Can Apple Cider Vinegar Help You Lose Weight?

Apple cider vinegar gets a good amount of praise for being an effective weight-loss tool, among many other things (skin toner, mouthwash, household cleaner—the list goes on). But are there any facts to back up ACV’s supposed waist-trimming benefits? We called up a few experts and dug into the research to get a definitive answer.

What’s Behind ACV And Weight Loss?

“The main theory is that apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid, which can aid weight loss by helping your body burn fat for fuel,” says Carlyn Rosenblum, R.D., founder of MTHR Nutrition, a concierge nutrition service for women. “Some studies show that acetic acid helps stimulate a particular metabolic pathway called PCG-1, which may increase fatty acid oxidation. However, most of the studies showing positive results have been done in animal populations.”

There is some research on apple cider vinegar and weight loss in humans. One of the most commonly cited trials is a 2009 study published in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, in which obese (but otherwise healthy) Japanese participants ages 20 to 60 consumed either vinegar or a placebo mixed with water every day for 12 weeks. They didn’t make any other change to their lifestyles.

The researchers found that those who consumed the vinegar experienced “statistically significant weight loss.” The total number of pounds they dropped isn’t jaw-dropping—but it’s something. “The study reported that those who consumed ACV lost two to four pounds in that three-month period,” says Rosenblum.

ACV And Bloating

For those who’ve experienced weight loss in connection with ACV, some of it could be due to its ability to flush out excess water in the body, says Molly Kimball, R.D., nutrition manager at the Ochsner Fitness Center in New Orleans. So while a person may not be shedding fat, they could be seeing reduced bloating.

Related: 10 Possible Reasons Why You’re Suddenly So Bloated

Another way ACV may ward off bloat: Its acidity supports digestion. Acid helps us break down food, says Rosenblum, so drinking a teaspoon of ACV mixed with water at mealtime could speed up the digestive process—especially for those who have lower levels of stomach acid, who may feel like food moves through the system slowly and deal with bloating often.

ACV And Blood Sugar

Though ACV may not be a weight-loss magic bullet, it’s especially helpful for those who struggle with regulating their blood sugar. “Studies show that consuming apple cider vinegar before a meal helps stabilize the spike in glucose levels that occurs after eating,” says Kimball. This effect is especially notable when ACV is paired with complex carbs (like whole grains, legumes and beans) and starchy vegetables (like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and peas), which typically cause larger blood sugar spikes, adds Rosenblum. (Some research suggests it has the same effect on bagels and juice, too.)

Maintaining stable blood sugar can help ward off cravings for sweets and carbs and, in turn, support weight loss. So if blood sugar issues get in the way of your weight-loss success, ACV may have an indirect benefit.

ACV And Appetite

And about that whole ACV reducing your appetite thing? One study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that sipping the vinegar can reduce your appetite—but not because of some magical ingredient or a biological mechanism at play. The researchers concluded that the highly acidic, pungent taste of apple cider vinegar simply squashed some people’s desire to eat.

The Bottom Line

Rather than rely on ACV as your sole weight-loss savior, Rosenblum suggests building it into a more comprehensive weight-loss plan that’s focused on research-backed techniques, like eating a veggie-focused diet and exercising regularly.

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If you’ve got those pieces in place, try adding ACV to your morning routine for an extra boost. Dilute about a tablespoon of vinegar in eight ounces of water, add a little cinnamon and/or raw honey to make it more palatable (if needed), and enjoy it hot or iced, suggests Kimball.

A few rules to keep in mind:

  • Avoid drinking ACV straight up.
  • Do not consume more than one tablespoon at a time.
  • Do not down more than two tablespoons per day.

Doing any of the above could contribute to digestive issues, erode your esophagus, and damage your tooth enamel.

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7 Workouts That Can Burn More Calories Than Running

If you want to burn the most calories in the least amount of time, you should go for a run—right? For the average person, after all, running at a 10-minute-mile pace burns about 740 to 872 calories per hour.

That’s a lot of calories, but believe it or not, there are plenty of other workouts that can be equally—if not more—effective.

“The amount of calories burned in a given type of exercise depends on the amount of muscle mass engaged,” explains Nick Clayton, C.S.C.S., a spokesperson for the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). “The more muscles working, the more calories burned.”

Do them correctly and these seven workouts will get you to sizzle city.

1. Outdoor Bicycling

755 to 890 calories burned per hour

You’d think you’d expend less energy using equipment than you would using just your body, but biking actually requires more energy than running. “In running, your muscles—which are elastic—have a lot of recoil,” explains Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “When you hit the ground, the tissue lengthens and then recoils, which helps propel you.” (Think of a stretched rubber band snapping back into place.)

Without the ground to ‘snap’ your muscles back every time your foot hits the ground, though, cycling requires a lot more constant effort. Plus, “cycling engages the entire lower body, as well as the core and upper body, which provide stability and assist with harder efforts, such as out-of-the-saddle sprints and climbs,” says Clayton. This also increases your calorie burn.

Pro tip: To burn maximum calories, you need to maintain a speedy clip—between 14 and 15.9 miles per hour (a fast, vigorous effort), according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Don’t worry if you’re not able to quite maintain that pace, though. “It’s all about how hard you’re working based on your current health and fitness level,” says Clayton.

2. Swimming

755 to 890 calories per hour

If you’ve ever swam laps, you know that just four can feel harder than running four miles. “When you’re running, there’s not much resistance working against you,” says McCall. “When you’re swimming, though, you have to break the surface tension of the water with every stroke and propel your body forward through the water.”

Not only does this make swimming more taxing, but moving through the water is way better for your joints that pounding the ground or repetitively spinning on a bike, adds Clayton. Not to mention, swimming fires up just about every muscle in your body.

Related: It’s Super-Trendy To Strength Train Under Water—Should You Try It?

Pro tip: You need to be consistent and efficient to earn your burn in the water (no pausing each time you hit the wall!). “It’s okay to use flippers to help you move if you need to,” says McCall.

3. Kickboxing

777 to 916 calories per hour

Certain types of martial arts—including kickboxing, judo, jujitsu, karate, tae kwon do, tai-bo, and Muay Thai—can burn tons of calories, especially when you’re sparring.

“When you’re sparring, there’s a reactive element that you don’t get in other sports like running, swimming, and cycling,” explains McCall. “You’re at a higher state of awareness and a higher state of readiness because you don’t know what your opponent’s going to do. Your entire body is engaged.”

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Pro tip: The key here is to spar at a solid pace. “Performing drills versus hitting gloves versus actual ‘combat’ all have different effects on intensity and adrenaline,” explains Clayton. Imagine the difference between practicing your kick form and fighting someone—it’s a big one.

4. Stationary Bicycling

 830 to 979 calories per hour

Unlike outdoor biking, you’re never coasting down a hill—or being pushed by the wind at your back—when riding a stationary bike or taking a spin class. Because of that, a vigorous effort (around 161 to 200 watts, or 15 to 20 miles per hour) works you harder than biking outdoors, says McCall.

Pro tip: In a spin class, resistance matters most. “If you’re not really hiking up that resistance, you’re not really doing that much extra work,” McCall says. Instructors typically coach you to spin at a fast pace—like 130 beats per minute—to keep up with the music, but that can be very difficult to sustain. As long as you’ve got the resistance cranked up, you don’t have to be going much faster than 70 to 90 revolutions per minute, he explains.

5. Jumping Rope

 890 to 1050 calories per hour

Jumping rope is basically running in place that uses your entire body. “Just adding in your arms adds a lot of extra work,” explains McCall. “It’s also easier to maintain a faster pace than running while jumping rope.”

According to the ACSM, maintaining a moderate pace of 100 to 120 skips per minute (with a plain, two-foot bounce) burns about 14 to 17 calories per minute. If you can up your pace to 120 to 160 skips per minute, you’ll burn an additional calorie or two per minute.

Pro-tip: McCall recommends jumping rope in intervals—like 90 seconds of high-intensity jumping followed by 30 seconds of rest. This will spike your heart rate and help your body burn even more calories.

6. Rowing

 906 to 1068 calories per hour

Rowing is such a huge calorie-burner because it engages your entire body. “If you’re doing it right, your legs, core, and upper body have to work hard,” says McCall. The more muscles you use, the more oxygen you consume—and any time you can increase oxygen consumption by using more muscles, you increase your overall energy expenditure, he says.

Related: 4 Rowing Workouts That’ll Make You Feel Like A Beast

Pro-tip: To maximize your calorie burn on the rowing machine, you need to row at a power of about 200 watts, according to the ACSM. “But, again, it depends on fitness level and efficiency,” says Clayton. As long as you’re working at a level that feels intense to you, your effort will pay off.

7. Boxing

 966 to 1139 calories per hour

Like martial arts, sparring in a boxing ring has that reactive element that puts your body on high alert. Plus, you’re doing a ton of lateral, forward, and backward movement.

Pro-tip:  “You generate more muscle force when you hit something than if you’re shadowboxing,” says McCall. Spar with a coach or trainer to bring more of your upper body into the workout.

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Should You Replace Your BCAAs With EAAs?

Branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements have long held a special place in the hearts of bodybuilders and endurance athletes alike. But recently, essential amino acid (EAA) supplements have started cropping up everywhere, threatening to edge out BCAAs as fitness enthusiasts’ go-to sports supplement.

Is one really better than the other? Which supplement is right for you? Here’s everything you need to know about the two popular sports supplements.

Amino Acid Basics

The proteins that make up our muscles are in a constant state of turnover; as old proteins degrade, we produce new proteins to take their place. When the number of proteins being created exceeds the number of proteins breaking down, your body ‘grows,’ and you build muscle mass (this is called an anabolic state). When the number of proteins breaking down exceeds the number of proteins being created, though, the entire body enters a state of breakdown and you may lose muscle mass (this is called a catabolic state).

