What Acupuncture Can And Can’t Do For Your Health

While some people shy away from the thought of having dozens of tiny needles inserted into their skin, enthusiasts rave about acupuncture’s potential to promote healing in their bodies—and even their minds. This ancient Chinese form of medicine is now readily available all over the world, but does it actually work?

To support some health issues, yes. There’s actually quite a bit of literature to back up the efficacy of acupuncture for specific concerns, says Dr. Steven Chee, a Los Angeles-based integrative medicine physician who is dual-trained as an MD and an acupuncturist. However, he says, acupuncture isn’t a quick fix, and shouldn’t be thought of as such: “Results are usually cumulative. I generally recommend trying acupuncture at least four times in evaluating acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating any condition.”

If you’re curious whether acupuncture might work for you, here’s what you should know.

What exactly is acupuncture, and how does it work?

Acupuncture’s efficacy is not fully understood, but there are a few theories (some of which are more rooted in philosophy and some more in science).

Acupuncture’s history has its roots in the idea of qi, which, according to proponents of this belief, is a kind of energy within our bodies. To those who believe in qi, acupuncture can help keep it aligned. Small needles are placed at specific points (called de qi), which is said to redirect our energy, promoting our health.

However, if you can’t get around the idea of de qi, and prefer a more scientific approach to understanding acupuncture, then the International Review of Neurobiology may help provide some insight. According to the review, acupuncture is said to work by activating the sensory system—the neurotransmitters, neurohormones, and neuromodulators. This can have an impact on how we feel and perceive pain.

What Acupuncture May Help With

1. Chronic Pain

In an article in JAMA Internal Medicine, which looked at the results of 18,000 patients who used acupuncture versus no or sham acupuncture (which is used in control studies, applied in fake points), found the approach effective in dealing with chronic pain, although the review was clear that its functions aren’t wholly understood.

Even the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that acupuncture can be beneficial for pain treatment, especially in the short term. Dr. Chee says that acupuncture is an especially good option for pain management for people who, based on their health or condition, are not good candidates for surgery.

2. Allergies

Do seasonal allergies get you sniffly, sneezy, and downright miserable? Acupuncture may help, according to a 2015 meta-analysis in the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy. And that’s because acupuncture may be able to modulate the immune system.

Related: Shop allergy  products for all your sniffly, sneezy needs.

Although the frequency of visiting the acupuncturist turns off a lot of people from pursuing acupuncture for allergy relief, Dr. Chee says many people do find profound relief once they try the needles: “It’s when nothing works that allergy sufferers come to acupuncture.” Or, you may want to try acupuncture for allergies in tandem with other methods, as this Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine review suggests.

3. Headaches

Whether you suffer from migraines or the occasional tension headache, acupuncture has been shown to have some efficacy in toning down the discomfort. A 2016 Cochrane review found that acupuncture can help with tension headaches (especially chronic ones). And a study in the journal Headache, found that acupuncture may be at least as effective as conventional drug treatments in preventing migraines.

4. Stress and anxiety

It may be chalked up to a bit of the placebo effect (the actual act of getting acupuncture is pretty relaxing, after all, what with all the lying down in a quiet room), but acupuncture can also help lessen your stress and anxiety levels—and this goes for all kinds of people, from your average 9-5 worker to veterans with PTSD. In fact, auricular acupuncture (acupuncture on the ear) was shown to have a great effect on lessening stress and anxiety and increasing feelings of courage and care, according to a study in Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing.

Another randomized controlled trial, published in Acupuncture in Medicine, found that acupuncture showed promising results on lessening chronic anxiety in people who showed resistance to other forms of therapy.

what Acupuncture May Not Help With…

1. Epilepsy

Although acupuncture is increasingly used for epileptics, a 2014 Cochrane review found little to no evidence that acupuncture could actually help alleviate the symptoms that people with epilepsy experience.

2. Weight Loss

While studies, like one in Evidence-Based Complimentary Medicine, do show that acupuncture may stimulate feelings of satiety (thus eating less), it did not have a direct impact on weight loss.

Related: Shop weight management products to help support your best you. 

3. Alcohol and Drug Dependence

Acupuncture is often used as a complement to traditional drug or alcohol treatment. Unfortunately, the evidence that it helps promote recovery from addiction is not of great quality. A 2014 meta-analysis in the Journal of Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine showed some studies found some positive findings (where it concerned feelings of anxiety), but couldn’t conclude that acupuncture helped physically stop cravings for drugs, especially in cases of opioid dependence.

Evidence aside, if you’re interested in trying acupuncture, Dr. Chee emphasizes that there’s another factor that can profoundly affect whether or not this treatment modality will work for you: the experience and expertise of the acupuncture practitioner you choose. He suggests looking for a practitioner with a state license at the minimum—and a DAOM (doctorate of acupuncture and Oriental medicine) degree if at possible.

Don’t be afraid to ask potential practitioners questions about their experience with your condition, either, says Dr. Chee. Some questions he recommends asking your potential acupuncturist include:

  1. If they have they treated your specific condition before and what types of results have they gotten.
  2. How helpful do they feel acupuncture will be in treating your condition?
  3. How many times do they think you will need to be treated?

3 Ways To Make A Kettlebell Go The Distance

Kettlebells can be traced back to 18th century Russia, where they were used as utilitarian exercise equipment. These days, you can find them almost anywhere, in a huge array of colors and sizes. For good reason, too: Studies show kettlebells make excellent tools for building muscle strength and endurance.

If you’re already a kettlebell devotee, chances are you’ve done your fair share of snatches, get-ups, and swings. But there are a few things you’re probably not doing with your ‘bell that can help make you stronger, fitter, and less injury prone.

1. One-armed movements

You might be sticking to two-handed kettlebell moves, like the Russian swing or the kettlebell row. But unilaterally-loaded movements are a terrific option to try with your trusty kettlebells, says Garnet Henderson, a certified personal trainer and certified corrective exercise specialist in New York City. “Anything you can do with two hands, you can do with one. Chest presses, rows, shoulder presses, and even step-ups.”

Doing these moves with a kettlebell in only one hand will make you work much harder, forcing you to focus more on your control and balance. This video demonstrates:

2. Cardio

Think ‘bells are only for strength? Not so fast. Henderson says that you’re missing out if you’re not using kettlebells in your cardio routine. Instead of doing moves like the classic swing slowly, Henderson says you’ll get the max benefit if you do them as fast as you can. Sets of swings and deadlifts (done quickly) will get your heartrate up and your muscles pumping. Just be sure to stabilize your core and warm up first to prevent any injuries.

Check out this video for an example of how to properly incorporate kettlebells into your cardio routine:

 

3. Holding the kettlebell upside down

If you want to improve your grip strength, control, and balance, holding your ‘bell upside down will definitely add a worthwhile challenge to your workout. Henderson advises that you hold your kettlebell with the bottom up, while balancing the actual bell above the hand. Just be sure to use a lighter kettlebell, since this approach is way, way harder than holding it traditionally by the handle.

Because this move feels so unstable, it’ll recruit different sets of muscle fibers—training your body in new ways. This is a great exercise for anyone hitting a plateau with their ‘bell training. Check out this video for a demonstration:

Note to beginners

If you’re new to these moves, start with lighter weight kettlebells. When to increase weight? “The last one-three reps of your set should be difficult,” Henderson explains, “but you should be able to complete them with proper form. If you aren’t feeling it, you can probably go with more weight, especially if you have good form.”

Hibiscus Isn’t Just A Pretty Face

Hibiscus is a multicolored flower often found in lush, tropical settings and known for its delicate beauty. But hibiscus is so much more than a pretty wedding centerpiece—it also has many notable health-boosting qualities.

