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, though. 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: 

 

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 limiting it to 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 amout 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.

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

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.

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.” 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 considerably 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, she says.

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).

And 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.

4 Possible Reasons Why Your Stomach Is Killing You All The Time

Tummy troubles: We all have them from time to time. But while a bout of gas, cramps, or diarrhea every now and then (hello, late-night junk food!) isn’t usually cause for alarm, what if your pain is a regular thing? Not only is it seriously uncomfortable—it could signal a deeper issue.

Here are the four most common causes of persistent stomach pain, along with moves for potential relief. Just keep in mind that each of the following conditions needs to be diagnosed by a doc, and treatments vary.

  1. You Have Lactose Intolerance

Your favorite dairy products (looking at you, cheese) contain lactose, a sugar that needs to be broken down in your small intestine by an enzyme called lactase.“If you have lactose intolerance, you were either born without or at some point lost the enzyme that breaks down lactose,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. “If you don’t have that enzyme, the sugar lactose molecule ferments and creates bacteria—and a lot of gas—in the gut.” What that means for you: You might experience severe abdominal bloating, explosive diarrhea, and even nausea after noshing on some cheddar Jack or ice cream. Fun times.

Not all lactose intolerance is created equal, though—it varies by individual. “Some people can handle cheese but not ice cream or milk,” says Sonpal. The fix may be as simple as taking a lactase supplement with your meals—or you may find you need to quit dairy altogether.

As far as dairy alternatives go, Sofia Sanchez, R.D., nutritionist and co-founder of Ubuntu Fitness, is a big fan of almond milk, since its calcium levels are pretty similar to cow’s milk. (An average cup of almond milk contains about 400 milligrams of calcium, while a cup cow’s milk contains somewhere around 300 milligrams.) Coconut milk is another popular option, but Sanchez points out that coconut-based products are high in fat, and should be used in moderation.

If you cut dairy out completely, it’s a good idea to supplement with a multivitamin, since you won’t be getting the calcium or vitamin D found in milk, says David Bernstein, M.D., chief of hepatology at Northwell Health’s Sandra Atlas Bass Center for Liver Diseases in Manhasset, New York. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends adults get 600 IUs of vitamin D per day—a number many Americans fall short of—and either 1,000 milligrams (men) or 1,200 milligrams (women) of calcium per day.

  1. You Have Acid Reflux

Feeling the burn in your muscles after a workout? Awesome. Feeling the burn in your chest after eating a spicy meal? Er, not so much. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) happens when stomach acid flows back into your esophagus, causing irritation. The thing is, while your stomach has a lining that protects it from acid, your poor ol’ esophagus does not, says Bernstein. Hence the discomfort and pain.

And when you have GERD, “the sphincter at the end of the esophagus that controls the passage of food to the stomach is too loose,” says Sonpal. This ineffective barrier is what causes the dreaded burning in your chest—but people with GERD may also deal with gas, bloating, hoarseness, and a sore throat, says Sonpal.

While occasional reflux is NBD, it may threaten your health when it occurs regularly. “Daily reflux for five to 10 years can put you at risk for cancer,” says Sonpal, so managing the condition is definitely important. The first line of treatment against acid reflux is making a lifestyle (a.k.a. diet) change, says Bernstein. “You want to avoid foods that are acidic,” he says. Beyond that, reflux can usually be controlled with OTC drugs as needed.

Related: 10 Possible Reasons Why You’re Suddenly So Bloated

The most common trigger foods are tomatoes, chocolate, red wine, peppermint, red meat, and caffeine, says Sonpal. (You know, all the good stuff.) In addition to avoiding these foods, people with reflux shouldn’t eat within at least four hours of bedtime, says Bernstein. When you lay down, it’s easier for that stomach acid to creep back up into your esophagus. Sleeping with your head propped up at a 45-degree angle can also help ward off nighttime discomfort, he suggests.

Even losing weight can help with GERD. “The number one risk factor for acid reflux is obesity,” says Sonpal. (According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, weight gain exacerbates symptoms.) Just another reason to clean up your kitchen and get moving.

  1. You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Although irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is super-common (anywhere from 25-45 million Americans have it, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders), it’s still hard to treat, says Bernstein.

“When you have IBS, your stomach either contracts too much or doesn’t at all,” he says. So you’ll likely find yourself alternating between bouts of diarrhea and constipation—as well as experiencing bloating and discomfort.

Sonpal says stress has a lot to do with the disease. “A lot of IBS is due to emotional, traumatic, and stress-related conditions,” says Bernstein. Think of the condition as an increased response to stress in the gut.

Treatments typically involve lifestyle modifications, says Bernstein. Your doc will help you identify which trigger foods you should avoid, and suggest you steer clear of alcohol (which can trigger symptoms), up your fiber intake (to help keep your bowel movements regular), and cut down on stress. Sanchez suggests getting fiber from fruits and veggies—not packaged foods, since processed food products may contribute to symptoms.

