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 weight management for some people.

Eating keto means cutting out processed foods, sugars, and starches—including bread, beans, potatoes, and 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 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.

Related: Shop all sorts of healthy baking ingredients.

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. (A medium white potato and sweet potato are both about 100 calories.) 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 going overboard is easier to do than you might think.

Eating too few calories can make you feel sluggish, shaky, and anxious—and it can actually make you gain weight in the long run, says Megan Casper, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Megan Casper Nutrition.

If you’re eating too few calories for your body and lifestyle, though, your body will send you some major signals 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 baseline, 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 Casper. In fact, up to 20 percent of our daily calories and half our available sugar goes to our brains, 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, says Manganiello. Mood swings—like brain fog—are caused by dips in blood sugar. Get this: research out of Florida State University found that our self-control literally requires energy, and that we’re more likely to snap or lash our when our blood sugar is low.

Plus, even just monitoring our calories spikes how stressed we feel, while 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 you can also use a reputable online tool, like the USDA’s MyPlate Super Tracker, or do some quick math to estimate how many calories you need. 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, 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 may 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 emulsifies, 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), vitamins A and 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.

5 Things To Look For In A Meal-Kit Delivery Service

Though our kitchens haven’t quite gone full Jetsons on us, we can thank technology for the slew of meal and food delivery services helping us make our trips to the grocery store a thing of the past. The meal kit business is now a $2.2 billion industry, and people across the country are getting their groceries or ready-to-make recipes and ingredients sent straight to their doorsteps.

And each of these services offers their own unique twist on the meal. For example, Purple Carrot boasts all plant-based dishes, Blue Apron recently rolled out wine pairings to go along your meals, and HelloFresh lets you choose the difficulty of the recipes you want to prepare. Plated lets you add dessert to your orders, Chef’d offers meals that comply with popular weight loss programs like Atkins and Weight Watchers, and retail behemoth Amazon is also getting in on the action with its Amazon Fresh meal kits, which you can buy without even logging out of your Prime account.

The perks? Meal kit services can help you squash the constant debate about what to have for dinner, while expanding your food horizons and offering healthy options. “Using these services can make cooking fun and easy,” says Martha McKittrick, R.D. “You’ll try new flavors and seasonings that you may never have used on your own.”

Plus, portion sizes seem to be fairly average across the board, so meal kits can help eliminate guesswork about how much to put on your plate, says plant-based dietitian Alex Caspero, M.A. And since many meal kit recipes include plenty of produce, they can benefit the many Americans who are lacking in vegetable and fiber intake, she adds.

But which service is right for you? Here’s what the experts recommend keeping in mind as you sift through the many meal kit delivery services out there.

1. Make sure it fits your general lifestyle.

First, ask yourself why you’re interested in using a meal kit service. Perhaps you just don’t have time to grocery shop, want to clean up your eating habits but don’t know how, or want to work on your kitchen skills. “If your number one goal is easy, healthy meals, that might look different than if you’re interested in learning to cook or expanding your recipe knowledge,” says Caspero. Most companies will have a sampling of recipes available on their website, so scan through nutrition information, look at ingredients, and check on recipe difficulty to make sure that service fits with your lifestyle, Caspero recommends. And if time is of the essence, take note of the time required for a service’s recipes. “While not complicated, some can take up to an hour to make or cook,” says McKittrick.

From there, you’ll also want to check how many portions the service delivers (to make sure you’ll have enough, but not too much) and make sure it fits in with your dietary preferences or offers vegan, gluten-free, Paleo, dairy-free, or organic customization. For example, a service that doesn’t let you swap out meat-centric dishes wouldn’t be a fit for a pescatarian, while a service that features pasta with each might not be appreciated by anyone trying to cut back on carbs.

Lastly, make sure you’re paying attention to the delivery schedule and quantity before signing up. “If you have plans to go out several nights that week, you’ll be stuck with a backload of meals, some of which may not keep well or be freezer-friendly” McKittrick says.

2. Don’t overdo it on sodium.

One potential downfall of a meal kit delivery service: Recipes that are jam-packed with salt, says nutritionist and culinary specialist Sara Haas, R.D.N., L.D.N. The CDC recommends keeping sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams per day, so stay away from meals that pack more than about 700 milligrams per serving, she says.

3. Make sure you’re getting enough vegetables.

If you’re going to pay for a meal kit service, you want it to deliver as much health-promoting produce as possible! “Some of these services go heavy on carbs and skimp on vegetables, which can lead to eating a lot more calories than you realize without feeling satisfied,” says Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., I.N.H.C. A good rule of thumb: Make sure half your plate is filled with non-starchy vegetables, like Brussels sprouts, kale, or asparagus, and split the other half between a quarter protein and a quarter carbs, Cording says. When necessary, she suggests bulking up dishes with extra vegetables of your own, and saving any leftovers for another day.

