8 Tips For Picking The Healthiest Packaged Foods Possible

We’ve all been told to eat lots of whole foods—like fruits, veggies, meat, poultry, and dairy—and to watch our intake of processed foods. But let’s be serious: Most of us aren’t about to blend up our own mayo. Avoiding supermarket aisles stocked with jars, bag, cans, and boxes just isn’t always doable.

When we buy food from a bag, box, or jar, it can be tricky to tell just how healthy (or unhealthy) it really is. After all, plenty of packaged foods contain terrifyingly long lists of ingredients, which often include preservatives and additives we don’t recognize and can’t pronounce. (What the heck is ‘dextrin,’ anyway?) Not to mention, many packaged foods come with a boatload of extra calories—on top of added sugars, fats, and sodium, says Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D.N.

To save you from spending 20 minutes trying to pick between two jars of tomato sauce or boxes of crackers, we asked dietitians for their supermarket navigation tips.

1. Check the sugar content.

Natural sugars that are found in whole foods like fruit and dairy have a place in a healthy diet, but sugars added to many packaged foods and drinks can lead to weight gain and health concerns, , says Amidor. So how much sugar a food contains—and whether it’s naturally-occurring or added—is something you’ll want to look at.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting added sugars to just five percent of our total daily calories, which is 100 calories or 25 grams. So if a food contains more than 10 grams (or 40 calories) of added sugar per serving, it should probably be a no-go, Amidor says.

And don’t expect that added sugar to reveal itself willingly in the ingredient list: “Added sugars can show up on food and drink labels under names like anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, sugar, syrup and white sugar,” says Amidor. Yikes.

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

That said, you don’t necessarily have to nix a food because it contains a little added sugar. If the other ingredients are simple and offer health benefits like fiber or other nutrients, you can cut yourself some slack.

2. Feel out the fat.

One of the reasons packaged snacks can be so dang addicting: They contain added fat for enhanced flavor, says Amidor.

And while fat can be healthy (think of the unsaturated fats in avocados, nuts, and olive oil), many packaged foods are higher in saturated fats and contain trans fats.

Trans, or ‘hydrogenated’ fats have been linked to heart disease and should be avoided as much as possible, says Amidor. Meanwhile, the USDA 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to 10 percent or less of your daily calories, since excess consumption can affect cholesterol, she says.

So when you’re deciding between two packaged foods, compare the amounts of saturated fat per serving and go with the product that has less. Stay away from anything that contains 15 percent of your total daily allotment of saturated fat, Amidor suggests.

3. Beware insane amounts of salt.

The recommended daily max for sodium is 2,300 milligrams, or about one teaspoon of salt, but many packaged foods are bursting with the stuff, sometimes packing half your daily allowance in one serving.

Ideally, though, you want somewhere around 200 milligrams of sodium max per serving, says Benjamin White, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N. So look for foods labeled ‘low-sodium’ or ‘no salt added’ and add flavor with herbs and spices at home.

4. Count the ingredients.

To keep your eats as clean as possible, pick packaged foods that contain as few ingredients as possible, says White. A food with few ingredients is less processed, and often healthier, than one with a long laundry list, he says.

And, since ingredients are listed in order of the amount contained in the food (high to low), looking at the first three can tell you a lot about what you’re eating, White adds. If one of the food’s first three ingredients is a sweetener, non-whole-grain flour, or oil, it’s probably not a great choice.

5. Do some quick nutrient math.

To make our snacks and meals as filling and waistline-friendly as possible, make sure they pack two things: fiber and protein. (You generally want at least three grams of fiber and seven grams of protein, White says.)

To figure out if a packaged food has enough of this good stuff to outweigh the bad stuff that may also be lurking, add up the grams of protein and fiber on the Nutrition Facts. Then add up the grams of total fat and sugar. If the total grams of protein and fiber are higher than the total grams of fat and sugar, you’re good to go, White says.

6. Look for added nutrients.

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, there are four nutrients in particular that Americans fall short on: vitamin D, calcium, fiber, and potassium. (Vitamin D, calcium, and potassium are found in milk and many dairy products, while potassium and fiber can be found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, according to Amidor.)

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

But since so many of us miss out on these four nutrients, they’re often added to packaged foods (like breakfast cereal) to help us get our fill. So if a food packs a boatload of these important nutrients despite having some rather unappealing qualities—like some added sugar—it might still be worth eating, she says. Just make sure the food provides at least 10 to 19 percent of your daily value of one or more of these nutrients per serving.

7. Cut out artificial colors and flavors.

You’ll want to avoid as much artificial anything as possible, and nixing artificial colors and flavors is a good place to start. “Color additives are used for aesthetic purposes, and do not provide any nutritional value to the food,” says Amidor. The same goes for artificial flavors. So go ahead and leave that cupcake icing colored with ‘blue number whatever’ or artificially-flavored nacho chips on the shelf.

