7 Foods That Are Good For Your Thyroid

This article was originally published in Amazing Wellness magazine.

Is your thyroid gland making you fat, sad, and tired? It’s possible. An estimated 10 million to 25 million people suffer from under-active thyroid—a condition called hypothyroidism. And some studies show even mild thyroid impairment can result in cognitive impairment.

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck; its job is to make hormones that regulate energy, metabolism, mood, heart rate, and other important functions. When it’s out of whack, symptoms can include weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, sluggish thinking, and even depression. 

If you suspect your thyroid’s not functioning properly, check in with your health care provider and support your thyroid—and overall health—with these seven foods.

1. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc, which is critical to thyroid health and is required for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Deficiencies of this mineral can lead to hypothyroidism. (Additionally, thyroid hormones are essential for zinc absorption, so hypothyroidism can lead to zinc deficiency.) Other good sources of zinc include oysters, crab, lobster, legumes, nuts, and sunflower seeds.

Try this: Purée raw pumpkin seeds with avocado chunks, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime for a creamy twist on guacamole.

Or, combine pumpkin seeds, canned black beans, shredded carrots, and instant oats in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped, and form into burgers; fry until crispy on the outside and cooked through.

Or, toss pumpkin seeds with melted butter or coconut oil, honey, cinnamon, and cardamom, and toast in the oven at 300°F until browned.

2. Seaweed

Seaweed is a great natural source of iodine. The thyroid requires iodine, a trace mineral, to synthesize sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone, and studies show that even mild iodine deficiencies can lead to thyroid problems. Other than iodized salt, the richest source of natural
iodine is seaweed, with kelp, kombu, and wakame having the highest amounts.

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Try this: Soak wakame seaweed in hot water for 20 minutes, then drain and combine with rice vinegar, sesame oil, grated ginger, honey or agave, and thinly sliced green onions for an easy seaweed salad.

Or, brush sheets of nori with olive oil, sprinkle with a mix of brown sugar, salt, smoked paprika, and cayenne, and pan fry for 15 seconds. Allow to cool, and cut into triangles.

Or, soak hijiki seaweed in hot water for 10 minutes, drain, and toss with a mixture of minced red onion, shredded carrots, cooked quinoa, and green peas. Drizzle with a dressing of white miso, black sesame seeds, sesame oil, and garlic.

3. Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts are an especially rich food source of selenium. The thyroid has the highest selenium content of any organ, and studies suggest that selenium deficiencies may be a primary cause of thyroid disorders. Other sources of selenium include tuna, sardines, beef, turkey, and chicken.

Try this: Combine Brazil nuts, olive oil, garlic, and a handful of arugula and basil in a food processor, and process into a savory pesto.

Or, soak Brazil nuts overnight in water, then drain and purée with fresh water, a couple of dates, and a dash of vanilla for a delicious milk alternative.

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

For a rich, dairy-free soup, cut sweet potatoes and onions into chunks and simmer in stock with a sprig of rosemary until soft. Then, remove and discard rosemary, add Brazil nuts, and purée until creamy and smooth.

4. Apples

Apples, like pears, plums, and citrus fruits, are rich in pectins, a gelatinous fiber that helps clear the body of heavy metals, especially mercury, which has been associated with lower levels of thyroid hormone in people with higher exposure.

Try this: Cut apples crosswise (don’t peel them—the skin is the richest source of pectin!), dredge in brown sugar, then pan-fry in coconut oil until tender. Top with shredded basil and crumbled blue cheese.

Or, spiralize an apple, lightly steam it in apple juice until tender, and serve with yogurt, hemp seeds, and blueberries as a breakfast noodle bowl.

Or, simmer chopped apples, parsnips, shallots, and sprigs of thyme in broth until tender. Remove thyme sprigs and purée until smooth, and then top with additional thyme and a dollop of crème fraîche.

5. Sardines

Sardines, like Brazil nuts, are high in selenium. They’re also rich in omega-3s, which help lower inflammation and enhance immunity, reducing the risk of Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition that’s the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Other good sources of omega-3s include salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds.

Try this: Arrange sardines in a glass casserole dish and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, and broil until hot. Shower with parsley before serving.

Or, mash boneless, skinless sardines with olive oil, chopped olives, capers, coarse black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne for an easy, spreadable fish dip.

Or, simmer boneless, skinless sardines in tomato sauce with minced rosemary leaves and crushed red pepper flakes, and serve over cooked pasta with grated Asiago cheese.

6. Yogurt

Yogurt is rich in vitamin D, a key hormone-like substance that’s involved in immune system regulation. Vitamin D deficiencies are associated with increased risk of Hashimoto’s. Other good sources of D include fortified orange juice, dairy-free milks, sardines, and sunshine.

