I Got Naked In -250 Degrees—All In The Name Of Health

Plenty of people suffer from inflammation, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that whole-body cryotherapy—submersion of one’s entire body (except for the head) in freezing liquid nitrogen mist—is gaining traction for athletes and non-athletes alike.

I’ve got arthritis and capsulitis (extreme swelling of the joint capsules) in both of my feet. I’ve been icing multiple times a day for months, which means I submerge my feet in ice water and then pull them out to encourage a rush of oxygenated blood to the areas that need to heal. When a friend mentioned how much cryotherapy has helped her painful knees, I decided to give it a go. After all, my feet were used to the icy cold.

Related: I Tried Oil Pulling For Two Weeks—Here’s What It’s Like

My appointment took place on a hot and humid day in late June. Sweat dripped down my temples as I got in the car. I kept telling myself the cold would be welcome on a summer day. Little did I know just how cold it would actually get.

The concept of harnessing the healing powers of the cold dates back to ancient Egypt. Starting from the 1700s, doctors used hydrotherapy and cryotherapy for all sorts of treatments, from migraines to surgery.

After I checked in, the cryo-operator had me pick out neoprene mittens and booties, similar to those I wore while scuba diving in Iceland (also super-cold). Then he showed me into a small changing room where I would step into a robe.

“Be sure to dry off completely,” the operator warned. “You don’t want any moisture on you.” I suddenly worried about whether my armpits were damp or if sweat still clung to the hair at the nape of my neck. I dabbed at these parts with my towel. Moisture freezes, so you want to avoid that.

“Do you have any piercings?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Ears, nose, and belly button.”

“Ears and nose are fine,” he said, “but you’ll want to cover up the belly button piercing with this.” He handed me a roll of masking tape. I found myself wondering just how cold the metal in my belly could possibly get and how helpful the tape would even be.

I stripped down to my underwear and put on the robe, booties, and mittens. Then I approached the chamber and a massive nitrogen tank. The chamber looked like how you’d imagine a shower stall on an airplane—neck-high and barely big enough to move inside.

Related: Shop joint health products to stay feeling your best.

After he shut me in the chamber (my head stuck out the top, which is good for people who are claustrophobic), I handed the man my robe. He stood outside of the chamber to control the settings. At first it felt strange to have him in the room—I was naked except for my underwear and the neoprene, after all. But it was helpful to talk to him during the process. He told me he uses cryotherapy every day and loves it.

I told him I was ready—and then he opened the valve of the tank. Liquid nitrogen mist whooshed in and filled the chamber. For a few seconds an instinctive fear-like reaction kicked in, like being in a room suddenly filling with smoke. But with my head over the edge of the stall I could breathe just fine. It actually all looked pretty cool, like I was standing in the middle of dry ice.

It works like this: Cryotherapy cools down the patient’s skin by exposing it to -160 to -250F liquid nitrogen mist for two-five minutes, typically. When the skin comes into contact with such cold, it sends messages to the brain to initiate survival mode, pulling blood from the extremities to the body’s center, where it gets oxygen and other nutrients. (FYI: Frostbite affects the hands and feet first, so this is why patients wear mittens and booties in the chamber.)

When patients step out of the chamber, the newly-fortified blood rushes through the body, which is good for the organs, cells, and skin. Oh, and the process also sends the body’s metabolism into overdrive; each treatment reportedly burns around 500 calories.

Cryotherapy cools down the patient’s skin by exposing it to -160 to -250F liquid nitrogen mist for two-five minutes, typically. When the skin comes into contact with such cold, it sends messages to the brain to initiate survival mode.

But it’s hard to think about calories or the benefits when you’re in the chamber. The cold is shocking, and I had goosebumps immediately. The man had me turn in slow circles and said I could cross my hands over my chest if I needed extra warmth. I managed to keep my hands at my sides for the entire three minutes, and couldn’t talk for the last minute or so because my teeth were chattering. And then I was done. The man closed the valve, opened the door, and just like that, the mist evaporated and I stepped out. I was back on the road inside of 15 minutes.

The concept of harnessing the healing powers of the cold dates back to ancient Egypt. Starting from the 1700s, doctors used hydrotherapy and cryotherapy for all sorts of treatments, from migraines to surgery. Treatments using cold progressed from water and ice to solidified carbon dioxide to liquid oxygen and finally to liquid nitrogen in the 1950s, which was used to kill cancer cells on contact. Cryotherapy is also used to freeze off warts!

In the late 1970s, a doctor in Japan developed whole-body cryotherapy to mitigate the pain and inflammation of rheumatic diseases. Today, it’s widely used for post-game recovery by athletes. Even day spas are offering the treatment to boost skin regeneration and metabolism. As cryotherapy becomes more accessible, people are using it for everything from anxiety to weight loss to decreasing the pain associated with Crohn’s disease.

It’s hard to determine whether cryotherapy will decrease my inflammation or help me manage my pain—I should go more regularly for a few weeks to assess that. The issue? Cryotherapy is a bit pricey (lots of places charge about $75 a pop per session) and not terribly convenient, since the nearest cryo-center is about 40 minutes away.

People with certain health conditions, like deep vein thrombosis or cancer, can’t use cryotherapy. There’s a list of them here.

My results? My feet didn’t actively hurt that day, and I felt a major rush of endorphins. The exhilaration I felt afterward left me whistling while driving home in my car. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that my cheeks were rosy red all day long, either.

How I Finally Forced Out The Negative Thoughts And Got Happy & Healthy

I used to be best friends with the negative voice inside my head—a voice so normal to me that I never questioned it.

It would say things like:

Are you really wearing that outfit?
You’re. Not. Good. Enough.
Please. He’ll never talk to you.
I bet you can’t do that.
Of course she ran a marathon. You won’t.

Harping on what made me feel sad or discouraged became a vicious cycle. I was hyper-aware of what I was not and what I did not have. I could articulate these things, but I didn’t do much to change my life beyond that.

poet in vacation mode. 🌷

A post shared by s t e p h a n i e (@stephanieasteria) on

The spiral of negativity never let me do anything. It held me back. It helped me not apply for jobs I was more than qualified for. It helped me linger in an abusive relationship. It helped me not take care of myself. You see where I’m going here?

Related: Shop vits and supps for mood support. 

Basically, this attitude saturated my life. Everything was washed in a grey stain. My friends had negative sides—and we’d link up and look at everything with a dark tinge. Instead of being happy for other people, I just focused on my own loss or lack of achievements. I was often jealous of others. Essentially, I was on the fast track to nowhere.

Then one day, I started to daydream. I imagined myself happier, more successful, at peace. I found myself wondering: If I spent less time feeling bitter, then could I do other things? Like, say, get a book published? Take up running? Approach a potential new friend after a Pilates class? Feel more confident?

They all seemed like lofty ideas. Yeah right, Stephanie, that’ll never happen. Just stay here, where it’s comfortable.

Then, I snapped. I finally realized I wasn’t accomplishing much (or anything) with this kind of thinking. In fact, most experiences and interactions seemed smudged with negativity and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like looking at the world, my life, or other people that way.

This is not to say that I didn’t have happy or feel-good moments. I did, but they weren’t plentiful–because I was hell-bent on manifesting a life full of no’s.

Related: Mindfulness Tips From A Former Stress Junkie

I needed a change stat. I took stock of the things that I was experiencing: poor body image, inconsistent sleep, low energy, irritability. Honestly, who wants to feel like that all the time?

I wanted to see the light in situations and my life as a whole.

It started by making a pledge to myself to stop seeing myself as weak. If I wanted feel better, I had to be better. And letting go of negativity helped me start a life journey full of health and wellness.

High heels off, I'm feeling alive 🦄

A post shared by s t e p h a n i e (@stephanieasteria) on

Not all of this change happened over night. It took a few years. And I sometimes still struggle with it. But, looking back, I’ve accomplished so much more: I went from being inactive to being a HIIT workout warrior, a runner who completed my first timed 5k (!), a meditation enthusiast, and positive force in my own life and in the lives of my nearest and dearest friends and loved ones.

How did I get here? Here’s my tool-kit for wellness, fitness, and contentment. You can modify my ideas to fit your needs and take from this list what you want and need. You’re worth it and so am I.

1. Recognize your feelings and then let them go.

Being human is awesome because that means we have a myriad of experiences, emotions, and deep connections. Yeah, it can also be tough, bleak, and crushing. You are allowed to feel angry, jealous, jaded, mad, and upset. These are all valid feelings. Talk about it with a friend, a coach, a trusted mentor, or journal them out.

Then, release them. You said your piece. Now move on. Whatever your situation may be, there might be one, two, or three things you can do to change it or cope with it better. Start moving.

2. Let go again and again.

Yeah, you’re going to still feel negativity. You are human, after all!  Practice the art of letting go again and again. How can you cope? Distract yourself. Call a friend. Go for a run. Try a workout video in the comfort and privacy of your own home (I’m partial to Yoga with Adriene–she’s super zen and fun!). Meditate. Journal. Watch a movie. Develop a self-care plan. There’s so much more that you can do.

3. Get physical.

In my case, my negativity fueled my desire to avoid taking risks. Working out was too risky because I was convinced I would for sure, 100 percent, fail at it. And I did fail for a long, long time. This is because I already not-so-secretly decided that I wasn’t a “fitness person” (whatever that means). So essentially, I made a prophecy and I fulfilled it tenfold because I consciously and subconsciously told myself that I just could not do it.

Well, change it up! I dove deep into HIIT, Crossfit, and running. I didn’t do them all at the same time, but I did explore each of them at my own pace. And my life certainly changed for the better with these mega awesome fitness journeys. I convinced myself that I could never be a runner. Now, in 2017, I ran my first timed 5k.

Related: How HIIT Classes Rebuilt My Self-Confidence

I was so happy when I crossed the finish line that I burst into streams of tears. I accomplished a three-mile run in just 32 minutes. The joy I felt after finishing my first run was priceless. And now, I want to recreate that joy again and again. I try to do so by accessing a support network of other people who care about these things and will maybe take a fitness class or go for a run with me.

4. Be present.

My go-to trick? Meditation. It helps relax me and feel at peace. And, it’s a great way to zone out when my brain is constantly barking about something negative or self-deprecating. I like to re-center myself and keep my mind healthy (because our minds and feelings are some of the most precious things in this world).

There are dozens of amazing meditation apps like Calm, Breathe, and Happify. I suggest starting with a low-key and relaxing bedtime routine and test the waters with a two-minute meditation before bed. Start easy, go at your own pace, and go from there.

Related: It’s Time To Stop Being So Scared of Meditation

5. Begin each day with a quick gratitude session

I write down three things I’m happy or grateful for. (For starters, I have an amazing little pup named Pepperoni Pizza, so it’s hard not to start my day with a sweet smile or laugh.) Beyond that, I smile at strangers. I approach people I want to know. I make sure to laugh a lot and often.

It took a huge battle to shake off negative feelings of feeling weak and lazy. Once I was over the hump, the world opened up for me: I left an abusive partner, I published a second book, I succeeded at a new job at a tech company. I slept better.

It felt like magic, or that the universe was conspiring in my favor. In fact, it was just me.