8. When in doubt, use an app.

If you just can’t decide whether to put a product in your cart or leave it on the shelf, let your phone do the thinking for you. An app like the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores, gives you quick feedback on the overall quality of a food, says White. “The app gives a rating for thousands of foods based on their nutritional value, ingredients of concern (like additives), and the extent to which they’re processed,” he says. The closer to a rating of ‘1,’ the more worthy the food.

Related: Check out a selection of packaged staples and snacks that keep your health in mind.

Pair These Nutrients Together For Maximum Absorption

It’s important to get your greens in, but keeping a healthy diet doesn’t always mean you’re getting all of the nutrients you need. Some nutrients actually maximize or interfere with one another’s function within your body—so depending on what you eat and when, you may be boosting or missing out on the benefits of those healthy foods (and supplements!).

To get the full nutrient bang for your buck and prevent wasting any of the good stuff, you’ll want to pair some nutrients together and avoid eating others together.

Perfect Pairings


There’s a reason you find many bone support supplements combining vitamin D and calcium. These two nutrients work together in our bodies, says Rebecca Lewis, M.S., R.D.N., dietitian for HelloFresh.

Here’s what’s going on: “The majority of the calcium in our body is stored in our bones, and vitamin D helps absorb, carry, and deposit that calcium into our bones,” she says. So if you’re short on vitamin D, your body won’t be able to carry the calcium into the bones to be absorbed and stored, she adds.

Vitamin D can be found in animal-based foods like eggs, fatty fish, dairy, and fish oils, while calcium can be found in dairy, beans, and kale, she says. You can knock out both of these nutrients at once by eating dairy—but otherwise try to pair calcium-rich foods with vitamin D-rich foods. (Good to know: A lot of foods, like milks and cereals, are fortified with vitamin D.)

Another way to better absorb calcium: Pair it with inulin-type fructans (a type of nondigestible carb), suggests research published in The Journal of Nutrition. You can find insulin-type fructans in wheat germ, bananas, garlic, onions, and leeks. So consider adding some wheat germ or banana slices to your morning yogurt.


In addition to pairing vitamin D with calcium, one of the best ways to increase your absorption is to ensure you are getting enough dietary fat, says Andrea Conner, M.P.H., R.D.N., C.D.E.

“Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning it needs fat to be absorbed,” says Conner. For that reason, she always recommends pairing vitamin D-rich foods with a high-quality fat, like olive oil, flax seeds, avocado, fish, chia seeds, or nuts. Just a couple teaspoons of oil or a handful of nuts will do the trick, she says.

Those healthy fats will also help you get the most benefit from carotenoid-packed foods (think yellow, orange, and red produce, like peppers, carrots, and tomatoes), according to research out of Ohio State University. The fats make plant compounds like beta-carotene (which we convert into vitamin A) and lycopene more available to our body.

Related: 7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For Your Health


Iron can both enhance and mess with the absorption of other nutrients, says Kelly R. Jones M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., L.D.N. So, while the mineral is a pretty important staple in our diet, what you eat iron with is especially important. 

The biggest concern about iron absorption is whether you’re getting it from plant or animal sources. “Iron from animal foods, like beef, is much more absorbable than iron from plant foods, like spinach, beans, and whole grains,” says Jones. That’s because other factors in plant-based sources can inhibit your uptake of iron—like oxalic acid in spinach, she says. So vegetarians and vegans who get their iron from plant-based sources should be extra vigilant about what they eat it with.

This is where vitamin C comes in handy, Jones says. (You’ll find vitamin C in all sorts of citrus fruits, red peppers, kale, and broccoli.) The vitamin enhances your absorption of iron, so Jones recommends that vegetarians pair the two together whenever possible. “It can be as simple as adding lemon juice to their water while eating a plant-based meal,” Jones suggests. Or just make sure vitamin C-containing veggies make it onto your plate along with those beans or whole grains.


As with iron, any acidic food can also help increase your absorption of vitamin B12, says Jones.

“We all produce stomach fluid in response to hunger and smelling and eating food, and part of that stomach juice is hydrogen chloride, which helps us break down protein and absorb B12,” explains Jones. Adding acidic foods, like vitamin C-containing citrus fruits, can help boost the acid in your stomach needed to absorb that B12, which is found in organ meats, fish, eggs, and feta cheese. Jones likes to spritz lemon on fish or add it to salad dressings to help that B12 get to where it needs to go. You can also sip on some apple cider vinegar and water to boost that acid, she suggests.

 

Sparring Sources


All three of these nutrients are essential for a healthy diet, but they can interfere with one another’s absorption if consumed together in high amounts, says Jones.

“Because the same receptors in the digestive tract absorb zinc, iron, and copper, if there is an excess of one nutrient, it crowds out the others from making it through the intestinal wall,” she explains.

