How Much Do Genetics Factor Into The Speed Of Your Metabolism?

When it comes to weight loss (and gain), many of us believe our metabolism yields ultimate power over our success—and that there’s not much we can do to change it. After all, we all have that one friend who attributes his perpetually skinny frame to a ‘fast metabolism,’ just as we have that friend who blames her widening waistline on the sluggish metabolism she inherited from her mother. But are we really born with inner engines that run at different speeds—and does ours really determine our weight fate?

Metabolism refers to your body’s process of converting calories into energy,” explains exercise and obesity researcher Tim Church, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H, professor of preventive medicine at Louisiana State University and chief medical officer of ACAP Health Consulting. How fast or slow you convert those calories into energy, though, depends on a few factors—some of which you are born with.

First off, there’s how tall and naturally muscular you are. People with larger frames—who also tend to weigh more—actually have faster metabolisms than their smaller-framed friends. “The more you weigh, the more tissues you have, and the more tissues you have, the more calories you burn,” says Church. Then there’s whether you’re male or female. Men, who typically store less body fat, have more muscle mass, and are all-around larger than women, also typically have faster metabolisms because their muscle and size requires more calories to maintain than women’s generally smaller, less muscular frames.

Those metabolism factors are pretty much out of your control—but they’re not the only factors that determine the ultimate speed of your metabolism. The baseline number of calories your body needs to fuel essential functions, like breathing and circulating blood, is also determined by other factors, like your age (okay, also your of your control), your hormonal function, and your body composition (how much muscle versus fat you have). This metabolic baseline is called your BMR, or basal metabolic rate.

While your BMR is roughly how many calories you’d burn if you literally slept all day and didn’t move or eat anything, it only accounts for about 60 percent of your TDEE, or total daily energy expenditure, which is the total number of calories you burn per day and includes the energy you use to move around, exercise, and digest food.

In a nutshell, the more you move your body, the more energy it uses, and the higher your TDEE—meaning you have a ‘faster’ metabolism on days you exercise than on days you binge on Netflix.

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Though it’s easier to boost your TDEE by moving more every day, it is also possible to boost your BMR over time, too. Remember when we said that the amount of muscle mass you have factors into your BMR? While you might be born with a more or less naturally muscular body than someone else, you can build more muscle mass and increase the baseline number of calories your body churns through every single day with strength training and proper nutrition (we’re looking at you, protein!). Research suggests muscle mass determines up to 60 percent of the variability in different people’s metabolisms, so putting in the work to build more is certainly worth your while.

Related: How Many Times A Week Should You Strength Train?

By the time you’re an adult, lifestyle behaviors like being active and building muscle outweigh the aspects of your metabolism you’re born with. In a perfect world, weight loss comes down to a simple equation, says Church: Use more energy than you take in. However, if you’re faithful to your healthy routine, move your body regularly, and nourish it with the appropriate calories, but still aren’t seeing any changes in your waistline, give your doctor a call. Underlying health issues, like a thyroid disorder or diabetes, could be throwing your hormones out of whack and sabotaging your metabolism.

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Online Wellness Communities: What’s In It For You?

Whenever I embark on a personal transformation—be it trying to eat better, get more sleep, or be more intentional in my everyday life—I find it hard to motivate without having anyone pushing me to be accountable. Sure, I myself am reason enough to motivate, but let’s be honest: Changing your life, changing your body, and changing the way you think isn’t exactly a cinch.

Throughout our lives we are conditioned to self-soothe (think: snacking, napping, daydreaming). We grow to believe these indulgences are good for us, when maybe they don’t actually serve us well at all.

I thrive when other people inspire me. The people I do spend the most time with (my boyfriend and close friends) are all so busy working, hustling, grinding, and rushing; we don’t spend what little spare time we have together at the gym or talking about fitness and life transformations. So I turn to digital communities for support in reaching my goals.

At first, I created an email thread with several friends of mine from all over the country—we’d email one another pictures of our workouts and recipes and fitness ideas, usually joking or complaining about how hard it was. Sometimes we’d go deep and express annoyance at our limitations and frustrations around finding workout pants that actually fit well (this is surprisingly difficult). It felt good to talk to people about real things: being too tired to work out after work, being too busy to make food, being too lazy to wake up early for a class.

Related: Peer Pressure Has Always Been My Best Fitness Motivator

In time, we moved our group over to Facebook groups so we could all talk and relate in an easier way. Instead of responding to dozens of emails, we now create threads. We have a file for pictures, a file for local gym classes and class prices, and a file for silly stuff, like fitness horoscopes. (Yes, this is very much a real thing.)

Best of all? We self-moderate the group so that it is inclusive (we invite friends and friends of friends), respectful, and body-positive. If I can’t sync up my schedule to work out with friends in real life, this is the next best thing.

I love sharing pre- and post-workout selfies, instead of flooding my personal Instagram with them (my whole social network doesn’t need to endure my vanity) and I really depend on others’ motivational ideas.

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Perhaps the biggest benefit of a group like this is knowing I’m not in a tunnel, working toward wellness with preconceived notions of what that means or looks like. I have all these people telling me what their versions of wellness are, and what body positivity looks like. I don’t have to sit alone with my thoughts, fears, limitations, and self-expectations.

Also, it’s nice to see that other members who’ve been invited over time have auto-immune conditions, like me. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), a spinal condition—so working out isn’t exactly easy (I have to be careful what I do and how I do it). Meeting others with arthritis and joint diseases helped me find better workouts for myself. For example, I realized by talking to others that running actually negatively impacted my spine—and that swimming was by far the best for my body, both in terms of its low-impact and high calorie-torching benefits.

I’m now also in a few groups for people with AS. The thousands of members share diet tips, recipes, fitness routines, and personal experiences that I can relate to and use in a real way. Honestly, this has changed my life, giving me back a sense of control of my body.

Over the past few months, I have put this inspiration to use for The Vitamin Shoppe, helping to create two digital communities: Staying Fit with The Vitamin Shoppe and Eating Healthy with The Vitamin Shoppe. They are spaces where members can discuss everything from stories of personal transformation to healthy snack recipes, and we have ongoing Q&A sessions with The Vitamin Shoppe’s nutritionists.

Although the groups are brand new, they are growing and blooming. These spaces are so important and necessary; they cultivate a sense of community, while providing a safe space to ask questions, share concerns, and offer up ideas. We might all be at different stages of our wellness journeys, but there’s one thing we can 100 percent agree on: We want to be our best selves.

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Castor Oil Is Making A Comeback—Here Are 4 Health-Boosting Reasons To Use It

If your pantry is already stocked with natural superstar ingredients like apple cider vinegar and coconut oil, there’s another multi-purpose staple that should be on your radar (and on your shelf): castor oil.

Castor oil, which hails from Africa and India, has been used for health and well-being—especially for hair, skin, and digestion—for hundreds of years. The oil contains high concentrations of a hard-to-find fatty acid called ricinoleic acid that experts believe is responsible for many of its benefits, explains Traditional Chinese Medicine specialist Elizabeth Trattner, A.P.

Want to reap the benefits of this ancient oil for yourself? Here are five ways castor oil can do your body good, inside and out.

1. Boosts Lymphatic Function, Detoxification, And Immunity

Our lymphatic system, which consists of a network of hundreds of connected lymph nodes, is responsible for dispersing immune-boosting white blood cells throughout our body and filtering out waste and toxins. But if our lymph nodes don’t drain and transport their lymph fluid properly (which can be caused by high doses of medication, lack of activity, and certain diseases), they can affect our liver’s ability to detoxify our body.

To boost lymphatic function, Trattner recommends applying DIY castor oil packs. Research published in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine shows that castor oil triggers our body’s production of lymphocytes (a.k.a. white blood cells), and thus can support proper lymphatic drainage and immunity. “I used to use castor oil packs to support my liver through all the asthma medication I was on,” she says. “I would soak old rags in castor oil, wrap them around my midsection over my liver, cover them with towels, plastic wrap them, and apply heat.”

Research suggests castor oil packs need to be applied for two hours, so try wrapping yourself up before your next weekend Netflix session.

2. Supports Regular Toilet Time

Castor oil has long been used to ease constipation, and now researchers know how it works: The oil’s ricinoleic acid binds to certain receptors in the muscles throughout our digestive system and causes them to contract, which helps move waste through and out of our system. (Fun fact: Because of this effect, castor oil was also traditionally used to induce labor!)

If you’ve never taken castor oil before, start with just an eighth of a teaspoon, and gauge how your system reacts, recommends Mariana Daniela Torchia, Ph.D., R.D., M.P.H. Otherwise, take up to half a teaspoon to help you go.