4. Watch your fat content.

Meal services can be a great way to get fresh ingredients daily without much planning, but because companies need to keep customers coming back, they load their meals with fat, warns nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. “People may automatically assume that the vegetarian or low-carb option is healthy, but a lot of times these meals are loaded with excess fat and therefore excess calories, making it not healthy at all,” she says.

Related: Are There Any Benefits To Eating Salt?

Look for recipes that are higher in unsaturated fat and low in saturated fat, and use add-ons like cheese and salad dressing sparingly. Rissetto recommends keeping your fat intake to 25 percent of your daily calories. Take 25 percent of your daily calories and divide that number by nine (the number of calories per gram of fat) to figure out how many grams of fat total you should consume per day. So if you’re eating a 2,000-calorie diet, that’d be 500 calories of fat, or 55 grams per day—so you’d want to limit meals to about 18 grams of fat each.

Of course, calories are important—but so is where those calories come from, says Haas. “If many of them are coming from saturated fat, skip that meal,” she says, also mentioning that while we all have different calorie needs, a meal with between 500 and 800 calories is a good goal to shoot for.

5. Look for protein.

Protein, which helps build cells and tissues and slows your digestion, helps support your weight management goals and keeps you feeling satiated after a meal. “Otherwise you’ll be left feeling hungry and more likely to overeat later,” says Rissetto.

Rissetto recommends shooting for about 0.8 to one gram of protein per kilogram of weight every day. (That’s about 0.45 grams per pound.) So a 150-pound person would need about 68 grams per day, or about 22 grams per meal.

Related: Shop the Protein Pantry for easy ways to add extra protein to your diet.

8 Foods That Pack A Surprising Amount Of Sugar

Sure, you haven’t eaten Lucky Charms for dinner since college, but sugar could still be covertly making its way onto your plate in large amounts—and it could be jeopardizing your health.

First things first: We’re not talking about natural sugars, like those you’ll find in fruit and milk. We’re talking about the refined sugar added to so many foods and drinks, like bottled teas and packaged snacks, these days.

The issue with added sugar? It has no nutritional value, says Angie Asche, M.S, R.D., sports dietitian and owner of Eleat Sports Nutrition. “It does not keep you satiated, does not provide you with any essential vitamins or minerals, and does not contain any fiber, protein, or healthy fats,” she says.

Plus, too much sugar can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and lead to issues like weight gain and diabetes over time, says nutritionist Dara Godfrey, M.S., R.D. (Your body churns out the hormone insulin to control your blood sugar, but eventually your body becomes resistant to it, steering you toward diabetes.)

The World Health Organization recommends limiting added sugars as much as possible, to about five percent of your daily calories, or 25 grams total per day. According to the CDC, the average American consumes more than three times that much sugar every day.

It’s not surprising, considering even condiments and salty foods often pack major sugar. When it’s not just listed as ‘sugar’, the sweet stuff is listed under a number of sneaky names, including evaporated cane juice, rice syrup, maltose, maltodextrin, and high-fructose corn syrup.

Here are some of the unexpected foods sneaking tons of sugar into your daily diet:

1. BBQ Sauce

Before you smother your plate at your next cookout, take a look at the label on that barbecue sauce. Some brands include up to nine grams per tablespoon, often in the form of corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup, according to Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet.

“Instead of using a store-bought barbecue sauce, make your own with a recipe that uses less added sugar,” she says. Or, grill your meat in a sauce made of olive oil, lemon juice, and fresh herbs, or use a no-sugar-added dry meat rub instead.

2. Ketchup

This beloved condiment staple is another big sugar offender with one tablespoon containing about 3.7 grams of sugar, says Godfrey. (Again, you’ll see high-fructose corn syrup in many brands.) Instead, Godfrey recommends using dry rubs, hot pepper flakes, salsa, or garlic to add flavor to food.

3. Granola

This one’s a real heart-breaker—especially because we have the bad habit of eating a few servings of granola straight from the bag. Some brands of granola contain upwards of 12 grams of sugar per serving in the form of honey, maple syrup, molasses or evaporated cane juice, according to Rachel Begun, M.S., R.D.N. Instead, you can satisfy your sweet tooth by whipping up homemade trail mix with a few types of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits for a DIY snack that’s added sugar-free. Just mix three types of nuts (like walnuts, almonds, peanuts, or pistachios), with two types of seeds (like sunflower or pumpkin seeds), and one or two types of dried fruit (like dried strawberries, pineapple, apples, or raisins), says Begun. Just make sure your dried fruit doesn’t contain any added sugar—fruit is sweet enough as is!