Hibiscus contains polyphenols and flavanols that possess antioxidant and cardioprotective activities, explains Dr. Garrett Wdowin, NMD, a naturopathic medical doctor and integrative medicine specialist in Newport Beach, CA. It has long been used in traditional Ayurvedic (an Eastern belief system) medicine to promote good health. Here’s some of what it can do:

Blood pressure and cholesterol

A human and animal study in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that hibiscus extract contains properties that can help promote stable blood pressure. There’s also evidence that hibiscus can support healthy cholesterol and blood glucose levels, according to research in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Just a cup of hibiscus tea daily has shown these benefits, according to the research. Note: If your blood pressure is already low, speak with your doctor before taking hibiscus.

Antioxidant qualities

Like Wdowin says, studies have shown that the hibiscus plant offers key antioxidant properties. In 2014, a review of available scientific evidence in the journal Food Chemistry revealed that hibiscus is rich in phenolic acids (health-supporting micronutrients) and anthocyanins (pigments and flavonoids with health-supporting qualities).

Bonus: When drinking hibiscus tea, you also get a dose of vitamin C (about 46 mg) from the hibiscus leaves, which plays a key role in immune function.

Beauty & skin-care

Increasingly, hibiscus is used as an ingredient in skin-care and beauty products like moisturizers and masks (we recommend the S.W.Basics Hibiscus Mask). That’s because hibiscus brings powerful alpha-hydroxy acids to the table, which can help promote healthy skin.

A 2004 animal study in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology showed that the plant, when used in moisturizers, may also help prevent some of the potential damage from the sun’s UV rays.

Some people also use hibiscus tea as a DIY hair rinse to improve luster, cleanliness, and softness. Want to try it out? Take a hot cup of hibiscus tea, mix with one-third cup of apple cider vinegar, shake, and then apply all over the scalp and hair. You can add essential oils (careful not to get them in your eyes!) for scent, although it’s not necessary. Massage your scalp and move the mixture through your hair. Rinse with warm water after about 15-30 minutes.

Lastly, according to the journal Biomolecules & Therapeutics, hibiscus’ leaf extracts can potentially support hair growth.

Give it a whirl

If you’re eager to try hibiscus, Dr. Wdowin says tea is his favorite way to weave it into your diet, although he notes that people can find hibiscus as a capsulized supplement, as well. Note: While the journal ISRN Gastroenterology says that hibiscus is generally a safe supplement, you will want to speak with your doctor if you have certain medical conditions. For one, hibiscus is generally not recommended to drink if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, says Wdowin.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, hibiscus may decrease blood sugar levels, so take note if you have diabetes. Same goes for people undergoing surgery: Because hibiscus can affect blood sugar, it’s recommended you not take it two weeks before a scheduled surgery.

There is no official dosage recommendation, although most supplements suggest between 250 mg to 800 mg once per day.

What Are The Benefits Of Dandelion Root?

Dandelions are vibrant, charming little flowers. And they’re pretty easy to find in yards or on the side of the road. Chances are, you plucked them and played with them as a child. But did you know this seemingly inconsequential plant yields powerful properties that can potentially boost your health?

Dandelion root (usually in the form of tea, liquid extract, or capsules) has been used for centuries as a health-promoting tool, especially in traditional Native American, Chinese, and Arabic medicine systems. Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, A.P, doctor of Chinese and integrative medicine, says dandelion root mainly helps promote liver function and aid the digestive process.

Many people turn to teas like Alvita Dandelion Root Tea or Traditional Medicinals’ Roasted Dandelion Tea to support their digestion and to ward off water retention, as a study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine shows.

And a review of dandelion’s benefits in Integrative Medicine showed promise in a variety of clinical applications—including in gastrointestinal complaints. According to the study, it “demonstrated remarkable symptomatic improvement in terms of stool normalization and pain reduction.”

Dandelion is also an antioxidant, which means it helps to boost immunity and support overall health. A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences shows that dandelion can help fight oxidative stress.

Even more, another study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that dandelion root extract may help promote cellular health.

Want to try dandelion? Best to go with a supplement. While you may have a yard dotted with dandelions, it’s safest to buy dandelion products from a trusted source rather than gather it yourself, as soil and chemical treatment conditions can vary from area to area.

“Unless you are a very skilled herb forager, it is a safer bet to purchase high-grade, organic dandelion root extract,” Trattner says. “I am a fan of liquid extracts, as they are usually more potent and have standardized amounts of active compounds.”

That said, if you do get your hands on dandelion greens from a trusted source—like an organic grocery shop—you should eat them! They contain vitamins C and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron, folate, potassium, and manganese. Here are all the ways you can use dandelion in the kitchen.

The tea, like Organic Dandelion Root Tea, also makes a terrific coffee substitute. It’s caffeine-free, but looks and tastes a bit like your favorite cup of joe (it’s bold!), so it’s useful if you’re trying to wean off those sugary daily lattes.

Take note: According to the National Institutes of Health, people who are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies, may want to avoid dandelion. As Trattner advises, if you want to use dandelion, it’s best to speak with your health practitioner first.

How To Choose The Best Sunscreen For You

It’s not breaking news that you need to be wearing SPF to protect your skin. But shopping for it can be so confusing! From all the different types—physical, chemical, spray, stick, lotion—to the various brands, how do you know if you’re choosing the right one for you and your family?

We asked Kachiu Lee, MD, a dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at Brown University, to shed some light on SPF so you’re not spending hours in the sunscreen aisle. Let’s start with the basics:

What is SPF?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. Basically, it measures how well a sunscreen filters your skin from UVB rays, which are the rays that give you a sunburn.

How does it work, though? An SPF amount indicates how long it will take UVB rays to burn the skin versus how long it would take someone without SPF. Example: Someone using an SPF of 30 will take 30 times as long to get burned as someone using none. (According to the American Academy of Dermatologists, an SPF of 30 will block 97 percent of the sun’s rays and last about 10 hours.)

What people don’t realize is that some SPF products do not specifically filter UVA rays.

UVA rays (or Ultra Violet A) are also a concern: UVA rays don’t cause sunburn, but they do penetrate deeper. “Ultimately, we want to protect against skin cancer, which is UVA-related,” says Lee. In fact, UVA rays are 30 to 50 time more common than UVB rays, and they can penetrate glass and clouds (sneaky!).

Choosing an SPF

In short, you’ll need SPF protection from both UVB and UVA rays. “’Broad spectrum’ SPFs protect against both UVA and UVB, which gives you a more intense protection from the sun as a whole,” says Lee. If it doesn’t say ‘broad spectrum,’ it doesn’t protect against both UVA and UVB.

There are two main types of sunscreens: physical and chemical. A physical sunscreen contains an ingredient that protects against both UVA and UVB rays (usually zinc oxide) or physically blocks the sun’s rays (like titanium dioxide). They’re often thick and go on pretty white. There are plenty of organic and more natural sunscreens (like Badger’s Broad Spectrum Zinc Oxide for Kids) of the physical kind.

Related: What 9 The Vitamin Shoppe Health Enthusiasts Always Pack In Their Beach Bags

Chemical sunscreens use ingredients that actually absorb the rays, keeping them from your skin. They’re usually thinner, spread over the skin more easily, but require more time before they begin to work. Lee says both kinds of sunscreens are effective.

What SPF factor should you get, though? Lee advises that everyone should aim to buy a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30. This recommendation is in line with what the American Academy of Dermatologists suggests.