You know you’ll find iron in meats, spinach, beans, and whole grains. But what about copper and zinc? Copper is found in shellfish, organ meats, whole grains, beans, and nuts, while zinc is found in oysters, red meat, and poultry. You’ll want to avoid eating too much of these foods at one time, but the real concern here is with iron supplements. If you take an iron supplement, leave a few hours between popping your pill and eating a meal that includes zinc or copper-containing foods, says Jones. She recommends taking your supplement with a piece of fruit, crackers and hummus, or avocado toast, which are all low in zinc and copper.


Like with copper and zinc, iron competes with calcium to be absorbed in your intestines, so these two minerals reduce each other’s uptake in your body. (And this impairment can occur in either supplement or food form, according to research published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research.)

The competition between these two nutrients is particularly serious for people with certain health conditions. Many people with anemia are told to avoid taking their iron supplements for up to four hours after eating something high in calcium (like a bowl of yogurt or cottage cheese), says Jones. Similarly, women with osteoporosis should avoid taking calcium supplements within a few hours of eating foods high in iron (like beef, spinach, or beans.)

So, you might want to consider avoiding combos that go heavy on meat and cheese, especially if you’re suffering from one of these health conditions.


Sadly, there are a couple circumstances in which you should turn down avocado toast: If you’ve just taken a vitamin K supplement or noshed on a bunch of cruciferous veggies. Why? Vitamin E (which is found in avocado) can mess with vitamin K (which is found in cruciferous veggies and many supplements).

“Excess amounts of vitamin E can actually reduce the absorption of vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting, calcium metabolism, and bone mineralization,” says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T. While moderate amounts in combination—like spinach (vitamin K) and oil-based salad dressing (vitamin E)— shouldn’t do much harm, higher doses can be problematic, she says. Just be sure to stick to a tablespoon of oil in your salad dressing, she adds.

Foods rich in vitamin E include wheat germ oil, grains, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, avocado, and dried prunes, while veggies, like broccoli, kale, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts are high in vitamin K.

Related: Check out a number of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements to fill in nutritional gaps.

It’s Super-Trendy To Strength Train Underwater—Should You Try It?

Waterlogged strength training is trending this summer, boasting a low-impact way to boost your heart rate and build muscle. So should you swap your usual workouts for underwater jump lunges and pistol squats?

Strength training and swimming both have their own clear benefits, so combining them can certainly lead to a solid workout, says Tyler Spraul, C.S.C.S.

Consider the benefits of strength training: When you put resistance on your muscles—whether it’s your body weight in a pushup or a barbell in a squat—you trigger muscle protein synthesis and build lean body mass, which boosts your metabolism and the number of calories you burn throughout the day.

Water offers 12 times as much resistance as air, and because it’s so difficult to move through, it really challenges your muscles, according to The Cleveland Clinic. Given the effort it takes to move your body through the water, it’s no surprise that research has shown regular swimming improves physical strength, endurance, and body composition (a.k.a. how much lean mass versus fat you have).

On top of all this, water also supports some of your body weight, so it’s kinder to your joints than land is. “Water-related exercise is an excellent way to work out while reducing the joint stress that comes from regular workouts outside the pool, whether it’s pounding the pavement or lifting heavy weights,” says Spraul.

Working out in the water is also especially beneficial for anyone with an injury, arthritis, back pain, degenerative spine or disc issues who may have a limited ability to exercise, says Chris Kolba, Ph.D., P.T., C.S.C.S., physical therapist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

With a little creativity, you can do all sorts of exercises in the water—just expect to move quite a bit slower than normal.

To switch up your resistance training routine, you can perform moves like lunges, squats, step-ups, pullups, pistol squats, and inclined pushups in the pool.

Looking to kick things up a notch? Try traditional HIIT moves, such as bounding (running with long strides), squat jumps, plyometric lunges, or tuck jumps, says Spraul. Because the resistance of the water won’t let you move as fast as you normally would outside the pool, these explosive movements will actually be more difficult, he says. And that added resistance will force you (and your muscles) to really work.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

A lot of gyms and studios with pool access even offer aquatic boot camp circuits, plyometric, and interval classes. We’re not talking old-lady water aerobics; we’re talking workouts involving underwater cycling and jump lunges—like those offered at New York City’s AQUASTUDIO or select LifeTime Fitness locations. (One of our editors even tried them out.)

The Downside

Here’s the thing: That doesn’t mean you should always opt for the pool over land. Performing these moves won’t make for as athletic of a workout as they would if you were performing them with higher intensity and speed on land, says Spraul.

The force produced when we exercise on land is crucial for our ability to strengthen our bones and muscles, says Kolba. And working out on the ground better prepares our bodies for the functional movements and activities we do throughout our everyday lives.

Kolba recommends that if you’re injury-free and can strength train on land, you should continue to do so. “A land-based resistance program will maximize strength, balance, and bone-loading—which is especially important as we age,” he says.

