harbor bacteria, which can be spread to the pulp during cutting,” explains Ilic.

Of course, rinsing your produce won’t remove every microorganism. “There’s a misconception that if you wash something, you get rid of all the bacteria that could be there,” says Amanda Deering, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor in Purdue University’s Department of Food Sciences. But still, it’s better to wash than not.

Bagged Lettuce: An Exception

The one time you can get away with not washing your food is when you’re eating ‘pre-washed’ or ‘ready to eat’ bagged lettuce, which is considered safe to eat as is, says Deering. In fact, if you were to clean pre-washed produce, you could just end up introducing contamination from your kitchen, whether from dirty surfaces or previously-used utensils.

There have been some recalls of bagged lettuce because of listeria, which is naturally found in the soil, but considering how infrequently this is an issue, you don’t need to worry about it, Deering says.

The Right Way To Wash Your Produce

Before you wash your fruits and veggies, the FDA recommends you wash your hands. Then, cut off bruised or damaged areas, and rinse your produce for at least 20 seconds. (The longer you rinse, the more bacteria you disrupt, so the longer the better, says Deering.) For firm types of produce—think apples, melons, and cucumbers—use a veggie brush to really get in there as you rinse. (Just make sure to clean it between uses.) Once you’re done, dry your produce with a clean paper towel, which also helps remove remaining bacteria, says Ilic.

Related: What One Serving Of 7 Popular Healthy Snacks Looks Like

And while it might seem easier to wash all your fruits and veggies as soon as you get home from the grocery store, wait to wash produce until right before you’re going to use it, says Deering. The leftover moisture from cleaning your food can make it spoil quicker.

What To Know If You’re New To Plant Proteins

If you want to up your fitness game, taking a protein supplement is an easy way to get more of the tissue-repairing, muscle-building nutrient your body needs. Milk-derived whey protein has long been the go-to for people interested in showing their muscles a little extra love, but plant-based proteins are now more popular (and delicious) than ever.

Whether you follow a plant-based diet, can’t stomach dairy, or just want to try something new, plant protein supplements are definitely worth a try.

What’s Actually In Plant Proteins?

Most plant-based protein powders out there today contain about as much total protein per serving as whey protein, but different types of plant proteins contain different levels of different amino acids (there are 20 total). Most—like the popular pea and hemp proteins—don’t contain adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids (which our body can’t make) to fulfill our daily needs, with one exception: soy protein.

Considered the OG plant protein, soy is the subject of a lot of controversy because it contains compounds called isoflavones, which mimic estrogen.

That said, the research on soy is all over the place, and most people can try soy protein without worry, says Alix Turoff, R.D. (She does recommend, though, that vegetarians—who may rely more on soy foods and products—chat with an R.D. about their total intake.)

Featured Plant Proteins

Most of the plant-based protein supplements out there today combine multiple types of plant protein in order to fill and balance out their amino acid content so that it’s more similar to that of whey. Check out a tub or two in your local The Vitamin Shoppe, and you’ll see blends of proteins from peas, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, alfalfa, hemp seeds, brown rice, chia seeds, sacha inchi nuts, and more!

Related: 5 Plant-Based Protein Bars That’ll Make You A Believer

If you’re still hung up on plant protein containing every single milligram of every single amino acid that whey contains, consider this: “You don’t have to get all nine essential amino acids in one sitting,” says dietitian Andy Yurechko, R.D. So if you find a pea protein powder you like or a combo plant protein that doesn’t quite match the amino acid content of whey, that’s okay. As long as you eat a varied, healthy diet, you should be able to get enough of the essential amino acids you need throughout the course of the day.

Find The Right Plant Protein Powder For You

Ready to play for Team Plant-Based? When you shop, make sure your protein powder lists its plant protein source as the first ingredient (and the next few, if it’s a combo protein), says Yurechko.

From there, pick a powder that’s unsweetened or naturally sweetened (like with stevia) and contains less than five grams of carbs. This way, you keep your supp au-naturale and your sugar intake low.

Today’s plant proteins are tasty enough to mix into water or almond milk and drink straight—though recent whey converts may want to add a touch of honey at first, since plant proteins aren’t quite as creamy as milk-based proteins.

If you’re blending your plant protein in a shake, Turoff likes the following balanced blend: four to eight ounces of unsweetened vanilla almond milk, a scoop of protein powder, a tablespoon each of chia seeds (for fiber) and flaxseeds (for omega-3s), and one cup of fruit.

Spread the plant protein love with this quick infographic!

10 Products That Can Save Your Flaky Winter Skin

We’re smack dab in the middle of winter—and that means there’s a very good chance your skin has reached the point of no return. We’re talking chapped, irritated, flaky, and dull. Dry winter air—and blasting central heating—seriously sap the moisture from your skin, making it essential that you use ultra-moisturizing products.

Here are 10 skin-care essentials that will soothe winter skin, along with a few expert tips for holding onto dear, dear hydration.


1. The Vitamin Shoppe Hyaluronic Acid Booster Serum ($6.29)

One of the best ingredients you can look for in skin-care products during the winter is hyaluronic acid, because it helps the skin retain moisture, says Julia Tzu, M.D., founder and director of Wall Street Dermatology. For an added layer of moisture, slather this hyaluronic acid serum on before applying your moisturizer.


2. Kiss My Face Olive & Aloe Ultra Moisturizer ($9.89)

You probably reach for aloe vera in the summer when you’ve gotten a little too much sun, but it can be useful year-round. Research published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine found that aloe vera’s soothing properties can help with skin irritation. Plus, this moisturizer also features olive oil, another naturally potent moisturizer.

Expert tip: “Always apply moisturizer to damp skin,” says Tzu. “Moisturizers serve not just to hydrate the skin, but also to serve as a barrier from evaporative water loss.” Lotion up when your skin is mildly damp, like just after showering and toweling off, to retain as much moisture as possible.


3. Organic Doctor Manuka Honey Face Mask ($18.49)

Another great winter skin-care ingredient? Honey! The sweet, sticky stuff has been found to have emollient and humectant properties—meaning, it softens skin and draws moisture in, according to a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. So while this face mask deep cleans your pores, the honey also nourishes your skin. Twice a week, apply an even layer of this mask over cleansed skin, wait 10 minutes while it gets to work, and then rinse it off for softer, smoother skin.


4. Derma E Hydrating Eye Cream ($17.20)

Don’t forget about your delicate under-eye area—the skin there is thinner, so it’s definitely susceptible to winter dryness. This hyaluronic acid-rich eye cream is also jam-packed with antioxidants like green tea (to help protect against skin-damaging free radicals) and vitamin C (to boost brightness). Lightly dab a small amount around your eyes morning and night.


5. Heritage Rosewater & Glycerin ($5.99)

Similarly to hyaluronic acid, glycerin also draws moisture in to the skin, says Tzu. Rosewater, on the other hand, has been shown to have soothing properties. A spritz of this spray here and there can go a long way towards moisturizing your complexion. Apply it whenever your face needs a midday pick-me-up.


6. SheaMoisture 100% Virgin Coconut Oil Daily Hydration Body Wash ($9.99)

Push your moisture-stripping foam shower gels to the back of the shower and clean up with a coconut oil-infused body wash instead this winter. A study published in the journal Dermatitis found that applying coconut oil can help improve skin hydration. This body wash also contains coconut milk for an extra luxurious and silky feel.

Related: 12 Health And Beauty Uses For Coconut Oil


7. Okay Pure Natural Coconut Oil Ultra Skin Moisturizer ($4.99)

Make the most of coconut oil in every step of your skin-care routine by applying it to some of the most neglected skin on your body—your scalp. This oil (which also contains glycerin) feels heavenly when massaged onto your dry scalp. It’s also a great way to add moisture back into your hair—which, let’s face it, is also bound to dry out in the winter.


8. Nubian Heritage Raw Shea Butter Body Lotion ($9.99)

Another one of the most popular—and effective—ingredients you can use to moisturize dry skin this winter is shea butter, which contains essential fatty acids and vitamin E, and has been lauded for its ability to maintain skin’s suppleness. Research suggests it also helps sooth irritated skin. In addition to shea butter, this rich lotion is also infused with other nourishing ingredients like soy milk, jojoba oil, cocoa butter, and macadamia seed oil.


9. Dr. Bronner’s Naked Organic Lip Balm ($2.89)

Often the least protected from the elements, your poor lips probably take the biggest hit during the winter. That’s why you should stash a lip balm in every jacket pocket and bag you own. This one’s chock-full of nourishers like beeswax, avocado oil, jojoba oil, and hemp oil.


10. Duke Cannon Bloody Knuckles Hand Repair Balm ($10.99)

Your hands also bear a lot of the brunt of winter—especially if you wash them constantly to avoid getting whatever nasty bug is currently circulating around the office. That’s why coating your hands in moisturizer is a must. This one is made with lanolin (a.k.a. wool wax), a popular emollient (skin soother and smoother).

If your hands are particularly dry or chapped, apply a generous amount of balm before bed, and then slip on a pair of gloves. Applying this physical barrier over the moisturizer may help enhance hydration, says Tzu.

Besides using moisturizing products, Tzu also recommends drinking lots of water, using a humidifier, and avoiding hot-hot showers, which can strip natural oils from your skin.

Is A Higher-Fat Diet Right For You?

From Paleo to keto to Whole30, there are lots of trendy diets out there these days—and one thing many of them have in common is that they slash many carbs in favor of healthy fats. At the forefront of the trend is the ketogenic diet—which requires eating more than 75 percent of your daily calories from fat, a little protein, and as few carbs as possible.

