These Are The 6 MOST Super Superfoods

A quick scroll through Instagram yields dozens of smoothies, lattes, and scrumptious-looking snacks infused with superfood powders and elixirs that claim to cure all of your ailments, help you shed pounds, and basically change your life. But do all of the superfoods making their way into our kitchens deserve this superstar status?

“The term carries a certain level of hype, but some foods do earn that superfood status,” says Mark Hyman, M.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and author of Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?. “Food is medicine, and some foods are more powerful medicines than others.” And as nutritious—and just plain cool—as many of today’s trendy superfoods are (we love you, maca!), some of the most ‘super’ foods we can eat are actually everyday staples we often overlook.

How solid is your superfood foundation? Here are the six MVPs experts want you to eat more of.

1. Seeds

Though they be but little, they are fierce. Seeds like chia, hemp, and flax offer some pretty powerful benefits.

Chia seeds, for one, are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can contribute to glowing skin and mental clarity, and pack a whopping 10 grams of fiber per ounce, Hyman says. Hemp seeds are also a good source of omega-3 fats, as well as protein, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and iron. And flaxseeds are the richest source of powerful phytonutrients called lignans out there.

Make the most of these ‘superseeds’ by adding them to smoothies, or stirring them into pudding or coconut yogurt, Hyman suggests.

2. Blueberries

These little berries are mightier than they look. Blueberries are high in phytochemicals and antioxidants that can help fight off free radical damage that has been linked to diseases like glaucoma, heart disease, and cancer, says Kirsten David, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D, a dietitian with the online coaching group EduPlated. Blueberries are also rich in vitamin C and vitamin K, which help maintain a healthy immune system and healthy bones, respectively. One 2015 study even showed that postmenopausal women who supplemented with blueberry powder for eight weeks experienced an uptick in circulation-boosting nitric oxide and lower blood pressure.

Grab a handful of blueberries for a healthy snack, use them as a salad topping, or stir them into Greek yogurt, David recommends.

3. Kale

No matter how many foods are described as ‘the new kale,’ none have yet to actually replace the OG. This leafy green is rich in oxidative stress-fighting antioxidants, very high in vitamin A (which is key for eye health, immune function, and cellular growth), and actually packs more iron per calorie than beef, says David. (Kale’s iron content is particularly impressive—and important—given the common misconception that we can only get this key oxygen-transporting mineral from meat.)

Make a supercharged salad by topping chopped kale with berries and seeds, toss the green into smoothies, or sauté it into omelets, suggests Natalie Allen, M.S., R.D., L.D., a clinical instructor of dietetics at Missouri State University.

4. Cocoa

For real! Researchers have long identified a link between dark chocolate consumption and both reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and improved markers of immune function. The superstar here is the cocoa, and specifically flavanol, a flavonoid (a type of antioxidant) that’s best known for its positive effects on heart health, including on blood pressure and circulation, says David. Daily consumption of cocoa flavanols has even been shown to help improve cognitive performance, she adds.

The key to chocolate-covered health benefits is making sure your chocolate is 70 percent cocoa, or higher. Use dark chocolate chips in place of milk chocolate chips whenever you bake or treat yourself to a square or two to quash cravings.

5. Eggs

Eggs received bad press for decades because of their yolks’ high cholesterol content, but they have now been shown to help raise your ‘good’ cholesterol, which has helped get the nutrient-dense food back on people’s plates, says David. In addition to providing B vitamins, iron, and omega-3s (as long as they’re pasture-raised), eggs also offer another key (and hard-to-find) nutrient: choline, a vitamin we need in order to support a healthy nervous system and DNA synthesis. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the nutrients eggs provide may help lower heart disease risk.

Related: Everything You’ve Ever Wondered About Cholesterol, Finally Explained

David recommends starting the day with scrambled eggs, an omelet, or even a piece of avocado toast topped with a fried or poached egg. Hard-boiled eggs also make for an easy, protein-packed snack.

6. Mushrooms

Fungus FTW! “Reishi, shiitake, and cordyceps mushrooms contain powerful health-promoting properties that support your immune system and healthy hormone production,” says Hyman.

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Mushrooms also contain high amounts of antioxidants, which help ward off free radical damage, support healthy liver function, and maintain healthy cellular function.

Hyman suggests making reishi tea, adding shiitake mushrooms to a stir fry, or serving up mushroom soup to reap their benefits.

Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

Is Plant-Based Protein Just As Effective As Whey Protein?

When it comes to protein, we tend to think of animal products like meat, dairy, and eggs as the best of the best, but a recent study suggests that plant-based protein sources deserve more credit than they usually get.

Published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the study assigned 11 mixed martial artists (MMA) athletes to either a rice or whey protein supplement. They supplemented with three scoops (75 grams) of their designated protein throughout six weeks of high-volume and high-intensity training in preparation for an upcoming fight. They took one of their three scoops of protein before training and followed their usual diets otherwise.

After the six weeks, the study found the rice and whey proteins had ‘statistically similar’ abilities to help the athletes hang onto their muscle mass while undergoing the stress of intense training. That’s right, rice protein benefited their muscles just as much as good ol’ whey.  

The main takeaway: Upping our overall protein intake has a major impact on our ability to maintain fat-free mass and a healthy body composition, regardless of the source of that protein. “The whole point was increasing protein intake, period,” says one of the study’s authors, Alison Escalante, R.D, L.D.N., C.I.S.S.N., of ALLYFIT. “Though we were working with dieters that were cutting weight and in strict preparation for a fight, they were still able to both maintain their lean body mass and their performance by increasing overall protein intake.”

“We wanted to explore this because there’s a lot of hype about plant-based dieting and that’s something that we found intriguing,” she explains. So whether you have a dairy allergy, are vegan, or just need a change of pace, consider this study confirmation that plant-based proteins do in fact hold their weight, and that it is possible to nourish your muscles without relying on animal proteins.

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

We know many of you whey loyalists still aren’t sold—after all, whey protein has long been considered top dog when it comes to building muscle, as it  contains all nine of the essential amino acids, including high amounts of the branched-chain amino acids (leucine, valine, and isoleucine), which are key to muscle protein synthesis (the process through which our muscles recover and grow). It’s also digested more quickly than plant-based proteins. For those reasons, past research concluded that whey better stimulates muscle protein synthesis than other popular protein options, such as casein and soy.

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Ultimately, though, you can still maintain or build muscle using a plant-based protein supplement. “The body can combine an amino acid from one food source with the amino acids from another food source to make the proteins it needs, including what it needs to grow and maintain muscle,” says Isabel Maples, R.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Plus, many plant-based proteins out there these days combine a number of protein sources—like rice, pea, and hemp—to pack more of amino acids into every scoop. So if you’re really concerned about coming as close to whey as possible, go for one of these combo plant proteins. Look for about 20 to 30 grams of protein—and two to five grams of the BCAA leucine, the most crucial for muscle protein synthesis—per serving.

Vegans May Have the Right Idea, After All…

Vegans have endured the ridicule of their carnivorous (and even vegetarian) peers since long before Instagram memes and Reddit boards. But in recent years—whether thanks to Beyoncé or documentaries like Forks Over Knives—the idea of swapping animal foods for plants has finally gone mainstream.

If Beyoncé being on-board isn’t enough to win you over, get a load of this: A study recently published in Nutrients found that ditching animal products can slash type 2 diabetes risk and lead to a “significant reduction” in BMI (body mass index).

The study followed two groups of 75 overweight adults for 16 weeks. One group stuck with their normal diet while the other switched to a low-fat vegan diet focused on fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains.

After the four months, not only did the vegan dieters lose significantly more body fat—particularly belly fat—than the normal dieters, but their blood sugar levels dropped and their insulin function improved. According to the American Diabetes Association, shedding excess body fat can lower type 2 diabetes risk; plus, declines in insulin function and high blood sugar are both telltale signs of the development of this chronic disease. Given that, the researchers believe this study indicates that veganism (done right) can help prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes (which now affects more than 100 million Americans, by the way).

What makes a vegan diet so magical? In its proper form, veganism emphasizes not vegan donuts and packaged meatless meatballs, but whole, high-fiber foods, like vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. The fiber in these foods slows digestion, regulates blood sugar, and supports weight loss and management, says Julieanna Hever, M.S., R.D., C.P.T., of The Plant-Based Dietitian.

These plant-based foods also provide antioxidants, which can neutralize free radicals—and research has linked the oxidative stress caused by free radicals to type 2 diabetes, adds plant-based diet specialist David Sonenberg, M.S., R.D.

The Benefits Beyond Diabetes

The perks of plant-based eating don’t stop there: Studies show vegans enjoy up to a 75 percent lower risk of developing high blood pressure, a 42 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease, and a drastically lower risk of developing a number of cancers.

Not to mention, plant-based foods are rich in compounds called phytonutrients, which boost your immune system, improve skin and bone health, and fight inflammation, according to advocacy group Produce for Better Health Foundation.

And, since oxidative stress has been linked to cancer, cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration—in addition to type 2 diabetes—the antioxidants in a plant-focused diet have far-reaching effects on our health.

Not only does a whole food, plant-based diet help prevent some of these other chronic health issues, but it can also help resolve them after they crop up, says Hever. In fact, healthy vegan diets have been shown to improve blood pressure and reverse even advanced stage cardiovascular disease.

Make the Jump (The Right Way)

Reaping the benefits of a vegan lifestyle means eating the right vegan foods. “Anyone who focuses on eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices will reap the benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet,” says Hever. You can’t load up on packaged foods loaded with added oils, sugars, and salt—like French fries and vegan cupcakes—and expect your blood sugar or heart health to improve.

Related: 7 Tips For Doing A Plant-Based Diet Right

Swapping out staples like eggs, chicken, and cheese for plants is no easy task, so experts recommend transitioning to a vegan way of eating slowly. Start by making just one meal per day with 100-percent whole plant foods, says Andy Bellatti, R.D., of Andy Bellatti Nutrition. Once that feels routine, switch another meal over. Then another.

Make the change easier by taking advantage of plant-based meals you might already eat—like oatmeal with fruit, bean and rice burritos, pasta with veggies and marinara sauce, bean chili, and tofu-vegetable stir-fries—and exploring Pinterest and Instagram for new recipes to try, says Hever. If you’re struggling to find meals you like or are skeptical about meeting your nutritional needs, enlist a pro, like a registered dietitian, to help you get started.

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And when it comes to those vegan cookies, just follow the 80:20 rule: Make sure 80 percent of your foods are minimally processed (think an apple versus apple pie or edamame versus a tofu ‘chicken nugget’). This way you have wiggle room for treats without sacrificing those vital health benefits.

I Cut Out Added Sugar For 2 Weeks—Here’s What Happened

Aside from the occasional happy hour or couch potato kind of night, I eat pretty healthy. I abide by Meatless Mondays, always go for whole wheat, and get inordinately excited about produce and farmer’s markets. And, because heart disease runs in my family, I try to stick to lean meats, avoid salt, and fill my plate with veggies. But despite trying to squeeze as much green into my diet as possible, I do have one major clean-eating Achilles’ heel: soda.

Pretty much nothing makes me happier than a fountain soda on a hot day or a cold Coke with my pizza. I’ve cut way, way back since my college days (I could down a two-liter bottle in one day), but more often than not I still have a can after lunch or with dinner.

The more I read up on nutrition, though, the more I worry about my soda habit. (For instance, the American Heart Association says overdoing it on added sugar contributes to weight gain and heart issues.) That’s why I recently decided to white-knuckle my way through two weeks without sugar in hopes of finally kicking my soda habit to the curb.