Related: Exactly What To Eat (And Drink) After A Workout To Boost Recovery

If you’re working out to build muscle and perform at your absolute best, you want your body to spend as much time as possible in ‘grow’ mode. Thing is, exercise typically shifts it into ‘breakdown’ mode. That’s where amino acids come in. To repair proteins and produce new ones—and ultimately boost your ability to pack on muscle—after exercising, your body needs an adequate amount of protein building blocks, molecules called amino acids.

There are 20 different amino acids total. Nine of them are considered ‘essential,’ which means our bodies can’t produce enough of them on its own and we have to get them via food and/or supplements. These essential amino acids (EAAs) include isoleucine, leucine, valine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, histidine, and tryptophan.

Of those nine EAAs, three are known as the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and play unique roles in muscle protein synthesis (the process of repairing and building muscle). The three BCAAs are isoleucine, leucine, and valine.

In addition to supporting the muscle-building process, two of these amino acids (isoleucine and valine) can also be used as energy sources during endurance exercise, when muscle glycogen (one of our bodies’ main sources of fuel) gets used up, says Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.S.D., assistant professor of sports nutrition at Central Washington University and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

BCAAs vs. EAAs

According to the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 4th ed., our muscles are especially receptive to amino acids for up to 48 hours after we exercise—hence why amino acid supplements have become intra- and post-workout staples of so many fitness enthusiasts.

A recent study published in Frontiers in Physiology found that ingesting 5.6 grams of BCAAs after a strength-training session lead to 22 percent greater muscle protein synthesis. However, a review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition purports that you need an abundant supply of all the EAAs—not just BCAAs—to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

A number of research studies, in fact, support the idea that all of the EAAs play key roles in repairing and building muscle, and that supplementing with EAAs may stimulate muscle protein  just as much as supplementing with a whole protein source that contains the same amount of those EAAs (like whey protein or chicken breast).

So, Which Supplement Should You Take?

EAAs and BCAAs both impact your ability to be strong and fit. In a perfect world, you’d get all your EAAs and BCAAs from whole foods. (Animal-based proteins like meat and dairy are the richest sources, while plant proteins—with a few exceptions—may be lacking in one or more EAA, making it critical for herbivores to mix up their protein sources.) That said, many of us struggle with eating enough healthy, whole foods to meet our amino acid needs—and it’s even more difficult if we exercise a lot. “If we are talking about people who train at a high level, meeting your requirement for protein and EAAs on a daily basis may be challenging,” says Brian Tanzer, M.S., C.N.S., Manager of Scientific Affairs at The Vitamin Shoppe. That’s where a BCAA or EAA supplement comes in.

Related: 7 Protein-Packed Breakfasts Trainers Love

According to Tanzer, both BCAA and EAA supplements can support muscle growth and recovery from training. However, BCAAs are better suited for people who meet their total daily protein needs, while EAAs are best for those who typically fall short.

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The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends active adults aim for 1.4 to two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (your weight in pounds divided by 2.2) per day. That’s between about 95 and 136 grams of protein per day for someone who weighs 150 pounds. If you get the proper amount of protein but want to support your muscles after working out, go for a BCAA supplement. If you eat less than 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight, try EAAs.

Pin this handy infographic to keep your amino acid facts straight:

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Should You Add Vitamin D To Your Sports Nutrition Stack?

This article was written by Vera Tweed and originally published in Amazing Wellness magazine. It has been edited for What’s Good. 

Sometimes called the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ vitamin D is produced in your skin when it’s exposed to sunlight’s UVB rays. Technically a family of compounds that includes vitamins D1, D2, and D3, this fat-soluble vitamin is known for several important functions. Its main claims to fame: regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus and facilitating normal immune system function. Getting ample D is crucial for the normal growth and development of bones and teeth, and to improve resistance against certain diseases.

However, D’s story doesn’t end with bones and immunity! According to a review published in the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, vitamin D supplementation may help boost performance and muscle strength, and reduce injury in athletes.

Research suggests the vitamin plays a role in protein synthesis, muscle function, and the regulation of our skeletal muscle. (Specifically, it seems to help increase the size and amount of type-II muscle fibers, which are responsible for strength and power.) In one study, athletes who took vitamin D supplements increased upper and lower body strength more than those who took a placebo.

Related: 7 Signs You Have A Vitamin D Deficiency

What’s more, a study of vitamin D-deficient athletes found that those who took 5,000 IU per day increased their vertical jump height more than those who didn’t. Plus, U.K. Royal Marine recruits with the lowest D levels had a 60 percent higher incidence of stress fractures than those with the highest levels. “With higher serum levels of vitamin D playing a role in muscle strength, injury prevention, and sports performance, it’s essential for individuals to ensure they’re getting an adequate amount of vitamin D,” said lead study author and orthopedic surgeon Geoffrey D. Abrams, M.D., of Stanford University.

Considering about 77 percent of Americans are estimated to be vitamin D-deficient, this information matters for any of us trying to live an active, healthy life. The U.S. government recommends adults get 600 IU of vitamin D every single day, though some people may need more based on their current levels and where they live. Aside from sunlight exposure, you can also find it in certain foods, including fatty fish, eggs, and UV-treated mushrooms. If you’re concerned about your D levels, talk to your doctor about checking your levels with a blood test and consider adding a supplement to your routine.

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9 Wellness Gurus Share Their Health & Happiness Tips

Wellness is the culmination of a healthy mind, body, and spirit. It’s all about feeding your personal growth. Here, we share nine tips from gurus across the wellness spectrum—from recipe developers and psychologists to yoga instructors and meal-prep experts—so you can take inspiration from their words, insights, and suggestions. Victory is yours!

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

5 Fruits You Can Actually Have On Keto

If you know anything about the keto diet, it’s that sugar is off limits. That means most fruit, which naturally contains sugars, is pretty much off the table. Pineapple? Nope. Bananas? Not a chance.

Believe it or not, though, there are some fruits you can still incorporate into a keto meal plan with a little strategy. “In order to stay in the altered metabolic state of ketosis, most people will only be able to consume 20 to 50 grams of net carbs per day,” says Seattle-based Ginger Hultin, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That means you’ll have to carefully portion out and track your fruit intake to make sure it fits into your total carb allowance for the day. “An apple, for example, contains about 20 grams of net carbs, so eating just one could max out all of your carbohydrates for the day,” she explains.

When you need something sweet, go for fruits as low in carbs and sugar as you can get your hands on. The following five fruits are your best bets for satisfying your sweet tooth without throwing yourself out of ketosis.

1. Berries

Small amounts of berries are commonly included in keto diets. “One cup of blackberries or raspberries contains between six and seven grams of net carbs,” says Hultin. Meanwhile, strawberries contain eight and blueberries contain 17. Hultin recommends sticking to half-cup servings to keep net carbs as low as possible.

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In addition to vitamin C and other antioxidants, berries also provide fiber, which can help ward off or alleviate the constipation many people experience on keto.

2. Avocado

Almost forgot avocado is a fruit, didn’t ya? “Avocado is a very keto-friendly fruit because it is so high in fat,” Hultin says. In fact, they’re 80 to 90 percent fat, which perfectly mimics a keto diet.

“One cup of sliced avocado contains just two grams of net carbs so it’s one to include at any meal and snack to boost fiber, B vitamins, and vitamin C,” she says. Add avocado to omelets or salads, or whip up a tasty homemade guac.

3. Watermelon

When the summer sun is beating down, keto-eaters will be happy to know that watermelon can fit into their diets. “Since watermelon has such a high water content, it will fill you up and help keep you hydrated,” says Dana Angelo White, R.D., A.T.C.

Related: 5 Mistakes People Make When They Go Keto

Still, keep portions to a minimum. One cup of diced watermelon contains 10 grams of net carbs, which isn’t so bad for a fruit, but can certainly mess with ketosis if you go overboard.

Honeydew and cantaloupe melons can also work on a keto diet—just keep in mind that they’re higher in net carbs, with about 14 grams per cup each.

4. Citrus

Don’t worry, the lemon and lime you put in your water are a-okay on a keto diet. Lemons and limes, in particular, provide vitamin C and other antioxidants for just four to five grams of net carbs, says Hultin.

Oranges and grapefruit, though? Proceed with caution. These citrus fruits contain three to four times as many net carbs and may not be as easy to fit into your daily limits.

5. Tomatoes

Technically a fruit, tomatoes are loaded with antioxidants like lycopene, along with vitamin C and other nutrients. Plus, fresh tomatoes (especially in the summer) are bursting with natural sweetness! One cup of cherry or grape tomatoes, for example, contains four grams of net carbs.

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

Keep in mind that green, orange, and yellow heirloom tomatoes are typically higher in carbs—and that packaged tomato products, like tomato sauce and ketchup, aren’t the same as whole tomatoes. A single tablespoon of ketchup for example, contains almost four grams of sugar. (And who ever uses just one tablespoon?)

To bring out tomatoes’ natural sweetness, White recommends roasting them. From there, you can add them to anything from salads to vegetable sides to proteins.

Consider this infographic your keto-friendly fruit grocery list:

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Why Personal Training Is So Worth The Expense To Me

The summer before I started college, one of my closest friends and I got student memberships at a fancy new fitness center in town. Like most gym memberships, ours came with a complimentary personal training session, which we were told would be the speediest, most efficient way to hit our goals. Our goal, at the time, was plain and simple: lose weight. Both of us had been overweight since we were kids and tried all manner of dicey diet techniques. As young adults, we were ready to go the pragmatic route: regular fitness and counting calories!

But there’s only so much you’re going to get out of a one-hour, introductory pow-wow. The gym’s management obviously hoped we’d be so convinced of our need to work with our trainers that we would end up buying a full package. As penny-pinching 18-year-olds, though, there was simply no way we were dropping even a few hundred bucks on personal training—no matter how much weight we wanted to lose that summer. 

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We thanked the trainers and considered their suggestions, which mostly revolved around adding strength training to our routines. In the end, though, we opted to be one another’s workout buddy, holding each other accountable by heading to the gym together at least three times a week and hopping on side-by-side ellipticals.