But taking your workout to the water does have a place on recovery days, or when you’re craving a little variety. “When you’re doing strength training or HIIT-style exercises in the pool, the water will help take some of the load off, so you don’t put as much stress on your muscles and likely won’t feel as tired or sore afterwards,” says Spraul. After all, you can’t go all-out every day of the week—and overexerting yourself can lead to injury—so if you wake up feeling a bit sluggish, consider hopping in the pool for an easier (but still challenging) workout.

Related: Find a recovery supplement to help you bounce back from tough workouts.

6 Exercises Top Trainers Want You To Stop Doing

There are plenty of exercises we have love-hate relationships with. Walking lunges shape our legs and glutes so dang well—but man are they dreadful. And we’d be lying if we said deadlifting doesn’t give us some pre-workout anxiety.

As godly as they may seem in the gym, even trainers have moves that cramp their style—but not necessarily for the same reasons as us regular folk.

We asked three trainers to share their least favorite exercises—whether it’s because they’re not worth the time, are bad for your joints, or are always done improperly—and how to fill the void.

1. Single-Leg Deadlifts

The deadlift is one of our go-to strength-training moves—and for good reason. The move lights up pretty much all the muscles on the backside of your body. But the single-leg deadlift is so often done incorrectly that it doesn’t offer much benefit, says Rebecca Gahan, C.P.T., founder and owner of Kick@55 in Chicago.

The common issues with the single-leg deadlift? First: not enough weight. “A single 10-pound dumbbell does not create enough resistance,” Gahan says. Your legs and glutes are some of your largest muscles, so they need serious weight to benefit from resistance training. (Like a minimum of 45 pounds, not 20, according to Gahan.) Beyond that, there’s improper form. “Most people bend all of the way over, pulling at their lower back and potentially increasing their risk of injury,” she says.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Deadlift And Crush Your Next PR

To work those posterior muscles as effectively as possible, Gahan’s go-to is a Romanian deadlift with a barbell. “Plant both feet on the ground, and grasp the barbell with shoulders back and chest out,” she says. With legs straight, push back through your hips and lower barbell to mid-shin so your back is parallel with the floor. Then drive your hips forward to lift the bar back up into starting position. Gahan recommends using a weight you can perform a maximum of three to four sets of 15 reps with. If you get through those 15 reps easily, up your weight.

2. Tricep Kickbacks

Here’s the thing: Defined arms are coveted by guys and gals alike—but that doesn’t mean your gym time needs to be dedicated to sets and sets of isolated arm moves.

Gahan isn’t a fan of tricep kickbacks for two reasons: Most people don’t use enough weight to seriously work their triceps, and even when done effectively, the move only hits that one muscle group.

Turn up the burn of your workout by focusing on moves that work multiple muscle groups—including your triceps. Take the pushup, for example. This classic move engages your chest, triceps, and shoulders.

Make the most of your pushup by perfecting your form. Start in a plank position with your core tight. Look at the floor about a foot in front of you and bend at the elbows to lower your chest toward the ground. Focus on using your upper body—not hips and pelvis—to push back up from the floor, Gahan says.

Related: 9 Moves To Step Up Your Pushup Game

To really turn up the intensity for your triceps, modify your usual pushup for a tricep pushup. In this variation, position your hands directly under, or just wider than your shoulders (instead of the wider hand placement you’d use in regular pushups). As you lower down and push back up, keep your elbows tucked straight back and in toward the sides of your body, says Gahan. “The closer [your elbows] remain to your body, the greater resistance applied to the triceps,” she explains.

3. Front Lunges

No one can deny that lunges deserve a spot in your workout routine. But the front lunge can be hard on your knees—and not to mention monotonous. But one simple change—swapping front lunges for reverse lunges—can change up your routine and challenge your legs and butt in a different way, says celebrity trainer Adam Rosante, C.P.T., C.S.N. Plus, it develops the gluteus maximus (the biggest muscle in your butt), your quads, inner thighs, and calves. And, since the reverse lunge is more of an up-and-down movement, it tends to be easier on your joints (and easier to do), Rosante says.

Stand with feet hips-width apart, bend your right knee, and step your left foot back behind you. (Your torso can lean slightly forward toward your right thigh.) Keep the weight in your front heel as you bend your back knee to hover just above the ground. Then drive back up through your front heel to return to start.

4. Bicep Curls

While barbell bicep curls can build upper-body strength (particularly in those biceps), they’re done incorrectly all the time, says Chris DiVecchio, C.P.T., founder of Premier Mind and Body. And that can affect your results—and your range of motion.

Most people tuck their elbows into their sides and don’t extend their arms beyond a 90-degree angle—so they only really work the upper half of the bicep, he says. Plus, tons of people let their upper arms and elbows swing backward and forward as they curl and uncurl. (That’s cheating!)