The Prep

Before I got started, I spoke with dietitian Alix Turoff, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., C.P.T, about what going sugar-free would actually entail—and I was shocked to learn how many foods contain sugar. “Many people don’t realize that all carbohydrates—even ones that don’t taste sweet, like rice—turn to sugar in our bodies through digestion,” she told me. The only exception? Fiber, which we don’t digest. If I wanted to completely cut out sugar, I’d have to nix all carbohydrates, except for those that are almost exclusively fiber, like veggies.

That seemed like a next-level task (plus, sweet potatoes are totally healthy!), so instead I chose to avoid all added sugar, which lurks in a ton of foods under aliases like agave, dextrin, fructose, mannose, syrup, and more.

On Sunday evening, I walked into the grocery store ready to start my vacation from added sugar—and quickly realized that everything I love contains it. Crackers, cheese, salad dressing, hummus—all of my favorite diet staples! Realizing just how tough this was going to be, I whipped out my phone and did some serious Googling. I looked up every single food ingredient and pored through the interwebs for sugar-free meal ideas.

Related: 10 Foods That Pack More Added Sugar Than You Should Have All Day

Though I was sad to pass up on some of my favorite foods, I left the store with bags full of turkey burgers, arugula, frozen veggies, pre-made guacamole, and edamame. (It’s worth mentioning that I searched three different grocery stores before I found sugar-free bacon.)

The First Few Days

With store-bought lunches and vending machine snacks off the table, I toted no fewer than seven plastic containers into work with me the next day, packing veggie egg cups for breakfast, a massive salad and salad dressing (just oil and vinegar) for lunch, and edamame, plantain chips, and guacamole for snacks. It was enough food for a weekend camping trip, but hey, I didn’t want to get stuck without food I could eat.

Those first few days I found myself lusting after things I normally wouldn’t think twice about: sad-looking breakfast pastries left over from morning meetings, chalky protein bars, you name it. On day three, I even briefly considered eating a candy bar I saw on the floor of the ladies’ bathroom.

My daily mid-afternoon slump—which I usually cured with a can of soda—hit me hard. A few days in, though, I realized I could replicate what I loved most about soda—the cold, the bubbles, the caffeine, and a quick break from work—with seltzers or iced coffees, and surviving ‘til quitting time became doable again.

Surviving Week One

By day six, I had my routine down pat, and I happily carted all of my food containers into the office. I kept it simple: something like a leftover turkey burger, homemade chimichurri sauce, veggies, and avocado, or a salad topped with sugar-free rotisserie chicken, quinoa, chopped red onion, and tomatoes for lunch, and sea-salted edamame, bell peppers, and guac for snacks.

I also noticed my energy levels becoming more stable. I no longer felt sluggish all afternoon after eating an oversized sandwich or pizza slice for lunch, or tossed and turned at night after a few glasses of vino or ice cream before bed.

I definitely found myself doing some odd things, however, like sneaking a plastic bag full of (sugar-free!) chips and a green apple into a college basketball game so I’d have something I could snack on, or stashing a bottle of salad dressing in my purse. I thoroughly scrutinized restaurant menus online before going out to eat, and asked servers dozens of questions about every ingredient on the menu. Sure, some of it was a little awkward, but it made me realize just how little I knew about the food I usually consumed! I couldn’t believe the number of calories in my usual takeout orders (like build-your-own burrito bowls) and unrecognizable ingredients in my go-to grab-and-go prepared foods (like pre-made enchiladas).

My solution: Cook more! My kitchen adventures included perfecting a homemade chimichurri sauce (something I would have bought pre-made before) and adding different veggies (and even fried eggs!) to whole-wheat pasta dishes. The more I experimented, the more fun I had.

Two Weeks—And Beyond!

By day 14, I was sleeping a full eight hours without tossing and turning in the wee hours, my pants felt a bit looser, and I’d saved a surprising amount of cash by bringing my own lunch to work. (I’ll be honest, though: It was hard to plan out every single thing I was going to eat ahead of time.)

Yes, I have had some soda since finishing my two-week experiment, but those 14 days helped me realize that it’s a habit, not a necessity. Now I’m more likely to go for seltzer, and I’ll only indulge in a can of the syrupy stuff every few days or so.

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Soda aside, my biggest takeaway is my new awareness of the ingredients in the foods I’ve eaten mindlessly for so long, and realizing that with a bit of preparation I can eat a far less-processed diet. In the end, that is pretty sweet.

Are Your Supplements Potent Enough?

Shopping for supplements can be a daunting experience, to say the least. Between the endless assortment of brands and science-y-sounding language splashed across labels, buying something as seemingly simple as a multivitamin often feels like a big decision.

To add to the confusion, many different types of products are now being promoted as ‘high-potency.’ Huh?

Don’t worry, we did the research so you don’t have to. Here, we break down what ‘high-potency’ actually means, and how to tell if it’s right for you.

Defining High-Potency

According to the FDA, vitamins or minerals that present at 100 percent or more of the reference daily intake (a.k.a. ‘RDI,’ the measurements used to calculate appropriate daily intake of a nutrient) per serving can be labeled ‘high-potency.’ So if you’re reaching for a high-potency vitamin C supplement, one serving will pack enough to hit the RDI target for adults (which is 75 milligrams for women and 90 milligrams for men), or more.

When there are multiple ingredients in a supplement (like in your multivitamin), at least two-thirds of them must offer 100 percent or more of the RDI in order for that supplement to be labeled ‘high-potency.’ You’ll have to check the Supplement Facts labels on multi-ingredient high-potency supps to determine which of its ingredients are present in these high levels.

When we’re not talking about vitamins and minerals, though, things get a little hairier, since the definition of ‘high-potency’ isn’t officially defined for other supplements, says naturopathic physician Chanté Wiegand, N.D, director of education at The Synergy Company.

The term can still indicate how powerful a punch a supplement packs, but it’s not backed by the FDA. Probiotics, for example, are often found in doses of five to 10 billion live organisms (or CFUs, ‘colony-forming units’)—so supplements that contain more than 100 billion are often labeled ‘high-potency.’

Same goes for herbal supplements, such as licorice. When these natural products are made into extracts and concentrated (or ‘standardized’) to contain larger amounts of their beneficial compound, they might be labeled ‘high-potency’—but again, there’s no official definition here. Take turmeric, for example: “There is a huge difference between the turmeric spice, the ground turmeric root that you can buy at the grocery store, and an extract,” says Wiegand. While you’d need to eat a tablespoon of actual turmeric spice to get about 130 milligrams of curcuminoids (the compounds responsible for turmeric’s benefits), a single capsule of a standardized extract might contain over 200 milligrams. So turmeric spice would be considered low-potency, while the extract supplement would be considered high-potency, Wiegand says.

Who Can Benefit From High-Potency Supplements

Not all health and nutrition experts agree on the necessity of high-potency supps, but Wiegand sees them as beneficial. “The RDIs vitamins and minerals are considered quite modest in most cases—and many in the nutrition world consider these levels the minimum to prevent deficiency, not to support optimal health,” says Wiegand. Experts in this school of thought suggest most people can benefit from high-potency doses of vitamins and minerals. “For example, the RDI for vitamin C is 90 milligrams, but vitamin C is a beneficial, powerful antioxidant, and at least 200 milligrams—or even more—a day is widely recommended,” Wiegand says. B vitamins are a similar story: “The RDIs for B vitamins are tiny—and these vitamins are rapidly depleted by stress, poor diet, genetic issues, and more,” she adds.

Related: Get Your B Vitamins Straight: A Guide To What’s What

People with certain health issues may also have specific high-potency vitamin needs. One example: an autoimmune disease called pernicious anemia, which affects vitamin B12 absorption. “For these folks, high-dose vitamin B12 is necessary,” says Wiegand.

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Others who might benefit from taking high-potency supplements:

  • People with gastrointestinal issues, who may have trouble absorbing nutrients.
  • Strict vegans, who have a hard time getting enough B12 (which is found in animal foods).
  • Those with chronic GI disorders that impact nutrient digestion and absorption.
  • Women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should take high-dose folic acid.
  • Those who’ve just finished a round of antibiotics should take a high-potency probiotic to help rebuild the community of good bacteria in their gut.

Just like you’d use a high-potency probiotic when faced with a major gut dilemma, you might also consider high-potency herbal supplements when you want to benefit right away. “ (Since high-dose herbal products can interact with other drugs and have possible side effects long-term, think of them more as situational superheroes than everyday staples.)

Who Should Stay Away From High-Potency Supps

While high-potency supplements can be beneficial in certain cases, more isn’t always better. For example, since exceeding the upper limit of vitamin A can lead to birth defects, it’s not recommended that pregnant women take high doses, says Wiegand.

Meanwhile, if your vitamin D levels are already high enough, a high-potency supplement could be problematic, just as high-potency vitamin K could be an issue if you take blood-thinners. Even high-potency probiotics can do more harm than good if you have a common condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), in which you have too many bacteria festering in the wrong place.

Ultimately, your unique circumstances and health determine whether high-potency supplements (and which ones) are right for you, so talk to your doctor or a dietitian before updating your supplement regimen.

Which Type Of Collagen Supplement Is Right For You?

With a slew of health gurus touting its benefits and adding it to their coffee and smoothies, collagen is the supplement right now. Why all the sudden buzz? Well, up until recently, researchers hadn’t really investigated the benefits of upping our intake of this protein (which happens to be the most abundant protein in our bodies). Now, studies are showing that collagen supplementation can boost our joint and skin health, and promote healthy aging, explains Marc S. Schneider, M.D., director at Schneider Centre for Plastic Surgery.

Bone broth, another big trend in the wellness world, is a major natural source of collagen—but since there’s only so much meaty broth one can swallow down on a daily basis, many different types of collagen supplements are currently taking over store shelves.

Most popular in powdered form, collagen supps are made from cow, chicken, fish, or egg sources. There are actually more than two dozen different types of collagen, all of which have slightly different functions—so which you choose depends on your goals, says Schneider. Here’s your guide to the most popular options out there.

Type I Collagen

If collagen’s skin-related benefits are your top priority, type I collagen is your go-to, as it makes up 90 percent of your hair, skin, and nails (organs, bones, and ligaments, too), according to Ryan Neinstein, M.D., plastic surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates. Type I collagen can help ward off the hallmarks of skin aging, like the stretching out or thinning of the skin.

Related: I Drank Collagen For 30 Days—Here’s How It Turned Out

“Collagen has been shown in preclinical studies to improve skin thickness, function, moisture content, and appearance,” says Neinstein, who credits type I collagen—particularly marine-sourced type I collagen—with these beauty benefits. “Collagen peptides from fish are considered superior in raising overall body collagen [which is predominantly type I] and improving skin, hair, nail, and bone quality,” he says. How? Research suggests marine collagen is up to one-and-a-half times more bioavailable than chicken or bovine collagen. (That’s why it’s the type of collagen most often used in topical cosmetic products.) Want to give it a try? We love Vital Proteins’ Wild-Caught Marine Collagen.

Type II Collagen

Chicken soup is good for the soul, but there’s another reason it’s so great when we’re sick: Type II collagen, which is mainly sourced from chickens and plentiful in chicken broth, is known for its immune-boosting and joint-supporting properties. “Type II collagen is by far the most important,” believes Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of DrAxe.com. This type of collagen is a major part of our gut lining and helps it act as a barrier between the substances we consume and our bloodstream, which helps our digestive system run smoothly and also benefits our immune system, Axe says. It’s also a major building block of cartilage, which is why it’s so crucial for joint health. Two of our go-to’s are NeoCell Collagen Joint Complex and Sports Research Bone Broth Protein.

Type III Collagen

Type III collagen helps form arterial walls, which is key for cardiovascular health. It’s often found alongside type I collagen in the body (think bone, cartilage, dentin, tendons, skin, and other connective tissues)—though in smaller amounts—and thus offers similar skin- and bone-related benefits, Axe says. For that reason, types I and III make perfect supplement sidekicks, packing a one-two punch.