I remember dialing the resistance on the machine to seven. Every. Single. Time. And we did 30 minutes. Every. Single. Time. Who needed weights? Who needed a trainer? We were getting to the gym! Three times a week! Better yet, according to the digital screens on our elliptical machines, we were burning 300 calories in 30 minutes. 

Surprise, surprise: Neither of us hit our goals that summer. Sure, we lost a couple of pounds. We felt a bit more energetic. We were also proud of ourselves. After all, getting regular physical activity was better than—well, nothing. That said, any fitness professional will tell you that the body adapts fairly rapidly to an exercise routine. Cross-training throughout the week and constantly challenging yourself is a must if you don’t want to plateau.

Back then, the idea of plateauing wasn’t something I understood—or even wanted to understand. I was juggling schoolwork and a social life while trying to eat healthfully and get enough sleep. I felt like it was enough that I was getting a 30-minute elliptical or treadmill workout in regularly—until it became clear that it wasn’t enough. Not even close. 

My weight loss had stalled and I wasn’t really feeling those other benefits, like extra energy or confidence, anymore. That’s when I decided to apply for a desk job at a fancy fitness center. The job came with a free gym membership and discounted personal training sessions, and I immediately put those perks to use. 

My trainer at that gym would be the first of a few personal trainers I’ve worked with over the past 14 years. Each relationship began with a slightly different goal in mind. In college, I wanted someone to teach me about strength training and hold me accountable for doing it. And that’s exactly what she did. She kept me laughing and smiling through even the toughest sessions. 

Later on, after I moved to a different state, I wanted a workout buddy who I could learn from and have fun with, but also would be my rock—a sense of stability and familiarity—in a new city. My second trainer became exactly that, as well as a lifelong friend who opened my eyes to the connections between my mental, emotional, and physical wellness. 

Later, when I was preparing to walk down the aisle (and again in a new city), I wanted a trainer to challenge me in a way that delivered concrete, noticeable results. (Unconsciously, I also needed someone to talk to about my anxieties, stress, and fears.) My third trainer became much more like an older sister who would push me through sprints, guide me through corrective exercises when my discomfort flared, and offer a shoulder when I opened up about my at-times thrilling and other times heartbreaking personal life.  

When I moved yet again, as part of the separation from my spouse, I hoped a trainer could help me shed the weight and sadness that had piled on from several years of heavy emotional labor. I wanted her to tell me what to do so I could return to feeling strong, empowered, and comfortable in my own skin—a process that’s just as emotional as it is physical. In the past year that I’ve known and worked with this trainer, she’s managed to fulfill that need and become my role model, coach, and dear friend.

Every time I started working with a personal trainer, I would cite my desire to amp up my fitness level, maximize my gains, and be held accountable. Personal training definitely met those goals—and more. Ultimately, I’ve received so much more than inches off, sizes down, or pounds benched. 

By working out with these trainers, I’ve also received priceless guidance and friendship (this is probably because I tend to make my workout routine into a holistic experience involving my mind, body, and heart—and they were always along for the ride).

Though it can be pricey, having a personal trainer has always felt like I’ve had someone in my corner, cheering me on, making me feel supported in my endeavors in and outside of the gym. And I’ll never end up bored and plateauing on the elliptical ever again. That’s a win-win. 

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

Sniff These Scents To Curb Cravings, Lift Your Mood, And Even Debloat

This article was written by Cheryl Cromer and originally published in Amazing Wellness magazine.

When you’re tired or stressed, you’re more likely to get smacked with cravings and reach for unhealthy snacks. But what if simply smelling certain essential oils could help you think clearly, overcome those cravings, and stay on the healthy eating bandwagon?

The next time cravings threaten to derail your progress, turn to the following essential oils, which can help curb your appetite, boost your alertness,  and make you feel energized.

For Hanger, Try Citrus

Bergamot essential oil, which helps boost mood and sense of well-being, may help if emotional eating is undermining your diet. Studies also report that bergamot reduces the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to difficulty dropping stubborn belly fat. If you’re feeling particularly stressed, diffuse the essential oil to help you avoid mindless nibbling.

Studies have also discovered that the sweet aroma of grapefruit essential oil not only provides an instant mood lift, but that it contains a natural compound called nootkatone that can help diminish cravings. Simply inhaling this bright citrus oil can reinvigorate you so you can focus on your goals.

Lemon essential oil is another instant mood brightener. After all, who doesn’t perk up after a refreshing glass of lemonade or a squeeze of lemon in icy spring water? Diffuse some lemon essential oil when you need a pick-me-up or some extra motivation, or even add a few drops to your sports balm to relieve sore muscles after exercising.

(Though not a citrus oil, ginger essential oil can help soothe you if your cravings stem from stress.)

For Water Retention, Try Juniper And Cypress

Juniper essential oil and cypress essential oil are considered purifying because they help flush excess water out of the body. Combine one or both with grapefruit essential oil for an uplifting aromatic massage blend.

For Cravings, Try Rosemary And Peppermint

The culinary herbs rosemary and peppermint enhance flavors and elevate mood, and their essential oils are equally as uplifting. One scientific study reports that, when inhaled every two hours, peppermint even goes a step further and lowers hunger levels.

When the urge to overeat strikes, simply diffuse rosemary or peppermint and breathe deeply.

Want to blend up the ultimate diffusion to support your weight-loss efforts? Try this concoction:

How To Safely Enjoy Essential Oils

Essential oils are best used as aromatics or applied to the skin topically. Even the purest organic oils can be toxic if swallowed. If you have sensitive skin, do a skin patch test before blending up massage oil by applying a small amount of essential oil to a small patch of skin and looking out for any irritation.

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What Happened When I Swapped My Usual Pre-Workout For Beets

As a personal trainer, I’ve experimented with all sorts of sports nutrition supplements—from pre-workouts, to amino acids, to protein powders, to creatine—in order to my support my progress in the weight room. But it wasn’t until I started training for endurance running and obstacle course racing that a new and surprising performance-booster came onto my radar: beets.

I got absolutely hooked on racing after college (I finished more than 40 road and obstacle course events in four years), so when I saw elite athletes like Ryan Atkins and Amelia Boone touting the benefits of beets for race performance all over social media, I had to give them a try.

The Beet Backstory 

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Beets? As in, the vegetable? Well, hear me out.

Beets may not seem like the ultimate workout-booster, but in addition to potassium and fiber, they’re packed with a compound called nitrate. While, yes, nitrate is found in processed meats like bacon that can produce carcinogens when smoked or fried, we don’t do that to beets. Instead, when we eat beets—whether chopped on a salad, blended in a smoothie, or as a supplement—our body converts those nitrates into nitric oxide (N.O.), which dilates our blood vessels and increases blood flow (and the transportation of oxygen and nutrients) throughout our bodies.

What does that mean for your workouts? A notable performance and endurance boost. One Journal of Applied Physiology study, for example, found that people who regularly drank beetroot juice before exercising were able to improve their maximum cardio output (called VO2 max) and endurance significantly more than those who took a placebo. The researchers found that the beet drinkers’ muscles used ATP (chemical energy) more efficiently, so the beet juice-drinkers needed less oxygen to perform, which is why they were able to go harder and longer.

Additonally, that nitric oxide-induced increase in blood flow can contribute to ‘muscle pump,’ the appearance of larger, more defined muscles that often comes with an intense strength-training session—a look treasured by many a fitness enthusiast.

Trying Beets For The First Time

When I first started using beets for endurance racing, I would mix about a scoop of beetroot powder with water before training runs and races (which varied from three to 15 miles). The supplement helped my runs feel all-around smoother. In other words, I was more alert (better circulation means more oxygen to the brain, too, after all), could breathe more easily, and didn’t notice the distance as much. Who knew a little extra blood flow could make such a difference?

Before obstacle course races, I took either some beet powder, NAC (a precursor to the antioxidant glutathione), BCAAs (often Cellucor Alpha Aminos), or a combination of all three, for a boost of the endurance, strength, and focus I’d need to run through rocky terrain, jump over logs, and swing from bars.

Taking Beets Into The Gym

After a couple of years of racing constantly, a few injuries forced me to dial back on the endurance training, so my current routine consists mostly of strength training, group fitness classes, and a little hot yoga. As racing took a back seat, so did my beet-y pre-workout routine.

I started using caffeinated pre-workouts—like BPI Sports 1MR or Cellucor C4 Ultimate—to pump me up before hitting the weights or a class, and downing a coffee or energy drink later in the day as I powered through personal training sessions. It was a recipe for a caffeine dependency—and after one day without coffee left me with a splitting headache, I started to wonder if beets could help me kick the habit without sacrificing my performance in the gym and energy throughout the workday.

Related: 5 Of The Most Hardcore Pre-Workouts Out There

To wean myself off the caffeine, I mixed a scoop of Nu Therapy Power Beets beet powder into a little bit of Berry Splash BPI Sports 1MR (which actually contains 500 milligrams of beets per serving itself). The beets didn’t affect the color or flavor, and I still had enough caffeine to feel alert and power through a cardio- and core-heavy Daily Burn 365 workout.

A few days later, I attended a coaching workshop about barbell lifting technique. Knowing I’d be lifting some heavy weights, I again mixed a scoop of beetroot powder into some 1MR and sipped my concoction between every set. Though I was tired from a long night out and a morning of training clients, I felt pretty alert. I even hit 245 pounds on the bench press and 115 pounds on the overhead press, and held solid form throughout all of my sets.

A few days after that, I finally took the powdered beets on their own before heading to a hot yoga class. Though I usually found myself breathing heavily during these extra-hot flows, I felt in control and at ease.

The True Test

After knocking my caffeine dependence down a few notches and seeing initial results from the beets, I was ready to power a lifting session with beets and beets alone. I mixed myself up a cocktail of two scoops of beetroot powder, half a cup of Dynamic Health Beetroot Juice, and four ounces of water.