Above that number, however, there’s not much difference in how much protection you get. Yep— that means that your SPF 50, 85, or 100 doesn’t actually provide significantly more protection (maybe three percent, if at all) than what’s in the SPF 30 tube, according to Lee.

Related: 7 Beach Activities That Double As Great Workouts

In terms of the texture of your sunscreen, Lee says that lotion sunscreens tend to provide better coverage than sprays. And sprays come with an inhalation risk, so you should always apply them outside and try to avoid breathing in any residue.

If you’re wondering if it’s worth it to buy a special sunscreen just for your face, the answer is yes, especially if you have sensitive skin, acne, or rosacea. Sunscreens for the face, like Goddess Garden Facial Natural Sunscreen, are specially-formulated not to clog pores or irritate your facial skin.

Using an SPF

When applying SPF, you need to use at least an ounce for your entire body—about the size of a shot glass (pop one in your beach bag so you always have an idea of how much to use). And although most of the labels say you should apply every four hours, Lee says every two hours is probably a better estimate for the majority of people.

If you’re applying your SPF correctly, you should actually go through a three-four ounce bottle quickly: “Most people are not using enough sunscreen,” says Lee. “You should be using way more than you think, and if you’re going to be out at the pool for a little more than half the day, you should be going through an entire bottle.”

Related: Shop broad spectrum SPFs to protect your skin from sun damage.

She also advises reapplying your SPF every time you get out of the ocean or pool. Yes, that’s even if your sunscreen says it’s “waterproof.” This is because sunscreen is actually water resistant, rather than waterproof, so you do lose protection every time you get wet. If you’ve been sweating a lot, that’s another reason to reapply.

And don’t forget to protect your lips, too—while you can use regular sunscreen in a pinch, lip balm sunscreens work best.

For a quickie reference guide, here are three steps to protecting your skin next time you head outdoors:

The Pros And Cons Of The Most Popular Sweeteners Out There

Whether you have a killer sweet tooth or are simply a creature of habit (“I’ll have a large coffee with milk and two Splendas, please”), you’re probably aware of how many sweeteners exist on the market, and you’ve most likely even tried to give one (or all) up at some point. After all, everyone hates on sugar.

Still, for some people, a life without a little sugar could be one not worth living at all—and ditching it entirely just isn’t an option.

If quitting the sweet stuff isn’t on your radar but you’re still determined to stay healthy, it’s important to understand a few things about sweeteners, like the difference between nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners and where each sweetener falls on the glycemic index.

Nutritive vs. Non-Nutritive

Raquel Reyes, RDN, a registered dietitian at RoundTable Wellness in Lafayette, Indiana, and president-elect of the Western Indiana Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says, “The main differences between all sweeteners are based on three criteria: nutritive versus non-nutritive, source of origin (where the sweetener comes from—is it natural or made in a lab?), and flavor profile (how it tastes).

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

To start, nutritive sweeteners (known as sugars) are those that provide energy in the form of calories, while non-nutritive sweeteners (known as sugar alcohols, or polyols, which are mostly sweet carbs used as alternatives to sugar) usually have low to no calories.

Nutritive sweeteners include sucrose (which is found in table sugar, raw sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar), honey, corn sugar, and fructose. Non-nutritive sweeteners are alternative sweeteners (typically called sugar-free sweeteners). You’ve probably used a few of these, including aspartame, xylitol, saccharin, or stevia.

The Glycemic Index

Each sugar falls somewhere on the glycemic index. “The glycemic index measures how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose,” says Reyes. High GI foods (think white bread, pretzels, or bagels) will raise blood glucose (causing insulin imbalance, potentially increasing risk of diabetes) more than lower GI foods (think fruit, brown rice, whole wheat bread, or veggies).

Typically, higher GI foods are composed of simple sugars that quickly break down into blood glucose for energy or storage. Lower GI foods typically contain more complex carbohydrates, which take longer for the body to break down into blood glucose.

So why does this matter?

“The glycemic index can be a useful reference for various reasons. For example, a person with diabetes could supplement their carbohydrate count by aiming for lower GI choices to enhance their glycemic control,” Reyes says. “A person aiming to lose weight may find that a diet with greater emphasis on lower GI foods to be more satiating for less calories.” To check the GI of any food, you can access the University of Sydney’s online database.

A Look At Common Sweeteners

Stevia: Stevia is a non-nutritive, low GI sweetener. It’s calorie-free, and very sweet. Taken from the stevia plant, it’s been shown to actually have some benefits for the body (a 2003 Clinical Therapeutics study showed that stevia might be able to help reduce hypertension). Often available in liquid form, it’s a good way to add a little sweetness to tea and coffee, baked goods, or other recipes. (It has been known to have a noticeable aftertaste, however.)

Related: Shop stevia and other sweetening products.

Xylitol: As a non-nutritive sweetener, xylitol is low on the caloric scale, coming in at 2.4 calories per gram. For cooking, you can find it in powder form—you can use about the same amount you would use of regular sugar. Xylitol is often a solid choice for people trying to avoid carbs (or those on a ketogenic diet) or people with diabetes, since it’s low GI—but beware if you have dogs, as it’s toxic to them.

Honey: One of the most natural sweeteners, honey is a good choice if you’re trying to avoid processed sweeteners. Honey has been shown to promote health with its immune-boosting antioxidants, too (so you’re getting some health benefits along with the added sweetness). However, it’s important to remember that, as a nutritive sweetener, honey has a medium GI and will affect your blood sugar.

Related: Shop raw honey from plnt to get your sweet tooth on.

Agave nectar: Popularly found in health foods, agave nectar (which is extracted from the agave plant) is a solid choice because it has a low GI. More research is needed on how agave affects the body, though a 2014 study in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that it may have a positive effect on glucose control. However, because of its high fructose levels (fructose is harder to digest, as it needs to be processed by the liver), it’s best to eat in moderation.

Coconut sugar: Coconut sugar is sugar that is produced from the cut flowers of the coconut. It gained popularity because of its low GI and higher nutritional content (coconut sugar is higher in potassium, zinc, and calcium than regular sugar). Its taste is also pretty sweet.

Sugar: Regular white table sugar is what a lot of us grew up on, of course, but it just isn’t the healthiest option. It has a high GI, and may increase your risk of heart disease. It may also cause metabolic problems, and is widely believed to be addictive (scientists have even linked the effects of sugar on the brain to that of cocaine or other addictive drugs, according to Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care).

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

The Bottom Line

The World Health Organization’s guidelines recommend that adults and children consume no more than about six teaspoons daily of added sugar (sugars that aren’t naturally occurring in fruits, for example, but added to fruit juices and other snack foods).

So what’s a health-conscious sweets lover to do? To get your sugar fix, look to whole foods, advises Reyes: “In my experience, if you can get most sugars from natural food sources like fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy, you will feel overall more well and balanced.” Plus, the fiber in whole fruits slows the rate at which your body processes sugars, making these foods healthier for your blood sugar.

In the end, it’s all about moderation. “Some people crave sweets more than others, and this is normal,” Reyes says. “Feel free to safely enjoy a range of nutritive sweeteners and nonnutritive sweeteners in moderation, while keeping in mind individual health goals and personal preferences.”

4 Reasons Why Black Maca Is So Popular Right Now

Black Maca. Its very name connotes a mystical substance, something that might even be dangerous. On the contrary, people are buzzing about Black Maca lately because of its many health-boosting qualities. Let’s start from the beginning.