Type III collagen supplements are often made from bovine (cow) sources. Try adding Vital Proteins Beef Gelatin to soups or hot beverages.

Type V And X Collagen

Though the first three types of collagen are the most abundant in the body and the most commonly found in supplements, some of the lesser-seen types—notably types V and X—are also important for key body functions. Type V collagen helps form cell membranes and the tissue in women’s placentas, while type X plays a crucial role in bone formation. Type V collagen is usually sourced from the membranes of eggshells, type X is made from chicken and bovine sources. Supplements that contain just types V and X are tough to find, but Dr. Axe’s Multi Collagen Protein contains types I, II, III, V, and X, and is a good option for anyone seeking the overall benefits of collagen protein.

What To Know When You Shop

Many of the collagen supplements out there today include collagen types I and III—but if you’re looking for the most comprehensive benefit possible, Axe recommends choosing a collagen supplement that contains a variety of types (like his!). “It’s like taking a multivitamin,” he says. “It’s a good idea because most people have multiple deficiencies.”

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You’ll notice that many collagen supps are labeled as ‘hydrolyzed,’ which simply means they’ve been broken down into their smaller form—called ‘peptides’—which is easier for the body to absorb, says Schneider.

Lastly, since vitamin C supports collagen synthesis, it may be included in collagen supplement formulas (like Reserveage Collagen Replenish), but you can also just take your collagen alongside a vitamin C supplement or C-containing food (like citrus fruit) to reap the benefits.

Keep your collagen straight with this helpful infographic:

6 Keto Diet Myths—Busted

With over 14.4 million Google search results for the term ‘keto diet,’ there’s clearly a huge (and growing) appetite for this unconventional way of eating. But with so much information—and misinformation—floating around out there, it’s hard to get a clear picture of what the diet really is.

On a ketogenic diet, the bulk of your calories come from fats from a variety of plant and animal sources, with protein and carbs making up the few remaining calories. Eating this way shifts the body into a state called ketosis, in which it uses fat for energy instead of the usual sugar. Keto eaters report weight loss, more stable blood sugar, and steady energy as its major perks.

That doesn’t mean you’ll eat nothing but spoonfuls of butter and oil, though. To reap the potential benefits of eating keto, you need to separate fact from fiction. Look out for these keto misconceptions the next time you take to Google.

Myth #1: Keto Is Protein-Heavy

Contrary to what you may have heard (or what’s tagged #keto on Instagram), protein isn’t the focus of the keto diet—and too much of it can actually throw keto off track. Our body can convert protein into glucose, which it can then use for fuel instead of fat, shifting you out of the fat-burning state you’re striving for.

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While protein won’t be the star of your plate, you can still meet your needs on a keto diet. Most people need between 0.8 and one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, which is just about 55 grams a day for someone who weighs 150 pounds, says dietitian Kristen Mancinelli, M.S., R.D.N., who specializes low carb diets. Getting there takes just three ounces of salmon (20 grams), three ounces of chicken (28 grams), and either an egg or an ounce of almonds (six grams each).

Myth #2: Low-Carb And Keto Are Basically The Same

Though a keto diet is certainly low-carb, a low-carb diet isn’t necessarily keto, says Mancinelli. For most people, about 100 grams of carbs a day would be considered low-carb. On keto, that intake needs to be significantly lower, around 20 to 30 grams a day—though people who are very active and have a lot of lean body mass may be able to handle a little more. Eat just a few grams of carbs too many and your body shifts right back to burning sugar for fuel, she says.

Myth #3: Eating Fat Automatically Makes You Fat

With plenty of low-fat foods still inhabiting grocery store shelves, many people still can’t shake the idea that eating fat will make them gain weight—but we now know that it’s the combo of fat with highly-processed carbs and sugars that leads to weight gain, says fitness and nutrition expert Carrie Burrows, Ph.D., C.P.T.

With processed carbs and sugar off the table in keto, you’ll get your fats from wholesome, nutritious sources like grass-fed butter, avocado, and nuts. You may even end up eating fewer calories overall, since ketones—the energy-producing compounds your body produces from stored fat—have an appetite-suppressing effect, adds Jadin.

Related: 8 Low-Carb Food Swaps That Won’t Make Your Taste Buds Cry

An article recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association notes that keto dieters tend to have fewer hunger pangs than other dieters. And while keto dieters may initially shed a few pounds of water weight (from slashing carbs), the diet supports continued weight loss by encouraging the body to tap into fat stores for energy.

Myth #4: Keto Isn’t Heart-Healthy

The illusion that keto is high-protein diet loaded with saturated fat-containing burgers and bacon also leads to the fallacy that it isn’t optimal for health, since a disproportionately high intake of saturated fat is linked to an increased heart disease risk, says Mancinelli. (A higher intake of unsaturated fats reduces this risk.)

A healthy keto diet contains a variety of fats: monounsaturated fats from olive oil, avocado, and nuts; polyunsaturated fats from fatty fish; and saturated fats from meat, eggs, and coconut oil. “Remember: a ketogenic diet is one in which you consume mostly fat from a variety of plant and animal sources, not mostly meat,” Mancinelli says.

It’s also important to keep in mind that heart disease develops over time due to many factors, including smoking, weight, family history, and more, says Sarah Jadin, M.S., R.D., C.S.P., C.D., C.N.S.C, of Keto Diet Consulting. “To draw a direct (and short) line from eating a high fat diet to having a heart attack is oversimplified and cartoonish at best,” she says.

Myth #5: You Don’t Eat Veggies On Keto

One big misconception about keto is that there isn’t room for vegetables on your plate, primarily because they contain too many carbs. But plant-based foods—and the vitamins, minerals, and fiber they offer—are key to a balanced keto diet, urges Jadin.

It’s true, you’ll want to steer clear of starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn, which rack up the carbs quickly; but you can (and should) still load up on non-starchy vegetables—especially fiber-rich leafy greens. Spinach, arugula, and broccoli, for example, all contain less than two grans of net carbs per serving.

When building your meals, start with your fat source, and then incorporate a non-starchy veggie, says Jadin. For breakfast, you might have a vegetable omelet; for lunch and dinner, help yourself to a serving of greens sautéed in oil.

Myth #6: Keto Isn’t Sustainable Long-Term

It’s true, keto’s strict nature isn’t for everyone, but people who enjoy structure and routine can do really well on the diet long-term, says Jadin. “There are many people who have been following a keto lifestyle for years,” she says. The key to making keto stick is to think of it as a lifestyle and not just a ‘diet’—and many people are so motivated by the weight loss and health benefits the experience after going keto, that they readily make it a permanent lifestyle, says Jadin.

Going keto for good may still sound intimidating, but a growing body of research suggests it may have some benefits for metabolic and cognitive health.

Planning out meals in advance and carrying keto-friendly snacks like nuts, seeds, cheese sticks, and hard-boiled eggs can help you stay on-track with keto long-term.

Keep your keto facts straight with this handy infographic:

Vitamin C Is As Important As Ever—And Not Just For Immune Support

You’ve probably popped a vitamin C-loaded tablet before flying or downed an extra glass of orange juice when you felt the sniffles coming on, but vitamin C does so much more than support your immune system, affecting everything from how well you absorb other nutrients and respond to injury to what your skin looks like.

Vitamin C may not be brand new or as trendy as reishi mushrooms, but it’s just as important as ever. Here’s everything you need to know about vitamin C, including the many ways it benefits your body, how much you need a day, and how to get your fill.

Key Health Benefits

Also known as ‘ascorbic acid,’ vitamin C is revered for its role in keeping our immune system healthy—which is why we talk about it so often during cold and flu season. Vitamin C is one of the most potent antioxidants out there, fighting off damaging particles called free radicals that can put our body in a state of oxidative stress, which has been implicated in illness and diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s, and cancer. Plus, vitamin C can also help other antioxidants (like vitamin E) regenerate and keep fighting the good fight.

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Vitamin C also plays a role in the formation of collagen, a protein that’s crucial for connective tissues like skin, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels, making it essential for our body to heal injuries or wounds, says dietitian Amy Goodson, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D. In this same way, vitamin C is involved in maintaining healthy bones and teeth. (It’s no wonder that scurvy, the condition that occurs because of a severe lack of vitamin C, involves gum disease, bruising, and skin issues.)

Related: I Drank Collagen For 30 Days—Here’s How It Turned Out

Another key function of vitamin C is that it boosts our absorption of plant-based, or ‘non-heme,’ iron, which is about 10 percent less bioavailable than animal-based (‘heme’) iron. Iron helps carry oxygen to our muscles, cells and organs, and without an ample supply, our various body systems have less oxygen to work with, often leading to fatigue or lightheadedness. (This makes eating vitamin C—and pairing it with iron-containing foods—especially important for vegetarians and vegans.)

Long-term research suggests that those who eat higher amounts of antioxidant-packed foods have a reduced risk of high blood pressure, while low intakes have been linked with increased risk of peripheral artery disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Beauty Benefits

Not only does vitamin C bolster the function and health of body systems we can’t see, but it can also have a huge impact on one we can: our skin. You see, the free radicals that wreak havoc on our cells also affect our appearance, with ultraviolet light and pollution damaging the collagen in our skin and leading to premature wrinkles and dark spots, according to Joshua Zeichner, M.D., Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. One of our greatest weapons against these negative skin effects? You guessed it: vitamin C.

“Topically, vitamin C can help attain more youthful-looking skin with a brighter, more even skin tone,” adds Michelle Henry, M.D., clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. The antioxidant targets two key factors in the aging process: It promotes healthy collagen production and inhibits enzyme action that spurs the formation of melanin (the pigment that adds color to skin and causes ‘dark spots’).

A study published in the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition also found that middle-aged women who consumed more vitamin C were more likely to have more youthful-looking skin (marked by less dryness and appearance of wrinkles).

How To Load Up

The National Institute of Health recommends 90 milligrams of vitamin C per day for men and 75 milligrams per day for women—but those who smoke may need an additional 35 milligrams per day. Plus, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need 85 milligrams and 120 milligrams a day, respectively, according to Goodson.

Our body can’t produce this vitamin on its own, which means we have to get it through our diet or supplementation to reap its widespread benefits. And since vitamin C is water-soluble, it can’t be stored in the body, so we need to consume it regularly.

Luckily, many fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamin C, with red bell peppers (95 milligrams per half cup), oranges (70 milligrams per medium fruit), and broccoli (51 milligrams per cooked half cup) ranking as some of the top sources. There’s also a wide range of C supplements for people who aren’t always able to eat well-balanced meals.

To maximize your iron absorption, Goodson recommends adding a vitamin C-containing food (like citrus fruit, tomatoes, or strawberries) to meals that feature plant-based sources of iron (like spinach, nuts, and beans). For example, if you’re having a spinach salad topped with nuts and seeds, top it with mandarin orange or strawberry slices. You can also find supplements containing this important combo, like The Vitamin Shoppe’s Iron Complex.

If you want to slather vitamin C’s goodness straight onto your skin, Zeichner recommends reaching for serums, which contain high concentrations of the vitamin and are designed to enhance its delivery into the skin. (We recommend Derma E’s Vitamin C Concentrated Serum.)

One warning: “Vitamin C does not always play nicely with other ingredients,” says Zeichner, who doesn’t recommend combining vitamin C products with topical retinoids or alpha hydroxy acids. He also urges caution if you have very sensitive skin, since vitamin C may cause some irritation.

Keep vitamin C’s benefits top-of-mind with this quick infographic:

What’s The Best Type Of Protein Supplement For Your Goals?

We all know someone who never seems to be without a protein shake in hand (hey, maybe you are that someone!). Protein supplements may have gotten their start with gym rats, but getting your fill of the macronutrient is important for everyone. In fact, all sorts of people with all sorts of health goals can benefit from a diet rich in protein.