Try this: Make a lassi, a traditional Indian drink by puréeing yogurt, frozen mango chunks, and lime juice. Pour into glasses and garnish with slices of lime.

Or, purée yogurt with blackberries, honey, and grated ginger, stir in vanilla yogurt to make swirls, and spoon into Popsicle molds and freeze.

Or, dump a container of yogurt into a cheesecloth-lined strainer and refrigerate overnight. Then, stir in your favorite herbs and seasonings and use it as a substitute for sour cream.

7. Chickpeas

Chickpeas, like other beans and legumes, are high in fiber, which can help prevent or reduce constipation—a common complaint among people with thyroid disorders. Plus, chickpeas are also high in zinc, which is critical for thyroid function.

Try this: Toss cooked chick-peas with olive oil, coarse salt, and minced rosemary, spread on a baking sheet, and roast at 400 degrees until crispy for a crunchy, nut-like snack.

For a vegan tagine, cook chickpeas with sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes, garlic, cinnamon, cumin, and broth. Stir in chopped dried figs and slivered almonds, and top with parsley. Or toss chickpeas, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower florets with olive oil, and roast at 400 degrees until tender.

Consider this your thyroid-friendly grocery list:

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4 Unexpected Benefits Of Taking Magnesium

Magnesium is a go-to supplement for many people these days, but for those not in the know, its name most likely just conjures up an image of their 7th grade periodic table. If you’re part of the latter group (no judgment!), it’s high time you give the mineral the attention it deserves.

Best known for its role in helping your nerves and muscles fire on all cylinders, “magnesium is involved in many biological processes, ranging from bone health, to blood pressure control, to kidney function, to protein synthesis, to energy production,” says Dafna Chazin, R.D.N., of Virtua Wellness & Nutrition. “It is even required to make DNA!” Yet despite its importance, nearly half of all Americans don’t meet their daily magnesium needs (320 milligrams per day for women and 420 milligrams per day for men).

“Under ideal circumstances, your magnesium intake should come from a well-balanced diet,” says Joseph Galati, M.D., author of Eating Yourself Sick: How to Stop Obesity, Fatty Liver, and Diabetes from Killing You and Your Family. (A serving of almonds, spinach, or cashews provides about 20 percent of your daily needs.) Luckily, since many of us don’t eat enough magnesium-rich foods, we can fill in any gaps with supplements.

Still not convinced you should care about getting more magnesium? Trust us: After reading about some of the very noticeable ways it affects your health and well-being, you will be. Here are four unexpected—and important—benefits magnesium has to offer.

1. Better Digestion

“Magnesium plays a huge role in regulating our muscles, heart rhythm, bowels, and immune system,” says Rebecca Lee, R.N., founder of the natural health resource Remedies For Me. Magnesium has a relaxing effect on our tissues, and can help relax intestinal walls and draw water into the colon, both of which support regular trips to the toilet. That’s why you’ll see magnesium—specifically ‘magnesium citrate’—listed as an ingredient in many laxatives.

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If you’re having trouble going to the bathroom, Lee recommends taking 300 to 400 milligrams of magnesium citrate with some water before bed. Chances are, you’ll wake up ready to go.

2. Quality Sleep

Because of magnesium’s relaxing effect on the body, deficiency can contribute to increased levels of stress and anxiety, which in turn makes good sleep hard to come by, says Galati.

A recent study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Science found that people with sleep issues can benefit from magnesium supplementation. After eight weeks of supplementing with 500 milligrams of magnesium, participants reported increased sleep times and quality, and had higher levels of blood melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle.

Related: Are You Getting Enough Magnesium?

What’s more, according to one review article published in Medical Hypothesis, numerous studies have found magnesium to be helpful for those with mood issues, such as anxiety and depression.

3. Strong Bones

Typically, when we think of bone health, we think of calcium. But guess what? Magnesium keeps your frame in shape, too! In fact, “magnesium deficiency directly contributes to osteoporosis (which is characterized by a loss of bone mass) by acting on crystal formation and on bone cells, and indirectly by impacting the secretion of parathyroid hormone and promoting low grade inflammation,” says one 2013 Nutrients review.

The authors identified a positive correlation between magnesium intake and bone mineral density in older adults, concluding that optimizing magnesium intake supports bone health long-term—and can help protect against osteoporosis.

4. Healthy Blood Pressure

“Tension in the smooth muscle of blood vessels throughout the body due to magnesium deficiency can be a cause of high blood pressure,” says Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., a functional medicine doctor and author of The Magnesium Miracle.

Research suggests that higher magnesium intake supports healthy blood pressure, with one 2011 meta-analysis published in Hypertension identifying a correlation between supplementing with magnesium and lower blood pressure. After analyzing data from 34 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials that included over 2,000 participants, the researchers proposed that 300 milligrams of magnesium daily for a month supported healthy blood pressure.