Not ready (or just don’t want to) go full-blown keto? You can still reap the benefits of those healthy fats by upping your healthy fat intake to 40 percent or more of your daily calories and cutting down on carbs. Here’s everything you need to know about the ups and downs of eating more fat—and what it looks like in practice.

How Higher-Fat Looks On The Plate

To start making the shift to a higher-fat, lower-carb diet, first nix processed foods with added sugar, like cookies, cake, and soda, says Jeff Stanley, M.D., a physician with Virta Health. Then, you’ll cut out other highly-processed carbs, like bread, pasta, and rice, and sub in low-carb alternatives like zucchini noodles and cauliflower rice.

As you do so, you’ll also up your fat intake by incorporating whole-food sources, like eggs, nuts and seeds, seafood, olive oil, avocado, and coconut oil (even butter!) into your meals.

Related: 7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For Your Health

You might start the day with scrambled eggs, build a salad topped with chicken, sunflower seeds, and an olive oil-based dressing for lunch, and cook some salmon with a side of cheesy or buttery broccoli for dinner. For snacks, you might pick on some nuts or dip veggie sticks in guac.

The Benefits Of Eating More Fat (And Fewer Carbs)

Boosting fat and slashing carbs like this can support weight loss and help regulate blood sugar levels and triglycerides (a type of fat stored in your blood that can up your risk of heart disease), says Amy Gorin, R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition.

Though keto has just recently been blowing up our news-feeds, low-carb, higher-fat diets have been popular for weight loss for years. The Atkins Diet, for example, slashes carbs to ketogenic levels—just 20 grams a day at first—and emphasizes fat and protein. This approach leads to better weight-loss outcomes in obese individuals over time than higher-carb weight-loss diets, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Much of the high-fat research out there looks at purely ketogenic diets, and supports its potential for boosting weight loss, regulating blood sugar and metabolism, and improving cholesterol. On keto, your body enters a state called ‘ketosis,’ in which it uses fat for energy instead of glucose (sugar) from carbs, which primes your body to utilize your body fat, says Stanley, who follows keto himself and often utilizes it for patients with type 2 diabetes or weight-related issues.

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You’ll still benefit from a diet that’s in the more doable ‘40 percent calories from fat’ realm, though. “Fat tends to be more satiating,” says Stanley. That means you’ll feel less hungry and may eat fewer calories without even trying. You’ll also likely reap the benefits of more balanced blood sugar and stable energy throughout the day, he says.

When To Pass On A High-Fat Diet

Going low-carb, high-fat offers some pretty appealing benefits, but it’s not necessarily right for everyone. People with type 1 diabetes, for example, should probably steer clear, because high levels of ketones are a risk factor for a life-threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis in which ketones build up in the blood, says Gorin.

Those with kidney issues should also be wary of high-fat diets, since they often tend to be high in protein, she says. Since protein needs to be processed by the kidneys, eating a lot of it may be a burden to already-compromised kidneys.

High-fat diets may also be tricky territory for people with genetically high cholesterol, so Stanley recommends talking to your doc if you fall into this category and want to up your fat intake.

Whip out some knowledge on higher-fat diets with this infographic:

5 Prebiotic Foods That Help Probiotics Do Their Job

You know fiber is important—after all, when you don’t get enough of it your pipes can get, well, clogged. But fiber does more than just keep you regular. One type of fiber, known as prebiotic fiber, also feeds probiotics, the healthy bacteria found in your gut.

“The more food, or prebiotics, that probiotics have to eat, the more efficiently these live bacteria work and the healthier your gut will be,” says New York City-based nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto, R.D.

Prebiotic fiber is insoluble, meaning it passes through your GI tract virtually undigested until it reaches your colon, where it provides nutrients to the healthy bacteria there.

“Research has actually shown that prebiotics can change the microbiota of the digestive system for the better, which leads to a wide range of health benefits,” says Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of DrAxe.com, best-selling author of Eat Dirt, and co-founder of Ancient Nutrition. “Since gut health is so closely linked to so many other bodily functions, both prebiotics and probiotics are crucial.” In combination with a healthy population of probiotics, prebiotics help boost nutrient absorption and keep our immune system functioning at its best.

To feed your probiotics the good stuff they need, you’ll want to chow down on foods high in that insoluble fiber—so we asked the experts to share the top five prebiotic foods—along with how to add them to your diet.

Step Up Your Probiotic Game

Keep in mind that foods generally contain more prebiotic fiber raw than they do cooked, since they have higher overall fiber content (and thus higher prebiotic content) when raw, says Axe.

Try to incorporate several of these prebiotic foods into your diet every day for optimal gut-lovin’ goodness. (If any are no-go’s or life gets in the way of your healthy eating habits, consider an insoluble fiber supplement to feed your good gut bugs.)

1. Raw Dandelion Greens

This bitter, crunchy green is 24.3 percent insoluble fiber by weight and offers a good dose of prebiotics, says Sydney Zivertz, health and nutrition investigator for ConsumerSafety.org. Besides being a top source of prebiotics, “dandelion greens are also rich in vitamin K, which helps our blood clot properly and supports bone health,” says Axe.

Try tossing dandelion greens (you can find ‘em at most health food stores) into your next salad. The smooth, mild flavor of tomatoes and olive oil offer a nice contrast to the bitterness of raw dandelion greens.

2. Raw Garlic

Your favorite seasoning is another one of the best sources of prebiotic fiber out there, clocking in at 17.5 percent insoluble fiber by weight, says Zivertz. Not only does garlic add great flavor to food, but it’s also loaded with nutrients, including vitamin B6 and vitamin C, says Tanya Zuckerbrot R.D., founder of The F-Factor Diet. It also has powerful antioxidant properties and contains ‘organosulfur’ compounds that support heart, liver, and immune health.

Try adding minced raw garlic to soups (Zivertz likes sprinkling it into chili) and salad dressings.

3. Raw Onion

The next time you build yourself a sandwich or salad, don’t forget to add some raw onion, which is 8.6 percent insoluble fiber by weight. This source of prebiotics also contains the antioxidants vitamin C and quercetin, which fight off free radicals and cell damage, along with chromium, which supports insulin function, says Rissetto. “Since most of the flavonoids [the compounds responsible for onions’ health benefits] are found in their outermost layers, peel off as little as possible before chopping, dicing, and tearing,” she suggests.

4. Raw Asparagus

At five percent insoluble fiber by weight, raw asparagus is another nutritious source of prebiotic fiber. It also contains a number of antioxidants, which boosts its gut and immune benefits, says Zuckerbrot.

Since eating raw asparagus is less than appealing, Zuckerbrot recommends fermenting (a.k.a. pickling) it to munch on as a snack or side dish. (Intrigued? Try this recipe.)

Related: What’s The Difference Between Raw, Living, And Fermented Foods?

5. Whole-Wheat Flour

Last but not least: whole-wheat flour, which comes in at 4.8 percent insoluble fiber by weight. Whole grains also contain magnesium (a mineral that helps your muscles function properly), vitamin E (an antioxidant), and selenium (a mineral that helps keep your thyroid in check).

Look for flours, cereals, breads, and other baked goods labeled ‘100-percent whole-wheat.’

Supplements Worth Trying If You Have Dietary Restrictions

As you strive to eat healthier, you probably add plenty of foods to your plate, like vegetables (especially the green ones), healthy fats, and lean proteins—but there are foods you might pull from your daily grub, too. We’re not just talking cookies, sugary cereals, and cheese doodles here; when many people start eating healthier, they end up leaving anything from dairy and grains to meat and eggs behind.

Whether you’re team plant-based all the way or just can’t stomach dairy, you do you! Just keep in mind that depending on your dietary restrictions, you may wind up missing out on certain important nutrients—even if your eating habits seem stellar. Talk to your doc about testing for any possible nutritional deficiencies and read on to find out what vitamins and minerals you may be missing, and how you can boost your intake.

If You’re A Vegetarian…

When you’re meat-free, your biggest concern is getting enough protein, since animal meat is a common source, says Mandy Enright, R.D.N., creator of Nutrition Nuptials. Protein maintains the structures in your body, like your organs, and helps you build muscle mass and rev your metabolism.

If you don’t eat meat, you can get protein from dairy, eggs, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and soy, says Enright. Fill between a quarter and a third of your cup with protein at every meal and you’ll be in good shape.

Fill Gaps With A Plant-Based Protein

Vegetarians also need to be mindful of vitamin B12, which is another nutrient we typically get from animal flesh. Vitamin B12 helps your red blood cells function and contributes to energy production and digestion. Adults need 2.4 micrograms a day and without enough, you may feel weak and moody and have trouble sleeping.

“Typically, if you’re not eating a lot of animal meat, taking a supplement would be the best way to get vitamin B12,” says Enright. That said, you can also find some in eggs (0.4 micrograms per egg) and milk (one microgram per cup), as well as fortified foods like cereal and non-dairy milks. Nutritional yeast and nori—the seaweed used to wrap sushi—also contain some B12.

If You’re A Vegan…

Like vegetarians, vegans may fall short on protein and vitamin B12. With all animal-based foods off the table (adios, eggs and dairy), vegans may also be low in calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin D.

Though we associate bone-boosting calcium with milk, it’s actually found in lots of other foods. One particularly good source: soy. Adults need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, and at 200 milligrams per cup, a serving of soy gets you a fifth of the way there. You can also find calcium in cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy), nuts, and seeds.

Iron, which our blood needs to transport oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our body, is another mineral we associate with meat. Adult men need about eight milligrams a day while women need 18 (more if pregnant), and deficiency is associated with fatigue, weakness, pale skin, and irregular heartbeat. There are plenty of best plant sources, though, including white beans (eight milligrams per cup), lentils (three grams per half cup), and spinach (three grams per half cup.) Just keep in mind that since plant-based iron (called ‘non-heme’ iron) is less bioavailable than animal-based iron (called ‘heme’ iron), you may need to eat more than those daily recommended amounts to meet your mark.