3. Nourishes Skin

Want dewy, soft skin? Consider adding castor oil to your skin-care regimen.

Because it’s made up of fatty acids—especially that ricinoleic acid—castor oil helps to soothe and lock moisture into the skin, explains Trattner. In fact, castor oil is a popular ingredient in tons of cosmetic products already on store shelves—it may even be in a lotion or moisturizer you already use! (It’s typically listed as ‘Ricinus Communis.’)

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Since castor can be allergenic for some people, apply a small amount to the back of your hand to test for any allergic reaction or sensitivities before slathering it all over your body. If you’re good to go, mix a little castor oil into your moisturizer or massage the oil into your skin before bed (rinse off any excess in the morning).

4. Conditions Scalp And Hair

Castor oil can also be used as a natural conditioner, and can bring moisture back into dry locks and nourish your hair follicles. “Castor oil and its benefits for scalp, hair, and eyebrow health have been believed and followed for ages,” Trattner says. In addition to its moisturizing fatty acids, vitamin E also contributes to the oil’s conditioning effects.

Related: I Tested 8 Different Health And Beauty Uses For Apple Cider Vinegar

To use castor oil as a scalp treatment, wet your hair, massage a few teaspoons into your scalp for about two to three minutes, and rinse. To condition your strands, you can either add a few drops of castor oil to your usual conditioner or deep condition by rubbing the oil directly into your hair. If deep conditioning, let the oil work its magic for about 30 minutes and then rinse.

Intrigued? Pin this infographic for future reference!

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I Have The WORST Allergies—Here’s How I Manage Them Naturally

I wasn’t always allergic to life. As a kid, growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I tumbled through nature and its millions of spores, motes, and pollen on a daily basis, climbing trees and digging holes. And I never once had any allergies. We always kept pets in our house, and my tabby cat Tigger slept in my bed with me every night. I rode horses. I gardened. I was a child of nature.

Fast forward to age 12: All of that peacefulness screeched to a halt—or, came out as a sneeze, really. During the spring of seventh grade, I had such bad hay fever symptoms that my teacher would sit me in the back of class by myself, along with a box of tissues and a personal garbage can.

I was sneezing non-stop, eyes puffy and running. I felt like my throat had been replaced by a hornet’s nest. The only thing my mother knew to do was pump me full of Benadryl. But for me, the medicine was a coma-inducer: I’d experienced slurred speech, brain fog, and an immediate need to lay down and sleep the whole thing off. No joke.

At the allergist, they prodded me with 20 different needles, testing me for allergies to cat dander, tree pollen, dust mites, and much more. Nineteen of my 20 testing sites flared up in angry, itchy bumps, like mosquito bites with an agenda. The results were in: I was allergic to everything there was to be allergic to. (The one thing I was immune to? Bee stings.) Oh, and I’d developed allergy-induced asthma as part and parcel of the deal.

My doctor recommended immunization, a method of injecting small amounts of allergens into a patient to slowly immunize them to the supposed invader. I say “supposed” invader because that’s kind of what allergies are: Your body thinks that everything’s an attacking enemy, so it sends out distress signals, sort of like soldiers to the front line. Your body is constantly at war, but with nothing at all.

Along with the allergy shots, I was prescribed what has now become an over-the-counter treatment of loratadine, and then later fexofenadine, and a whole litany of other antihistamines. I also started using a rescue inhaler, slept with plastic bed casings, stopped cuddling with my cat, and limited my time outdoors.

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The thing was, none of those treatments completely worked. I didn’t have constant hay fever symptoms anymore, but if I came into contact with any allergens, like cats or dust or pollen, my symptoms returned—often with hives and wheezing. We then tried isolating foods to see if it was a food allergy. It wasn’t.

Fast forward to my adult years. I decided I didn’t want to take daily allergy pills or immunization shots anymore so I started doing research on natural remedies. I went to the natural food store and stocked up on raw, local honey, which my doc said might work. I took a little bit of it every day.

The idea is that local honey comes into contact with the flora that is native to where you live, so by ingesting some of it every day, you’re slowly immunizing yourself against local allergens. I can’t say for certain whether or not it was the honey (research on using local honey for allergies is mixed), but my seasonal challenges significantly decreased over time. Plus, it tasted delicious.

Related: 7 Natural Ways To Survive Allergy Season

On top of the honey, I also take daily probiotics. A healthy gut is essential to a healthy immune system and I truly think they’ve helped keep my symptoms somewhat at bay.

I’ve stopped trying to avoid allergens everywhere I go, mostly because it’s nearly impossible! I still live with a cat, I go outdoors, and I threw out all the plastic bed casings that my doctor recommended earlier on (I don’t know if you’ve tried sleeping with a plastic pillow case under your cloth pillow case, but let me tell you, it’s ridiculously slippery and uncomfortable, and makes you feel like a hospital patient.) Essentially, I’ve re-introduced myself to the world.

So what’s the conclusion? Though my symptoms have improved, I still have allergies. I still get attacks, often in the forms of hives and wheezing, but they pass. If it’s really bad, I’ll take an over the counter pill and use my rescue inhaler. It’s not a terrible price to pay for being able to snuggle with my cat and take in a deep, fresh breath of air.

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Watching Your Weight? Here’s How Protein Can Help

Protein, which builds pretty much all of the tissues in our body (think muscles, organs, and even hair), is a key part of any healthy diet—but it’s especially important for people who want to build muscle or shed body fat (or both!).

How much protein you eat—and when you eat it—can help you reach your health and fitness goals. You just have to know how to use it! Watch the following video for the full run-down on how protein can help you manage your weight, and try a supplement (like the new MyTrition Natural Protein Blend) to meet your needs!


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Could You Be Eating Too Many Avocados?

Fifteen years ago, a New York Times reporter, a Good Day New York news crew, and a guy dressed like an avocado knocked on the door of an unsuspecting Bronx resident named Nancy Bayer to introduce her—and the rest of the country—to the California avocado. Bayer was treated to an avocado-stuffed omelet, as well as an avocado facial, and then a magician named Eddie made a bowl of avocados disappear. Before that show, many Americans had no idea just how versatile avocados really were.

Then, in 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) loosened restrictions on imported food and allowed shipments of avocados to start coming into the U.S. from Mexico, its largest producer.

Since then, we’ve become absolutely obsessed with avocados. So much so, that we consumed more than twice the avocados per capita in 2016 than we did in 2006, despite a nationwide avocado shortage that year.

Even after a 125 percent price surge in 2017, many health-conscious Americans continue to eat avocados almost every day, whether on toast or salads, in omelets, mashed into guacamole, or blended into smoothies.

We’ve clearly got it bad for the funky green fruit—but are we going a little avocado overboard? After all, “oftentimes in America, we find a health fad and we overdo it,” says Shivani Gupta, Ph.D., a nutritional research scientist and CEO of Fusionary Formulas.

Sure, avocadoes are great for us: They’re a good source of healthy unsaturated fat and antioxidants, are high in fiber and potassium, and have anti-inflammatory properties. All good things—except when we have them in excessive amounts. Too much fiber can cause uncomfortable side effects like bloating, gas, and cramping, while excess potassium can spell symptoms of fatigue, chest pain, and even heart palpitations in those with heart or kidney conditions, explains Sushrutha Nagaraj, a research scientist for nutritional research company Almeda Labs. Plus, an average avocado packs about 250 calories and between 20 and 25 grams of fat, so eating them every day can easily contribute to overdoing it on calories and fat.

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Calorie concerns aside, are there some people who shouldn’t have avocados? Maybe. Avocado allergies are a very real thing—especially for people with other allergies. “Typically, people who are allergic to latex show a cross-reactivity to fruits like bananas, papaya, and avocados,” says Nagaraj. It’s a weird connection—and one that’s not quite clear to experts yet. People with an avocado allergy often break out in a rash or find that their tongue swells or mouth becomes itchy after eating it.

Some experts, like researcher Valter Longo, Ph.D., Director of the USC Longevity Institute, also believe that avocados could spur inflammation in certain people—namely those whose ancestors didn’t eat the fruit—if eaten in large quantities for a long period of time. “Since it’s a new ingredient to our diets, our [body] may think of it as an alien ingredient and exhibit an inflammatory response [to] fight the invader and repair [itself],” says Nagaraj.

The research on genetics and nutrition needed to confirm that theory is still developing, though, so you don’t need to go swearing off your avocado toast just yet. If you’re concerned about inflammation and what foods might be triggering it, Gupta recommends trying a food sensitivity test, like Everlywell or Viome, to identify the foods that don’t jive with your system.