Kinds of Maca

First off, Maca is a root native to the Andean plateaus of Peru that’s part of the cruciferous family (think broccoli or cabbage). Today it’s used nutritionally and as a supplement in powder or capsule form, often as an adaptogen (something that helps the body adapt to and manage stress) and overall energy and vitality booster, according to Brian Tanzer, M.S., nutritionist and manager of scientific affairs for The Vitamin Shoppe.

There are three types of Maca: red, yellow, and black—and each has its own individual properties. Yellow Maca is very common (and the most affordable, because it’s the most harvested type of Maca). Red Maca, the second most common, is often used to promote sexual function, and it happens to taste the sweetest. The rarest type, Black Maca, is quickly gaining popularity due to its many health-boosting properties, as well as the fact that it’s hardest to come by.

Related: Find Black Maca at The Vitamin Shoppe

In general, Black Maca is chock-full of the good stuff. “It’s got essential nutrients, including amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc,” Tanzer notes.

Here are four functions Black Maca can positively affect:

1. Memory

While more research is still needed, Black Maca may be useful for promoting healthier cognitive function. A study on mice in the Journal of Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine found that Black Maca may improve learning and memory by its capacity to reduce oxidative stress. “When different varieties of Maca (red, yellow and black) were compared for its capacity to induce memory improvement, Black Maca showed the greatest effect,” the study reported.

2. Sperm Count

Maca has been believed to promote a strong reproductive system (boosting sexual behavior and libido), and new evidence says it can also potentially increase sperm count. In a study done on mice, it was also shown that Black Maca improved sperm count, according to the journal Andrologia.

3. Energy & Mood

Maca is frequently consumed to boost both both energy and mood. The research looking at Maca for energy and mood is still developing, but some randomized trials have shown promise, according to a study done by the journal Ethnopharmacology.

The study looked at cyclists and found they had performed better after Maca supplementation, as opposed to those who did not supplement with Maca. A 2008 study in the journal Menopause also found that Maca may have a positive effect on the moods of those with depression and anxiety. While people might not be swapping coffee for Black Maca any time soon, it may be a great way to supplement your morning ritual.

Related: Shop all Maca products, from powders to capsules.

4. bone Health

Black Maca was shown to have some protective effects on bone architecture in female mice, according to a study in Research in Complimentary Science. It may also increase bone density in women, according to the journal International Journal of Biomedical Science.

If you’re interested in taking Black Maca, it’s easy to do: You can pop the Maca powder into a smoothie, sprinkle it on your yogurt, or add a few teaspoons to your favorite baked good recipe.

Maca also comes in gelatinized form, which is said to be easier on the digestive system since it has had the starch removed. In gelatinized Maca, the nutrients are also more potent. On the other hand, gelatinized Maca has fewer enzymes and glucosinates (which can help balance hormones), since the heating process destroys them.

How To Keep Your Chompers In Check—The Natural Way

People invest in 100% natural products because they want to live their best lives, free of chemicals, additives, and other nasties. There are loads of natural beauty and wellness essentials out there, but lately, natural oral care products are experiencing a boost in popularity.

Are you looking to clean up your oral care routine? Here, Dr. Philip Memoli, a holistic dentist with over 30 years of experience and a member of the Holistic Dentistry Association, offers his tips for healthy chompers:

Brushing and Flossing

For a more natural approach to oral care, Memoli advises veering away from conventional dental products. “Try to avoid fluoride, glycerine, sodium lauryl sulfate, sweeteners, and preservatives,” he says. In fact, the fewer ingredients in your toothpaste, the better. Some people opt for xylitol-based toothpastes (since xylitol is a natural sweetener), which Tom’s of Maine carries.

As for the actual brushing, it turns out less is more there, too: A softer brushing technique is more effective because it’s gentler on your tooth enamel. And be sure to use a soft toothbrush, as well, so you don’t affect the enamel, Memoli says.

Related: Try Tom’s of Maine products for your all-natural oral health care routine.

Your dentist has probably told you this a hundred times, and Memoli agrees: “People who floss regularly tend to have a lot less dental problems.”

Memoli suggests using dental flosses made with essential oils (like this Desert Essence tea tree floss). The tea tree oil promotes purification and cleansing, and includes no synthetic ingredients, artificial colors, or alcohol. Win!

Mouthwashes and Rinsing

Memoli advises that anyone stocking up on mouthwashes or rinses avoid products made with alcohols and dyes. Looking to try a natural mouthwash? The PerioWash Alcohol-free mouthwash includes Co-Q10, folic acid, oregano, cinnamon, and clove to support gum health.

And The Natural Dentist’s Healthy Gums Antigingivitis Rinse boasts a stellar lineup of other all-natural ingredient goodies, including spring water, aloe vera, Echinacea, calendula, bloodroot, grapefruit seed extract, and goldenseal.

On top of brushing, flossing, and rinsing, you may want to try oil pulling, an ancient Ayurvedic dental care habit that requires swishing a tablespoon of oil in your mouth for up to 20 minutes. The Dirt’s Oil Pulling Mouthwash is alcohol-free and made with oils of clove and sesame. Memoli strongly suggests oil pulling (which, on top of cleaning your mouth, makes you more aware of your oral health in general), but cautions anyone with mercury fillings to limit the swishing to two to three minutes.

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

Whitening

Memoli advises staying away from conventional bleaching products, which may include harsh ingredients that could wear away at the enamel of your teeth.

Instead of reaching for the whitening strips, try Memoli’s yummy-tasting all-natural whitening routine: “Put strawberries in a food processor and combine them with baking soda to create a paste. Brush it onto the teeth and leave it for a while. Some people see great bleaching results with that,” he says. All you need is a few strawberries, a couple of tablespoons of baking soda, and 15 minutes. Turmeric and activated charcoal have also been used to potentially brighten the teeth and promote oral health.

Diet

Eating well not only promotes overall health, it can keep your pearly whites in good standing (beyond simply preventing cavities). “Holistic dentistry is always concerned with preventing dental problems rather than fixing them once they occur,” Memoli says. “One big way to prevent issues is through a healthy diet. No matter what diet you’re on, eating whole foods is what keeps people [including the teeth] healthy.”

According to the Journal of Biomedical Biotechnology, eating unhealthy food has been definitively associated with chronic diseases that impact oral health. So, it’s important that you nosh on whole foods, limit alcohol and candy consumption, and get all the nutrients you need through your diet or supplementation.

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

Whether you’re trying to change your eating habits or continue on your path of healthy eating, it’s important to do your research. But sometimes it’s tough to decode all the jargon. We had some questions of our own about the differences between raw foods, living foods, and fermented (can you blame us?), and did some digging so you don’t have to.

Raw Foods

Raw foods are just that—fruits and vegetables that have not been cooked or cooked above 117 degrees. (Many raw food devotees believe that foods heated above 117 degrees lose their beneficial nutrients and enzymes, although some say this begins to occur at 106 degrees.)

There are some raw foods that have been dehydrated (like raw crackers), but supplements (like hemp seeds) can be raw, as well. According to the Journal of Nutrition, long-term consumption of a raw food diet has been linked to favorable LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (the main constituents of body fat).

Try: Raw Greens

Spinach, kale, chard…you name it—if it’s green and leafy, you’ll want to fill a quarter of your plate with it, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Load up on green veggies in salads, via smoothies (pick a powder that has a high concentration of raw greens, like Garden of Life Raw Protein and Greens), or as a side.

Living Foods

Raw foods and living foods are very similar, but living foods most often means sprouted foods. Sprouted foods—grains, seeds, or beans—are foods that have sprouts growing out of them, and are actually living and growing. For many living food devotees, these foods are generally consumed very quickly after they are picked.

Sprouting is most often achieved by soaking these foods in water. The thinking is that the enzymes in the growing food make the nutrition more bio-available (a.k.a. effective) to humans.