Another mineral vegans may fall short on is zinc, which helps our immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. While it’s found in oysters, red meat, poultry, and dairy, you can also get it from beans, nuts, whole grains, and fortified cereals. Women need eight milligrams a day, while men need 11. You’ll find about three milligrams of the mineral in half a cup of baked beans, 1.6 milligrams in an ounce of cashews, and 1.3 milligrams in half a cup of chickpeas.

Last but not least is vitamin D, which even non-vegans have a hard time stocking up on from food. “Usually the best food source is egg yolks, which vegans can’t have,” says Enright. Adults need about 600 IU of vitamin D—which helps us absorb calcium and supports our immune system—per day. Vegans can turn to fortified non-dairy milks and orange juice for vitamin D, but it may be easiest to just take a supplement—especially if you don’t spend much time in the sun, she says.

If You’re Dairy-Free…

When you live without milk, yogurt, and cheese, you have to work a little harder to get enough calcium and vitamin D, since most milk is fortified with 400 IU of vitamin D and contains about 300 milligrams of calcium, says Enright.

As you now know, you can find calcium in cruciferous veggies, nuts, and seeds. And if you eat non-dairy animal products, you have a few options for vitamin D, such as fatty fish like salmon (447 IU) or tuna (156 IU), and egg yolks (41 IU).

If You’re Gluten-Free…

Fiber, which is found in a number of gluten-containing whole grains, is the number-one thing you have to keep an eye on when eating a gluten-free diet. Fiber feeds the healthy bacteria (a.k.a. probiotics) in your gut, bolsters your digestive system, and supports healthy blood sugar and cholesterol. If you fall short—and many of us do, gluten-free or not—you may experience major bowel backup. Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber a day; men should aim for 38 grams. Luckily, you can find fiber in tons of other plant-based foods, like chickpeas (six grams per half cup) and chia seeds (10 grams per two tablespoons). Fruits and veggies are also loaded with fiber, so Enright recommends filling half your plate with produce at every meal.

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

The gluten-free eater’s second concern: vitamin B6, which we typically get from grains. This vitamin helps us metabolize protein, and can be found in a few gluten-free sources, like animal meat (such as chicken, turkey, and salmon) and beans (such as chickpeas). Adults need 1.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 every day. A cup of chickpeas packs 1.1 milligrams of B6, while a serving of tuna offers 0.9 milligrams.

Folate is another B vitamin you can fall short on without gluten in your diet. Since it plays a key role in the synthesis of DNA and RNA, folate is especially important for women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant. These women need 600 micrograms a day, while the average adult needs 400. You can find folate in spinach, asparagus, peas, spinach, and broccoli, says Enright. Half a cup of boiled spinach offers 131 micrograms, and four spears of asparagus offer 89 .

If You’re Paleo…

The popular Paleo diet preaches one guiding principle: Eat only foods that our primal ancestors could’ve eaten back in the day. That means grass-fed meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils (like olive and avocado), but no cereal grains, legumes (like peanuts and beans), dairy, sugar, potatoes, processed foods, or vegetable oils.

Since Paleo eaters stay away from dairy, they should pay special attention to their calcium and vitamin D intake, says Enright. Since they also stay away from grains and beans, they should also keep an eye on fiber. Chia seeds, hemp seeds, and produce are some of your best Paleo-approved fiber sources.

If You’re Keto…

On a ketogenic diet, you eat about 80 percent of your daily calories from fat and limit carbs to just 20 to 30 net grams (total carbs minus fiber) per day, according to certified natural medicine doctor and clinical nutritionist Josh Axe, D.C.

When you keep carbs that low, processed foods, grains, most dairy, and starchy veggies are off limits, and you may miss the mark on fiber, calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins (folate and B6). Since the keto menu is so limited, you may need to turn to supplements to meet your nutritional needs.

Additionally, many keto eaters lose electrolytes (like potassium, and magnesium) as they slash carbs and drop water weight (even if they drink lots of water), says Axe. Adults need 4.7 grams of potassium, and 310 (women) to 400 (men) milligrams of magnesium per day.

Drinking  is a simple, hydrating way to replenish electrolytes, says Axe. Axe likes to drink bone broth for its electrolytes, but you can also find these important minerals in foods like nuts, avocados, mushrooms, salmon, spinach, artichokes, and leafy greens—all of which are a-okay on the keto diet in the right amounts.

If You’re On Whole30…

The super-trendy Whole30 is an elimination diet in which you cut out dairy, grains, legumes, soy, alcohol, and anything highly processed or that contains added sugar for—you guessed it—30 days. The eating style is supposed to help you identify food sensitivities and establish healthier habits.

Following a Whole30 way of eating long-term can be tricky, though, since it blacklists multiple of the nutritious food groups we’ve already discussed. Without dairy, grains, and legumes, you’ll need to be vigilant about getting calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins, and iron from other food sources or supplements, says Enright.

Keep your nutritional needs straight with this infographic: 

You’ve Heard Of Probiotics—But What Are Prebiotics?

Probiotics—and the buzz about their benefits—are pretty much everywhere. By now, you’ve probably even picked up a supplement or tried out a few fermented foods (like yogurt, pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, and kombucha) to boost these healthy bacteria that live in your gut. After all, who doesn’t want a healthier digestive system, more regularity, and super-strong immunity?

It’s important to get your fill of probiotics to keep your gut functioning at its best, but in order for these powerful critters to work their magic, they need a little help. That’s where prebiotics come in.

Prebiotics are basically the food probiotics need in order to thrive in your gut, explains Jenny Dang, R.D. This food helps the healthy bacteria do their jobs, so you can reap their health benefits. Prebiotics are a type of carbohydrate that your body can’t break down, says Toni Fiori, R.D., who specializes in digestive health. Chances are you’ve heard of this type of carb before: ‘insoluble fiber.’

Insoluble fiber, which isn’t digestible and passes through the body pretty much intact, helps food move through your system smoothly and wards off constipation. Because it also helps maintain the good bacteria in your gut, insoluble fiber is hugely important for your digestive and immune health.

We still have much to learn about the billions of bacteria that live in our guts—but if you ate only processed foods that lack prebiotics, it’s very possible that your healthy bacteria would take a hit, even if you did take probiotics, says Fiori.

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The good news is, getting your fill of prebiotics isn’t that difficult. You can find them in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, with some of the best sources being whole wheat, bananas, garlic, onion, and asparagus, says Dang. You can also find insoluble fiber in supplements, which are often made from chicory, a relative of garlic and onion.

To serve up the prebiotics your probiotics need to live their best lives, focus on eating a well-balanced diet that includes lots of whole grains, fruits, and veggies, says Dang. (That means eating about two to three cups of vegetables, two cups of fruit, and about two ounces of whole grains each day, according to the USDA.)

Related: 5 Foods That Are Packed With Probiotics

While women need at least 25 grams of fiber a day and men need at least 38, the average American gets just about 15, so chances are you need to up your intake. Just don’t try to go from zero to 60 in one day. When you eat much more fiber than you’re used to, the bacteria in your gut produce gas, which can result in major discomfort, bloating, and of course, gas. Instead, slowly increase your fiber intake to avoid tummy troubles.

If you have a health condition like irritable bowel syndrome, for example, you may need to get your prebiotics from gentler sources (think bananas, oats, and honey) since garlic and onions may upset your stomach, says Fiori. A dietitian can help you sort out which prebiotic foods might settle best with you, while picky eaters who don’t get their fill of fruits, veggies, and whole grains may want to try adding an insoluble fiber supplement, like oat bran, to their routine.

Become a prebiotics vs. probiotics whiz with a little help from this infographic: 


3 Very Real Health Benefits Of Tart Cherries

Berries get a lot of love, but there’s another fruit that deserves equal attention: tart cherries. Despite their sour taste, tart cherries offer some seriously sweet health benefits, thanks to all the good-for-you nutrients packed inside their juicy red shells.

Not only are they full of antioxidants, tart cherries offer vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and copper—along with less sugar and fewer carbs than another favorite snack, blueberries. They also contain trace amounts of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and both omega-3s and omega-6 fatty acids, says William Newsome, M.D., of Solutions Weight Loss in Orlando, Florida.

Here are three solid ways eating tart cherries—or drinking tart cherry juice—can benefit your health.

1. They Can Help Protect Your Cells

Tart cherries’ antioxidant content is one of their biggest perks. A quick refresher: Antioxidants are compounds that naturally occur in certain foods and help protect your cells against damaging molecules called free radicals that are produced when you’re exposed to pollution or when your body breaks down food. Research has shown that damage from these free radicals can contribute to diseases like cancer, arthritis, and dementia. One of tart cherries’ most potent antioxidants is called anthocyanin, which gives cherries (and other fruits) their purple-y color.

One study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that tart cherry extract (particularly that of a variety called Montmorency) can prevent some oxidation seen in cell membranes—so look for that variety at your supermarket!

(As a bonus, the researchers also discovered that one of the compounds found in tart cherries, chlorogenic acid, could help nix insulin spikes—sugar crashes—after meals.)

 2. They Help Promote Healthy Sleep 

Can’t seem to shut down at night? Consider sipping on tart cherry juice. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that elderly participants with trouble sleeping who drank two eight-ounce glasses of tart cherry each day for two weeks slept for a whopping 85 minutes longer than those who were given a placebo drink. The reason for this? Tart cherries contain melatonin (the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles), says Matthew Kadey, R.D., author of Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sports and Adventure. Studies suggest both drinking tart cherry juice before bed and drinking it multiple times throughout the day seem to help, without any sleepy daytime effects.