When DIY just isn’t in the cards, look for a trail mix that contains just a few whole ingredients like Sunfoods Superfoods’ Raw Organic Mango Macadamia mix. (It’s only ingredients are mango, macadamia nuts, cashews, goji berries, mulberries, and cacao nibs.)

4. Salad Dressing

You may think that you’re making a healthy choice by grabbing a salad, but what you top it with is ‘make or break it.’ French, Catalina, and raspberry vinaigrette dressings can be especially sugar-loaded, with some popular brands containing five grams of sugar per two-tablespoon serving, says Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E., author of Diabetes Weight Loss-Week by Week. Instead, whisk up your own salad dressing by combining two tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar, and a few seasonings (like salt, pepper, and garlic powder). You could also add some tahini or mashed avocado into the mix for extra creaminess, she says.

Related: Shop a large selection of ingredients for healthy cooking.

5. Rice Vinegar

Rice vinegar, which is commonly added to salads or used to make marinades and sauces, is shockingly high in sugar content, coming in around six grams per tablespoon, says Godfrey. Look for a low-sodium, low-sugar rice vinegar or choose another acid, like lemon juice, to cook with.

 6. Yogurt

A yogurt seems like the perfect quick and easy breakfast. Take note, though, that some yogurts contain more sugars than others, says Gans. On top of that, some flavored varieties contain up to 23 grams of sugar per serving. For a healthier swap, Gans recommends grabbing a plain yogurt and topping it with fresh fruit for sweetness.

7. Oatmeal

Oatmeal is another convenient, tasty breakfast that’s tricking us into consuming a lot of extra sugar. Flavored packets of instant oatmeal, in particular, can contain up to 12 grams of sugar, which is often listed as maltodextrin. Cook up a week’s worth of plain oatmeal in the slow-cooker at the beginning of the week and you’ll have a solid breakfast base waiting for you every morning, Begun says. You can add fresh fruit and/or chopped nuts and seeds to spice up your bowl.

Related: 8 Overnight Oats Recipes That Make Breakfast Taste Like Dessert

8. Peanut Butter

Say it ain’t so! This pantry staple often contains unnecessary added sugar—often even when the brands tout themselves as ‘natural,’ according to Asche. Often, a two tablespoon of PB serving contains about three grams of sugar. “Again, look at the ingredient list, to assure you’re buying a brand without added sugars,” she says. Luckily, super-clean nut and seed butters are easy to find, with many brands, like Once Again, containing just one or two ingredients (except for their sunflower seed butter, which is lightly sweetened).

How To Make 5 Basic Bodyweight Exercises SO Much Harder

So you want to step up your workouts—which means you should probably join a fancy boutique studio or invest big bucks in a trainer, right? Eh, not necessarily. No matter how much gym cred you have, some of the most effective exercises out there can be done anywhere, for free—using just your body weight.

Many bodyweight moves utilize multiple muscle groups, boosting your calorie burn and shaping your body at the same time, says Michele Mammon, C.P.T., C.E.S. of Body Elite Fitness. And if you think these classic exercises are for beginners only, think again. Make a few tweaks and you’ll feel a whole new burn. These next-level variations on foundational bodyweight moves—straight from seven trainers themselves—will kick your butt and knock your ego down a notch.

Pushups

This traditional exercise may bring back memories of high school P.E., but that doesn’t mean it belongs in your fitness routine’s past. The move recruits your chest, triceps, shoulders, and it also requires a stable core, says Mammon.

“You can make pushups harder by focusing on the lowering part of the movement,” she says. When you lower yourself to the ground, hold yourself there for a moment before pushing back up.

Other ways to make pushups more challenging: Place your hands in the shape of a diamond by connecting your thumbs and pointer fingers, elevate your hands or feet on a bench, or fold one arm behind your back to attempt one-armed pushups, Mammon says.

Lunges

Sometimes taking a step backward when working out can be a good thing—that is, if it means you’re changing the direction of your lunges. Fire up your lower-body in a new way by doing lunges either out to the side (called ‘lateral lunges’) or on an angle (like ‘curtsy lunges’), recommends Chris Heuisler, National Run Concierge of Westin Hotels & Resorts. “The older we get, the more accustomed we get to only walking in straight lines,” Heuisler says. Incorporating different planes of motion into your lunges strengthens your muscles’ movement through multiple angles, he says.

You can also turn up your lunge by reaching your arm (on the side you’re stepping forward with) toward the ceiling as you step forward into your lunge, says Katie Fanok, a personal and group trainer in Westchester, N.Y. As you do this, reach your opposite arm back and try to touch your back heel. You’ll test your balance and coordination—and get a good stretch in.

To get your heart rate pumping, turn your lunges into jump lunges. Start in lunge position and jump up, switching your leg position as you do so, landing in a lunge on the opposite side, Fanok says.