Protein is key for the growth and repair of many tissues and structures in our bodies, which is why most experts recommend it make up 15 to 25 percent of our daily calories. “Our muscles, bones, tendons, hair, skin, and nails all need protein for both maintenance and growth,” says Linzy Ziegelbaum, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. Plus, protein boosts our satiety, supports balanced blood sugar, and can help us maintain a healthy weight.

Downing protein supplements won’t achieve all your health and fitness goals for you, but it can be a major game-changer. “Whether you’re in a hurry, on the road, don’t eat meat, or just don’t want to buy, eat, cook, and consume a couple of pounds of animal protein a day, a protein supplement can be massively beneficial,” says Coleman Collins, C.S.C.S, running coach and author of The Road Warrior: A Practical Guide to Maintaining Your Health, Productivity, and Sanity While Traveling for Work.

Depending on whether you want to manage your appetite, build muscle, or show your skin some love, there’s a specific protein supplement out there that’s best for you. Consider this your complete guide.

Want To Build Muscle?

Looking for a boost in the gym? Your number-one protein is whey. Whey protein, which is made from milk, is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) our bodies can’t make on their own. Whey contains the highest amount of leucine, an amino acid that helps trigger the muscle protein synthesis process, and is especially important for building muscle, explains Becky Kerkenbush, M.S., R.D.-A.P., C.S.G., C.D. Whey also digests and enters your blood stream faster than any other protein, so it’s a rock star at fueling your muscles during exercise and helping them repair afterwards. Chocolate lovers will dig Optimum Nutrition Double Rich Chocolate Gold Standard 100% Whey while vanilla heads will savor BodyTech French Vanilla Whey Protein.

If you want to build muscle the meat-free way, try a plant-based protein powder. Many new and innovative plant protein supplements combine a number of protein sources—like brown rice, pea, and hemp—so that every scoop packs more of the amino acids your body needs. Plant proteins digest slower than whey, but are still a great option—especially for those with milk issues or who follow a plant-centric diet, Kerkenbush says. Try plnt Chocolate Plant Protein or Orgain Sweet Vanilla Organic Plant-Based Protein.

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

Have A Sensitive Stomach?

If most proteins don’t sit well, Kerkenbush recommends trying pea protein, which is derived from the yellow pea and is the most easily digested of the plant proteins. “It’s a good alternative for anyone with a sensitive stomach or doesn’t want to do dairy or soy,” she says. Just keep in mind that it’s not a complete protein. Pea protein is low in some amino acids, like cysteine (which has antioxidant properties and supports digestion) that you’ll need to get from other foods (like soybeans, beef, lamb, eggs, or legumes) throughout the day. plnt Vanilla Pea Protein is our go-to.

Want To Manage Your Appetite?

If your goal is to feel full and satisfied—and not ready to sprint to the vending machine when three o’clock strikes—try casein protein, which is made from the other protein in cow’s milk: the ‘curds.’ While casein may not provide the quick rush of amino acids you want after a tough workout, research shows it’s more satiating than whey over a period of six hours, which can help keep you from reaching for extra calories or less-than-healthy snacks between meals, says Kerkenbush. Plus, a study published in Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism found that overweight people following a diet and exercise program lost more body fat when they supplemented with casein than they did with whey. Dymatize Rich Chocolate Elite Casein is delicious in shakes, oatmeal, and on its own.

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Another option: egg protein, which is made of dried egg whites. While this one digests faster than casein, it’s still slower-absorbing than whey and makes a good substitute for anyone with a dairy allergy. Jay Robb’s Egg White Protein is a fan favorite.

For a shake that really feels like a meal, try a meal replacement powder, which contains protein, some healthy fat, and fiber to keep you satisfied and craving-free for longer. These mixable meals—like Next Step Fit N Full Shake—are especially helpful if you’re on a tight schedule or watching your calories.

Want To Nourish Your Skin And Joints?

Collagen, a protein found in our connective tissues (think muscles, ligaments, and bones), has been one of the buzziest protein supplements in the game recently. And rightly so, considering research has shown it can bolster the appearance and healthy aging of skin, and help those with joint issues.

Collagen has a very specific amino acid profile, with 45 percent of its total amino acids coming from proline and glycine, two non-essential aminos that provide its hair, skin, nail, and joint benefits. (Only about a quarter of collagen’s amino acids are essential aminos, while more than 60 percent of whey protein’s aminos are—which is why you’d still choose whey over collagen as your primary, all-purpose protein supplement.)

You can take collagen in capsule form or add collagen powder (like Vital Proteins’ eternally hot Collagen Peptides) to your favorite foods and drinks.

Ready To Go? A Few Rules For The Road

Nailing down the protein that best fits into your goals and lifestyle is key—but only if you’ll actually take the stuff!  “Choosing something that you like and will use is more important than taking the ‘perfect’ protein supplement for your situation,” Collins says. So if building muscle is high-priority but you just love the creamy flavor of casein, don’t sweat it.

From there, just make sure the type of protein you want is the first ingredient listed on the package and look for a short ingredients list (five or less is a good benchmark) and natural sweeteners, suggests Kerkenbush.

Pin this handy infographic for future reference: 

Should You Work Out Today? Consult These Flow Charts

Whether it’s crummy weather, an extra-hectic schedule, ‘meh’-level motivation, or a potential injury, sometimes it feels like the world is conspiring against your plans to get a workout in. Try as you might to plan ahead and pencil in those workouts, you may still often find yourself wondering if you’re really up for exercise—or whether it’s even a realistic priority for the day.

We should all be getting in some sort of movement at least three to five times per week, and that consistency is key for maintaining our health and charging toward our fitness goals, says Menachem Brodie, C.S.C.S., head coach at Human Vortex Training. That doesn’t mean we should always force ourselves to make it happen, though! Not sure whether to cancel the day’s gym plans or lace up your sneakers? These flow charts will help you decide.

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Aloe Isn’t Just For Sunburns: 4 Reasons To Drink It

Aloe is a lifesaver when a long day in the sun has transformed you into a lobster, so it’s no wonder it’s become such a popular ingredient in all sorts of soothing skin-care products. But if you stop into your go-to health store, you’ll most likely see aloe in another, unexpected place: the beverage aisle.

All the cool kids are chugging down aloe juice lately, for both its taste and numerous health benefits. Using aloe orally is hardly new, however—as far back as 3,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians were slurping down the plant’s sap to ease tummy issues.

The aloe juice you see on the shelf today is typically made from the two inner layers of the aloe plant: the mucus-y, gold latex that lines the insides of the leaves and the gel that fills the middle. Varieties labeled ‘whole-leaf,’ though, are made by blending and straining the entire aloe leaf to maximize the nutrient content of the juice.

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Intrigued? Read on for four reasons why aloe could make a great addition to your daily diet.

1. Aloe Is Ultra-Hydrating

Aloe is 98 percent water, so it should come as no surprise that it provides serious hydration benefits. “Because aloe is so water-dense, it’s an ideal way to prevent dehydration,” says holistic nutritionist Miriam Amselem. If you’re exercising hard or spending time outside, aloe juice makes a great companion.

2. Aloe Supports Your Belly

The aloe plant has long been used to support a healthy digestive system, says Lahana Vigliano, holistic nutritionist and owner of Thrival Nutrition. In fact, research published in the Journal of Research in Medicinal Sciences found that drinking aloe juice twice daily for eight weeks soothed discomfort in participants with GI issues.

Aloe latex also contains compounds called aloe-emodins, which have a stimulating effect and can help your gut get moving and grooving—especially when you’re feeling a little backed up. Because of aloe-emodin’s stimulating effect, though, guzzling too much aloe juice can leave you crampy and, well, quite the opposite of backed up, warns Valentina Olivadese, holistic health nutritionist at Valiant Nutrition. It can also reduce the absorption of drugs and medications, so if you’re on any prescriptions or taking antibiotics, check with your doc before sipping.

3. Aloe Helps You Glow From The Inside Out

Not only is putting aloe on your skin great—but drinking it can help your epidermis flourish, too. That’s because aloe contains vitamins A and C—two powerhouse skin ingredients. (Seriously, they’re in half the skin serums, oils, and creams you’ll find in the skin-care aisle.)

Vitamin A promotes the growth and health of cells in the body, while vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps fight the cell damage that causes aging.

4. Aloe Offers Antioxidant Power

In addition to vitamins A and C, aloe contains a few other antioxidants, including vitamin E and a compound called barbaloin. These nutrients help reduce oxidative stress caused by free radicals, which damages cell membranes and DNA, and can play a role in the development of autoimmune, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative issues.

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

So not only do the vitamins and compounds in aloe contribute to a strong, glowing complexion, but they also support the integrity and resilience of your cells—and that’s all-around good news for your health.

How To Drink Aloe For Health

Ready to sip on some aloe juice? Before gulping down a bottle, check the ingredient label and make sure to pick a brand without added sugar, molasses, or high-fructose corn syrup, recommends Anselem.

From there, start with just an eight-ounce serving of juice per day to gauge how your tummy reacts—and be sure to give it time to adjust, she says. After a few days of successful sipping, you can gradually up your aloe intake to three or four eight-ounce glasses a day (any more and you might experience some stomach upset).

Want to hop on the aloe juice train? Pin this infographic!

You’ve Heard About Omega-3s—Here’s What You Should Know About Omega-6s

Unless you’ve been living in the woods without TV or internet for the past decade, you’ve probably heard a lot about omega-3s, the fatty acids found in fish oil supplements. However, there’s another key omega that might not be on your radar: omega-6s. These lesser known fatty acids also have major impacts on your health and well-being—read on for what you should know about them.

Omega 101

Both omega-3s and omega-6s are polyunsaturated fats, which are considered heart-healthy, says dietitian Amy Goodson, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D. Our bodies can’t make all of these fatty acids (called ‘essential fatty acids’) on their own or synthesize others efficiently, so we need to get them from food.

Though both play a role in cell formation and development and immune function, they have a number of key differences. Omega-3s support the body’s inflammatory response, healthy cholesterol levels, and overall heart health, says dietitian Jenny Dang, R.D. They also support joint, brain, and eye health.

There are three types of omega-3s: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha linolenic acid). You can find DHA and EPA in animal sources such as grass-fed beef and fatty fish like salmon and tuna, while you can find ALA in flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.

Related: What Exactly Are EPA And DHA, Really?

While omega-3s wear a health halo, omega-6s often get a bad rap for their ability to trigger inflammatory responses in the body—but that doesn’t quite tell their whole story. Omega-6s actually play a lot of important roles, including supporting hair and skin growth, bone health, and a healthy metabolism, says Dang. They’re also crucial for growth and development and brain and reproductive health. You can find these fatty acids in meat, but many of the omega-6s in the American diet come from vegetable oils (like soybean, corn, sunflower, and cottonseed oil) that are added to packaged foods.

Omega-6s Gone Wrong

Both omega-3s and omega-6s are key to a healthy diet—in the right ratio. “The goal with omega-6s and omega-3s is to have a happy little balance,” says Goodson. Research suggests we should eat a four-to-one ratio of omega-6s or omega-3s (or lower) for optimal health. The issue is, the standard American diet comes in at closer to a 20-to-one ratio. Omega-6-containing oils are so common in processed and fast foods that many Americans consume far more than they realize, she says.

Eating such an omega-6-heavy diet can promote inflammation in the body and lead to a number of health issues. According to research published in Nutrients, excessive omega-6 intake can promote blood clotting and plaque buildup in the arteries and contribute to conditions like obesity and diabetes. Plus, an excess of omega-6s can also exacerbate symptoms and inflammation for those with conditions like autoimmune diseases or type 2 diabetes, Goodson says. Research even suggests that such an imbalance of omega-6s and omega-3s in the diet can impact risk for certain cancers.