3. They May Soothe Muscle Soreness Post-Workout

Because tart cherries contain antioxidants, they may help your body bounce back after a workout. “Research shows that if you consume tart cherry juice for several days before and after exercising, you can experience less muscle soreness and faster recovery,” says Kadey.

According to one study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, runners who drank tart cherry juice for a week leading up to a race reported less pain and quicker recovery time afterward than runners who downed a placebo juice. (A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found similar results with marathoners.)

A disclaimer: Tart cherries’ post-exercise benefits seem to be far more noticeable in people who are working out hard (or long) every day—so if you take cardio or yoga classes here and there, you may not notice as much of a difference, Kadey says.

Pucker Up!

How to Add Tart Cherries to Your Diet

To reap health benefits from snacking on fresh tart cherries, aim for about a one-cup serving, suggests Newsome. If you can’t find them fresh, look for dried tart cherries, which are great added to oatmeal or trail mix. (Just cut your serving size down to a quarter cup and look for a brand without any added sugar.)

Same goes for sipping on tart cherry juice. Look for a bottle labeled ‘100 percent tart cherry juice’ that’s free of added sugar or any other juices, Kadey recommends. If you find the flavor of tart cherry juice is too sour for your tastes, try mixing a few tablespoons of juice into a few ounces of water.

Keep your tart cherry facts straight:

Is It Possible To Take Healthy Eating Too Far?

You know the drill—when it comes to healthy eating, veggies should take up most of your plate, fiber keeps things moving through your system, and protein is a must for revving your metabolism.

Typically, a healthy diet consists of as many whole, non-processed foods as possible. That means plenty of non-starchy vegetables (like kale and eggplant), protein (found in eggs, chickens, and beans), whole grains (like brown rice), and healthy fats (found in olive oil, walnuts, and avocados), says Alexia Lewis, R.D.

According to the USDA and FDA, that also means limiting your intake of sodium, sugar, and saturated fats, which can all up your risk of heart disease and diabetes. (Limit saturated fat to less than 20 grams per day, sodium to less than 2,400 milligrams per day, and added sugars to less than 50 grams per day.)

But is it possible to take healthy eating too far? The experts agree: yes.

Thanks to many of the fad diets out there, we often get hung up on thinking of certain foods as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad,’ says Lewis. “We pick apart all the numbers and nutrients to make sure food is worthy of being eaten so we can believe that we are ‘being good,’” she says.

Problem 1: Eliminating Certain Healthy Foods

Fad diets often steer people toward cutting out certain food groups—with meat, dairy, and grains being some of the most common—in the name of ‘health.’ But unless you have a food allergy or intolerance, cutting entire food groups from your menu can backfire if you’re not careful.

Different foods provide different nutrients—and if you swear off those foods, you risk falling short on the nutrients they offer. Meat and dairy, for example, provide B vitamins, says Monya De, M.D., M.P.H., internist in Los Angeles. B12 (which is found in salmon, beef, milk, and eggs) is crucial for energy production and according to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, low levels have been linked with depression. If you cut meat and dairy from your diet, you’ll have to find other sources, like fortified almond milk. (The FDA advises we get six micrograms of vitamin B12 per day.)

Related: The 5 Key Nutrients You REALLY Don’t Want To Miss Out On

Dairy also provides calcium and vitamin D, which are hugely important for healthy bones. If you’re dairy-free, you’ll need to eat foods like broccoli rabe, oranges, and fortified almond milk for calcium, and fatty fish or fortified cereal for vitamin D, says Lewis. (The FDA recommends 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D a day.)

Problem 2: Overloading On Other Healthy Foods

On the flip side, our eating healthy quests can also lead us to load up on too much of certain foods and nutrients.

One of our favorites to overdo? Healthy fats. While monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats offer heart health benefits, they’re super-high in calories and easy to overeat, says Lewis. One avocado, for instance, comes in at 240 calories and packs 21 grams of fat. Because one gram of fat packs nine calories, the FDA recommends sticking to just about 65 grams a day to prevent weight gain. Forgo proper portions when snacking on healthy fats, though, and you can easily surpass that recommended intake. So, limit the guac to about half an avocado-worth and follow serving sizes, says Lewis. That way you can reap the benefits of healthy fats without also expanding your waistline.

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Protein is another that may be overeaten, especially by serious exercisers looking to reap its muscle-building, energy-boosting benefits. Since protein is harder to metabolize than other nutrients, eating more than you need can lead to constipation, says Daved Rosensweet, M.D., founder of iwonderdoctor.com. The backup is even more likely if loading up on protein also means you’re falling short on fiber. (We all have different protein needs; estimate yours here.)

Related: 7 Possible Reasons Why You Just Can’t Poop

Of course, you can overdo it on fibrous foods, too. Nosh on fiber-filled foods like black beans or broccoli all day long and you’re in for a serious case of the farts, since fiber can cause gas and bloating. Eating more than the recommended daily amount of fiber (25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men) can help keep you feeling full and support weight loss, but eating as much fiber as humanly possible will not only leave you super-gassy, but may also reduce your absorption of other nutrients, like magnesium, calcium, and iron, says Lewis. Just concentrate on reaching your recommended daily amount of fiber and drink plenty of water to support easy digestion, she recommends.

Finding Balance

Eating healthy isn’t just physical—there’s a mental health component, too. When we strictly define what is and isn’t healthy—and when we try to stick to that 24/7—we set ourselves up for unnecessary guilt when we stray. We are only human, after all! A truly healthy diet is one that feeds both your body and mind, says Lewis. “One component of health is emotional health, and you should be able to enjoy treats without guilt or shame,” she explains.

Rest assured, The occasional splurge won’t impact your physical health, says Lewis. “One meal doesn’t make or break nutrition,” she says. “Even a week of unhealthy eating won’t have that much of an effect.” There’s no need to deny yourself that big bowl of pasta and side of crispy Italian bread every once in a while.

Eating a colorful, minimally-processed, nutrient-rich diet keeps your body well-nourished, but enjoying small treats nourishes your soul—the trick is to find your balance, she says.

What In The World Is ‘Skinny-Fat’—And Is It Real?

We all have that friend who goes hard on the fried food and eats Hot Pockets for dinner but never gains weight. And although they may be thin—and therefore seen as “healthy”—that may not be the case.

If someone has a naturally slender physique but doesn’t eat well-balanced meals or exercise regularly, they fall under the buzzy term, “skinny-fat.” That’s because despite being able to fit into a size 2 jean, they probably have more fat—and less muscle—than is ideal.

When it comes to your health, the key isn’t your weight—it’s your body composition, according to Gabrielle Lyon, D.O., of the Four Moons Spa in San Diego. For example, your BMI might be within the ‘healthy’ range (18.5 to 24.99, according to the World Health Organization), but you can still have a body fat percentage that’s considered overweight (that’s above 20 percent for guys and 30 percent for women, according to Sports Nutrition, Second Edition).

What Skinny-Fat Looks Like

Docs refer to people who are ‘skinny-fat’ as ‘thin on the outside, fat on the inside,’ or ‘TOFI,’ says Dana Simpler, M.D., internal medicine specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. There’s no single definition of what a skinny-fat body looks like, but generally someone will have very little muscle tone and probably some flab, especially around their belly and glutes.

They may also notice cellulite on their thighs, arms, and stomach, adds Tom Holland, C.S.C.S., exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym. About 90 percent of women and 10 percent of men have some cellulite, but it may be especially noticeable on those with skinny-fat body types, because they don’t have muscle definition, which can actually smooth and lessen its appearance, says Holland.

Related: Is There Anything You Can Really Do To Get Rid Of Cellulite?

Typically, someone who doesn’t overeat, does cardio regularly but doesn’t strength train, or just has a strong metabolism, fits the ‘skinny-fat’ profile, says Simpler. So even though they eat the wrong kinds of foods (think sugar and stuff high in saturated fats, like red meat, cheese, and anything fried), they stay pretty thin, she says.

Why It Can Be An Issue

While being skinny-fat may not sound so bad, the type of diet many skinny-fat people ‘get away with’ can lead to cardiovascular issues, like heart attack or stroke down the road, Simpler says. It can also lead to prediabetes (meaning your blood sugar is higher than it should be but not quite at the level of having diabetes yet), says New York-based nutritionist Jessica Levinson, R.D. “Though type 2 diabetes is generally associated with being overweight, there are people who are at a normal weight who can develop prediabetes after eating too much sugar over time,” she says. So someone who is thin but doesn’t eat well can be a lot less healthy than someone who eats healthy but weighs more.

Related: 8 Foods That Pack A Surprising Amount Of Sugar

Plus, being slender doesn’t mean you’re safe from the risks of having too much fat. Visceral fat—which is stored in your tummy near many of your organs—in particular, can be an indicator of health problems to come, says Levinson. According to Harvard Medical School, it’s linked to higher cholesterol and insulin resistance. And because this particular fat hides deep within the body (it’s not the kind you can grab), skinny-fat people may have more than they realize.

Additionally, skinny-fat people are weaker and have less physical stamina than people who have more muscle, says Lyon. That’s because muscle is full of mitochondria, the engines that power all of your cells—so the less muscle you have, the less strength and energy you’re able to produce. As a result, skinny-fat folks may feel generally sluggish and get winded walking up the stairs. Because women generally have less muscle mass then men—and a harder time building it—they fall into the skinny-fat category more often.

Muscle Up

So what can you do if you think you’re living the skinny-fat life? There are two orders of business: Eat a healthier diet and build muscle.

“Being thin does not guarantee good health if someone is not mindful of what they eat,” says Simpler. “The safest and healthiest diet to prevent or reverse heart disease and diabetes is a whole food, plant-based diet.”