Sapna Punjabi-Gupta MS, RDN, LD, AP, a registered dietitian, certified Ayurvedic practitioner, and culinary wellness expert, explains that in Ayurveda, a historic system of medicine, living foods have more prana (a Sanskrit word for energy or life

Try: Sprouted Brown Rice

Sprouted (sometimes called germinated) brown rice is highly digestible and rich in fiber. It’s been linked to a lowered risk of diabetes, according to a 2008 study in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology. You can sprout rice yourself, buy it ready to cook, or in a prepared product like cereal, or even try it as a supplement. According to the Journal of Food Science and Technology, sprouted brown rice is more bioavailable and nutritious than plain rice, and it offers a ton of health-boosting benefits.

Related: Shop brown rice for tasty health benefits.

Or…Sprouted Mung Beans

Punjabi-Gupta says sprouted mung beans are a staple in her household. The beans, which hail from Asia, are easy to put in soups, stews, or a tossed salad. Mung beans boast magnesium, potassium, folate, polyphenols, saponins, and vitamin C, among other compounds. According to the Journal of Cosmetic Science, sprouted mung beans will offer up some serious antioxidant activity.

Fermented Foods

You’re probably familiar with at least a few forms of fermented foods—like yogurt, kombucha, kefir, or sauerkraut. Fermented foods undergo a chemical process in which sugars and carbohydrates are converted into an acid or an alcohol. Fermented foods pack a healthy punch because they’re full of live microbes and probiotics that support gut health.

Try: Kimchi

If you want the benefits of yogurt but can’t tolerate dairy, kimchi is for you. Made with cabbage, this spicy Korean food is chock full of probiotics, offering a full range of incredible health benefits, according to a 2014 article in the Journal of Medicinal Food. Try it as a topping, garnish, or lunch dish.

Related: 5 Foods That Are Packed With Probiotics

5 Bee Products That Are Worth All The Buzz

The mere site of a bee may throw you into a tizzy, but these industrious little insects are responsible for a lot of good in the world. Bees pollinate most of our crops, and they lend many potential health benefits to humans.

From royal jelly to bee pollen, here are five bee products that deserve all the buzz they’re getting.

raw honey header

Raw honey is, essentially, honey that has not been processed or pasteurized. It’s straight from the hive—and that’s one reason why it has such a variance in color, from white to raw honeypink to dark yellow. Raw honey is not strained or filtered, so it often has ground-up parts of honeycomb, pollen, and other bee products in it (don’t be alarmed—this is totally normal and good).

Raw honey is a go-to for people during the colder seasons because of its health-boosting properties, according to a study by Biotechnology Research International. To reap the benefits, swallow raw honey straight from a teaspoon or mix it into a cup of warm tea for a daily health-boosting regimen.

manuka

Manuka honey, which is derived from bees that pollinate the Manuka bush in New Zealand, is getting a lot of attention right now—and that’s because this honey is packed with a powerful compound called methylglyoxal (MGO).

raw manuka honeyMGO is key because it supports skin health, moisture, and clarity, according to Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.

Manuka honey is found in many beauty products to promote beautiful skin and hair. It’s also taken by mouth to promote intestinal health, according to Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine. Most products recommend 1/2 tablespoon twice a day (or more as needed) to reap the intestinal health benefits. You can take this raw or mixed into a beverage.

Related: Shop Manuka honey products for beautiful skin. 

 royal jelly header

This bee secretion is a substance used by bees to feed baby bee larvae. It’s kind of like bee breastmilk—which is what makes it so powerful.

royal jellyRoyal jelly has been shown to have powerful cleansing and purifying properties when used topically, according to Microbiological Research. But most commonly, royal jelly—like this one from YS Organic Bee Farms—is used in skin-care, as it is very moisturizing.

You can take royal jelly on its own as a supplement, or you can drink one or two teaspoons twice a day, with or without honey, in warm tea.

bee pollen header
Just as it sounds, bee pollen is pollen that’s been collected from inside the hives of bees. It is a nutritionally-diverse substance, containing protein, fat, B-vitamins and folic acid.

bee pollenA recent study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that bee pollen offers potential uses in promoting skin health and repair, but most pollen devotees also take it as a supplement due to its nutritional content. Bee pollen has been reported to boast antioxidant properties, in addition to be being immune-supporting.

Related: Shop bee pollen products, from tablets to granules.

If you’re interested in trying bee pollen, you can find it in tablets or granules. Take the tablets once per day or add the granules to smoothies or yogurt. You can also whip up a bee pollen smoothie using a teaspoon of this potent powder.

 bee propolis header

Bee propolis is made when bees combine the sap they pick up from plants with their own wax and secretions. Bee propolis packs a punch because it’s full of polyphenols, which are powerful health-supporting antioxidants.

bee propolisAccording to Phytotherapy Research, it may promote skin-healing and health, while a study in Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology suggests plenty of other immunity-boosting properties. You can find bee propolis in capsules, but it’s also available in liquid form, or even as a lozenge.

A word of caution: If you’re allergic to bee stings, consult your doctor or a The Vitamin Shoppe Health Enthusiast before using bee products.

Related: What Happened When I Drank Golden Milk For 30 Days Straight

5 Health Gurus Share Their Morning Routines

You try to wake up early, eat a healthy breakfast, get some exercise in, and make sure your morning routine is all around killin’ it. But sometimes it doesn’t always work out so well, does it?

It doesn’t have to be so hard to have a great morning—promise. Putting time aside for a consistent daily routine—even just one small thing each morning to help you feel healthy and happy—can make a huge difference.

For inspiration, five health gurus offer up their own morning routines. From protein-packed breakfasts to setting intentions, you’re sure to find something here that may change the way you prep for the day ahead.

Nikki Ortiz, dancer, yogi, and 2015 National Yoga Champion

“The main thing I do every morning to ensure a successful day is meditate. I make sure I have some time with myself to get centered and grounded before I can start my day. I got in the habit of doing it every morning about two years ago and it’s changed the game. I feel very incomplete if I don’t meditate in the morning. I do it for about 10 minutes, and after that I can go about my day.”

Lauren Gleisberg, fitness pro

“Regardless of what time you wake each morning, establish and stick to a morning routine to set yourself up for success each day. My 10-minute morning routine includes waking and sitting in silence for a minute to set an intention for the day, drinking a glass of water to get my body going, writing out my daily to-do list that aligns with my weekly and monthly goals, making a protein smoothie, and then diving into my day. A simple yet productive routine like this helps set the tone for the entire day.”

Related: Shop protein for a healthy, satiating breakfast.

Cristina Curp, food blogger and recipe developer

“Although my life has had a total health overhaul in the last two years, one thing I haven’t given up is my morning coffee. Instead, I have made it into a nutrient dense vessel for all good things. My one cup of Joe packs plenty of satiating good fats, protein, turmeric, and health-promoting wild mushroom blend. A little cinnamon for flavor and a whirl in my blender. This stuff is practically rocket fuel! Here’s my recipe:

12-oz of fair trade coffee
1 tbsp grass-fed butter
1 tbsp mct oil
1 tbsp grass-fed beef gelatin
1 tbsp cocotropic wild mushroom blend
Dash of cinnamon

Blend until frothy. Pour, sip. Kick butt.”

Related: One Nutritionist’s Entire Day Of Eating, In Photos

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, nutritionist

“Two critical parts of my morning routine are my 7:30 a.m. workout and a protein-packed breakfast for refuel. I find that exercising in the morning gets my day started while I have enough energy, as I’m too drained in the late afternoon and too busy with my kids. Also, I make sure to consume a breakfast with at least 20 grams of protein along with fiber-rich carbs and healthy fat to support muscle growth and repair.”