If you’re going to do barbell curls, keep your arms extended out in front of your body and keep your upper arms in the same position throughout the entire movement, bending only at the elbows, DiVecchio says. (Or use dumbbells to make sure you’re using each arm equally.)

Or, try a compound move that’ll challenge your biceps, along with a few other muscle groups—like the slam ball squat throw. “The slam ball squat throw is a full-body move that not only works the biceps, but also works the core and legs,” says DiVecchio. This move is a power-conditioning combo that gets your heart rate up while benefiting your muscles.

Make sure you have enough room to throw a weighted ball straight in the air. Place the slam ball between your feet and squat down with your feet wide, toes pointed out, and butt low to the ground. Grab the ball so that your hands are close to the ground. Push through your glutes and legs to extend out of the squat and launch the ball straight up into the air. Catch the ball and drop back down into your squat.

5. Crunches

Quit crunching your life away. When it comes to building a strong core, crunches will only get you so far, says Rosante.

Rosante suggests trading in those crunches for something better “Focus on strengthening your core with anti-rotational moves like the plank, which prevent any pulling on the back of the neck, as is common with crunches,” he says.

Related: The 5 Most Effective Abs Moves

To get your plank on, start on the ground on your hands and knees. Step your feet back to the top of a pushup position, then lower your forearms to the floor so your elbows are under your shoulders. Pull your belly button in and squeeze your abs tight, maintaining a straight line from your head to your heels. Set a timer and hold until your form breaks. That’s your time to beat.

6. Flat-Ground Sprints

Any sprint is hard work, so we’re not here to hate on regular ol’ sprints—but if you’re going to go all out, you might as well get the biggest ROI possible, right?

To do that, try swapping flat sprints for hill sprints, says Rosante. “When you run hill sprints, your body is naturally placed at an angle which decreases impact and lessens your risk of injuring your hamstrings, Achilles’ tendons or knees,” he says. What’s more, they also do more to build muscle while burning fat, he adds.

Trade the treadmill for a hill (or just crank up the incline) and perform your sprints in the following pattern: Go hard for one minute, then recover until your heart rate is about 60 percent of your max. (Your max heart rate is roughly 220 minus your age.) Then repeat.

Related: Shop performance supplements to help you go hard and see results.

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

Some nights you just really need a comforting, hearty bowl of pasta. We’re talking about that good sauce, fresh basil, and a hefty grating of Parmesan. But when you’re cutting back on carbs or watching your weight, those heavenly noodles can really add up.

A two-ounce serving of regular pasta is about 200 calories, with 42 grams of carbohydrates, seven grams of protein, and just two grams of fiber, says Ashlee Wright, R.D. Even whole-wheat pasta still comes in at around 180 calories, with 39 grams of carbohydrates, and (a more impressive) eight grams of protein and seven grams of fiber.

Luckily, there are tons of healthier pasta alternatives to choose from to satisfy your pasta cravings while saving you a boatload of calories—and we’re not just talking about zoodles. These dietitian-approved noodles are versatile, nutritious, and less calorie-dense than your average spaghetti, so you can treat yourself without a shred of guilt.

1. Shirataki Noodles

These Japanese, noodles, which translate to ‘white waterfall’, are pretty much calorie-less, so it’s no wonder they’re such a popular pasta swap. They’re made with an Asian Yam (a root) called konjac, or konnyaku, and water, explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.

These noodles are thin, translucent, and gelatinous, and have a glossy, white appearance. A serving of regular shirataki noodles has zero calories and under a gram of carbs, Harris-Pincus says. (You can also find tofu shirataki noodles, made of konnyaku and tofu, which have about 10 calories, three grams of carbs, and two grams of fiber per serving.)

Shirataki noodles come in several varieties, so you can have fettuccine one night and spaghetti another. The best part? No prep necessary! Shirataki is pre-cooked, so you just have to drain the water out of the package, rinse, microwave briefly, and pat the noodles dry.

Shirataki noodles make the perfect healthier Pad Thai. Just toss them with peanut sauce, shrimp, and a bunch of vegetables (like broccoli, bok choy, mushrooms, and asparagus), suggests Kelly R. Jones M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N.

2. Edamame Noodles

Made from green soybeans, a serving of edamame noodles is about 210 calories. But for those calories you get 22 grams of carbs, 25 grams of protein, and 11 grams of fiber, says Jones. Yep, that’s the same amount of protein as a serving of chicken breast. And all that fiber is sure to keep you feeling full!

“Edamame noodles are a fabulous source of plant-based protein,” says Harris-Pincus. Because the noodles contain so much protein, you don’t even need to add extra to the meal. What’s more, they also supply a quarter of your daily potassium needs and a third of your daily iron needs.

You’ll prepare edamame noodles just like you would regular pasta. Jones recommends tossing them with a no-sugar added tomato sauce and a serving of vegetables for a quick weeknight meal. (Harris-Pincus likes hers with a garlicky pesto sauce.)