Related: 12 Natural Ways To Kick Your Stress To The Curb

For some, following a low-FODMAP diet can ease IBS-related stomach pain, says Sanchez.

FODMAPs are a group of sugars found in certain foods, including dairy, wheat, legumes, and some fruits, according to Stanford University Medical Center. Low-FODMAP foods include bananas, carrots, fish, chicken, and almonds.

Everyone is different, however, so what works for one person won’t necessarily be the answer for another, says Bernstein. And sometimes, an IBS treatment that used to get the job done stops working, so you’ll need to try something else—which is why the disorder has a reputation for being so tricky.

  1. You Have a Peptic Ulcer

There are two types of peptic ulcers—gastric ulcers, which occur in the stomach and are marked by inflammation, and duodenal ulcers, which occur in the small intestine and are marked by craters that have formed, says Bernstein.

When you have an ulcer, you’ll likely experience severe, feels-like-you’re-going-to-fall-over stomach pain, says Sonpal. If you have a gastric ulcer, you’ll notice worsening stomach pain soon after eating; if you a duodenal ulcer, your stomach pain might actually get better after you eat, but worsen on an empty stomach, says Sonpal.

Related: How To Move On With Your Life When You Have IBS

You’ll most likely notice pain in the middle of your abdomen, and it can feel like a gnawing or shooting sensation, adds Bernstein. Sometimes, you might even vomit or see blood in your stool. (Your stool will look black and tarry, says Sonpal).

There are a few common causes of both types of peptic ulcers, like overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), which reduce the blood clotting action in your body, and an overgrowth of bacteria called H. plyori, which stimulates acid secretions and breaks your stomach’s protective layer, Sonpal says. Unchecked stress can also cause a gastric or duodenal ulcer, says Sonpal.

If your ulcer is due to NSAID use, you’ll obviously need to stop taking them—and you’ll also have to pop antacids until it heals. If it’s caused by H. pylori, you’ll need to take antibiotics in addition to antacids. Meanwhile, a large ulcer requires surgical repair, since it can cause bleeding, say Sonpal.

Since antibiotics can actually wipe out a lot of the healthy bacteria in your gut, you may want to supplement your diet with fermented foods (like sauerkraut and kimchi) and probiotics (like yogurt) because they contain good bacteria, says Sanchez.

Your doc won’t be able to diagnose you based on your symptoms alone, says Bernstein. You’ll need to have an endoscopy (a procedure in which a long, flexible tube with a camera is inserted into your upper GI tract) to find out for sure.

Related: Find the right supplement to support your digestive health.

I Tried Oil Pulling For Two Weeks—Here’s What It’s Like

As someone who has at least one new cavity every time I visit the dentist, I’d been considering adding oil pulling—the ancient practice of swishing an oil in your mouth for about 20 minutes in order to promote oral health—to my daily routine for some time. So, when What’s Good asked me to try out a new oil-pulling mouthwash on the market, I signed up without hesitation.

I was sent The Dirt Oil Pulling Mouthwash (a combo of coconut oil, natural extracts, and essential oils) and asked to swish with it every morning for two weeks straight. Here’s how it all went down.

Mouthwash bottle.JPG
photo: Christina Heiser

It took a few days to get used to oil pulling—but then it became enjoyable.

I’m not much of a morning person, but since I’d heard that oil pulling on a full stomach makes some people feel nauseous, I set my alarm for the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. in order to do it before I got hungry.

At first I was a little put off by the strong earthy taste of the mouthwash, which is full of essential oils like peppermint, tea tree, and rose, as well as extracts like turmeric and cardamom. After four days, though, my taste buds got used to the flavor and I actually started to like it!

To pass the 20 minutes, I’d usually just chill in my PJs on my couch. That quiet chunk of time helped me relax—and I noticed that I wasn’t as stressed out later during the day. Maybe there was something to this whole ‘morning person’ thing after all…

Related: 7 Ways To Become A Morning Person

My breath was fresh all day long.

I hate traditional mouthwashes—not only do they dry out my mouth (since most of them contain alcohol), but they also tend to leave a funky aftertaste that makes my nose burn a bit. But that wasn’t the case with this coconut oil-based mixture. My breath felt fresh for hours without any of the artificial ickiness I had come to associate with mouthwash.

Spoonful.JPG
photo: Christina Heiser

My lips felt softer than they’ve ever been.

As a beauty editor, I’ve known about the moisturizing superpowers of coconut oil for years—and this mouthwash definitely delivered. During my 20 minutes of swishing, a small amount of coconut oil always seeped out onto my lips, and it had a major conditioning effect. Normally, I apply balm throughout the day because my lips tend to get flaky—but as I got into my oil-pulling groove, I noticed I didn’t need to tend to my lips all that much.