Balancing Your Omega Intake

The negative health effects of an out-of-whack omega balance are no joke—so how can you tip the scales back in the right direction? Since so many Americans take in crazy amounts of omega-6s, your first task is to cut down on your intake (because it’s probably too high).

We need just about 12 to 17 grams of omega-6s per day (about 108 to 153 calories), an amount that can be surpassed with just one ride through the drive-thru or stop in the snack aisle, says Dang.

Start by swapping out one processed or packaged meal or snack a day with a whole food, recommends Goodson. “If you’re limiting your intake of omega-6s, you improve your ratio even if you don’t change your intake of omega-3s,” she says. Once that becomes habit, find another processed food to swap out.

Once you’re a master omega-6 swapper, you can begin focusing on incorporating more omega-3-rich foods into your diet. (The jury is still out on just how much EPA and DHA we need daily, but the National Institutes of Health recommends men shoot for 1.6 grams of ALA per day, while women shoot for 1.1 grams a day.) Boost your intake of all three omega-3s by eating fish twice per week and omega-3-enriched eggs, adding walnuts to cereal, yogurt, and salads, snacking on edamame, or through supplementation.

Up Your Omega-3s

5 Mistakes People Make When They Go Keto

There are lots of misconceptions about the ketogenic diet swirling around out there—you know, like the idea that eating tons of bacon is totally okay, or that you can slather absolutely everything in oil. Or that keto’s just about cutting out bread. But this increasingly trendy diet is a tad more complicated than that.

Here are the basics: Keto requires eating close to 80 percent of your calories from fat, about 15 percent from protein, and just five percent from carbs. This shifts the body into a state called ‘ketosis,’ in which the body burns fat (in the form of ‘ketones’) for fuel instead of sugar. (You can learn more about the keto process here.)

First developed to treat epilepsy and now used as part of treatment plans for health conditions like PCOS, infertility, diabetes, epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, the ketogenic diet has been said to improve energy, mental clarity, and focus. It’s also become a popular means of maintaining a healthy weight for some people.

Eating keto means cutting out processed foods, sugars, and starches—including bread, potatoes, and most fruit—and eating way more healthy fats than you’re probably used to. Foods like meat, fish, eggs, non-starchy veggies, and all sorts of fats are game—in the right amounts.

With so many foods off the table and such a high fat quota to hit, it’s no wonder so many keto newbies have trouble making the diet sustainable. It is doable, though! Make your keto lifestyle more balanced and successful by avoiding these common mistakes.

Mistake #1: Approaching It As A Temporary Fad Diet

Once you’ve nailed down your reason for going on the keto diet—whether you’re managing an illness, want to fuel your distance running differently, or want to lose weight—you have to seriously consider how realistic keto is for your lifestyle.

“Ketogenic dieting is not a halfway pursuit; it’s all or nothing,” says Kristen Mancinelli, M.S., R.D.N., who specializes in low-carb diets. Especially considering the fact that it takes more than cutting out bread and sugar for a week to shift your body to ketosis. It can actually take up to a few weeks to shift into using fat for fuel (during which you may feel tired and moody)—and because your body’s instinct is to use sugar for fuel, all that hard work can be undone with just one higher-carb meal. So keto really isn’t one of those diets you can follow Monday through Friday and ditch on the weekends.

Plus, if you use keto for weight loss and end up restricting your calories, you’re even more likely to regain lost weight (and then some) when you go off keto, according to Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. This is even more likely if you’re using keto to keep yourself from going overboard on foods you consider weaknesses (like pizza or slice-and-bake cookies), because you’ll likely dive face first into these foods the minute you’re ‘done’ with keto.

If thinking of keto as a long-term lifestyle doesn’t seem sustainable for you—or enjoyable, for that matter—it may not be right for you.

Mistake #2: Eating Too Many Carbs

Even if you think you’re slashing carbs, they can often creep into your diet and throw you out of ketosis. This can happen if you don’t measure your portions, eat something without knowing its exact ingredients, or don’t track your carb intake closely, says Sarah Jadin, M.S., R.D., C.S.P., C.D., C.N.S.C, of Keto Diet Consulting. (The experts aptly call this issue ‘carb creep.’) Even medications and supplements, which commonly use carbs as fillers, can push your intake over the edge.

Keto done right means just about 20 to 50 grams of carbs total per day. To stay in that range, your carbs would have to come from non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, and cauliflower, according to Mancinelli. (A cup of broccoli, for example, contains four grams of carbs.) Even these a-okay veggies can push you over your carb limit if you’re not careful, though. While a cup of kale contains just about five-ish grams of net carbs (total carbs minus fiber), a typical kale salad packs three or four cups of kale and clocks in at close to 20 grams.

As little as just a quarter cup of sweet potatoes (20 grams of carbs) or a medium apple (23 grams of carbs) could max out your carbs—or push you overboard—for the day.

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Mistake #3: Mismanaging Your Veggies

Given the carb issue, maintaining a balanced intake of veggies on the ketogenic diet can be tricky. With many nutritious, higher-carb foods like sweet potatoes, lentils, beans, and quinoa more or less off the table, you’ll have to work a little harder to build a balanced diet with the foods that are a-okay. If you ditch all veggies in favor of fat, you’ll just leave yourself wanting for a number of important vitamins and minerals, says Megan Ware, R.D.N., L.D., owner of Nutrition Awareness.

To keep your eats as nutritious as possible, look up the net carb content for the 10 vegetables you eat most often, so you can see how they’ll fit into your keto lifestyle, recommends Mancinelli. On top of that, try to incorporate nutrient-rich greens, like baby kale and spinach, into every meal, adds Ware. As always, use a food tracker to monitor your carb intake, and keep portion sizes in mind. To fill any remaining nutritional gaps, people living the high-fat life may also want to consider a multivitamin.

In the first few weeks of keto, when you lose water weight from slashing carbs, your electrolyte levels may drop a bit and you may be hit with what the community calls the ‘keto flu.’ If you experience any fatigue or muscle issues, Mancinelli recommends supplementing with electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, and potassium. Spinach, baby kale, and avocado also provide potassium, while hemp seeds, spinach, and oysters offer magnesium.

Mistake #4: Eating Too Much (And The Wrong Types Of) Protein

Many healthy eaters and fitness enthusiasts tout the benefits of high-protein diets—but too much protein is a major (and overlooked) no-no on the ketogenic diet. Your body can actually turn protein into glucose, so eating too much of the stuff can pull you out of ketosis and back into sugar-burning mode, says Mancinelli.

Keto allows for moderate protein intake, which would be about 0.5 to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight a day for an active dieter (between 75 and 112 grams for someone who weighs 150 pounds). For reference, a small piece of chicken or three eggs provides about 20 grams of protein.

Though you’re trying to load up on fat, you still need to take care of your heart health, so your protein should come from sources like chicken, turkey, and fish, instead of processed foods like bacon, says Clark.

Mistake #5: Not Eating The Right Fats

When fat needs to make up about 80 percent of your total calories, it’s all too easy to add coconut oil to everything or eat nothing but nut butter—but maintaining a balance and eating the right types of fats is key to a healthful keto diet.

It’s crucial to get plenty of unsaturated fats, says Jadin. Nuts (like peanuts, walnuts, and pecans), seeds (like flax, chia, and hemp), avocados, fatty fish (like salmon, trout and sardines), are all great sources of unsaturated fats. Plant oils like avocado, flax, grapeseed, and hemp oil, all also provide unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats have been shown to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke.

Related: Why Is Everyone Talking About MCTs?

What about saturated fats, which you’ll find in your beloved coconut oil? There’s been a lot of back-and-forth here recently, with some research questioning just how they impact our health long-term. As much as we love our coconut oil, the Harvard School of Public Health still stands by the advice that emphasizing unsaturated fats over saturated fats in your diet better supports your heart health long-term. For now, spoon out your coconut oil in moderation and keep your saturated fat intake to about 10 percent of your total calories (that’s 22 grams in a 2,000-calorie diet).

5 Reasons To Eat ALL The Squash This Fall

With the biggest food holiday of the year on the horizon, there are fall wreaths, pumpkins, pie-scented candles, and colorful little gourds everywhere. And some of these decorative staples are just as good for you to eat as they are pretty to look at. While you shouldn’t waste your time trying to cook up those bendy little gourds, the pumpkins—and tons of other types of winter squash (yep, pumpkins are a type of squash), like butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, and delicata squash—deserve some major real estate on your Thanksgiving plate.

“The more color, the more phytonutrients [natural compounds that protect plants] and antioxidant properties a squash has,” says Jeanette Kimszal, R.D.N., N.L.C. So reach for the bold hues!

Here are five important nutrients squashes add to your plate.

1. Vitamin A

A food’s orange hue indicates it contains carotenoids, which are chemical compounds that turn into vitamin A in the body, says Kimszal. These carotenoids, including beta-carotene, are powerful antioxidants, and vitamin A is crucial for maintaining healthy vision. Take just one look at the orange-y color of pumpkins and butternut squash and you know they’re loaded with these compounds.

One cup of cubed pumpkin has about 200 percent of your daily value for vitamin A, and a cup of butternut squash packs nearly 300 percent, according to Kimszal. (Women need 700 micrograms a day, while men need 900.)

2. Fiber

Everyone should shoot for about 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day, but most only clock in around 15 to 18 grams, according to the CDC. Not only does fiber keep you from feeling ravenous again minutes after eating, but it’s also key for digestive health.

Related: 7 Ways Extra Calories Are Sneaking Into Your Diet

A cup of butternut squash provides almost seven grams of fiber, while a cup of acorn squash provides nine grams of fiber—a serious dent in your daily needs!

3. Vitamin C

We all know vitamin C is important for our immune systems, but did you know most types of squash, like acorn and hubbard, provide about 20 percent of your daily vitamin C?

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If you want some extra antioxidant power, a cup of butternut squash boasts about 50 percent of your daily vitamin C needs, says Alix Turoff, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., C.P.T. (Men need about 90 milligrams a day, while women need about 75.)

4. Iron

The next time you make squash, save the seeds! A cup of roasted pumpkin seeds provides about two milligrams of iron, which your blood needs to transport oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body, says Turoff. That’s a little more than ten percent of women’s daily iron needs (18 milligrams) and a quarter of men’s (eight milligrams).

5. Tryptophan

Looking for another reason to chow down on seeds? They contain tryptophan, an amino acid your body uses to create the hormone melatonin, which helps you sleep, says Turoff. Tryptophan also plays a role in your production of the feel-good hormone serotonin, which can help boost mood, adds nutritionist Keith Kantor, Ph.D.

Butternut squash seeds are some of the highest in tryptophan, with a ratio of 22 milligrams of tryptophan per gram of protein. Talk about a mood and snooze-boosting snack!

How To Put More Squash On Your Plate

If you want to keep things simple, you can bake or broil just about any squash with herbs and spices for a perfect fall side dish. Smaller squashes, like acorn squash, can just be halved, cooked, and eaten straight out of the skin with a spoon, while larger squashes, like butternut squash, are best peeled and cubed. Spaghetti squash, which can be scraped out in noodle-like strings once cooked, also makes for a perfect healthy pasta alternative, says Mearaph Barnes, R.D., co-founder of Roots Reboot.

Squashes are also great in soups, like Kimszal’s coconut broccoli butternut squash soup, because they’re hearty and slightly sweet.

And, of course, there’s always pumpkin pie. Want to make yours a little healthier this year? Blend a can of 100-percent pure pumpkin puree with 10 ounces of silken tofu and 10 to 12 pitted dates in the food processor, says Barnes. Then, add powdered cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon to taste. Pour the mixture into a whole-wheat pie crust and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Why You Should Load Up On Sweet Potatoes (Or Are They Yams?)