Related: 7 Vegetarian Protein Sources

3. Chickpea Pasta

Chickpeas can do so much more than hummus. A serving of chickpea pasta is about 190 calories, with 32 grams of carbs, 14 grams of protein, and eight grams of fiber, says Jones. They’re also a good source of iron.

The flavor and texture of chickpea pasta is similar to whole-wheat pasta. It’s available in a bunch of pasta shapes and cooks up just like normal pasta. The ingredient list is pretty slim, too, typically just chickpea flour, tapioca, pea protein, and xanthan gum (for binding purposes), says Wright. Jones likes to use shell or elbow-shaped chickpea pasta for homemade macaroni and cheese or summer pasta salads.

4. Black Bean Pasta

Black bean pasta is made from just black bean flour, and offers 14 grams of protein, a whopping 15 grams of fiber, and 35 grams of carbs per 200-calorie serving, says Wright.  Like edamame noodles, black bean pasta is higher in calories—but those calories are more balanced with protein and fiber than plain old pasta. Plus, it provides about a quarter of your daily iron needs, says Wright.

Black bean pasta is perfect for a quick weeknight Mexican dish. “While the pasta is cooking, sauté garlic, onions, some frozen corn, and spinach in a sauce pan,” suggests Jones. Toss your veggies into the pasta and top with salsa and avocado.

5. Buckwheat Pasta

You’ll often hear buckwheat noodles referred to as Japanese soba noodles, says Jones. And despite its name, buckwheat doesn’t actually contain wheat—it’s a seed! (Many mainstream soba noodle brands do contain traces of wheat flour, though, so check your labels. Look for a brand that’s made from just buckwheat flour and water, suggests Jones.)

At 200 calories, with 43 grams of carbs, six grams of protein, and three grams of protein per serving, soba noodles are the closest to regular pasta calorie-wise, says Jones. But because buckwheat is naturally high in phosphorus (important for our bones) and zinc (important for our immune and nervous systems), it has a bit of a nutritional edge over the other stuff, says Jones.

Soba noodles work well in Asian-inspired dishes like stir-fries. “Add your favorite stir-fry sauce, vegetables like broccoli and peppers, and a protein like shrimp, chicken, or tofu,” says Jones.

Related: Shop a full selection of healthy kitchen ingredients.

What A Day Of Sugar-Free Eating Looks Like

There’s no getting around it—eating too much sugar can be really bad for your health.

High consumption of the sweet stuff is associated with type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Recent research published by the AHA even found a connection between drinking sweetened beverages and higher risks of dementia and stroke.

While the AHA recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons (or 24 grams) of added sugar per day, and men consume no more than nine teaspoons (or 36 grams), the average American takes in a whopping 22 teaspoons of added sugar in a single day.

Considering sugar is hiding in tons of packaged foods and drinks under names like malt, molasses, fruit juice concentrates, corn syrup, and anything ending in “ose,” it’s no wonder we’re taking in so much of the stuff. Take a look at your ingredient labels and you’ll often find added sugar in everything from flavored yogurt to granola to cereal to bread to condiments like sriracha and barbecue sauce.

Related: 8 Foods That Pack A Surprising Amount Of Sugar

The best way to slash added sugar is to stick to a diet of whole, fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and meat, says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D.N., author of The MIND Diet. We know that’s easier said than done, so we asked a few nutrition experts to walk us through a day of sugar-free eating—and it’s much simpler (and tastier) than you might think.

Breakfast

With sugary cereals, instant oatmeal packets, and coffee shop pastries dominating the standard American breakfast, the best way to start the day off added-sugar-free is to whip up something quick at home.

Try this option: Make a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal (you can prep it in bulk for the week), and stir in a spoonful of peanut butter. Then top with strawberries and a sprinkle of hemp hearts. “It’s a hearty breakfast that supplies whole grains, healthy fats, naturally sweet berries, some protein, and heart and brain-healthy omega-3s,” Moon says.

And, if you’re not in the mood for oatmeal, go for yogurt or eggs, which are both high in protein to keep cravings at bay.

Rizzo likes to mix a cup of fruit (like papaya or berries) into a cup of plain Greek yogurt and top it all with a teaspoon of unsweetened shredded coconut for healthy fats. Not only does yogurt pack protein, but it also contains probiotics to improve digestion and keep you regular.

If you’re making eggs, just add some veggies and extra protein (like low-fat cheese, avocado, black beans, or smoked salmon) to the mix, Rizzo says.

Related: 8 Breakfasts That Pack Between 20 And 30 Grams Of Protein

A.M. Snack

When you’re stomach starts growling mid-morning, don’t reach for a sweetened granola bar to hold you over. If you usually go on a coffee run before lunch, have a latte made with just unsweetened almond milk to avoid sipping on added sugars, suggests Moon. And for your mid-morning snack, grab a piece of fruit (like a nectarine) and an ounce of almonds, pistachios, or walnuts. The sweetness of the fruit satisfies any sugar cravings, while the nuts provide protein and heart-healthy fats to fill you up, Moon says.