Related: 12 Health And Beauty Uses For Coconut Oil

I started paying more attention to my mouth.

Halfway through my oil-pulling experiment, I called April Patterson, D.D.S., a cosmetic and restorative dentist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to find out if there was any scientific evidence that the trend works. Patterson told me that while she’s tried oil pulling before and is a fan, it won’t change your mouth’s pH level—which determines whether bacteria can survive in your mouth. (The higher the pH, the harder it is for bacteria to thrive.)

There are some small-scale studies on oil pulling—which suggest it can help nix stinky breath and help keep some bacteria at bay—but larger studies are needed to support its effectiveness.

Still, Patterson pointed out that patients of hers who oil pull tend to pick up better dental habits across the board. “When people oil pull, they often become more attuned to their mouths,” Patterson told me. “They start doing a better job brushing and flossing.” And that’s exactly what happened to me.

While I’d listened to my own dentist extol the virtues of brushing for a full two minutes twice a day (and flossing at least once a day) time and time again, I always used to rush through the process without much care. Oil pulling for those 20 minutes each morning forced me to really think about what was going on in my mouth. For example, I realized just how much tartar buildup I have on my bottom teeth—which I could’ve easily gotten rid of before it hardened if I had just brushed and flossed as much as I was supposed to. And that’s why I plan to keep up with my new oil-pulling habit—although probably not every day, to be honest, because I just love sleep too much.

Since dedicating such a large amount of time to my morning swish, I’ve found it a whole lot easier to hit the two-minute mark with my toothbrush. After all, compared to 20 minutes, two feels like a breeze. And that in itself is good news for my mouth.

Related: Check out a number of oral-care products for a happy mouth.

What Can You Really Do About Stretch Marks?

Many of us—guys and gals alike—have stretch marks. And although they’re so common, they can be pretty frustrating—especially when you’re getting ready for a summer of swimsuits.

“Stretch marks are pink, red, or purple indented streaks that most commonly appear on the abdomen, breasts, upper arms, buttocks, and thighs,” says Fayne L. Frey, M.D., a dermatologist in West Nyack, New York. If you have ‘em, you know exactly what we’re talking about.

Why We Get Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are caused by the breaking of elastin and collagen in the dermis (the thick layer of tissue below the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin) when your skin stretches quickly, says Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., a dermatologist in Beverly Hills. (Elastin is a connective tissue found in the skin that allows it to stretch and bounce back, while collagen is a protein found all over the body that basically acts as your skin’s support structure —not only strengthening your skin, but keeping it smooth-looking.)

There are a number of reasons these marks might show up on your skin. For one, stretch marks are genetic, Shainhouse says. So if your parents have them, you’re more likely to develop them, too.

First noticed stretch marks as a teen? That’s because they often form on both guys and girls during quick growth spurts, says Esta Kronberg, M.D., a dermatologist in Houston. They can also pop up during pregnancy, after quick weight gain, because of hormone abnormalities, and even as a result of lots of exercise, says Kronberg.

One such stretch mark-causing hormonal disorder is Cushing’s syndrome (which is marked by excess levels of the stress hormone cortisol), explains Frey. According to the Mayo Clinic, cortisol which is pumped out by your adrenal glands, weakens elastic fibers in your skin, making it easier for stretch marks to form.

Related: Could You Have Adrenal Fatigue?

And, yes, you heard us right—your stretch marks might also be an unexpected result of your dedication to the gym. You can be fit and have stretch marks. “They are fairly common in bodybuilders, who develop significant muscle mass over a short period,” says Shainhouse, noting that stretch marks caused by muscle growth are often seen in the biceps.

Are Stretch Marks Permanent?

If you have stretch marks—wherever they are—you’ve probably wondered: Is there anything you can to do to get rid of ‘em? Eventually most stretch marks fade to white or gray, but they rarely disappear completely, says Frey. Womp. That being said, there are a few treatments that may help minimize their appearance.

One option: pulsed dye laser treatment. This non-invasive, relatively painless laser treatment takes just a few minutes per session and can be very effective, says Kronberg.

The procedure uses a concentrated beam of light to target blood vessels, according to the Baylor College of Medicine. “Pulsed dye lasers can help reduce the color [of stretch marks] more quickly,” says Shainhouse.

Many patients begin to see results in two to four sessions, says Kronberg, who recommends sessions on a biweekly or monthly basis.

Just keep in mind that this is a cosmetic treatment, so you’ll have to pay out of pocket. According to the online cosmetic surgery community RealSelf.com, the average cost of a pulsed dye laser session comes in around $800 (although price may vary by location). Kronberg recommends seeing a dermatologist who specializes in cosmetic treatments for the procedure instead of visiting a spa.