That means cutting back on highly-processed, high-fat foods, and boosting your intake of green and starchy veggies (like kale and sweet potatoes), fruits (like strawberries and blueberries), whole grains (like quinoa and barley), and legumes (like chickpeas and lentils).

To build that muscle, you’ll need to up your protein intake and strength train regularly, says Lyon. (This part is especially important if you’re over 35, when building muscle becomes more difficult.) Try to eat at least 90 grams of protein—which your body breaks down into amino acids to repair muscle tissue—per day, split evenly across breakfast, lunch, and dinner, she says. Look for lean sources like chicken, fish, turkey, beans, and Greek yogurt, suggests Atlanta-based dietitian Kristen Smith, R.D.

Related: Get your daily fill of protein with powder supplements and bars.

In addition, incorporate 20 minutes of strength training into your routine two or three times a week, says Holland. Start with one to three sets of 10 to 15 reps of basic bodyweight moves like squats, pushups, planks, and lunges. As you build strength, increase the number of sets you perform and add some weighted movements—like chest presses and bent-over rows— into the mix. Make sure to use weight that is challenging for the last few reps, but doesn’t throw off your form, Holland says.

7 Ways Extra Calories Are Sneaking Into Your Diet

You dutifully pack your own lunch every day, blend up a smoothie after your workouts, and try to avoid the vending machine—so, yeah, you’d say you’re a pretty healthy eater. Why, then, are you struggling to lose those few extra pounds? As healthy as your efforts may be, there are some sneaky foods that can add a whole lot of extra calories to your diet.

We chatted with top nutritionists about some of the biggest not-so-obvious calorie bombs out there—along with alternatives that will be friendlier to your waistline (while still totally delicious).

You know that soda is loaded with sugar, so green juice seems like a better beverage choice—after all, it’s made from fruits and veggies! But it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. “Even at trendy juice bars, fresh-squeezed juices can be packed with sugar,” says D.C.-based nutritionist Victoria Jarzabkowski Lindsay, M.S., R.D. “Yes, there are vitamins and minerals in these fruit and veggie juices, but with them comes a lot of sugar and virtually none of the fiber that helps mitigate your body’s blood sugar from spiraling out of control.”

Related: The 5 Fruits With The Most—And Least—Sugar

A medium apple clocks in around 72 calories,14 grams sugar, and  three grams of fiber, but a 12-ounce serving of most leading juice brands could contain upwards of 200 calories and 30 grams of sugar, depending on what ingredients are used, Jarzabkowski Lindsay says.

What to do instead: Choose juices made from vegetables only (since they have less sugar than fruits) or limit yourself to a six-ounce serving, says Jarzabkowski Lindsay. If your juice spot doesn’t have a size that small, split your juice with a friend or stash some in the fridge. Or, if you like drinks with extra flavor, go for unsweetened teas, low-sugar kombucha drinks, or plain sparkling water with a splash of juice added in, she recommends.

Pumpkin spice creamer might add a seasonal kick to your morning cup of Joe, but you’re likely using way too much of the stuff. Get this: One tablespoon of flavored coffee creamer can pack up to 45 calories, says Alexia Lewis, M.S., R.D., founder of New Motivation Coaching in Florida. And considering many of us pour closer to three or four tablespoons of creamer into our mugs, we end up taking in close to 180 calories from creamer alone.

Things aren’t any better if you order a fancy latte from your neighborhood coffee shop—especially if you add whipped cream to the mix. A medium flavored coffee drink with whipped cream could land anywhere between 200 and 500 calories, says Lewis.

What to do instead: Switch out the flavored creamers for unsweetened almond milk, which is just 30 calories (and zero grams of sugar) for a whole cup, says Lewis. Almond milk offers a subtle nutty taste and can be fortified with up to 45 percent of your daily calcium needs. Otherwise, just stick with whole or two-percent milk.

“The little bit of extra fat [in the milk] helps the drink taste indulgent, keeps blood sugar more stable, and cuts my desire to add something more sweet to the drink,” says Jarzabkowski Lindsay. (A quarter cup of whole milk comes in at 37 calories, while a quarter cup of two-percent is about 30.) If you use lots of milk in your coffee—or drink multiple cups per day—stick with two-percent, Jarzabkowski Lindsay suggests.

You get major points for starting any meal with spinach, kale, or another green, but you may be sabotaging your salads by throwing on too many mix-ins. “Many people think eating a salad is healthy, but if you add a ton of nuts, dried fruit, cheese, and dressing, you’re taking a somewhat healthy meal and turning it into an unhealthy meal,” says Cara Walsh, R.D., of Medifast Weight Control Centers of California.

While two cups of greens is just 20 calories, half a cup of Parmesan cheese adds 200 calories, half a cup of craisins adds another 200, a tablespoon of walnuts adds 100, and six tablespoons of ranch dressing adds yet another 200 calories. Suddenly your salad is packing around 700 calories!

What to do instead: Top your salad sparingly with a tablespoon of raw sunflower seeds (53 calories), half a cup of chickpeas (100 calories), and a sixth of an avocado (50 calories), says Walsh. Each of these foods contains ‘good’ monounsaturated fats and is loaded with satiating protein, she says. Walsh likes drizzling salads with a tablespoon of olive oil for 120 calories. Try mixing your olive oil with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or balsamic for extra flavor.

When we said to use avocado sparingly, we meant it. “While avocado is considered a superfood and packs the nutrition to back up that claim, it is also a high calorie food,” says Lewis. We’re talking 160 calories for half an avocado or 320 calories for a whole one.

What to do instead: Don’t worry, you don’t have to steer clear of guac altogether. Just limit your intake to a quarter of an avocado (about 80 calories-worth) at a time, says Lewis.

If your deli sandwich of choice happens to be tuna or chicken salad, chances are your favorite between-the-bread filling packs a major calorie wallop. Typically, chicken and tuna salads are made with mayo, which packs 188 calories and 20 grams of saturated fat per two tablespoons, says Vanessa Rissetto, R.D., nutritionist in the New York City area.

What to do instead: Make tuna salad at home, and swap out the mayo for vinegar, red onion, and mustard. “Vinegar is calorie-free and two tablespoons of mustard has only 21 calories,” says Rissetto.

Nuts, like avocado, are good for you—but it’s easy to go overboard. “Nuts are a great, portable snack and can add crunch and flavor to your meals, but while they’re a great source of healthy fats, they can add calories when you’re eating mindlessly,” Lewis says. A serving size (which is about an ounce) of cashews, peanuts, almonds, or pistachios ranges from 150 to 165 calories, says Lewis—which is perfectly reasonable. But double or triple that (which is all too easy to do if you’re not careful), and you’re looking at upwards of 300 to 450 calories.

What to do instead: Stick to the portion size of one ounce—or replace your afternoon nut nosh with something else that’s crunchy and salty, Lewis suggests. She likes sliced cucumber sprinkled with salt (about 50 calories) or two plain rice cakes topped with a tablespoon of peanut powder mixed with some water to form a paste that’s lower-cal than regular PB (about 100 calories total). The nutty flavor of the rice cake snacks satisfies any craving for crunch, she says.

We’ve extolled the health benefits of red wine (studies have shown that it can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease), but vino isn’t without its downsides. A five-ounce serving of red wine comes in at about 125 calories, says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., New York City-based nutritionist. So if you’re skipping dessert but drinking two glasses of wine, well, you’re not really doing yourself any favors.

What to do instead: Cut a five-ounce serving of wine with a quarter cup of seltzer to make a spritzer, says Rizzo. Or, skip the booze and sip on low-calorie fruit and herb-infused water. Try adding slices of lemon, orange, or strawberries along with a few basil or mint leaves to your glass. “I love the combo of basil and strawberry or cucumber and mint,” says Rizzo.

Related: Find your new go-to flavored sparkling water or tea.

Save this handy infographic for future calorie-saving reference:

How Healthy Is Red Wine, Really?

We’ve all unwound after a long day by enjoying a glass (or two) of vino with dinner. After all, not only does wine make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but you’ve probably heard it offers some sweet health benefits, too. That means a glass of red is totally harmless, right?

Not so fast.

Over the last 40 years, quite a few studies have linked red wine to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a review published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research. These researchers hypothesize that the antioxidants in red wine (called polyphenols) can help protect your heart from inflammation, lower bad cholesterol, and support smooth vascular blood flow. Epidemiological studies also show that wine drinkers have higher HDL (‘good’) cholesterol than non-wine drinkers, according to the review.

Antioxidants are known for their ability to protect your bod from free radicals, which are molecules that can cause damage to your cells and DNA and lead to a whole host of diseases, including cancer. The most well-known antioxidant in red wine is resveratrol, which is found in the skin of the grapes used to make it, says Alyssa Rothschild, R.D.N. White wine contains resveratrol, too, but because grapes are fermented longer to make red wine, it contains more of the stuff explains Rothschild. And get this: Grapes actually contain about 90 percent more resveratrol than blueberries, which are often thought of as the number one antioxidant powerhouse, according to a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

Related: 4 Types Of Foods That Fight Inflammation

However, not all research on red wine supports its super-drink status. For instance, one 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine compared the health of older adults who drank moderate amounts of red wine regularly against the health of those who didn’t—and found no significant differences.

Another caveat: Many of the studies done on red wine focused on people who eat a Mediterranean diet, which is chock full of antioxidant-rich foods like salmon, olive oil, and nuts, says Myers Hurt, M.D., family physician at Diamond Physicians in Dallas. So red wine alone may not be causing all those heart health benefits—though it does seem to be an a-okay part of a generally healthy diet. For example, one study published in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging found that a Mediterranean diet—which features moderate red wine consumption—is associated with lower blood pressure and inflammation levels.