Dr. Rajeev Kurapati, physician and author

“I wake up early (around 4:30 or five in the morning) after making sure I get at least five to six hours of restorative sleep. Then, I drink warm water to help with digestion and to re-hydrate from the night before. I do yoga and meditation for about 20 minutes after I shower.”

Related: Is It Worse To Skip A Workout Or Skimp On Sleep?

perfect morning routine

8 Tasty Ways To Combine Your Morning Coffee With Your Morning Protein Powder

For so many of us, coffee is what gets us out of bed in the morning. That sweet-smelling, energy-giving liquid enables us to conquer the world. But if you want your morning coffee habit to be even more beneficial, we have a suggestion for you—add protein!

Protein is a powerhouse macronutrient. It fills you up, helps build muscles, and assists in cell repair and creation. It’s important to get a good amount of protein at the beginning of the day to kickstart your metabolism and keep your body well-fueled, and protein powder is an easy, tasty solution.

Here are eight ways you can get your java and protein fix in one. Mornings, prepare to be transformed.

Related: How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

Cafe Mocha Protein Shake

Go for some chocolate-y goodness with this mix of cold coffee, almond milk, and plnt’s chocolate protein powder to create a drink that will certainly keep you going until lunch. Check out this recipe from food and fitness blogger Jennifer Meyering.

Vanilla Swappuccino Protein Shake

Love Frappucinos, but trying to steer clear of all that sugar? Make a healthier version at home by mixing up Hungry Girl’s Vanilla Swappuccino Protein Shake. Use BodyTech’s French Vanilla Whey Protein Powder for a whopping 17 grams of protein in one serving.

Energy Bites

You don’t need to drink your protein to get the coffee-flavored taste you want in the morning—make energy bites with coffee-flavored protein powder, instead! Garden of Life’s Organic Plant Protein in Smooth Coffee is a delicious way to add a kick to Ambitious Kitchen’s to-die-for peanut butter energy bites.

Ready-to-Drink Coffee with Protein

Pressed for time? Skip all the mixing and blending and pick up Orgain’s Organic Coldbrew+Protein, a prepared version of iced coffee. 10 grams of protein will fill you up on the go.

Espresso Protein Smoothie

If you’re paleo (or just trying to get more healthy fats into your life), this espresso protein smoothie from Paleo Power Couple will definitely fit the bill. It’s delicious, too, with a big serving of coconut milk and two full shots of espresso (yes, please). With the paleo power of Ancient Nutrition’s Bone Broth Protein in Coffee flavor, you’ll feel super-energized.

Related: Shop plant protein and get your mornings started.

Coffee Protein Pumpkin Brownies

Brownies for breakfast? Why the heck not? With fiber from pumpkins, caffeine from coffee, and protein from a powder like BodyTech’s Vanilla Whey Protein, these brownies have a lot more nutritional value than the ones you’re used to.

Vanilla Cappuccino Protein Pudding

If you’re vegan (or even if you’re not), you will love this decadent pudding from One Green Planet. Make it with plnt’s Vanilla Pea Protein powder for extra plant-powered benefits.

Iced Mocha Green Monster Smoothie

It doesn’t seem like coffee would be a good combination with greens, but Oh She Glows has created a crazy-delicious spin on a green smoothie, adding coffee for taste and effect. You won’t even taste the spinach! Add plnt protein in chocolate to up the chocolate-y goodness factor.

Related: Shop whey protein from all of the best brands.

 

Does Light Therapy Actually Work?

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about light therapy—specifically red light and near-infrared light, including infrared saunas. Celebrities are all over the relaxation and detoxification trend—even quarterback Tom Brady is on board, endorsing infrared pajamas (nope, not a joke!) that are said to help you recover from sports-related injuries while you sleep.

But does light therapy truly have legit health benefits? Let’s start from the beginning.

What Are Light Therapy Saunas?

Firstly, there are several types of light therapy. You probably have heard about red light, which hits the surface of the skin. And then there’s near-infrared light, which penetrates deeper into your skin. 

According to Dr. Michael Hamblin, principal investigator at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, and worldwide expert on light therapy, infrared light works sort of like the sun does to stimulate plant growth—only, in this case, humans are the plant.

Related: The Best Skin-Care Tips And Products For Your 20s, 30s, And 40s

Light therapy saunas actually heat and penetrate your skin (not the room, like a regular sauna) and convert the light to cellular energy.

What Can Light Therapy Do For You?

According to a study in the journal Annals of Biomedical Engineering, red light and near-infrared light therapy offer a host of rejuvenating benefits at the cellular level, including activating the lymphatic system, increasing circulation, forming new capillaries, and repairing tissue.

So, when certain wavelengths of light hit the skin, one might experience a reduction in inflammation, wound healing, and skin rejuvenation, among other potential benefits, according to the journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. And, according to a study done by the journal Canadian Family Physician, it may even promote cardiovascular health, normal blood pressure, and weight loss, though more studies are warranted.

Related: Shop products to support cardiovascular health. 

Hamblin says the light has remarkable effects on the brain, as well. According to the journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgerybrain surgeries using LED may promote cognition and reduce the treatment cost of traumatic brain injury, since someone can apply red light therapy at home. Hamblin says hand-held light therapy devices can be used at home for sports injuries, arthritis, joint pain, skin-smoothing, and more.

Related: Shop collagen products to help promote smooth, supple skin. 

What Scientists Don’t Know

It’s important to note that the research on light therapies is still developing. Scientists don’t totally understand the molecular or cellular mechanisms responsible for turning light into energy. Also, it’s not entirely clear just how light therapy should best be used in terms of regularity, how intense the light should be, or how skin should be prepared beforehand. If that sounds too risky to you, stick with a good ol’ sweat-inducing spa sauna. 

7 Ways To Reap The Benefits Of Elderberry

Elderberry, a teeny-tiny berry that packs a powerful punch, comes from a popular plant known for its immune-boosting properties.

Rebecca Snow, a nutritionist and herbalist based in Catonsville, Maryland, says elderberry is particularly beneficial when it comes to viral infections. According to the journal Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, elderberry promotes seasonal support and the stimulation of immune responses.

How so? “Elderberry is believed to have antiviral effects by reducing replication of the influenza virus,” Snow says. It also contains flavonoids, boasting antioxidant properties, which is great because antioxidants aid in protecting cells from damage from free radicals. Yes, please!

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

From syrup to supplements, here are seven different ways you can reap the benefits of this lush little berry.

capsules1. Supplements

Elderberry supplements are the most common way to take elderberry. You can buy them in all sorts of forms, ranging from tinctures to capsules to lozenges. It’s a good idea to have your favorite form of elderberry on hand in your medicine cabinet so you can help combat cold and virus symptoms as they pop up. Some people take elderberry daily as a preventative measure during cold and flu season, too.

2. Jelly

Add elderberry to your breakfast routine in the form of jelly! This versatile way to enjoy the food lasts for a long time in the fridge and can be added to everything from breakfast foods (French toast, anyone?) to desserts (cheesecake, perhaps?). Jello is an option, too, as is a fancier compote.

syrup.jpg3. Syrup

Syrup is another popular form for elderberry, easily found in any health food or supplements section. It can be mixed with other drinks or quickly downed in a spoonful.

Most elderberry syrups are sweetened with sugar orhoney, so it’s a tasty way to keep your body well (a.k.a. it’s not your gross “grape”-flavored childhood medicine).