Related: 4 Types Of Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

Otherwise, consider it a-okay to enjoy three or four avocados per week, says Nagaraj. And, hey, a recent Nutrition study found that those who regularly ate avocados also ate more fruits and vegetables, fewer added sugars, and had lower BMIs and waist circumferences overall—so keep calm and guac on.

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Where Does The Fat Go When You Lose Weight?

After successfully shedding body fat, we’re often too busy basking in sweet satisfaction to question where that fat actually went. Did it transform into muscle? End up in the toilet? Seep out of our pores as sweat?

If you’re suddenly curious (and stumped), don’t worry: A 2014 survey found that 98 percent of health professionals don’t know where that fat goes either.

Most health experts surveyed assumed that fat we ‘lose’ is just transformed into heat, hence why we often talk about it as something we ‘burn off’—but it doesn’t just zap into thin air!

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Think back to high school chemistry. You probably learned about something called the ‘law of conservation of matter.’ It means that mass cannot be created or destroyed, so fat can’t just disappear, explains Spencer Nadolsky, M.D., diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and author of The Fat Loss Prescription.

After losing 33 pounds, a physicist-turned-media-personality named Ruben Meerman wanted to get to the bottom of where those pounds actually disappeared to, so he teamed up with lipid (a.k.a. fat) researcher Andrew Brown of the University of New South Wales to investigate.

Meerman and Brown’s study, which was published in The BMJ, looked at the chemistry of what happens to a triglyceride a.k.a. body fat molecule (it looks like this: C55H104O6+78O2) when it’s oxidized or broken down to be used for energy. It’s a complicated process, but that process creates two by-products that explain where our fat goes when we lose it: carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O).

When the researchers measured what happened to 22 pounds-worth of triglycerides ‘lost,’ they found that about 18.5 pounds-worth of carbon dioxide were exhaled through the lungs, while the rest exited the body as water, whether in sweat, urine, or another bodily fluid. So even though we don’t quite breathe or sweat little fat particles, we do excrete the by-products produced when our body breaks down body fat, explains Pennsylvania-based family medicine physician, Rob Danoff, D.O., M.S., F.A.C.O.F.P, F.A.A.F.P.

(Just in case you’re wondering, the carbon dioxide you breathe out doesn’t harm the environment. The researchers encountered that question a lot…)

Related: Why Cardio Is NOT The Best Way To Lose Weight

While this study doesn’t really give us any new information about how to lose weight, it does help us understand how losing weight works—and it’s actually pretty fascinating, right?

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Should You Cut Out FODMAPs?

Whether it’s fat, carbs, sugar, gluten, or even lectins, we’re always labeling some type of food ‘diet enemy number one.’ These days, it’s FODMAPs that are taking a hit.

Now, you might be thinking: A FODMAP is, what, exactly? Trust us—there’s a reason for the acronym.

FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (how’s that for a tongue twister?), and refers to various types of carbohydrates our body may have a hard time digesting, explains Emily Rubin, R.D., L.D.N., clinical dietitian for the celiac, fatty liver, and weight management centers at Thomas Jefferson University. Because these various sugars are hard to absorb, they tend to sit in our digestive tract, drawing in water and fermenting, and leading to unpleasant symptoms like stomach pain, gas, bloating, or diarrhea.

The list of foods that contain FODMAPs is long—and, sadly, most of the foods on it are pretty nutritious. In fact, it’s mostly fruits and veggies! The biggest offenders include grains, beans, chickpeas, onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, mangoes, watermelon, apples, artichokes, mushrooms, milk, and yogurt.

So just how worried should you be about FODMAPs? Unless you’re regularly plagued by digestive issues, you’re probably in the clear. In fact, some research suggests cutting FODMAPs from your diet could cause you to fall short on certain nutrients or even develop disordered eating behaviors.

However, if you’re constantly dealing with mysterious GI issues or have a digestive condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—which affects about 12 percent of Americans (twice as many women as men) and is marked by issues like constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, and gas—then cutting out FODMAPs can be a game-changer. In fact, a low-FODMAP diet has benefited close to 90 percent of Rubin’s IBS patients.

Related: How To Move On With Your Life When You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

If you regularly experience GI issues after eating, you might be dealing with IBS that’s being triggered by something in your diet, says Rubin. Your first step is to talk to your doc and rule out other digestive issues, like lactose intolerance and celiac disease, which have remarkably similar symptoms to IBS but may require a slightly different approach than cutting out FODMAPs.

From there, your doctor will guide you through a FODMAP elimination diet. You’ll steer clear of any foods that fall under the FODMAP umbrella until your symptoms ease up, and then reintroduce each food one by one to identify the culprits behind your GI woes. Sticking to the one-by-one reintroduction is key, because even foods that seem similar—like broccoli and cauliflower—actually contain different FODMAPs, explains Rubin. (Broccoli contains oligosaccharides, while cauliflower contains polyols.) As you identify which foods upset your digestive system, you’ll know what to steer clear of in the future.

Since dairy, many grains, and some fruits and vegetables are off the table during a FODMAP elimination diet, Rubin recommends working closely with your gastroenterologist or a nutritionist to make sure you’re still meeting your needs for nutrients we often rely on those foods for—like the calcium in dairy and fiber in grains and produce.

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The good news is that there are still lots of nutritious foods you can eat on a low-FODMAP diet. Protein and healthy fats are fair game, as are many non-FODMAP fruits and vegetables, like blueberries, strawberries, oranges, green beans, potatoes, lettuce, and spinach. Brown rice, quinoa, and hard cheeses are okay, too!

The bottom line: Occasional gas or stomach upset after eating doesn’t mean you need to kiss FODMAPs goodbye. But if you’re consistently curled up on the couch or stuck in the bathroom, give your doc a call—FODMAPs may not be a friend to your sensitive system.

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4 Types Of Supplements Keto Dieters Should Look Into

Lately it seems everyone is bidding farewell to grains, starchy vegetables, and sugar, and loading up on quality fats like coconut, olive oil, and avocado.

The keto diet, which is all about shifting your body into ‘ketosis’—a state in which a complete lack of carbs forces you to utilize fat (including body fat) for energy—takes careful planning, but promises to eliminate cravings, stabilize blood sugar levels, increase energy levels, and support weight loss.

There’s a catch, though: Cutting out so many foods to keep carb intake low enough to get into (and stay in) ketosis can come with consequences. “The reduction of [starchy] veggies and near-elimination of fruits and grains can lead to problems getting some essential vitamins and minerals,” says Mike Israetel, Ph.D., chief sport scientist and co-founder of Renaissance Periodization, sports nutrition consultant for U.S. Olympic Sports and Team USA Weightlifting.

Of course, you’re more likely to fall short on important nutrients if your version of keto consists of just buttery Bulletproof coffee, bacon, and cheese. However, even the healthiest keto diet (think meals like salmon with asparagus and spinach sautéed in olive oil, and lots of leafy greens and the cruciferous veggies) can leave your body wanting.

So what’s a keto convert to do? Supplement their diet, which is likely lacking in four areas: fiber, electrolytes, omega-3s, and phytochemicals.

1. Fiber

With grains and starchy vegetables off the table, many keto dieters end up falling short on their fiber needs, says dietitian Kristen Mancinelli, M.S., R.D.N., who specializes in low-carb diets and recommends keto eaters aim for 30 grams of fiber per day from vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Veggies like spinach, collard greens, cauliflower, and broccoli are great choices because they provide fiber without the extra carbs. Not only does fiber support healthy digestion, cholesterol, and blood sugar, but it’s also key for your immune function.

Related: Want To Try Keto? Here’s What A Healthy Day Of Eating Fat Looks Like

If you find yourself constipated, you have two tasks: First, make sure you’re staying adequately hydrated: Men should start with a baseline of 3.7 liters a day and women with 2.7 litersore if you exercise or sweat throughout the day. Second, try a fiber supplement. Most provide about five grams of fiber per serving; just look for one with fewer than two grams of net carbs (carbs minus fiber), like The Vitamin Shoppe brand Miracle Fiber.

2. Electrolytes

Ketosis causes excess urination, because your body releases water as you slash carbs. Without carbs in your diet, you burn through your body’s stores of glycogen (a form of sugar we make from carbs). Since that glycogen also stores water, you’ll pee out extra water—along with some of your electrolyte (sodium, potassium, and magnesium) stores—as you transition into ketosis.

Your body needs electrolytes for everything from cellular function, heart muscle contractions, and neurological impulses, so it’s essential that you maintain the proper levels. If you notice issues like muscle cramps, fatigue and nausea—especially in the beginning stages of your keto journey—you could be dealing with an electrolyte imbalance and may need to add a supplement.