Mediterranean diet or not, red wine is still a better option than other types of booze. “If you’re trying to decide between a mixed drink or a glass of wine, it’s a no brainer,” says Rothschild. “Unlike mixed drinks, which are loaded with calories and added sugars, wine is one of the smartest drinks you can choose.” Red wine is alcohol, though, so it’s still more or less ‘empty calories.’ (125 of them per five-ounce glass, to be exact.)

So if you are going to imbibe, stick to that five-ounce serving size. Most of the studies on red wine look at that specific amount of alcohol (one drink a day for women and two a day for men), which matches the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ limits for alcohol consumption, says Rothschild.

Moderation is key, as it is with the rest of your diet, says Hurt. And if you’re looking for heart-health benefits, the Mediterranean diet (yes, with vino) is your best bet at reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke risk, he says.

Related: Check out healthy oils and seeds for Mediterranean eating.

If you don’t drink, though, you shouldn’t start just because you’ve heard red wine could be good for you, says Rothschild. You can also find resveratrol in other foods, like peanuts and dark chocolate, says Rothschild. And, ya know, you can also just eat the grapes themselves…

Pin this infographic so you can whip out your vino knowledge next time you buy a bottle:

Does Losing Weight Slow Your Metabolism?

If you’ve ever tried to drop a good 10+ pounds, you know how hard it can be—and how it seems to get even harder as the scale starts to budge.

You’re definitely not imagining this uphill weight-loss battle. The culprit: your metabolism.

Your metabolism is a series of chemical reactions that occur inside your body to break down food and turn it into energy, says David Greuner, M.D., managing director and co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates. Your body uses this energy to perform basic functions, like keeping your lungs breathing and your heart beating, and power you throughout the day.

The minimum number of calories we need every day to keep us functioning (even if we’re at rest all day and night) is known as our basal metabolic rate. For the average person, it’s usually between 1,500 and 2,200 cals per day, says Greuner. Your individual metabolic rate is determined by your body size, sex, and age, according to the Mayo Clinic.

How many calories we need on top of that base number depends on factors like our activity level and how much muscle we have. (Muscle mass requires extra energy to maintain, so it really bumps up your metabolism.)

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism

When we want to lose weight, we create a caloric deficit, meaning we try to use more calories than we consume, usually by cutting calories and exercising, explains Tyler Spraul, C.S.C.S. The goal is that our body will tap into the fat we have stored for to make up for that energy deficit.

Here’s where things get tricky, though: When most people lose weight, they tend to lose some muscle mass along with fat, says Tom Holland, C.S.C.S., exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym. And the less muscle you have, the fewer calories your body needs to sustain itself—which means your metabolism slows down. As this occurs, whatever caloric deficit you’d created when you first started losing weight becomes less and less effective.

So, yeah, it’s sad but true: Weight loss—especially extreme calorie-cutting—does slow down your metabolism, which actually sabotages your ability to maintain that weight loss long-term.

But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed! The solution? Take a slow-and-steady approach so that you can shed fat while keeping your metabolism revved and holding onto as much precious muscle as possible. To do that, shift your focus from cutting as many calories as possible to strength training regularly (at least three days a week) and eating ample protein—both of which support muscle mass, says Holland. He recommends eating roughly half your bodyweight in grams of protein each day. By continuing to boost your metabolism, you’ll naturally burn through more calories and make losing that fat easier.

Related: Grab a protein supplement for muscle support, wherever you are.

6 Things That Can Happen If You Don’t Eat Enough Fat

Fat often gets a bad rap. If you’ve dieted at some point in your life, chances are you’ve tried going low-fat—after all, low-fat was all the rage for a while there. Nowadays, however, we’ve updated our understanding of fats. We know that certain types of fat are actually good for you—and that they do a lot for your body, from cushioning your organs to controlling your temperature to absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), according to research from the University of Virginia Medical School. In fact, it turns out that not getting your fill of the good fat every day could actually lead to some scary health issues.

First, it’s important to understand how fat works in your body.

“Good” Fats vs. “Bad” Fats

On the good side, you’ve got polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. On the not-so-good side, you’ve got saturated fats and trans fats.

Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats help reduce levels of bad cholesterol in your blood, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). In fact, research has shown that both types of good fat can reduce your risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease, says Vanessa Rissetto, R.D.

On the flip side, trans fats (which are found in fried foods and many baked goods) and some saturated fats (which are most commonly found in foods like fatty beef, pork, butter, and cheese) can raise your cholesterol. (It’s worth noting, though, that some saturated fats, like those found in coconut oil, can raise your HDL or ‘good cholesterol.’)

Where To Get Those Good Fats

Two types of polyunsaturated fats you’ve probably already heard of: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Since your body doesn’t produce them on its own, you’ll need to get them through your diet. You can find omega-3s in walnuts, flax seeds, and salmon, while you can find omega-6s in eggs, poultry, nuts, and pumpkin seeds, says Rissetto.

Meanwhile, you can find monounsaturated fatty acids in nuts, seeds, and high-fat fruits like olives and avocado, she adds. (Guac, for the win!) Just keep portions in mind, says Rissetto. A serving of fat equals about a tablespoon of olive oil or a fourth of an avocado, for example.

Related: 7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For Your Health

Even good fats have their pitfalls, though. Research published in BMJ suggests that there could be a link between excessive omega-6 consumption (relative to omega-3 consumption) and increased risk of heart disease. Plus, too many omega-6s can actually promote inflammation, says Rissetto, so you’ll want to watch your intake.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends adult men get 1.6 grams of omega-3s and 17 grams of omega-6s per day and adult women get 1.1 grams of omega-3s and 12 grams of omega-6s per day. As far as monounsaturated fats go, there’s no specific recommended amount.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises getting less than 10 percent of your daily calories from saturated fats and swapping in polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats for saturated fats as much as possible.

What Happens When You Go Too Low-Fat

If you’re still not convinced that healthy fats should be a part of your daily grub, the following facts—all effects of eating too little fat—may inspire you to update your grocery cart. Here’s what might happen if you keep living the low-fat life:

1. You’ll put yourself at an increased risk for diabetes and heart disease. Think about it: Noshing on good fats helps cut your risk of cardiovascular problems—so if you don’t get enough of them, you’re missing out on some legitimate heart benefits, says Rissetto.

2. Your blood sugar may pay the price. When you decrease your intake of saturated fats and up your intake of monounsaturated fats, you may even be able to improve your sensitivity to insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas that regulates your blood sugar levels, says Rissetto. When your body isn’t sensitive enough to insulin, it reacts by producing even more of it, which can lead to type 2 diabetes down the line.

3. You’ll feel really hungry all day long. Fat actually keeps you full for longer, since it’s harder than sugar for your body to break down, says David Greuner, M.D., managing director and co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates. Fat also helps inhibit ghrelin, the hormone responsible for hunger, he says.

4. Your energy levels will be all over the place. When your blood sugar spikes and then dips rapidly—which happens when you eat carbs, since they are full of sugars—you cycle through bursts of energy and subsequent crashes. “When you eat a little fat, though, your blood sugar stays even for a much longer period of time,” says Greuner. And that stability will keep you going full steam ahead.

5. You may have trouble concentrating. Per the University of Maryland Medical Center, there is a high concentration of omega-3s in your brain, so they play a crucial role in your ability to concentrate and memory function. According to a study published in the journal Neurology, when people stuck to a Mediterranean diet (which is full of foods that contain omega-3s, like fish and seeds), they experienced fewer instances of cognitive impairment over the course of about four years.

6. Your skin may feel dry and itchy. Although rare in healthy adults, there is such a thing as essential fatty acid deficiency (EFAD), says Rissetto. Essential fatty acids may contribute to skin health, so one of the symptoms you might deal with if you don’t get enough is a dry, scaly rash, according to Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute. (Other symptoms include decreased immunity and poor wound healing.)

You’re at a higher risk for EFAD if you have a GI condition (such as inflammatory bowel disease), which might make it harder for your body to digest fats, according to the University of Virginia Medical School.

Related: Shop a variety of healthy oils and seeds.

What Does ‘Alkaline’ Really Mean?

The word ‘alkaline’ is all over Instagram and health food labels—but as trendy as it is (and cool as it sounds), do you know what it actually means?

Let’s take a trip back to high school chem class. Remember the pH scale? In case you forgot, it’s a way of measuring how acidic or basic (a.k.a. alkaline) something is. Lemon juice, for example? Pretty darn acidic. Bleach? That’d be a base.

The pH scale ranges from zero to 14. Anything below 7.0 is considered acidic, while anything above 7.0 is considered alkaline, explains Jennifer Stagg, naturopathic physician and author of Unzip Your Genes: 5 Choices to Reveal a Radically Radiant You. (A pH of seven is considered neutral.)

Depending on their function, certain parts of your body are more acidic or alkaline. Think of it like how your body maintains a certain temperature to work properly. For example, your blood has a slightly alkaline pH of around 7.4, says nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto, R.D. (This helps your body carry out all of the metabolic reactions and processes necessary for it to function properly, says Stagg.) Meanwhile, your stomach is very acidic (anywhere from 1.5 to 3.5) because it has to break down food, says Rissetto.

Should The pH Scale Influence Your diet?

That’s where the concept of the alkaline diet comes in. The fad, beloved by celebs, is based on the idea that eating certain foods and avoiding others can help your body (specifically your blood) maintain a health-promoting pH.

Here’s the thing: The logic falls flat. The theory that chowing down on high-alkaline foods to help regulate your blood’s pH is totally incorrect, says Rissetto. “Food can’t change the acidity or alkalinity of your blood,” she says. Why? Just like your body works to maintain a proper body temperature, it also regulates the pH of your blood. (Remember the term ‘homeostasis?’ If not, it’s the state of balance in which your body functions at its best.)