 

Related: Get your elderberry on by shopping products from lozenges to gummies.

4. Punch

Try drinking your elderberry as a punch. To do so, combine the syrup with a healthy juice or sparkling beverage. “At our house, we add elderberry syrup (two teaspoons) to plain seltzer water and make elderberry spritzer in the winter months,” says Snow. 

gummies5. Gummies

Gummies are a great way to get all the elderberry benefits—especially for kids. 

6. Baked goods

Elderberries aren’t very sweet on their own, but they can add a unique flavor to baked goods like muffins, quick breads, or cookies. Snow says she even adds a few dried berries as she cooks oatmeal, as another option to boost the nutritional content.

tea7. Tea

A tea made with elderberry and other supportive herbs, like echinacea, can really help keep your immune system in check. Not only are you hydrating your sore throat and stuffy nose with the tea, but you’re providing your body with compounds that can help you fight off the illness.

If you’re interested in DIYing your own elderberry products, make sure you buy quality dried elderberries from a reputable source. It’s also key to ensure that elderberries are cooked before you consume them.

5 Delish Ways To Sub Avocado In For Butter

For people who love avocado, there’s no debating one fact: Add it to any meal, and it makes it at least 10 times better. This happy green fruit (yes, it’s actually a fruit, not a vegetable!) is versatile, delicious, and good for you, too.

Aside from being yummy, avocados are loaded with health benefits. For one, they’re a great source of fiber (which can help you feel fuller). They’re also an excellent source of B vitamins. And yes, they’re high in fat—but it’s the good kind (monounsaturated fat), which helps lower cholesterol.

Related: From body-care to baking products, shop avocado items.

The natural thick creaminess of avo makes it a natural replacement for butter in all sorts of recipes, especially if you’re trying to limit  dairy. Avocados do have a fairly high calorie content, though, so the suggested serving size is about half.

Alicia Kennedy, a vegan writer and recipe developer, says: “While you shouldn’t get carried away and put them on everything you eat, their versatility makes them an easy staple. From your morning toast to a lunch salad to even the frosting on a chocolate cake, avocados are the perfect way to add good fat and fill up when you’re cutting down on meat and dairy.”

Here are five creative ways you can use avocado in place of butter:

1. Toast

Delicious wholewheat toast with guacamole and avocado slices.Mashing and spreading avocado on toast (and then decorating it with anything from hemp seeds to cilantro) is easy, tasty, and healthy, too. Says Kennedy: “My absolute favorite way to eat avocado is the most ubiquitous way: toast. Mashed avocado on a thick slice of toasted sourdough, with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt and crushed red pepper, then a squeeze of lemon (add lemon zest, too, for extra pop), is a perfect quick breakfast. Depending on how spicy you like it, also add some hot sauce. “

vegan avocado cashew butter oats chocolate cookies2. Baked Goods

Avocado’s creaminess and fat content makes it a perfect stand-in for butter in baked goods like muffins, brownies, and cakes. The rule of thumb is to use a 1:1 ratio of avocado for butter, which is about a cup of pureed avocado for every cup of butter in the recipe. It might turn your cake or muffins green, of course, but you won’t be able to taste the avocado flavor—we promise.

Related: Shop natural sweeteners for your healthy baked goods.

3. Frosting

Avocado Chocolate Cake

Buttercream frosting is incredibly tasty—too bad the nutritional content isn’t quite as appealing! If you’re looking for a healthier way to make a rich frosting, pureed avocado is a good substitute (just be sure to mix it with cocoa, sugar, honey, or other flavors). You can also go the natural sweetener route, which is appropriate for those eating a paleo diet.

4. Topping

What’s better than a baked potato doused in butter and sour cream? A baked potato with avocado, of course. Whether it’s chopped or mashed, avocado adds a lot of flavor and moisture to a baked potato. It can also be used to add some creamy flavor to soups, savory breads, tortillas, or crackers. Oh, and tacos!

5. Sauce

Mix avocado with your favorite flavors (like lemon, garlic, Parmesan, and basil) to make an amazing and very green version of Alfredo sauce. Avocado’s versatility makes it easy to use as a base for all kinds of sauces, including those for meat dishes.

What Is ‘Cold-Pressed’ And Why Do People Love It?

A quick look in the beverage case or cooking oil aisle reveals a common term on labeling and packaging: cold-pressed. Cold-pressed juices, in particular, have skyrocketed in popularity in the last few years, available everywhere from Starbucks to your local health food co-op.

You may have a vague idea that cold-pressed juices or oils are better for your health—but why, exactly?

How Does The Cold-Press Process Work?

Simply put, cold-pressed refers to how a substance was extracted. You’re likely familiar with an at-home juicing process, which is when a juicing machine with a powerful blade cuts through fruits and veggies to extract juice. The downside of this is that you have to drink the juice pretty quickly before it goes bad—hence the need to keep so much produce on hand if you like fresh juice!

Related: Shop cold-pressed oils for healthy skin. 

A cold-pressed process is the same until the last step. When cold-pressed juice is made, a large amount of cold hydraulic pressure (thousands of pounds of pressure, in fact) is applied to the juice at the end. In this step, the fiber of the produce is removed from the cells, without adding any heat or exposing the juice to air. The juice produced in the cold-pressed process is said to retain more of the original benefits of the produce used.

Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, a dietitian and fitness expert in New York City, explains: “Cold pressed juice is great because it packs a ton of produce and nutrients into a beverage that you can drink in one serving—when we might not be able to eat all that volume in one sitting.”

Related: What Is Ghee, Really?

Juices often have pounds of fruits and vegetables in just one bottle, which can help your body seriously load up on vitamins and minerals. Cold-pressed juices also have a much longer shelf life than regular juices, sometimes lasting up to a few weeks.

What About Cold-Pressed Oils?

Cold-pressed oils, like coconut, olive, and avocado, use a similar process, without added heat or chemicals that can change the nutritional content or taste of the raw oil. Cold-pressed oil is in its most natural state. Smith says it, too, can be very beneficial for health: “Cold-pressed oils retain more of their nutrients, so therefore can retain both healthy fats and vitamins and minerals.”

Related:

You don’t have to be eating it to get the benefits of cold-pressed oil, either—oils meant for the skin (like jojoba or calendula) can be cold-pressed, too. Like edible oils, these retain more of the original compounds that can soothe and soften your skin.

What To Consider Before Going Cold

Cold-pressed substances can be more expensive because they require different equipment to process. They’re often organic, too, which can drive up the price tag. Still, the hefty health benefits of cold-pressed oils and juices are worth a little extra cash to many health aficionados, who tout the purity of the products.

If you’re interested in consuming more cold-pressed products, read labels carefully. , which you might see on some labels, is similar, but it uses heat. Smith advises: “Cold-pressed products are, of course, better than exposure to heat, but take a look into the product that you’re buying to ensure that it’s really what it says it is!”

Related: How Probiotics Changed My Sex Life

 

You Had No Idea Epsom Salt Could Do All Of These Things

Chances are, you’ve got a bag of Epsom salt hidden in the back of your sink cabinet, ready to pull out when your muscles are sore. But have you ever wondered why this simple salt is so soothing—and if there are any other ways you can reap the benefits?

Epsom salt (also called magnesium sulfate) is essentially a form of the vital nutrient magnesium. Bruce Roberts, MD, an integrative medicine physician, explains: “Epsom salts are a magnesium salt. Magnesium is a co-factor in over 300 different metabolic processes in the body including energy production, detoxification, muscle, and nerve function.”

So, when you soak in a bath filled with Epsom salt, you are essentially replenishing your magnesium stores—and that’s why it’s so ahhh-worthy.