Related: 15 Bodyweight Exercises That Show Major Results

Planks

Tons of trainers will tell you: Your best bet for scoring a six-pack isn’t suffering through crunch after crunch, but staying completely still in a plank position. Problem is, staying completely still can get a little, well, boring.

Put a twist on your planks—and light up your obliques—by trying side planks, recommends Joshua Martin, co-founder of FindYourTrainer. With your left foot stacked on top of your right, plant your right hand on the ground and push up so your body forms a straight line on your side. Your shoulders should be aligned above your right arm. You can keep your left hand on your hip or reach it straight up. Don’t let your hips drop! Martin suggests starting with 15 seconds on each side, and adding increments of 10 to 15 seconds as you get stronger.

Need more movement? Create a little side-to-side plank flow. Start off in a side plank and slowly transition to a regular high plank. Then slowly move into a side plank on the other side, Martin says. “The key is to be as smooth, stable, and graceful in your transition as possible, which is no easy task!” he says. Start out with two or three full flows, and add more as you get better.

Another way to make planks more dynamic: Add alternating shoulder taps, lift one foot off the ground at a time, or move up and down between a high plank and elbow plank, suggests Allison Tibbs, a San Francisco-based personal trainer and healthy lifestyle coach. “That’s what I love about body weight—adding dynamic or plyometric movements can change the intensity,” she says.

Squats

You already know that squats—bodyweight or not—are one of the best moves for your body.

For a heart rate bump and a quick burn, turn your squats into jump squats. “Perform a regular squat, pausing for a brief moment at the bottom of the movement, then extend explosively and jump as high as you can,” says Patrick Schoeneborn, C.P.T. and owner of Body 100. Try doing as many reps as you can in one minute.

Make your usual squat more challenging by adding an element of instability to the move, recommends Schoeneborn. Try performing your squats while standing on a BOSU ball. “Fold your arms across your chest to make it even harder,” he says.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, go for one-legged squats (known as ‘pistol squats’). This squat variation is particularly intense, says Paul Baytan, C.P.T. You’ll extend one leg out in front of you and lower into your squat on the other leg. You working leg has to fire twice as hard as usual to support your weight on its own, while your core works extra hard to keep you balanced, he says.

Hollow Body Holds

The hollow body hold, one of Baytan’s favorite core exercises, is another move in which you’re not moving at all. (It’s also known as the ‘dead bug.’) In the easiest version of the exercise, you lie on your back and extend your arms and legs straight upwards, bending your knees at a 90-degree angle. “Push your palms and knees to the sky while pushing your lower back into the floor and maintain a tight core,” Baytan says.

To level up the intensity, keep both your arms and legs straight, extended out at 45-degree angles from your torso. Still, maintain a tight core and push your lower back into the floor, he says.

Now the hardest version: “Fully extend your arms and legs, and lift them off the ground just about six to 10 inches,” Baytan says. You’ll hear this variation referred to as ‘the banana’ because your body takes on that slightly curved shape. The goal is to stay still and keep your core tense—it’s surprisingly taxing.

Related: Check out performance supplements to give your next workout an extra punch.

The Five Key Nutrients You REALLY Don’t Want To Miss Out On

You may think that if you’re eating three square meals every day, you’re fueling your body properly—but that may not actually be the case. In the latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the USDA warned that some Americans are falling short on their intake of a number of key nutrients. Of the most under-consumed, five are flagged as “nutrients of public health concern,” which means low intakes are associated with health issues: calcium, potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin D, and iron.

Before you panic, know this: Overall, choosing diverse, whole foods goes a long way in helping you get your daily needs. “Eating a variety of foods is the best way to make sure you are consuming all of your essential nutrients,” says Lauren Manganiello M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., C.P.T. But if you’re unsure where you stand with these important nutrients, you can always talk to your doctor about annual blood testing, says Lisa R. Young, Ph.D., R.D..

Read on to learn why these nutrients are so important, how much you really need per day, and how to up your intake.

Calcium

Remember being told to drink your milk growing up? Well, it was for good reason. Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese are rich sources of calcium, according to Manganiello.

“Calcium supports bone and teeth structure and formation,” says Manganiello. “It also aids in muscle function, nerve transmission, and intracellular signaling.” And according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, more than 40 percent of the population falls short of the estimated average requirement (EAR).

Over time, a limited calcium intake can cause low bone mass and increase your risk of fractures and osteoporosis, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Men and women between the ages of 19 and 51 should shoot for 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, says Manganiello. (A cup of milk contains 299 milligrams.)

If you’re dairy-free, there are a number of plant-based sources of calcium, including sardines, Chinese cabbage, kale, and broccoli, she says. (Two cups of raw broccoli contain about 86 milligrams.)