What your diet can determine, however, is the pH of your urine, she says. There may be some benefit to having urine that’s slightly alkaline, such as a potentially lower risk for kidney stones, according to Stagg. But that whole homeostasis thing applies here, too: Highly acidic urine can be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes, while highly alkaline urine can indicate a UTI or kidney failure, says Rissetto.

The Alkaline Diet Menu

Still, the alkaline diet is pretty dang popular—and can be pretty dang healthy, too. On the diet, you eat tons of fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds that have high pHs. Spinach, kale, leafy greens, broccoli, avocado, celery, and cucumber are some of the most alkaline foods out there, says Stagg. Meanwhile, foods like artichokes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, leeks, peas, pumpkins, onions, watercress, and summer squash, are more mildly alkaline, says Rissetto.

Off the menu are acidic foods like eggs, dairy, meat, most grains, alcohol, and caffeine. (Soy, which is high alkaline, is one of the main protein sources on this diet.) The alkaline diet is similar to a vegan diet in that it’s plant-based and pretty restrictive, says Stagg.

Related: 7 Plant-Based Protein Sources

Alkaline Foods And Your Health

Alkaline diet advocates have suggested that the benefits of eating this way include everything from weight loss to less chronic pain to a lower risk of high blood pressure. The thing is, though, it’s not the foods’ high pHs that are responsible for these health benefits. It’s the fact that they’re plants.

Plant foods are generally packed with important nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. “Large-scale studies on plant-based diets have shown improved outcomes on most measures of chronic disease like cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer,” says Stagg.

And the weight loss? Also credited to the fact that the foods allowed on the alkaline diet are incredibly healthy, says Rissetto. (They also tend to pack a lot of fiber, which helps you feel fuller for longer.)

There are even alkaline-branded waters, which often add minerals like potassium and magnesium (which are high-alkaline) added, says Stagg. Again, the pH levels of these minerals don’t matter, but our body does need the minerals for optimal function, especially after losing them through sweat during exercise, she explains

Plus, the restriction of processed foods (and the added sugars in them) on the alkaline diet also benefits our health. Case in point: A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those who got more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar had a higher risk of dying from heart disease than those kept their consumption of the sweet stuff low. So, alkaline diet or not, passing on candy bars and soda is just a good idea.

The Bottom Line

Your body can take care of its various pH levels perfectly fine on its own, thank you very much, but incorporating aspects of an alkaline diet—like loading up on fresh fruits and greens—into your daily life certainly can’t hurt.

Related: Finds a greens supplement to up your intake of the good stuff.

This Is How Working Out Affects Your Testosterone Levels

You know that working out does the body good. In fact, research shows that regular exercise does everything from increasing your odds of living longer to supporting your memory function. But what you may not have realized is that regular sweat sessions offer another pretty cool perk if you’re a dude—they boost your testosterone.

Testosterone, the primary sex hormone in men, is responsible for everything from muscle development to hair growth to mood regulation to sex drive. So yeah, it’s pretty important when it comes to your health and well-being. The problem is, your testosterone levels begin to decline by about one to two percent per year when you hit your 30s. “It then drops until it reaches a critical low level in your 50s and 60s,” says Westin Childs, D.O., who specializes in balancing hormones for weight loss. As your T production dips, you could experience symptoms like weight gain (particularly an increase in belly fat), reduced libido, depression, irritability, decreased energy, and trouble sleeping, explains Childs.

How Exercise Affects Your Hormones

As much as we wish we could, there’s no way to stop time. But you do have some power over those T levels—and it involves putting together a consistent workout regimen. Without regular exercise, dropping testosterone levels can lead to a loss in muscle mass. “The slow and steady decline of testosterone with aging doesn’t necessarily lead to that decrease in muscle by itself,” says Jonathan Ross, C.P.T., senior consultant on personal training for the American Council on Exercise. “But with the absence of training stimulus to maintain that muscle mass, you would see it go away.” And that’s a problem, because muscle mass boosts your metabolism and keeps your body strong and mobile as you get older.

Related: 6 Ways Building Muscle Benefits Your Health And Well-Being

Certain types of exercise temporarily boost testosterone during, and for a short period after, your workout, says Ross. Even though this temporary boost subsides after a few hours, your body is generally able to maintain some of the muscle-supporting benefits after that, he says. And the body you’ve worked your whole life to build will thank you for that.

Testosterone isn’t the only hormone affected by hitting up the gym, though. Some exercises also result in a temporary increase in human growth hormone (HGH), says Childs, which, like testosterone, promotes muscle growth and the reduction of body fat. Another plus for your muscles!

The Best Types of Exercise for Boosting Testosterone

There are two kinds of exercise that’ll give you a T boost: heavy resistance training and very intense, explosive plyometric training (quick, coordinated movements like box jumps), says Ross. He recommends guys who are dealing with declining testosterone work out four to five times a week, alternating days of strength training and plyometric routines.

As far as specific exercises go, it’s all about training the muscles “between your hips and pits,” says Ross. Think squats, deadlifts, lunges, bench presses, and rows. “You’re going to get a bigger temporary testosterone boost from exercises that work bigger muscles, like those in your torso and thighs,” he says. Sure, you can work on your biceps, triceps, and calves, but consider it optional.

Related: Shop popular testosterone boosters, like Nugenix

That said, how many hours you log in the gym isn’t as important. It’s totally normal that as you get older you’re not able to train quite as hard or long as you could in your 20s—and that you’ll need more recovery time between workouts. Plus, if you go overboard on training, you can really sabotage your body’s ability to recover, which can lead to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, says Ross. Over time, cortisol can mess with sleep and spur weight gain, totally counteracting the body-building benefits of testosterone and HGH, according to a study published in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice.

The most important aspects of your fitness regimen are consistency and intensity. “You can pick very demanding exercises and just do them for 15 minutes,” says Ross. “Even that will trigger a response in the body.” Choose weights you can lift for a few sets of between four and eight reps to reap the maximum benefit, he says. According to a review published in Sports Medicine, lifting at maximum intensity for about six reps has consistently demonstrated greater impacts on testosterone than lifting a more moderate weight.

The Bottom Line

Declining testosterone is natural with age, so don’t feel like you need to go crazy trying to replenish it, Ross says. After all, your body knows what it’s doing. “If you use biological triggers [like exercise] to maintain your testosterone, your body will respond,” he says. “If you tell your body, ‘Hey, I need to move on a regular basis,’ it maintains its ability to move well.” So, go on, take your T into your own hands!

Related: Help your body recover and rebound from tough workouts with a recovery supplement.

5 Foods and Drinks That Are Zapping Your Energy

We all know the ‘food coma’ feeling that hits after scarfing down a ginormous meal. But even if you’re not diving into a meal of massive proportions, there are some foods that definitely leave you with way less energy than you had before eating. Here, learn about the most common energy-draining foods and drinks—and how to adjust your grub to avoid that post-nosh slump.

1. White Bread + Pasta

While carbs are absolutely delish, they’re one of the biggest culprits of food coma. That’s because refined carbs (found in white bread and pasta) are more easily absorbed by your digestive system than whole grains, explains Meg Hagar, R.D., founder of No Diet Nutrition in New York City. What that means: Your blood sugar spikes, giving you an energy boost after eating—followed by a rapid crash When your blood sugar rises quickly, your body churns out the hormone insulin to bring it down ASAP—so the lower your blood sugar, the more pooped you’ll feel.

What you can do: Swap the white stuff for whole-wheat pasta or bread, which are higher in fiber. Fiber helps slow down digestion, keeping your blood sugar—and your energy—more stable.

You can also try pairing bread or pasta with protein and healthy fats to slow down the energy-zapping effects of a high-carb meal. “When you eat carbs at the same time as protein and healthy fats, that’s the trifecta,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N. Like fiber, protein and healthy fats help keep your blood sugar levels steady. So, next time you make pasta, try mixing in chicken (for protein) and olive oil or avocado (for healthy fats).

2. Candy Bars + Soda

Sometimes that afternoon trip to the vending machine is unavoidable. But you may want to pass on buying anything too sweet. Sugar is a type of refined carb, so candy or soda will have the same effect on your bod as white bread or a bagel, says Stephanie McKercher, R.D.N., of The Grateful Grazer. We meet again, sugar crash!

What you can do: Unlike carbs—which definitely have a place in your diet, as long as they’re of the whole-grain variety—sugar is not as beloved by nutritionists. And considering research published in JAMA Internal Medicine identified a significant relationship between eating added sugar and increased risk for heart disease, it’s no wonder why. If you’re a sucker for soda, try swapping your usual can for sparkling water or fruit-infused H2O, McKercher says. (If you haven’t hopped on the La Croix bandwagon, now is your time!).

And instead of grabbing a candy bar, nosh on fruit (like berries) when cravings hit. Yes, fruit does contain sugar, but it’s also a nutrient-dense source of vitamins and minerals, says Hagar.

Related: The 5 Fruits With The Most (And Least!) Sugar

3. High-Fat Foods

When it comes to fried food and fatty meats, it’s not just the food itself that makes you sleepy—it’s the amount you’re eating, says McKercher. Think about it: When you have a juicy burger and a pile of French fries in front of you, are you really going to stop yourself after just a few bites? (If so, kudos to you and your willpower of steel.)

In general, big portions  make you feel sleepy because your body needs to focus on digesting it all, says Hagar. Plus, since fats are harder for your body to break down, having a large, fat-filled meal means double the exhaustion, adds Taub-Dix.