I downed my brightly-colored drink before hitting a high-volume chest and arms day—and hit a personal record on the dumbbell bench press! The beets totally mimicked a typical pre-workout, complete with ‘tunnel vision,’ ‘intense pumps,’ and ‘vascular’ veins. And I didn’t even need caffeine! I couldn’t believe it. I was so focused on my workout, it was like I was the only one in the gym. As my music bumped through my ears, I found myself in a total flow state, and banged out my sets and reps like they were nothing. It was a feeling I associated with being pumped up on regular pre-workout, but now courtesy of a simple, purple-y root vegetable.

Outside of my own workouts, I even started drinking beet juice before long days of training clients. It helped me keep my energy levels high all day long (which really says something considering I go pretty much rep-for-rep with my clients), as long as I’d gotten a decent night of sleep. On sleepy days, I either doubled up on beets with one of those beetroot cocktails or added some caffeine back into the mix for an extra bump. Still, I felt good about finding a new, all-natural way to up my energy.

The Verdict

Though I knew beets could help me get through long runs, I didn’t expect them to work such magic in the weight room, leave me with such a strong, satisfying pump, or help me stay energized throughout the day without worshiping caffeine.

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Now that beets are back in my life, I’ll continue to take them before group fitness classes and bodybuilding workouts. Of course, should I hop back into any endurance racing, I’ll turn to these ruby roots then, too. Even if I do take caffeine when I really need it, I feel good knowing that I’m still boosting circulation and loading up on antioxidants by incorporating beets into my routine. As long as I’m taking supplements to support my fitness (which will probably be forever), beets will hold a spot at the top of my list.

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6 Possible Reasons Why You’re So Constipated

Few things are quite as frustrating and uncomfortable as not being able to go—but plenty of people deal with the issue every day. In fact, according to the American Gastroenterological Association, 16 percent of Americans are chronically constipated, meaning they pass fewer than three stools a week.  

On top of the stress and discomfort, chronic constipation can cause a good deal of health problems. “Toxins and other metabolites recirculate and can contribute to concerns like hormone imbalance, weight gain, skin breakouts, headaches, fatigue, hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and more,” explains New York City-based naturopathic doctor Serena Goldstein, N.D.

Here are six of the most common culprits behind constipation—and what you can do to get things moving.

1. You Don’t Eat Enough Fiber

For an average 2,000-calorie diet, the American Heart Association recommends you get 25 grams of fiber a day—but most Americans only manage to rack up 15 grams. “Soluble fiber feeds the good bacteria in the gut and allows water to remain in your stool—making it softer and easier to pass—while insoluble fiber helps move things through by adding bulk,” explains Goldstein.

The Solution: Slowly increase your fiber intake by incorporating more plant foods into your diet. “Fiber is found in plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, the very foods we encourage to support all aspects of health,” says dietitian Rachel Begun, R.D.N.

Begun recommends eating a wide variety of plant foods to provide your digestive system with different types of fiber. To meet your needs, eat at least two servings of fruits and vegetables with each meal and at least one with each snack. (In other words: Include fruits and veggies every time you eat.)

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Incorporating more legumes, nuts, and seeds—which provide both fiber and protein—into your diet can also help you reach your fiber needs, says Begun. Legumes make a great addition to any soup or salad, while nuts and seeds are easy to add to baked goods or grind to make breading for proteins like fish.

If you’re struggling to get in those 25 grams of fiber daily, a fiber supplement can help you up your intake. Most supplements offer about five grams per serving and can easily be mixed into water or added to smoothies.

2. You’re Not Drinking Enough Water

Fiber aside, dehydration is one of the most common causes of constipation out there. “Even if people think they’re getting enough water, urinating, pooping, sweating, and drinking alcohol or anything caffeinated can contribute to dehydration,” says Goldstein. Water keeps stools soft, which makes it easier for them to pass through the colon.

The Solution: Goldstein recommends keeping a glass of eight to 16 ounces of water on your nightstand and drinking it as soon as you wake up in the morning so you start the day with water in your system. If you’re not a huge H20 lover, infuse it with lemon or fruit to up its appeal. Begun also recommends ‘eating your water’ by loading up on fruits and vegetables that have an especially high concentration of it, such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, citrus, and melon.

In combination with a high-fiber diet, drinking more water has been shown to boost regularity—so these two tips couldn’t be more important.

3. You’re On Certain Medications

Some prescription drugs, such as narcotics, tricyclic antidepressants, anti-cholinergics, can cause constipation, says board-certified gastroenterologist Samantha Nazareth, M.D.

The Solution: Regular exercise and a fiber-filled diet may help those on certain medications ‘go’ more regularly, but if constipation is a regular issue, Nazareth recommends reviewing your treatment plan with your physician.

4. You Take Calcium Or Iron Supplements

In addition to medications, if your supplement regimen includes and iron and/or calcium supplement, you may also find yourself struggling more than usual on the toilet. Iron can pull water out of the large intestine and cause discomfort and constipation, while calcium (which helps muscles—including those along your digestive tract—contract) can contribute to constipation if taken without magnesium (which helps muscles relax).

The Solution: Get as much of your daily calcium and iron needs through food as possible, recommends Goldstein. For calcium, think quality dairy, greens in the cabbage family (like kale and mustard greens), or tofu. For iron, go for meat and dark leafy greens.

A tip when supplementing: “Gradually work your way up to the recommended dosage, split up your dose throughout the course of the day, and drink lots of water,” says Goldstein.

5. You’re Stressed Out

Research has linked mood and anxiety disorders with constipation, but even just being plain stressed out can contribute to the issue. “Stress puts your system into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode—meaning it thinks there’s a crazy tiger about to eat you—in which the sympathetic nervous system becomes activated,” explains Nazareth. When the sympathetic nervous system is ‘turned on,’ digestion becomes less of a priority, and you may experience constipation.

The Solution: Consider trying yoga, meditation, and/or regular exercise to help you manage stress, advises Nazareth. Yoga specifically may address the culprit behind stress-induced constipation: Research has shown that by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, it produces a physiological state opposite to that of the flight-or-fight stress response.

6. Your Hormones Are Out-Of-Whack

If your thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that produces metabolism-regulating hormones, is sluggish (a condition called hypothyroidism), you’re likely to deal with some constipation, says Nazareth. That’s because low stores of thyroid hormones slow movement of the intestines.

Related: Could You Have A Thyroid Issue?

Fluctuations of the hormones that are involved in premenstrual syndrome (PMS), like progesterone, can also have the same effect.

The Solution: If constipation is a persistent issue, check in with your doctor about having your thyroid function checked.

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6 Calcium-Packed Foods That Aren’t Dairy

One of the major reasons your mom made you drink milk as a kid was for the calcium, the mineral your body needs for proper muscle, nerve, and blood function, and healthy, strong bones.

With an average glass of milk providing 300 milligrams of the calcium (30 percent of our 1,000-milligram daily needs), dairy is by far the richest source of the mineral we can put on our plates and in our glasses. Unfortunately, though, milk, cheese, and other dairy foods leave many of our stomachs in shambles.

Forgoing calcium isn’t an option if you want healthy bones and muscles, but there are non-dairy sources out there. Here are your six best options, each of which offers about 10 percent (or more!) of your daily calcium needs per serving. With a little mixing and matching, you can absolutely get your fill.

1. Figs

Looking to switch up your snacks? “Swap out your afternoon apple or banana for half a cup of dried figs, which delivers almost 250 milligrams of calcium for just 145 calories,” says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D. Not to mention, they contain plenty of fiber to keep you regular.

You can find dried figs in the bulk section of the grocery store year-round, and they’re delicious in both sweet and savory dishes. Add them to trail mix, stir them into yogurt, or slice them to top toast along with a spread of goat cheese, ricotta, or burrata.

 2. Canned Salmon

While three ounces of grilled salmon steak provide just 24 milligrams of calcium, an equal serving of canned salmon provides 183 milligrams of the bone-strengthening, muscle-boosting mineral (about 18 percent of your daily needs). Why the difference? Canned salmon contains the bones, which soften over time and provide an extra boost of calcium. In addition to calcium, this fish also offers heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and plenty of protein, says Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D., C.L.T., C.P.T.

Related: 5 Nutrients That Are Good For Your Heart—Other Than Fish Oil

Shaw recommends using canned salmon as a protein-packed salad topper, in sandwiches, or just eating it straight out of the can with a few whole-wheat crackers.

 3. Chia Seeds

Along with healthy fats, protein, and fiber, an ounce of chia seeds also offers 179 milligrams of calcium.

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“Try adding chia seeds to your morning smoothie or afternoon fruit parfait to enjoy the benefits of a delicious and nutritious snack,” says Shaw. These babies make any recipe more satiating—and add a bit of texture to anything creamy.

4. Edamame

“With 10 percent (100 milligrams) of your daily calcium needs and almost 20 grams of muscle-building protein in one cup, edamame is a bone-boosting snack that’s ready in less than a minute,” says Rizzo, who suggests stashing a bag in the freezer to microwave up when hunger strikes.

You’ll also find roasted edamame—often in a variety of flavors—in many snack aisles these days, if you’re looking for a satisfying snack that packs some crunch. Rizzo also recommends adding edamame to salads and making veggie burgers with the beans.

5. White Beans

“While I love to encourage consumption of all varieties of plant proteins, like beans and lentils, white beans are actually one of the highest in calcium,” says Shaw. Half a cup cooked provides just shy of 100 milligrams of the mineral.

Pair white beans with your leafy greens and chicken breast for dinner, or toss a serving into a homemade soup, chili, or salad.

6. Almonds

“A quarter cup of almonds offers about 80 milligrams of calcium—a little less than 10 percent of your daily needs,” says Rizzo. Even though they’re a little lower in calcium, almonds are still a great, nutritious snack, and provide protein, healthy fats, and fiber to fill you up and kick cravings to the curb.

Related: 8 Nutrition Myths That Hurt Dietitians’ Feelings

Add almonds to homemade trail mixes, toss a handful of whole, chopped, or sliced nuts into chia seed pudding, acai smoothies, oatmeal, and salads and veggie sides, or use ground almonds as breading for chicken or fish.