Sodium: Keto eaters need to consume more sodium than the average person, so Mancinelli recommends upping your sodium intake to between 2.5 and three grams per day. (The usual allowance is up to 2.3 grams per day.) Fill your trusty salt shaker with pink Himalayan sea salt, which contains minerals and trace elements, and sprinkle away!

Magnesium: Most people don’t eat the recommended amount of magnesium per day (about 400 milligrams for men and 300 for women), and keto eaters are certainly no exception. Mancinelli recommends supplementing with between 200 and 400 milligrams per day.

Potassium: This is another mineral most people fall short on (we need 4,700 milligrams per day), and going keto makes that even more likely by pretty much banning potassium-rich foods like bananas, sweet potatoes, and beans.

Supplementing with potassium can potentially be dangerous, so Mancinelli recommends keto eaters show their electrolyte levels some love with a combo supplement that provides more moderate amounts of each mineral, like Country Life’s Calcium Magnesium Potassium tablets, which provides 500 milligrams of magnesium and 99 milligrams of potassium. Electrolyte drink mixes—like BodyTech’s Electrolyte Fizz—are another convenient way to add more of these important minerals to your day.

3. Omega-3s

A ketogenic diet that’s heavy in animal products (and the saturated fat they contain) can have a negative impact on cholesterol, according to Mancinelli. That’s why she recommends keto dieters supplement with omega-3s—especially if you’re not a big fish eater. The two most important omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), support heart health and healthy cholesterol. Most supplements come in the form of fish oil and provide about 1,000 milligrams per serving. Nordic Naturals’ Ultimate Omega provides 1,280 milligrams and tastes like lemons.

4. Phytochemicals

While there aren’t set recommendations for our daily intake of phytochemicals (the health-boosting compounds found in plant foods), there are recommendations for fruits and veggies: A cup and a half of fruit plus two cups of veggies a day for women, and two cups of fruit plus two and a half cups of veggies a day for men.

No, there’s no true replacement for fruits and veggies, but fruit and greens powders, which are made from a variety of fruits and/or vegetables that are dried and ground—can help you increase your phytochemical intake and round out your overall nutrition, says Israetel. You can add them to keto-friendly smoothies or just mix them with water or protein for a boost of plant-based nutrition throughout the day. Two popular options: Garden of Life’s Raw Organic Perfect Food Green Superfood in Chocolate Cacao and plnt’s Organic BioGreens.

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

Nutraceuticals Aren’t Foods And Aren’t Drugs—So What Are They?

If you’re up on health and nutrition trends, you’ve probably heard the term ‘nutraceutical’ thrown around a lot lately—and you’re probably a little confused about what it actually means.

The term ‘nutraceutical’ was coined by Stephen De Felice, founder and chairman of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine, in 1989. He described a nutraceutical as a “food, or parts of a food, that provide medical or health benefits.” Since then, the term has been used differently by different people because there isn’t one official or standard definition.

Generally, though, nutraceuticals as we know them today are supplements made from health-promoting foods (often called ‘functional foods’) or their components. “Nutraceuticals are by and large produced by sophisticated manufacturing processes,” explains Ali Webster, R.D., Ph.D., associate director of Nutrition Communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation. Through this process, the nutrients found in certain foods are isolated or concentrated to become the supplements we see on store shelves.

“We usually find these nutraceuticals in tablets, capsules, or powders, though some are also added to foods,” says Webster. Take insoluble fiber, for example: This type of fiber, which is found in wheat bran, supports digestive health and regularity. You’ll find isolated insoluble fiber in its nutraceutical form as fiber supplements (usually powders) and even added to food products, like protein bars.

Nutraceuticals can support health and “fill nutrient gaps for people who don’t or can’t eat a wide variety of foods,” says Webster. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates them as dietary supplements, which means they’re not reviewed for safety and efficacy like drugs are, and can’t claim to be treatments or cures for any conditions, explains Webster. (They also can’t be called ‘medicinal foods,’ since the term ‘medicinal’ implies the food is being used as a drug.)

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Some nutraceuticals, like curcumin (the active compound in the spice turmeric), have demonstrated effectiveness in easing the symptoms of some health issues, like digestive conditions. But since they’re considered supplements and don’t have the FDA approval medicines have, they can’t be marketed like medications would be.

Related: Should You Add Turmeric To Your Sports Nutrition Stack?

Still, your doctor or dietitian can help you find a nutraceutical supplement to support anything from gut health to brain function. Just do your homework before adding a nutraceutical supplement to your routine. For example, “St. John’s wort can speed the breakdown of many drugs,” says Webster.

Since nutraceuticals are regulated as foods and not medicines, their manufacturing, packing, and labeling are also regulated differently, explains Joseph Feuerstein, M.D., director of integrative medicine at Stamford Hospital and associate professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University. All dietary supplement companies are supposed to follow GMPs (good manufacturing practices) set by the FDA, but Feuerstein recommends turning to reputable brands who have their supplements quality-tested by a third party.

Interest in nutraceuticals is still emerging (though growing rapidly), so experts believe more research is necessary to fully understand their potential and safety. But many manufacturers are now publishing clinical research using proprietary and standardized ingredients (which have been shown to be most effective), so look out for a lot of exciting nutraceutical progress soon!


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

I Tried Online Therapy—Here’s Why I Stuck With It

Getting to the doctor can be pretty nerve-wracking for anyone, but it’s especially challenging for me. I live with two co-occurring autoimmune diseases, along with generalized anxiety disorder. I also work full-time at a university library. In short, I’m tired.

Dragging my fatigued body to and from the doctor’s office is not exactly high up on my list of things I want to be doing, but therapy, for me, isn’t optional. So, when my psychiatrist started offering telemedicine (a fancy word for digital doctor appointments), I quickly took her up on the option.

Telemedicine doesn’t require much tech-savviness at all. To meet, my doctor uses a third-party telemedicine client, Chiron Health, which simply emails me a link to her calendar and to our appointment information. After I pay my copay (which is the same, for me, as an in-person appointment), it takes me to a teleconference screen where we can both see each other and talk to each other in real time.

There’s no noticeable lag in sound or video and we’ve only had technical issues once. Plus, I can access all of this using my phone, which has saved me on days that I’m unexpectedly not near a computer.

All of that is a real win, but at first, I was worried that there could be issues with the lack of in-person contact.

Would she still be able to read my body language? Would my symptoms be less apparent because she could only see part of my body? Would we meet as often? Was I still going to get the same quality of care as before?

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In time, the answers became clear: If anything, the quality has improved. We meet more frequently now because this option has eliminated many physical and psychological access barriers. I’m even more inclined to make and keep visits because I know how easy it will be.

The video range is also generous. My doctor can see my entire upper body, whether I’m wringing my hands or getting weepy.

Above all, telemedicine allows me to remain in the comfort of my own home or office without having to waste precious time getting to and from the doctor’s. Even setting up the appointment is easier: I rarely have to call her office.

I’ve always felt like I’ve been chasing a sense of calm. With the exception of my therapist, doctors have only ever caused me anxiety—but telemedicine has been like salve on that wound.

When I leave a session, I can breathe. I come away feeling like I’ve addressed my mental health without the stress of logistics, and can immediately get back to work. It’s like a recalibration.

Of course, telemedicine is not a catch-all. If I need bloodwork done, for example, I still need to go see my primary care doctor.

Related: 6 Supps That Enhance Your Memory And Help You Focus

There’s also a level of personal accountability that is necessary when it comes to using telemedicine. For example, it works for me because I know my body and am in sync with my wellness. I’m keenly aware of my ups and downs and I know how to communicate this without the physical proximity. Where others may need the in-person treatment, for me it removes barriers.

The option of logging onto my phone and talking to my doctor allows me to focus more on the issues I actually need to talk about, as opposed to the stress of getting there and rearranging my schedule to accommodate travel time.

It’s so, so important to find the right ways to heal ourselves—whether that means seeing a doctor in person or using your phone to keep on top of your well-being. It’s nice to have options, and I personally prefer digital therapy.

7 Protein-Packed Breakfasts Trainers Love

If you want to fuel your day, workouts, and results, you’ve really got to start eating breakfast—and, no, a bowl of sugary cereal isn’t going to cut it.

“Too many Americans eat soft and doughy fake food in the morning,” says celebrity fitness and nutrition coach Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S., founder of FIT 365, who, by the way, eats breakfast every single day. His non-negotiables: protein, healthy fats, whole carbs, and lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to prime his brain and body for all-day energy and performance. After all, when you spend all day programming workouts, coaching and pumping up clients, and squeezing in your own sweat sessions, you have to be on your A game!

To help you fuel up like an expert, we asked seven top trainers to snap photos of their go-to morning meals.