Potassium

Most of us think about exercise when we think about this mineral. “Potassium helps regulate blood pressure by counteracting some of the effects of sodium,” says Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N. The electrolyte also supports exercise performance and hydration, and too-low levels might lead to muscle cramping, she says.

That’s not all, though. Potassium is actually the third most-abundant mineral in the body, and is required for the function of several organs, including the heart, kidneys, brain, and muscular tissues, says Vanessa Rissetto, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.

A 2012 USDA report found that the country’s potassium intake has remained pretty much the same since the 1990s. Which is a problem, since fewer than 25 percent of men and one percent of women hit the target goal of 4,700 milligrams per day when surveyed.

Low potassium can lead to muscle cramps, feelings of fatigue or weakness, constipation, and issues with blood pressure and heart rhythm, according to The Mayo Clinic.

Though we  typically think of bananas as the potassium source, foods like spinach, salmon, sweet potatoes, avocados and—believe it or not—kiwis also contain the nutrient, Rissetto says. (A medium banana packs 422 milligrams of potassium, while a medium sweet potato provides 542 milligrams.)

Fiber

Yes, fiber is key for keeping your bathroom habits regular, but that’s not all it does. “Fiber helps to keep us full and satiated after eating, and may help keep cholesterol levels in check,” says Gorin.

There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber slows our absorption of carbohydrates and cholesterol, while insoluble fiber—which we can’t digest—draws in water and helps make our time on the toilet easier.

Considering this nutrient works triple duty, it’s pretty shocking that only five percent of the population exceeds the recommended daily intake, according to the Office of Disease Prevention. The average person needs at least 25 grams per day.

Missing the mark on fiber can negatively impact your cholesterol (and put you at risk for heart disease), leave you more susceptible to a blood sugar roller-coaster and potential weight gain, and cause constipation, according to The Cleveland Clinic.

Many plant foods contain varying degrees of both types of fiber, says Rissetto. Oatmeal, for example, provides mostly soluble fiber, while brown rice provides mostly insoluble fiber. Other fiber sources include quinoa, kale, and fruit (raspberries and avocados are two more fiber-packed options).

If you’re still struggling to get enough fiber, Rissetto recommends adding psyllium husk, a type of fiber used in many supplements, to your routine. “I like to add it to my overnight oats for more nutrient density,” she says.

Related: 8 Overnight Oats Recipes That Make Breakfast Taste Like Dessert

Vitamin D

Of all the nutrients on this list, Vitamin D is probably the trickiest to get enough of. It tops the list of the most under-consumed nutrients, with more than 90 percent of the population falling below the EAR, according to the Office of Disease Prevention. After all, it’s not found in too many foods! Anyone between ages nine and 70 should be shooting for 600 IUs a day, says Rissetto.

“Vitamin D’s main role is to make calcium available to the body,” says Young. The vitamin is crucial for mineralizing our bones and teeth (a.k.a. helping them become hard and strong). Plus, it also supports our immune function, she says.

Without ample vitamin D, you risk decreased bone density—which could mean fractures or osteoporosis. In extreme cases, you risk of a condition called osteomalacia, which involves weak bones, bone pain, and muscle weakness, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

You can get some vitamin D from foods like salmon, sardines, and egg yolks. (Three ounces of baked sockeye salmon contain 570 IUs, while two hard-boiled eggs contain 87 IUs.) You get the rest of your vitamin D through skin exposure to sunlight.

Related: An Ode To Egg Yolks (Yes, They’re Good For You!)

Many people fall far short on vitamin D through diet and sunshine time alone, however, says Young. “This may be one that you might need to take a supplement for,” she says. So talk to your doc or a nutritionist about incorporating a vitamin D supp into your routine.

Iron

While this nutrient might not be an issue for everyone, the USDA flags low iron intake as a health concern for young children and women who are pregnant or of menstruating age. The National Institutes of Health recommends 15 grams of iron per day for adolescent girls and 18 grams per day for women between ages 19 and 50. Pregnant women, though, need 27 grams per day.

“The main role of iron is that it carries oxygen in the red blood cell,” Young says. And red blood cells transport oxygen throughout your entire body. Pretty dang important.

Consuming too little iron can lead to iron deficiency anemia, which is often marked by extreme fatigue and weakness, pale skin, lightheadedness or dizziness, and/or cold hands and feet, according to The Mayo Clinic. (This is most commonly an issue for menstruating or pregnant women and vegetarians.)

According to Young, we absorb iron from animal sources (called ‘heme’ iron) more easily than iron from plant sources (called ‘nonheme’ iron)—but pairing plant sources of iron with vitamin C can boost your absorption if you don’t do meat.

Animal sources of iron include meat, fish, and chicken, while plant sources include beans, legumes, and enriched breads. (Three ounces of sirloin steak contain 1.6 milligrams of iron, while half a cup of black beans contains 2.3 milligrams.)