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Some People’s Brains Are Better At Sticking To Diets, Says Study

Most people won’t argue that dieting requires a certain amount of willpower. But in a battle between willpower and pizza after a long day at work, willpower often gets its butt kicked. It’s nothing to shame yourself over—especially since your ability to pass on that pizza may be pre-determined by your brain, according to science.

Your Brain And Dieting

You see, your brain is made up of two different kinds of matter: gray matter, where most of your brain’s activity occurs, and white matter, which controls the nerve signals that travel up and down the spinal cord. According to a study recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience, people with more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain just behind your forehead) may actually have more self-control when it comes to making healthy food choices.

“The prefrontal cortex is very generally involved in decision-making, with dietary decisions just being one of them,” explains study author Hilke Plassmann, Ph.D., Chaired Professor of Decision Neuroscience at INSEAD in France. “Other studies show this system is also important for decisions about which car to buy, which stock to invest in, which partner to date, and to which charity to donate to.”

The Study

Researchers looked at two specific parts of the prefrontal cortex that have been linked to self-control: the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Using MRI images, they studied how participants’ brains responded when they were asked to consider either the healthiness or taste of a certain food (like a yogurt or a cookie), or to just make a decision naturally, before rating how much they wanted to eat it. Those who gave healthier foods higher ratings were deemed to have stronger self-control, and the MRIs showed that those people had more gray matter in their prefrontal cortices.

Related: The Best Ways To Get Back In The Zone After Slacking On Diet And Exercise

Then, once again using MRI imaging, the researchers presented a second set of people with images of different foods, and told them to ‘distance’ themselves from the food, ‘indulge’ in it, or make decisions naturally before choosing how much they would pay to eat that food. Here, too, more gray matter was linked to more self-control.

While the study didn’t determine exactly the precise roles the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex play in dietary decision making, other imaging studies suggest that the vmPFC is involved in our consideration of the information we use to determine how we value a food option overall (such as taste and healthiness), says Plassmann. The dlPFC, meanwhile, seems to be more involved in the actual implementation of self-control.

What That Means For You

We know what you’re wondering: Can you boost your self-control by increasing the amount of gray matter in those two prefrontal cortex areas? Maybe. “A new technique called ‘neurofeedback’ [a type of electronic therapy that uses visual and auditory cues to modulate brain activity and thus behavior] has been shown to alter gray matter volume, in some cases,” says Plassman. “Our findings suggest that if and when they are perfected, neurofeedback modalities targeting the vmPFC and dlPFC could potentially help people with self-control issues improve their eating habits. However, this question remains to be studied by future research, and our results only hint at this possibility.”

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In the meantime, you can learn to exercise what nutritionist Alice Figueroa, R.D.N. calls “positive self-control” to establish and stick to a healthy diet. “Positive self-control requires us develop a nurturing relationship to food that is centered around three things,” she says. “First: self-regulation, which you can achieve by setting high-level goals like maintaining a healthy weight. Second: self-efficacy, or having confidence and optimism about your ability to reach your goals. And third: body appreciation, which should be self-explanatory!”

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Why I NEVER Miss A Workout—No Matter How Busy I Get

I work as a writer, professor, model, fortune teller, dancer, and yoga teacher (yep—seriously!), so as you can probably imagine, my schedule is chaotic. It can be hard to pin down a solid fitness routine, never mind a time to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

On top of that, I’m super-fussy about where I exercise (no gyms or groups—I’d rather sweat alone!), when I work out (no early mornings), and how I work out (no high-impact moves—I have fibromyalgia).

All of my quirks, needs, and preferences considered, you would think I’d never work out. However, in the spirit of my contrary nature, I actually prioritize it. My one-hour daily workout, no matter what it is or when it is, is a crucial part of my wellness routine these days.

When I was younger, I was very active as a gymnast. I felt strong, energetic, and light. But when injuries prevented me from going further with my gymnastics practice, I fell off the exercise wagon and quickly succumbed to fatigue, depression, and weight gain that didn’t feel right for my frame.

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Years later, when I started exercising again, I began to shake off that fog of exhaustion, and felt my muscles and energy returning. The benefits of movement were just too good to ignore, and because I wanted to feel better (and manage my fibromyalgia), I really needed to make sure I was taking care of myself. I wanted to feel strong and capable in my everyday life.

To start prioritizing exercise again, it came down to figuring out what worked for me (while using some creative problem-solving to satisfy my complications and demands). I decided to go for things I liked that didn’t aggravate my nerve pain. My go-to workouts became pretty adventurous and eclectic: I now practice yoga, go biking and walking, dance (pole or barre), and do Pilates. I also sometimes utilize small weights and resistance bands to build strength and tone, and I try to balance my workouts between flexibility and strength. I use my arms as much as my legs so that I’m getting a full-body workout, and I always engage my core as much as possible.

And then there’s the rebounder trampoline I recently bought, which was truly one of the best decisions I have ever made. It provides a source of fun, low-impact cardio that improves (rather than aggravates) my health conditions.

For me, this diversity is key, because it keeps me from getting bored (since I am often working out at home and distractions do abound). Regularity is also important. Once I began carving out one single hour for myself—every single day, no matter the time—it became second nature. I started looking forward to that hour that’s just for me—no emails or social media or work. Deciding to create time for yourself is a powerful move.

Related: 6 Life-Changing Things I Learned When I Started Working Out Regularly

To combat boredom—and to prevent myself from feeling like my workouts are a chore—I came up with a simple (and helpful!) rule: If I haven’t gotten my workout in and I want to binge on Netflix or listen to a podcast, then I need to be doing something—anything!—while I enjoy it. I might bounce on the trampoline or do some yoga while I watch a documentary, or do some jumping jacks while watching Star Trek (which ends up feeling like I’m flying through space). When I’m watching or listening to something funny, juicy, or riveting, I’m more likely to work out for an even longer period of time—without noticing! Plus, doing this is like a double-whammy of awesome endorphins.

In the end, I’ve found that it’s not so much about having a specific routine, but knowing what will work for me and my schedule—even if it’s not entirely ideal—and making it happen. The most important thing is that I’m trying every day, and feeling stronger, lighter, and more determined to care for my body.

5 Common Health Issues That Trace Back To The Gut

The moment we’re born, bacteria start setting up camp in our intestines. By the time we’re grown, our gut houses trillions of these tiny, single-cell organisms, which do everything from signal our body to digest food, fight bad bacteria and pathogens, and break down cholesterol.

In recent years, we’ve learned that these bacteria (collectively known as our ‘gut microbiome’) affect a whole lot more than whether we feel gassy or bloated. “There have been so many studies in the last few years that link the microbiome with all sorts of diseases, disorders, and health issues that you wouldn’t think are connected to your gut at all,” says Daniel Almonacid, Ph.D., Vice President of Research and Development at uBiome, maker of microbiome testing kits.

Below are five common health issues that trace back to your gut, along with expert recommendations for nourishing your microbiome (and overall well-being!).

1. Depression

“So many factors influence depression and mood disorders, but our guts are proving to be one of those factors,” according to Mahmoud A. Ghannoum, Ph.D., one of the most sought-after gut health experts in the world (he coined the term ‘mycobiome,’ which refers to the fungus and yeast in the gut). Though research is still developing, animal studies have found that a lack of bacteria diversity and overall vitality in the gut microbiome is “strongly associated with mood-relating behaviors, including major depressive disorder,” according to a 2018 review published in the Reviews in the Neuroscience.

Related: Can Your Diet Make You Depressed?

“The relationship between mood disorders and the gut is complex, but people with depression have been shown to have disturbances in their gut microbiome, specifically an increase in inflammation,” says Ghannoum. Much of the immune system is housed in the gut, and some research suggests that depression is primarily an inflammatory condition (meaning it’s caused by immune dysfunction).

Additionally, a 2016 meta-analysis and review published in Nutrients says that the healthy bacteria in our gut play a noteworthy role in immune function and influence our overall well-being, linking probiotic supplementation with a reduction in mood issues in people under the age of 60. Ghannoum recommends that those dealing with low mood add a probiotic to their routine and take up a meditation or mindfulness practice, which have been shown to stimulate the expression of anti-inflammatory genes.

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The ‘gut-brain axis,’ a series of nerves that runs directly between our gut and brain and passes signals back and forth between the two, may also play a role in mood issues, says Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. The ‘feel-good hormone’ serotonin, for example, is actually produced in our digestive tract—and changes in its production and function have been implicated in mood disorders.

2. Anxiety

As with depression, the link between gut health and anxiety is also now being explored in preliminary animal studies. Thus far, the research suggests the gut-anxiety connection may stem from the relationship between our microbiome and gene regulators in the brain called microRNAs (miRNAs), which have been implicated in anxiety- and fear-based behaviors.

One study published in the journal Microbiome found that mice that grew up in a normal environment and had well-colonized microbiomes typically displayed normal miRNA function, while mice raised in sterile conditions—which hindered microbiome development—displayed dysfunctional miRNA activity in the pre-frontal cortex and amygdala. Interestingly, when researchers colonized the mice’s guts with healthy bacteria, their miRNA function normalized.

The influence of the gut microbiome on mirRNAs is important because “these miRNAs may affect physiological processes that are fundamental to the functioning of the central nervous system and in brain regions […] which are heavily implicated in anxiety and depression,” said lead researcher Gerard Clarke Ph.D., M.Sc., of the APC Microbiome Institute at University College Cork in a press release.

3. Obesity

Because they affect everything from digestion and how your body absorbs nutrients to feelings of hunger and satiety, the bacteria in your gut also play an integral role in weight management, says Axe. One study published in Gut, for example, found that increasing propionate (a chemical produced by the microbiome) increased levels of satiety hormones and warded off weight gain in overweight adults.

A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism also identified a connection between four specific strains of intestinal bacteria (BlautiaDoreaRuminococcus, and SHA) and weight. The researchers analyzed the gut microbiomes and stool samples of over 600 people, and identified that differing levels of those four specific strains of gut bacteria, along with 19 other compounds, explained their varying BMIs, suggesting a relationship between these compounds, the gut microbiome, and obesity. “This means that future studies should focus more on how the composition of gut bacteria can be modified to reduce the risk of obesity and associated metabolic and cardiovascular diseases,” said study co-author Marju Orho-Melander, Ph.D. in a press release.