5 Foods That Could Be Messing With Your Gut

History and common sense say we should always trust our gut—but in order to do so, we need it to be functioning at its best.

The consensus among nutrition and medical experts is that our gut health can affect our overall well-being for better or worse. “The health of the gastrointestinal tract is extremely important because the gut contains a majority of the immune system, with just a single layer of cells lining it,” says Maureen Leonard, M.D., clinical director for the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment. “This single layer of cells separates the immune system from the many environmental exposures we ingest.”

Since our intestines filter good things (like nutrients) from bad things (like toxins), our gut is one of our body’s first lines of defense against the outside world, according to Stephanie Dunne, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., I.F.N.C.P.

Researchers still have much to learn about our gut, but here’s what we do know: The bacteria that live in our gut (which are often called the ‘microbiome’) contribute to our overall health and may play a role in the development of disease, our mood, and our weight, Dunne says. Everyone’s gut is different, depending on a person’s individual biology, environment, medical history, medication use, and diet, explains Leonard. This means we all deal with toxins in different ways, and we each have different levels of intestinal permeability (a measure of how easily materials can pass through the cells lining our gut and into our body), says Leonard.

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

And though our diet alone doesn’t determine the fate of our gut health, nutrition is an important part of keeping our microbiome strong, diverse (the more strains of good bacteria the better!), and able to ward off inflammation. “Lifestyle choices, stress management, and nutrition are all pieces of the puzzle, and none of them can be ignored if we really want a happy digestive tract,” Dunne says.

Is your grub holding back your gut health? Read on to learn what foods to cut back on (and what to eat instead) to keep your insides as happy as possible.

As much as those refined carbohydrates and sweets tempt our taste buds, they are less-than-ideal food for the good microorganisms that live in our gut. Our relationship with these good gut bugs works like this: We feed them, and, in turn, they provide us with vitamin K2 and short-chain fatty acids, according to Dunne. The good gut bugs feed on complex carbohydrates and their fiber, while the not-so-friendly bacteria in our gut feed on refined carbs and sugar. The stronger our little colony of healthy bacteria—and the weaker the colony of bad guys—the better our gut is able to keep us regular and healthy.

“By reducing the intake of refined carbs and increasing our intake of fiber, we are feeding the good guys and starving the bad guys,” Dunne says. “We, in turn, reap the benefit of having more good guys living in our gut.” So by swapping sugar and refined carbs like white breads or pastas for complex, whole-food sources like fiber-rich beans, whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, we give our healthy bacteria the food it needs, says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D.N., author of The MIND Diet.

Knocking back cocktails is a surefire way to diminish our gut health, according to Ana Johnson, M.S., R.D., C.D.E. “Alcohol is inflammatory, and causes all of your body systems to become inflamed, including your digestive system,” she says. Ever experienced symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea, or even acid reflux or heartburn after drinking? Yep, there’s your evidence. Alcohol can also make conditions like irritable bowel syndrome worse—and it can even lead to gastritis (inflammation of the lining of the stomach.)

The only way to truly prevent this damage is to ditch your cocktail for a mocktail. Alcohol is a toxin, and the most effective way to reverse its effects on your body is to stop putting it into your system, says Johnson. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet (more on that later), managing stress, and getting enough sleep will help counteract the effects of alcohol, but can’t completely cancel them out, she says.

Sadly, all alcohol—from tequila to craft beer—is equally damaging. Johnson recommends avoiding alcohol as much as possible, and limiting yourself to one (for women) or two (for men) drinks when you do imbibe.

Don’t freak out. We’re not about to say everyone and their mother needs to go gluten-free.

When we eat gluten (the type of proteins found in grains like wheat), our body releases a protein called zonulin, which creates spaces between the intestinal cells. When these spaces are too large, substances that otherwise wouldn’t be able to fit through these spaces are able to pass into our body.

“Even though everyone releases zonulin, some people release more of it and are slower to close up these spaces that are formed,” she says. That’s why some people can eat gluten without issue, while others find it leads to symptoms like diarrhea, cramping, or swelling.

Blood tests can help determine if you have celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder in which gluten damages the small intestine), but won’t necessarily flag less severe sensitivities, which can manifest as symptoms like headaches, joint pain, or brain fogginess, Dunne says. If you suspect you have a gluten issue, work with a dietitian to cut out gluten-containing foods for about three weeks. At the end of the three-week period, you’ll eat something with gluten in it and gauge your body’s reaction.

If gluten is an issue for you, you may need to cut back on gluten-containing foods (like anything made with wheat) or nix them completely, says Dunne. From there, focus on incorporating foods and nutrients that support your gut health, like omega-3 fatty acids (found in flax seeds, walnuts, fatty fish, chia seeds, soybeans, and shrimp), vitamins A and C (found in carrots and sweet potatoes, and kale and broccoli, respectively), and zinc (found in spinach and kidney beans).

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

Research suggests omega-3s may support the gut’s barrier function, while vitamin A helps regulate the gut’s immune cells, Dunne says. Meanwhile, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and zinc is necessary for cell division, which is crucial for the turnover of cells in your gut.

Eating meat doesn’t automatically lead to an unhappy gut, but focusing less on animal-based foods and more on plant-based foods seems to be more gut-friendly, says Moon. “That doesn’t mean no steak ever; it just means more plants more often,” she says. Not convinced? Research—like this study, published in Cell Metabolism—has associated eating plant proteins with a lower mortality risk than eating animal proteins.

What makes plant foods so gut-friendly? Many vegetables, fruits, and grains contain indigestible fiber called prebiotics, according to NYC-based nutritionist Cara Anselmo, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. These prebiotics act as food for the good bacteria, called probiotics, that live in our gut. And though many of us think of dairy foods like yogurt and kefir as the ultimate food sources of those probiotics, they’re also found in fermented plant foods like kimchi and tempeh.

Related: Support your good bacteria with a probiotic supplement.

To up your diet’s plant power, base your plate in whole, fresh fruits and veggies and then add whole grains like barley, wheat berries, or quinoa. To make sure plant-based meals pack enough protein, incorporate sources like beans, tofu, nuts, and seeds frequently, says Anselmo. (Those whole grains provide some protein, too, BTW.)

If you’re a carnivore at heart, pick fish or poultry over red meat, and avoid processed meat, she says. (While researchers are still figuring out the relationship between specific foods and our gut, excess consumption of processed meats has been linked to colorectal cancer, according to the World Health Organization.)

Many of the processed foods we eat contain additives and other hard-to-identify ingredients that may negatively impact our gut health. The average American diet, which is high in sugar, fat, refined foods, and emulsifiers, is linked with lower microbial diversity and inflammation, says Boston-based dietitian Kate Scarlata, R.D.N. And these two health factors are commonly associated with health problems like cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease, she says.

Consider emulsifiers, for example. (You’re probably wondering what they are, but you’ve probably eaten something that contains them today.) These common additives—lecithin and carrageenan are two you’ve likely seen—are used to stabilize processed foods, like dairy-free milks and chocolate bars. Though more human study is needed, an animal study published in Nature found that ingesting emulsifiers decreased the diversity of mice’s microbiomes, triggered inflammation in the gut, and contributed to the breakdown of the protective mucus that lines the gut wall.

The best way to guarantee your eats won’t hurt your gut health is to keep processed foods off the menu as much as possible. “Balance your plate with whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and a wide array of colorful produce,” says Scarlata.

Pin this handy infographic and keep your grub gut-friendly:

Berberine Is The Power Extract You Didn’t Know You Needed

Ever heard of berberine? Yeah, didn’t think so.

Berberine might just be the best kept secret in the supplement world. It offers a broad range of health-boosting qualities—and it’s got science on its side.

Let’s start with the basics: Berberine is an alkaloid (a plant compound that causes physiological reactions in humans) extracted from several different plants, including the barberry, tree turmeric, goldenseal, and prickly poppy, among others. It’s usually found in the roots, stems, or bark of these plants. It’s known for its stunning yellow color and has been prized by ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medical systems for thousands of years. And while berberine may not be a household name, it’s got serious star qualities.

Healthy Blood-Sugar Levels

Berberine is perhaps most popular for its potential in promoting stable blood-sugar levels. In a study done by Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine, patients with metabolic syndrome (which is marked by high blood sugar, weight gain, and high blood pressure) were given berberine for three months, and saw more stable insulin responses, as well as lowered body mass indexes.

What’s more, a study published by Natural Medicine Journal found that a mix of berberine and lifestyle modifications (like exercise and healthy eating) caused significant hypoglycemic and antidyslipidemic (stabilizing lipids in the blood) benefits.

Healthy Heart

A study published by the journal Metabolism found that berberine also helped to promote lower cholesterol levels. After giving patients with high cholesterol berberine extract over a period of three months, the study’s subjects saw a 25-28 percent improvement in their cholesterol levels.

Related: Shop berberine products, from capsules to liquids.

Berberine has also been shown to reduce triglycerides (a fat that increases risk of heart attack) levels, as another study published in Metabolism found.

In fact, more than a few studies have found that berberine promotes overall cardiovascular health. Research published in the American Journal of Cardiology even showed that berberine promotes increased life expectancy for patients with congestive heart disease. Berberine, anyone?

Weight Management

Great news for those of you who want to shed a few pounds: Berberine promotes thermogenesis (the burning of fat), according to the Journal of Natural Communication. In fact, in a study published by Evidence Based Alternative Complementary Medicine, patients who used berberine extract saw their BMIs decrease by a lot—specifically, from 31.5 to 27.4. Together with a smart healthy eating and fitness plan, it’s possible that berberine can help you shrink that waist.

In addition, a study published in Phytomedicine looked at obese patients who took 500mg of berberine three times daily for 12 weeks. The results? An average loss of five pounds, on top of improved triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Win-win.

Gastrointestinal Health

Tummy issues? According to a study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, berberine can be used to promote relief from diarrhea. Take note, however: If you ingest a lot of berberine or too much at once, you may find yourself with a bit of a stomach cramp.

Taking Berberine

Berberine is typically taken in capsule or liquid form. It’s generally dosed at 500 mg-2,000 mg a day, but it’s best to break up the doses into many smaller doses in order to avoid stomach upset. Berberine extract is typically safe, but it should be taken with or after a meal.

Should You Be Using Melatonin For Better Sleep?

You’re lying in bed, in the dark, eyes wide open—again. There are few things more frustrating than needing to sleep and being unable to do so, and yet, according to the American Sleep Association, about 30 million Americans have trouble getting adequate shut-eye.

Among the handful of go-to techniques for catching z’s (which can include a consistent nighttime routine, turning off screens at least an hour before bed, magnesium, a warm bath, and warm tea or milk) is melatonin, a supplement which many sleep-deprived people swear by.

What Is Melatonin?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, humans are cued for sleep by exposure to light and dark. Exposure to light (your phone included!) stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to your brain—specifically, the hypothalamus. Here, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (say that three times fast) tells your body to release certain hormones, like melatonin, that have to do with sleep.

Related: Here’s Exactly What To Do At Night To Have A Great Sleep

Melatonin, which modulates sleep and wake cycles, is released by the pineal gland in your brain. In the daylight, your pineal gland is inactive, but when nighttime (and, therefore, darkness) comes around, melatonin floods your body and you begin to feel sleepy. Having low melatonin is one possible reason why a person may have insomnia, according to Scientific World Journal.