Related: Check out supplements to help you fill in your nutritional gaps.

7 One-Pan Meals That Make Healthy Eating And Cleanup A Breeze

The thought of cooking a full dinner after a day at work is…less than appealing. But there’s a simple solution to your dilemma—and it doesn’t involve the drive-thru. Whip up a quick one-pan meal and you can have a nutritious dinner ready in a flash, without all of the dish-washing and cleanup.

“One-pan meals are a great way to get a healthy, balanced meal without a ton of work!” says Malorie Blake, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., C.L.T. Combine your ingredients and pop your pan or baking sheet into the oven or onto the stovetop and you’re good to go!

For a nutritionist-approved one-pan meal, combine a quality protein source (like chicken, fish, eggs, or beans) with a wholesome carb source (like starchy veggies, potatoes, or whole grains) and plenty of veggies. Cooking or topping your meal with healthy fats (like olive oil, avocado oil, nuts, or seeds) will boost flavor and your absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, like vitamins A, E, D, and K, according to Lisa Stollman, M.A., R.D.N., C.D.E., C.D.N. And experimenting with a variety of different veggies, sauces, herbs, and spices can help keep these simple meals flavorful and interesting, Blake adds.

Try one of these healthy one-pan recipes the next time you’re crunched for cooking time (or just don’t feel like going all out Julia Child-mode.)

photo: Feasting At Home
  1. Tofu With Mushrooms And Broccoli

A simple stir-fry is an easy way to pack protein, produce, and flavor into a meal. Stollman loves using shiitake or Portobello mushrooms in her stir-fries, aiming for a meal that’s three-quarters veggies and one-quarter protein. With this Feasting At Home recipe, you’ll make the most of the nutrients (like vitamins and antioxidants) you get from the vegetables.

The whole thing takes about 20 minutes flat. Just add a sprinkle of chopped cashews or peanuts into the mix for extra crunch. Plus, carnivores can easily swap thinly-sliced chicken breast for tofu.

Related: 7 ‘Shrooms You Should Be Eating For Major Health Benefits

photo: Martha Stewart
  1. Salmon, Red Cabbage, And Potato

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and grab a baking dish to make this flavor-packed salmon dinner by Martha Stewart. “The cabbage provides tons of nutrition, including fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and salmon is my favorite protein of all time,” says Brooke Alpert, R.D., who makes this delish dinner all the time. Plus, the healthy fats in salmon support everything from skin and heart health to mood, she adds.

Not a fan of cabbage? You can swap just about any veggie into this recipe, says Blake. Toss your veggies of choice (like Brussels sprouts or asparagus) with a drizzle of avocado oil, salt, and pepper before adding them to your baking dish, she recommends.

  1. Lemon Chicken With Sweet Potatoes And Kale

Back-to-basics doesn’t have to mean boring. To make one of Alpert’s go-to weeknight meals, all you need for this recipe is a quartered chicken, sweet potatoes, kale, olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Massage chopped kale with a bit of olive oil, toss with cubed sweet potatoes, and spread onto a baking sheet. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and lemon, and add to the baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until your meat thermometer reads 165 degrees, and serve. “This dish is super quick and provides great protein and tons of flavorful fiber,” says Alpert.

  1. Burrito Bowl

With this recipe, you’ll never crave Chipotle again, especially since this healthy version contains protein, fiber, iron, and vitamin C. First, fire up your stove top. Then, sauté chopped red bell peppers and onions, says Blake. Add your lean protein of choice, like ground turkey or beef. From there, add corn, green chilies, salsa, beans, and taco seasoning. (If you want to, add some brown rice and vegetable stock to the action). Top your burrito bowl with Greek yogurt, cilantro, green onions, and/or sliced avocado.

Related: How To Eat Carbs And Still Lose Weight

photo: Caroline Russock
  1. One-Pot Roast Chicken

Hosting a dinner party but trying to avoid endless mess and cleanup? This one-pot chicken recipe from Alice Waters’ In The Green Kitchen feels super fancy and is complete with potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, squash, turnips, and a little butter. It’s basically roasted-veggie heaven, and no one will suspect just how simple it was to make!