Warm, earthy foods might just be the best part of the autumn season. From PSLs to roasted pumpkin seeds to butternut squash soup, our eats are often just as festive as the changing leaves.

One of our favorite fall foods, though, isn’t exactly what it seems. What many of us think of as yams are actually just sweet potatoes. “The products sold in U.S. supermarkets are sweet potatoes, not yams,” explains Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., co-founder of Appetite for Health. “Yams have a bark-like skin and are more similar to yucca root than a russet potato. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand have an orange, purple, or white skin that is similar in texture to the skin of a russet potato.”

The mix-up began in the 1930s when sweet potato growers in Louisiana named their pickings yams in order to differentiate themselves from North Carolina and California-grown sweet potatoes, she explains. (So, now you can explain to everyone at Thanksgiving that you’re eating sweet potatoes, not yams).

Yam or not, the orange spuds offer a number of health benefits, so dig in! Here are the noteworthy nutrients you’ll get a helping of when you slap a big spoonful of sweet potato mash onto your plate.

1. Vitamin A

Though we often hate on white potatoes, they’re actually pretty similar to sweet potatoes. (They’re both about 100 calories per medium tater.) The main difference? Sweet potatoes provide a ton of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, says Upton. And not only does beta-carotene act as an antioxidant, but vitamin A also helps keep your immune system strong, according to Chelsey Amer, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N.

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

Men need about 3,000 IUs of vitamin A per day, while women need about 2,300 IUs, and one medium baked sweet potato provides over 500 percent of that. “Because the hefty dose of vitamin A that sweet potatoes provide can help boost your immune system, it’s great to eat sweet potatoes in the colder months, when it is flu and cold season,” she says.

2. Vitamin C

Sweet potatoes also come with the all-important antioxidant vitamin C, which aids in boosting immunity and wound healing. According to Becky Kerkenbush, M.S., RD-AP, C.S.G., C.D., member of the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vitamin C stimulates our white blood cells, which fight bacteria, viruses, and germs, she says. It’s also necessary for collagen formation and helps to maintain the integrity of skin and connective tissue.

You’ll score about a third of the amount of the recommended 90 milligrams of vitamin C per day in a medium sweet potato.

3. Potassium

Sweet potatoes also contain potassium, which helps to make sure that nerves and muscles function properly, supports heart health, and maintains our body’s fluid balance.

Related: Are you missing out on this electrolyte? Add a supplement to your routine.

A medium sweet potato offers about 375 milligrams of potassium, so chowing down will get you well on your way to the recommended daily intake of about 4,700 milligrams.

4. Fiber

Getting a healthy dose of fiber keeps you feeling satisfied longer, reduces constipation, and helps lower LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, says Kerkenbush. And, bonus: “Fiber-rich foods tend to require more chewing than low-fiber foods, which may lengthen meal time and decrease the amount of food consumed,” she says. That means less post-Thanksgiving discomfort for you!

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A medium tater provides about four grams of fiber, which is approximately 15 percent of the recommended daily intake of 25 to 30 grams.

Eat More Orange

As much as we love our marshmallow-topped sweet potato mash, there are plenty of healthier—and just as tasty—ways to enjoy them. Need a lower-sugar option for Thanksgiving? Try Upton’s sweet potato casserole. Looking for healthier game day snacks? Try Amer’s black bean sweet potato burgers or barbecue chicken stuffed sweet potato skins. And yep, you can even eat sweet potatoes for breakfast! Swap out bread for a toasted slice of sweet potato and top it with avocado or sunflower seed butter for a photo-worthy fall breakfast, suggests Amer.

6 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Calories

When we want to shed pounds, we usually think in terms of calories. After all, the many calorie-counting apps out there would have us believe that slashing our intake is the only way to make weight loss happen. But cutting too many calories can actually have some dire consequences—and it’s easier to do than you might think.

If you’re eating too few calories for your body and lifestyle, though, your body will send you some major signals (long-term weight-gain, included!) that you need more fuel, says sports dietitian Kimberly Feeney M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D., C.S.C.S. The following six signs indicate your body is undernourished and begging for more calories.

1. You Feel Like A Sloth

If you notice a slip in your overall energy level and declining performance during your workouts, it could mean your metabolism is slowing down because you’re not eating enough calories, says Jenny Mahoney, R.D., L.D., of Nutriformance. We all have a baseline number of calories our body needs in order to maintain basic functions like making our heart beat, brain work, and lungs pump oxygen. (This is known as our ‘basal metabolic rate.’)

To do anything beyond just staying alive—like move or work out—our body needs additional calories. So when we cut calories too close to that basal metabolic rate, our metabolism slows down so we can survive off the little energy we do get, Mahoney explains. “Even if cutting calories is a choice we make in an effort to lose weight, our body still treats it as a famine and begins slowing down metabolic processes to preserve fuel,” she says. And so we feel tired and slow.

2. You Can’t Focus

If you find yourself zoning out even outside of boring meetings, insufficient calories may be to blame. That’s because your brain demands a constant supply of fuel—particularly glucose (a.k.a. sugar), says Megan Casper, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Megan Casper Nutrition. In fact, up to 20 percent of our daily calories and half our available sugar goes to our brain, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you don’t take in enough calories, your blood sugar drops, impacting your brain function and messing with your memory and ability to pay attention, according to Casper. A surefire way to tell if your brain fog is because of low blood sugar: Drink a small glass of orange juice, which contains easily-digestible sugars, and note whether your brain power perks up. Feel more awake and productive? You’re likely not eating often enough, not eating enough overall, or both.

3. You’re Sore ALL The Time

In addition to feeling sluggish during your workouts, you may also find it harder to recover from exercise if your calorie consumption is too low. While some soreness is normal after a tough workout, consider it a red flag if it persists for close to a week, says Feeney. Same goes if you’re a regular exerciser and feel sore when you normally wouldn’t.

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“When we consume too few calories below our total daily needs, our body prioritizes what it uses that energy for,” Feeney says. And healing is one of the first things to get the boot. Long-term, exercising regularly while falling short on fuel puts you at greater risk for injury—particularly for stress fractures.

4. You’re Not Making Muscle Gains

If you notice your muscle tone stall or even start to decline, consider it yet another sign that you may not be eating enough calories to fuel your workouts and build muscle—even if you’re strength training, says dietitian and personal trainer Lauren Manganiello M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., C.P.T. “When we don’t get enough calories, muscle begins to break down because our body is looking for sources of energy,” Manganiello explains. Our body stores carbs as glycogen in our muscles to use as energy later—but when we don’t have enough glycogen stored, our body may break down the protein in our muscles for fuel. So if you’re not getting stronger, struggling through your strength training, or even feeling a little flabbier than usual, there’s a chance you’re not eating the calories your body needs to make progress.

5. You’re Eternally Grouchy

It’s probably no shock that eating too few calories can leave you ‘hangry.’ In fact, mood swings are one of the top signs you’re not taking in enough calories because they’re caused by dips in blood sugar, says Manganiello. Get this: research out of Florida State University found that our self-control itself requires energy, and we’re more likely to snap or lash our when our blood sugar is low and we’ve been dieting hard.

Even just monitoring our calories spikes how stressed we feel, and actually restricting them boosts our production of the stress hormone cortisol, according to research published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

6. You Can’t Sleep

A whacked-out sleep schedule is another major red flag that you’re not eating enough calories. If you feel hungry enough at bedtime or overnight that you have trouble sleeping, your calories are too low, says Manganiello. “Hunger is our body’s way of telling us that we need energy,” she says.

Related: Try adding a casein supplement to your routine to fuel muscle gains in your sleep.

How To Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Calories

If any (or all) of these struggles hits close to home, it’s time to up how many calories you’re eating each day. Your caloric needs depend on your height, weight, activity level, and body composition (how much of your weight is lean mass, like muscle, versus fat), so meeting with a dietitian is one of the most accurate ways to figure out your daily calorie target. But a reputable online tool, like the USDA’s MyPlate Super Tracker, or some quick math can provide a ballpark estimate of your calorie needs. Try this simple formula: Multiply your weight in kilograms (one kilogram is 2.2 pounds) by 20 to estimate the low end of your calorie range and by 25 to estimate the high end, says Casper.

How many calories you can cut healthily depends on how many calories total you’re starting with, but the average person can safely lose about a pound a week by cutting 500 calories per day, says Feeney.  And as a general rule, though, women should never eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day, while men should never eat fewer than 1,800.

If you’re too deep in the calorie-cutting trenches, you’ll need to gradually up your calorie intake until you’re meeting your calorie needs. If you need to up your intake by hundreds of calories, add about 100 calories to your total intake every few days to ease your body into consuming more energy, Mahoney recommends. If you only need to add about 200 calories or so, though, just go for it. Just remember that the quality of the calories you’re adding matters, and focus on eating more produce and whole-grain carbs instead of processed foods, Mahoney says.

Casper also recommends adding light snacks in between meals, or eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar and energy stable. And make sure to include protein, fiber, and some healthy fats in every meal or snack to keep your belly satisfied, which can help you maintain or lose weight over time.

Related: 6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

Contrary to what late-night infomercials and #sponsored Instagram pics would have you believe, there is no magic bullet for losing weight. Ask any health and fitness expert and they’ll tell you that losing weight requires watching what you eat.

But that doesn’t mean you need to log every bite you take and count every calorie. “Counting calories is more of a starting point for weight loss,” says functional medicine nutritionist Katie Morra, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. “Everyone should know about how many calories they need per day to maintain or to lose weight and what that looks like in terms of food. But counting calories is tiring and unrealistic for most people.” Not to mention, that sort of detailed tracking can lead to stress or even disordered eating.

Plus, if you’re just taking wild guesses about your portion sizes, chances are the calories you’re tracking aren’t even accurate anyway, says Alexia Lewis, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., C.H.C., of N.E.W Motivation Coaching.

So instead of painstakingly logging every handful of pretzels you grab when you walk through the kitchen, get started with these simple, no-math-involved ways to lose weight, straight from dietitians themselves.

1. Cut Out Processed Foods

Not all calories are created equal—especially if the calories you’re eating are pumped full of additives. Some of the chemicals added to foods are even referred to as “obesogens,” which have been shown to disrupt the metabolism and contribute to weight gain. (Research published in Nature has found that emulsifiers, a super common food additive, can impact gut health and cause obesity in animals.)

But scary-sounding chemicals aside, if you eat a lot of packaged foods, you probably take in more sugar, sodium, and preservatives than you realize. “Processed foods are often empty calories, meaning they have a high calorie content but minimal nutrient benefit,” says Morra. Since these choices are often bereft of fiber and protein, which keep you full, you’re more likely to keep running back for more.

Plus, eating a lot of foods that are high in sugar or artificial sweeteners alters your brain chemistry and taste threshold for sweetness, making you crave even more sugar, she says. And that’s a recipe for weight gain.

Avoid processed foods like white pasta and bread, and added sugar, as much as possible. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to nine teaspoons (about 37 grams) a day for men and six teaspoons (25 grams) a day for women. Even swapping store-bought granola for a homemade blend of plain Cheerios, sliced almonds, and unsweetened coconut can go a long way.

As you cut back on prepackaged foods, shift your focus to eating five to seven servings of non-starchy vegetables, along with healthy fats and proteins throughout the day, Morra says. (More on that next.)

2. Eat Your Veggies

So, why eat those five to seven servings of non-starchy veggies a day? Vegetables like broccoli, eggplant, and cauliflower are low in calories and packed with nutrients, so you can eat more without overloading on calories. When you make food choices that nourish your body, the pounds fall off much more easily, Morra says.

