3 Very Real Health Benefits Of Tart Cherries

Berries get a lot of love, but there’s another fruit that deserves equal attention: tart cherries. Despite their sour taste, tart cherries offer some seriously sweet health benefits, thanks to all the good-for-you nutrients packed inside their juicy red shells.

Not only are they full of antioxidants, tart cherries offer vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and copper—along with less sugar and fewer carbs than another favorite snack, blueberries. They also contain trace amounts of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and both omega-3s and omega-6 fatty acids, says William Newsome, M.D., of Solutions Weight Loss in Orlando, Florida.

Here are three solid ways eating tart cherries—or drinking tart cherry juice—can benefit your health.

1. They Can Help Protect Your Cells

Tart cherries’ antioxidant content is one of their biggest perks. A quick refresher: Antioxidants are compounds that naturally occur in certain foods and help protect your cells against damaging molecules called free radicals that are produced when you’re exposed to pollution or when your body breaks down food. Research has shown that damage from these free radicals can contribute to diseases like cancer, arthritis, and dementia. One of tart cherries’ most potent antioxidants is called anthocyanin, which gives cherries (and other fruits) their purple-y color.

One study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that tart cherry extract (particularly that of a variety called Montmorency) can prevent some oxidation seen in cell membranes—so look for that variety at your supermarket!

(As a bonus, the researchers also discovered that one of the compounds found in tart cherries, chlorogenic acid, could help nix insulin spikes—sugar crashes—after meals.)

 2. They Help Promote Healthy Sleep 

Can’t seem to shut down at night? Consider sipping on tart cherry juice. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that elderly participants with trouble sleeping who drank two eight-ounce glasses of tart cherry each day for two weeks slept for a whopping 85 minutes longer than those who were given a placebo drink. The reason for this? Tart cherries contain melatonin (the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles), says Matthew Kadey, R.D., author of Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sports and Adventure. Studies suggest both drinking tart cherry juice before bed and drinking it multiple times throughout the day seem to help, without any sleepy daytime effects.

3. They May Soothe Muscle Soreness Post-Workout

Because tart cherries contain antioxidants, they may help your body bounce back after a workout. “Research shows that if you consume tart cherry juice for several days before and after exercising, you can experience less muscle soreness and faster recovery,” says Kadey.

According to one study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, runners who drank tart cherry juice for a week leading up to a race reported less pain and quicker recovery time afterward than runners who downed a placebo juice. (A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found similar results with marathoners.)

A disclaimer: Tart cherries’ post-exercise benefits seem to be far more noticeable in people who are working out hard (or long) every day—so if you take cardio or yoga classes here and there, you may not notice as much of a difference, Kadey says.

Pucker Up!

How to Add Tart Cherries to Your Diet

To reap health benefits from snacking on fresh tart cherries, aim for about a one-cup serving, suggests Newsome. If you can’t find them fresh, look for dried tart cherries, which are great added to oatmeal or DIY trail mix. (Just cut your serving size down to a quarter cup and look for a brand without any added sugar.)

Same goes for sipping on tart cherry juice. Look for a bottle labeled ‘100 percent tart cherry juice’ that’s free of added sugar or any other juices, Kadey recommends. If you find the flavor of tart cherry juice is too sour for your tastes, try mixing a few tablespoons of juice into a few ounces of water.

Keep your tart cherry facts straight:

7 Tips For Doing A Plant-Based Diet Right

Researchers, dietitians, and influencers alike are all about plant-based diets, which emphasize eating more plants and less animal products (think meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy). Why? Research shows that plant-based diets are good for us: Consider this study about its connection to lower rates of type 2 diabetes, or this review supporting its ability to support weight loss, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, potentially even lessening the need for certain medications.

And the best part is, you don’t have to go full-on vegan—or even vegetarian—to hop on the plant-based train (though you totally can if you want to)! Plenty of plant-based eaters enjoy eggs, meat, and dairy every once in a while, but the whole notion of ‘plant-based’ is simply that plants are top priority.

Still, skeptics worry that a plant-based diet means missing out on certain nutrients. That could be the case, sure, if your version of a plant-based diet is only bread and bananas and peanut butter. But with these seven nutritionist-backed tips, you can create yourself a plant-based diet that’s nutritionally-balanced and sustainable.

1. Prioritize Protein

You may think of protein as the nutrient that builds and repairs your muscles and bones—but it does a whole lot more than that. “You also need protein to make hair, blood, enzymes, connective tissue, antibodies, and hormones,” says culinary nutrition expert Jessica Levinson, R.D., founder of Small Bites by Jessica. And in a plant-based diet, you’ll have to venture beyond chicken breast to get that precious protein.

Most people need 0.8 to one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, which is about 70 grams for someone who weighs 150 pounds. If you’re an athlete or working to build muscle, you’ll need more like 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight, which is about 82 to 95 grams for someone who weighs 150 pounds.

And, yes, that’s totally doable on a plant-based diet. Center every meal around protein by filling at least a quarter of your plate with a plant-based protein source, like beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, or edamame, says Stephanie Mendez, R.D., a nutritionist with NY Nutrition Group and co-founder of women’s fitness and nutrition program Matriarch. All of these options offer upwards of 12 grams of protein per serving. Nuts and high-protein grains (like quinoa and amaranth) also offer some protein.

Related: 7 Meat-Free Protein Sources

You can even plantify your go-to protein shake by adding a plant-based supplement like soy, pea, rice, or hemp protein powder. Many plant-based proteins include a blend of these in order to provide the best mix of amino acids (the molecules in protein) possible.

When you do incorporate animal-based proteins, limit them to less than half of your total protein intake, suggests Christy Brisette, R.D., of 80 Twenty Nutrition. Try to stick to fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna (which are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids), poultry, and lean meats, all of which are all lower in saturated fats, she says.

2. Keep Carbs In Check

When you cut back on foods like dairy, eggs, and meat, it’s easy to replace them with carbs, says Mendez. And even if you’re eating all healthy foods, a diet too high in carbs and too low in healthy fats and proteins may leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Avoid this mishap by making sure one half of your plate is filled with non-starchy veggies (like spinach, carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower, or broccoli), one quarter with protein, and one quarter with carbs (either from starchy veggies like potatoes, corn, peas, and squash, or whole grains like brown rice, oats, or bulgur), according to Mendez. (Most dietitians recommend about 30 to 45 grams of carbs per meal, which would be about a cup of cooked whole grains or starchy veggies.)

And, like with any healthy diet, you’ll want to limit baked goods, added sugars, white bread, and pasta, and choose less-processed, whole-grain carbs. Refined carbs are stripped of their fiber, protein, and other nutrients (including vitamins E and KB vitamins, selenium, and magnesium), says Levinson. Meanwhile, whole grains, starchy vegetables and more wholesome products like whole-wheat bread contain fiber and nutrients to fill you up and keep your blood sugar stable and healthy, says Mendez. “Just make sure the first ingredient says ‘whole grain’ and there are no added sugars,” says Mendez.

3. Keep An Eye On Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 helps your body form red blood cells and DNA, and plays an important role in brain and nerve function, says Levinson. And because it binds to proteins and is found mostly in non-veggie sources like fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk, plant-based eaters have a harder time eating their fill. (Adults need about 2.4 micrograms a day.)

Incorporating one serving of eggs, dairy, or seafood a day can bump up your B12 intake. Otherwise, you can find it in nutritional yeast, and some fortified cereals, grains, and nut milks.

Related: Is There Such A Thing As Eating Too Much Meat?

If you’re going plant-based long-term, Mendez recommends having your B12 levels checked regularly. Your doctor can let you know if a B12 supplement is necessary with a simple blood test, she says.

4. Eat Your Spinach (And Other Iron Sources)

This is a big one. Iron helps your body transport the oxygen you breathe to all of your tissues. It also supports your metabolism, your hormones, and connective tissue. The average woman needs about 18 milligrams per day, while the average man needs eight.