1. Breakfast Protein Cookie Dough

Go ahead, lick the bowl clean. “I love that this breakfast tastes like dessert and packs a protein punch for under 500 calories,” says Josh Hillis, C.P.T., author of Fat Loss Happens on Monday. The granola provides plenty of carbs for energy, which are balanced out by the protein and healthy fats for better blood-sugar control. Hillis recommends using more protein powder on super-active mornings.

– 1½ to 2 scoops protein powder of choice
– ½ cup granola
– 1 Tbsp chocolate chips
– 1 Tbsp almond butter
– Water to taste

Combine all ingredients except for the water in a bowl. Stir and add water gradually, until mixture reaches a cookie dough-like consistency.

2. Sourdough Veggie Sausage Breakfast Sandwich

Baltimore-based strength and conditioning coach Erica Suter, M.S., C.S.C.S., loves to refuel with this super-easy and vegetarian-friendly sandwich after her morning workouts. “The bread helps me to replenish my glycogen stores, which were depleted during exercise, and the eggs promote muscle growth and recovery,” she says. By combining two whole eggs with one egg white, you can increase protein content without increasing fat content.

– 2 eggs
– 1 egg white
– 1 serving veggie sausage (links or patties)
– 2 pieces Sourdough toast

Toast your bread while cooking your eggs (Suter likes them scrambled) and sausage. Then, add the eggs and sausage to your bread and voila!

3. 6-Minute Check-Every-Box Breakfast

“Because my days start at 4:30 a.m., breakfast is a huge priority for getting me up and keeping me energized,” says physical therapist and strength coach Laura Miranda, D.P.T., C.S.C.S. “I choose this combo of food because it checks all of the boxes for health: It has avocado for fiber, potassium, and blood-sugar regulation, eggs for protein and omega-3s, kale for everything (and especially fiber), and plantains for resistant starch that keeps me fuller, longer, and has a prebiotic effect to make my gut happy.”

– 2 handfuls kale
– 2 eggs
– 1 green plantain
– ½ avocado
– Red pepper flakes

Cut the plantain into half-inch cubes and sauté, then sauté the kale until wilted and bright green, and cook your eggs however you prefer. Combine your ingredients on a plate and top with sliced avocado and red pepper flakes to taste.

4. Greek Yogurt with Berries

“My go-to breakfast is Greek yogurt with fruit and cereal,” says Silicon Valley-based trainer Jaime Mcfaden, C.P.T. “I love that it is protein-packed, full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and the crunch of the cereal gives it an extra-special taste and texture,” she says. “Growing up in a Greek family, we used Greek yogurt in pretty much every meal. Now, as a working mom, it’s so nice to grab something I can make in two minutes or less and know that I am getting all the nutrients, protein, and fat I need to get me ready for my busy day ahead.”

– 6 to 8 ounces of plain Greek yogurt
– Handful of berries
– Handful of cereal

Simply spoon your Greek yogurt into a bowl and top with a handful each of berries and cereal for crunchy, sweet deliciousness.

5. Protein-Packed Rolled Oats

This breakfast might have a lot going on, but it’s still quick and easy to pull together. “For my first meal of the day, I always want something powerful in both experience and nutritional density,” says Lisa Niren, C.P.T., head instructor and director of content and programming for the Studio running app. Her go-to includes a dose of caffeine from coffee, probiotics from kombucha, and lots of filling fiber and protein from protein powder and oats.

– ½ cup gluten-free rolled oats
– ½ cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
– ½ cup cashew milk
– 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
– Blueberries, flax or chia seeds, dried cranberries, or cacao nibs to taste
– 1 GT’s Gingerade Kombucha, on the side
– 1 almond milk cappuccino (coffee, cashew milk, and unsweetened almond milk), on the side

Cook rolled oats in almond milk until the mixture reaches your desired thickness. Then, stir in protein powder and desired toppings. Serve with the kombucha (over ice) and almond milk cappuccino.

Related: I Drank Kombucha Every Day For 2 Weeks—Here’s What My Gut Had To Say

6. Chunky Monkey Bowl

“The way I see it, every time I have this breakfast, I’m winning my morning,” says celebrity fitness and nutrition coach Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S., founder of FIT 365. “It provides me with complete nutrition.” While the grass-fed whey protein supports muscle growth, the healthy fats from coconut milk (think: MCTs) and almond butter help to promote brain function. Meanwhile, the banana’s carbs and fiber help perk you up with energy that lasts, he says.

– 1 cup coconut milk
– 2 scoops chocolate protein powder
– 5 ice cubes
– 1 small banana
– 1 Tbsp almond butter
Chocolate chips or shavings to taste

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend to a thick, smoothie bowl-worthy consistency. Top with chocolate shavings or chips, if desired.

7. Stacked Smoothie

“I call this the ‘stacked smoothie’ because it’s stacked with all the right things to start my day off,” says Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., founder of Training2xl. Specifically, it provides heaps of protein, vitamins, antioxidants, unsaturated fats, whole carbs, and fiber. “I always work out early, so it’s vital that I incorporate all of this into my breakfast,” she says.

– 1 cup cashew or almond milk
– 1 scoop protein powder
– 1 cup leafy greens (spinach or kale)
– 1 cup frozen cauliflower
– 1 scoop nut butter
– 1 to 2 Tbsp maca root, spirulina, or elderberry powder
– dash of cinnamon

Add all ingredients to blender, blend to a smooth consistency, and enjoy!

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

The Movement Your Workouts Are Sorely Missing

In the age of desk jobs and screens everywhere, we don’t exactly spend our days running, jumping, and climbing around outside like our ancestors did. And try as we might to make up for all the time we spend sitting by hitting the gym or attending our favorite workout class, the movement we do squeeze into our day doesn’t always reflect how our ancestors moved, or challenge our bodies to their fullest potential.

Most of the exercise we do these days involves moving forward or backward—think running, lunging, and cycling (even deadlifting involves moving forward and backward through our hips)—and while these movements do benefit our bodies, they’re not the only movements we should be doing! Lateral exercises, which involve moving from side to side—like lateral shuffles and lateral lunges—are often left out of our workout routines. But that ends now.

Why Lateral Movements Matter

Most of us spend about 90 percent of our active time on those forward or backward movements, which leaves some of our muscles under-utilized and under-activated, and can mess with our stability and put our hip, knee, ankle, and shoulder joint health at risk, explains personal trainer Jenny LaBaw, C.P.T., CF-L2.

Lateral movements work many of our smaller stabilizer and forgotten-about muscles—like our hip abductors, hip adductors, gluteus medius, deltoids, and obliques, to name a few—and strengthen our joints, tendons, and ligaments at all angles by requiring our body move through a different range of motion. If you never train your body to move laterally, there’s a greater chance something will go wrong when life forces you to move that way, whether you’re navigating a busy sidewalk, carrying your groceries, or chasing your dog, says physical therapist Grayson Wickham, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of mobility company Movement Vault.

Incorporating lateral movements can balance out all of our repeated forward-backward movement, and help us build well-rounded strength, improve mobility, and avoid injury.

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Moving from side to side more often also helps us get better at the forward-backward moves, like squats, that we all love so much. By working our muscles in a different plane of motion, we teach our body to better activate our supporter muscles, explains Wickham. “Once you learn to activate those supporter muscles, you can strengthen them, and once you strengthen them your lifts go up.”

And, of course, lateral movements also prep your body for any sport that requires you to make quick movements in different directions, like tennis, basketball, and soccer, adds celebrity fitness and nutrition coach Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S., founder of FIT365. But even if the only sport you’re into is weekend Ultimate Frisbee or running around the backyard with your kids, the ability to move laterally will make you better at it.

4 Lateral Moves To Try

Ready to start building some side-to-side strength? Add a couple of these moves to your next workout to develop a more balanced, capable body.

1. Skater Jumps

Start in a slight squat position and push off through your right foot to jump to your left. Land on your left foot and allow your right foot to track behind it so your right toes touch the ground behind your left foot and you’re in a curtsy-like position. Then, push off through your left foot to land in a curtsy position on the opposite side. That’s one rep. You can swing your arms in opposite directions to propel you as you jump from side to side. Imagine you’re jumping side to side over a hurdle!

Do three sets of eight to 10 reps—or try these Tabata-style and alternate between 20 seconds of jumping back and forth 10 seconds of rest for four minutes total.

Why they work: “Skater squats are a great movement because each rep requires you to stop, stabilize, and absorb the load before you rapidly change directions,” says Brown. “Not only does this transfer over into sport performance, but it also helps develop neglected lower-body muscles, like the gluteus medius, hip abductors, and hip adductors.”