Related: 15 Natural Ways To Hang On To That Youthful Glow

Another in-office treatment: microdermabrasion. While this one might lessen the appearance of stretch marks, it’s not a given. “Microdermabrasion is used to gently remove the top layers of skin with the hopes of stimulating underlying collagen formation,” says Frey —“but little scientific evidence exists showing the efficacy of this treatment.” (Remember: When collagen breaks, it can leave behind stretch marks.)

As far as at-home options go, lotions with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid are your best bet, because they stimulate collagen, says Kronberg. Topical retinoids also stimulate collagen, says Kronberg. But they can be irritating—and may only work on new stretch marks that are less than a few months old, adds Frey.  Your best bet is going to the derm, since a prescription product will have higher-strength ingredients than anything you’d find at a drugstore, says Kronberg.

Stick with your treatment option of choice for three months, suggests Kronberg. If after three months nothing has changed and your stretch marks haven’t faded, it’s likely a sign they’ll pretty much stick around for good.

The bottom line: We’re all about embracing the skin we’re in—but of course, if you’re unhappy or frustrated with how your skin looks, talk with your derm to weigh your options. Otherwise, we say flaunt what you’ve got—stretch marks and all! After all, summer only lasts so long, and you deserve to enjoy every moment of it.

Related: Check out a number of body care products to pamper your skin with.

5 Natural Sources of Caffeine—Other Than Coffee

For many of us, sipping a cup (or two) of Joe in the morning is necessary before we can take on the day. Thanks for the buzz, caffeine!

How exactly does our daily java get us going, though? “Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant,” says Jennifer Stagg, naturopathic physician and author of Unzip Your Genes: 5 Choices to Reveal a Radically Radiant You. It’s a very mild diuretic (meaning it’ll cause you to pee more frequently than you normally do), and it also increases your heart rate and blood pressure for a time, she says.

And, yes, it may also help you focus and charge through whatever’s on your plate. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that caffeine helped athletes concentrate and perform better when they hadn’t slept well.

Coffee isn’t the only natural source of caffeine, though. “Caffeine is found in a variety of plant species, including tea leaves,” explains Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., author of Read It Before You Eat It. Your average mug of brew contains about 100 to 120 milligrams of caffeine—and Stagg recommends capping your daily intake at 400 milligrams. Too much of the stuff might mess with your ticker, potentially causing issues like heart palpitations, Stagg says.

Related: Let’s Clear The Air About Caffeine

If you’re not a huge fan of coffee but still crave that jolt, here are a few buzz-worthy alternatives.

  1. Dark Chocolate (20 milligrams per one-ounce serving)

As if you needed another reason to snack on chocolate, right? Just go for the dark stuff, which contains more caffeine than milk varieties, because it contains fewer ingredients and more cocoa, says Stagg.

Plus, cocoa contains flavanol antioxidants, which help your body fight off free radicals and can support brain health and cognitive function, according to a study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. Bonus points!

  1. Green Tea (30-45 milligrams per eight-ounce serving)

Chances are, you’ve already heard all about green tea’s awesome health benefits. One study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the polyphenols (a.k.a. compounds containing antioxidant properties) in this herbal tea might help protect against heart disease and some cancers.

  1. Black Tea (40-60 milligrams per eight-ounce serving)

Like green tea, black tea contains antioxidant-rich polyphenols—but black tea contains more caffeine, says Stagg. The best thing about black tea? There are plenty of varieties (we’ll be enjoying a cup of Earl Grey, ourselves…).

  1. Guarana Seeds (47 milligrams per gram)

You’ve probably seen guarana listed as an ingredient in energy drinks—and that’s because it’s one of the more powerful natural caffeine sources out there. The extract used for these drinks actually comes from an Amazonian fruit. Its seeds contain about four times the caffeine as coffee beans, according to a study published in PLOS One. Who knew!

  1. Yerba Mate Tea (85 milligrams per eight-ounce serving)

Yerba mate, a tea that originally found popularity in South America, is now available at health food stores all over the place. This rather bitter tea also happens to pack more caffeine than you’ll find in other teas, says Stagg. Plus, a review published in Nutrients identified a number of health perks associated with yerba mate consumption, including healthy cholesterol and blood sugar support.

Related: Find a tea for every need.

Keep this infographic handy for the next time you need a caffeine boost: 

5 sources of caffeine.jpg

 

9 Natural Ways To Nix Bad Breath

We’ve all had a case (or two) of stinky breath—and there are plenty of possible reasons for it, from what you eat to the meds you take. But you shouldn’t just reach for any ol’ bottle of mouthwash to mask the issue. A lot of them are chock full of alcohol, which can actually cause bad breath.

Alcohol dries out your mouth and decreases your saliva flow—which allows for bacteria and bad breath to flourish, says Jonathan Levine, D.M.D., associate professor of NYU School of Dentistry.