There are two types of iron: heme iron, which comes from animal proteins, and non-heme iron, which comes from plants. Non-heme iron isn’t absorbed as easily as heme iron, so you need to eat more of it to hit your goals. To do so, make sure your diet contains a variety of sources, like beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fortified grains and cereals, and (of course!) dark, leafy greens like spinach. One cup of beans contains about eight milligrams of iron, while a cup of boiled spinach contains about four.

Women, especially, should try to have a serving of iron-rich plant foods at every meal of the day, Mendez says.

Related: Talk to your doc about whether an iron supplement is right for you.

Levinson also recommends pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods (vitamin C boosts your absorption of iron) and avoiding eating iron foods with calcium-rich foods (calcium limits absorption). For example, try pairing spinach with tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes.

5. Don’t Forget About Omega-3s

Omega-3s (like EPA and DHA) are a type of fatty acid that supports brain, eye, and heart health. Tricky thing is, they’re primarily found in fatty fish and eggs, says Mendez.

Featured Plant-Based Omega Supplements

But fear not! There are plenty of plant foods that help you stock up on these important omegas, like flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. These plant sources contain an essential fatty acid called ALA, which is used to produce EPA and DHA. Feature these foods on your plate regularly so your body can produce enough of the omega-3s it needs, says Mendez.

6. Plan Ahead For Snacking, Travel, And Meals Out

If you’ll be out and about—and potentially without veggie-friendly options—packing snacks and small meals can keep your plant-based eating possible and keep you from making an impulsive, imbalanced food choice. Pizza and pasta are tasty, sure, but they often contain lots of fats and carbs without much protein, so you don’t want to rely on them when you’re out, says Mendez.

Meal planning and prepping on the weekends (breakfast and snacks included) can go a long way in making plant-based dieting easy throughout busy weeks. If you know you’re going to be on the run, stash healthy, portable snacks to tide you over. Choose something that’s about 50 percent protein and 50 percent carbs, like a handful of nuts and an apple.  

7. Don’t Assume Vegetarian Or Vegan Products Are Healthier

Ooh, vegan cookies? Something about ‘em just seems healthier, right? But don’t be fooled.

For one, highly processed vegetarian foods—especially meat replacements like burgers or nuggets—are still highly-processed. “When you look at food labels for things like veggie chicken, they have a lot of other ingredients, including preservatives and chemicals added to get the texture and taste of meat,” says Mendez.  And vegan cookies, though they may not contain dairy, are usually still high in calories, fat, and sugar, she adds.

So limit the premade, processed foods as much as possible. After all, a brownie is still a brownie. Focus your meals and snacks on whole foods, and consider meat-free and vegan packaged foods with the same skepticism you’d consider any other foods.

Pin this infographic to keep these plant-based eating guidelines handy:

It Took Emergency Surgery For Me To Admit That I Was A Binge Eater

My husband Tuan says he hardly recognized the woman he drove to the emergency room in 2016: me. I was doubled over and moaning, after being woken up at 5 a.m. by intense abdominal pain.

In the E.R., I found myself on a gurney on the hospital’s surgical floor. The orderly had left me off to the side of the bustling corridor, where they lined up patients scheduled for surgery like taxiing planes awaiting takeoff.

Prior to that, an E.R. doctor had diagnosed me with cholecystitis, an inflammation of the gallbladder, and said I needed surgery to remove it. I’d had hereditary gall bladder issues, which had caused me to develop gallstones (hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form in your gallbladder). But it was one particular gallstone, which had become lodged in my cystic duct, that became the source of my excruciating pain.

Waiting to be operated on was harrowing. I was nearly naked and the air felt cold—or maybe it was my fear making me feel that way. I shivered a little as I imagined my body in the drawer of a morgue, should something happen to me. A doctor approached me and introduced himself as my anesthesiologist.

The surgery was a wake-up call. I’d been keeping a secret for far too long—that I had been binge-eating since childhood.

“Can you read this before you give me the anesthesia?” I asked him. He nodded as I handed him a slip of paper. “I will come through this surgery well, and heal quickly,” it read. “I am loved.” The affirmation I wrote made me feel a little more in control.

Maybe my affirmation worked, because my surgery was successful. Afterward, though, I wore a drainage bag attached to the lower laparoscopic incision in my right side. It tugged uncomfortably at my skin, especially during bumps in the road as we drove home from the hospital.

After recovering for several months, I realized that the surgery was a wake-up call. I’d been keeping a secret for far too long—that I had been binge-eating since childhood—and surely that behavior had not kept me in optimal health.

My eating disorder had its roots in the chaotic household in which I grew up. I lived in fear of my mentally ill father and my parents didn’t emotionally care for me, so I often ended up turning to food for comfort. Many times after family dinners—long after I was full, long after my family members had left the dinner table—I stood alone over the stove in the kitchen of our suburban home, eating leftovers from the pots. A typical after-dinner binge left my belly feeling hard and round, yet I never felt sated.

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I got married in 2009 and continued secretly binging (or so I thought). My husband worked hard to ignore my binges, but empty Combos bags, clanking Pringles cans, and Cadbury bars still clinging to their foil—which I’d toss over the side of the bed after eating—were hard to overlook. I’d eat to treat myself after an annoying or long day, but these treats were ruining my health. Occasionally, my husband caught me bingeing and teased me for my “secret eating,” but neither one of us named the problem or took steps to address it.

For decades I had been able to binge without consequence. But now, in my late forties, my binge-eating had finally caught up with me. After the hospital, I had to try to make sustainable lifestyle changes for the sake of my health. More than that, my seven-year-old daughter deserved a mother who modeled good health practices.

I found a new doctor who worked at a hospital nearby. “I need help losing weight,” I told her. Young and eager to assist me, she saw how miserable I felt. The doctor promised emotional support—an essential element of sticking with good health habits.

It has been almost three months since that initial meeting and I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds (off of 200lbs), four BMI points, and several inches from my waist, hips, and butt, and my blood pressure has dropped. I’ve reduced my portion sizes and sugar intake, but I still allow myself to eat the foods I enjoy—in moderation. My husband now buys mini ice cream cones at Trader Joe’s (60 calories each), for example.

I had to try to make sustainable lifestyle changes for the sake of my health. More than that, my seven-year-old daughter deserved a mother who modeled good health practices.

Instead of forcing myself to go running, which I seriously dislike, I signed up for unlimited Pure Barre classes for a full-body group workout. I swim at the community pool and aim to walk 10,000 steps every day. I keep a food (and mood) journal to stay on top of triggers and remain honest with myself about what I eat.

In September, I rode my daughter to school on our cargo bike (another lifestyle tweak) for her first day of second grade. I felt good about knowing I had finally faced my behavior honestly, and I loved my improved mood, the way my pants fit, and how my more-sculpted shoulders looked in a sleeveless shirt.

I also love that my daughter watched me change my own health habits. I hope, inspired by my example, she’ll find ways to stay healthy far beyond the second grade.

What Is Tryptophan—And Does Turkey Really Make You Sleepy?

We all have our own Thanksgiving rituals, but the day usually looks something like this: Wake up, watch the parade and then some football, eat a massive amount of delicious food, and fall into an all-night food coma.

A lot of that food coma gets blamed on the tryptophan in turkey, but is it really this mysterious compound that makes you sleepy? Let’s fact-check Thanksgiving dinner’s biggest legend.

What Is Tryptophan?

Tryptophan is actually a type of amino acid a.k.a. the molecules that build proteins in our bodies. Turkey contains a number of amino acids, including tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, and leucine. Our bodies can produce some amino acids (called ‘non-essential’), but we have to get others (called ‘essential’) from food.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that, in addition to building proteins, also synthesizes the neurotransmitter serotonin. So what does that have to do with your post-gobble slumber? Serotonin (which is often called the ‘feel good’ hormone) helps regulate your body’s sleep patterns by producing the hormone melatonin, which your body releases when it’s time to settle down for the night, explains says Jackie Ballou, R.D.