Experts agree that more research is needed to better understand how our gut microbiota influence our weight before probiotic supplements can be used as a preventative measure. However, Ghannoum does have some advice: “The same tips given to most people who need to lose weight are the same tips I give for improving gut health. Eat a wide variety of real foods.” After all, a well-nourished microbiome is a thriving microbiome.

4. Skin Diseases

In addition to the brain-gut axis, a concept known as the skin-gut axis is also emerging, says Ghannoum. “The intestinal microbiome relates to skin health in a complex communication network between the immune system, endocrine system, metabolic system, and nervous system,” says one review published in World Journal of Dermatology.

Essentially, this means inflammation that may occur because of imbalances in the gut microbiome can also manifest in skin diseases like rosacea, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis.

One study published in Clinical Gastroenterology, for example, linked small intestine bacterial overgrowth (or ‘SIBO,’ which occurs when bacteria, residual food and bowel secretions, and digestive enzymes don’t move from the small intestine to the colon properly, and build up to an excess in the small intestine) with rosacea. When study participants (who had both SIBO and rosacea) were given antibiotics to address their SIBO, not only did the excess bacteria clear up, but the rosacea did, too.

As research develops, experts are addressing inflammatory skin issues by recommending a holistic approach to improving overall gut health. “A well-rounded diet and healthy lifestyle are the two most important factors when it comes to gut health, and therefore the gut-skin axis,” says Axe. “Nutrient-rich whole foods nourish the gut, while ultra-processed junk and chemical-laden artificial sweeteners disrupt it. And though research is still limited, some studies suggest that taking probiotics can enhance gut health and support healthy skin.” Axe’s recommendation: Eat well, minimize stress, and get plenty of physical activity and sleep.

5. Diabetes

According to Almonacid, a healthy gut microbiome may also help control blood sugar and mediate our risk of developing diabetes. In fact, though there’s much research to be done, decreased microbiome diversity has actually been linked with increased incidence of type 2 diabetes.

After measuring more than 800 people’s blood sugar levels (a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes), the researchers behind one Cell study found that the same meal elicited different blood sugar responses in different people (even when factors like age were taken into account) and suggested that the differences in the participants’ gut microbiomes influenced their abilities to respond to an influx of blood sugar. The study authors propose that diets designed to bolster the microbiome can influence the body’s ability to manage blood sugar, which would help healthy individuals avoid the disease and those with the disease better manage it.

Research also suggests the inflammation and dysfunction involved in type 1 diabetes may be related to the gut, with one Cell Host & Microbe study showing that infants predisposed to type 1 diabetes experienced a sudden drop in microbiome diversity, an uptick in inflammatory bacteria, and changes in gene behavior and stool content just before developing the disease.

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6 Skin-Rejuvenating Face Masks You Could Also Eat For Breakfast

No doubt we all love a night at home with a good book, candle-lit bath, and luxurious face mask—but the cost of department store beauty can leave us high and dry. The good news: With a little creativity—and a well-stocked kitchen—you can whip up your own similarly effective masks at barely any cost.

Here, beauty experts share the all-natural face mask recipes they rely on to keep their skin clear, healthy, and glowing. Bonus: You can find all of the ingredients in your kitchen!

1. Cooling And Reviving Cucumber-Avocado Mask

– 1 cucumber
– 2 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt
– 1 Tbsp avocado

1. Slice the cucumber into half-inch-thick rounds and purée in the blender
2. Pour the cucumber purée into a small bowl
3. Mix in the avocado and yogurt
4. Apply the blend to your face and relax for 15 to 20 minutes

Benefits: This mask is full of healthy fats, vitamins and antioxidants, which is why it’s a favorite of professional makeup artist and SkinOwl founder, Annie Tevelin. “Avocados are great for moisturizing your skin while reducing redness and calming flare-ups,” she explains. “Cucumber is not only cooling, but it’s also chock-full of skin-boosting nutrients, including vitamin C and caffeic acid.” Since cucumbers have such high water content, they also help moisturize your skin—plus their peels contain silica, which supports supple, youthful skin. And the Greek yogurt? It contains lactic acid, which can help break down dead skin cells and minimize the appearance of pores.

Related: Whip Up This Turmeric Face Mask For A Complexion Pick-Me-Up

2. Moisturizing Banana And Cucumber Mask

– ½ cucumber
– ½ banana, skin on
– 1 Tbsp honey
– 4 Tbsp lemon juice
– ½ tsp extra-virgin olive oil

1. Blend the cucumber and banana (skin included) together in a food processor or blender
2. Stir in the honey, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil until you have a smooth consistency
3. Transfer the paste into a small bowl and use your hands to apply an even layer over a clean face and neck, avoiding the eye area
4. Lie down for 30 minutes and let the mask work into your skin
5. Wash off with lukewarm water and pat skin dry with a towel

Benefits: “Banana skin contains high amounts of vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, as well as magnesium and potassium—all fantastic ingredients for promoting clear, glowing skin,” says Tevelin. (Each of these nutrients supports cell function.) While the honey and olive oil act as humectants and keep your skin moisturized, the lemon juice helps exfoliate away dead skin cells and brighten your complexion. Tevelin loves this mask for those with dry but acne-prone skin.

3. Breakout-Banishing Face Mask

– 1 tsp raw apple cider vinegar
– 2 tsp green tea
– 5 tsp brown sugar
– 1 tsp honey

1. Brew the green tea and let cool
2. Mix the tea with raw apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and honey
3. Stir until the mixture becomes thick
4. Apply the mixture onto your face and massage gently (skip the massage if acne-prone)
5. Let sit for 10 minutes and rinse skin with warm water

Benefits: This mask is stacked with all-star ingredients. “Apple cider vinegar contains alpha hydroxy acids that exfoliate and remove dead skin cells to reveal the healthy and vibrant skin underneath,” explains Tevelin. The brown sugar also helps physically exfoliate the skin, while also locking in moisture. Meanwhile, the green tea offers antioxidants called catechins, which fight free radicals, and honey soothes skin. Tevelin recommends using this one once a week to support a clear complexion.

4. Exfoliating Brown Sugar Mask

– ¼ cup honey
– ½ cup brown sugar
– ¼ cup milk
– 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1. Place the honey and brown sugar in a small mixing bowl and mix well
2. Mix in the extra-virgin olive oil and then the milk
3. Store in an airtight container in the fridge

Benefits: This calming mask is great for exfoliating sensitive skin, says celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas. The lactic acid from the milk helps resurface the skin, while the olive oil offers a dose of moisture, she says. Massage the mask onto skin using circular motions for a few minutes and then let it sit for an additional 10 before rinsing off.

5. Total Hydration Mask

– 2 Tbsp honey
– 2 Tbsp avocado
– 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 mango

1. Cut the mango into small cubes and mash in a small bowl
2. Add the avocado, honey, and extra-virgin olive oil and mix well with a fork
3. Apply and leave on for 15 to 20 minutes

Benefits: If you want to hydrate without risking a breakout, honey is the all-natural ingredient for you, says Vargas. “Meanwhile, avocado, with its omega 3-fatty acids and B vitamins, also helps restore the skin’s lipid layer,” she adds. Lastly, mango, which is loaded with vitamin C, brightens the skin.

6. Pigmentation Perfecting Mask

– 1 red grapefruit
– ½ cup cooked oatmeal
– 1 cup milk

1. Slice the grapefruit in half and scoop the insides into a bowl
2. Mash the grapefruit well
3. Add in the cooked oatmeal and milk and mix well
4. Apply to cleansed skin and leave on for 15 minutes

Benefits: This mask simultaneously soothes and renews. While oatmeal is famous for its soothing properties, milk both soothes and exfoliates, says Vargas. And the grapefruit, of course, is loaded with antioxidants to help renew skin. Try this one if your skin needs some TLC after a night of drinking, or just an overall pick-me-up.

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5 Supplements That Help Your Body Detox

This article was written by Kim Erickson and originally published in Amazing Wellness magazine.

The liver. It’s not something that most of us routinely think about, but it’s actually the largest internal organ in the body—and responsible for breaking down contaminants that come our way so they can be escorted from the body. In a world filled with toxins, the liver is our body’s garbage collector.

Ideally, the liver could process all of the toxins we encounter—but due to the sheer volume of industrial chemicals and pollutants that we are exposed to today, it can have trouble keeping up. The following herbs and nutrients support the organ’s detoxification mechanisms while optimizing overall function.

1. Amla Fruit Extract

Also known as Indian gooseberry, amla is one of the most important foods in Ayurvedic medicine, largely because of its antioxidant properties. High in phytochemicals (plant compounds that act as antioxidants), amla has been shown to help the body fight off the toxic effects of many industrial chemicals, heavy metals, and pharmaceutical drugs. Amla is also one of the richest natural sources of vitamin C out there.

Try: Himalaya Herbal Healthcare Amla caplets

2. Glutathione

Glutathione is the most powerful antioxidant made by the body, and it’s found in the highest levels in the liver. Often called “the master antioxidant,” glutathione is made up of three amino acidscysteine, glycine, and glutamine. Along with squashing free radicals in the liver, glutathione plays a critical role in the second phase of the body’s two-step detoxification process.

Try: The Vitamin Shoppe Reduced Glutathione

3. Milk Thistle Extract

Perhaps the best-known herb for liver support, milk thistle gets its power from an active compound called silymarin, a polyphenol that scavenges damaging free radicals. What’s more, milk thistle boosts the activity of the body’s own antioxidants, such as glutathione. Studies suggest it also stimulates new liver cell production and prevents glutathione depletion.( Artichoke, which is related to the milk thistle plant, is another liver-protective herb.)

Try: Nature’s Answer Milk Thistle Seed Extract

4. Burdock Root

Another liver-specific herb, burdock is rich in iron, calcium, and vitamin C, stimulates bile flow, and protects and tonifies the liver. One study in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine found that burdock defends against potentially harmful toxins from our environment, while Taiwanese researchers have found that burdock root also helps the liver cope with chronic alcohol consumption.

Try: Nature’s Way Burdock Root

5. Chlorella

Chlorella is a single-celled, freshwater algae that has survived on the earth for more than two billion years, thanks to its fibrous outer wall. Though this wall is indigestible to humans, scientists have been able to break it down and release chlorella’s natural ability to bind toxins and heavy metals through a process called ‘chelation.’ Chlorella also boasts a wealth of nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, minerals, essential fatty acids, and fiber.

Try: Green Foods Organic Chlorella

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7 Signs You Have A Vitamin D Deficiency

We all need a variety of nutrients to fuel our bodies and live our best lives, yet many of us regularly fall short on a number of those nutrients. Of particular concern in recent years: our lack of vitamin D.

According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin D levels in Americans have declined significantly in the past few decades. It makes sense, considering how much time we spend indoors. Our skin converts the sun’s UVB rays into vitamin D, but most people’s office environments and daily commutes limit their direct exposure to that natural light. And even when we’re outside, we’re using sunscreen to protect our skin from damage. On top of that, few foods contain vitamin D and our ability to produce vitamin D declines as we age. Not an ideal slew of circumstances.

The vitamin D we produce when exposed to sunlight is technically a hormone, not a vitamin—but since we don’t get enough sun to produce what we need (and can’t fulfill our needs with food) it’s been added to many fortified foods and become a popular supplement, and is now known as a vitamin.

The D we produce or consume is first broken down in the liver and then again in the kidneys. From there, it optimizes calcium absorption to support healthy bones and regulates phosphorous, which is key for cellular function in just about every tissue in the body, making vitamin D important for muscle health, mood and well-being, memory, heart function, and more, explains Arti Lakhani, M.D., Director of Integrative Oncology at AMITA Health Cancer Institute in Illinois. Experts have also recently learned that immune cells have vitamin D receptors, indicating that the vitamin is also crucial for immune function. Not to mention, it’s been shown to support breast, prostate, and colon cell function, as well as the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin. All pretty important stuff.

A blood test is the only true gauge of a vitamin D deficiency, but there are a number of signs and symptoms that can indicate you’re running low.

1. You Get Sick All The Time

Feel like you’re coming down with different illnesses left and right? A vitamin D deficiency could be to blame. One All India Institute of Medical Sciences review of 12 observational studies found that children with lower levels of vitamin D had higher instances of lower respiratory tract infections.  The resulting theory: Vitamin D may affect the body’s response to infections.

Another review, published in PLoS One, meanwhile, found that supplementing with vitamin D could have an immunoprotective effect. After evaluating 11 studies, the researchers found that participants who supplemented with vitamin D had lower instances of respiratory tract infections than those who took a placebo, suggesting that vitamin D supplementation can bolster the immune system.

2. You’re Exhausted

A never-ending energy slump may be another sign of a vitamin D deficiency. One case study published in Springer Plus, for example, followed a 61-year-old man who reported extreme fatigue during the day. After identifying that his blood levels of vitamin D categorized him as deficient, doctors prescribed the man with a daily supplement. In follow-up appointments three and 12 months later, he reported a significant improvement in energy. The case study authors hypothesized that because vitamin D impacts the immune system, it could influence the sleep-wake cycle, and suggested doctors consider screening patients with fatigue for vitamin D deficiency.

Related: 8 Possible Reasons Why You’re So Tired All The Time

3. Your Bone Density Is Declining

Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, which is key for bone growth, density, and strength—and without ample vitamin D (and thus calcium), bones become brittle and weak. One study published the Journal of Midlife Health identified a strong connection between vitamin D deficiency and low bone mineral density (a measure of bone strength) in menopausal and postmenopausal women. More than 60 percent of the women studied were vitamin D deficient, and about 30 percent of those women had osteoporosis (a condition marked by significant loss of bone mineral density).

4. You Have Back Pain

Another bone-related consequence of low D? Back pain. One study published in the BMC Muscoskeletal Disorders found that menopausal women with vitamin D deficiencies reported back pain more frequently than those with normal levels. The 22 percent of participants who were vitamin D deficient reported more frequent and severe back pain, and more trouble completing daily tasks. The researchers suggest that, in addition to vitamin D deficiency’s impact on bone health, it may also be implicated in age-related muscle and strength loss called sarcopenia.

5. You’re Feeling Blue

One of the most common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency is depression, says Levitan. After analyzing a number of observational studies and randomized trials, one review published in the Journal of Affective Disorders identified a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and increased risk of depression later in life. Other research suggests that since the brain contains tons of vitamin D receptors, not getting enough of the vitamin could affect its function, and thus, your mood.

6. Your Muscles Are Always Sore

Another unexpected sign you might have a vitamin D deficiency is muscle pain or weakness, says Arielle Levitan, M.D., co-founder of Vous Vitamins and author of The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. One potential explanation for this: Our muscle cells contain receptors responsible for transporting calcium into muscle cells so that muscles can contract. “Vitamin D deficiency would decrease calcium—and other electrolytes—in muscle cells and thus cause dysfunction and weakness,” explains Lakhani. One European study found that those with low levels of vitamin D often report muscle pain and fatigue.

7. You’re Losing Hair

Last but not least, hair loss could be yet another sign of vitamin D deficiency, says Lakhani. While there’s not a ton of research in this area, one study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology identified a correlation between hair loss and low vitamin D levels in women. Of the 80 female participants, those experiencing the most severe hair loss also had the lowest levels of vitamin D and iron in their blood. Other research suggests this link traces back to the role vitamin D receptors play in hair follicle function.

How To Treat A Vitamin D Deficiency

Because vitamin D deficiencies are common, Levitan recommends having your levels tested every year. If a blood test confirms you are, in fact, vitamin D deficient, your doctor will recommend a supplement at the dosage that’s right for you. (The usual range is between 1,000 and 2,000 IU a day.)

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Since your body stores vitamin D long-term, it is possible to go overboard with supplements, so make sure to consult with your doctor before adding them to your routine.

Pin this infographic to keep an eye out for signs of a deficiency:

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Pair Your Collagen With These Nutrients For Extra Oomph

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already pretty familiar with collagen. This protein—the most abundant in the body—is responsible for the health of your skin, nails, bones, joints, and other connective tissues.

Thing is, our diet today doesn’t provide much (if any) collagen, and our ability to produce it declines as we age. That’s why wellness warriors have been incorporating collagen supplements—which range from collagen capsules, to bone broth (which contains collagen), to just-add-water powders and teas—into their diets. Supplement fans praise the extra protein for everything from boosting their digestive health, to keeping their joints in tip-top shape, to working some serious skin-smoothing magic—and the trend only continues to grow.

Adding collagen alone to your routine can boost your health in a number of ways, but it turns out that it can do its job even better when paired with certain nutrients. Here are six of collagen’s nutritional besties; keep them in mind the next time you’re blending up a protein-packed smoothie or taking your daily supplement.

1. Vitamin A

“In order to make collagen, our bodies use certain amino acids, along with vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin C, and copper,” says dietitian Maggie Michalczyk R.D.N, creator of the website Once Upon A Pumpkin. She suggests taking collagen supplements alongside the vitamins our bodies use to make it naturally, for what she calls ‘a collagen double-whammy.’ Vitamin A, for example, not only aids in collagen production, but it also supports immune function, vision, and healthy skin. Talk about an overachiever!

You’ll find vitamin A in foods like sweet potatoes, kale, berries, and organ meats—so try adding kale or berries to your collagen smoothies! If you opt for a supplement to take alongside your collagen, Michalczyk recommends beta-carotene, which our bodies can convert into vitamin A as needed.

2. Vitamin C

“Like vitamin A, vitamin C supports collagen synthesis in the body, so combining collagen with vitamin C-rich foods or a vitamin C supplement is a win-win,” says Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. In fact, one study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science found that vitamin C boosts collagen’s youth-promoting powers to support an even, glowy, and supple complexion.

Related: Which Beauty Supplement Is Right For You—Biotin Or Collagen?

Vitamin C is already added to many collagen supplement formulas (like Reserveage Collagen Replenish), but you can also just take your collagen alongside a vitamin C supplement or C-packed foods like citrus, bell-peppers, broccoli, or strawberries to reap the benefits, Axe says.

3. Zinc

Zinc is another molecule that’s required for collagen synthesis,” says Michalczyk. Problem is, older people and anyone under a lot of stress (which is far too many of us) tend to be low in the mineral.

“You can find zinc in foods like oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds, spinach, organ meats, tahini, sardines, brown rice, wheat germ, and tempeh,” says Michalczyk. If these foods aren’t regulars in your diet, consider taking a multivitamin that contains zinc alongside your collagen supplement.

4. L-Arginine

“The amino acid arginine supports the normal build-up of collagen in the body, and can be especially useful for the collagen in our skin,” says Axe. One paper published in The Journal of Nutrition suggests that the collagen synthesis necessary for healing wounds depends on adequate nutrition, and particularly on adequate arginine intake.

Arginine is also known for its ability to boost production of nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes our blood vessels to increase blood flow and shuttle more oxygen, protein, and other nutrients to our heart, brain, and muscles. This increased flow supports collagen production, too, because the better the blood flow, the better and faster the body can create new cells, Axe says.

“Arginine can be found in cage-free eggs, dairy, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry, organ meats, wild-caught fish and several types of nuts and seeds,” says Axe. Consider this an invitation to add a spoonful (or two) of nut butter to your next collagen smoothie.

5. Whey Protein Powder

The downfall of collagen protein, though minor, is that unlike whey, hemp, and soy protein, collagen is not a ‘complete’ protein, meaning it does not contain all nine of the 20 essential amino acids our body needs to build proteins and function, explains dietitian Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Collagen only contains eight of the nine essential amino acids,” he says. Plus, the levels of these aminos in collagen aren’t as equally balanced as they are in protein supplements made from complete proteins.

This means that collagen protein powder isn’t ideal for optimal muscle recovery and growth after working out, though its particular amino acid ratio does come with unique benefits. “Collagen has a high concentration of glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine,” says Valdez.

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According to one study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, glycine combines with two other amino acids in the body (glutamine and cysteine) to create an antioxidant called glutathione—and antioxidants have been shown to support healthy skin by fighting off free radical damage and oxidative stress.

To reap collagen’s benefits and give your body the aminos it needs after a workout, Valdez recommends combining it with whey protein or looking for a collagen-enhanced protein powder (like Vital Proteins’ Collagen Whey Protein).

That said, collagen protein is better than no protein supplement at all when it comes to muscle-building. One study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that when older men with muscle loss took collagen peptides—a type of easy-to-digest form of the protein—while following a strength-training program, they built more muscle and lost more fat than those who took a placebo.

6. Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is found alongside collagen in the connective tissues of your body, and helps bind collagen with another protein, elastin, which gives your skin its stretch, explains Valdez. Since hyaluronic also has hydrating properties, a lack of it can lead to dull, dry, lifeless-looking skin. (That’s why you’ll find it in serums and lotions in the beauty aisle.)

Since collagen and hyaluronic acid work together to keep skin youthful, Valdez recommends combining collagen with a hyaluronic acid supplement, or magnesium, which is found in spinach, almonds, dark chocolate, avocado, and seaweed, and has been shown to boost hyaluronic acid production. If you’re feeling creative, try mixing a scoop of collagen peptide powder into mashed avocado for a powered-up version of avocado toast.

Pin this infographic for all of the info you need in one place!

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How My Nightly Epsom Salt Baths Make Everything Better

When I first learned about the magical powers of Epsom salt baths, I thought: This is too good to be true. For starters, Epsom salt (also known as magnesium sulfate) relaxes your muscles like nobody’s business.

Because of its many health benefits, I decided to start incorporating Epsom salt into my nightly ritual. I already loved taking long, sudsy baths, but adding Epsom salt to the tub kicked the experience up a whole lotta notches. Bath time became not only relaxing, but purposeful.

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Here’s what regularly soaking in Epsom salt baths does for me.

Chills Me Out

Magnesium tends to be used up when we’re stressed out (leading to all sorts of bad news, like irritability, high blood pressure, and digestive issues), so sitting in a magnesium bath actually helps replenish those stores. I’m not certain of whether a single bath can do the trick, but taking a good 10 minutes before bed each night helps me drift off to sleep in a more peaceful way. The worries and anxieties of the day sort of just vanish. Whether it’s the effect of ritualizing self-care or the magnesium alone (or some combo of both), I have felt so much more relaxed after incorporating this into my routine.

soothes My Aches & Pains

My muscles are often tight, which, like most of us, comes from a combo of hunching over a desk and not getting enough movement in during the day. I’ve also got an autoimmune issue that causes chronic pain in my back and neck. Magnesium is said to relieve muscle and tissue aches, which makes sense because magnesium is found in our bones, muscles, and tissues. Spending  just 10 minutes in a magnesium bath helps me feel more ready for bed—I’m way more limber and the aches and pains sort of fall into the background.

Related: 4 Easy Ways To Use Aromatherapy Blends For Self-Care

Eases my Stomach

I’ve always had digestive issues. They stem from autoimmune issues, as well as a deep love of cheese and carbs. Whenever I have dairy or gluten, I end up bloated, in pain, or constipated. Not a fun time! Short of trying to exercise control over some of my bad eating habits (“I’ll pass on the cheese” is a concept I don’t understand), I take probiotics and sit in my Epsom salt baths.

Some people drink magnesium or take magnesium supplements, but I find a bath to be helpful in helping me stay regular and debloating a puffy belly.

Softens My Skin

Every single time I leave an Epsom bath, my skin feels smooth, exfoliated, and soft. I tend to have pretty rough skin: I probably don’t drink enough water, and swimming in chlorinated water certainly doesn’t help! Thankfully, Epsom salt counterbalances all of those effects. I always apply a bit of coconut oil (Shea Moisture’s Virgin Coconut Oil is my favorite) after the bath to double down on the results.

All in all, making regular time for an Epsom bath has worked wonders for my body and my psyche. I like to know that I’m taking care of myself—and there’s certainly plenty of undeniable benefits to magnesium. Plus, it’s just so easy!

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Take A Peek Inside Dr. Axe’s Fully-Stocked Fridge And Pantry

If your kitchen is brimming with pre-packaged snacks and processed junk, your odds of going for something healthy when your stomach starts grumbling aren’t too high. But fill your fridge and pantry with fruits, vegetables, and superfoods, instead, and it becomes infinitely easier to make healthy choices when hunger strikes.

I truly believe that food is medicine, and keeping your kitchen well-stocked with nutritious ingredients is one of the most effective ways to stay on track towards better health. Here are a few of the items I always have stocked in my fridge and pantry, and why they make the cut.

In The Refrigerator

1. Kombucha

This refreshing fermented drink does double duty by promoting hydration and supporting the gut microbiome by giving the beneficial bacteria in your gut a healthy boost. Drinking kombucha regularly can boost your immune function and brain power, and even help keep your waistline in check. I drink at least one glass a day and love trying new organic and raw varieties from brands like GT’s Living Foods.

2. Blueberries

Tiny but powerful, blueberries pack a serious nutritional punch. They’re loaded with antioxidants, which fight the free radical damage and oxidative stress that have been implicated in so many chronic diseases. Blueberries also contain fiber to support regularity and curb cravings, and they’re highly versatile; I enjoy sprinkling them over some yogurt, throwing a handful into my morning smoothie, or adding them into a delicious berry salad.

3. Organic, Grass-Fed Bison

If bison meat isn’t currently in your weekly dinner rotation, there are plenty of reasons to add it. Bison is lower in fat but richer in flavor than grass-fed beef, and it’s jam-packed with protein and an array of important micronutrients such as vitamin B12, zinc, and selenium. I often simmer up some slow cooker bison chili, use it to make avocado bison burgers, or add it to stir-fries and tacos to give my dinner a healthy and flavorful twist—but you can swap it into any recipe that calls for beef!

4. Leafy Greens

Leafy greens such as kale, romaine, and spinach are staples in my diet—and for good reason. Greens contain a concentrated dose of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to optimize your health. They’re also low in calories but high in fiber, so they keep you feeling full without driving up the scale. I love to bake kale chips, sauté the greens for an easy side dish, or mix them into crustless spinach quiche.

5. Avocado

Avocados have it all: heart-healthy fats, fiber, vitamin K, and even more potassium than bananas. Interestingly enough, research has even associated eating avocados with better overall diet quality and nutrient intake, and a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome. And, trust me, the potential uses for avocados extend way beyond guacamole: Use them to spice up your grilled cheese, add them to soups and salads, or whip them into a chocolate mousse to satisfy your sweet tooth, guilt-free. I also enjoy them drizzled with some olive oil and a bit of seasoning for a nutritious and delicious snack.

6. Lemon

Unfortunately, lemons are often dismissed as little more than a garnish. In reality, though, this citrus fruit offers up plenty of nutrition, including a solid dose of vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and iron to ramp up immunity. I like to start my day with a refreshing cup of lemon water, make lemony-delicious protein bars, and add a squeeze of lemon to side dishes and main courses for a little extra zing.

In the Pantry

1. Collagen

As the most abundant protein in the body, collagen plays a central role in the health of your muscles, skin, bones, digestive system, and tendons. As you get older, however, collagen production slows down, allowing some undesirable changes—like wrinkles, joint pain, and saggy skin—to start popping up.

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

To support my body as I get older, I add collagen to my daily post-workout smoothie, but you can also use it to bump up the protein content of baked goods, mix it into chia pudding, or even stir a scoop into your coffee.

2. Bone Broth Protein

Bone broth is rich in gelatin, collagen, amino acids, and trace minerals, making it another great addition to your daily routine. In fact, studies show that the compounds found in bone broth can support intestinal integrity, skin health, and joint health.

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And now that bone broth protein is available in a wide range of flavored powder supplements, it’s easy to add to everything from baked treats to soups, smoothies, and shakes. I love using the powder to make pancakes for a protein-packed way to start the day.

3. Tea

Derived from the leaves of the Camellia sinesis plant, white tea, green tea, and black tea are loaded with beneficial compounds like catechins, antioxidants that combat damaging free radicals. Some research suggests that drinking tea can preserve brain health, kick up fat-burning, and even improve oral health. Since the different varieties of tea vary in both their methods of processing and the range of health benefits that they provide, be sure to switch up your cup to make the most of this amazing beverage. Gaia Herbs and Organic India are two of my favorite brands, and offer a wide array of tea varieties to mix into your weekly rotation.

4. Adaptogens

Adaptogenic herbs contain specific compounds that have been shown to bolster the body’s ability to deal with stress and help us restore and maintain a sense of balance and well-being. Many also boast other health benefits, such as enhanced energy and antioxidant protection against free radicals. Astragalus, schisandra, and ashwagandha are a few of my favorites, and can be conveniently consumed in capsule form. I also love ginseng, holy basil, licorice root, and cordycep mushrooms, which I typically use in powdered form to give broths and beverages a healthy upgrade.

5. Himalayan Pink Salt

High-quality Himalayan pink salt is an unrefined form of salt rich in a variety of trace minerals, including potassium, magnesium and calcium, which are absolutely vital to health. Thanks to its impressive nutrient content, Himalayan pink salt may aid in maintaining proper fluid balance in the body, support respiratory health, and even promote better sleep. It’s super-easy to add to your diet: Simply swap out regular refined salt for the pink stuff in your favorite dishes and recipes.

Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S., is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, author, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. Dr. Axe operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites, sharing healthy recipes, herbal remedies, nutrition and fitness advice, and information on essential oils and natural supplements. Dr. Axe founded one of the largest functional medicine clinics in the world, in Nashville, TN, and has served as a physician for many professional athletes.

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