So, what should you do to freshen up? Try one of these nine natural solutions for curbing a case of dragon breath.

toothbrush

  1. Brush and Floss Your Teeth on the Regular

Yeah, we know you’ve heard this a hundred times. That’s because it’s important. Simply committing to this habit could have a major impact on your breath. “When you think about the health of the mouth, gingivitis—which is inflammation—is directly related to halitosis [a.k.a. bad breath],” says Levine. “The same bacteria that cause inflammation in the mouth produce the sulfur compound that causes bad breath.”

To stop plaque buildup and stinky breath, make sure you brush for two minutes twice a day—and floss once a day. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends holding your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your gums and gently moving your brush back and forth using short strokes.

“Electric toothbrushes are helpful because they do a better job of removing plaque,” says Levine. Flossing helps nix plaque in hard-to-reach places, like between teeth and in the back of your mouth.

Related: 7 Possible Reasons Why You Have Dragon Breath

water

  1. Drink More Agua

You know how we told you that a lack of saliva could create the perfect environment for bad bacteria to hang out? Upping your intake of H20 can also help take care of that. Water stimulates saliva production, so even if you think you’re drinking enough water, drink some more, says Levine.

There’s even an International Journal of Dental Hygiene study to prove that a glass of water in the morning can reduce bad breath—so keep a glass on your nightstand!

coconut oil

  1. Hop on the Oil-Pulling Trend

Swap out your old alcohol-drenched mouthwash for an ingredient that’s probably already in your pantry: coconut oil. Swish one to two tablespoons of coconut oil in your mouth for about 15 minutes when you wake up, says Rebeccca Lee, R.N., a New York City-based nurse and creator of Remedies for Me. Just don’t swallow! When you’re done, spit the oil into the garbage, rinse your mouth with warm water, and brush your chompers as usual. Lee suggests doing this morning ritual—called ‘oil pulling’—two or three times a week.

Here’s how it works: “Coconut oil contains lauric acid and produces monolaurin [a fatty acid] when digested,” says Lee. Both lauric acid and monolaurin fight against harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungus, she explains. Coconut oil, FTW.

fruits veggies

  1. Munch on Crunchy Fruits and Veggies

Eating acidic foods—such as beef, cheese, and eggs—lowers the pH level of your mouth, which makes it easier for bacteria to thrive. And that can lead to some seriously rank odor. Levine says the best diet for your breath is one that includes lots of fruits and veggies, which have a higher pH and can keep your mouth balanced.

But it goes beyond that. Consider raw fruits and vegetables—like celery and cucumbers—nature’s toothbrush, says Lee. Their crunchy, fibrous nature helps to physically clean your teeth surfaces when you chew, she says.

cinnamon

  1. Sweeten Up with Cinnamon

Have a sweet tooth? The essential oils in cinnamon can help give your breath a boost.

“The spice contains a component called aldehyde, which is great at keeping noxious bacteria at bay,” Lee says.

Research presented at the International Association for Dental Research found that the cinnamon gum worked way better at killing bacteria in the mouth than non-flavored gum, axing 40 percent of the types of bacteria related to bad breath. So the next time you buy a pack of gum, go for one naturally flavored with cinnamon.

herbs

  1. Chew on Herbs

Nix artificially-flavored breath mints: Chomping on herbs like thyme or peppermint may have some positive effects on your breath. “Chewing on herbs stimulates bacteria-fighting saliva,” says Lee. Not to mention, these aromatic, flavorful plans also contain chlorophyll, which is a natural deodorizer, she says.

fennel seeds

  1. Suck on Fennel Seeds

Yet another ingredient that can put bad breath in its place? Fennel seeds! The phenolic compounds found in these seeds (and many other plants) help to fight bacteria and the bad breath that follows, says Lee. Plus, it also contains a compound called anethole, which relaxes the stomach, helping to prevent gas and odors that come from down under, too.

ACV

  1. Take a Shot of Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a super-popular natural go-to for many reasons, bad breath relief being one of them. Halitosis is sometimes caused by GI issues like lactose intolerance or heartburn and ACV can support digestion, says Lee. Plus, the acetic acid that forms in the vinegar through the fermentation process—which gives apple cider vinegar its unique smell and taste—is another bacteria fighter, she says. Down a teaspoon or two of straight-up ACV once a day—or mix it into a mug of tea or glass of sparkling water.

tongue

  1. Clean Your Tongue

That white coating you sometimes see on your tongue is actually the build-up of bad bacteria, says Levine. And as you’re now well aware, bacteria wreak havoc on your breath. Luckily, you can get rid of it pretty easily with a tongue scraper. Start at the back of your tongue and pull the tool forward, recommends the ADA. Then brush your teeth as usual!

Related: Check out a number of oral care products for a happier mouth.

Could You Be At Risk For Metabolic Syndrome?