“High in fiber and protein, this is a perfect meal for anyone focusing on weight-loss and wellness who still wants the satisfaction of a rich-flavored meal,” says Amy Shapiro, R.D., founder of Real Nutrition NYC. (Pro-tip: Shapiro recommends removing the chicken’s skin to cut back on saturated fat.)

photo: Super Healthy Kids
  1. Chili

In the mood for healthy comfort food? Shapiro loves this pumpkin quinoa chili recipe from Super Healthy Kids. Quinoa, pumpkin, beans, and loads of spices come together for a unique, low-calorie twist on the often-indulgent meal. “It is loaded with protein, fiber, iron, and B vitamins,” Shapiro says. Score!

photo: Sweet C’s Designs
  1. Pesto Spaghetti Squash

This easy-peasy recipe from Sweet C’s Designs is the perfect veggie-based solution for pasta cravings. Spaghetti squash, olive oil, garlic, pesto, and Parmesan cheese make for a satisfying, healthy swap. “This dish is loaded with healthy fats, antioxidants, and fiber, is low-calorie, and guaranteed to be sweet, filling, and delicious—with minimal clean up!” says Shapiro.

Related: Shop for heart-healthy oils for your next veggie roast or one-pan meal.

6 Magnesium-Packed Foods You Need To Try

An oft-overlooked nutrient that’s crucial for boosting heart health and keeping bones strong, among a host of other benefits, could be hiding in plain sight at the grocery store and in your pantry: magnesium. The last time you thought about magnesium may have been in high school chemistry, but it’s time to get the element back on your radar.

“Magnesium is one of the most underrated nutrients around,” says Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D.N., author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer. “This mineral is involved in more than 300 chemical reactions in our body and is especially important for regulating heartbeat and blood pressure, building and maintaining strong bones, and helping muscles contract and relax.” Plus, emerging research suggests it may even play a role in helping our bodies use insulin and regulate blood sugar, she says.

The majority of the magnesium in our body stored in our bones, but it’s also present in our blood and soft tissues, says Michelle Dudash, R.D.N., author of Clean Eating for Busy Families.

And just as magnesium can provide some amazing benefits, not getting enough of it can lead to serious consequences. “Magnesium deficiency has been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and metabolic disorders, including hypertension and type 2 diabetes,” says Alix Turoff, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., C.P.T. And about half the U.S. population doesn’t meet their daily magnesium needs.

The most recent recommended dietary allowance for magnesium intake ranges from 400 to 420 milligrams per day for men and 310 to 320 milligrams per day for women, according to Turoff. These triple-digit numbers may seem daunting, but it’s not too difficult to get your fill. In fact, the best sources of magnesium are actually some foods that we’re already familiar with.

Related: Magnesium is also available in supplement form.

  1. Spinach

Popeye was way ahead of the curve. According to Dudash, a half-cup of boiled spinach contains 78 milligrams of magnesium, which is about 25 percent of the recommended daily intake for women and 19 percent for men. Spinach also packs vitamin C, folate, potassium, calcium, and even a little bit of protein, she notes. Plus, it’s very low in calories, so eat up!

  1. Nuts

Whether you’re at the grocery store, the gas station, or the airport, nuts are pretty easy to find.

“Eating a small handful of nuts (about a quarter-cup) every day is a great way to get more magnesium, along with other beneficial nutrients,” Dudash says. One ounce of dry roasted cashews contains 74 milligrams of magnesium, about 23 percent of the daily value for ladies and 18 percent for the guys, while a quarter-cup of roasted peanuts pack 63 milligrams of the nutrient, for about 20 percent of the daily value for women and 15 percent for men. (Did we mention peanuts also contain protein, fiber, and vitamins A and E?) You’ll also find magnesium in almonds, she says, topping other nuts with 80 milligrams of magnesium per ounce. (That’s 20 percent of guys’ daily needs and 25 percent of gal’s daily needs.)

  1. Mackerel

Hitting the fish counter can also help you bump up the magnesium in your daily eats. Mackerel is an especially good source, with 82 milligrams of magnesium in three ounces, says Turoff. That’s about 20 percent of guys’ daily magnesium needs and 25 percent of women’s. Not to mention, the fish also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which support heart, brain, and eye health. Sounds like a great reason to make sure you’re serving this up for dinner more often!

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

  1. Lima Beans

These underrated beans are a quick and easy way to nosh on protein and fiber, and they also contain magnesium, Ansel says. A half-cup of the beans provides 63 milligrams of magnesium, about 20 percent of your daily value if you’re a woman, and 15 percent if you’re a man.

  1. Brown Rice

Did ya need another reason to swap white rice for brown? Not only does brown rice provide more fiber, but a cup also packs a whopping 86 milligrams of magnesium, says Ansel. That’s about 20 percent (men) or 27 percent (women) of your daily dose. Good to know for the next time you order takeout!

  1. Fortified Cereals

Yes, you can also get some magnesium from your morning meal. Some cereals are fortified with magnesium, among other nutrients. One option, according to Turoff, is All-Bran cereal. A half-cup provides 112 milligrams of magnesium (woah—that’s about a third of women’s daily value and 27 percent of men’s!) plus belly-filling fiber.

Related: Are You Making This Crucial Breakfast Mistake?