Who Should Take Melatonin?

Keri Glassman, RD, recommends melatonin supplements for her clients struggling with occasional sleeplessness, which can be the result of garden-variety sleep issues: jet-lag, a night-shift at work, or anxiety.

Although Glassman does suggest melatonin in supplement form (one capsule is about three mg), she also makes sure her clients are aware that melatonin can also be found in food: “Foods like tart cherries actually have naturally-occurring melatonin, and you can reap the benefits just from adding them to your diet,” Glassman says. “Not to mention the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients you’ll also get from them.”

Related: Shop melatonin products for a restful night of sleep.

If you’re tossing and turning instead of floating away to dreamland, melatonin might be a good tool to add to your sleep arsenal. But if waking up in the middle of the night is your trouble, melatonin won’t be very helpful, as it eases the transition from wakefulness to sleep but does not promote staying asleep.

Side Effects

Anytime you use a supplement, you want to take possible side effects into consideration. One known side effect of taking melatonin is grogginess the morning after. “Side effects would most likely occur if you’re taking too much [melatonin],” says Glassman. “Another common complaint is that it doesn’t work. But it’s important to keep in mind that adding it to your daily routine is meant to regulate your sleep and wake cycles. It’s not a magic pill to make you fall asleep.”

There is no research on melatonin’s possible long-term side effects to general health. The long-term research that has been done focuses on cause and effect and does not look at other aspects of health impacted by the hormone. The short-term research that has been done bounces back and forth between its positive effects and potential negative effects to the body. For instance, a Clinical Investigation report found that melatonin could cause dizziness, fatigue, headache, or nausea, but then concluded that even taking melatonin in extremely large doses had no major negative effect on health.

Related: I Drank A Gram Of Caffeine A Day—Here’s What Happened When I Went Cold Turkey

Melatonin & Children

Another study in the same research journal, Clinical Investigation, recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women do not take the hormone. Also, the Pediatric Journal of Medicine raises concerns about the unknown effects of melatonin on infants and adolescents, especially in light of the lack of long-term research.

Melatonin & General Health

Melatonin is now being studied in research trials as a health-promoting supplement, specifically as it relates to immunity. That’s because the sleep-wake cycle, which melatonin controls, is such a powerful factor in how diseases react in the body. For example, research in the journal Neuro-Chirurgie proposes that the hormone has therapeutic potential.

If you are a healthy adult who wants to use melatonin for occasional sleeplessness, speak with your doctor before giving it a go.

What You Should Know About Probiotic Foods Before Chowing Down

When you think of bacteria, your mind probably jumps right to germs and infections—but there’s more to these microorganisms than their bad reputation.

We have billions of bacteria living in our guts, and they don’t all lead to illness or disease. In fact, some of them are straight up good for us. “The bugs that colonize us are not just waste; they’re hugely important to our health,” says Neil Stollman, M.D., chairman of the Division of Gastroenterology at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, CA.

The good microorganisms in our digestive systems are called probiotics. Research suggests these bacteria may bolster our immune systems, keep us regular on the toilet, and even support our blood pressure and cholesterol, says Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N. The good bacteria hype is so real that about four million adults in the U.S. reported using probiotics in the past 30 days, according to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey.

Though many people take probiotic supplements, the bacteria are also found in a number of fermented foods and drinks, like yogurt and kombucha. But when it comes to these bacteria-packing eats, there are still a lot of questions out there: Which probiotic foods should you eat? Are all probiotic foods alike?

Read on to clear up some of your probiotic food confusion and get the most bacteria benefits from your diet.

When you’re looking to get a rich dose of probiotics from your grub, you’ll turn to fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso soup, tempeh, kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt. But not all of these foods are created equally.

“Not every single yogurt and sauerkraut contains probiotics,” says Gorin. Make sure a brand packs the good stuff by checking the label or visiting the company’s website for more information, she says. For instance, a yogurt containing probiotics will generally list “live active cultures” on the label. Some probiotic foods may even list the specific bacteria in them, the two most common being Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. And when shopping for sauerkraut, specifically, look for an unpasteurized variety, since the pasteurization process can actually kill off probiotics, Gorin says.

From there, just how much good bacteria your yogurt or kombucha packs may vary quite a bit. “It’s hard to say for sure how many probiotics a specific food contains,” says Ryan D. Andrews, M.S., M.A., R.D., coach at Precision Nutrition and author of A Guide to Plant-Based Eating. That’s because a number of variables—like the strains of bacteria used in the food, how long it’s been fermenting for, and the temperature it’s been stored at—can determine a food’s total probiotic count, he says.

The good news: “In the naturally fermented food world, stuff like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, tempeh, miso, and so forth all seem to be beneficial for health on some level, no matter the specific level of probiotics they contain,” he says. So, though there’s no one probiotic-packed food to rule them all, that sauerkraut or yogurt provides some benefit. (Just check that label!)

Though probiotics sure seem to be great for our gut, there is no ideal, universal recommendation for probiotic intake that has been backed by science yet, says Satish Rao, M.D., Ph.D., founding director of Augusta University’s Digestive Health Center. Researchers are still pinning down the specific benefits of individual types of bacteria.

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

Still, doctors take a number of factors—like whether you have ongoing stomach issues, are taking antibiotics, or are just an average person looking to maintain a healthy gut—into consideration when recommending probiotic foods or dosages of probiotic supplements, Rao says.

That said, if you’re healthy and want to supplement your diet with good bacteria, eating one or two servings of fermented foods daily is great for your overall digestion and colon health, he says. If you’re turning to probiotics because you’re having stomach issues, though, consult with your doctor first, since probiotics may not be the solution for whatever underlying issue you’re dealing with.

Given probiotics’ supreme popularity these days, companies are adding them to anything from frozen burritos to protein powder to breakfast cereal in order to increase their value. But the fact that a food contains probiotics doesn’t necessarily make it worth eating.

“Always look at the nutritional make-up of the food containing probiotics,” says Gorin. At the end of the day, brownies and ice cream that contain probiotics are still brownies and ice cream, and likely loaded with excess calories and sugar, both of which can lead to weight gain and other health problems when you eat too much, too often. Ask yourself: Would you consider this food healthy if there weren’t probiotics in it?

If you’re truly looking for a boost in good bacteria, stick with naturally-fermented foods, which are loaded with other nutritional perks like vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein, says Andrews.

Sure, naturally probiotic-packed foods offer health benefits—but you won’t fully reap them if you’re eating a food that doesn’t agree with your system. Yep, we’re talking about dairy here.

Take kefir, for instance. This drinkable, yogurt-like food is loaded with probiotics, calcium, and magnesium, but if you’re lactose intolerant it’s probably going to cause discomfort like bloating, gas, or diarrhea, says Stollman. It’s not worth it to suffer through a slew of tummy symptoms in the name of probiotics!

Related: Take a lactase enzyme to help your body break down dairy.

If you find that your stomach is sensitive to dairy, just stick with dairy-free probiotic foods. Sip on kombucha, sauté some tempeh, or top the night’s protein with a spoonful of kraut. (If you’re really hung up on the kefir thing, there are brands out there made from coconut milk, says Stollman.)

While eating probiotic-rich foods has shown promise, a diet rich in a wide variety of nutrients is just as important for maintaining the countless types of healthy bacteria in your gut, says Stollman.

“Eating a diversity of fiber-rich foods, plant-based foods, and fermented foods, is probably the best way to fortify your biome,” he says. Perhaps the most important factor here is fiber, which acts as food for the probiotics in your gut. According to a review published in Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, eating fiber can actually boost the number of probiotics in your body. So for optimal gut health, probiotic-containing foods should be just a part of an overall healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

On the flip side, an unhealthy diet loaded with sugars and processed foods may actually negatively impact your gut health and microbiome, Stollman adds. Case in point: A study published in Nature suggests that drinking diet soda may actually mess with your gut bacteria so much that it could raise your risk for metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes. So when it comes to making your gut microbiome happy, stick to that whole ‘let food be thy medicine’ thing.

Related: Give your gut an extra boost with a probiotic supplement. 

Everything You Need To Know About Vitamins A-K In 3 Minutes

Sure, you take a daily multivitamin—but do you have a solid grasp of what’s actually in it? There are a whole lot of letters on that label…
Don’t worry, you’re not alone if you don’t know the difference between vitamin A and vitamin K. After all, there are 13 vitamins in total, and each has a unique, health-benefiting function. We’ve got the CliffsNotes so you always know what nutrients you’re taking.

Bad Posture Can Lead To Big Problems—Here’s How To Fix It

Standing up straight seems easy enough, but thanks to the excessive amount of sitting we do, many of us struggle to maintain posture that would make Grandma proud.

Spending too much time on our butts, hunching over our phones, and even using crummy form in the gym can really wreck our posture, according to Stuart McGill, Ph.D., professor emeritus of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo and author of Back Mechanic.

And that has a greater impact than just making us look shorter and schlumpy. Bad posture can lead to stress and pain in your back and hips that can affect your ability to move and exercise, McGill says.

The tricky thing is, not all crummy posture is created equal. Your personal breed of poor posture (whether it’s sloping shoulders or shifting hips) stems from your daily routine and lifestyle—and if you’re not in pain, you might not even realize how out-of-whack your back is.

Below are the four most common posture-wrecking issues, and what you’ll need to do to correct them:

Issue #1: Your Hips Are Stuck Back

If it takes you a while (like 30 seconds) to fully stand up after sitting for a few hours and you notice that you cannot pull your hips forward and stand upright, chances are you have tight hip flexors (a.k.a. psoas muscles), which connect your lower spine to the front of your thigh bones. This is a common issue for people who sit for long periods of time—like those of us who work sedentary jobs, McGill says.

Not only do tight hip flexors make walking uncomfortable and stiff, but they prevent our hips from moving forward, which then pulls our lower back out of its natural hollow curve, he says. And being in this unnatural position puts a lot of extra pressure on our lower spine.

The Fix: Perform Forward Lunges with Hand Internal/External Rotations

To help your lower spine relax back into its natural curve, you need to stretch.

Start in a standing position with your arms at your sides. Step your right leg forward and bend at the knee to lower into a lunge. Your legs should be bent at the knees. Reach your left hand up overhead, drop your left shoulder slightly back, and push your palm towards the ceiling. As you push your left palm up, you’ll feel the stretch in your left hip flexor. (Your muscles’ protective tissues connect all the way from your arm, down your torso, to your hip flexors.) In this position, rotate your left hand back and forth a few times.

Do two or three reps on each side, holding each rep for about 10 seconds.

Issue #2: You’re Slouched Too Far Forward

If you stand with your shoulders slouched forward, your stomach relaxed out to the front, and your butt tucked under, we’re talking about you here. In this classic image of poor posture, we exaggerate the natural curves in our backs (a hollow curve at the neck, and outward curve at the upper back, and a hollow curve at the lower back), says McGill.

Related: Do You Really Need To Stretch After A Workout?