So that explains that! Right? Er, not so fast.

Myth Busting Tryptophan

There’s a catch: Turkey doesn’t actually contain any more tryptophan than other types of poultry, says Ballou. You can even find tryptophan in foods like soybeans, yogurt, eggs, and cheese—and none of these foods, including turkey, contain enough of the amino acid for it to have a sedative effect. Plus, the other amino acids in turkey counterbalance the tryptophan’s sleepy effects.

To put it in perspective, three ounces of turkey contains approximately 250 mg of tryptophan. To really feel the effects of the stuff, you’d have to consume the nutrient on its own and in a much higher amount. (Tryptophan supplements, which can support sleep, mood, and relaxation, usually contain about 1,000 milligrams.)

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

What does cause you to feel so tired after your Thanksgiving feast, then? All of the calories! When you gorge yourself with stuffing, pie, turkey, and potatoes, your body devotes tons of its energy to digesting it all, says Ballou. Plus, many of the Thanksgiving foods we love are really high in carbs—so they’ll make your blood sugar soar and then crash, and leave you half-asleep on the couch not long after you eat.

But hey, Turkey Day comes but once a year—so enjoy the food, relish the company, and bask in the food coma.

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Hemp Is Going Mainstream—Here’s How To Add It To Your Diet

You may have heard a thing or two about hemphemp oil, hemp seeds, hemp powder—but really, what exactly is it?
 
First thing’s first: Hemp comes from the cannabis plant—but it’s absolutely not marijuana. Hemp is derived from the non-psychoactive variety of the plant, and is both genetically different and cultivated by different means. In fact, hemp seeds and stalks have been used to produce  everything from textiles to paper production for over 8000 years. So don’t worry about hemp having any wacky side effects—eating it is both super-healthy and completely safe for everyday use.
 
Emily Keranen, NMD, an Arizona-based naturopathic doctor, is a big fan of hemp—and readily recommends it to her patients: “Hemp products are a good source of omega fatty acids, particularly omega-3,” she says. “Additionally, the high mineral content of hemp seeds, particularly phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, and zinc, helps to strengthen bones and boost the immune system.”

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So how do you eat it? 

Hemp can be consumed in a variety of ways, depending on your diet and preferences. Hemp seeds, which have a neutral to slightly nutty taste, are commonly eaten by vegetarians because they’re a big source of plant-based protein, says Dr. Keranen: “The amount of protein in hemp (one tablespoon contains about 5.3 grams of protein) makes it a great protein source for plant-based eaters and anyone else looking to increase their protein intake.”
 
In addition, a study in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism showed that hemp seeds contain powerful antioxidants and other protective compounds, promoting immunity, joint support, and cardiovascular health. 
             
Hemp seeds are incredibly versatile (think of them sort of like chia). You can sprinkle them on top of yogurt or applesauce, pop them into your favorite smoothie or smoothie bowl, or even add them to baked goods like cookies, muffins, or quick breads. You can also reach for Hemp Heart Bites, which pack a whopping 10 grams of protein per serving.
 
Additionally, you can get the benefits of hemp by consuming it as a protein powder. Powders like Manitoba Harvest Hemp Pro are super-easy to add to a post-gym or pre-workout shake, and boast tons of amino acids (which help us build muscle), fiber, protein, and omega-3s.
 
Lastly, there’s hemp oil, like Nutiva’s Organic Hemp Oil. Says Keranen: “Hemp oil is a wonderful source of omega fatty acids and can be used as a finishing oil on salads, or added to dressings, smoothies, and dips for raw vegetables and bread.”
 
Hemp oil contains three fatty acids that work wonders in the body, according to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. These include linoeic, α-linolenic, and oleic, all of which are crucial for body functions and help to boost heart, joint, and mood health.
 
A note of caution: Dr. Keranen says that hemp’s omega-3s can degrade at high temperatures, so don’t use the oil for baking, roasting, or other oven activities. (Not into drizzling oil onto your food? Hemp oil also comes in capsules.)
 

 Want to ease your way in to hemp oil? Here’s a simple recipe from Nutiva:

Related: Your Guide To Cooking With Healthy Oils

12 Tasty Ways To Eat Turmeric (Other Than Golden Milk)

Turmeric—a staple of holistic medicine, featured ingredient in Indian cuisine, and a star in healthy Instagram pics the world over—is known for its immune boosting properties and ability to ease digestive issues.

It also happens to taste heavenly when mixed with coconut milk and honey as a soothing, health-boosting beverage called golden milk. But the turmeric-infused grub doesn’t end there! Whether you buy turmeric root fresh or grab a bottle of ground turmeric from the spice aisle, you can sprinkle a little gold into everything from hummus to salad dressing to smoothies.

We rounded up 12 of the most creative and delicious turmeric recipes we could find—and we guarantee you’re going to want to try them all.

photo: Sprinkle of Green

1. Turmeric Sweet Potato Hummus

Enjoy every dunk of this nutrition-packed dip by Sprinkle of Green knowing you’re scooping up all the benefits sweet potatoes, turmeric, and beans have to offer (think vitamin A, protein, fiber, and more). Whether you’re dipping with whole-grain pita chips, crackers, or veggie sticks, it’s a colorful and flavorful snack or appetizer.

Related: 12 Energy Bites You’ll Want At Breakfast, Snack-Time, And Dessert

photo: Natalie’s Health

2. Lemon Turmeric Energy Bites

When you need a boost fast, energy bites are as easy to grab-and-go as they are to make. These bites from Natalie’s Health are light, sweet, and zesty—and come together quickly in the food processor. In addition to the golden goodness of turmeric, they also offer protein, fiber, and healthy fats from rolled oats, almonds, and chia seeds.

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photo: Dear Crissy

3. Turmeric Gummies

Trick your taste buds into thinking you’re eating candy (while supporting your immune system, of course) with Dear Crissy’s gummy recipe. You’ll blend together steamed carrots, OJ, hot water, gelatin, and turmeric paste to make these fruity, chewy health powerhouses. You’ll score some vitamin A and vitamin C in addition to the turmeric.

photo: PaleoHacks

4. Turmeric Coconut Flour Muffins

Warm turmeric is perfectly at home in these grain-free, naturally-sweetened muffins by PaleoHacks. They’re the perfect healthy quick breakfast, snack, or after-dinner treat—and unlike your average store-bought muffin, they provide the fiber you need to feel satisfied.

photo: Rebel Recipes

5. Golden Ginger And Turmeric Cookies

No mere gingerbread cookie or gingersnap can stand up to Rebel Recipes’ spicy ginger and turmeric cookies. Made with wholesome ingredients like ground almonds, oats, bananas, and coconut oil, they’ll light up your taste buds from the first bite. (You can thank pink salt, cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric for that!)