For example: A cup of cauliflower is just 20 calories, while a cup of while pasta is about 200 calories, and a cup of nuts is a whopping 800, says Lewis. So the more veggies in your diet, the more you can eat without racking up major calories.

That doesn’t mean you have to choke down Brussels sprouts if you hate them, though. Start by finding small ways to add more veggies to your day. One easy move: Instead of eating chips or bleached crackers as a snack, choose carrot chips, cucumber slices, green beans, or grape tomatoes with hummus, Lewis recommends.

3. Build Your Plate Properly

Just how many calories you need depends on your age, weight, activity level, and overall health—but your plate should still reflect that spread of veggies, healthy fats, and proteins, Morra says. Start by filling half your plate with at least two non-starchy vegetables, like leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, peppers, or mushrooms. Then add three ounces of a protein (about the size of your palm) like fish, turkey, chicken, lean ground beef, or two to three eggs. Then, one serving of a healthy fat (about a tablespoon) like olive oil, olives, avocado oil, coconut oil, or coconut. Finally, add a serving of whole-grain carbohydrates like cooked quinoa (half a cup) or brown rice (a third of a cup).

This balance of protein, fiber, and healthy fats will help keep you feeling satiated for longer—and keep overeating and random snacking at bay. Plus, eating this variety will also help you balance your blood sugar, which is associated with having a healthier body weight, says Morra.

4. Follow Hunger Cues

One of the biggest issues with calorie-counting: It shifts your focus away from the biological reasons you eat, says Lewis. If you’re just eating based on the numbers, you may fall pretty out of touch with how hungry or full you feel, which should determine when and how much you eat.

Set yourself up for mindful eating by rating your hunger on a scale of one to 10, with one being starving, five being neutral, and 10 being stuffed. If you are on the hungry side (four or less) eat. Just be careful to not overdo it, because you’ll likely want more than your body needs, Lewis says. So serve yourself half of what you’d want and check in with your hunger 15 minutes after eating. If you’re still hungry, go back for more.

Then, when you hit a comfortable level of fullness (seven or eight on the scale), stop eating—even if there’s still food on your plate. You shouldn’t feel overly full (nine or 10 on the scale) after your meals, Lewis adds. “It’s a difficult habit to build but it does help you learn to eat the right amount of food for your body,” she says.

5. Identify Food Sensitivities

Another major but unexpected way to jump-start weight loss is to identify and address any food sensitivities you may have, says Morra. Why? Eating foods our bodies are sensitive to can trigger a cascade of inflammation, and research has long linked inflammation with being overweight or obese. So if you have a food sensitivity (egg, gluten, dairy, soy, peanut, and corn sensitivities are common), but eat that food every day, you promote chronic inflammation and may have more trouble losing weight.

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

The best way to confirm if you have a food sensitivity: Meet with a dietitian who can put you on an elimination diet that cuts out possible offenders and reintroduces them after a month or so to gauge how your body reacts. Once any triggers are removed, many people start to lose weight more quickly, Morra says.

6. Get More Sleep

Can you sleep the pounds away? Well, it’s not quite that simple, but not getting enough sleep can have an intense impact on the scale. Lack of sleep (coupled with stress, which often crops up when we don’t sleep enough) can increase your levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), which is associated with higher levels of visceral fat—fat around the organs in your midsection. This can all be dangerous for your health, Morra says. In fact, research recently published in PLOS One linked visceral fat with cardiometabolic risk factors, like high blood pressure, triglycerides, and blood sugar.

Skimping on shut-eye can also lead you to reach for less-than-healthy food choices during the day. When you’re overloading on caffeine, sugar, and calories to get through, you catapult yourself toward inflammation, sugar cravings, a crummy diet, and weight gain, says Morra. Research published in Sleep shows that lack of sleep alters the chemical signals that regulate our appetite and energy levels, driving us to reach for unhealthy foods and snack more.

Related: Find a supplement to help get your shut-eye on track.

7 Hormones That Can Mess With Your Weight

You may not know much about your hormones, but they have a huge impact on so many aspects of your health, including your mood, your sex drive, and yep, your weight.

What exactly are these all-powerful chemicals? Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through our bodies to trigger all kinds of complex bodily processes, says Florence Comite, M.D., an endocrinologist and founder of Comite Center for Precision Medicine. (And—surprise!—you have about 50 of them.) When our hormones work together properly, they do everything from regulating our metabolism to helping us reproduce to balancing our sleep cycle and mood.

But when these chemical messengers are disrupted, the effects throughout our body can be dramatic, according to Sara Gottfried, M.D., the three-time New York Times bestselling author of The Hormone Cure, The Hormone Reset Diet and Younger. Out-of-whack hormones can lead to a slew of symptoms, including fatigue, sugar cravings, trouble losing weight, bloating, increased belly fat, trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability, and constant stress.

When it comes to our waistlines, there are seven standout hormones that, well, carry more weight. So if you’re packing on the pounds with zero explanation, these hormones may be to blame.

1. Ghrelin

Nicknamed the ‘hunger hormone,’ ghrelin is secreted from your stomach lining when your stomach is empty or not taking in enough energy through food, and signals to your brain that you need to eat, says nutritionist Susan Stalte, R.D.

We release more of this hormone when we regularly skimp on sleep, which can lead to higher calorie consumption, and an even more sedentary lifestyle, according to a study published in PloS Medicine. And a more voracious appetite makes it  more difficult to keep off excess pounds when it’s coupled with fewer workouts.

Related: Shop supplements that support a healthy snooze.

To keep your ghrelin, eating habits, and exercise routine all grooving, Stalte recommends aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep per night, avoiding processed foods, and eating a balance of fiber, healthy fats, and high-quality protein to stabilize your blood sugar and keep you feeling satisfied.

2. Cortisol

Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. It’s released whenever your body senses it needs to enter ‘high-alert mode’—whether you’re facing a major work deadline, fighting with your significant other, or even just hammering away in the gym. It’s also release when you lose out on sleep, according to research published in Sleep.

“Cortisol raises blood pressure and blood sugar to power your muscles and help you run,” says Gottfried. Basically, the hormone suppresses all body processes (like your immune response, digestion, and reproductive function) that would be nonessential in a true flight-or-fight situation, according to The Mayo Clinic.

While cortisol may help your body handle some sort of threat or stress in the short-term, it becomes an issue if it’s chronically elevated. “Cortisol becomes poison, causing you to store belly fat, deplete your ‘happy’ brain chemicals like serotonin, and lose sleep,” Gottfried says. These issues can snowball and lead to headaches, anxiety, depression, and digestive problems long-term. Elevated cortisol levels are also linked to food addiction and sugar cravings, and leave you more likely to reach for processed, unhealthy foods, she says.

To support healthy cortisol function, evaluate and manage the stress in your life, The Mayo Clinic recommends. Try practicing yoga, meditation, getting a massage, or seeing a counseling professional to help get symptoms under control.

3. Estrogen

Estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, is responsible for the development of the female reproductive system—and its fluctuations during a woman’s menstrual cycle cause minor ebbs and flows in water weight. Research also suggests that estrogen regulates body fat distribution and food intake, according to a review published in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

During women’s transition to menopause in middle age, a drop in estrogen leads to some weight gain (typically about five to eight pounds), according to Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine. These pounds are often gained around the midsection. (Not only is fat around the middle more difficult to lose, but it also increases your risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.)

Some women use estrogen replacement therapy to help offset the weight gain associated with menopause (along with other symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats), Minkin says. Menopause-related estrogen declines are inevitable, so women should talk to their docs about whether hormone replacement therapy may be right for them. Minkin also recommends that women in or post-menopause exercise regularly, since muscle mass helps keep our metabolisms revved and can help ward off fat-gain.

Related: 7 Natural Ways To Kick-Start Your Metabolism

Men, who have some estrogen in their systems, don’t get off scot-free, though. According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, men derive estrogen from testosterone, so as their testosterone levels fall in middle age (more on that in a second), so do estrogen levels. This decrease in estrogen can contribute to an increase in belly fat for many men (like women), the study says.

4. Testosterone

Now that you’ve got ‘T’ on the mind, let’s get to it. Though it’s present in both men and women, testosterone is the primary male sex hormone and supports muscle mass, bone mass, strength, and reproductive function.

When testosterone levels take a downturn, muscle mass, metabolic rate, and energy levels all decrease, according to nutritional biochemist and author Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D. All of these factors lead to us burning fewer calories and likely gaining belly fat, he says.

Chronic stress and lack of sleep can diminish testosterone, but levels also dip as we age, says Talbott. This drop occurs in both men and women, though we typically think of ‘low-T’ as a guy thing. (Most guys’ testosterone starts to decline in their 40s.)

Testosterone replacement therapy can help offset some of the muscle mass loss many men experience as they age and address other low-T-related issues, like fatigue, according to research published in Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Obesity.

 5. Thyroid Hormones

Your thyroid, which is a teeny gland located at the base of your neck, has a huge impact on the rest of your body. The thyroid makes two hormones, free thyroid 3 (T3) and free thyroid 4 (T4), which regulate our metabolism (the rate at which we use energy), affect the growth, and control how quickly we make proteins and how sensitive we are to other hormones, says Comite.

Lifestyle factors—particularly high levels of stress—can affect thyroid function, and when thyroid hormones go haywire, trouble ensues. The two main issues: Not producing enough thyroid hormones (called ‘hypothyroidism’) or producing too much (called ‘hyperthyroidism’).

Drops in T3 and T4 in hypothyroidism can slow your metabolic rate and lead to weight gain, says Talbott. Meanwhile, hyperthyroidism can speed up your metabolic rate and cause sudden weight loss and nervousness. Wonked-out thyroid hormones also throw off thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which signals to the thyroid to work harder. TSH shoots up in hypothyroidism up and drop in hyperthyroidism, Comite says.

Related: Could You Have A Thyroid Issue?

Typically docs use a blood test to determine TSH levels and identify a potential thyroid issue. From there, they may do a number of things to get the thyroid chugging along at the proper pace. Treatments for hypothyroidism may include taking synthetic thyroid hormones, while treatments for hyperthyroidism may include radioactive iodine therapy or thyroid hormone blockers, along with prioritizing a healthy lifestyle, according to the American Thyroid Association.

6. Insulin

Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that allows your body to use glucose (a.k.a. sugar) for energy, says Comite. When you eat or drink something that contains sugar, your body releases insulin to clear that sugar from your blood and shuttle it to your tissues (like muscles) for use.

When your cells become numb to insulin, you develop insulin resistance and instead of shuttling glucose from your blood into your cells, your liver converts that sugar into stored fat, says Gottfried. The condition is often marked by intense sugar cravings and weight gain and experts believe excess weight and inactivity are both major factors in causing it, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Docs can test your insulin levels and level of insulin resistance with a series of blood tests after an overnight fast and then periodically after drinking a sugary drink.

Losing weight and exercising can help your body become more sensitive to insulin, according to the NIDDK. Your doctor may also prescribe a medication to help control blood sugar levels.

7. Leptin

Another big influencer on hunger and satiety is leptin, which Gottfried calls ‘nature’s appetite suppressant.’ “Under normal conditions, leptin signals your brain to stop eating once you’ve had enough,” she explains.

Leptin is released from fat, so research suggests that adequate leptin signals to our body that we have enough fat and aren’t starving, and consequently don’t need to take in tons of calories, according to a review published in Obesity.

However, when leptin levels (and body fat) keep rising, your receptors stop functioning properly and you never quite get the leptin cue that you’re satisfied, which—annoyingly—leaves you feeling hungry, says Gottfried. Known as leptin resistance, this predicament leaves you more likely to nosh on unhealthy foods and can cause weight gain to snowball. In fact, research has identified leptin resistance as a major player in obesity.