Pin this infographic for future reference:

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How I Learned To De-stress, Gained Energy, & Lost Belly Fat

I lead a pretty busy life: I’m a real estate agent in New York City (which means I’m constantly on the phone or running around or filling out paperwork), my social life is important to me, and I travel often to see family and friends in different states and countries.

Some people thrive emotionally, and even lose weight, from always being on-the-go. For me, though, leading a busy life means carrying around a good deal of stress. I find it virtually impossible to regulate my worrying and just turn off, which my doctor says is a recipe for all sorts of problems, like high blood pressure and insomnia and cortisol overload.

Did you know that cortisol contributes to belly fat? Yeah, I didn’t either—until my gut started getting out of hand when my stress levels grew. The science doesn’t lie: An extract from a study published in Obesity Research found a direct correlation between both stress and cortisol levels and “greater abdominal fat depots.” According to Harvard Health, belly fat isn’t just an aesthetic issue, either—it’s linked to high blood pressure, cardiac disease, and problematic blood sugar levels.

I genuinely wasn’t aware of the terrible lifestyle habits that were linked to my stress until recently. For one, I was too busy to care. Secondly, I wasn’t brought up in a healthy family. I wasn’t raised to eat healthfully, nor was I raised to exercise or be mindful of my body. These just weren’t things my family prioritized, and that sort of thinking stuck in my adult life. Long day? Fried chicken. Lots of paperwork? Sit hunched over at my desk, totally sedentary. Bedtime? Stay up late stress-binging Netflix until 3 a.m. It all contributed to a giant, overbearing sense of disconnection, feeling crappy, exhaustion, and yes, weight gain.

I was clued into needing a change when I realized I was literally living for my job and ignoring everything else. A friend pointed out how stressed I seemed, and how much I’d changed, which was the wakeup call I needed.

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I decided to see both a doctor and a therapist. I needed someone to tell me exactly how bad things were getting—and how to fix the issues. My doctor urged me to eat better, and to eat more frequent, smaller meals. So, I complied.

Instead of eating a burger or pizza or fried chicken whenever I was feeling super-stressed or hungry, I grabbed a fruit shake or smoothie every few hours when I was feeling an energy dip. I won’t lie: I’ll never be in love with nutritious eating, but paying attention to what I’m eating (and when) allowed me to keep my energy levels up and not experience inevitable sugar crashes and stomach distress. I also started adding daily multivitamins to make up for gaps in my diet.

The nutrition aspect was only one part of the whole, however. My therapist suggested I try to “live in the moment” every once in a while. When I had a good day or experienced something pleasant, she suggested I close my eyes and let that thought wash over me. (She also suggested I take that approach every so often with food: sit down with my food instead of inhaling it, being more mindful of the food itself, as well as the experience of eating.)

When it came to managing and de-escalating feelings of overwhelm or stress, she recommended that I take a few deep breaths, acknowledge the stress, and break down my tasks into organized steps. The result? Instead of feeling like I was drowning in a million phone calls or emails or appointments, I was able to separate myself from the moment and then tackle my to-do list with a clear mind.

The last thing I did was disconnect from physical objects, like my phone and my computer. I’d take strategic breaks throughout my busy day. No social media. No news. No emails. I’d let my mind dissolve and I’d just be in the moment. I’m no Zen guru, and I’ll never be “good” at disconnecting (mostly because my job requires me to be connected), but giving myself a few moments to turn off has helped immensely with my stress levels.

Related: 3 Physical Signs You’re Way Too Stressed

Armed with my newfound ability to live in the moment, I didn’t want to disrupt or take away from my efforts by going and throwing it all away at some fast food joint. I even started adding a few workouts to my week. It’s amazing how a new perspective and set of coping tools can refresh your definition of “living well.”

There were many tangible things I noticed after about four weeks of practicing mindfulness. For one, I had more energy throughout the day. At night, I fell asleep at a reasonable hour, instead of letting my thoughts race through my mind, and I slept more soundly. Plus, my gut had actually gotten smaller! I was able to fit into my favorite pairs of jeans and trousers without my belly bulging over the top, and I felt more confident in my workwear. As a real estate agent, you’ve got to look polished and smart, so this was a real win for me.

Before learning (both from my doctor and from my own experiences) that there is a legitimate connection between our bodies and our psyches, I was really risking it with my own sanity and health: Eating what I wanted, whenever I wanted, never stopping to take a moment for myself, and neglecting my body’s needs could never be sustainable, and I’m so glad I made the effort to improve my lifestyle before I put my health at even greater risk.