2. Lateral Lunges

Start standing with your feet hips-width distance apart. Keep your hands at your side and take a large step to the right with your right foot. As you step, bend your right knee and sit back into your heel as if squatting off to your right side. Keep your left leg straight and your right knee above your right foot. Then, push off through your right foot to return to the starting position. That’s one rep.  Perform three sets of eight to 10 reps on each side.

Make these count as cardio by adding a hop in between each lunge, so that you’re immediately exploding up off the ground in a jump shot after returning your lunging foot back to starting position. Or, up their strength-building potential by performing them while holding a kettlebell.

Why they work: Lateral lunges light up your gluteus medius and maximus muscles, quadriceps, and hip abductors and adductors, says Wickham.

Related: Are You Neglecting These Two Glute Muscles?

3. Lateral Step-Ups

Stand to the side of a bench, box, or step that’s just shorter than knee-height. Step the foot closest to the step up onto the platform, pressing through your heel and squeezing through your glutes to drive upward until your leg is fully extended. Allow your opposite leg to trail your anchor leg, so you finish standing on the platform. Then, step down with your trailing leg, followed by your anchor leg to return to your starting position. That’s one rep. Perform three sets of eight reps on each side.

Why they work: Lateral step-ups are great for hip, glute, hamstring, and quad strength, as well as overall lower-body stability, explains Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., Pn1, founder of Training2xl. If the boxes or benches at your gym are too high, start off by doing these on stacked weight plates.

4. Lateral Arm Raises

Start standing and hold a pair of light dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing in. Keeping your arms straight and bracing your core, raise the dumbbells up and out to your sides until they’re about shoulder height and you look like a giant ‘T.’ Pause, then slowly lower the weights back down to your sides. That’s one rep. Aim for three sets of eight to 10 reps.

Why they work: Many lateral movements give all of the attention to your abs and lower body, but strong shoulders are important too, whether for carrying kids or just hailing a cab, and moving your arms laterally works your deltoids, says LaBaw.

All The Ways I Use Castor Oil In My Beauty Routine

Castor oil has been used in beauty and wellness rituals for centuries, particularly in India and across Africa. My mother, who is Romani, has always used castor oil liberally on her skin, from head to toe, and I was lucky to learn her beauty tips.

Castor oil is made by cold-pressing the ricinis communis—or castor—plant. It contains triglycerides (a type of fat), so it’s thick and gooey. Some people find that castor oil, because of its texture, feels a little tacky on the skin. Personally, I’m down with the thickness. If I do want to lighten it up, I’ll combine it with other nourishing oils, like sweet almond, jojoba, or coconut oil, which are less viscous (and add a sweet scent).

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Here are all the ways I use castor oil in my beauty and wellness routine:

For my hair

I’ve noticed that thick, glossy, and hydrated hair is a bit more achievable with a little help from castor oil. Here’s how I pull it off:

Nourishing Scalp Oil Treatment

I massage this warm oil elixir into my scalp to nourish my roots and keep my scalp flake-free and moist:

I warm this mixture briefly on the stove (I don’t boil it—I just warm it up). Next, I massage the warm oil into my scalp, using my fingers to work the oil into the roots, which stimulates blood flow (and supports healthy hair!). I leave this to sit for 20-30 minutes before I rinse it out.

Hydrating Overnight Hair Mask

My hair tends to be thick and dry like a horse’s tail, so overnight hair masks are an integral part of my hair care—keeping it soft, shiny, and voluminous.

Here’s what I use:

I shower, towel dry my hair, warm the mixture on the stove, and then apply it to my hair—from root to ends. I then wrap my hair in a warm towel (or Saran Wrap) and settle into bed. In the morning, I shampoo it out and then use conditioner.

Hair Gloss & Split End Sealer

Even after washing and conditioning, the ends of my hair are often still dry. I don’t cut my hair nearly as often as most folks do—partially due to cultural reasons, and partially due to being cheap!—so I always need a little help with my split ends.

While nothing but a trim can truly get rid of split ends, a few drops of castor oil worked into the ends of my hair will make it appear smooth, shiny, and soft. I also try not to wash my hair more than twice a week, and when I’m in between washes, I’ll add a couple of drops to enhance its shine and softness.

Full Lashes & Brows

Before I was allowed to wear makeup, my mother pacified my desperation by teaching me how to smooth a drop of castor oil into my eyebrows to make them darker, and to carefully cover my lashes with castor oil to make them appear fuller and more defined.

The best part? The oil seems to encourage hair growth, so I actually noticed thicker and longer lashes and fuller brows. These days, I do this treatment at night before bed. On my no-makeup days, I still use the trick to add a natural pop to my eyes.

For my hands and feet

Hands and feet get a lot of wear and tear. This is why I sometimes massage castor oil into my hands and feet as a bedtime ritual.

First I’ll exfoliate with pumice and a good sugar or salt scrub, and then I’ll apply the castor oil. And if I’m really committed, I’ll also wear cotton socks and gloves to trap the moisture. In fact, my mother, who suffers from scleroderma, a painful disease that hardens the organs (including your skin), always goes to bed while wearing castor oil and little white cotton gloves.

Related: All The Ways I Use Tea Tree Oil In My Beauty Routine

For my nails

To keep my nail beds strong and conditioned, I often rub a few drops of castor oil into my bare nails after filing and buffing. The oil softens my cuticles, so I can easily push them back down to encourage nail growth.

For my Skin & face

Facial for Dewy Skin

Everyone’s skin is different, of course, but castor oil never seems to clog my pores. Instead, it leaves my skin smooth and hydrated. Sometimes, at the end of the day, my skin will feel irritated and dry from wearing makeup. When that happens, I pat warm or room-temperature castor oil into my face, neck, and décolletage after cleansing and toning.

Other times, if my skin is feeling very dry or irritated, I’ll leave the oil on all night, waking with smooth and plumped skin in the morning. Oh, and for any spots I might have, I’ve found castor oil especially effective for soothing irritated skin.

Fading Scars & Stretch Marks

I apply castor oil nightly to scars, or to skin that may scar later on. I’ve noticed that the oil keeps scars and stretch marks moisturized, which helps fade their appearance. The scars I do have are definitely less visible after being diligent about this particular beauty practice.

Healthy Lips

I love a good lip mask and treatment, but castor oil is my trusted standby. I smooth a very thin layer of castor oil on my lips before applying lipstick to keep them moisturized (though not necessarily slick). If they feel dry during the day, I sometimes add another drop of castor oil on top of the color, keeping it highly pigmented—with a touch of shine.

The Instant Pot Is A Meal Prep Master—And These 6 Recipes Prove It

The Instant Pot, a giant electric pot that can function as a pressure cooker, sauté pan, steamer, rice maker, slow cooker, and more, is basically a kitchen wizard—so it’s no wonder Instant Pot recipes have been taking over Pinterest and Instagram lately.

The Instant Pot’s many talents—and the fact that you can easily fit a week’s worth of food in it—make it a meal prepper’s dream. It’s like a crock pot with wings!

With a few tried-and-true meals in your arsenal and an Instant Pot on your countertop, you can transform your Sunday meal prep from an all-day affair to ‘fill the pot and chill.’ Here are six popular recipes to get you started.

photo: The Girl On Bloor

1. Instant Pot Chicken Pad Thai

Keep your meal prep repertoire interesting with this chicken Pad Thai recipe from The Girl On Bloor. You can cook all of the ingredients in the Instant Pot (yes, even the noodles), which is a major perk for anyone who’s had to wash an entire kitchen’s-worth of pots, pans, and tools after a meal prep session. This recipe keeps health in mind by using chicken breasts and plenty of colorful veggies like carrots and peppers. If you’re keeping your meals lower-carb, you can even swap in spiralized carrots or zucchini noodles for the rice noodles. Once everything’s in the pot, you’ll have a week’s-worth of meals in just 30 minutes flat!

photo: I Breathe, I’m Hungry

2. Instant Pot Balsamic Beef Pot Roast

When you’re craving comfort food but don’t feel like waiting all day as a pot roast cooks up in the Dutch oven, try I Breathe, I’m Hungry’s Instant Pot Balsamic Pot Roast recipe. You’ll quickly brown the meat using the Instant Pot’s ‘sauté’ feature and then stew it to tender perfection along with balsamic vinegar (try Walden Farms’ Balsamic Dressing for calorie-free flavor), onion, and spices. Once the meat’s done, you can even use your Instant Pot to steam up some cauliflower for a nice mash to serve it over.