Your doc can identify leptin resistance through a simple blood test, says Stalte. From there, you’ll want to work with a dietitian to revamp your diet, she says.

5 Foods That Could Be Messing With Your Gut

History and common sense say we should always trust our gut—but in order to do so, we need it to be functioning at its best.

The consensus among nutrition and medical experts is that our gut health can affect our overall well-being for better or worse. “The health of the gastrointestinal tract is extremely important because the gut contains a majority of the immune system, with just a single layer of cells lining it,” says Maureen Leonard, M.D., clinical director for the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment. “This single layer of cells separates the immune system from the many environmental exposures we ingest.”

Since our intestines filter good things (like nutrients) from bad things (like toxins), our gut is one of our body’s first lines of defense against the outside world, according to Stephanie Dunne, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., I.F.N.C.P.

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Researchers still have much to learn about our gut, but here’s what we do know: The bacteria that live in our gut (which are often called the ‘microbiome’) contribute to our overall health and may play a role in the development of disease, our mood, and our weight, Dunne says. Everyone’s gut is different, depending on a person’s individual biology, environment, medical history, medication use, and diet, explains Leonard. This means we all deal with toxins in different ways, and we each have different levels of intestinal permeability (a measure of how easily materials can pass through the cells lining our gut and into our body), says Leonard.

Related: The Term ‘Leaky Gut’ Is All Over The Internet—But What Exactly Is It?

And though our diet alone doesn’t determine the fate of our gut health, nutrition is an important part of keeping our microbiome strong, diverse (the more strains of good bacteria the better!), and able to ward off inflammation. “Lifestyle choices, stress management, and nutrition are all pieces of the puzzle, and none of them can be ignored if we really want a happy digestive tract,” Dunne says.

Is your grub holding back your gut health? Read on to learn what foods to cut back on (and what to eat instead) to keep your insides as happy as possible.

As much as those refined carbohydrates and sweets tempt our taste buds, they are less-than-ideal food for the good microorganisms that live in our gut. Our relationship with these good gut bugs works like this: We feed them, and, in turn, they provide us with vitamin K2 and short-chain fatty acids, according to Dunne. The good gut bugs feed on complex carbohydrates and their fiber, while the not-so-friendly bacteria in our gut feed on refined carbs and sugar. The stronger our little colony of healthy bacteria—and the weaker the colony of bad guys—the better our gut is able to keep us regular and healthy.

“By reducing the intake of refined carbs and increasing our intake of fiber, we are feeding the good guys and starving the bad guys,” Dunne says. “We, in turn, reap the benefit of having more good guys living in our gut.” So by swapping sugar and refined carbs like white breads or pastas for complex, whole-food sources like fiber-rich beans, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, we give our healthy bacteria the food it needs, says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D.N., author of The MIND Diet.

Knocking back cocktails is a surefire way to diminish our gut health, according to Ana Johnson, M.S., R.D., C.D.E. “Alcohol is inflammatory, and causes all of your body systems to become inflamed, including your digestive system,” she says. Ever experienced symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea, or even acid reflux or heartburn after drinking? Yep, there’s your evidence. Alcohol can also make conditions like irritable bowel syndrome worse—and it can even lead to gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach.)

The only way to truly prevent this damage is to ditch your cocktail for a mocktail. Alcohol is a toxin, and the most effective way to reverse its effects on your body is to stop putting it into your system, says Johnson. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet (more on that later), managing stress, and getting enough sleep will help counteract the effects of alcohol, but can’t completely cancel them out, she says.

Sadly, all alcohol—from tequila to craft beer—is equally damaging. Johnson recommends avoiding alcohol as much as possible, and limiting yourself to one (for women) or two (for men) drinks when you do imbibe.

Don’t freak out. We’re not about to say everyone and their mother needs to go gluten-free.

When we eat gluten (the type of proteins found in grains like wheat), our body releases a protein called zonulin, which creates spaces between the intestinal cells. When these spaces are too large, substances that otherwise wouldn’t be able to fit through these spaces are able to pass into our body.

“Even though everyone releases zonulin, some people release more of it and are slower to close up these spaces that are formed,” she says. That’s why some people can eat gluten without issue, while others find it leads to symptoms like diarrhea, cramping, or swelling.

Blood tests can help determine if you have celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder in which gluten damages the small intestine), but won’t necessarily flag less severe sensitivities, which can manifest as symptoms like headaches, joint pain, or brain fogginess, Dunne says. If you suspect you have a gluten issue, work with a dietitian to cut out gluten-containing foods for about three weeks. At the end of the three-week period, you’ll eat something with gluten in it and gauge your body’s reaction.

If gluten is an issue for you, you may need to cut back on gluten-containing foods (like anything made with wheat) or nix them completely, says Dunne. From there, focus on incorporating foods and nutrients that support your gut health, like omega-3 fatty acids (found in flax seeds, walnuts, fatty fish, chia seeds, soybeans, and shrimp), vitamin A and vitamin C (found in carrots and sweet potatoes, and kale and broccoli, respectively), and zinc (found in spinach and kidney beans).

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

Research suggests omega-3s may support the gut’s barrier function, while vitamin A helps regulate the gut’s immune cells, Dunne says. Meanwhile, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and zinc is necessary for cell division, which is crucial for the turnover of cells in your gut.

Eating meat doesn’t automatically lead to an unhappy gut, but focusing less on animal-based foods and more on plant-based foods seems to be more gut-friendly, says Moon. “That doesn’t mean no steak ever; it just means more plants more often,” she says. Not convinced? Research—like this study, published in Cell Metabolism—has associated eating plant proteins with a lower mortality risk than eating animal proteins.

What makes plant foods so gut-friendly? Many vegetables, fruits, and grains contain indigestible fiber called prebiotics, according to NYC-based nutritionist Cara Anselmo, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. These prebiotics act as food for the good bacteria, called probiotics, that live in our gut. And though many of us think of dairy foods like yogurt and kefir as the ultimate food sources of those probiotics, they’re also found in fermented plant foods like kimchi and tempeh.

Related: Support your good bacteria with a probiotic supplement.

To up your diet’s plant power, base your plate in whole, fresh fruits and veggies and then add whole grains like barley, wheat berries, or quinoa. To make sure plant-based meals pack enough protein, incorporate sources like beans, tofu, nuts, and seeds frequently, says Anselmo. (Those whole grains provide some protein, too, BTW.)

If you’re a carnivore at heart, pick fish or poultry over red meat, and avoid processed meat, she says. (While researchers are still figuring out the relationship between specific foods and our gut, excess consumption of processed meats has been linked to colorectal cancer, according to the World Health Organization.)

Many of the processed foods we eat contain additives and other hard-to-identify ingredients that may negatively impact our gut health. The average American diet, which is high in sugar, fat, refined foods, and emulsifiers, is linked with lower microbial diversity and inflammation, says Boston-based dietitian Kate Scarlata, R.D.N. And these two health factors are commonly associated with health problems like cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease, she says.

Consider emulsifiers, for example. (You’re probably wondering what they are, but you’ve probably eaten something that contains them today.) These common additives—lecithin and carrageenan are two you’ve likely seen—are used to stabilize processed foods, like dairy-free milks and chocolate bars. Though more human study is needed, an animal study published in Nature found that ingesting emulsifiers decreased the diversity of mice’s microbiomes, triggered inflammation in the gut, and contributed to the breakdown of the protective mucus that lines the gut wall.

The best way to guarantee your eats won’t hurt your gut health is to keep processed foods off the menu as much as possible. “Balance your plate with whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and a wide array of colorful produce,” says Scarlata.

Pin this handy infographic and keep your grub gut-friendly:

Weight-Loss Efforts Failing? You Might Not Be Eating Enough

You’ve heard it a million times before: Weight loss comes down to the simple equation of ‘calories in versus calories out.’ Burn more calories than you take in—usually by eating less and working out more—and watch the pounds melt off, right?

“In theory, if you consume fewer calories than you expend, you should lose weight; and if you do the opposite, you should gain weight” says David Greuner M.D., of NYC Surgical Associates. Many people, though, make a calorie-cutting mistake that actually sabotages their weight loss—and that’s restricting calories too much.

Why Eating Fewer Calories Doesn’t Mean Shedding More Pounds

We all have a unique metabolic rate (the number of calories our bodies need throughout the day), which is influenced by factors like gender, age, activity level, and muscle mass.

“The higher your metabolic rate, the more calories you’re burning,” says Leah Kaufman, M.S., R.D.N., dietitian for NYU Langone Health’s weight management program. (Even when you’re doing nothing!) When you restrict calories consistently, though, your metabolic rate drops—and the more drastic the calorie restriction, the more drastic the metabolic spiral, she says.

This incredibly frustrating cause-and-effect actually stems from our caveman days, says Deepa Iyengar, M.D., associate professor at the McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Basically, when you don’t eat enough, your brain thinks you’re starving, and your body holds onto every calorie it’s given, she says. (This came in handy when our cavemen ancestors couldn’t hunt or gather enough food.) Your metabolism slows down to a sluggish rate, and even though you’re trying to lose weight, your results screech to a halt. You may even start to break down muscle for fuel.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

And if your extreme calorie-cutting is also paired with lots of intense exercise, you put yourself at risk for a scary condition called rhabdomyolysis, in which your muscle breaks down so rapidly that you’re left with severe muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and confusion, and potential kidney failure, says Greuner.

How to Tell if You’re Cutting Too Many Calories

As great as losing a few pounds sounds, going in to ‘starvation mode’ or risking your health isn’t so hot. If you’re going too far with calorie-slashing, the first signs you’ll notice are low energy, headaches, and fatigue, says Kaufman. Your mood may also take a hit, so you may feel irritable or depressed, or have trouble concentrating, adds Greuner.

And, of course, you’ll probably feel hungry all the dang time, because your calorie shortage causes your body to release hormones like ghrelin, which signal to the brain that you need some nourishment, pronto.

You can start to experience these symptoms as soon as you cut anything more than 500 calories per day, Iyengar says. But if your caloric intake dips below 1,000 calories a day, you enter into a real danger zone and risk damaging organs like your heart and kidneys, she adds.

Get Your Calories Back in the Safe Zone

Understanding the base number of calories your body needs to function (even if you lie in bed all day) can help you quit your extreme calorie-cutting ways. A qualified health professional can help you calculate your exact minimum needs with a machine that measures your oxygen consumption, which indicates your metabolic rate, says Kaufman.

Otherwise, you can use an online calculator from a medical or health organization (MyFitnessPal has an easy and free one) to estimate your daily calorie needs. Just keep in mind that this is the base number of calories your body needs to stay alive and do nothing else—not how many you should eat to lose weight. You’ll need additional calories to fuel daily activities and exercise. (A dietitian or doc can help you figure out the exact number.)

Men generally need more calories than women because they have more muscle mass, and therefore higher metabolisms, says Iyengar. Active men under age 55 who exercise for about 45 minutes four times a week should start with a baseline of 2,500 calories per day, while active women under 55 should start out at 2,000, she recommends. From there, if you want to lose weight (at about one pound per week) you can reduce your daily consumption by up to 500 calories, but not more than that, says Kaufman. Keep a food journal or use a food-tracking app to make sure you’re getting what you need, she suggests.

Taking this more moderate approach will help you lose weight safely—and sustain it. “You cannot survive on 800 calories a day for the rest of your life. It’s just not possible.” Getting enough calories will keep your body nourished so that you feel strong (instead of totally drained) when you exercise—which is a key piece of any sustainable weight-loss plan, says Greuner.

And one final tip for the road: When you’re in a (healthy) calorie deficit, it’s also important to consume enough protein to support your muscles and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure you’re getting all of the vitamins and minerals you need, says Kaufman.

Related: Shop multivitamins and minerals to make sure your nutritional bases are covered.