When it comes to your health, caring for your ticker should be a top priority. After all, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is responsible for a whopping one in three deaths in the United States. And it turns out there’s a scary-sounding condition—metabolic syndrome—that could increase your risk for serious issues in the heart department.

Want to show that vital beating organ the love it deserves? Brush up on your knowledge of metabolic syndrome, and learn how to curb your risk of developing it.

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

“Metabolic syndrome is a combination of conditions that directly increase the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and stroke,” says Sindhu Koshy, M.D., a cardiologist with Ascension/Crittenton Hospital in Rochester, Michigan.

Yep, metabolic syndrome actually refers to five not-so-great health factors—increased abdominal weight, high triglycerides, low HDL (a.k.a. “good” cholesterol), high blood pressure, and high blood sugar—that, together, can cause major health problems, says Koshy.

You’re more likely to develop these individual conditions if you’re obese and inactive, says Matthew Budoff, M.D., professor of medicine at the division of cardiology at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Koshy notes that your risk increases as you age, too.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Determining whether or not you have metabolic syndrome can be done via blood testing and other evaluations at your doc’s office. The thing is, none of the conditions that contribute to metabolic syndrome have outward symptoms, says Budoff, so you may not be aware that something’s wrong.

For starters, find out if you have a family history of these issues. “If your family members had diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or cardiovascular disease, you are at higher risk,” says Koshy.

To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you need to exhibit three or more of the following measurements, per the AHA:

Abdominal obesity: a waist circumference of more than 40 inches in men or 35 inches in women

High triglycerides: 150 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) or higher

Low HDL cholesterol: Less than 40 mg/DL in men or less than 50 mg/DL in women

High blood pressure: Top number (systolic blood pressure) of 130 mm Hg or higher, or bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) of 85 mm Hg or higher

High blood sugar: 100 mg/DL or higher

“[Having] just one condition doesn’t mean you have metabolic syndrome,” says Koshy, “but if you have one, you should make sure you are evaluated for the others to learn how to prevent them.”

And while you may not feel sick if you have metabolic syndrome, Koshy says oftentimes your doc will request lab work and measurements to test for these risk factors, so don’t skip out on booking that yearly appointment. If you do get diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you’re definitely not alone.

According to the AHA, about 23 percent of adults in the U.S. have it. Yikes. Once you’re diagnosed, you’ll likely be asked to see your M.D. every three months to check in, but in most cases you can wait longer than that if you’re managing the disease, says Budoff.

What Can You Do to Treat Metabolic Syndrome—and Reduce Your Risk?

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome or your numbers indicate you’re creeping into danger territory, there are a few steps you can take to get your health back on track.

For starters, physical activity is key, as it can help with all five risk factors, says Budoff. He advises patients to get a minimum of 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day three times a week, and to work their way up to more.

Related: This Is The Best Cardio Workout For Weight Loss

Watching your weight is also super-important, says Koshy, who suggests cutting back on sugar, fats, and red meat, as well as upping your intake of fiber, green veggies, and fruits. The USDA recommends eating the following per day: 25 grams of fiber for women and 38 grams of fiber for men; two and a half cups of vegetables for women and three cups of vegetables for men; and one and a half cups of fruit for women and two cups of fruit for men.

Plus, according to Mayo Clinic, foods high in fiber (like fruits and greens) aid in digestion and can help control your blood sugar. Koshy recommends working with a dietitian to help get your healthy eating in order.

Omega-3s, a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid found in fatty fish and some plants, like flax seeds, may also be helpful. Check this out: One review published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine found that higher levels of dietary omega-3 fatty acids helped to lower blood triglyceride levels, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

However, Budoff says that traditional meds are often necessary if lifestyle changes aren’t working. These might include diuretics, beta-blockers, or ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure, or statins for high cholesterol, according to the AHA.

Meanwhile, alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, which lower blood sugar levels, are often prescribed for type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. These will help prevent further complications, like a heart attack or stroke, says Koshy.

Related: Shop a variety of supplements to support a healthy ticker.

All The Things You Didn’t Know Omega-3s Could Do For Your Health

Take a walk down the supplement aisle and you’re bound to see shelves packed with fish oil supplements. That’s because omega-3s, a type of fatty acid found in fish oil, have become a go-to for heart health support. And while you probably already knew omegas were good for your ticker, they have quite a few other benefits, too.

The Omega-3 Basics

Omega-3s are a type of molecule called a polyunsaturated fatty acid. The body can only produce so much on its own—so you need to get these polyunsaturated fatty acids through your diet, too. “There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids, and all are important for good health,” says Kim Melton, R.D., owner of Nutrition Pro Consulting.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are the two most useful kinds of omega-3s. They’re found in salmon, tuna, shrimp, herring, seaweed, and some grass-fed meats, says Melton. The third omega-3, ALA (alpha linolenic acid), is found in plant sources like flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp, kale, and spinach. Since the body can’t produce this one at all, it has to come from food. Your body has to convert ALA into DHA and EPA through a multi-step process before it can use it, says Melton, hence why it gets the bronze medal.