Related: Shop a wide selection of ingredients for healthy baking.

photo: Savory Lotus

6. Creamy Turmeric Dressing

Any food lover knows a delicious sauce can make a meal. This simple dressing by Savory Lotus is great drizzled on salads, veggies, meat, or fish—or practically any other food or dish that could benefit from a quality condiment. All you need is tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, honey, turmeric, black pepper, and a little salt to step up the flavor and nutrition of any meal.

photo: Simply Quinoa

7. Healing Turmeric Cauliflower Soup

This thick, creamy soup is as comforting as it is nourishing—and provides the fiber, protein, and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) you need to feel both cozy and satisfied. Simply Quinoa’s recipe uses cauliflower, red lentils, vegetable broth, and nut milk as a base, and packs in the flavor with shallots, garlic, turmeric, cumin, and sea salt.

photo: Healthier Steps

8. Turmeric Coconut Rice

An easy way to spice up (literally) any grain side dish? Turmeric, of course. Healthier Stepsturmeric coconut rice turns a plain grain into a robust, elegant side. Along with onion, garlic, turmeric, thyme, and carrots, you’ll cook your rice in coconut milk for extra rich, creamy flavor.

photo: Jar of Lemons

9. Golden Glow Pineapple Turmeric Smoothie

You may not think to shake turmeric into your smoothies, but with the right blender buddies to sweeten it up and mellow it out, we’re willing to be you’ll start. This bright blend from Jar of Lemons combines turmeric with banana, frozen pineapple, and coconut milk, for a thick, creamy smoothie that tastes as refreshing as it looks. Add your favorite vanilla protein powder into the mix and you’ve got the ultimate free radical-crushing, muscle-building post-workout smoothie.

photo: The Seasoned Mom

10. Golden Chicken

Without a strong marinade game, chicken breasts can be almost too boring to eat after a while. Try The Seasoned Mom’s turmeric marinade for a burst of color and flavor. Honey, whole-grain mustard, Dijon (who doesn’t love that), turmeric, garlic, olive oil, and salt whisk together quickly—any you don’t use to marinate your meat makes for a delicious dressing!

photo: Fooduzzi

11. Cinnamon Turmeric Iced Tea

When it’s too warm out for golden milk, sip on turmeric in a refreshing iced tea blend. Fooduzzi brews her favorite loose-leaf tea (half English Breakfast, half Ceylon) with cinnamon, turmeric, and either maple syrup or honey, then stashes it in the fridge to make a sweet and spicy beverage that’s perfect whether you’re sipping poolside or just need something flavorful to put in your water bottle.

photo: The Mediterranean Dish

12. Turmeric Roasted Carrots

Toss any veggie in a little fat and throw it in the oven and it’s pretty much guaranteed to turn out ah-mazing. But throw some spices and seasonings into the mix and you’ll be next-level impressed. The Mediterranean Dish perfectly caramelizes her carrots by roasting them with olive oil, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander, minced garlic, and salt and pepper for a punch of flavors that’s sure entice even the biggest of veggie-haters.

10 Foods That Pack More Added Sugar Than You Should Have All Day

You’ve been told at least a hundred times by now that eating too much sugar can have a scary impact on your health. And though sugar is our body’s number-one fuel source, excess intake can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, cravings, and weight gain, and even lead to conditions like type 2 diabetes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting added sugars (including natural sugars found in honey, syrups, and fruit juices) to less than five percent of your daily calories—or less than 25 grams, if you eat a 2,000-calorie diet. Get this, though: The average American eats a whopping 82 grams of sugar a day. And many of those grams coming from this added sugar—and not the kind naturally found in dairy, fruits, and vegetables.

Check the nutrition label on any packaged food and you might see sugar lurking in everything from granola to ketchup as high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, beet sugar, honey, molasses, or cane sugar—just to name a few.

According to the FDA, food labels will have to specifically identify added sugar eventually, so you’ll know which sugar bombs to avoid. (This was just pushed back from 2018 to 2020.) For now, we asked a few nutritionists to round up some of the popular foods out there that are sure to push you over the added sugar edge.

1. Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Sorry, PSL lovers, but odds are your go-to Fall coffee order is loaded with sugar. A grande (16-ounce) PSL from Starbucks, for example, packs 48 grams of sugar if you order it with two-percent milk.

2. Store-Bought Muffins

Heavenly as they may be, many coffee shop muffins are total sugar bombs—even the ones that seem like healthier (or at least less sugary) options. Dunkin’ Donuts’ blueberry muffin comes along with 43 grams of sugar, with their cornbread muffin not far behind at 30 grams of sugar.

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3. Gin And Tonics

Despite the common belief that clear boozy drinks are lower in calories than their colorful counterparts, even the safe-sounding G&T is loaded with sugar. Throw back just two drinks (about 12 ounces-worth of tonic water) and you’ll down 32 grams of sugar. Where’s it all coming from? High-fructose corn syrup, which is the second ingredient in Schweppes’ tonic water.

 4. Store-Bought Smoothies

Many smoothies you’ll find at fast food joints and other chains—even those made from fruit—contain added sugar, too. A prime example: Dunkin’ Donuts strawberry banana smoothie. A small contains over double the recommended daily sugar intake with 54 grams.

Related: How To Make The Best Smoothie For Your Goals

5. Craisins

This uber-popular salad topper is one of the biggest culprits out there. A quarter cup of the sweetened dried fruit packs 29 grams of sugar, while unsweetened dried cranberries contain just about three grams, says Jackie Ballou, R.D., owner of Balancing Act Nutrition. Check the label and you’ll see the sweet stuff listed right behind ‘cranberries.’

6. Specialty Pancakes

It’s no shock that a breakfast with ‘cake’ in the name is going to be full of sugar. And sugar is just what you’ll get with decadent creations like an order of IHOP’s espresso mocha cream pancakes (71 grams), pumpkin spice pancakes (36 grams), or New York cheesecake pancakes (55 grams). Many options are more than double the recommended daily limit for added sugar—before you even add syrup!

7. Cinnamon Rolls

Who doesn’t love the ooey-gooey icing-drenched dough of a cinnamon bun? This heavenly pastry comes at a price, though—a roll from Cinnabon packs a whopping 880 calories and 59 grams of sugar.

Close Calls

Though the next few foods don’t quite pack a full day’s worth of added sugar, the sweet stuff makes up enough of their total calories to be an issue—so buyer beware!

1. Some Canned Soups

Surprised by this one? Us too. Though some richer canned soups out there sound savory, they can contain a shocking amount of sugar. One cup of Campbell’s Slow Kettle-Style Tomato and Sweet Basil Bisque contains 24 grams of sugar  and lists the sweet stuff fourth on the ingredient list. Granted, a few grams of sugar come from the tomatoes, Ballou says.

2. Applesauce

Unless you’re buying one-ingredient applesauce (ya know, made from just apples), there’s a good chance you’re spooning up some added sugar. Mott’s Cinnamon Applesauce, for instance, contains 24 grams of sugar per serving—versus 11 grams in the unsweetened version. The second ingredient in their sauce? High-fructose corn syrup.

3. Flavored Yogurts

Despite yogurt’s popularity as a ‘health’ food, many flavored versions are chock-full of added sugar. Yoplait’s ‘thick and creamy’ variety is particularly high in the stuff, with 28 grams of sugar per serving. About 12 of those grams are naturally-occurring, while the other 16 are added, says Keri Gans, R.D.

5 Reasons To Eat ALL The Squash This Fall

With the biggest food holiday of the year on the horizon, there are fall wreaths, pumpkins, pie-scented candles, and colorful little gourds everywhere. And some of these decorative staples are just as good for you to eat as they are pretty to look at. While you shouldn’t waste your time trying to cook up those bendy little gourds, the pumpkins—and tons of other types of winter squash (yep, pumpkins are a type of squash), like butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, and delicata squash—deserve some major real estate on your Thanksgiving plate.

“The more color, the more phytonutrients [natural compounds that protect plants] and antioxidant properties a squash has,” says Jeanette Kimszal, R.D.N., N.L.C. So reach for the bold hues!

Here are five important nutrients squashes add to your plate.

1. Vitamin A

A food’s orange hue indicates it contains carotenoids, which are chemical compounds that turn into vitamin A in the body, says Kimszal. These carotenoids, including beta-carotene, are powerful antioxidants, and vitamin A is crucial for maintaining healthy vision. Take just one look at the orange-y color of pumpkins and butternut squash and you know they’re loaded with these compounds.

One cup of cubed pumpkin has about 200 percent of your daily value for vitamin A, and a cup of butternut squash packs nearly 300 percent, according to Kimszal. (Women need 700 micrograms a day, while men need 900.)