Lunch

A green, nutrient-rich salad is a favorite lunch for many nutrition experts. The key is to make your own dressing and choose toppings wisely to avoid added sugar.

Start out with a mixture of romaine, kale, and spinach, and top it with a serving of quality protein, like grilled chicken breast or salmon, recommends Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D. Then add in a serving of avocado (a third of a medium fruit) which adds creaminess and helps your salad fill you up for just about 80 calories. Top your salad with a drizzle of olive oil and your favorite vinegar for a dose of healthy fats and a punch of acidity to tie everything together.

You can even make a satisfying salad without the meat by topping mixed baby greens with quinoa or farro for fiber and edamame for plant-based protein, suggests Moon. From there, add your favorite colorful veggies, like red bell peppers, avocados, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, and more. Then drizzle with olive oil, your favorite vinegar, and a small pinch of salt and pepper. Tons of flavor, zero added sugar.

P.M. Snack                           

Afternoon cravings are often the undoing of our sugar-free eating efforts. Trade the trip to the vending machine for a nutritionist-approved snack like air-popped popcorn with a dash of sea salt, suggests Rizzo.

If you need something a little more substantial, munch on a handful of unsalted peanuts and a few raisins. The combo tastes just like peanut butter and jelly, says Rizzo. Or, munch on a cup of steamed edamame or roasted crunchy chickpeas. Both are packed with fiber and sugar, she says.

And if you typically reach for a soda in the afternoon, go for a refreshing naturally-flavored sparkling water instead, says Moon. Just avoid any sparkling beverages that use artificial sweeteners and flavors. (We love LaCroix’s fun flavors.)

Dinner

A mix of whole-food complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and protein at dinner is all you need at your evening meal.

To keep things simple, you might have a serving of grilled fish (like salmon or halibut) with a side of green vegetables (like green beans or Brussels sprouts) and a serving of either brown rice or beans, says Rizzo.

When you’re in the mood for something heartier, toss whole-wheat pasta with shrimp and sautéed broccoli florets and top with a fresh tomato and white wine sauce, suggests Moon. (Make the sauce yourself, since the canned stuff often packs added sugar.)

Dessert

If you feel like you need some sweetness at the end of the day (hey, we all do!), it is possible to get your dessert in without added sugar coming along to the party.

Try this: Drizzle a tablespoon of warmed all-natural peanut butter and a teaspoon of sliced almonds over frozen banana slices—it’s a favorite of Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T.

Or, top a plain rice cake with a third-cup of plain cottage cheese (mix in cinnamon or vanilla extract for extra flavor) and a teaspoon each of dried blueberries and chopped walnuts, Shaw recommends. This sweet and texture-filled dessert provides protein and heart-healthy fats, she says.

Related: Shop a number of pantry staples for a healthier kitchen.

Consider this infographic your sugar-free menu: 

Is Your Fitness Routine Missing This Key Component?

You might think it’s enough to make it to that 6 o’clock spin class (because, let’s face it, sometimes that’s tough), but the truth is, what you do in the hours and days following that workout are just as important for maintaining your fitness.

Without adequate recovery time, your body might not be able to properly rebound from a workout—essentially stealing the benefits of working out in the first place! And if you’re too sore or tired to make it out the door, you may not even make it to that next workout.

To keep your fitness performance—and results—going strong, your recovery plan needs to be just as much a part of your routine as your gym sessions themselves. Here, experts share the key components for effective recovery, so your body can bounce back post-workout and better prepare for the next one.

Cool Down

As tempting as it is to plop right down on the couch immediately after finishing a run or to get right into the car after nailing your last rep at the gym, spending a few minutes to cool down really will do your body good. Cool-downs help keep oxygen and nutrients flowing to your just-worked muscles to start the recovery process and ease your body back into normal everyday movement, says Ngo Okafor, personal trainer, NIKE+NYC coach, and creator of FitMatch.

When you finish up a workout, your heart rate is elevated, your body temperature is higher than usual, and your blood vessels are dilated—so if you stop moving too quickly you might end up feeling dizzy or sick to your stomach, according to the American Heart Association.

Related: Are You Doing Too Much HIIT?

Try to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes cooling down by walking or moving through a few drills, like planks or lunges, which still engage the muscles while allowing the heart rate to come down after high-intensity work, Okafor says.

Get Your Fluids In

Your body needs ample water to maintain even its most basic functions, so you’ll want to drink up after a workout—especially if you got super sweaty.

Make sure you’ve got a full bottle handy before and after you exercise, and that you’re hydrating regularly throughout the rest of the day. Okafor recommends that active men shoot for close to four liters of water a day, and active women shoot for close to three liters.