Once in your body, omega-3s play a role in cell membranes and cell receptors, and help produce hormone-like substances that regulate artery function and inflammation, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. The role of omega-3s regarding immune system and inflammatory response may be perhaps most noteworthy, says Myers Hurt, M.D., general physician at Diamond Physicians in Dallas, Texas. And that’s because they suppress inflammatory chemicals within the body.

The Health Benefits of Omega-3s

Omegas offer up plenty of health benefits, from boosting your immune system to supporting your heart health.

Omegas and your heart: Dietary omega-3s can help reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as help support cholesterol and blood pressure, says Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., director of women’s heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

Omega-3s and your immune system: Because they may bolster the body’s productions of immune cells called cytokines, omega-3s may promote immune health. A study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, for example, found that participants with joint issues who took fish oil for eight weeks reported less joint discomfort and stiffness than those who took a placebo.

Related: 7 Reasons Why Your Joints Are Aching—And How To Deal

Omega-3s and your gut: Some researchers suggest that essential fatty acid deficiency may affect gut health because of EFAs’ interactions with immune cells and role in cell membrane structure. (The concept is that EFAs support the gut’s ability to act as a barrier between substances you consume and your bloodstream.) A review of studies published in the World Journal of Clinical Cases concluded that dietary omega-3s may even have some beneficial effects on ulcerative colitis, a condition that causes ulcers in the digestive tract.

Omega-3s and your skin: These essential fatty acids may also support healthy skin, says Steinbaum. In fact, they may calm and soothe skin due to their role in the immune system, according to Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews. However, more research is still needed in this area.

Omega-3s and your brain: Here’s a fun fact we bet you didn’t know: Omega-3s are highly-concentrated in your brain, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Because of this, they play an important role in cognitive and behavioral brain function. One review published in the journal Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity suggests that omega-3s may support mood stability and feelings of wellness. While the study suggests further research, they propose that inadequate omega-3 intake in the Western diet may negatively impact brain function and overall health.

Related: New Study Suggests A Healthy Diet May Help Treat Depression

Considering A Supplement?

Many people don’t get enough from their diet alone—unless they regularly eat a lot of fish or plant sources like flaxseed. Steinbaum recommends talking to your doctor before adding any supplements to your regimen. A blood test can determine if you’re actually deficient in omega-3s.

The typical dosage for an omega-3 fish oil supplement is 1,000 milligrams, with at least 500 milligrams coming from EPA and DHA—though Steinbaum notes that a doc may recommend higher dosages for some individuals.

And if you’re less than thrilled at the thought of fishy burps, Hurt recommends stashing your soft gels in the fridge to help them go down easier.

Related: Find the omega-packed supplement that’s right for you.

Are There Any Legit Health Benefits To Sitting In The Sauna?

If you belong to a gym, chances are you’ve spent some time in the sauna. After all, it feels pretty great to get your heat on after working your muscles hard. Lately, lots of celebrities have been touting the detoxifying, fat-busting, and pain-relieving power of sweating it out in the sauna—but is this too good to be true? We asked experts to weigh in on the hype before you sweat your life away in search of all those benefits.

Can Sitting In The Sauna Help You Lose Weight?

You may have heard through the grapevine that sweating buckets in a sauna could help you drop major pounds—but sadly, this is not an effective weight loss treatment, says Mitchell Rosen, M.D., chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Here’s the theory behind saunas and shedding pounds: “When you’re in hot or cold [environments], there’s a certain amount of work that your body has to do to maintain a normal temperature,” says Rosen. “So you burn some extra energy to keep your body at that normal level.” However, this extra energy expenditure is so minimal that it won’t noticeably influence weight.

Related: Can Drinking Lemon Water Really Help You Lose Weight?

That being said, you’re probably wondering why you might be a pound or two lighter after a long sauna session. While you haven’t lost any actual fat, what you have lost is water. By making you sweat buckets, saunas dehydrate you (a.k.a. deplete you of fluids). “You could make weight if you were on the wrestling team, but that weight would come back very quickly,” says Rosen. “You’re not going to dehydrate yourself to weight loss.” Nor would you want to, considering proper hydration is key for your body to function at its best.

What Benefits Can You Actually Expect from the Sauna?

Saunas may not be the miracle weight loss tool you hoped for, but that doesn’t mean they have zero benefits. Saunas help promote better circulation and improved heart rate, says Svetlana Kogan, M.D., a holistic doctor and author of Diet Slave No More!.

How it works: “Heat increases the heart rate by stimulating a cardiac muscle to contract faster,” explains Kogan. “Circulation is improved by causing vasodilation (widening) of the arterial blood vessels.”