What you can do: It’s all about portion control for this one. In general, try to stick to three ounces of protein and the carb equivalent of two slices of bread in any one meal, says Taub-Dix. (Your individual portion needs may vary depending on whether you’re trying to lose, maintain, or gain weight and how much you exercise, but this is a good rule of thumb if you have trouble keeping portions in check when eating out.) The USDA recommends keeping vegetable oils (which are often used to fry food) to a tablespoon a day. What does that mean for your fries? Try to keep your portion to about the size of your fist, says Hagar.

4. Tart Cherries

This one may come as a bit of a surprise. But if you’re looking for something to snack or sip on, tart cherries (or tart cherry juice) may not be the most energy-friendly bet. Why? “Tart cherries are one of the few natural sources of melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep-wake cycles,” says McKercher. Hence why tart cherry juice is actually used as a natural sleep aid. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that older adults with chronic insomnia who sipped eight ounces of tart cherry juice for two weeks slept spent less time lying awake in bed than participants who downed a placebo drink.

What you can do: Have trouble sleeping? Try drinking a glass of tart cherry juice about a half hour to 45 minutes before bed, says McKercher. Just don’t do it in the middle of the afternoon…

5. Decaf Green Tea + Chamomile Tea

You probably associate green tea with that a subtle, steady buzz—but that’s only if you drink the caffeinated stuff. Decaf green tea, though, may actually prep you for nap-time. The culprit: the amino acid L-theanine, which promotes relaxation and calm, McKercher says. Other teas like chamomile and peppermint (both of which are caffeine-free) also have soothing properties, and may be too snooze-friendly for midday sips, says Taub-Dix. Chamomile, in particular, has been used for centuries to calm nerves and support sleep, according to research published in Molecular Medicine Reports.

What you can do: People are affected differently by soothing teas—some can have a mug of chamomile at midday no problem, while others feel sloth-like afterward. That said, Taub-Dix does often suggest drinking a glass of chamomile or peppermint tea during the day to keep gas at bay and promote easy digestion. But if you find yourself getting sleepy after your mug, you may want to keep the herbal tea drinking to pre-bedtime—reaching for a caffeinated bag during working hours.

Related: Check out a number of supplements to support energy.


Keep this infographic handy for the next time you’re feeling inexplicably sluggish: 

7 Gym-Related Skin Issues—And How To Deal

Working out is great for your bod—but it can really do a number on your skin. From uncomfortable chafing to back breakouts, chances are you’ve dealt with your share. While some sweat-related skin conditions are just annoying, others can be more serious—like herpes or staph infections. Not good.

Here, find out what causes some of the most common gym-related skin conditions, and how to prevent and treat them.

  1. Heat Rash

When you feel super itchy mid-run, you might be breaking out in a heat rash (don’t worry too much, though—it’s irritating, but it’s common). “This pink, bumpy rash can develop on the neck and body when working out in a super-hot environment, whether it’s outdoors or in a spin class without air conditioning,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California. How exactly does heat rash happen? Your hair follicles become inflamed by sweat that gets trapped beneath them, explains board-certified dermatologist Esta Kronberg, M.D.

The fix: If you’re sprouting bumps, move to a cooler area and apply a cool compress (like a cold, wet washcloth) to relieve the irritation, says Shainhouse. “If the rash is very itchy and uncomfortable, apply a thin layer of hydrocortisone cream twice a day for a couple of days,” she adds. It’s also a good idea to skip the gym until the rash heals—sorry!

  1. Body Acne

Bacne is a total pain in the you-know-what—and it can rear its ugly head after an intense training session. Body acne (which most commonly pops up on the chest, back, and butt), usually makes an appearance when you wear super-tight spandex gym clothes that aren’t breathable and lock in moisture, says Shainhouse. Why the breakouts? When you exercise, the glands in your body start secreting sweat—and then the sweat builds up in your hair follicles and clogs them, explains Kronberg.

The fix: Step one: Make sure you change out of your sweaty workout gear ASAP after you exercise, says Shainhouse. Then, shower right away and use an anti-bacterial body wash that contains benzoyl peroxide, suggests Kronberg. (Look for a cleanser with 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide—anything stronger may just cause further irritation.)

If an immediate shower isn’t in the cards, wipe down your acne-prone areas with a salicylic acid towelette, says Shainhouse. (Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that exfoliates dead skin cells that build up, clog pores, and cause zits.) Skincare products may contain anywhere from 0.5 to 2 percent salicylic acid. These 2 percent Clearasil Rapid Action Pads make for a strong acne-fighting option.

Related: 4 Possible Reasons Why You’re Still Breaking Out As An Adult

  1. Chafing

Many a gym goer is familiar with this pesky issue. “When skin rubs against itself or clothing, it can chafe, leaving it pink and sore,” says Shainhouse. Ouch! Chafing usually occurs around the armpits, inner thighs, and under sports bra straps and bands, says Shainhouse. But it can also happen around your ankles if your shoes aren’t snug enough!

The fix: Say goodbye to shirts, leggings, and sports bras that are too restricting. “Make sure that all clothing fits and that you don’t feel any rubbing during movements like swinging your arms,” says Shainhouse. You can also apply a thin layer of Vaseline or coconut oil before working out to reduce friction in those trouble zones, says Shainhouse. If you sweat a lot, she recommends applying an absorbent, like Zeasorb Super Absorbent Powder, to dry skin.

If you do experience chafing, you can use an OTC cortisone cream to ease irritation, says Kronberg. She also recommends slathering on a fragrance-free lotion to keep the area moist and to curb any further friction. (Fragrance may cause irritation, so it’s best to avoid scented moisturizers if your skin has chafed.)

Related: 12 Health And Beauty Uses For Coconut Oil

  1. Sunburn

It makes sense that you’d want to take your workout to the park when the weather is nice—but just be mindful of the sun! “Working out outdoors—including walking, running, swimming, or bike riding—leaves your skin vulnerable to damage by the sun’s UV rays,” says Shainhouse.

The fix: Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher 30 minutes before heading outside, says Kronberg. Look for a sunscreen that’s ‘non-comedogenic’ or that’s specially formulated for acne-prone facial skin. You’ll need to reapply every two hours—or more frequently if you swim or get sweaty, so keep the SPF handy.

If possible, try to avoid getting your sweat on outdoors during peak sun hours (11 A.M. through 3 P.M.), advises Shainhouse. And try to stay as covered up as possible—that means no shirtless runs, adds Kronberg. All fabrics offer some sun protection, and there are even special workout clothes (labeled ‘UPF’) that offer UV protection.

Sometimes even the most diligent of sunscreen users get a burn, though. Taking an OTC anti-inflammatory and applying emu oil or a one-percent cortisone lotion may help soothe the pain, says Kronberg. Wait, emu oil? Kronberg likes this out-of-the-ordinary oil for sunburn because it moisturizes the skin and contains omega-3 fatty acids, which support immune health. (A 2013 study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that emu oil could be useful when dealing with itchy or irritated skin.)

  1. Athlete’s Foot

So you forgot to put your flip flops in your gym bag—and now you have to shower sans sandals. Sounds like NBD, right? Er, not quite. “If you walk around the gym changing room, pool area, or showers barefoot, you may pick up fungus from other people’s feet,” says Shainhouse. Athlete’s foot is marked by dry white scales on the sides and bottom of your feet or mushy white skin between your toes, explains Shainhouse. “Once it gets into your toenails—leaving them thick, yellow, and crumbly—it can be harder to treat,” she says.

The fix: This one’s a no-brainer, but it’s worth repeating: Always wear flip flops around the locker room, says Kronberg. If you notice any of the symptoms we mentioned above, make an appointment with your derm. You’ll likely need to use a prescription anti-fungal cream twice a day for three weeks or so until the infection goes away, says Kronberg.

  1. Herpes

Yep, it’s possible to catch an STD at the gym, says Kronberg. More specifically, we’re talking about the herpes simplex one virus (HSV-1), which is transmitted orally and most often causes cold sores around the mouth. Think about it: If someone touches their cold sore and then puts their hands on a mat, then they’ve just transferred the germs, leaving you susceptible to coming into contact with them, says Kronberg.

The fix: We know this sounds freaky, but a few easy protective moves can reduce your risk. If you’re taking a yoga or Pilates class, consider bringing your own mat. If you have to rent a mat from the gym, or will be using other gym equipment or machines, wipe everything down with a disinfectant wipe before you get started. (Dispensers are pretty much all over the place in most gyms.)

Once you have HSV-1, it stays in your symptoms for the rest of your life. The good news is that prescription meds can knock out an outbreak pretty quickly, says Kronberg.

  1. Staph Infection

Thought only people in hospitals contracted staph infections? Not the case. “Staph bacteria lives on our skin and is easily transferred to shared gym equipment,” says Shainhouse. “If you have any open cuts or sores on your skin that come into contact with that bacteria, you can develop a localized staph infection, called an abscess or boil.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, these abscesses are often warm to the touch, full of pus, and accompanied by a fever. (And yep, it’s pretty much as unpleasant as it sounds.) Methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus (MRSA), a common type of staph infection that is resistant to some antibiotics, is one you should be especially aware of, says Kronberg. The infection often looks like a really bad spider bite, so people may not realize it’s actually a staph infection.

The fix: Preventing a staph infection isn’t complicated. Just cover up any open sores while you’re at the gym and be sure to wash your hands really well—preferably while showering after you work out, says Shainhouse. The thing is, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when left untreated, MRSA can be deadly.

That’s why it’s critical to book it to your M.D. immediately if you think you might have MRSA, says Kronberg. In addition to starting a course of antibiotics to treat the infection, you may need to have any abscesses lanced by your doc if they don’t go away on their own, says Shainhouse.

Related: Shop supplements to support your immune system.