2. Fiber

Everyone should shoot for about 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day, but most only clock in around 15 to 18 grams, according to the CDC. Not only does fiber keep you from feeling ravenous again minutes after eating, but it’s also key for digestive health.

Related: 7 Ways Extra Calories Are Sneaking Into Your Diet

A cup of butternut squash provides almost seven grams of fiber, while a cup of acorn squash provides nine grams of fiber—a serious dent in your daily needs!

3. Vitamin C

We all know vitamin C is important for our immune systems, but did you know most types of squash, like acorn and hubbard, provide about 20 percent of your daily vitamin C?

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If you want some extra antioxidant power, a cup of butternut squash boasts about 50 percent of your daily vitamin C needs, says Alix Turoff, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., C.P.T. (Men need about 90 milligrams a day, while women need about 75.)

4. Iron

The next time you make squash, save the seeds! A cup of roasted pumpkin seeds provides about two milligrams of iron, which your blood needs to transport oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body, says Turoff. That’s a little more than ten percent of women’s daily iron needs (18 milligrams) and a quarter of men’s (eight milligrams).

5. Tryptophan

Looking for another reason to chow down on seeds? They contain tryptophan, an amino acid your body uses to create the hormone melatonin, which helps you sleep, says Turoff. Tryptophan also plays a role in your production of the feel-good hormone serotonin, which can help boost mood, adds nutritionist Keith Kantor, Ph.D.

Butternut squash seeds are some of the highest in tryptophan, with a ratio of 22 milligrams of tryptophan per gram of protein. Talk about a mood and snooze-boosting snack!

How To Put More Squash On Your Plate

If you want to keep things simple, you can bake or broil just about any squash with herbs and spices for a perfect fall side dish. Smaller squashes, like acorn squash, can just be halved, cooked, and eaten straight out of the skin with a spoon, while larger squashes, like butternut squash, are best peeled and cubed. Spaghetti squash, which can be scraped out in noodle-like strings once cooked, also makes for a perfect healthy pasta alternative, says Mearaph Barnes, R.D., co-founder of Roots Reboot.

Squashes are also great in soups, like Kimszal’s coconut broccoli butternut squash soup, because they’re hearty and slightly sweet.

And, of course, there’s always pumpkin pie. Want to make yours a little healthier this year? Blend a can of 100-percent pure pumpkin puree with 10 ounces of silken tofu and 10 to 12 pitted dates in the food processor, says Barnes. Then, add powdered cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon to taste. Pour the mixture into a whole-wheat pie crust and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Related: Shop all sorts of healthy baking ingredients.

Your Guide To Surviving Holiday Indigestion

The holiday season is all about friends, family, and—perhaps most importantly—food.  But as much as we love the pumpkin bread, office potlucks, and cookie exchanges, it’s a miracle our stomachs survive ‘til the New Year.

Unless, of course, you and your tummy head into the holidays armed with a healthy plan. Whether it’s a soothing tea or herbal remedy, we’ve hand-picked products that will keep you in the holiday spirit (i.e. out of the bathroom) while you enjoy every last bite of stuffing and pie.

1. Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar, $6.99 for 32 ounces

This golden liquid is a must-have for any health enthusiast, but it’s especially handy when you’re waist-deep in seasonally-obligatory mashed potatoes, gooey cookies, and all the pies in the book. ACV has been shown to support healthy blood sugar levels, with research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association even finding that it can lessen the impact of a high-carb meal on blood sugar levels.

2. Prince Of Peace Natural Ginger Candy, $1.99 for 31 pieces

Here’s a candy your belly can really get behind. The warm and spicy ginger root has been known throughout history for its stomach-soothing properties. These just-sweet-enough candies are a natural way to satisfy your sweet tooth and keep your tummy calm.

3. Licorice Root, $5.99 for 100 capsules

Centuries ago, licorice root was used to ease stomach issues, and the herbal remedy remains a popular supplement for digestive issues today. Try licorice for yourself with The Vitamin Shoppe’s 450mg supplement.

4. Lily Of The Desert Whole-Leaf Aloe Vera Juice, $25.99 for 64 servings

Gooey green aloe vera is just as good for your insides as it is for your skin. In fact, the funky plant can be beneficial for your digestive tract and support regularity—and we all know that’s an issue when most of the color in your diet is coming from the icing on holiday cookies. While we’re not quite sure if it counts as a serving of veggies, it’ll definitely do your sugar-coated digestive system some good.

5. Dynamic Health Tart Cherry, Turmeric, And Ginger Tonic, $17.00 for 32 ounces

Whether you blend it into a smoothie, stir it into seltzer, or drink it straight, this tonic is a soothing way to end any night of eating and drinking. Tart cherry contains sleep-supporting melatonin, while turmeric and ginger both offer their own antioxidant and soothing powers. This tonic will be there for you all holiday season long!

6. King Bio Indigestion Relief, $16.49 for two ounces

A friend’s or family member’s dinner party is the last place we want to be rocked by discomfort, but we’ve all found ourselves slouched on someone else’s couch waiting for our stomach to settle down. That’s where a stash of King Bio’s natural medicine formula comes in. Just a few sprays and you’ll be ready to get back to rocking around the coffee table.

7. Solaray Lemon Balm, $10.49 for 100 capsules

Lemon balm dates back to the Middle Ages, when its calming and soothing properties were used to help with everything from trouble sleeping to digestive issues. Set your mind and body up for a relaxed, indigestion-free holiday season with Solaray’s 350 milligram supplement.

8. Alvita Organic Fennel Tea, $5.99 for 24 bags

Traditionally used to ease occasional bloating and gas, fennel seeds have a slightly sweet, licorice-like flavor. Alvita’s fennel tea is the perfect sweet tooth-satisfying follow-up to any meal that leaves you feeling not-so-great.

9. Boiron Nux Vomica, $6.99 for 80 pellets

Homeopathy to the rescue! Nux Vomica is just what you need after eating four chocolate truffles too many. Keep a sleeve handy to nix any stomach upset the holidays send your way.

10. Alvita Organic Peppermint Leaf Tea, $5.99 for 24 bags

When it comes to tackling stomach issues in an all-natural (and delicious) way, the more tea the merrier! Peppermint tea’s refreshing, invigorating flavor is almost as impressive as its belly-soothing powers. When you need a mind-body pick-me-up, peppermint is the brew for you.

11. Milk Thistle Extract, $29.99 for 200 capsules

Let’s face it: The holidays are chock-full of sugar and booze—and your liver has to take the hit. Show your body’s detox center some love with The Vitamin Shoppe’s Milk Thistle Extract ($29.99 for 200 capsules) and pass the spiked cider, please!

Shop the full digestion guide on VitaminShoppe.com

5 Plant-Based Holiday Recipes Your Guests Will Devour

‘Tis the season for pies and pumpkins and potlucks—and tons of time spent searching for crowd-pleasing recipes that are as good for you as they are good.

Whether you’re in charge of a side dish or dessert, look no further than these healthy takes on rustic classics, all made with simple, wholesome ingredients. (And did we mention they put nutrient-rich plants front and center?)

Serve up any (or all) of these five dishes this holiday season, and celebrate knowing your body is as well-nourished as your belly is full.

1. Honey Almond Roasted Brussels Sprouts

This shout-worthy sprout side dish is made with Brussels sprouts, plnt raw honey, plnt coconut oil, sliced almonds, sea salt, and pepper. 

2. Sweet And Tangy Quinoa Bowl

This nutrient-packed grain bowl is made with quinoa, butternut squash, green apple, celery, olive oil, lemon juice, plnt raw honey, and plnt chia seeds

3. Apple Pie Crumble Tarts

A classic dessert gets a healthy makeover using just all-purpose flour, plnt raw honey, plnt coconut oil, red apples, lemon juice, and apple pie spice. 