Research also points to a few potential perks of spending time in the sauna. For example, a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that regular sauna treatments improved both the cardiovascular health and exercise ability of patients with chronic heart failure.

That’s not all, though. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that regular sauna use could be effective in helping to improve the function of blood vessel walls (called ‘endothelial function’) of those with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

“Endothelium is the innermost layer of the arteries, which can shrink or expand,” says Kogan. So, better endothelial function means your arteries can stretch to accommodate the same volume of blood, leading to lower blood pressure.

Plus, a 2014 study published in JAMA International Medicine even found an association between frequency of ‘sauna bathing’ and lower risk of fatal cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Saunas may do us good beyond our heart health, too. According to Kogan, the intense heat can help soothe symptoms like muscle soreness and joint pain, making them popular among chronic fatigue and arthritis patients. That’s because heat relaxes muscle fibers, relieving tension and spasms, she says.

Related: Find a supplement to support muscle recovery.

One more major reason to enjoy a good sit in the sauna: You may find yourself in a more warm and fuzzy mood afterward. Saunas have been used since ancient times as a wellness tool by northern societies with lots of cold weather, says Kogan, who notes that many of her patients report a mood boost after a sauna treatment. Similarly, a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that daily sauna sessions improved ratings of relaxation in patients with mild depression.

The good news is there are no harmful effects that can come from spending time in a sauna, says Kogan. Just keep in mind that women shouldn’t use saunas while pregnant in order to avoid the risk of becoming overheated or dehydrated.

Attention All Men Over 30: You’re Leaking Testosterone

Guys, this one’s for you. If you’re tired all the time and just don’t feel like getting it on any more (unlike in the past), you’re not alone—but what gives? It could have to do with testosterone. The hormone plays a huge role in men’s libido and overall health, but it declines with age.

What Is Testosterone—And Why Is It So Important?

Testosterone is the primary sex hormone in men. That means it plays a key role in developing muscle, growing hair, regulating mood, and fueling your sex drive, says Christopher Asandra, M.D., chief medical officer of NuMale and NuFemme, medical centers that specialize in sexual health and treating sexual dysfunction.

Basically, testosterone is what makes men ‘men,’ at least from a physical standpoint—but that’s not all. “Testosterone also influences emotion and behavior—not just in the developing male, but the adult and aging male as well,” says John Robinson, a board-certified naturopathic medical doctor and founder of The Hormone Zone in Scottsdale, Arizona.

We tend to think of testosterone as what makes guys act like jerks, says Robinson, as it plays a role in traits like assertiveness, risk-taking, and competiveness. But it’s not all so stereotypical—recent research also links testosterone with other social behaviors and traits like confidence.

What Happens To Testosterone As You Age?

Once you hit 30, your T-levels start to decline by about one to two percent annually, says Asandra.

After hitting the big 3-0, you may start to experience fatigue, decreased mental clarity, irritability, depression, and decreased muscle mass. “I hear that [last] one a lot,” says Asandra, who notes that a drop in testosterone levels could be to blame for you not being able to lose fat or put on muscle—even if you hit the gym regularly. And, of course, your appetite for sex might start to wane, too: “The frequency and intensity of erections may start to go down,” says Robinson.

Related: 8 Possible Reasons Why You’re So Tired All The Time

What About Testosterone Boosters?

Chances are, you’ve heard about supplements that can help boost your testosterone—but what’s in them, and should you start taking them?

One of the most common ingredients found in testosterone boosters is fenugreek extract. A 2010 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that taking 500 milligrams of fenugreek extract in supplement form had a positive impact on upper and lower-body strength compared to a placebo. (Remember: When your T drops, you may face a loss of muscle mass.)

Two other popular ingredients—vitamins B6 and B12—have been the subject of multiple animal studies. A review out of University College London suggests that B6 plays a role in mediating the action of steroid hormones like testosterone in the body, which may explain why you’ll see it on many supplement ingredient lists.

If you are considering taking a testosterone booster, it’s important to see your doc first, says Asandra. You could be dealing with another medical issue, like diabetes, which may be mimicking the signs of low testosterone. And since some people may need a considerable dose to see an effect, you should also check with your doctor if you take other medications, like blood thinners or antidepressants, before adding it to your supplement regimen.

How Can You Replace Testosterone?

Robinson says boosters tend to work in younger guys, but that once you hit 50 and start to experience an exponential decrease in the hormone, you may need to talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy.

Yep, there are ways your doc can help you actually replace lost testosterone. Both Asandra and Robinson like to use pellets that are placed under the skin and pump out hormones slowly over the course of four to six months. Testosterone injections are another option—but keep in mind that you’ll have to stick yourself with a needle once or twice a week.

Related: Nugenix Natural Testosterone Booster is flying off the shelves.