*Pin this handy infographic to make sure you’re getting your fill of magnesium: 

Want To Try The Mediterranean Diet? Here’s Exactly What To Eat

You may not be able to jet off to Italy or the Spanish coast whenever your heart desires, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat like you’re in the Mediterranean every day. In fact, nailing the region’s style of eating doesn’t require any travel at all. You just have to make sure fresh, green ingredients find their way to your plate on the daily.

The super-trendy Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole foods like produce, lean proteins, unsaturated fat, plenty of fiber, and antioxidants, says Mandy Enright, R.D.N., creator of the couples’ nutrition blog Nutrition Nuptials. “Research shows this way of eating promotes heart and gut health, while protecting against diseases like diabetes and cancer,” she says.

And there’s plenty of research to back up the Mediterranean diet’s proposed benefits. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, suggests Mediterranean-style eating is the best dietary model for preventing coronary heart disease.

Meanwhile, other studies, like this one, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, suggest the diet can support cognitive function and health, especially as we age. It’s no wonder Mediterranean eating is ranked as one of U.S. News’ best diets year after year—including best overall diet, best diet for healthy eating, and best diet for diabetes.

So What’s On The Menu?

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E., C.H.W.C., F.A.N.D., author of The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition, says that while local fare varies across the Mediterranean region, a number of staples are common across the board.

“A Mediterranean-style diet features plenty of fruits and vegetables, including artichokes, arugula, beets, fennel, leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, figs, peaches, olives, citrus fruits, and pomegranates,” she says. “Fish and pulses are commonly consumed protein sources, and nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and olive oil are also quite common.”

Related: 8 Surprising Sources of Protein

One of the Mediterranean’s biggest calling cards: the fact that veggies are on the menu for every meal. “Aim for at least half of each meal to be made up of colorful vegetables,” says Enright. (And yes, frozen vegetables are totally a-okay, when you need a quick side dish or don’t have time to hit the supermarket.)

What’s not involved? Processed foods, packaged snacks, or fast food. In the Mediterranean lifestyle, meals are eaten with care and enjoyment, not squeezed in between other parts of the day, says Weisenberger. Consider each meal a ritual to be enjoyed and savored—not just for its nourishment, but for its flavor, too.

Intrigued? We’ve laid out options for each meal of the day to get you started. Don’t forget to take the time to really enjoy every bite!

egg veggie sized

Breakfast

Start your day off Mediterranean-style with a few easy, healthy swaps. If you usually go for oatmeal, try a hot cereal made with another whole grain like farro, sorghum, or millet, suggests Enright. Top your bowl with fresh fruit, nuts (like almonds), and seeds (like flax or hemp.) There are those heart-healthy unsaturated fats!

Vegetable omelets chock-full of tomatoes, spinach, and peppers, with a side of fruit also fit the bill, she says. Lean protein plus plenty of color from produce makes for a successful Mediterranean meal.

veggie sandwich sized

Lunch

Midday is the perfect time for a loaded Mediterranean-inspired salad. Load your usual greens with lean protein—like fish, poultry, beans, or legumes—and plenty of fresh veggies such as beets or cucumbers. You could also use a whole grain—like farro or quinoa—as your salad base, Enright says.

When it comes to salad dressing, the Mediterranean way would be an oil-and-vinegar combo, using oil made of unsaturated fats, like walnut, avocado, or olive oil, she says.

If lunch ain’t lunch without a sandwich, be sure to pack tomatoes, cucumbers, and arugula onto whole-grain bread for a Mediterranean-approved sammie. (Just make sure each slice of that whole-grain bread has at least three grams of fiber, Enright says.)

Related: What You Should Know If You’re Considering Cutting Refined Carbs

salmon sized

Dinner

Seafood is one of the superstars of a Mediterranean dinner. A meal like cod with sun-dried tomatoes, fish stew, or roasted salmon with a cucumber yogurt sauce fits right in, Weisenberger suggests.

Just remember that your plate should always include some produce, says Enright. Whether that’s leafy greens, asparagus, eggplant, or cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower. Just try to fill half your plate with the good stuff!

veggie hummus sized

Snacks

When you get a hankering between meals, make sure your snack still fits into the fresh-first approach of the Mediterranean region. That might look like carrots or cucumbers with Greek yogurt or hummus, or a piece of fresh fruit, suggests Weisenberger.

For something a little heartier, try roasted chickpeas, which are high in fiber and protein, Enright says.

Or, you could pair a serving of nuts or seeds—or the butters made from them—with fruit or vegetables, Enright says. You might even mix some nut or seed butter into your plain yogurt.

Related: Shop healthy oils and seeds for Mediterranean eating.

Visual peeps, use this infographic to build your day of Mediterranean eats: 

eating mediterranean.jpg