Normally, the muscles in our torso support our spine and help us maintain the slight curves our back has in proper posture, says McGill. But when we don’t have enough muscle, the discs (the pliable shock-absorbers between the vertebrae of our spine ) and elastic tissues (like ligaments and fascia)—especially in our lower back—bear the pressure of our body weight, says McGill. And that’s a recipe for pain and impaired mobility over time.

The Fix: Re-Train Your Hips

To take that pressure off your lower back, you need to move your spine back into a more neutral position. To do this, imagine straight lines extending down from your ears, through your shoulders, through your hips, and into the middle of your feet, McGill says. This will help you shift your hips beneath the center of your weight and pull your shoulders back. Simply being aware of your body position and reminding yourself to stack your spine back in that neutral position can help you re-learn proper posture, he says.

photo: Dr. Stuart McGill

You should also consider this posture issue an invitation to work on your core strength. That might mean hitting the weights regularly or using your own body weight to build strength. One bodyweight option is Pilates, which can increase core stability, according to a study published in Isokinetics and Exercise Science. (Participants saw improvements after eight weeks of three weekly Pilates sessions.) 

Issue #3: Lifting Weights Improperly Has Landed You With A Disc Bulge

When you excessively flex or extend your back while under stress (like when lifting weights with poor form), the repeated pressure over time can make the discs between your vertebrae bulge or full-on rupture.

Sitting puts pressure on a disc bulge, while walking reduces it, so if you have back pain after just a few minutes of sitting but can walk around okay, this may be your issue.

For some people, disc bulges occur from squatting or deadlifting beyond their natural range of motion. It all depends on your hips. Some people have deep hip sockets, so at some point when they squat deep or reach to deadlift a barbell up off the floor, their thigh bones hit the front of those sockets. This point should be the end of their range of motion, but most people allow their lower back to flatten so they can continue lowering. Putting your spine in this unnatural position while bearing extra weight puts immense pressure on your discs, and can lead to a bulge or rupture. (This is less of an issue for people with shallow hip sockets, whose hips have a greater range of motion, and who can squat deeper or deadlift from the floor without having to flatten their back.)

The Fix: Correct Your Form and Support Your Back

A certified strength and conditioning coach or physical therapist can help you identify your safe range of motion for the aforementioned exercises.

Follow the video above to determine the best squat depth for your hips and avoid deep “ass-to-grass” squats if you have deep hip sockets. Similarly, those with deep hip sockets should deadlift a barbell off of raised blocks instead of off the floor. Widening your stance for squats and deadlifts can also increase your hip mobility and help you get lower without straining your back.

You also don’t need to drop it super-low to benefit from squatting. Hit the rack and make sure your form looks like the following to guarantee you’re squatting safely:

Step underneath a racked barbell and allow it to rest on top of your upper back muscles. Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Inhale and un-rack the bar by stepping both feet backwards. Keeping your core tight, sink your hips back and bend at the knees to lower the bar until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Then, exhale as you press through your heels to drive your hips up vertically and push the bar back towards the ceiling until you’re standing straight up.

Related: 3 Ways To Improve Your Squat

photo: Dr. Stuart McGill

If you suspect you already have a disc bulge, it’s time to see a doc. You can also use a LumbAir back pad whenever you sit for an extended period to restore the natural curve of your back and reduce the pressure on the disc, McGill says. Slowly, over time, the disc bulge should heal.

Issue #4: You Have Weak Glutes

Strong glute muscles help keep your hips centered beneath your weight. Weak glutes, though, whether from too much sitting or not enough strength training, can allow your hips to shift too far back and cause hip or lower-back pain, says McGill.

The Fix: Hip Thrust

With the right technique, the hip thrust can target and strengthen your gluteal muscles to help get your hips back in proper placement.

How to do it: Lie on your back, bend your knees, and put your feet flat on the floor. Grip the floor with your feet, squeeze your glutes, and drive them towards the ceiling, bringing your pelvis off the floor. Push your pelvis up until your torso forms a straight line from your shoulders to your tailbone. “Focus on squeezing your glutes and imagine pushing your feet and knees away from your body,” says McGill. This will ensure that you’re using your glutes and not your hamstrings.

Perform three sets of three to five reps at the beginning of your workouts or once a day.

Related: Grab training equipment and accessories, from resistance bands to yoga straps.

Raise Your Hand If You Have Trouble Digesting Dairy

There’s a pretty good chance you know the feeling: a threatening rumble in your gut that comes after an extra scoop of ice cream or a particularly milky latte. With it begins your torturous wait for tummy issues like bloating, gas, and gotta-go sprints to the bathroom to subside. And every time you’re left wondering whether your belly’s reaction to dairy means you’ve become a little (or a lot) lactose intolerant.

The likely answer? Well, probably, considering more than two thirds of people worldwide develop some degree of lactose intolerance in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Here’s how it happens: Dairy contains a sugar molecule called lactose that needs to be broken down in your digestive system by an enzyme called lactase, explains Niket Sonpal, M.D., gastroenterology fellow at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. When you don’t have enough lactase enzymes in your system, you can’t digest that lactose—and boom, you’re lactose intolerant. “[That lactose] is then taken up by the bacteria in the gut, which causes it to kind of ferment and produce a lot of gas,” Sonpal says.

Some people are born without any ability to produce lactase enzymes, so they spend their entire lives lactose intolerant, says Sonpal. (A lifetime without Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby? Let’s all take a minute to pray for those unfortunate souls.) But what about the adults who suddenly find themselves struggling with dairy?

Basically, everyone’s production of the lactase enzyme declines over time—but how much it declines varies from person to person. “Depending on their genetic makeup, lifestyle, and other factors, everyone’s individual lactose intolerance is different,” says Sonpal. Some people may lose such an inconsequential amount of lactase that they can continue to enjoy dairy without problems for their entire lives, while others may lose so much that even a splash of half-and-half sends their tummy into panic mode.

To learn your true level of lactose intolerance, you can take a quick test at your doc’s office. You’ll consume some dairy and then breathe into a special bag that can measure your ability to digest the lactose you consumed based on the particles in your breath.

But you can also get a general idea of whether dairy is an issue for you by running a little experiment at home, which Sonpal dubs “Lactose and Chill.” Simply eat a dairy-heavy meal (get some cheese and a glass of milk in there) for dinner one night and monitor how you feel. The next night, eat a dairy-free meal and compare your gut reactions (heh).

Quick note: If both meals wreak havoc on your stomach, your issue may be a condition like irritable bowel syndrome, not lactose intolerance, Sonpal says. (People with IBS deal with frequent digestive distress involving anything from bloating to constipation to diarrhea.)

Related: 4 Possible Reasons Why Your Stomach Is Killing You All The Time

But if going ham on dairy does, in fact, leave you gassy, uncomfortable, or running to the bathroom, it’s time to change your diet, says says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet.

“Some people, even with lactose intolerance, can tolerate small amounts of lactose,” she says. So if your belly symptoms weren’t too terrible, you might be okay to enjoy hard cheeses like cheddar (which are naturally lower in lactose), or a bit of milk in your coffee.

But if a glass of milk messes you up bad, you’re best off eliminating dairy from your diet completely. You’ll just need to make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D, the two primary nutrients you miss out on without dairy in your life, Gans says. Look for plant-based milks that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and load up on green leafy vegetables, she suggests. (You may also want to consider a supplement to make sure you’re getting enough of these bone-supporting nutrients.)

Related: Check out a number of supplements to support your bones.

When you just can’t avoid dairy (we all need pizza sometimes!), you can try taking a lactose supplement before your meal to help your body deal.

9 Quick Ways To Crush Your Cravings

Cupcakes! You suddenly started thinking about their sweet, frosty goodness and now you want—no, you need—to have one. But seeing as you had a satisfying lunch and don’t make a habit of eating sugary snacks every day, you can’t help but wonder how this torturous temptation popped into your mind. Even more pressing: How do you get it out?

“First and foremost, be mindful of your why,” says Erin Clifford, J.D., a Certified Holistic Health Coach. “Are you really hungry or is it something emotional? Are you lonely? Bored? Stressed? Pay attention to your patterns and figure out an alternative plan for when your cravings hit.”

We all know that unnecessary constant snacking (a snack once in a while is totally normal and fine!) interferes with your weight loss or weight-maintenance goals, but it also makes you sluggish and irritable, which, in turn, sets up a never-ending cycle of even more cravings.

Related: Shop appetite-control products. 

Since the trick is to avoid your triggers and recognize when you’re teetering on the edge, these tips, straight from Clifford’s playbook, can help you shift your focus away from those midday cupcake cravings.

1. Stop the Cycle

If you always reach for a bag of cookies after a stressful day at work, call a friend and hit up a yoga class instead. Redirect the energy you’re giving your craving toward something positive. Once you do the work, you’re less likely to destroy it by bingeing on junk that rewinds your progress.

2. Change Your Environment

If you’re bingeing on caramel-coated popcorn while you’re Netflix-and-chilling, get off the couch, pop a Crave Crush lozenge (which blocks sweet taste receptors), and go take your dog for a walk. If you give yourself a time out, the cravings will usually subside.

3. Aim for Satiety

Including protein at every meal (lean meat, beans, eggs, nuts, yogurt, etc.) will boost your energy levels and keep you feeling satisfied—which should keep your cravings at bay. According to the Nutrition Journal, high-protein snacks improve appetite control and satiety, and reduce subsequent food intake.

What triggers a craving, anyway? Check out our Science of Cravings video:

 

4. Meal Frequency

Eating smaller meals more frequently was related to lower body mass index (BMI) and maintenance of weight loss, according to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Not only will this approach to eating stabilize blood-sugar levels and keep your energy levels on track, it’ll leave you less likely to give into your cravings.

5. Don’t Skip Meals

Set yourself up for success by sticking to regular meal times. And always have breakfast (you’ll want to reach for a protein-packed morning meal like overnight oats, a goat cheese frittata, or a banana with almond butter).

6. Stay Hydrated

Next time a big craving hits, try drinking a large glass of water. Many times when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually simply thirsty, according to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A word to the wise: We’re talking about regular ol’ water here—sugary liquid calories from sodas, juices, lattes, sports drinks, or iced teas will spike your insulin and blood sugar levels, causing cravings. Not into plain H20? Add fruit, herbs, or ginger for a special kick. Or, drink tea, unsweetened.

Related: Shop yummy electrolyte fizz and kick your water up a notch.

Aim for 64 ounces (or 1900 milliliters) of water per day.

7. MEDITATE And Breathe Deeply

When you’re feeling the urge to plow through a bag of potato chips, take 10 minutes to center your mind and induce a feeling of calm. Or focus on your breathing, explains Clifford, in the ratio 1-4-2 (inhale for eight seconds, hold for 32 seconds, exhale for 16 seconds). Many devices and apps, like Fitbit and Breathe, have programs to help you meditate or count. Furthermore, according to the Mayo Clinic, practicing mindful eating and remembering that food is actually fuel (and not just fun, tasty stuff) can help prevent overeating.