9 Signs You’re Vitamin B12 Deficient

We know to take our vitamin D in the winter and ramp up vitamin C when our immune system needs some love, and we never miss a day of our omega-3s. But there’s another nutrient many of us may need more of—and it’s finally making its way onto our radars, thanks to a little help from the attention of celebrities like Lo Bosworth, Chelsea Handler, and Rita Ora: vitamin B12.

We think of vitamin B12 as important for energy, and while it’s true that it helps us turn fat and protein into energy, it does so much more than that. “B12 is vital for the functioning of your nervous system, creating DNA and RNA (the building blocks of every cell in your body), brain health, and carrying oxygen throughout the body,” says Maggie Michalczyk R.D.N.

Like all vitamins, we can’t produce the B12 we need on our own, and have to get it through diet and/or supplements. (It’s found in animal products like eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, shellfish, salmon, tuna, chicken, and beef.) And since B12 is a water-soluble vitamin and isn’t stored in our body long-term, we need to re-stock regularly.

Thing is, we’re apparently not too good at getting in that much-needed B12: The National Institutes of Health estimates that up to 15 percent of Americans are deficient. Some people—like vegetarians and vegans, who don’t eat many (or any) animal products, and those with digestive conditions, who often have trouble absorbing the vitamin—are at higher risk for deficiency, but vitamin B12 is important for everyone, explains Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause some pretty crummy (and sneaky) side effects—and lead to serious health issues if left untreated. “Many people with deficiency go months or years without being diagnosed because it’s easy to write off the symptoms as stress from our go-go-go lifestyle,” says Michalczyk.

Below are nine signs you’re seriously wanting for B12 you shouldn’t overlook.

1. You’re Just Plain Exhausted

“Fatigue is one of the first signs of B12 deficiency,” says Michalczyk. Your body relies on the vitamin to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your organs. Without enough red blood cells to transport that oxygen, you can develop anemia, which is typically marked by fatigue (think overall weakness, trouble keeping up with your pup on walks or carrying groceries, and even lightheadedness.) If you’re experiencing constant fatigue for no clear reason, your doctor can first test your red blood cell count to confirm if you have anemia and then order further testing to determine if low B12 is the culprit.

2. Your Tongue Has Lost Its Texture

It’s not uncommon for people with B12 deficiency to lose ‘papillae,’ the tiny, taste bud-containing bumps on your tongue, says Pat Salber M.D., creator of the website The Doctor Weighs In. As a result, your tongue may appear smoother and shinier than usual, and your sense of taste may seem dull. For some people, vitamin B12 deficiency may also cause glossitis (inflammation of the tongue) and even mouth ulcers or burning and itching. These oral issues occur because vitamin B12-related anemia interferes with the proper growth and development of red blood cells.

3. You’re Pale Or Jaundiced

Because B12 influences red blood cell production and deficiency can leave you with a shortage, you may notice you look paler than usual, explains Valdez. Deficiency can also cause the red blood cells you do have to break down and release an orange-yellow pigment called bilirubin, which then leaves you looking rather yellow.

4. Your Hair Has Been Falling Out

Most of us lose an average of 80 strands of hair per day—and a lack of B12 can contribute to excess shedding. This, too, is because of B12’s role in red blood cell production and transport of oxygen throughout the body, says Valdez. Fewer blood cells and less oxygen to your hair follicles mean locks that are starving for nutrients.

Related: 8 Possible Reasons Why Your Hair Is Falling Out

5. You Feel A Tingling Sensation

“In conjunction with other B vitamins, B12 plays an important role in keeping your nervous system functioning properly,” says Michalczyk. Specifically, B12 plays a role in the production of a fatty substance called ‘myelin’ that surrounds and protects your nerves. Without ample B12, nerve cells are more susceptible to deterioration, which can lead to a ‘pins and needles’ sensation called ‘paresthesia’ in your hands and feet (like the feeling you get when you sit cross-legged for too long and your foot falls asleep). Ignoring this for too long can cause permanent damage to your nerves, Salber says.

6. You’ve Been Tripping A Lot

Because of its role in producing myelin and regulating the nervous system, a lack of B12 can cause the nerves in the spinal cord to atrophy over time, which can eventually diminish your sense of touch and affect your sense of where your body is in space (called ‘proprioception’), leaving you unsteady, says Valdez. These feelings of instability can be worsened by the dizziness that often comes along with low B12-related anemia.

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Since frequent tripping or stumbling can also be related to heart conditions or low blood pressure, talk to your doc if you’ve been feeling unusually clumsy.

7. You’re Very Forgetful

The deterioration of that protective myelin in nerves throughout your brain can leave you feeling incredibly absent-minded. “Most people come in before the symptom gets this bad, but symptoms that mimic dementia can occur,” says Michalczyk. In fact, one study published in the journal Neurology linked vitamin B12 deficiency to age-related memory decline—and even brain shrinkage. The researchers found that vitamin B12-deficient older people had the smallest brains and lowest scores on tests meant to measure thinking, reasoning, and memory.