4. Pumpkin Banana Bread

Fall-flavored banana bread is perfect for the holidays, and made with almond milk, apple cider vinegar, bananas, pumpkin puree, oats, vanilla plnt protein powder, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon

5. Cranberry Almond Protein Bark

Satisfy your sweet tooth with this low-sugar, protein-packed treat, made with plnt coconut oil, almond butter, vanilla plnt protein powder, plnt liquid stevia, maple syrup, dried cranberries, and slivered almonds. 

10 High-Fiber Foods You’ll Actually Enjoy Eating

To keep things moving down there, one nutrient is key. Yeah, you know the one we’re talking about: fiber. Considering most of us don’t get enough of the stuff—and no one likes being constipated—the more fiber, the better.

Loading up on fiber (at least 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams for men) doesn’t seem so appealing, though, when you think of Grandma’s advice: prunes. But how else are you supposed to get your daily fill? Luckily, you’ve got more options than you think.

Tune up your fiber intake—and your digestive health—with a few of these tasty, smooth moves-promoting foods. We promise you’ll never have to contemplate prunes again.

1. Avocados

Believe it or not, this ever-trendy green fruit happens to pack a hearty dose of fiber. One serving (about a third of a medium fruit) offers three grams of fiber for 80 calories, according to Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D., author of The MIND Diet.

Plus, they are incredibly versatile—so have some fun beyond your basic avocado toast! “Avocados are rich and delicious, yet mild in flavor, so they go well in many dishes,” she says. You can blend avocados into smoothies, whip them into puddings, put them in omelets or soups, or mash them into guacamole, she recommends.

2. Chickpeas

Everyone knows that beans are filled with fiber (you can thank the childhood song “beans, beans” for that), and chickpeas are just as good.

“Half a cup of cooked chickpeas is 130 calories, and provides seven grams of protein and a whopping six grams of fiber,” says Moon.

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas, are super easy to use. Keep a few cans stocked in the pantry and you’ll have a quick add-in for soups and salads ready at all times, she says. You can also blend them into hummus or bake them with spices like turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and onion for a zesty crunchy snack, she says.

3. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are super filling and fun to eat, thanks to the gooey-sticky texture they take on when they’re combined with a liquid. And they win bonus points because they’re also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect your heart, Moon says.

Two tablespoons of chia are 140 calories and provide a whopping 10 grams of fiber. Talk about small but mighty!

Try blending them into smoothies, mixing them into oatmeal, sprinkling them into salad dressings, or soaking them in almond milk to make chia pudding, suggests Moon, who likes topping chia pudding with fresh fruit.

4. Hemp Seeds

Hemp is another seed that brings on the fiber, texture, and healthy fats.

For 120 calories, three tablespoons of hemp seeds pack nine grams of fiber, says Kelly Jones, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N. They also provide about 16 grams of protein along with key minerals like magnesium and iron.

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Jones likes adding whole hemp seeds to oatmeal, salads, fall soups (like butternut squash), and homemade energy bars.

5. Lentils

Perhaps one of the most powerful plant proteins out there, lentils are also loaded with good ‘ole fiber.

“Lentils are one of my favorite plan- based protein sources,” says Jones. A half-cup of green lentils contains 15 grams of fiber and nine grams of protein.

Related: 11 Meat-Free Meals That Still Pack Plenty Of Protein

And there are tons of delicious ways to cook with this pulse. Try mixing them with salad greens, veggies, and your favorite vinaigrette, or subbing them in for meet in tacos or chili, she suggests.

6. Pears

Throw a pear in your bag and you’re guaranteed to have a more satisfying and fiber-filled lunch. With six grams of fiber in a medium-sized pear, they pack more fiber than many other types of portable produce we snack on—including apples, which supply just shy of five grams per medium fruit.

Jones recommends adding pear slices to oatmeal, toast, or salads, or just eating the fruit fresh with some almonds. And, if you’re mixing together homemade trail mix, try adding dried pears, which offer 11 grams of fiber per 40-gram serving, she says.

7. Berries

Another high-fiber fruit option: berries. These naturally-sweet bursts of goodness are also some of the most nutritious eats out there, because they contain antioxidants that fight free radical damage and aging.

“Berries are a great source of fiber, and raspberries are especially high with four grams per half-cup,” says Adina Pearson, R.D.

Frozen berries are great for making smoothies or sauces for pancakes or waffles, or just mixing into yogurt or oatmeal, she says. And, of course, there’s nothing better than eating them fresh when they’re in season.

8. Pistachios

All nuts are rich in fiber, but pistachios have the highest fiber count of all, says Tanya Zuckerbrot M.S., R.D., bestselling author and founder of The F-Factor Diet.

A one-ounce serving of pistachios (about 49 kernels) is 159 calories and offers three grams of fiber, she says.

Related: Stock up on a variety of nuts for healthy, satisfying snacking on the go.

Zuckerbrot likes to add crushed pistachios to salads for crunch or sprinkle them into yogurt or oatmeal. These nuts are also a great travel snack—just portion out one serving size into a baggie, she says.

9. Brussels Sprouts

One of our go-to’s for veggie side dishes, Brussels sprouts offer almost four grams of fiber per cup—for just about 40 calories. (Not to mention they also contain about four grams of protein, too.)

If you have any distaste for Brussels leftover from childhood, try balsamic-roasted sprouts, says Zuckerbrot. “Cut the Brussels sprouts in half, toss them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper, and roast at 425 degrees for 25 minutes,” she says.

Or, make a salad by shredding Brussels sprouts in the food processor and mixing the shreds with toasted slivered almonds, grated Parmesan cheese, and a dressing of fresh lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper, she suggests.

10. Edamame

A terrific plant-protein, edamame (a.k.a. soy beans) are also high in fiber to keep cravings at bay and boost your digestive system, says Zuckerbrot.

A one-cup serving of the green beans clocks in at about 190 calories, with an impressive eight grams of fiber and 17 grams of protein, she says.

Steamed edamame makes for a delicious high-fiber and high-protein snack or appetizer, says Zuckerbrot. You can even add a little sea salt or soy sauce for extra flavor. You can also buy them shelled and add them into stir-fries or Asian-inspired chicken salads, she says.

Pin this infographic to ensure you’re noshing on enough fiber throughout the day!

Don’t Judge My Eating Choices And I Won’t Judge Yours

People always ask me what I could possibly eat when they learn I don’t eat meat. Usually, they wonder if I “just eat salad.” The answer: I couldn’t live on salads alone, I’d die—not to mention, the idea that not eating meat amounts to eating just salads shows how little society knows about eating a plant-based diet. Have some imagination!

I haven’t eaten meat for more than half of my life. I became a vegetarian early on in high school, but I’d pretty much avoided meat long before that. It wasn’t just the flavor or the texture that turned my stomach (it quite literally made me gag), it was the thought that I was eating another creature’s body.

Related: 5 Plant-Based Protein Bars That’ll Make You A Believer

My parents, already privy to my rebellious ways, weren’t too shocked to learn that I would no longer take part in meat eating. I had, at a very young age, favored carrot sticks to chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes to meat. And while I’ve flipped between what you can call vegetarian and vegan several times over (I’m not ashamed—I’m human!), the key is that I tend to avoid labels. If anything, I call myself a veggie because while I’m mostly vegan, I won’t say no to the delicious arepas made by my Colombian mother-in-law.

Some people might say that I’m a coward, that I’m not ‘doing it’ correctly, or that I’m not strong enough to stand on my convictions and pick a side. I’d say: That’s absolutely wrong.

Humans are stuck on labels (hello, carnivores, herbivores, pescatarians, Paleo, Keto, vegan—and everything in between), so much so that there’s a need to identify (and justify!) ourselves by the foods we eat. And we’re stuck on judging how others choose to eat, too.