8. Get Your ZZZs

If you don’t get seven to nine hours of sleep per night, you might feel the urge to eat carbs and sugar, since you disrupted the hormones ghrelin and leptin. According to the International Journal of Endocrinology, hormones like these are closely associated with sleep and circadian rhythm. Ghrelin is the go hormone that tells you when to eat, while leptin is the stop hormone that tells you when you’re full. Thus, more ghrelin plus less leptin equals non-stop cravings. In short: Get enough sleep so that your hormones work appropriately.

9. Brush Your Teeth

When all else fails, pop some gum in your mouth or brush your teeth—mint is a palate cleanser and can help to crush your craving.

Cravings You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

“If you simply cannot help yourself, then stick with foods offering nutritional value, such as non-fat Greek yogurt with a piece of fruit, a handful of veggies and hummus, or a handful (10) of almonds,” says Clifford. And, according to a new study in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, walnuts can help as well: The study suggests that these tasty little nuts decrease feelings of hunger and appetite. So, grab a handful of walnuts and munch away.

A few of Clifford’s other favorite go-to snacks:

Sweet:

  • Chocolate smoothie: A scoop of chocolate protein powder, half a banana, and ice. Add 1 tablespoon of flaxseeds or chopped almonds/almond butter for a nutty flavor.
  • 4 celery sticks with 2 tablespoons of nut butter, 1 tablespoon unsweetened cranberries or raisins, and cinnamon.
  • 1 serving of dark chocolate with 1 tablespoon almond butter.
  • ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese with ½ cup berries or pineapple.

Salty:

  • 2 Wasa crackers with ¼ cup hummus or 1 piece of part-skim string cheese.
  • 10 blue corn chips with ¼ cup hummus and salsa.
  • Pizza crackers: 5 flax seed crackers topped with 1 piece of Munster cheese or low-fat Jarlsburg divided and sprinkle with red pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes.
  • Homemade herb popcorn (makes 6 servings): Pop 3 oz. of popcorn without oil in an air popper, melt 4 tablespoons coconut oil and drizzle over the popcorn with 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast, and 2 tablespoons mixed dried herbs (rosemary, parsley, thyme, and oregano). Toss to coat.

Conceding to Cravings: A Last Resort

We get it. Sometimes you just need to give in because life is too short.

“If you’re only eating for emotional reasons, then you want to do your best to avoid indulging in your cravings,” says Clifford. “But if you’re craving pizza because you love pizza, then go for the occasional sampling—in moderation. For instance, if you have plans to meet your girlfriends out at your favorite Neapolitan pizza place, be sure to eat clean all day, order a salad to complement your meal, and stick to your clean eating and workout routine the following day.”

Why You Get Sick When The Weather Changes

We’ve all come down with the sniffles when the weather changes drastically. And the timing isn’t exactly a coincidence or an old wive’s tale; you’re getting sick for a reason—and here’s why.

1. Major drops in temperature 

“The main weather changes that can set you up for illness would include severe changes in temperature,” says Mark Sherwood, ND, author of Fork Your Diet and co-founder of the Functional Medical Institute in Tulsa, OK. The main culprit: temperatures that go from warm to cold.

Not only does frigid weather restrict blood flow and narrow blood vessels, but in colder conditions, our immune systems may actually be less capable of fighting off the common cold (also referred to as rhinovirus), according to a 2014 study out of Yale University, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study found that at body temperature, antiviral proteins could keep rhinoviruses at bay. When temperatures were lowered to just 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit, however, the researchers saw that cells’ defense was far weaker, making it easier for the rhinovirus to take hold.

2. Environmental pollutants 

If the wind has picked up, you might also be at risk of respiratory symptoms. That’s because winds bringing in dust and other pollutants can affect your lungs and sinuses, notes Dr. Sherwood.

Related: Shop immune support products to stay healthy this fall season. 

A variety of issues—from respiratory illness to heightened trouble for asthmatics—may stem from winds. Research published in the journal Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research notes that climate change and climatic factors (think: temperature, wind speed, humidity, thunderstorms) can trigger respiratory allergies and asthma.

3. A change in barometric pressure 

If you feel a headache come on suddenly, it may be due to the weather—specifically, the barometric pressure, or an increase in air pressure. “The theory behind higher barometric pressure or changing weather as it relates to headaches is the belief that the headaches are a protective mechanism against adverse environmental stressors,” explains Dr. Sherwood. And, according to Internal Medicine, there’s a direct correlation between barometric pressure and migraines.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these kinds of weather changes may cause imbalances in brain chemicals like serotonin—which can also set off a migraine. For some migraine sufferers, weather changes may be enough to warrant staying inside or changing plans around in order to avoid the potential of a debilitating headache or migraine.

But It’s Not Just Colds That Weather changes Can Cause…

Ever had a little extra knee pain, say, when it rains? According to a study in Proceedings of the Western Pharmacology Society, plenty of people attribute joint pain to weather conditions. In a study including 92 patients with rheumatic disorders (80 with osteoarthritis and 12 with rheumatoid arthritis) compared to a control group of 42 subjects, it was found that weather variables (like temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure) caused increased joint pain.

Related: What Exactly Is Rhabdo—And Are You At Risk?

Specifically, less barometric pressure and lower temperature equal more joint pain. Thus, if possible, you may want to modulate your response to pain (for example, taking meds) when the weather changes.

Keeping your immune system strong can help

Ultimately, no matter what kind of climate you live in, you’re bound to encounter weather shifts that may affect your wellness. Thankfully, keeping your immune system firing on all cylinders can make you less likely to suffer the consequences of a changing weather pattern.

“The absolute best [way] to boost your immune system is to consume six to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables during the day,” says Dr. Sherwood. Why? Antioxidant-packed produce can boost your ability to keep viruses and other health issues at bay. If that many servings of fruits and veggies sounds unrealistic, there are many dietary supplements that can help support immune health.

Also useful: Getting a good night’s sleep, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, will bolster your body’s ability to produce infection-fighting antibodies and cells.

I Lost My Belly Fat By Addressing The Core Issue: Stress

Stress, for me, has always triggered overeating. And when my metabolism took a drastic dip in my twenties, all of my weight gain went straight to my belly. I knew that if I kept up this lifestyle of living on stress and cheeseburgers, I was going to be in terrible health by 40.

Stress and belly fat are a potent pair: It has long been believed that cortisol, a hormone which our body releases in response to stress, plays a role in fat accumulation around our midsections. According to one 1994 study by the Department of Psychology at Yale University, people with a high waist to hip ratio had higher cortisol levels when exposed to stress. These people also reported having no coping mechanism in place to deal with the stress.

I’m in my thirties now, and I recently got engaged, so I’m embracing adulthood and the future it will bring. I want to be healthy and not burnt out in my later years. I want to enjoy them. Sure, I miraculously still have my hair, but the belly fat is there too. Well, it was, up until recently.

Related: The Truth About Belly Fat

People gain weight for different reasons (their macros are off, they don’t sleep enough, they don’t work out properly, etc.), so I can’t say what will work for everyone. But what worked for me—on top of dieting (I love the keto diet) and exercise—was making sure I did daily activities that centered me.

I think of my body as a computer. Stress is the pop-up ad or the malware on the hard drive. What I need to do is find ways to boot myself up so stress doesn’t crash my system.

What worked for me—on top of dieting and exercise—was making sure I did daily activities that centered me.

I was one of those people. Throughout my life, I’d gotten used to feeling stress when I’d first wake up. I’d be groggy and anxious and I’d carry it throughout the day. Food cravings—and all that cortisol—would be coursing through my body before noon. That would, of course, make me want to eat.

Then I figured out that I needed to boot up correctly—I’d need to get centered and calm during that first hour after waking. I came up with daily routine to help curb the cortisol and create a mindset of mindfulness and calmness.

Right when I roll out of bed I start free writing (or journaling). I get all those panicked, worried, and weird thoughts out of my head and onto the page. It’s an effective morning meditation. I do up to three pages (or more if I am feeling particularly stressed!).

I think of my body as a computer. What I need to do is find ways to boot myself up so stress doesn’t crash my system.

Then, I make my bed and do some actual meditation. I just sit and focus on my breath. Then I eat a healthy, fat-filled breakfast (fat keeps us sated for longer), and lastly I exercise (for the endorphins and the energy boost).

I try not to look at my phone or email while I focus on getting centered for the day. No, I haven’t magically transformed into a morning person, but I have become a morning routine person.

Related: Mindfulness Tips From A Former Stress Junkie

Work issues and personal stressors will never go away, but I can harness a mindful attitude, practice acceptance, and look for solutions instead of stress eating. I remind myself that mistakes will happen and they are not the end of the world. I remind myself that I need to only learn from the mistake. I don’t judge the negative thoughts; I just observe them and let them pass. Let it be and move forward is a mantra that helps me.

I also make sure to do something physical each day that is fun and relaxing. I take a hobby break in the afternoon. I garden and walk nature trails. Getting out in nature always helps me have perspective; being in greenery is like nature’s sedative.

On rainy or cold winter days I’ll play some music and hit a ping-pong ball against the basement wall. What all of these hobbies have in common: me being physical and me being present.

By being aware of your impulses—and choosing constructive outlets—you will begin to walk the path towards a higher quality of life and a lowered stress level.

So what happens when I start stressing late night before bed—when the munchies hit? Some people can do healthy midnight snacks (or easily avoid snacking altogether), but for me it’s not so easy.

Related: Shop natural products for stress and anxiety. 

Just like I practice mindfulness when I wake up, I do the same at night. I use that time to power down properly. I read for pleasure, I watch something for entertainment, and I make an effort to be mindful and not let stressful thoughts rule me. I focus on my breath and just breathe. I let go of the worries and focus on the present, and I prioritize sleeping over worrying.

Sure, keto and exercise have helped me, but so has practicing mindfulness, keeping up my healthy daily habits, and accepting that I will never be free of stress.

I’ve learned that wellness is a mindset. By being aware of your impulses—and choosing constructive outlets—you will begin to walk the path towards a higher quality of life and a lowered stress level. And, bonus points: You will see results in all areas of your life, not just in your stomach.

Pair These Nutrients Together For Maximum Absorption

It’s important to get your greens in, but keeping a healthy diet doesn’t always mean you’re getting all of the nutrients you need. Some nutrients actually maximize or interfere with one another’s function within your body—so depending on what you eat and when, you may be boosting or missing out on the benefits of those healthy foods (and supplements!).

To get the full nutrient bang for your buck and prevent wasting any of the good stuff, you’ll want to pair some nutrients together and avoid eating others together.

Perfect Pairings


There’s a reason you find many bone support supplements combining vitamin D and calcium. These two nutrients work together in our bodies, says Rebecca Lewis, M.S., R.D.N., dietitian for HelloFresh.

Here’s what’s going on: “The majority of the calcium in our body is stored in our bones, and vitamin D helps absorb, carry, and deposit that calcium into our bones,” she says. So if you’re short on vitamin D, your body won’t be able to carry the calcium into the bones to be absorbed and stored, she adds.

Vitamin D can be found in animal-based foods like eggs, fatty fish, dairy, and fish oils, while calcium can be found in dairy, beans, and kale, she says. You can knock out both of these nutrients at once by eating dairy—but otherwise try to pair calcium-rich foods with vitamin D-rich foods. (Good to know: A lot of foods, like milks and cereals, are fortified with vitamin D.)