8. You’re Stressed Or Sad All The Time

You may not associate your mood with vitamins, but many nutrients—including vitamin B12—can have an effect on your sense of well-being. “B12 deficiency may impact the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine,” says Valdez. These chemicals are often known as the ‘feel-good’ hormones, and their dysfunction has been implicated in mood issues like depression.

9. You Take Certain Prescription Drugs

Over time, some drugs, like metformin (which is commonly prescribed to people with type 2 diabetes), heartburn medications, oral contraceptives, antacids like proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), and even aspirin may lead to a vitamin B12 deficiency, explains Valdez. “These medications can reduce stomach acid, which then reduces the amount of B12 the body is able to absorb,” he says. To avoid any potential issues, Valdez recommends always asking your doctor about whether nutrient deficiencies are a side effect of any medications you’re about to start long-term.

Getting Your B12 Back On Track

“The only way to identify a vitamin B12 deficiency is to have blood work done by your doctor,” says Michalczyk. From there, they may recommend you eat more animal-based foods, if possible, or start taking a supplement to up your intake. If supplementing, Valdez recommends looking for B12 in the form of methylcobalamin (or methyl-B12), which is easiest for our bodies to absorb, at whatever dose your doctor recommends.

If your deficiency is a result of an inability to properly absorb vitamin B12 (as is the case in celiac or Crohn’s disease or because of certain meds), then B12 shots, which deliver the vitamin straight into your blood stream, are a good option, says Michalczyk. Just know that you’ll need a prescription and have to take a trip to the doc’s office to get one.

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Summer Skin Woes? This Soothing DIY Gel Can Help

Ah, summer. We’ve waited all year for your sunny days, jacket-free temperatures, beach weekends, and watermelon-filled barbecues. The skin issues, like sunburn, thousands of bug bites, and shorts chafing, though? Not so much.

If you’ve got a fair complexion, ‘sweet’ mosquito-magnet blood, or just all-around sensitive skin, your summer skin-care routine needs to be jam-packed with soothing ingredients. We love this DIY skin-soothing gel recipe for when we’ve spent a little too much time in the sun or gotten eaten alive by bugs in the backyard.

Show your skin some TLC with these three simple ingredients:

– 4 drops chamomile essential oil
– 5 drops lavender essential oil
– 4 Tbsp aloe vera gel

Aloe vera, our go-to summer skin savior, contains vitamin A (which supports cell health and growth), vitamin C (an antioxidant that fights the cell damage involved in aging), and a compound called barbaloin (another antioxidant). Plus, because aloe is made up mostly of water, it helps hydrate your skin, too. Meanwhile, both chamomile and lavender have long been used in schools of traditional medicine for their calming qualities—and they give this gel a lovely scent!

All you have to do is mix your ingredients and store the gel in the refrigerator for an instant cooling, soothing sensation whenever your skin is crying out.

Pin this recipe card to your fridge or bathroom mirror for quick reference all summer long:


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n our Facebook communities, Eating Healthy and Staying Fit, today!

The Difference Between MCT And Coconut Oil—And How To Use Each

Coconut oil and MCT oil are all over the place these days, and as intrigued as people are, the hype has left many of us scratching our heads. After all, we’ve heard that coconut oil contains MCTs—so is there really much of a difference between the two products?

Simply put: Yes. Here’s what distinguishes the two trendy oils from each other.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is made by pressing the oil out of dried coconut, and is 92 percent saturated fat. (Yep, it’s higher in saturated fat than beef or butter!) Between 62 and 65 percent of coconut oil’s saturated fats come from MCTs (medium-chain tryiglycerides), a type of saturated fat that is absorbed and used by our body differently than most fats, like LCTs (long-chain triglycerides), which make up the rest of the saturated fat in coconut oil. MCTs are smaller molecules, making them easier for our body to use for energy and less likely to be stored as fat.

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Though coconut oil doesn’t contain exclusively MCTs, it does contain more than other types of dietary fats, explains Ginger Hultin, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.O., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here’s the catch, though: Up to 53 percent of coconut oil’s fatty acids come from an MCT called lauric acid, which “behaves more like a long-chain triglyceride than an MCT in many ways,” says Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com. “It contains more carbon atoms and therefore takes more work to break down, so some people don’t even feel it should be called an MCT.”

MCT Oil

While coconut oil contains both MCTs and LCTs, MCT oil contains just MCTs. To create pure MCT oil, coconut and/or palm kernel oils undergo a process called ‘fractionation,’ in which filters or chemicals separate the different types of fatty acids in the oil and create the odorless, colorless, and flavorless refined oil you see on store shelves, says Hultin. No LCTs to be found.

Through this process, even larger MCTs—like lauric acid (which has 12 carbons)—are filtered out in favor of smaller MCTs—like caproic acid (six carbons) and caprylic acid (eight carbons), says Axe. “The shorter the chain (meaning the fewer carbons the fatty acid has), the easier it should be to absorb and use the fat for energy,” he explains. Most MCT oils contain less lauric acid than coconut oil, and concentrate those smaller MCTs in order to be as easy for our body to use for energy—and unlikely to be stored as fat—as possible.

When To Use What

Both coconut and MCT oils are great to have on-hand. “The MCTs you get from either coconut oil or MCT oil are digested easily and support your metabolism because they have a thermogenic (heat-building) effect,” says Axe.

Coconut oil’s main perks: It boasts a smoke point (350 degrees Fahrenheit), has a long shelf life, and offers a unique flavor, making it a great option for cooking and baking, says Hultin. Try using it in creamy soups, baked goods, and stir-fries, or blending it into coffee or smoothies. It also makes a great shortening replacement for greasing pans!

Plus, coconut oil’s uses don’t end in the kitchen; it’s also a superhero beauty and skin-care ingredient, often used to lock moisture into dry skin and hair or remove makeup.

Related: 12 Health And Beauty Uses For Coconut Oil

MCT oil, on the other hand, isn’t something you’d want to cook with, partly because the refinement process leaves it with a low smoke point of 284 degrees. You can, however, use it in low-heat recipes, like oatmeal, marinades, or dressings—or, like coconut oil, blend it into smoothies or coffee. Just don’t expect MCT oil to add any flavor (unless the product specifies that it’s been flavored).

Since it’s produced specifically to maximize the fastest-absorbing fatty acids out there, MCT oil is typically taken as a supplement by people who follow a ketogenic diet, which involves shifting the body’s primary fuel source from sugar to fat, explains Axe. Since MCTs can be used for energy, they can help keto dieters churn out more of the ketone bodies (a.k.a fat fuel molecules) they need to thrive.

While MCT oil has a bit of an edge when it comes to ketone-boosting ability, it’s more expensive than regular ol’ coconut oil, so Axe recommends keto dieters make it an ‘every now and then’ swap-in when they need a little extra oomph. Otherwise, the average healthy eater can still benefit from the MCTs found in coconut oil while enjoying the light flavor it adds to various recipes.

Shopping Tips

When shopping for a quality coconut oil, look for a label that lists just one ingredient: ‘virgin cold-pressed coconut oil,’ says Axe, who also recommends going for organic when possible. Cold-pressed oils are produced at a lower heat, which preserves more of the nutrients they contain and maintains their natural mild flavor (plnt brand’s Extra-Virgin Cold-Pressed Coconut Oil is a good option). Since coconut oil is solid at temperatures below 76 degrees but starts to melt at warmer temps, don’t be alarmed if the texture of your oil changes with the seasons!

Finding a high-quality MCT oil can be a little trickier. Axe recommends looking for a product that clearly states both the ingredients used and the process by which it was made (low-heat processing is better, while steam distillation and the use of chemical solvents are not so great). The bottle should read ‘cold-pressed and unfiltered,’ and the oil should be a thick, clear liquid. (Bulletproof Brain Octane oil contains just caprylic acid MCTs concentrated from coconut oil.) If you notice an inconsistent texture (lumpy or solid), the MCT oil may be hydrogenated or lesser in quality, he says.

Pin this infographic to make the most of coconut and MCT oils:

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I’ve Lost 30 Pounds On Keto—But The Benefits Go Way Beyond Weight Loss

Like a lot of people, I ate a ton of pasta and pizza during my college days. I not only gained the feared “freshman 15,” but my stomach was often a mess. There were days when intense nausea or intestinal pain would prevent me from going to class (or going out at all).

Eventually I saw a doctor, who gave me probiotics to balance my gut, but he also recommended that I remove things from my diet, one by one, to determine the root cause of my digestive issues. Ultimately, the culprit turned out to be those heavy carbs I was eating.

Together, we decided that I’d start a keto diet, which focuses on low-carb and higher fat intake. It also doesn’t restrict the amount of food you eat—it’s not about calorie counting—which was important to me. The goal of keto is to get into a metabolic state called ketosis, which happens when the body is deprived of carbs and starts to break down stores of fat for energy.

To start, I cut out potatoes, bread, rice, soda, cereal, and sugary sweets. (I’ll be honest: I still miss those foods—a lot.) I added healthy fats (like avocados) and tons of protein-packed fish (like salmon, tuna, trout, and swordfish) to my diet. I also upped my intake of specific veggies, such as Brussels sprouts, arugula, and bok choy. To get my pasta fix, I started making veggie noodles with a spiralizer.

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Even though I was making strides in replacing my core foods, learning to count my carbs was certainly an obstacle in the beginning. Most people know that eating fried chicken or cheeseburgers all the time probably isn’t good for you, but with keto, you have to get specific—especially if you want to get into ketosis. For example, you have to be aware of your carbohydrate-to-fiber and natural sugar ratio. I don’t exceed 30 grams of carbs per day. This is pretty challenging because hidden carbohydrates are everywhere.

For the first few weeks, I constantly needed to pull up the approved keto diet list when grocery shopping. I’d often have to put things back on the shelf—especially fruits, which I never realized were so high in sugar. But I eventually got into a routine with it.

A lot of people were skeptical when they heard I was doing keto. They couldn’t conceive of how a diet that allows you to eat a ton of protein and fat could possibly be healthy for you. (Hint: I do not eat bacon all day! I choose clean proteins and healthy fats.)

What works for me is having a variety of clean snacks or small meals on-hand (like avocados, hard boiled eggs, celery and peanut butter, or tomatoes and blue cheese dressing) when I’m hungry. It helps with the cravings—and prevents me from reaching for an easy (and most likely carb-heavy) meal.

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

To me, eating keto has become more than just a diet. It’s a lifestyle.

Even though keto can be pretty hard, it is rewarding: I lost 30 pounds in six months and my digestive problems have totally disappeared. I also have way more energy! Before going keto, I’d reached a point with my weight where I was lethargic and couldn’t do the things I wanted to do—like take long walks with my girlfriend.

The benefits of going keto, however, go well beyond the physical: I feel more in control of my wellness, I’m way more creative about my food, and I’m more mindful of my body and my time.

I’m always researching new and exciting meal options, which keeps keto from being boring or unsatisfying. (There’s usually a keto version of any recipe out there, and it can be a fun challenge to find it and make it.) I usually prep my meals on Sunday nights for the week ahead, which has allowed me to better budget my time (as a recent graduate student and full-time professional, it’s crucial.)

Mostly, I am empowered by my own effort. There’s no quick and easy way to be healthy. Choosing to eat healthfully takes time and focus.

These days, checking nutrition labels has become second nature to me, which is a game-changer. I’ve never paid more attention to what I put in my body! It’s made me more mindful of the fact that quality really is more important than speed and ease.

Like anything else, the more effort you put into keto, the better the overall results. I love knowing that the hard work I’m doing has a direct influence on my physical and mental wellbeing.

I Tried Using Vitamin B3 To Calm My Nerves

Anyone who suffers from a panic disorder, like myself, knows that feelings of panic or anxiety can be predictable—or they can pop up out of nowhere. While I have learned to anticipate—and take measure against—situations that may set me off, I am still vulnerable to the unexpected. To manage my anxious feelings (at one point I was having panic attacks up to six times a day), I’ve had luck using benzodiazepines (one of a few types of anxiety meds, which includes valium and xanax).

In fact, they’re pretty much the only drugs that have ever had the power to alleviate my own hardcore panic attacks in the moment. However, I make it a point not to use them regularly, because, in my experience, if you can ‘ride out’ an attack, it helps to build resiliency.

These drugs can also present some challenges if you take them regularly and then decide to discontinue use (common withdrawal symptoms include sleep disturbances, irritability, and anxiety). My fear lies more in knowing I could build up a tolerance to them if I use them enough, which introduces the bloodcurdling possibility that the drug might not work when I’m really freaking out and desperately need it to work.

So, after doing some thorough research, I learned that a more sustainable, everyday, safe solution might just be readily available—right at my local health food store: vitamin B3.

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Studies, like this one published in ISRN Psychiatry, suggest that some people who experience unstable moods and anxious feelings can benefit from regular, daily use of vitamin B3. That’s because, as was published in another study in Orthomolecular, the vitamin influences the balance of brain chemicals like serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, and GABA (all of which control our moods).

After reading the studies, and figuring that I had nothing to lose, I purchased some B3 and tried it for myself. I took 500 mgs a day in the morning and I used no other drugs daily. It’s important to note that people, especially with any sort of health condition, use B3 under the supervision of a doctor.

Related: I Tried Meditation Every Day For A Week—Here’s What Happened

The results

I’m happy to report that I noticed real improvements in the way I felt! Within the first two weeks of taking the supplement, I was much calmer in general. My anxious feelings, which were usually loud and noticeable, quieted down—more like the dull roar of a distant engine. The general feeling of daily distress, which I’d lived with for so long, had subsided, and I had more room to move around in my own psyche without being constantly bombarded by my own anxious thoughts.

Encouraged (and elated!) by these unexpected developments, I wanted to further dive into my own mental wellness. At that point, I started combining the use of B3 with regular exercise, which is known to improve mood and anxiety levels.

By the third week, things only got better.

A month into exercise and B3 usage, I had only had three serious panic attacks. These did require pharmaceutical-drug intervention, but this was a real departure from the number of panic attacks I was having before starting B3.

It was nothing short of a breakthrough for me, as I’m something of a cynic. I didn’t expect the vitamin to work for me (or at least not work to any degree worth mentioning).

Sure, some of this might be the result of a placebo effect, but all I know is that I feel better (and the science backs it up!). I’m no doctor, but I definitely see B3 as a sustainable way to manage my own anxiety. On top of that, I am elated by the prospect of managing my condition more naturally.

Almost No One Gets Enough Potassium—And That’s A Big Problem

A banana a day keeps the doctor away. Okay, that may not be the exact saying—but perhaps it should be.

We spend a lot of time worrying about whether we’re getting enough of nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, and even vitamin C, while potassium, which bananas are chock-full of, is often overlooked. That really shouldn’t be the case, considering less than two percent of Americans get the recommended 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day! This is such a problem that the 2015 USDA Dietary Guidelines called out potassium as a ‘nutrient of public health concern’ and food companies will soon have to include it on food labels.

Here’s everything you need to know about why you need potassium in the first place, where to get it, and what to do if you’re falling short.

Why Potassium Matters

Potassium is an essential mineral and electrolyte that helps regulate fluid levels in your body, communication between your nerves and muscles, and your blood vessel function. The mineral supports healthy blood pressure by easing tension in your blood vessel walls, and The American Heart Association credits it with helping to offset sodium’s harmful effects on blood pressure, because the more potassium you eat, the more sodium you excrete. One study published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows potassium to be especially important for controlling blood pressure when sodium intake is high (which it is for most Americans, who consume about 1,000 milligrams of excess sodium per day).

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

Plus, potassium interacts with hormones released during physical activity that keep the heart’s electrical impulses stable, so it’s essential for cardiovascular performance during exercise.

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough

If you’re falling short on potassium—a state called ‘hypokalemia’—you may or may not notice symptoms, which typically include constipation, muscle weakness or spasms, fatigue, tingling or numbness, slightly elevated blood pressure, or feelings of skipped heart beats or abnormal heart rhythms. Though not common, a large enough drop in potassium levels can slow your heart rate enough to make you feel like you’re going to faint.

Low potassium level can also impact your exercise regime in several ways. First, thrown off fluid balance can leave you feeling fatigued and unable to work out as hard as you may like. Second, since potassium plays a role in muscle contractions, you may be plagued by aches, spasms, and cramps.

Long-term, insufficient dietary potassium has been shown to increase the risk of a number of illnesses and chronic diseases, such as strokes and osteoporosis. Furthermore, early animal research found that mice with low levels of the mineral had higher chances of developing heart disease. (Though it’s uncertain whether these animal findings apply to humans as well, the researchers suggest potassium may be a viable strategy for controlling vascular disease.)

How To Tell If You’re Low

A survey published by The Archives of Internal Medicine found the average dietary potassium intake in the U.S. to be about 2,300 milligrams per day for adult women and 3,100 milligrams per day for adult men—both of which are much lower than the recommended 4,700 milligrams a day.

To evaluate your potassium intake and levels, start by scheduling some one-on-one time with a dietitian to assess your specific food intake and how much potassium it provides, and consider having your doctor test your blood levels. (According to The National Institutes of Health, the normal range is 3.7 to 5.2 mmol/L.)

How To Pack In More Potassium

While bananas are a great source of potassium, with 422 milligrams in one medium fruit, there are plenty of other foods that provide hefty amounts of the mineral. For example, a medium baked potato actually blows bananas out of the water, providing 926 milligrams. Other potassium-rich foods include apricots, avocados, cantaloupes, dark leafy greens, oranges, tomatoes, seaweed, squash, sweet potatoes, peas, and prunes. With almost 600 milligrams in a cup, even yogurt packs potassium.

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Try to incorporate potassium into each meal—it’s easier than you think! Start by adding a serving of dried fruit to your morning cereal or a mix of cottage cheese and yogurt. Then, be sure to build your lunchtime salad on a solid foundation of greens, and include other potassium-containing foods like citrus, tomatoes, and beets. For an afternoon snack, consider a smoothie made with Greek yogurt, banana, nut butter, and some greens. And for dinner, enjoy some baked potato along with salmon or a bean salad.

By eating a healthy, balanced diet packed with nutrient-foods, not only will you up your potassium intake, but you’ll bring in higher amounts of a whole slew of other vital nutrients, too—and that truly does a body good.

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!

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.)

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

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!

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.”

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!

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!

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

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!