photo: A Pinch of Healthy

3. Instant Pot Red Beans And Rice

Andouille sausage spices up A Pinch of Healthy’s recipe for this already-flavorful classic meal. Just dump in everything except for your sausage and your rice (which you can also make in the Instant Pot), and cook for about half an hour. Then, throw your sausage in for another 15 minutes, and voila, you’ve got yourself a balanced, flavorful meal you can enjoy all week long. Don’t forget to top your beans and rice with plenty of your favorite hot sauce (6 Pack Fitness makes four flavors and we love them all) and serve them with a side of something green, for good measure.

photo: Lexi’s Clean Kitchen

4. Instant Pot Pho

That’s right, you can even make super-trendy Pho (a Vietnamese soup made with bone broth, rice noodles, some sort of meat, and veggies) in your Instant Pot with this recipe from Lexi’s Clean Kitchen. You’ll prep by charring some veggies and parboiling your beef bones, and adding them to your Pot along with a number of fragrant ingredients, like apple cider vinegar (Bragg is our go-to), cinnamon, star anise, and cardamom, to cook up homemade bone broth. Pressure cooking the bone broth sucks up about an hour, but considering this would cost you a full day on the stove, we’ll take it. From there you’ll deck out your broth with a protein, like sirloin steak, rice or veggie noodles, bean sprouts, hot sauce (try 6 Pack Fitness’ Chipotle Hot Sauce for this one), and fresh herbs. Store your soups in big Mason jars for easy transport throughout the week.

photo: I Wash, You Dry

5. Instant Pot Chicken Taco Soup

Done in 35 minutes, flat, this chicken taco soup from I Wash, You Dry is the perfect base for all sorts of toppings that you can mix and match to keep your taste buds happy all week long. Simply add all of your ingredients—chicken breasts, onion, broth, beans, corned, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, taco seasoning, and ranch seasoning—to the Instant Pot, watch an episode of Parks And Recreation on Netflix, and you’ll be ready to deck out this Mexican-inspired meal. Top with anything from salsa, to avocados, to tortilla chips, to shredded cheese, to ranch dressing, and enjoy! If dairy is not your friend, try Bragg Nutritional Yeast Seasoning for a dose of umami instead.

photo: Oh Sweet Basil’s

6. Award-Winning Instant Pot Chili

C’mon, we had to include a chili recipe…But this isn’t your average slow-cooker chili. First of all, it’s loaded with bacon! Second of all, it takes just 40 minutes to cook, making it much easier to execute than the usual slow-cooker recipe that has to stew for six hours. (Raise your hand if you’ve been woken up in the middle of the night by the ding of your slow cooker.) Oh Sweet Basil’s chili recipe features all of the usual staples, like beans, tomatoes, ground beef, jalapeños, and plenty of spices, like paprika, chili powder, and garlic. (Oh My Spice’s Sweet And Savory Seasoning tastes ah-mazing in chili.) Just cook your bacon, beef, and veggies in the Instant Pot first, add the rest of your ingredients, and you’re golden.

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

The 5 Foods You Should Try To Buy Organic

When we’re standing in the supermarket, the only noticeable difference between organic and conventionally-grown or raised foods—whether produce, meat, or dairy—is often the price tag. And as much as we might like to go organic, the thought of paying almost twice as much for that carton of blueberries or milk often stops us in our tracks.

Organic foods, which are grown without conventional pesticides or come from animals raised in a way that reflects nature more closely, definitely offer benefits, says dietitian Adalise Jacob, R.D., co-founder of the healthy lifestyle site Smart Homefull. When it comes to produce, “research has linked high concentrations of pesticides to concerns like brain and nervous system damage, hormone disruption, and even cancer,” she says. (Plus, one study in the British Journal of Nutrition shows conventionally-grown produce may contain fewer antioxidants than its organic counterpart.) As far as animal products go, not only does research show that organic meat and dairy contain higher levels of important omega-3 fatty acids, many experts question the safety of the hormones and antibiotics given to conventionally-raised animals.

Luckily, it is possible to reap the benefits of organic foods without breaking the bank. All it takes is a little info about which foods are worth the organic price tag. We rounded up the top five—and they’re worth every penny.

1. Spinach

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an organization that researches and advocates for environmental issues in the United States, spinach has been shown to contain as much as 1.8 times more pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. That’s why it often tops the EWG’s annual “Dirty Dozen”, a list of the top twelve pesticide-laden fruits and veggies out there.

2. Strawberries

Not only do conventionally-grown strawberries contain pesticides—up to seven different types, with three times as much residue as other produce—but conventional strawberry growers also reportedly use poisonous gases (called fumigants) to sterilize their fields before planting, which can account for up to 80 percent of the chemical residue found on harvested strawberries, the EWG reports.

3. Apples

These lunchbox staples, which held the top spot on the Dirty Dozen list for years, are another fruit to watch out for. Why? Apples tend to have multiple types of pesticides on them, which is weighted heavily for the Dirty Dozen rankings, says EWG senior analyst Sonya Lunder.

4. Pears

The amount of pesticides on pears is actually increasing over time, and has more than doubled since 2010, according the EWG. Plus, pears often have residue not just from pesticides, but also from insecticides and fungicides, too. Fungicides tend to appear on pears in the highest concentrations, because they’re used to keep the easy-spoiling fruit ‘fresh’ during transportation. Another scary fact: The EWG found that many pureed pear baby foods sold in the U.S. contain too many pesticides to be sold in Europe.

5. Dairy Products

The concerns about conventional dairy foods are a little different than those about the produce on the Dirty Dozen list, but it’s still important to buy organic dairy whenever it’s financially feasible, says Jacobs. Although regulations on the meat and dairy industry are a little tricky—like the fact that non-USDA-organic eggs can still put the words ‘free-range’ on the label—it’s still worth choosing organic. Dairy products labeled ‘USDA organic’ must come from companies who protect natural resources and raise animals without antibiotics or growth hormones. These animals are also typically raised on their natural diet (like grass) instead of the corn feed given to many conventionally-raised animals.

Related: 6 Foods That Might Be Messing With Your Hormones

“We definitely support the purchasing and consumption of organic meat and dairy,” says Lunder. “Our primary concern is the unnecessary use of antibiotics in conventional meat and dairy.” While the U.S. government asserts that the amounts of hormones given to farm animals don’t affect human health, they’ve been banned in Europe for decades and research from other parts of the world suggests they may be implicated in health issues.

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Antibiotics share a similar story: Though the FDA implemented a process to limit the use of antibiotics in livestock to ‘medically necessary’ reasons in 2013, participation of those producing the antibiotics and raising the livestock has been voluntary. Meanwhile, studies show that consumption of antibiotic-containing animal products contribute to the U.S.’s nationwide antibiotic resistance issue, and the World Health Organization has urged farmers and the food industry to stop using antibiotics in healthy animals.

Keep this shopping list handy next time you head to the supermarket:

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These Are The 6 MOST Super Superfoods

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

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

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

1. Seeds

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

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

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

2. Blueberries

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

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

3. Kale

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

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

4. Cocoa

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

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

5. Eggs

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

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

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

6. Mushrooms

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

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

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

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We Asked, You Answered: Top 15 Gym Pet Peeves

The gym is a place of transformation, inspiration, and hard-earned victories. But let’s face it—it’s also a place full of, well, personalities. From the people who grunt extra loudly to the folks who refuse to wipe their mats down after use, there’s always someone bending (or full-on breaking) the rules of gym etiquette. We asked The Vitamin Shoppe Instagram followers to share their biggest gym gripes, and here’s what they said:




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Is The ‘Fat-Burning Zone’ A Sham?

If you’ve hopped on any cardio machine ever, you’ve probably seen the graph or different colored hearts (or whatever) identifying the different exercise ‘zones’ that use your heart rate to categorize the intensity of your workout.

Which zone we should be cardio-ing away in, though, isn’t so clear—and the enticing ‘fat-burning’ zone, in particular, is actually pretty misleading.

You’re in the ‘fat-burning zone’ when you exercise at a pace that gets your heartrate up to between 60 and 75 percent of your maximum (220 minus your age). “If you measured your exertion or effort on a scale of one to ten, the fat-burning zone would be a five or six,” explains exercise physiologist Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., host of the All About Fitness Podcast. This is a pretty low-intensity pace, and you’ll probably be able to carry on a conversation as you move.

Given its name, you’d think the fat-burning zone is where you want to be if you’re trying to lose weight, right? Well, not quite.

Workouts that focus on the fat-burning zone are a rooted in the outdated (but persistent) belief that long, slow workouts are more effective for weight loss than shorter, more intense workouts. Here, exercise experts break down why the fat-burning zone isn’t really your fat-loss friend.