Another way to better absorb calcium: Pair it with inulin-type fructans (a type of nondigestible carb), suggests research published in The Journal of Nutrition. You can find insulin-type fructans in wheat germ, bananas, garlic, onions, and leeks. So consider adding some wheat germ or banana slices to your morning yogurt.


In addition to pairing vitamin D with calcium, one of the best ways to increase your absorption is to ensure you are getting enough dietary fat, says Andrea Conner, M.P.H., R.D.N., C.D.E.

“Vitamin D is fat-soluble, meaning it needs fat to be absorbed,” says Conner. For that reason, she always recommends pairing vitamin D-rich foods with a high-quality fat, like olive oil, flax seeds, avocado, fish, chia seeds, or nuts. Just a couple teaspoons of oil or a handful of nuts will do the trick, she says.

Those healthy fats will also help you get the most benefit from carotenoid-packed foods (think yellow, orange, and red produce, like peppers, carrots, and tomatoes), according to research out of Ohio State University. The fats make plant compounds like beta-carotene (which we convert into vitamin A) and lycopene more available to our body.

Related: 7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For Your Health


Iron can both enhance and mess with the absorption of other nutrients, says Kelly R. Jones M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., L.D.N. So, while the mineral is a pretty important staple in our diet, what you eat iron with is especially important. 

The biggest concern about iron absorption is whether you’re getting it from plant or animal sources. “Iron from animal foods, like beef, is much more absorbable than iron from plant foods, like spinach, beans, and whole grains,” says Jones. That’s because other factors in plant-based sources can inhibit your uptake of iron—like oxalic acid in spinach, she says. So vegetarians and vegans who get their iron from plant-based sources should be extra vigilant about what they eat it with.

This is where vitamin C comes in handy, Jones says. (You’ll find vitamin C in all sorts of citrus fruits, red peppers, kale, and broccoli.) The vitamin enhances your absorption of iron, so Jones recommends that vegetarians pair the two together whenever possible. “It can be as simple as adding lemon juice to their water while eating a plant-based meal,” Jones suggests. Or just make sure vitamin C-containing veggies make it onto your plate along with those beans or whole grains.


As with iron, any acidic food can also help increase your absorption of vitamin B12, says Jones.

“We all produce stomach fluid in response to hunger and smelling and eating food, and part of that stomach juice is hydrogen chloride, which helps us break down protein and absorb B12,” explains Jones. Adding acidic foods, like vitamin C-containing citrus fruits, can help boost the acid in your stomach needed to absorb that B12, which is found in organ meats, fish, eggs, and feta cheese. Jones likes to spritz lemon on fish or add it to salad dressings to help that B12 get to where it needs to go. You can also sip on some apple cider vinegar and water to boost that acid, she suggests.

 

Sparring Sources


All three of these nutrients are essential for a healthy diet, but they can interfere with one another’s absorption if consumed together in high amounts, says Jones.

“Because the same receptors in the digestive tract absorb zinc, iron, and copper, if there is an excess of one nutrient, it crowds out the others from making it through the intestinal wall,” she explains.

You know you’ll find iron in meats, spinach, beans, and whole grains. But what about copper and zinc? Copper is found in shellfish, organ meats, whole grains, beans, and nuts, while zinc is found in oysters, red meat, and poultry. You’ll want to avoid eating too much of these foods at one time, but the real concern here is with iron supplements. If you take an iron supplement, leave a few hours between popping your pill and eating a meal that includes zinc or copper-containing foods, says Jones. She recommends taking your supplement with a piece of fruit, crackers and hummus, or avocado toast, which are all low in zinc and copper.


Like with copper and zinc, iron competes with calcium to be absorbed in your intestines, so these two minerals reduce each other’s uptake in your body. (And this impairment can occur in either supplement or food form, according to research published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research.)

The competition between these two nutrients is particularly serious for people with certain health conditions. Many people with anemia are told to avoid taking their iron supplements for up to four hours after eating something high in calcium (like a bowl of yogurt or cottage cheese), says Jones. Similarly, women with osteoporosis should avoid taking calcium supplements within a few hours of eating foods high in iron (like beef, spinach, or beans.)

So, you might want to consider avoiding combos that go heavy on meat and cheese, especially if you’re suffering from one of these health conditions.


Sadly, there are a couple circumstances in which you should turn down avocado toast: If you’ve just taken a vitamin K supplement or noshed on a bunch of cruciferous veggies. Why? Vitamin E (which is found in avocado) can mess with vitamin K (which is found in cruciferous veggies and many supplements).

“Excess amounts of vitamin E can actually reduce the absorption of vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting, calcium metabolism, and bone mineralization,” says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T. While moderate amounts in combination—like spinach (vitamin K) and oil-based salad dressing (vitamin E)— shouldn’t do much harm, higher doses can be problematic, she says. Just be sure to stick to a tablespoon of oil in your salad dressing, she adds.

Foods rich in vitamin E include wheat germ oil, grains, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, avocado, and dried prunes, while veggies, like broccoli, kale, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts are high in vitamin K.

Related: Check out a number of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements to fill in nutritional gaps.

This New Study Has A Lot To Say About Fat, Carbs, And Our Health

By now you’ve already heard that low-carb diets are out—as are high-carb diets, if trends like Paleo, Whole30, and keto have anything to say about it. And one study, dubbed the PURE Study, is aiming to quiet the constant flip-flop of this sort of diet advice.

The study looked into how the diets of people around the world—specifically how much fat and carbs they ate—impacted their health. The researchers, from McMaster University’s Population Health Research Institute, followed more than 135,000 men and women throughout 18 countries over the course of about seven years. The participants, from those in North America to those in South Asia, completed food questionnaires and reported major health events like heart attacks or strokes.

Though it’s not the first study of its kind, the PURE Study was the first to represent such wide-ranging geographic and class-based diversity.

Here’s the thing: Studies like this can’t determine cause and effect—but they can identify patterns and connections. The PURE Study didn’t find any connections between carb and fat consumption and cardiovascular risk, but it did identify two striking connections: one between high-carb diets and higher risk of total mortality (a.k.a. dying of any cause), and one between higher-fat diets and lower risk of total mortality.

On Carbs

Carbs—especially the refined ones—have come under fire in the nutrition world lately, and the PURE Study backs up the idea that eating tons of carbs can backfire on our health.

The study found that when people consumed more than 60 percent of their total calories from carbs, their risk of mortality increased, explains lead study author Mahshid Dehghan, MSc., Ph.D. (For someone that eats a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s about 1,200 calories or 300 grams of carbs a day.)

Who eats the most carbs? People in China, South Asia, and Africa—where poverty and food scarcity are more widespread—were more likely to be eating upwards of 60 percent of their calories from carbs. Most people in the U.S. don’t eat quite this many carbs, though. The study found that the average person in North America or Europe got about 52 percent of their total calories from carbs (which is about 1,040 calories or 260 grams).

Why? Though the study didn’t address the types of carbs people ate, it’s likely that people in these lower-income countries relied on refined carbs like white rice and bread, which tend to be more available and affordable, according to Dehghan.

For optimal health outcomes, the study suggests that a diet consisting of 50 to 55 percent of daily calories from carbs is the sweet spot, says Dehghan.

On Fat

Contrary to decades of diet advice telling us to go low-fat, the PURE Study actually found that people who ate a higher-fat diet had a lower risk of mortality.

In fact, people who ate about 35 percent of their daily calories from fat (that’s about 700 calories or 78 grams) had a 23 percent lower risk of mortality than people who ate 11 percent of their daily calories from fat (about 220 calories or 24 grams). Just keep in mind that as people ate more fat, they ate fewer carbs, says Dehghan.

Related: 7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For Your Health

The researchers also dove into saturated fats, finding a connection between low saturated fat consumption and increased risk of mortality. “While there seems to be a benefit to consuming about 10 percent of calories from saturated fat, mortality risk almost doubles when you drop down to three percent,” says Dehghan.

Those in lower-income nations, the study found, tend to eat less saturated fat. (In fact, the average person in China only got about six percent of their calories from saturated fat).

On the flipside, people in North America and Europe, where foods containing saturated fats tend to be more accessible than in other parts of the world, get about 11 percent of their daily calories from saturated fat.

The debate about how much saturated fat is too much continues to ping-pong, with some recent research questioning whether saturated fat is as bad for heart health as previously thought, and many health organizations (like the American Heart Association) disagreeing. Not only does this study fail to identify a connection between saturated fat intake with cardiovascular disease-related death, but it also calls attention to the potential dangers of eating too little saturated fat, which might be a first.

The Takeaway

The study supports the more-popular-than-ever argument for a diet higher in fat and more moderate in carbs. What’s more, it emphasizes the impact global poverty and food access has on diet and health.

From here the researchers will be looking into associations between specific types of food (like whole grains, sugar, and refined grains) and health, according to Dehghan.

(Read more specifics on the study from The Lancet.)

 

 

 

 


 

Interview: Dr. Mahshid Dehghan, MSc., Ph.D. – lead study author

 

Walk me through the basics of the study.

 

Prospective cohort study – included 135000 men and women from 18 low to high income countries in both urban and rural areas – collected health history and lifestyle factors – measured diet by country through questionnaire – we used a validated questionnaire for each country because cuisine is so different

 

5700 deaths and 4800 major CVD

 

Strength of study is size and international factor

 

Higher consumption of fat compared with low intake is associated with lower mortality risk – about 35% from fat had 23% risk of mortality (around 11%)

 

Increased carbs associated with increased risk – including people from low and mid income countries, we have people with very high carb consumption, it’s not common for people in the US to eat 68% calories from carbs – we had a wide range of nutrient intake by including all of these factors

 

What were the findings related to carb intake?

 

 

 

Was there a particular threshold at/above which carb intake was associated with mortality?

 

More than about 60% of total calories = adverse impact on total and non-cardiovascular mortality – the highest risk from 68% + — quintiles 4 and 5 have highest risk of mortality

  • More than half of the study participants at this much carbs or more
  • Mean carb intake varied from 46 to 77% of total calories
  • 50-55% carbs more appropriate

 

Did the source/quality of the carbs come into play?

 

Sources are important because we need to differentiate whole grains from refined carbs – we did not report different sources here, but are publishing soon

 

Low and mid income countries, majority of carbs come from refined carbohydrate – like rice and bread

 

What were the findings related to fat intake?

 

 

 

            At/above what threshold was fat intake associated with lower mortality risk?

 

  • 35% fat (along with a concomitant decrease of carbs) inversely associated with total mortality

           

            What did you find regarding saturated vs. unsaturated fat?

 

We observed that an association with all fats and lower mortality – true for all 3 types

 

Association stronger for unsaturated – but still for saturated

 

We showed that low fat consumption is harmful – what we know is mainly data from North American and Europe where people consume more saturated and total fat than low income countries – our finding wasn’t shown before – those with very low saturated fat consumption had higher risk of mortality – we are not suggesting high saturated fat consumption – 11-13% of energy, but if lowered to 3% there is a negative association

 

Were any of the findings particularly surprising to you?

 

Yes and no

 

  • No association between fat and major risk of CVD – clinical trials from Europe have shown that high fat consumption is protective

 

  • Such a high carb diet was not reported on before – we are trying to emphasize that when you push people to low fat consumption, they make up for it with carbs and we are observing the impact of a high-carb diet – previous studies didn’t have this amount of data

 

Did any particular spread of nutrients seem to be the ideal?

 

The message from our study is moderation for carbs and fat – we are not supporting very low carb diet, though we see 46% of energy from carbs have lower risks, but we are not suggesting low carb diets—you need energy for physical activity which can be provided by carbohydrates

 

50-55% energy from carbs seems to be fine from our data – and up to 35% energy from fat

 

Is there a next step you see for digging deeper into what you’ve learned here?

 

We need to look at food – when you go to supermarkets you buy food not nutrients – we need to look at associations between foods and health events/outcomes to make it more real-life – we are looking at the different types of starches (refined grains, whole grains, sugar) and meat, and dairy and health outcomes – we have them next year

 

 

Your Liver Will Thank You For Using Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is a gorgeous purple (and sometimes red) flowering plant native to Southern Europe and Asia. Its unique beauty belies its many health-boosting properties—so you’ll do well to keep it in your arsenal.

Milk thistle’s seed extract is well-researched, so it enjoys popularity among lovers of natural health. Here’s what you should know about the flower’s mighty little seed.

The Liver Loves It

The organ of detoxification, the liver, acts as a filtration system for the body. Every time you eat or drink something, your liver has to deal with it.

Amalia Gardner, LA.c., who practices at the yoga studio Pardon My Heart in Los Angeles, is a big fan of milk thistle for liver health: “In practice, I often utilize this herb (in conjunction with other herbs) for patients needing liver detox support, in order to to encourage optimal liver function.”

Related: Shop milk thistle products. 

To promote liver health, milk thistle is most often taken in supplement form—as a capsule or liquid. The extract contains silymarin (some milk thistle supplements go by this name), which has been shown to aid in liver support by stabilizing membranes, exerting antioxidant activity, and promoting the regeneration of hepatocytes (important functional cells in the liver), among other things, according to Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology.

Not only can milk thistle help protect the liver, it has been shown to actually promote the regeneration of damaged liver cells. (Liver damage can be caused by disease, alcohol abuse, or certain prescribed drugs.) In fact, patients who had a partial liver removal showed increased regeneration of their liver with sylimarin treatment, according to a study in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Milk thistle may also promote a slower progression of irreversible liver damage, says research published in Ailment Pharmalogical. The study accessed over a 1000 patients with liver damage, and found that the extract caused improvements in patients with liver damage.

Other Uses

There is a growing body of research indicating that milk thistle is good for your general health—beyond its liver health-promoting properties.

Related: Hibiscus Isn’t Just A Pretty Face

It contains high levels of lipophilic antioxidant, which increases immunity and reduces oxidative stress (what happens to you when you’re exposed to free radicals). It may also help to promote a reduction of inflammation (which can affect heart health), according to Phytomedicine.

A small percentage of people are allergic to milk thistle or may experience side effects because of it, so it’s important to speak with your health provider first. Another word of caution: “Milk thistle is not to be consumed while pregnant or nursing and should not be taken while ingesting iron supplements for anemia,” says Garner, as milk thistle may cause a small reduction in the absorption of iron into the body.

Lastly, according to The Lancet Oncology, it may interfere with some medications, especially cancer treatment.

How To Get Off The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster

You don’t have to have diabetes to suffer from blood sugar spikes and dips that can leave you feeling jittery, exhausted, and just plain terrible. Adopting healthy eating and lifestyle habits will help stabilize your blood sugar—which, in turn, can keep your energy up, your mood sunnier, and your hormones in check. On top of that, healthy blood sugar is also connected to successful weight management, and can keep related diseases like type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease at bay.

Here’s what you need to know to get off that blood sugar roller coaster once and for all:

1. Understand the glycemic index

“The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly foods are digested, and the resulting effect on blood glucose,” explains David Nico, PhD, a certified wellness coach and author of the book Diet Diagnosis. In short: “High-glycemic foods cause an increase in blood sugar.”

When you eat high glycemic foods (or foods with a lot of sugar) your body releases insulin, a hormone that helps the body absorb and process sugar. But excess glucose can get converted into and stored as, triglycerides ends up getting stored as fat no it doesn’t—so when the body encounters this process too frequently, you run the risk of insulin resistance, which doctors see as an early warning sign for type 2 diabetes.

Related: What A Day Of Sugar-Free Eating Looks Like

When investigating where certain foods might fall on the glycemic index, you’ll see numbers that are based on how much any given food item raises blood glucose levels compared with how much pure glucose raises blood glucose, according to the Mayo Clinic. GI values are generally divided into three categories:

  • Low GI: 1 to 55
  • Medium GI: 56 to 69
  • High GI: 70 and higher

The goal: Aim for low to medium GI foods the majority of the time.

2. Identify low-glycemic foods you enjoy for snacks and meals

“Low-glycemic foods help stabilize blood sugar, as glucose is released more slowly into the bloodstream,” Nico explains. He advises consistently eating “nutritionally-dense whole foods with fiber to support blood sugar stabilization.”

A few low GI options: Green vegetables, most fruits, non-starchy veggies, carrots, chickpeas, lentils, oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut), oat bran, 100% stone-ground whole wheat or pumpernickel bread, and sweet potatoes.

3. Steer clear of high-glycemic foods

Processed foods, especially those high in refined sugar and anything “white” (think white rice, white bread, and potatoes), are typically high on the glycemic index.

“Unhealthy grains found in some baked goods, sweets, and packaged products are highly processed with white flours stripped of beneficial nutrients and fibers and contribute to blood sugar imbalances, because of their high glycemic index and load,” Nico explains. “The over-consumption of highly processed grains may eventually lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes making weight management a challenge.”

4. Prioritize protein

We generally think of lean protein (chicken, fish, plant-based protein like black, kidney, and pinto beans) as the component of our diet we need to eat to build muscle, but it also helps stabilize blood sugar and improves insulin imbalances, Nico explains.

Science proves it: Research published in the Journal of Nutrition found that nondiabetic subjects who ate protein experienced a reduced glycemic response. And research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that in patients with type 2 diabetes, eating a higher-protein diet helped improve glucose control.

5. Don’t be afraid of good fats

Foods that are high in monounsaturated fat (or MUFAs) like olive oil, nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans), canola oil, avocados, nut butters, olives, and peanut oil have been shown in research to benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control. (Incorporating them into your diet could also reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering your total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels but maintain your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level, notes the Mayo Clinic.)

And if you need a quick update: HDL is the “good” cholesterol, while LDL is the “bad” cholesterol.

Of course, you want to eat all of these foods in moderation—making a point to avoid saturated fats (usually found in processed foods) when you’re adding MUFAs to your diet.

6. Avoid artificial sweeteners

Reaching for a diet cola with zero grams of sugar isn’t necessarily a wise choice over its sugar-laden alternative. Research shows that fake sugar can also be detrimental to blood sugar stability.

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

A study published in the journal Nature found that artificial sweeteners (saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame, for example) raised blood sugar levels by altering microorganisms (mainly bacteria) in the gut.

8 Mood-Supporting Vitamins and Supplements

Plenty of us feel blue, anxious, or lackluster from time to time. In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), more than 20 million American adults have a mood disorder and 40 million have an anxiety disorder.

If you’re frequently feeling these ways, seeing a licensed health care provider for individualized medical advice is always your best first line of defense. That said, various vitamins and supplements have been proven to support a stable mood. Here are eight that experts—and science—stand by:

1. Magnesium

You’ve heard that bathing in Epsom salts (which contain the mineral magnesium sulfate) helps to soothe achy muscles, of course. But there’s more to magnesium than bath time: “Nutritionally, magnesium is known as the anti-stress, mood-stabilizing mineral,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, a stress management and nutrition expert and author of The Magnesium Miracle. “Studies have shown magnesium to reduce anxiety and stress levels. And serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical, depends on magnesium for its production and function.”

Research published in Obstetrics & Gynecology also found that magnesium supplements could help address mood-related pre-menstrual symptoms.

Related: It’s Time To Stop Being So Scared of Meditation

Dean recommends reaching for magnesium citrate powder, which is a highly absorbable form that can be mixed with hot or cold water and sipped at work or at home throughout the day.

2. Vitamin D

Many of us suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, especially in the winter months when longer, darker days limit our exposure to sunshine. According to the Mayo Clinic, some studies suggest an association between low vitamin D levels in the blood and various mood issues, including depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

They also note that vitamin D supplementation may support mood stability associated with SAD. Meanwhile, an article published in Issues in Mental Health encourages more research around the link between vitamin D levels and mental health. For these reasons, working with a doctor to check your D levels and explore supplementation options could help bolster mood.

3. Ashwagandha

This herbal supplement (also known as an adaptogen) is associated with promoting relaxation and calm. In fact, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine concluded that Ashwagandha root can help support stress management—and thus, well-being.

4. Rhodiola

A plant that grows in cold, mountainous regions of Europe, Asia, and high altitudes in the Arctic, rhodiola has traditionally been used to promote a stable mood. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), two review articles—published in 2011 and 2012—looked at 15 studies that tested rhodiola on physical and mental performance in 575 people. Both reviews found evidence that rhodiola may help support mental and physical performance. However, more research must be done to make the connection, notes the study.

5. Passionflower

If a restless mind is interfering with your ability to catch some Zs, you may want to consider trying passionflower, which is a plant originally discovered in sixteenth-century Peru. Used to treat mood issues related to stress, research published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics concluded that passionflower is effective for supporting mood stability in those with anxiety.

6. St. John’s wort

When you think of mood-boosting supplements, St. John’s wort is one that most definitely comes to mind. The flowering plant has earned quite the glowing reputation for helping support mood stability.

Its benefits may be attributed to the way the plant prevents nerve cells in the brain from reabsorbing certain mood-regulating chemical messengers, including dopamine and serotonin, according to preliminary studies cited by the NCCIH.

That said, it can interact with prescription drugs, herbs, and other supplements, so you should most definitely consult your healthcare provider before taking St. John’s wort.

7. SAM-e

S-adenosyl-L-methionine (also called SAM-e) is a well-studied, naturally-occurring molecule present in all living cells. An article published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry concluded that preliminary data suggests SAM-e may be a potential mood enhancer.

The NCCIH warns that, like similar supplements, you should always consult a healthcare provider before adding SAM-e to your regimen.

8. Omega-3s

Eating more wild Alaskan salmon and supplementing with fish oil may bring a smile to your face for more than one reason. A review published in the journal Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience noted that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) can help decrease feelings of sadness, promote stress relief, and increase libido—all things that make for a much better life!

Hibiscus Isn’t Just A Pretty Face

Hibiscus is a multicolored flower often found in lush, tropical settings and known for its delicate beauty. But hibiscus is so much more than a pretty wedding centerpiece—it also has many notable health-boosting qualities.