Here are some solid benefits found in this special salt.

1. Promotes Relaxation

“[Magnesium] tends to be one of the first minerals to be used up during times of stress,” says Roberts. And we’ve all experienced its dreadful symptoms: “When people are under stress they tend to get depleted in magnesium resulting in tight, sore muscles, irritable nerves, insomnia, high blood pressure, and constipation,” says Roberts. That’s where Epsom salt comes in. The calming effect of the magnesium can make a big difference in times of stress or upheaval, too.

2. Supports Regularity

Having trouble going number two? Epsom salt is a proven gentle laxative. A small amount of salt, mixed with water, can be taken internally (check the directions on your box and speak with your doc). Dr. Roberts warns that some people cannot tolerate magnesium orally because of the bowel effect, though. Not to fear! “Epsom salt baths are a good alternative way to get magnesium into the body without going through the GI tract,” says Roberts. (But don’t think a bath has the same effect as taking it internally).

Related: 8 Foods And Drinks For When You Just Can’t Poop

3. Exfoliates Dry Skin

Rub a little Epsom salt on your body (combined with an oil, like coconut or jojoba), to moisturize cracked, scaly skin on knees, elbows, and elsewhere!

4. Aids Healthy Sleep Patterns

Magnesium is also a powerful sleep aid (no)—a study in the Journal of Research in Medical Science found that magnesium supplementation helped support sleep in elderly people. But you don’t have to pop a pill to feel its effects, as an Epsom salt soak before bed can calm you down and prep your body for a solid night of slumber.

5. Soothes Bruises & Aches

Soaking in an Epsom salt solution can help relieve sore muscles, minor strains, general aches and pains, and post-workout pulls.

Related: Shop our Epsom salt products and get your relaxation on.

6. Helps Plants Grow

Epsom salt can be applied to the soil in your garden or houseplants, as it helps to promote a healthy soil composition (after all, magnesium is a mineral!). An Epsom salt solution can also help keep bugs away, when sprayed on plants.

7. Cleans Your Home

As a cleaning aid, Epsom salt works wonders on dirty tile and grout (just combine with a liquid soap). They’re also useful for scrubbing gunk (think caked-on food on your plates and pans). Another bonus? If you find that your washing machine is in need of a clean, a quick cycle with a healthy scoop of Epsom salt can also remove detergent buildup.

15 Beautifying Ingredients That Are Sitting In Your Kitchen Pantry

Natural beauty products and practices are growing in popularity—and for good reason. Plenty of drugstore products are filled with unpronounceable chemicals, fillers, and irritants, which is why from-the-earth ingredients are so valued, especially ones for the skin and hair.

And guess what? You probably have a good deal of beautifying ingredients sitting right under your nose. Like, right in your sandwich.

Here, 15 items you can find in your kitchen pantry that have serious beauty benefits.

1. Olive Oil: It totally makes sense that this do-everything kitchen favorite has serious skin benefits, as well. Extra virgin olive oil is an amazing moisturizer, makeup remover, and overall skin protector, according to the journal Clinics in Dermatology . Add it to masks or scrubs (you can even make your own scrub with a two tablespoons of olive oil and honey and a half cup of sugar) or just plain slather it on when you’re skin is feeling parched (and no, it’s not true that oil will block your pours).

2. Coffee grinds: You may have seen coffee scrubs in upscale skin-care stores, but they’re just as easy to use in your own DIY exfoliating blends. Make sure you use fresh, unused grounds, and combine them with an oil or other emollient. Then, scrub away! This is terrific to use on dry or rough body parts, like elbows, knees, or even lips. A word to the wise: You better enjoy the smell of coffee, because it’s strong!

3. Honey: As good as honey tastes, you should know it’s just as good for your skin. The sweet treat has been used for centuries for skincare, in scrubs, as a bath soak, and even to wash your face. Organic manuka honey is a terrific variety to try, prized for its purity.

Related: Why Has Manuka Honey Become So Popular–And What Do You Actually Do With It?

4. Avocado: Avocado is full of healthy fats (like monounsaturated fatty acids) and Vitamin C, both of which help your skin stay healthy-looking and supple. Mash it up and pop it on your face. (And make sure to save some for guacamole—the best time to snack is as your mask dries!)

5. Egg whites: Sticky, goopy egg whites are actually a bit of a miracle worker for your face, helping to pull gunk from your pores while toning, and tightening the skin. In fact, egg whites are a craze in the Korean beauty world! They contain both collagen and protein, two powerhouse ingredients for skin-care.

Related: Is Matcha Really A Miracle Worker?

6. Mayonnaise: Women have been using mayo hair masks for decades to get enviable super-shiny hair. Ask your grandma—she might have slathered some Hellman’s on her tresses back in the day, too! Yes, you may smell like a potato salad while you’re doing it, but the healthy fats and moisture in the condiment are super-nourishing for hair. Leave in for at least 20 minutes and then shampoo it out.

7. Coconut oil: Coconut oil is the workhorse of the natural world, and for good reason. This incredibly healthy oil is great for baking, cooking, and even oil pulling. It’s also a powerful moisturizer for both hair and skin, and can be used in a variety of treatments. Buy a big tub of organic coconut oil and keep it in your bathroom to use when skin is dry, makeup is stubborn, or hair needs a little oomph.

8. Yogurt: The lactic acid in this kitchen staple (also a super-healthy treat) is an amazing exfoliator, helping to slough off the blah skin and reveal the bright skin underneath. If you want to try a yogurt facial, be sure to use an unflavored option, though! Then, rub in a few teaspoons and let it soak in for 10-15 minutes.

9. Apple cider vinegar: It’s easy to find apple cider vinegar, which is good news for your skin and hair. ACV (as it’s often abbreviated) makes a terrific natural skin toner and it promotes a healthy scalp. This type of vinegar also helps clarify hair, especially when you’ve got a lot of product buildup. It’s also not uncommon to use it as a shampoo!

10. Cornstarch: Cornstarch, frequently used as a thickener in soups and stews, can do double-duty on both your face and your body. It can be used as a setting powder after makeup application (or just to mop up oil) and its super-absorbency makes it a quick, easy fix for other areas where you find yourself getting damp, like inner thighs or armpits.

11. Cucumber: Most people have seen this crunchy veggie used as an eye de-puffer, but did you know it can tone the skin and help to relieve the sting of sunburn? According to the journal Fitoterapia, the jury is still out on how the particular compounds in cucumber help the skin, but they do contain high water content (while boasting a soothing scent), which can help to moisturize the skin.

Related: We Tried 5 DIY Body Scrubs—Here’s What Happened

12. Turmeric: Turmeric is a star these days, adored for its digestive and immune systems support. Some evidence, according to Phytotherapy Research, points to skin health benefits, and it makes a great addition to a facial mask or scrub.

13. Mustard powder: Mustard is much revered in the Indian Ayurvedic health (considered the world’s oldest holistic healing system), both for its culinary and medicinal properties. The powder, made from the mustard seed, can be a great exfoliator for the skin.

14. Banana: DIY hair devotees swear by banana hair masks, and studies in Phytojournal have shown that the fruit favorite can add to the endurance, shine and softness of your hair. Blend the fruit up with an oil of your choice, plus some honey, and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Rinse out and enjoy the tropical vibe left behind.

15. Green tea: You already know that green tea is great for your insides (hello antioxidants!) but its benefits can be reaped on the outside, too. Try it as a toner, mix it with other ingredients to make a mask, or put it into action as a hair rinse. According to the Journal of the German Society of Dermatology, green tea has shown remarkable efficacy in skin-care.

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