I tend to avoid labels. If anything, I call myself a veggie because while I’m mostly vegan, I won’t say no to the delicious arepas made by my Colombian mother-in-law.

I’ve definitely been judged for eating the way I do. Throughout my life, when people would find out how I eat, they tended to rapidly defend their own eating habits and lifestyle—and I get it. It’s like my rejection of meat makes them somehow feel uneasy. They lift a suspicious eyebrow and label me a dissident. And then they come at me hard, as if they instantly morphed into food experts; suddenly, they begin citing studies they’d read about the benefits of meat: “You’re going to get sick, you don’t have enough protein in your body, you’re going to be weak, your body can’t sustain itself on fruits and vegetables alone.” The list goes on.

To which I say I must actually be a figment of their imaginations, because I’m alive, standing right before them. Then I point to my thick thighs and my heavy backside, which say I definitely do exist. On the other hand, some people judge my body size, saying, “You sure don’t look like a vegetarian/vegan.” Their implication? That veggies should be smaller, or that somehow all vegans or vegetarians look the exact same.

Then, if someone wants to go all-out mean, they’ll say something like, “Oh, you’re one of those liberal hippie types, right?” And everyone giggles but me. Sometimes the room gets quiet—like, really, really quiet.

I don’t say anything at all about their food choices. More often than not, it seems like they’re surprised I haven’t forced my own ideas down their throats or delivered a good veggie sermon.

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Why don’t I stand behind the pulpit? Well, it’s not for me to stand behind. Others might want to, but I’d rather not—I’d rather be ready and willing to talk to people about my lifestyle, and to have a conversation. I don’t look at vegetarianism or veganism as something to promote. I don’t see it as some sort of dogma to distribute.

And while I choose not to eat meat for various reasons (including my own taste, ethics, health goals, and environmental sustainability), trying to convince people to join my tribe, if you will, would only mean that, in some sense, I think I am better than they are or that my choices are wiser. I don’t, just like they shouldn’t. I prefer to tackle conversations with mindfulness and compassion.

Each one of us has our own journey, and this is mine.

 

How Legit Is The Anabolic Window?

If you’re in the practice of slurping down a protein shake the second you finish your workout, you’ve probably heard of an intense-sounding concept called the ‘anabolic window’ and wondered just how much refueling post-workout can make or break your results.

The anabolic window (also called the ‘metabolic window’) is a window of time right after a workout when your body is able to restock energy (called glycogen, which we get from carbs) and repair and build the proteins in our muscles at a faster rate than usual, according to a review written by all-star exercise scientists Alan Aragon, M.S. and Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., and published in the Journal of the Society of International Sports Medicine.

Studies show that without proper fuel, that glycogen restocking slows down and protein breakdown kicks up a few hours after working out.  To combat this—and rev your recovery and results over time—you’d eat carbs and protein immediately after you sweat.

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“Our body is like a gas tank, and carbs are the gas,” says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. Our body breaks down carbs into glucose (a.k.a. sugar), which is sent to our brains, and stored in our muscles and liver as glycogen so that we’re stocked on energy for when we need it. Meanwhile, protein—which our body breaks down into amino acids—is used to build our muscles and other structures, he says.

Related: Keep your essential amino acids stocked with a supplement.

So while the anabolic window is real, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to slug a shake or eat as soon as you put down that last dumbbell.

Lots of research supports timing protein and carbs around your workouts—not just after. For example, one study published in Science and Medicine in Sports and Exercise followed guys through 10 weeks of a structured strength training program. Half took a protein, glucose (sugar), and creatine supplement before and after working out, while the rest took it in the morning and at night. The guys who timed their supplements around their gym sessions gained more muscle and strength, and improved their body composition and glycogen storage more than the guys who didn’t.

Studies suggest 20 to 40 grams of protein both before and after exercise offers the most benefit (though the jury’s still out on carbs).

How To Make The Anabolic Window Work For You

So what does that mean for you? Well, it depends on a bunch of things—especially when you last ate.

If you down a protein shake or eat a snack an hour or so before hitting the gym, that fuel pretty much covers you through that post-workout anabolic window. In fact, protein or amino acids consumed before exercise can keep the supply available in our blood high for even two or more hours after the workout, according to the review.

So if you have time to fuel up and plan on training for an hour or so, do it with about 200 calories split between carbs and protein (that’s about 25 grams of each), says Pamela Nisevich-Bede, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., owner of Swim, Bike, Run, Eat! Nutrition. (Nix the carbs if you’re going light or keeping it shorter than 30 minutes.)

Related: 7 Protein Bars Top Trainers Swear By

If your most recent meal is three or more hours before your workout, though, restocking your glycogen and protein during that anabolic window becomes more important—especially if maintaining or building muscle is your main goal. Go for a snack that’s a two-to-one ratio of carbs-to-protein (like 50 grams of carbs and 25 grams of protein, for example), suggests White.

But if you’re working out first thing in the morning and haven’t eaten since the night before, that’s when your post-workout nutrition is the most important, say Aragon and Schoenfeld. When you’re depleting glycogen and breaking down the proteins in your muscles with nothing in the tank, refuel with something that contains at least 25 grams of protein as soon as you can to prevent muscle breakdown. Keep a protein supplement handy or make sure your breakfast offers enough of the stuff by blending up a protein and fruit smoothie or even mixing protein into yogurt, White suggests.

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Why You Should Load Up On Sweet Potatoes (Or Are They Yams?)

Warm, earthy foods might just be the best part of the autumn season. From PSLs to roasted pumpkin seeds to butternut squash soup, our eats are often just as festive as the changing leaves.

One of our favorite fall foods, though, isn’t exactly what it seems. What many of us think of as yams are actually just sweet potatoes. “The products sold in U.S. supermarkets are sweet potatoes, not yams,” explains Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., co-founder of Appetite for Health. “Yams have a bark-like skin and are more similar to yucca root than a russet potato. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand have an orange, purple, or white skin that is similar in texture to the skin of a russet potato.”

The mix-up began in the 1930s when sweet potato growers in Louisiana named their pickings yams in order to differentiate themselves from North Carolina and California-grown sweet potatoes, she explains. (So, now you can explain to everyone at Thanksgiving that you’re eating sweet potatoes, not yams).

Yam or not, the orange spuds offer a number of health benefits, so dig in! Here are the noteworthy nutrients you’ll get a helping of when you slap a big spoonful of sweet potato mash onto your plate.

1. Vitamin A

Though we often hate on white potatoes, they’re actually pretty similar to sweet potatoes. (A medium white potato and sweet potato are both about 100 calories.) The main difference? Sweet potatoes provide a ton of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, says Upton. And not only does beta-carotene act as an antioxidant, but vitamin A also helps keep your immune system strong, according to Chelsey Amer, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N.

Related: What Makes Antioxidants So Good For You, Anyway?

Men need about 3,000 IUs of vitamin A per day, while women need about 2,300 IUs, and one medium baked sweet potato provides over 500 percent of that. “Because the hefty dose of vitamin A that sweet potatoes provide can help boost your immune system, it’s great to eat sweet potatoes in the colder months, when it is flu and cold season,” she says.

2. Vitamin C

Sweet potatoes also come with the all-important antioxidant vitamin C, which aids in boosting immunity and wound healing. According to Becky Kerkenbush, M.S., RD-AP, C.S.G., C.D., member of the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vitamin C stimulates our white blood cells, which fight bacteria, viruses, and germs, she says. It’s also necessary for collagen formation and helps to maintain the integrity of skin and connective tissue.

You’ll score about a third of the amount of the recommended 90 milligrams of vitamin C per day in a medium sweet potato.

3. Potassium

Sweet potatoes also contain potassium, which helps to make sure that nerves and muscles function properly, supports heart health, and maintains our body’s fluid balance.