The Fat-Burning Basics

To fuel literally everything we do, our body produces and uses a form of chemical energy called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). What we create that ATP from, though, depends on what ingredients we have in our system (like carbs or fat from food, or stored body fat) and how much energy we need how quickly (depending on whether we’re just hanging out or sprinting, for example).

Technically, the fat-burning zone is legit: At lower intensities, our body’s primary ATP fuel source is fatty acids from food or body fat, whereas at higher intensities—usually an effort level of seven or higher—we primarily use the carbohydrates circulating in our bloodstream as sugar or stored in our muscles as glycogen.

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“Our body needs oxygen to turn fat into ATP, and when we’re resting or working out at a low intensity, that oxygen is readily available,” explains Tiffany Chag, M.S., R.D, C.S.C.S., sports dietitian at Hospital for Special Surgery. When we work out at higher intensities, oxygen becomes scarce and our body turns to carbs, instead. It’s never entirely one or the other—just a different proportion: Fat can still account for between 10 and 45 percent of our total energy expenditure during high-intensity exercise.

Exercise Intensity And Weight Loss

While it’s true we burn a higher percentage of calories from fat in the fat-burning zone, that doesn’t translate to quicker fat loss. Burning more calories total—regardless of whether the energy used comes from fat or carbs—is what matters for fat loss, explains running coach and exercise physiologist, Janet Hamilton, MA, RCEP, CSCS, founder of Running Strong.

Unsurprisingly, we burn more calories overall when we work out at higher intensities—like 75 to 85 percent of our max heartrate, or an effort level of seven or eight—because our organs and muscles have to work harder to meet that high energy demand. For example, a 155-pound person burns about 260 calories cycling at a moderate pace for 30 minutes, but churns through about 315 at a more vigorous pace.

That’s where HIIT (high-intensity interval training), which involves alternating between short intervals of max-effort and intervals of low-intensity recovery, comes in. By upping the intensity so much (even just for short bursts of time), we can burn just as much fat, if not more, in less time—even if carbs account for a larger percentage of our calories burned, explains Christi Marraccini C.P.T., Head Coach at Tone House in New York City.

Related: 7 HIIT Workouts That Incinerate Fat

By pushing so hard during HIIT’s work intervals, we increase our body’s demand for oxygen during the rest intervals, and throughout the rest of the day after the workout, explains McCall. (This is called ‘EPOC,’ or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.)  Our body continues working harder-than-usual to deliver that oxygen, and we continue burning calories.

The Time And Place For The Fat-Burning Zone

HIIT is great, but too much high-intensity work can lead to injury or burnout over time—so our experts recommend your weekly workout routine strikes a balance between higher- and lower-intensity exercise. Every other—or every third—cardio workout can be HIIT, but the rest should actually land in that fat-burning zone. “This kind of breakdown will allow your body to recover and your muscle to repair after tough workouts, while still giving you the opportunity to move,” says Chag.

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Why More Isn’t Always More With Vitamins  

While many of us can benefit from supplementing with vitamins, more isn’t always better—because not all vitamins are created equal!

You see, there are two types of vitamins out there—‘fat-soluble’ vitamins and ‘water-soluble’ vitamins—and our bodies process them differently. While we’re able to handle higher doses of water-soluble vitamins, taking too much of fat-soluble vitamins can actually backfire on our health.

Here’s what you need to know about vitamin dosage, and how to supplement safely.

The Basics

First things first: ‘Water-soluble’ describes a substance that dissolves in water, while ‘fat-soluble’ describes a substance that dissolves in fat.

The average cell in our body contains a membrane that’s made of fats and an interior full of water, and these different ‘fatty’ and ‘watery’ structures use and store different vitamins, explains dietitian and researcher Suzanne Dixon, M.P.H., M.S., R.D.N. Our ‘fatty’ cell membranes depend on fat-soluble vitamins to function, while the metabolic reactions that occur inside our cells (like turning food into energy) rely on water-soluble vitamins.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K. What’s unique about these vitamins: They can be stored in our liver and fat cells for long periods of time, until our body needs to use them. “Say your intake of fat-soluble vitamins goes up and down over a period of days, weeks, or even months,” explains Dixon. “Your body will store excess when your intake is high and draw from your stores when your intake is low.”

Cool, right? There’s a catch, though: Over time, too much buildup of fat-soluble vitamins in our body can potentially cause health issues, so it’s important we pay special attention to their RDAs (recommended dietary values) when supplementing. (The RDA is the average level of daily intake the government believes meets the needs of most healthy people.)

Vitamin A, which is critical for immune function, vision, reproduction, cellular communication, and cell growth, comes in two forms: ‘preformed’ vitamin A, which we get from animal foods like organ meat, and beta-carotene, which we get from plant foods and convert into vitamin A. The RDA for preformed vitamins is 900 micrograms a day for men and 700 micrograms a day for women. According to Dixon, any intake above 3,000 micrograms per day, though, is considered dangerous. (This only applies to preformed vitamin A, though excess beta carotene can turn your skin slightly orange.)

“Taking excess vitamin A has been linked with serious health problems, including osteoporosis, liver damage and jaundice, hair loss, blurry vision, bone pain, poor appetite, dizziness and confusion, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to sunlight, dry and peeling skin, mouth sores, and infections,” warns Dixon, who advises only those under the care of a doctor for a deficiency take more than the RDA of preformed vitamin A. Excess A can also cause birth defects, so this warning is especially important for pregnant women. It also explains why medications used for skin conditions that are vitamin A derivatives, such as retinoids, are so carefully prescribed.

On the other end of the spectrum is vitamin D, which plays important roles in calcium absorption and bone health, cell growth, immune function, neuromuscular activity, and inflammation regulation. Unlike vitamin A, vitamin D can be tolerated at doses higher than the RDA for prolonged periods of time. The RDA for vitamin D 600 IU per day for adults, but the ‘tolerable upper intake level’ or ‘UL’ (the highest level of long-term daily intake likely not to pose any risk for the general population) is more than six times that number: 4,000 IU per day.

Since vitamin D deficiency, which is linked to rickets in children and osteoporosis (a condition marked by weak, brittle bones) in adults, is pretty common, some people may need to supplement with much more than the RDA. In fact, doctors often prescribe as much as 10,000 IU a day for deficient patients, says Dixon, who recommends having your levels tested at your annual physical.

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Last but not least of the fat-soluble vitamins are vitamin E and vitamin K. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage, supports immune function, enhances cell signaling, and moreintegral to blood clotting, bone metabolism, and regulating blood calcium levels. Neither E or K runs the risk of toxicity like vitamin A, and neither is considered a nutrient of concern for common deficiency like vitamin D.

Water-Soluble Vitamins

Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, water-soluble vitamins—vitamin C and the B vitamins—are not stored in our body for a long time. When water-soluble vitamins enter our body, they are utilized quickly or excreted. “We generally have a limited capacity to store water-soluble vitamins, so when we take extra, we just excrete the excess in our urine,” Dixon explains. That’s why you’ll notice your urine changes colors when you take high-dose B vitamin or multi; that neon hue is just the excess riboflavin (B2) leaving your system.

Water-soluble vitamins’ rapid exit from our body significantly decreases their risk of toxicity, explains Dixon. But that doesn’t mean you should go willy-nilly 24/7: “Any vitamin, if taken in very high amounts—like many thousands of times the RDA—can cause health problems,” she says. The threshold for water-soluble vitamins is just generally higher than that for fat-soluble vitamins.

Taking a little bit of extra vitamin C (an antioxidant that helps us form and maintain tissues like bones, blood vessels, and skin) is okay, and is even recommended for populations like smokers, whose bodies use the vitamin more rapidly to combat the oxidative stress caused by smoking, says Dixon. Just keep in mind that the RDA for vitamin C is 90 milligrams a day for men and 75 milligrams a day for women, and smokers are advised to take just an extra 35 milligrams, a very small amount of ‘extra.’

Taking even higher doses of C seems to have short-term benefits, too: For example, while taking extra vitamin C doesn’t seem to ward off getting a cold, taking a few hundred milligrams can boost your immune system, which is helpful during cold season, says Dixon.

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

The rest of the water-soluble vitamins out there are the B vitamins, which play key roles in our body’s conversion of food into energy. The Bs include thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folate (vitamin B9), vitamin B12, biotin (vitamin B7) and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). While the B’s are generally tolerated in doses higher than their varying RDAs, there is one to be wary of: vitamin B6. Research suggests that supplementing with more than 100 milligrams of B6 (its RDA is 1.3 milligrams) for a year or longer can lead to nerve damage, painful and unsightly skin patches, extreme sensitivity to sunlight, nausea, and heartburn.

Keep your vitamin dosages straight with this infographic: