Why I Never Miss A Day Of Taking These 4 Supplements

When you’re balancing work, school, family, friends, and whatever else is on your plate, maintaining a healthy diet often takes a backseat. And even if you do follow a nutritious diet most of the time, there will inevitably be long, stressful days when you just can’t squeeze in all of your veggies, or end up swapping salad for takeout.

Don’t sweat it, life happens! That’s exactly where supplements come in. While they can’t replace a nutritious diet and active lifestyle, the right supplements can help you fill in nutritional gaps, and even supply certain essential nutrients you may not be able to get from your diet alone, so you can stay in tip-top shape even when things get hectic.

Now, I know how overwhelming it can be to find the right supplements for your goals. You could easily fill two medicine cabinets with all the pills and potions out there! That’s why my philosophy is simple: Make just a few superstar supplements part of your routine so you can start on the path towards better health with minimal effort required. Here are a few of the supplements I take every day—and why.

1. Probiotics

A good probiotic supplement can give you a lot of bang for your buck. Probiotics help boost the beneficial bacteria in your gut, and a healthy gut influences just about every other aspect of your health. Upping your intake of probiotics can promote proper digestion, support immunity, and keep your gastrointestinal tract healthy. And, a review published in ISRN Nutrition suggests probiotics may also protect against seasonal issues and support healthy cholesterol levels, as well.

Pro tip: Pick a probiotic that contains between 25 and 50 billion CFU per serving, and five or more strains of bacteria to supply your gut with a good variety.

2. Bone Broth

From supporting gut health to keeping your joints healthy and strong, bone broth is a powerful supplement that boasts a wide range of benefits. It contains important minerals, like magnesium and phosphorus, as well as collagen, a type of protein needed to build our skin, bones, joints, and muscles. Studies have shown that supplementing with the collagen found in bone broth may help boost joint health and skin elasticity, and support immune health.

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Pro tip: Unfortunately, much of the bone broth on the shelves of your local grocery store is produced using artificial meat flavors and pumped full of additives and extra ingredients that aren’t so great for your health. I recommend making bone broth at home or buying it from a trusted health store to ensure you’re getting the best quality. You can also find bone broth in powdered supplements (like Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Protein), capsules, and protein bars.

3. Greens Powder

Even the most balanced eaters have days in which they can’t squeeze in all of the recommended servings of fresh produce. Adding a quick scoop of greens powder to your daily smoothie (or even a glass of water) is an easy way to get in an extra dose of key vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and round out your diet. Certain greens, like spirulina, have even been shown to support healthy triglyceride levels, blood pressure, blood sugar, and immune function.

Pro tip: For best results, opt for an organic product with a good mix of greens (like spinach and kale), as well as other health-promoting ingredients (like acai and elderberry). Combine it with plenty of nutrient-dense fruits, veggies, and superfoods in a smoothie and enjoy.

4. Digestive Enzymes

If you suffer from any digestive issues, including bloating, leaky gut syndrome, acid reflux, or ulcerative colitis, digestive enzymes are a must. They help break down large food particles into smaller, more easily-absorbed molecules so that you’re able to extract the important nutrients from your diet, and can help prevent nutritional deficiencies and boost regularity to keep you feeling your best.

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

Pro tip: To further support healthy digestion, look for a product that also provides other gut health-enhancing ingredients. Some digestive enzymes, for example, are paired with probiotics to simultaneously support proper digestion and improve gut health, giving you double the benefits in every serving. You can also find digestive enzymes that include a blend of herbs, like peppermint and ginger, which support digestive health.

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.

Reishi Is Truly A Magic Mushroom—Here’s What To Do With It

Many of us don’t think of mushrooms as much more than a strange food that tastes good in risotto—but these funky fungi are so, so much more. In fact, a quick scroll on Instagram these days will reveal all sorts of drinks (have you seen mushroom coffee?) and supplements starring mushrooms. One ‘shroom in the spotlight lately: reishi, which has also been called ‘liquid yoga.’

You won’t find reishi mushrooms in the supermarket, because though they are edible, they’re made of non-digestible fiber and have a woody texture (so you wouldn’t really want to sauté them up for your next meal). Instead, reishi mushrooms are ground down and made into tinctures and supplements.

While reishi mushrooms may be new to your news-feed, they’ve been used in traditional Chinese medicine (known as Ling Zhi, Chizhi, or Zizhi) for pretty much forever, and grow in Asia, Europe, Australia, and North and South America.

So what’s the hype all about? Reishi’s main claim to fame is its ability to boost our immune system, thanks to chemical compounds called triterpenoids and beta-glucans, says board-certified nutrition specialist Alexander J. Rinehart, M.S. “The beta-glucan components are probably the most studied as immune modulators and prebiotics,” says Rinehart. (Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible fiber that feeds the probiotics in your gut so they can thrive.) Meanwhile, triterpenoids, which are part of plants’ self-defense mechanisms, have also been studied for their immune-boosting effects. Together, these compounds help our immune system activate in times of need (such as when we’re fighting a cold or another illness).

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Because of their immune benefits, reishi mushrooms are considered part of a trendy class of herbs and foods called adaptogens, which “help your body adapt to your environment and calm your body down,” says Ginger Hultin, R.D.N., Seattle-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (Ginseng and holy basil are two other well-known examples.) Research shows these adaptogens up your production of certain proteins involved in helping your body fend off stress and stabilizing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and gut problems in excess.

Related: Adaptogens 101: These Herbs Are Trending For A Reason

Reishi can benefit anyone dealing with high levels of stress or immune issues, says Janelle Louis, D.N.M., functional medicine practitioner at Focus Integrative Healthcare. In fact, one study published in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry suggests the polysaccharides in reishi mushrooms help curb the spread of the type of fibroblast responsible for some joint issues.

That doesn’t mean reishi isn’t useful for people in generally good health, too! Not only can reishi provide immune support, but it can also boost your concentration and endurance without making you feel wired or messing with your sleep, says Rinehart.

Experience The Reishi Magic For Yourself

If you want to add reishi to your day, you’ve got a few options. “I typically recommend reishi as an herbal tea,” says Louis. Four Sigmatic Reishi Mushroom Elixir Mix also contains peppermint and stevia for flavor, and can be mixed into hot water or blended into a smoothie.

Coffee drinkers will enjoy mushroom coffee mix (like Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee Mix), which adds mushroom powder to good ol’ ground coffee beans. “You get an earthy taste that may be more complex than you find in a traditional coffee, along with the energy and stamina support, and ability to adapt to stress without feeling jittery,” says Rinehart.

If you just want to pop a quick supplement and be done with it, though, Rinehart recommends Host Defense Mushrooms, which offers reishi in capsule and extract form and is “developed by Paul Stamets, arguably the number-one mushroom expert in the world.”

Hultin recommends working with an integrative dietitian or functional medicine doctor to determine the best dose of reishi for you and make sure it won’t interact with any other supplements or medications you’re taking. (It can have a slight blood-thinning and blood pressure-lowering effect.)

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Do ‘Complete’ And ‘Incomplete’ Proteins Really Matter?

Whether you’re a resident of the weight room, a vegetarian, trying to lose weight, working to keep your blood sugar stable, or just want to be all-around healthy, a balanced, nutritious diet is key to reaching your goals. And a hugely important component of such a diet? Protein.

Not only does protein, which digests slowly and doesn’t spike your blood sugar, keep you satiated, but it’s also essential for just about every structure in your body, building muscles, hair, red blood cells, the immune antibodies that fight infections, and more,” says Brooke Alpert, C.D.N, R.N, M.S, founder of B-Nutritious.

When we think of protein, our minds often jump to animal products, like meat, milk, and eggs—but plenty of plant-based foods (like nuts, grains, and legumes) provide protein, too! That’s where one big question comes in: Are some proteins better than others? Glad you asked…

All proteins are made up of molecules called amino acids, which have various functions in the body—like breaking down food, supporting the body’s growth, and repairing tissues. There are 20 amino acids in total, nine of which are considered ‘essential’ because they can’t be produced by our body and must be obtained through our food. (The essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.) The other 11 amino acids are ‘nonessential’ because our body can make what it needs on its own. (These include alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.)

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You’ve probably heard animal proteins referred to as complete proteins, and that’s because they offer all nine of the essential amino acids. Plant proteins, meanwhile, are typically deficient in one or more of those essential aminos, and are thus incomplete proteins. (There are a few exceptions, however: Quinoa, hemp seeds, soy, and chia seeds are all complete proteins.)

Given that animal proteins are complete proteins, you’d think they’re the better protein source, right? Not necessarily.

By eating complementary proteins—two plant-based protein sources that fill in each other’s missing amino acids—you can even rack up all the aminos you need in one plant-based meal. For example, grains (like rice or whole-wheat bread) are low in the amino acid lysine but high in the amino acid methionine. Legumes (like beans or peanuts), meanwhile, are high in lysine and low in methionine. So, by eating the two foods together—think peanut butter toast or rice and beans—you’ve got yourself a complete protein! “There’s a reason why beans and rice have a staple in many cultures for years,” says Alpert. (Not to mention, it’s an affordable, non-perishable, and sustainable meal.)

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

That said, you don’t actually have to compensate for missing aminos every time you sit down to eat. “It is not necessary to combine incomplete proteins in every meal, or even every day,” says Sarah Skovran, R.D.N., L.D.  As long as you’re eating an adequate balance—and amount—of incomplete proteins on a regular basis, your body will be stocked with the amino acids it needs and can pull from its ‘amino acid pool’ as necessary, she says. In fact, research from the American Dietetic Association shows that eating an assortment of plant foods over the course of the day can provide ample amounts of all the essential amino acids and ensure adequate nitrogen retention (a marker of sufficient protein consumption) in healthy adults.

The bottom line: Most Americans consume more than enough protein—and don’t need to stress about whether they’re complete or incomplete—especially if animal products are a part of their diet in some capacity, says Alpert. Herbivores, however, should make sure to eat a variety of plant foods, including grains, beans, nuts, fruit, and plenty of vegetables. “If your plant-based diet contains only grains and no beans or nuts, you might be low in certain amino acids, like lysine,” says Skovran. “And if you eat beans and nuts, but no grains, then you could be low in others, like methionine.”

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan and don’t eat certain types of plant foods—or experience low energy or trouble building muscle—Skovran recommends seeing a registered dietitian who can make sure you’re getting all of the amino acids (and vitamins and minerals) you need.

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

3 Advanced Abs Moves Worth Adding To Your Routine

Planks are great. They require zero equipment, light up all of our core muscles, and give us an excuse to not move at all. But let’s face it, they can be just plain boring. That’s where these hardcore moves from Performix athlete Alex Silver-Fagan come in. Not only will they torch every muscle in your midsection, but they’ll also keep your brain engaged. Plus, they just look really cool.

Think you can handle ’em? Slug back some Performix ION Multi-Phase Pre-Workout for the focus and energy you’ll need to nail every rep, and get ready to sweat.

 

Have you tried Performix’s innovative sports nutrition supplements yet? From their ioWHEY PROTEIN (you can only get it at The Vitamin Shoppe!), to their metabolism-supporting SST, to their hydration- and recovery-boosting ISO 9:2:2, they’ll change the way you fuel up, recover, and conquer your goals. 

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My Secret To Happiness: A Healthy Gut

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told by my family that I have a “nervous belly.” As a kid, if I stayed up too late, got upset, was overly excited, or was even just in a new environment, my stomach started to bother me.

I threw up a lot and found myself in plenty of embarrassing situations. (See: The time where I thought I was in trouble and hid beneath my bed, crying, only to inevitably vomit—which forced my poor grandparents to have to disassemble the entire bed to clean up after me.)

Through the years, my stomach troubles have changed in nature. I no longer feel like I need to throw up when I get upset, for example, but I have an incredibly sensitive digestive system that seems to tie directly to my moods. For example, when I’m depressed I become constipated and bloated. When I’m anxious, I get heartburn. One time, I was constipated for two entire weeks. I feared I might actually lose my mind.

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The gut is often talked about as the place where our intuition comes from (“trust your gut”) and where we store our courage (“she’s got guts”). Another term used is “core”—the center of a thing, its toughest part. So it makes sense that gut health is tied to our overall wellbeing.

There are even studies that suggest our moods have to do with our gut health. According to the research, micro-organisms living in our gut actually secrete substances that regulate serotonin and dopamine. These both have a profound effect on our mood, including depressive and anxious feelings. In fact, one study out of Norway showed that certain bacteria were directly linked to depression in some patients.

This wasn’t always so obvious to me, however. In the beginning, I thought it was only a digestive system issue. Docs have tested me for food allergies, colon issues, intestinal blockage, IBS, and more. I didn’t have any of those problems or diagnoses.

When I recently visited a holistic doctor and explained my issues to her, I was happily surprised (and relieved) when she asked me about my emotional state (I wish more doctors would use this approach). When I explained that I could trace my gut’s reaction to my mood—sort of like a road map—she was excited that I was connecting the two, and that I was listening to my body.

The simple suggestion she made was to start a daily dose of probiotics and to track my gut progress with a journal. She told me to make sure I found a probiotic that included a high amount of lactobacillus rhamnosus, a live culture. I also started using chicory root extract, since she told me that chicory contains insulin, which helps grow good gut bacteria.

For the first week, I took my probiotic every morning but didn’t notice much of a change. My mood was fairly stable, but my bathroom cycles were slow—every other day or less—which for me is not ideal.

For the second week, I instead tried taking the probiotic at night, with some herbal teas like chamomile, rosehip, and peppermint—and that’s when it happened. I started to feel better and well rested. Amazingly, intestinal regularity slowly found its way to me.

I got to the point where I could expect to see movement almost every single morning, which in turn positively affected my mood. Mostly, I felt freed from worrying so much about my stomach constantly. I felt confident wearing clothes without considering extra bloat. My stomach felt lighter and my mind felt clearer. Not only was my mood influencing my gut, but now my gut health was directly influencing my mood. It was an enlightenment!

I’ve since tweaked the cocktail a bit to support a more restful sleep (which further improves my mood). I now combine a regimen of calcium, magnesium, and a probiotic about an hour before bed, and if I have time, I wash it down with herbal tea.

I can’t say things are always perfect, but they have vastly improved. More so, I believe that part of my recovery is feeling like I have some control over my symptoms. To have my doctor listen to me and then ask me to keep track of my gut-mood fluctuations felt so necessary and long overdue. Who better knows our moods and symptoms than ourselves?

When I wake up feeling rested, my mood and demeanor get right in line. These days, I don’t skip a day of my probiotics if I can help it. I need my core, the very toughest part of me, to be strong so I can face the day. A happy gut is a happy system.

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

5 Things You Can Do Every Day To Fight Inflammation

Inflammation. It’s one of the buzziest words in the health world right now, yet it’s still a subject many people don’t fully understand.

That’s because inflammation, your immune system’s defense process, can be a good guy and a bad guy in our bodies. At the right times and in the right amounts, it’s a much-needed, natural part of your body’s day-to-day processes. “You need inflammation to stay alive in a hostile world,” says Barry Sears, Ph.D., author of the Zone Diet book series and president of the Inflammation Research Foundation. Without [it], you could not fight off microbial invasions, nor would physical injuries be able to heal.”

Things go south when your body can’t turn that inflammation off after it’s done its job, says Sears. Excess inflammation can cause weight gain, speed up the aging process, and even spur the development of chronic disease—and thanks to lifestyle factors like a processed Western diet and lack of exercise, it’s an issue for many Americans.

The good news: Small everyday changes can help fend off excess inflammation. Here are five the experts recommend.

1. Get Chummy with Cherries

Next time you visit the supermarket, grab some tart cherries or added-sugar-free tart cherry juice, says Chrissy Carroll, M.P.H., R.D. and USAT level-I triathlon coach. “Tart cherries are packed with polyphenols, like anthocyanins,” she says. Research suggests that these antioxidants help fight cellular damage and oxidative stress caused by free radicals, which are major factors in inflammation and have been linked to chronic inflammatory diseases.

One small study found that women with inflammatory joint issues drank about 10 ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day for three weeks had lower levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a common marker of inflammation.

Exactly how many cherries you need to consume to benefit still isn’t clear, since study doses have ranged from 45 to 270 cherries-worth of juice a day. For now, Carroll recommends either a cup of tart cherry juice or about 45 whole tart cherries a day.

2. Adopt An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

If you’re ready to commit to the anti-inflammatory game, your diet is a great place to start, says Rebecca Kerkenbush, M.S., R.D.

One major reason for this: An anti-inflammatory diet promotes a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. In general, Americans consume too many omega-6 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found in the seed and vegetable oils used in packaged snacks and fast food. These fats encourage the body to synthesize hormones that promote inflammation, so step one is to reduce your consumption of processed foods, says Kerkenbush.

Next, amp up your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in foods like fatty fish (hello, salmon), walnuts, avocados, flax, and hemp. Unlike omega-6s, these fats have a protective effect on our immune system. “Omega-3s, in doses of three grams or more per day, have been found to be effective for reducing morning stiffness and joint discomfort,” she says.

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Once you’ve got your omegas right, make sure your diet is also rich in antioxidants (vegetables and berries) and fiber (whole grains and legumes), both of which also have immune-boosting properties. “Many studies are showing that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is good for decreasing inflammation,” says Kerkenbush. The more servings the better, so aim for eight to 10 servings of produce per day.

Of course, there are a few foods to avoid, too, including anything high in trans fat, saturated fat, simple carbs, and added sugar, says Kerkenbush. Limit these as much as possible.

3. Get More Sleep

“One often-overlooked cause of inflammation is sleep deprivation,” says Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach and founder of online sleep resource SleepZoo. People who don’t get enough shut-eye (one in three adults) experience higher levels of inflammation than those that do.

Sleep durations outside of the usual seven to eight hours seem to increase our levels of different types of cytokines, like that inflammation marker CRP we talked about earlier.

“It seems that too little sleep throws the body’s inflammatory response processes out of whack,” says Brantner. “It’s almost as if your body treats inadequate sleep as it would an illness, which might also help explain why your body is more susceptible to viruses when you haven’t been sleeping enough.”

It’s not just people with chronic sleep issues who experience this, either. Research indicates even just one night of too-short sleep—about six hours or less—is enough to trigger an inflammatory response.

If you’re struggling to squeeze in enough shut-eye, reevaluate your day-to-day habits. Bringing your phone into bed with you, consuming caffeine after two o’clock, and not sticking to a set bedtime and wakeup time can all throw off your sleep patterns—and increase inflammation.

4. Show Low-Intensity Exercise Some Love

Everyone’s all about high-intensity interval training these days, but if you go as hard as you can every single workout, you put your body in a continuous state of stress that experts say could trigger chronic inflammation.

“Plain and simple, exercise is stress, and when we exercise we create a state of inflammation,” says Aaron Drogoszewski, L.M.T., C.P.T., co-founder of ReCOVER in New York City, the first boutique studio dedicated solely to recovery. While we need some inflammation to adapt and grow stronger, too much is still too much—and doing high-intensity exercise too often can do more harm than good.

We’re not saying to swear off HIIT completely. (We wouldn’t want you to miss out on the benefits, like burning more calories long after your workout is over.) You should limit high-intensity sessions to a few times a week, though, and opt for lower-intensity exercise like walking or jogging the other days.

Related: Are You Doing Too Much HIIT?

While higher-intensity exercise spurs inflammation, low-intensity exercise can actually help fight it off. One small study found that even short, 20-minute sessions of treadmill walking had an anti-inflammatory effect by decreasing levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body.

In other words, if you don’t feel like going all out in the gym, that’s okay! It could be your body’s way of saying a more relaxed session is just what you need.

5. Finally Start Meditating

If you’ve been convinced that meditation is too woo-woo for you, it’s time for an attitude adjustment. Science has shown over and over again that meditation offers a myriad of benefits—including lower markers of inflammation.

In one study, researchers used the Trier Social Stress Test (which has participants give a presentation and perform a math test) and capsaicin cream to produce psychological stress and physical inflammation in participants. Some participants then followed a mindfulness meditation, while others used an unrelated stress-management practice. After measuring immune and hormonal markers of inflammation, the researchers found the meditation to be more effective for reducing stress-induced inflammation.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to drop everything and meditate for an hour a day. You can ease into a daily practice with short, 10-minute sessions and an app like Calm or Headspace.

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

The 6 Most Popular Multivitamins For Women

From going to bed a little earlier to walking the long way home, there are a lot of little things we can do every day to achieve big health gains. No matter what your daily wellness routine looks like, a multivitamin can help ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need to keep doing you—whether you want to nail a new yoga pose or outpace your pup on runs.

There are a few things women need out of a multi—like vitamin D and calcium for healthy bones, and iron for healthy blood. Here are 6 quality multivitamins selling off the shelves at The Vitamin Shoppe.

1. Alive! Once Daily Ultra Potency Women’s Multivitamin & Whole-Food Energizer

Not only does this women’s multi provide high-potency doses of the usual vitamins and minerals, but it also includes a variety of digestive enzymes (12 total) to support healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, along with 14 different greens (including spirulina, blue-green algae, and chlorella) and a blend of 12 mushrooms (like reishi, maitake, and chaga). Together, these ingredients help support energy, eye health, bone health, heart health, immunity, and more.

2. Garden Of Life MyKind Organics Women’s Once Daily Whole-Food Multivitamin

Garden of Life’s MyKind Organics line was created for people whose top priority is top-notch quality—and their multis are USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, and made from whole foods. MyKind Women’s Once Daily multis provide 19 vitamins and minerals (15 of which are at high-potency doses) from organic sources like lemon, garlic, and holy basil. Plus, the goodness is packaged in Garden of Life’s patent-pending Clean Tablet Technology, which means no magnesium stearate, a vegetable lubricant used in many supps.

3. The Vitamin Shoppe One Daily Women’s Multivitamin & Multimineral

Loaded with the essentials, The Vitamin Shoppe’s One Daily Women’s covers all of your vitamin and mineral bases, including 2,000 IU of vitamin D and 10 milligrams of iron (which is more than many multis out there). It also contains cranberry concentrate for urinary tract health, choline, and a blend of antioxidants, including lycopene and resveratrol, for immune and cardiovascular support.

4. Garden of Life Vitamin Code Women Raw Whole-Food Multivitamin

Garden of Life’s Vitamin Code supplements are made with raw, whole-food ingredients (which some experts believe are more easily recognized by your body), and provide a variety of nutrients beyond the standard vitamins and minerals, such as CoQ10 for antioxidant and energy support. They also contain a blend of enzymes and probiotics to support digestion and gut health.

5. Rainbow Light Women’s One Food-Based Multivitamin

Formulated to support heart, breast, bone, skin, and immune health, this multi provides the usual vitamins and minerals (and high amounts of B vitamins), in addition to a few other blends of health-promoting ingredients. First, there’s a combo of enzymes and probiotics to boost digestion. Then there’s a “vibrant foods” mix, which includes ingredients like spirulina, beet root, and blackberry, to support energy and vitality. Finally, there’s the “women’s vitality blend,” which includes chlorella, grape, pomegranate, and lutein, for even more nutrition.

6. New Chapter Every Woman’s One Daily Multi

Designed for the needs of the active woman, New Chapter’s Every Woman’s daily multivitamin emphasizes stress, immune, and bone health. The formula is made with fermented vitamins and minerals for easier digestibility, and provides high-potency doses of the vitamins you need. In addition to the usual suspects, Every Woman’s One Daily also includes a few blends of herbs and superfoods—featuring maca, elderberry, eleuthero, and schizandra—to target energy, immune, and hormonal health. You’ll even score some ginger and turmeric for good measure.

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

I Tried 5:2 Intermittent Fasting For A Month—Here’s How It Went

My natural hunger cues have always left me itching for something to nosh on every three or four hours, so when my Mom swapped her three-meals-a-day eating style for smaller, more frequent meals back in the early 2000s, I became a certified grazer, too.

On a typical day, I’d enjoy six mini-meals: I’d start the day with a Bulletproof coffee and a little Greek yogurt, munch on a protein bar and an apple mid-morning, go for a salad with chicken and veggies at lunch time, enjoy a slice of avocado or almond butter and banana toast mid-afternoon, have grilled chicken and sautéed spinach for dinner, and snack on an apple with peanut butter before bed.

In college, eating these smaller, more frequent meals helped me avoid the ‘Freshman 15,’ and later, at the office, it kept me focused on my work. Research has even linked a ‘grazing’ eating style with lower fasting insulin levels, and I’ve found it keeps my blood sugar and energy levels nice and stable.

After ditching my cubicle to go full-time freelance this January, though, my grazing basically transformed into non-stop inhalation of almond butter. Whether seven o’clock in the morning or nine o’clock at night, you’d find me in the kitchen with a spoon in one hand and a jar of Justin’s nut butter in the other. I was spooning my way through a jar of nut butter every three to four days, and it was time to kick the habit.

As a CrossFit® athlete and health and fitness journalist, I’m constantly charging after new goals, learning about trends, and reading up on the latest research—and I wondered if intermittent fasting, which I’d seen lots of buzz about, could help me nip my out-of-control grazing in the bud. Curious, I decided to give it a go for a month.

Intermittent fasting, which is basically the exact opposite of my grazing ways, is the practice of abstaining from food, typically for extended periods of time. Though fasting has roots in many religions, including Christian, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhist, and Islam, it’s become popular in the wellness community in recent years for its weight loss and health benefits.

The thing with intermittent fasting: There’s no one right way to do it. Some approaches involve completely nixing food for two days per week, others involve eating only during a small six- to eight-hour window every day, and others involve eating just 500 calories a day two days per week.

Related: Is Intermittent Fasting Really All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

I usually eat between 2,200 and 2,400 calories a day, so going full days without any food did not appeal to me (how would I train?). I opted for a type of intermittent fasting known as 5:2 fasting.

Five days a week I’d eat as usual, but on two non-consecutive days, I’d limit myself to just 500 calories a day.

I still had hesitations: Could this approach help me overcome my nut butter habit? Would I be able to stick to it for a full month? Would it affect my workouts?

I hit up one of my favorite dietitians, Jessica Crandall, R.D, who’s a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to talk through my concerns. “If you’re an athlete, you need to plan when you’re going to take a rest or recovery day, and match that up with when you’re going to fast,” she told me.fasting is going to help with recovery? She also advised me to pay close attention to how I felt on the lower-calorie days, and to look out for any nausea, lightheadedness, or cramping.

I followed Crandall’s advice and planned out my first week so I’d fast on Thursday (when I’d do yoga instead of CrossFit) and Sunday (when I’d take a full rest day). In week one, I ate normally Monday through Wednesday and made an effort not to over-indulge on Wednesday night in anticipation of Thursday.

Week 1, Fasting Day 1

I’ll just come right out and say it: My first low-calorie day was a total fail.

I started off okay, whipping up my usual Bulletproof coffee (coffee with MCT oil, butter, and collagen protein) in the morning and sitting down to work until lunch. I’d normally drink my brew (which clocks in at 185 calories) and down my first two mini-meals in that time, but knowing I needed to make my 500 calories last all day, I sucked it up and stuck with just the coffee.

And then noon rolled around… My belly’s excessive grumbling let me know my body was not happy about this switch in routine, so I opened the fridge, looked longingly at my PB, and grabbed a Granny smith apple (60 calories) instead, hoping the fiber would help keep me satiated a little while longer.

An hour later I was hungry again, and I’d already ‘used up’ more than half of my prescribed daily calories. I no longer wanted a scoop of peanut butter; I wanted a 32-ounce steak.

I compromised by grilling up some chicken (200 calories), and luckily felt satiated.

Things went truly awry a few hours later, however, smack in the middle of a downward dog at yoga. I felt lightheaded and unstable (which didn’t surprise me considering I’d consumed just 465 calories, as opposed to my usual 1,500 by this point), and needed to avoid any positions where my head went below my waist for the rest of class. I left feeling agitated.

So what did I do? Hit up my favorite healthy chain, Sweetgreen, and order my go-to: a beet and goat cheese salad with chicken. I tweaked my order and skipped goat cheese and dressing to save some calories, and though the meal tasted pretty flavorless, it still clocked in at around 500 calories. Oops.

That salad made me feel human again, but it pushed my total calorie intake to 965 calories—almost twice more than I was prescribed.

Week 1, Fasting Day 2

I woke up wildly hungry the day after my first attempted fast and housed a three-egg, turkey, cheese, and broccoli omelet, and two slices of buttered whole-grain toast for breakfast. My total calories for the day came in higher than usual, at around 2,500.

On Sunday, my second fasting day, I slept until eleven and opted for a large (like very, very large) black iced coffee and three eggs for breakfast (210 calories).

I hoped my late start would make the rest of the day easier, but by mid-afternoon my stomach was growling again. I tried the fiber approach again by snacking on some carrots (110 calories), and they held me over for another two hours. For dinner, I grilled up some more chicken (200 calories) and sliced up half an avocado (120 calories).

I definitely didn’t feel satisfied or well-fueled. I noticed I’d been responding to emails at a sluggish pace, and again, I caved. I made myself a piece of plain Ezekiel toast (80 calories) so I could power through my inbox, and hit the hay having once again exceeded my calorie limit. At least I was only 200 calories over this time?

Tweaking My Approach

Clearly, week one didn’t go well. My body seemed okay overall—my digestion was still regular and my weight hadn’t changed—but I just didn’t feel good. I spent my first fasting days constantly thinking about food and had to lower my usual squat weight by 10 pounds during Friday’s workout. On Saturday, my training partner also commented that I seemed to be moving slower than usual.

I called Crandall again, and she suggested I increase my calorie intake to 750 and up my protein on fasting days. “As an athlete, you don’t want to put yourself at risk for muscle loss or nutrient deficiencies,” she said. “so try eating egg whites for breakfast and even more lean proteins, like chicken or beef, throughout the day,” she said. I hoped the tweaks would be enough to power my workouts and not feel supremely miserable on lower-calorie days.

Weeks Two And Three

Luckily, my next two weeks went significantly smoother. My digestion continued as normal, and while I was still a little testy on my low-cal days, I got through it. The best part, though? I kept my peanut butter addiction under control throughout my five normal eating days and consistently ate between 750 and 800 calories on my fasting days, which felt much more manageable than trying to stick to 500. Following Crandall’s advice, I made sure the bulk of my fasting-day calories came from proteins. I also focused on high-antioxidant vegetables, which she said would help with satiety and muscle recovery.

I settled into a routine on fasting days that looked like this:

  • Breakfast: large black coffee, two eggs, one egg white (160 calories)
  • Snack: granny smith apple (60 calories)
  • Lunch: undressed spinach salad with half a pound of grilled chicken (240 calories)
  • Dinner: half a pound of grilled chicken or pork with sautéed kale (250 calories)
  • Snack: apple or serving of baby carrots (50 calories)

My biggest remaining issue: that my Monday and Friday workouts (which followed fasting days) still suffered. I felt strong for the first 25 to 40 minutes, but then petered out. When I rowed, my calories-per-hour dropped by about 200; when I ran, I tacked 20 seconds onto my mile time; and when I did burpees (which are usually my thing), I felt like I was moving through molasses. Crandall explained that this was probably due to low carb intake on my fasting days.

Making It Through The Month

After four weeks of fasting, I stepped on the scale to see that I’d dropped two pounds—and losing weight wasn’t even my goal. My body fat percentage didn’t change, though, so I speculate it was just water weight.

Ultimately, my experiment proved that consistently dropping my calories so low twice a week wouldn’t be doable long-term if I wanted to keep training hard. Even after I settled into my routine, I found myself feeling pretty cranky and obsessing over food on fasting days—and day-dreaming about brunch mid-squat!

I will say, though, that the plan definitely did help me kick my nut butter habit. Ditching the calorie-dense creamy stuff on my low-cal days helped me realize I didn’t need that much of it on the other days of the week, aside from my usual nut butter and apple snack—and that’s a win for me.

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

What’s For Dinner? Self-Love

Like most people these days, I live a fast and busy life—which makes it challenging to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. For a while I’d heard that meal prepping could help solve this modern-day conundrum, but it wasn’t until I actually put the practice to the test every Sunday that I realized just how much meal-prepping could change my life for the better.

Taking the time to nurture myself by creating a menu, shopping for ingredients, and preparing foods turned out to be a radical form of self-care: I now find that the more conscious I am of my dietary choices, the more in-touch I feel with my body and the happier I am.

While it may be a bit challenging to start a meal-prep routine, it’s totally worth it. Once you make the effort, you’ll see that each meal yields infinite possibilities. Plus, you save loads of money.

Making your meals in one long stretch is also a creative way to practice mindfulness. Slowing down and meditating on the texture of my food (say, a strawberry’s coating of tiny seeds and ripples) suddenly gives me a sense that everything is linked— the earth, the gardens, the people that grow our foods, my health. I crave that meaning, that awareness, and that connection to my food.

Looking to join the ranks of many joyful meal preppers but don’t know where to start? Here are some of my no-frills methods—hopefully they will inspire you to give it a shot!

The Logistics

Learning to make a variety of meals that will last a full week (and working to stretch the capacity of each dollar) takes a good amount of planning and patience. The biggest challenge for me? Staying organized. With meal prepping, it’s essential to always have all your ingredients on hand. Going to the grocery store for a forgotten item wastes precious time and distracts from the process. My solution: I use my phone to make a shopping list that I update continuously. It includes both pantry staples I’m running low on, as well as foods I need for the week ahead.

Since I usually cook several dishes for the week ahead, I use my phone to set separate alarms for each item— this helps the process go smoothly. I time out how long each item will take to be ready, and then cook the dishes that take the longest first.

So, what do my meals look like? I tend to prefer a simple Mediterranean-inspired diet, with lots of grains, greens, lean proteins (like fish and chicken), legumes, and olive oil.

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Breakfast

find that mornings are the most challenging time of the day to eat healthy, given I’m always rushing around. Especially Monday mornings. Meal prep is a life saver for anyone who tends to get caught unintentionally skipping breakfast. 

While many meal-preppers praise fresh granolas and all kinds of chia puddings carefully placed into Pinterest-perfect, photo-ready Mason jars, I’m not in this for the social media stardom.

I keep breakfast nice and simple, with lots of fresh fruit, like fresh pineapple, guava, and blueberries or strawberries. I chop up and portion out these tropical fruits (one cup of fruit per breakfast) and then stash them in round, glass Tupperware containers.

Dinner & Lunch

I use a crockpot to make the bulk of my lunches and dinners. I always start my crockpot dish before everything else, as they take the most time to cook. My favorite recipes are white bean soup, butternut squash stew, a white bean turkey chili, and “Cincinnati Style” chili. I dream of having two, or even three, crockpots going at all times.

Base Ingredients

After I get the crockpot going, I prepare—on the stove top—whole grains, which act as a base for other meals and can also be added to salads. Using grains in my dishes helps me save money and diversify my diet, since grains (and beans and legumes) are pennies per portion.

Polenta, rice, and steel-cut oats are all cost-effective and delicious, and quinoa is a staple in most of my meals, as are French Green lentils, which I spoon upon salads. I usually portion out a half cup of grains for each of my meals, and store them in glass Tupperware containers.

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

Salads

I love and live off of salads. To save time, I buy bags of julienned carrots and triple-washed boxed greens. Pro-tip: Arugula, kale, and spinach keep the best.

On Sundays, I portion out five days’ worth of salads, starting with five separate handfuls of greens. Then I prep and portion out the toppings (about one quarter to one half cup per topping). Once assembled, each salad is a ready-to-go meal, sans dressing and toppings. (Keep the dressing and toppings in small glass Tupperware containers or baggies.)

I want each salad I enjoy to be slightly different, so I shop in the bulk section to purchase nuts, seeds, and other healthy toppings like dried fruits. I love coupling candied pecans, crumbled walnuts, halved hazelnuts, or shaved almonds with crumbled goat cheese, dried cranberries or cherries (or fresh blueberries or strawberries, when in-season), and thinly-sliced red onions.

For protein and an energy boost, I also top my salads with chopped roasted chicken (about three ounces). Or, I add a can of sardines for a dose of heart-healthy omega-3s. Sometimes I add freshly-cooked and seasoned chickpeas, fresh from the crockpot).

Veggies and Peppers

Root vegetables—like carrots, fennel, beets, and potatoes—take the longest to cook. Each week I roast a huge tray of beets and a bunch of vegetables (which I later eat chopped on a salad or on a bed of rice or quinoa).

Faster-cooking peppers, zucchini, yellow and summer squashes, asparagus, onion, and garlic take less time, so I cook them later on during my Sunday meal prep session.

Pro-tip: Heating everything in the oven at once saves time and energy, and keeps the kitchen cool in the hot summer months.

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

Can Sitting Too Much Shrink Your Brain?

There are plenty of reasons out there to move your body more: to better your posture, to build strength, to improve flexibility, to boost your brain health, to reduce your risk for a myriad of diseases (such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer). The list goes on.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a reason not to get off your butt, considering our sedentary lifestyles have been linked to obesity, anxiety and depression, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and more. (“Sitting is the new smoking,” they say.) And if all that wasn’t scary enough, a recent study published in the journal PLOS One has identified a truly terrifying potential impact of inactivity: the thinning of the part of our brain responsible for creating new memories, called the medial temporal lobe (MTL).

The thinning of the MTL, which tends to occur with age, leads to issues with memory seen in many older adults. While previous research had already suggested a connection between fitness and a larger hippocampus (part of the MTL), none had explored the flip-side, a correlation between sitting more and a thinner MTL.

That’s where this study comes in. Researchers from the University of California surveyed 35 adults between the ages of 45 and 75 about their level of physical activity and the average number of hours they spent sitting in one place for an extended period of time per day. Then, they used a high-resolution MRI scan to take a detailed look at the volume of the participants’ medial temporal lobes to identify any possible correlations between the participants’ patterns of sitting and activity and the thickness of their MTL.

The results were pretty alarming. “We found that time spent sitting was associated with less thickness in the MTL and its sub-regions, in spite of physical activity,” says Prabha Siddarth, Ph.D., lead study author, of UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. This seems to indicate that sedentary behavior is a significant predictor of brain structure—specifically medial temporal lobe thickness—and that even high levels of physical activity can’t offset the harmful effects of sitting for extended periods of time.

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

While the study is small, the connection it’s made between physical inactivity and the development of brain dysfunction deserves the bulging-eyes reaction it incurs—especially given the number of people worldwide who now have jobs that require them to remain stationary for extended periods of time.

“This was an associational study, so it does not prove that too much sitting undermines brain health—only that more hours spent sitting is linked to thinner brain structures,” says Prahba. “We would like to conduct a longitudinal [long-term] study and study participants over time to examine if sitting causes the thinning.”

Initial studies like this one, however, are still critical, because they develop the early data that establishes the need for studies that can determine causality, so the the appropriate interventions and treatments can be identified, explains Jesse Corry, M.D., stroke neurologist with Allina Health in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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If you’re one of the estimated 13 percent of people who works a sedentary job, consider this study one more reason to incorporate physical activity into your day whenever possible. “This could include taking breaks from sitting during the day to go for short walks, and avoiding sitting for prolonged periods when you’re not at work,” suggests says Siddharth Sehgal, M.D., lead study author, Director of the Stroke Program at Tallahassee Memorial, and neurologist at TMH Physician Partners Neurology Specialists. “Everyone should try to participate in regular physical exercise several times a week to improve their chances of normal, healthy cognitive aging.”

Think You Can Handle Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Workout? Try For Yourself

Whatever your politics, you can’t deny that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one strong woman. Not only is the 85-year-old one of just three women presiding over the Supreme Court, she’s also a pancreatic and colon cancer survivor—and, oh, she can do 20 pushups.

Yep, in addition to regularly making monumental contributions to women’s rights and law in the U.S., RBG works out for an hour twice a week with her trainer Bryant Johnson, C.P.T.

In the past two decades of working out with Johnson, the Justice has perfected bodyweight strength moves like one-legged planks and assisted pistol squats. The legend of her fitness prowess has spread so far and wide that Johnson even wrote a book—aptly named The RBG Workout—about it.

In the foreword of the book, Ginsburg writes that she hopes her workout will “help others to experience, as I have, renewed energy to carry on with their work and days.” (And trust me, I know firsthand that this workout is no joke. I tried it for myself live on Facebook and sweat buckets.)

So, want to be like RBG? Johnson, who’s also a member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council, shared a sample gym session with us so you can put your fitness to the test. After warming up with a few minutes of cardio and a quick full-body stretch, you’ll be ready to jump right into RBG’s full-body routine.

It’s all about having strength, stability, and mobility for life—and it’ll kick your butt! Think you’re ready for it?

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

I Had My Thyroid Removed—Here’s How I Stay Healthy Now

In the spring of 2014, my allergies hit me hard—or so I thought. I was constantly stuffy, was plagued by ear pain and pressure (which I just attributed to the fact that I was blowing my nose so much), and had a raspy voice. But I was a busy working, single mom, so I just took my usual OTC medications and waited for my symptoms to pass with my son’s little league season.

A month later, though, I still felt awful and was relieved that my yearly checkup with my internist was coming up. The appointment started out as it normally did: My blood pressure and weight were perfect and I had no problems to report except for allergies. But things took a turn when my doctor felt around my neck and under my jaw and noticed a grape-sized lump.

From there, things happened at warp speed. An ultrasound soon revealed that I had a four-centimeter tumor covering the right lobe of my thyroid gland, which turned out to be a follicular variant of papillary carcinoma, and that I needed surgery to remove the entire gland. A few months after that, I’d have to swallow a radioactive iodine pill to take care of any remaining cancer cells.

People told me thyroid cancer was a ‘good’ cancer, because if found and treated early, I wouldn’t die. (Thyroid cancer has a survival rate of nearly 97 percent after five years, and I’m almost at my five-year mark as I write this.) However, having just lost a vital gland and gained a lifetime of medication, invasive tests, and doctor appointments, I didn’t quite see it that way. Post-thyroidectomy would require a lifetime of surveillance—not to mention anxiety about cancer returning.

I also didn’t realize just how important my thyroid was until it was gone. You see, this butterfly-shaped gland is like your body’s battery; the hormones it stores and produces affect the function of every organ in your body. Your thyroid regulates your metabolism and influences everything from your weight to your energy levels to your body temperature to your mood—and it’s hard to be a good mom, professional, and human being when you’re exhausted and depressed.

Related: Could You Have A Thyroid Issue?

Before having my thyroid removed, I weighed a healthy 119 pounds at five-foot-four, was clear-headed, energetic, and happy, and I slept well. I loved chasing my son around the park, taking our pup hiking, working out, and dating. I ate a healthy diet but didn’t have to worry about weight gain if I indulged in foods like bread or pasta. I had a fine-tuned metabolism and was always on-the-go!

With my thyroid gone, though, I had to start taking a drug called Synthroid (which is synthetic thyroid hormone) every morning, two hours before having any coffee or food—and I quickly learned that replacing a vital gland with a drug would be a roller-coaster of a science experiment.

Sure, I was alive—but I had no quality of life.

Immediately after my surgery, I was put on a very high dose to suppress my thyroid-stimulating hormone (which is the pituitary gland’s signal to the thyroid to get working) so cancer cells couldn’t grow back. I felt hot and red-faced, had night sweats and anxiety, and was constantly drained. Even though my diet did not change, I started to gain weight—and my fatigue made it difficult to exercise regularly. My confidence plummeted. I had to buy all new jeans. Some days I just wanted to hide under my covers.

After six months, my doctor lowered my Synthroid dose—a lot—because my bloodwork said I was in the normal range for someone without a thyroid. But I didn’t feel normal at all.

Now I was chilly, constantly covered in goosebumps, forgetful, and still depressed—not to mention my hair was falling out, my legs retained water and looked puffy, and my skin had become ruddy and red. I easily lost track of what I was doing and felt tired after a full night of sleep. The weight gain continued (20 pounds total) and I felt like I was 85, not 35. Frustrated and angry, I started cutting calories in an attempt to shed those pounds, but that only sabotaged my metabolism more.

Sure, I was alive—but I had no quality of life. For two and a half years, three different doctors did little more than tell me I was fine. Frustrated and angry, I put my background in health journalism to use to find myself the best doctor I could.

I got an appointment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City with an endocrinologist named Dr. Laura Boucai, who not only specializes in thyroid cancer maintenance, but in quality of life after thyroid cancer. For the first time, a doctor really sympathized with me, and I spent much of that first appointment crying. I was used to being shushed, reminded that I didn’t have a deadly cancer, and told to deal with my ‘new normal.’

After an ultrasound and blood work, Dr. Boucai determined my thyroid levels were way too high and my Synthroid needed to be adjusted fast. She also told me that my lifestyle was just as important as my prescription and that I’d have to stick to a few new rules, like drinking lots of water, exercising every single day, and being careful with carbs.

I had no idea how I’d make it all happen. After all, not only was I dealing with my major health problems, but I was also raising my son solo, rushing him to his math tutor and following his social calendar, and working full-time. My doctor made me realize, though: I didn’t have a choice. It was time to get tough!

Attitude was everything; not feeling sorry for myself made all the difference.

So I stopped putting sugar in my coffee, saved pasta (gluten-free) for Sundays only, started wrapping sandwiches in lettuce, and stuck to nuts and raw fruits and veggies for snacks instead of my usual salty pretzels and pita chips. I also committed to exercising at a challenging pace for an hour every single day—a major step up from my usual four weekly workouts.

Meal planning helped a lot. Every Sunday night, I cooked a huge batch of grilled chicken and quinoa salad with peppers, kale, and a sprinkle of feta. I also stocked my fridge with Greek yogurt, tuna packets, cold bean salad, and a pitcher of lemon water. Not having to think about what I was going to eat made it easier to stay on track with my busy schedule.

And when I dropped my son off at soccer practice in the evenings I hit the track for a fast-paced walk or run and ran up and down the bleachers. I also rekindled my friendship with the elliptical in our apartment complex’s gym, and started walking and hiking with our golden retriever again. I joined a barre studio (talk about burn and sweat!) and bought tennis rackets for my son and me.

Throughout the next four months, I lost 14 pounds, gained back my confidence, and started feeling like my old self again. Attitude was everything; not feeling sorry for myself made all the difference.

My new, simple outlook on life is this: Something terrible happened to me, but it will not define me. Sure, I’ll always have to have my blood-work and Synthroid dose checked every few months, but I finally have the energy and drive to really live. And that scar on my neck? It’s barely visible anymore, but I like it. It’s a battle scar that reminds me I’ve been there, conquered that.

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

Food Labels Are About To Change—Here’s What To Look For

Fifty years ago, you were pretty much on your own when it came to knowing nutrition facts, such as sugar and sodium content, about your packaged foods. The food labels we know and love/hate today didn’t even exist until 1974, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) started a voluntary food labeling.

In 1990, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), which required packaged foods include information about their nutrient levels—particularly fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar—and thus, the official Nutrition Facts label was born.

The Nutrition Facts label was created to protect consumers from misleading products, and guide us through what’s in a food, much like the table of contents of a book—but still, almost half of Americans don’t even look at these labels, let alone understand them. (As a dietitian, this struggle is near and dear to my heart; I even wrote a book about it.)

If you’re one of those people, it’s time to perk up: A new Nutrition Facts label is coming! In response to consumers’ demands for more transparency from food companies and recent research that’s identified a need to change our approach to certain nutrients, like sugars and fats, the FDA announced related label changes in 2016. And finally, after a number of delays, you’ll see these new-and-improved food labels everywhere in January 2020 (though some proactive companies have already made the switch).

Here are six important updates to look out for:

1. Calories

Calories are already the most talked about part of the Nutrition Facts label, and they’re about to become even harder to ignore. A food’s calories will now appear in bold (a neon sign around them wouldn’t fit!) to emphasize how many calories a serving contains. Plus, if a food package is a size someone could reasonably down in one sitting (even if it’s more than one serving), the label will list the number of calories in the package.

2. Calories from Fat

As we slowly but surely put our fat phobia to rest, the new Nutrition Facts label will no longer include ‘Calories from Fat.’ For decades, seeing a higher number of calories from fat in a food turned us off to a food, even if those fats came from healthy sources like avocado, olive oil, or nuts.

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‘Total fat,’ ‘saturated fat,’ and ‘trans fat’ will all still be required on food labels, so you can identify where a food’s fat is coming from. This way, you’re less likely to shun a healthy higher-fat food, but still able to weed out those that contain more questionable fats.

3. Serving Size

The number of calories listed on a food doesn’t mean much if we don’t know what the proper serving size is—and many of us end up underestimating our calorie consumption because we end up eating more than one serving but don’t double or triple the calories accordingly.

To address this, labels will list servings that are more realistic to how much of the package people actually eat. For example, a large cookie will list the nutritional information for the entire cookie, instead of half the cookie. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should finish the whole thing in one swoop, but it does provide you with a clearer picture of your potential calorie intake.

4. Sugar

Food products on store shelves contain one (or both) of two kinds of sugar: natural sugar and added sugar. While the natural sugars found in foods like milk and fruit fit into a healthy diet, sugars added to foods like breads, yogurts, and dressings by the manufacturers can be a problem in excess. Americans take in more than 77 pounds of added sugar each year, and diets high in sugar have been linked to conditions like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and more.

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

Our current food labels don’t differentiate between the natural and added sugars in foods, so you have to comb through the ingredients list to determine whether a food contains added sugar. And that’s no easy task considering sugar has so many aliases (e.g. maltose, cane juice, brown rice syrup).

The new food labels will call out how much added sugar a food contains. Plus, since The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that no more than 10 percent of total daily calories should come from added sugars, the new labels will also list what percentage of your Daily Value (the allowed daily intake of a nutrient on a 2,000-calorie diet), which is 50 grams for added sugar, a food contains. A general rule of thumb: Twenty percent or more of your Daily Value for a nutrient per serving is considered high, while five percent or less is low.

5. New Nutrients

We’re used to seeing the Daily Value percentage for certain micronutrients, like vitamin C, listed on Nutrition Facts labels—and a couple new nutrients are about to join the party. Labels will now include Daily Value percentages for vitamin D and potassium, because so few Americans meet their daily needs. Labels will also no longer be required to include vitamins A and C, since deficiencies in those vitamins are so rare today.

Use this infographic to keep your nutrition facts straight:

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Peer Pressure Has Always Been My Best Fitness Motivator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like what you’ve heard here? Join our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

 

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

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

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

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

1. Boosts Lymphatic Function, Detoxification, And Immunity

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

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

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

2. Supports Regular Toilet Time

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

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

3. Nourishes Skin

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

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

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

4. Conditions Scalp And Hair

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

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

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

Intrigued? Pin this infographic for future reference!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: 7 Natural Ways To Survive Allergy Season

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

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

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

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

Watching Your Weight? Here’s How Protein Can Help

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

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

 

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Could You Be Eating Too Many Avocados?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: 4 Types Of Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

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

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Where Does The Fat Go When You Lose Weight?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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