To really replenish after a grueling workout, you can also add some electrolytes or adaptogenic herbs to your drink, suggests CrossFit coach and nutritional therapy practitioner at Reebok, Emily Schromm, C.P.T. You’ve heard about electrolytes a hundred times, but in case you need a refresher, electrolytes are minerals like potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium, found in your bodily fluids (like sweat) that help to maintain your blood and muscle function.

Meanwhile, adaptogens are compounds found in a number of plants that help your body react and adapt to stress, supporting energy and vitality both in the short-term and over time. (You can find adaptogens and electrolytes in a few forms, including powders, capsule, and liquids.)

Massage It Out

Okay, you probably won’t need much convincing to get behind this recovery technique—but massages are as helpful for recovery as they are wonderful. When you directly stimulate the muscles, you boost circulation and promote relaxation, which can help ward off soreness and risk for injury, says Okafor.

Sure, you can book yourself a full-body massage (you’ve earned it!)—but you can also get the job done on your own. Here’s what to do: Gently roll a lacrosse ball, massage stick, or foam roller, over your major muscle groups. Pay special attention to big muscles, like your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lats, says Schromm. Because these muscle groups do so much of the work when you exercise, they really tend to tighten up after an intense workout.

If you find a trigger point or ‘knot,’ which is essentially an extra-taut band of muscle, apply direct pressure until the discomfort fades away, Okafor says. Continue to work on that spot until the intensity of the discomfort lessens.

Although it may be uncomfortable at times, especially if you’re tense, Schromm recommends performing self-massage daily—especially both before and after tough workouts.

Refuel Right

After a workout, there are two nutrients you definitely want to stock up on: protein and carbohydrates. Without them, your body won’t have the tools it needs to bounce back and grow stronger.

Carbs restore the energy stored in your muscles (called ‘glycogen’) that you burn through when you work out. Research shows that when carbs are consumed immediately after exercise, they’re more effectively stored in muscle as glycogen, where they help prevent muscle breakdown and set the body up for optimal performance, according to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine.

Meanwhile, protein provides the body with the amino acids it needs to rebuild muscle in the process of protein synthesis—which is crucial for ensuring you benefit from your workouts and build muscle, instead of lose it.

Both Okafor and Schromm recommend consuming both carbs and protein within an hour after finishing your workout in a ratio of about four parts carbs to one part protein.

There are plenty of ways to refuel with this carb-protein combo: A banana with nut butter, Greek yogurt topped with chopped nuts and berries, lean grilled chicken with some rice or beans, or crackers with hummus all make great post-workout snacks. And in a pinch, you can always slug back a protein shake or blend up a smoothie with a scoop of protein powder, frozen fruit, and water.

Related: Find a protein supplement to keep your body well-fueled.

Once you nail your post-workout grub, just keep in mind that getting ample protein throughout the entire day also helps your muscles stay in tip-top shape, says Okafor. He recommends aiming for between one and 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day if you exercise frequently.

Sleep It Off

This one seems like a no-brainer, but considering so many people get just six hours (or less) of shuteye per night, it’s worth driving home yet again, says Okafor.

Sleep is your body’s opportunity to restore itself. During this time, your body produces more anabolic (a.k.a. muscle-building) hormones and fewer catabolic (a.k.a muscle-wasting hormones), says Okafor. One of these catabolic hormones is the stress hormone cortisol, which spikes after a workout. Without ample sleep to help bring cortisol levels down, they can stay elevated and lead to a host of issues, like higher-than-usual blood pressure and weight gain.

Not to mention, regularly missing out on sleep can crush your mental drive to train, Okafor adds.

We all have slightly different sleep needs, but Okafor recommends shooting for between seven and nine hours a night. To set yourself up for better shut-eye, power down at least a half-hour before bed, keep screens out of the bedroom, and try to stick to a regular sleep schedule, Okafor says. You can even try eating a bedtime snack that’s high in magnesium, a mineral that has a soothing effect on the body, he says. (A handful of nuts or anything with peanut butter are two of our favorite magnesium-packed snacks.)

Take Actual Recovery Days

When you go hard day after day without adequate rest and recovery, you end up in a state of overtraining in which your body enters breakdown mode. At that point, you may lose muscle mass, risk serious injury, and feel so depleted that you’re zonked out all day long, Okafor says. On top of all that, your workout performance tanks—which totally defeats the purpose of training, right?

Related: 6 Ways Building Muscle Benefits Your Health And Wellness

Remember: When you work out, you are breaking down muscle and depleting the energy your body has stored up. So, sometimes a full day off is necessary. Schromm recommends dedicating one day each week to recovering. Some people may be able to go for a walk or leisurely hike that day—but others may need a day of complete chill time, she says. If you start to notice any of the warning signs of overtraining (like chronic muscle soreness, elevated resting heart rate, irritability, and insomnia), pump the brakes and make sure you’re getting in one full rest day a week.