Hibiscus contains polyphenols and flavanols that possess antioxidant and cardioprotective activities, explains Dr. Garrett Wdowin, NMD, a naturopathic medical doctor and integrative medicine specialist in Newport Beach, CA. It has long been used in traditional Ayurvedic (an Eastern belief system) medicine to promote good health. Here’s some of what it can do:

Blood pressure and cholesterol

A human and animal study in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that hibiscus extract contains properties that can help promote stable blood pressure. There’s also evidence that hibiscus can support healthy cholesterol and blood glucose levels, according to research in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Just a cup of hibiscus tea daily has shown these benefits, according to the research. Note: If your blood pressure is already low, speak with your doctor before taking hibiscus.

Antioxidant qualities

Like Wdowin says, studies have shown that the hibiscus plant offers key antioxidant properties. In 2014, a review of available scientific evidence in the journal Food Chemistry revealed that hibiscus is rich in phenolic acids (health-supporting micronutrients) and anthocyanins (pigments and flavonoids with health-supporting qualities).

Bonus: When drinking hibiscus tea, you also get a dose of vitamin C (about 46 mg) from the hibiscus leaves, which plays a key role in immune function.

Beauty & skin-care

Increasingly, hibiscus is used as an ingredient in skin-care and beauty products like moisturizers and masks (we recommend the S.W.Basics Hibiscus Mask). That’s because hibiscus brings powerful alpha-hydroxy acids to the table, which can help promote healthy skin.

A 2004 animal study in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology showed that the plant, when used in moisturizers, may also help prevent some of the potential damage from the sun’s UV rays.

Some people also use hibiscus tea as a DIY hair rinse to improve luster, cleanliness, and softness. Want to try it out? Take a hot cup of hibiscus tea, mix with one-third cup of apple cider vinegar, shake, and then apply all over the scalp and hair. You can add essential oils (careful not to get them in your eyes!) for scent, although it’s not necessary. Massage your scalp and move the mixture through your hair. Rinse with warm water after about 15-30 minutes.

Lastly, according to the journal Biomolecules & Therapeutics, hibiscus’ leaf extracts can potentially support hair growth.

Give it a whirl

If you’re eager to try hibiscus, Dr. Wdowin says tea is his favorite way to weave it into your diet, although he notes that people can find hibiscus as a capsulized supplement, as well. Note: While the journal ISRN Gastroenterology says that hibiscus is generally a safe supplement, you will want to speak with your doctor if you have certain medical conditions. For one, hibiscus is generally not recommended to drink if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, says Wdowin.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, hibiscus may decrease blood sugar levels, so take note if you have diabetes. Same goes for people undergoing surgery: Because hibiscus can affect blood sugar, it’s recommended you not take it two weeks before a scheduled surgery.

There is no official dosage recommendation, although most supplements suggest between 250 mg to 800 mg once per day.

Big Girl On A Bike: How I Rode My Way To Weight Loss And Confidence

At my annual check-up in 2010, the doctor pointedly told me, “You have high blood pressure and it hasn’t gone down since your last visit.” The last visit was a month earlier, when I’d promised to change my diet and start an exercise routine. I was 32-years-old and running out of excuses.

I came to the follow-up appointment knowing that I had polished off a quart of butter pecan ice cream the night before and begun the day with a big syrupy pile of pancakes. Truthfully, I was surprised he didn’t tell me that I was diabetic. Still, this was worrying.

The doctor told me he’d have to put me on meds—and that I’d need to exercise and eat well this time around.

I’d promised to change my diet and start an exercise routine. I was 32-years-old and running out of excuses.

At that point, my weight had ballooned to 225 pounds (which was much higher than it was during my last pregnancy in 2003, seven years earlier). I was feeling every pound, too—breathing heavily and needing a half-hour of recovery time after carrying laundry up and down the stairs. My knees and ankles ached, and my back was on fire. Everywhere I went, it felt like my heart was going to beat right out of my chest.

I left that appointment frightened, thinking of all those serious blood pressure medicine side effects (like death!) you hear about in commercials. I also ruminated on all the rumors and myths (which I knew weren’t entirely true) I’d heard about blood pressure meds from people I knew:

You get on those pills and never get off. They’re addictive.

My cousin’s uncle’s wife got on blood pressure pills and had to have a liver transplant a month later.

They make you feel like crap.

I knew I was too young for blood pressure medication. I needed to do something about this situation—so, after a tortuous mile-long walk through my neighborhood, where my kids rode along beside me and heckled me for being “soooo sloooow,” I got my big ass on a bike.

I had bought it a few seasons back at a yard sale, and had promptly shoved it to the back of the shed. It was an adult mountain bike with a few gears, and it totally worked once I cleaned off the cobwebs. I got on and pedaled around the yard to try it out.

The seat was a challenge. It was a tad too small for my big hind quarters, so I bought a wider seat and set off for my first ride.

I knew I was too young for blood pressure medication. I needed to do something about this situation.

After one block, my knees ached. I stopped to flex them and started again. Soon, my calves were wailing and tightening and begging me to quit. I rode on, knowing that turning back would mean the bike would go back to the shed and my exercise attempts would end. I didn’t like walking and I knew that nothing else would get me up and out of the house. I also thought about those blood pressure meds and kept pedaling.

Related: Shop protein to fuel your next workout. 

By the time I reached the park about a mile from my house, I was cruising in the wind, feeling pretty good, and barely noticing my aches and pains. Before I knew it, I was farther from the house than I had ever been without a car. I got a little worried about tiring out on the way home, so I turned back. The sun was setting and the air was cooler, but I made it.

Over the next three months, I carved out time to ride every single day that I could, taking my kids along with me. We would drive to the park by the beach with our truck loaded up with bikes and gear. We’d ride the trails that ran throughout the park until the sun had all but set on the horizon. I even rode to the Saturday morning farmer’s market whenever I could, weaving through the crowds of tourists downtown to bring home fresh produce—which, incidentally, helped me improve my eating habits. I became addicted to that late afternoon ride for the rest of the summer.

Before I knew it, I was farther from the house than I had ever been without a car.

And because I was biking all the time, I drank loads of water to stay hydrated. I was drinking so much water that my soda intake had gone down drastically. I also brought portable snacks (like almonds, berries, protein bars, and fruits) to take with me on the bike. These little snacks helped reduce my appetite for junk food, and since eating huge, heavy dinners made riding tedious, I naturally sought out lighter meals.

One day, at the end of the summer, I went shopping. I tried on my usual size 16 pants and found that I was actually a loose-fitting size 14 (almost a 12!). I went home happily with my new duds.

At that point, I had lost 25 pounds. Plus, my blood pressure had come down to a much better range.

Now, seven years later, I’m still a big girl on a bike, but I’m way healthier.

6 Things That Can Happen If You Don’t Eat Enough Fat

Fat often gets a bad rap. If you’ve dieted at some point in your life, chances are you’ve tried going low-fat—after all, low-fat was all the rage for a while there. Nowadays, however, we’ve updated our understanding of fats. We know that certain types of fat are actually good for you—and that they do a lot for your body, from cushioning your organs to controlling your temperature to absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), according to research from the University of Virginia Medical School. In fact, it turns out that not getting your fill of the good fat every day could actually lead to some scary health issues.

First, it’s important to understand how fat works in your body.

“Good” Fats vs. “Bad” Fats

On the good side, you’ve got polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. On the not-so-good side, you’ve got saturated fats and trans fats.

Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats help reduce levels of bad cholesterol in your blood, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). In fact, research has shown that both types of good fat can reduce your risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease, says Vanessa Rissetto, R.D.

On the flip side, trans fats (which are found in fried foods and many baked goods) and some saturated fats (which are most commonly found in foods like fatty beef, pork, butter, and cheese) can raise your cholesterol. (It’s worth noting, though, that some saturated fats, like those found in coconut oil, can raise your HDL or ‘good cholesterol.’)

Where To Get Those Good Fats

Two types of polyunsaturated fats you’ve probably already heard of: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Since your body doesn’t produce them on its own, you’ll need to get them through your diet. You can find omega-3s in walnuts, flax seeds, and salmon, while you can find omega-6s in eggs, poultry, nuts, and pumpkin seeds, says Rissetto.

Meanwhile, you can find monounsaturated fatty acids in nuts, seeds, and high-fat fruits like olives and avocado, she adds. (Guac, for the win!) Just keep portions in mind, says Rissetto. A serving of fat equals about a tablespoon of olive oil or a fourth of an avocado, for example.

Related: 7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For Your Health

Even good fats have their pitfalls, though. Research published in BMJ suggests that there could be a link between excessive omega-6 consumption (relative to omega-3 consumption) and increased risk of heart disease. Plus, too many omega-6s can actually promote inflammation, says Rissetto, so you’ll want to watch your intake.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends adult men get 1.6 grams of omega-3s and 17 grams of omega-6s per day and adult women get 1.1 grams of omega-3s and 12 grams of omega-6s per day. As far as monounsaturated fats go, there’s no specific recommended amount.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises getting less than 10 percent of your daily calories from saturated fats and swapping in polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats for saturated fats as much as possible.

What Happens When You Go Too Low-Fat

If you’re still not convinced that healthy fats should be a part of your daily grub, the following facts—all effects of eating too little fat—may inspire you to update your grocery cart. Here’s what might happen if you keep living the low-fat life:

1. You’ll put yourself at an increased risk for diabetes and heart disease. Think about it: Noshing on good fats helps cut your risk of cardiovascular problems—so if you don’t get enough of them, you’re missing out on some legitimate heart benefits, says Rissetto.

2. Your blood sugar may pay the price. When you decrease your intake of saturated fats and up your intake of monounsaturated fats, you may even be able to improve your sensitivity to insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas that regulates your blood sugar levels, says Rissetto. When your body isn’t sensitive enough to insulin, it reacts by producing even more of it, which can lead to type 2 diabetes down the line.

3. You’ll feel really hungry all day long. Fat actually keeps you full for longer, since it’s harder than sugar for your body to break down, says David Greuner, M.D., managing director and co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates. Fat also helps inhibit ghrelin, the hormone responsible for hunger, he says.

4. Your energy levels will be all over the place. When your blood sugar spikes and then dips rapidly—which happens when you eat carbs, since they are full of sugars—you cycle through bursts of energy and subsequent crashes. “When you eat a little fat, though, your blood sugar stays even for a much longer period of time,” says Greuner. And that stability will keep you going full steam ahead.

5. You may have trouble concentrating. Per the University of Maryland Medical Center, there is a high concentration of omega-3s in your brain, so they play a crucial role in your ability to concentrate and memory function. According to a study published in the journal Neurology, when people stuck to a Mediterranean diet (which is full of foods that contain omega-3s, like fish and seeds), they experienced fewer instances of cognitive impairment over the course of about four years.

6. Your skin may feel dry and itchy. Although rare in healthy adults, there is such a thing as essential fatty acid deficiency (EFAD), says Rissetto. Essential fatty acids may contribute to skin health, so one of the symptoms you might deal with if you don’t get enough is a dry, scaly rash, according to Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute. (Other symptoms include decreased immunity and poor wound healing.)

You’re at a higher risk for EFAD if you have a GI condition (such as inflammatory bowel disease), which might make it harder for your body to digest fats, according to the University of Virginia Medical School.

Related: Shop a variety of healthy oils and seeds.