Related: Are you missing out on this electrolyte? Add a supplement to your routine.

A medium sweet potato offers about 375 milligrams of potassium, so chowing down will get you well on your way to the recommended daily intake of about 4,700 milligrams.

4. Fiber

Getting a healthy dose of fiber keeps you feeling satisfied longer, reduces constipation, and helps lower LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol, says Kerkenbush. And, bonus: “Fiber-rich foods tend to require more chewing than low-fiber foods, which may lengthen meal time and decrease the amount of food consumed,” she says. That means less post-Thanksgiving discomfort for you!

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A medium tater provides about four grams of fiber, which is approximately 15 percent of the recommended daily intake of 25 to 30 grams.

Eat More Orange

As much as we love our marshmallow-topped sweet potato mash, there are plenty of healthier—and just as tasty—ways to enjoy them. Need a lower-sugar option for Thanksgiving? Try Upton’s sweet potato casserole. Looking for healthier game day snacks? Try Amer’s black bean sweet potato burgers or barbecue chicken stuffed sweet potato skins. And yep, you can even eat sweet potatoes for breakfast! Swap out bread for a toasted slice of sweet potato and top it with avocado or sunflower seed butter for a photo-worthy fall breakfast, suggests Amer.

Is It Possible To Take Healthy Eating Too Far?

You know the drill—when it comes to healthy eating, veggies should take up most of your plate, fiber keeps things moving through your system, and protein is a must for revving your metabolism.

Typically, a healthy diet consists of as many whole, non-processed foods as possible. That means plenty of non-starchy vegetables (like kale and eggplant), protein (found in eggs, chickens, and beans), whole grains (like brown rice), and healthy fats (found in olive oil, walnuts, and avocados), says Alexia Lewis, R.D.

According to the USDA and FDA, that also means limiting your intake of sodium, sugar, and saturated fats, which can all up your risk of heart disease and diabetes. (Limit saturated fat to less than 20 grams per day, sodium to less than 2,400 milligrams per day, and added sugars to less than 50 grams per day.)

But is it possible to take healthy eating too far? The experts agree: yes.

Thanks to many of the fad diets out there, we often get hung up on thinking of certain foods as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad,’ says Lewis. “We pick apart all the numbers and nutrients to make sure food is worthy of being eaten so we can believe that we are ‘being good,’” she says.

Problem 1: Eliminating Certain Healthy Foods

Fad diets often steer people toward cutting out certain food groups—with meat, dairy, and grains being some of the most common—in the name of ‘health.’ But unless you have a food allergy or intolerance, cutting entire food groups from your menu can backfire if you’re not careful.

Different foods provide different nutrients—and if you swear off those foods, you risk falling short on the nutrients they offer. Meat and dairy, for example, provide B vitamins, says Monya De, M.D., M.P.H., internist in Los Angeles. B12 (which is found in salmon, beef, milk, and eggs) is crucial for energy production and according to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, low levels have been linked with depression. If you cut meat and dairy from your diet, you’ll have to find other sources, like fortified almond milk. (The FDA advises we get six micrograms of vitamin B12 per day.)

Related: The 5 Key Nutrients You REALLY Don’t Want To Miss Out On

Dairy also provides calcium and vitamin D, which are hugely important for healthy bones. If you’re dairy-free, you’ll need to eat foods like broccoli rabe, oranges, and fortified almond milk for calcium, and fatty fish or fortified cereal for vitamin D, says Lewis. (The FDA recommends 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D a day.)

Problem 2: Overloading On Other Healthy Foods

On the flip side, our eating healthy quests can also lead us to load up on too much of certain foods and nutrients.

One of our favorites to overdo? Healthy fats. While monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats offer heart health benefits, they’re super-high in calories and easy to overeat, says Lewis. One avocado, for instance, comes in at 240 calories and packs 21 grams of fat. Because one gram of fat packs nine calories, the FDA recommends limiting it to about 65 grams a day to prevent weight gain. Forgo proper portions when snacking on healthy fats, though, and you can easily surpass that recommended intake. So, limit the guac to about half an avocado-worth and follow serving sizes, says Lewis. That way you can reap the benefits of healthy fats without also expanding your waistline.

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Protein is another that may be overeaten, especially by serious exercisers looking to reap its muscle-building, energy-boosting benefits. Since protein is harder to metabolize than other nutrients, eating more than you need can lead to constipation, says Daved Rosensweet, M.D., founder of iwonderdoctor.com. The backup is even more likely if loading up on protein also means you’re falling short on fiber. (We all have different protein needs; estimate yours here.)

Related: 7 Possible Reasons Why You Just Can’t Poop

Of course, you can overdo it on fibrous foods, too. Nosh on fiber-filled foods like black beans or broccoli all day long and you’re in for a serious case of the farts, since fiber can cause gas and bloating. Eating more than the recommended daily amount of fiber (25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men) can help keep you feeling full and support weight loss, but eating as much fiber as humanly possible will not only leave you super-gassy, but may also reduce your absorption of other nutrients, like magnesium, calcium, and iron, says Lewis. Just concentrate on reaching your recommended daily amout of fiber and drink plenty of water to support easy digestion, she recommends.

Finding Balance

Eating healthy isn’t just physical—there’s a mental health component, too. When we strictly define what is and isn’t healthy—and when we try to stick to that 24/7—we set ourselves up for unnecessary guilt when we stray. We are only human, after all! A truly healthy diet is one that feeds both your body and mind, says Lewis. “One component of health is emotional health, and you should be able to enjoy treats without guilt or shame,” she explains.

Eating a colorful, minimally-processed, nutrient-rich diet keeps your body well-nourished, but enjoying small treats will feed your soul—the trick is to find your balance, she says.

Rest assured: The occasional splurge won’t impact your physical health, says Lewis. “One meal doesn’t make or break nutrition,” she says. “Even a week of unhealthy eating won’t have that much of an effect.” There’s no need to deny yourself that big bowl of pasta and side of crispy Italian bread every once in a while.

What Eating, Drinking, And Working Out In ‘Moderation’ Actually Looks Like

The idea of moderation is something we either love or hate. When we’ve diligently eaten healthy salads all week long, ‘moderation’ in the form of a delicious Friday night cookie can really keep us sane. But if that moderation totally backfires, and that one cookie turns in to three or four, it just leaves us feeling frustrated with ourselves.

The reason the term ‘moderation’ is so tricky: “There’s no real definition of the word,” explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club and owner of Nutrition Starring You.

And aside from it not having a clear definition, the word can mean something different to each of us, and even our own personal definition can change pretty frequently. “What someone considers moderate is highly influenced by what’s around them and what seems normal,” explains Ryan D. Andrews, M.S., M.A., R.D., author of A Guide to Plant-Based Eating.

Based on research published in the journal Appetite, nearly 70 percent of us are generous with our idea of moderation. We might identify two chocolate chip cookies as one serving, but still consider eating three pretty ‘moderate.’ And, unsurprisingly, we’re more likely to be liberal with our definition of moderation for types of junk food we really enjoy, the study suggests.

So how do you practice moderation in a way that keeps you feeling balanced while still prioritizing your health and well-being? We asked the pros for their best advice—not only for eating in moderation, but for drinking and exercising as well. Keep their guidelines in mind next time yet another cookie, cocktail, or CrossFit® class calls your name.

Eating In Moderation

Having guilt-free moments to indulge is important, says Andrews. After all, our relationship with food is pretty nuanced: There’s more to it than the bad-good binary (i.e. that eating for pure nutrition will always lead to positive outcomes and treating ourselves will always lead to negative outcomes). “When we view our meals or food choices as restrictive in any way, we get into a scarcity mindset, which can lead to food obsession and potential overcompensation later on,” Andrews explains.

But how often you treat yourself depends on a whole slew of factors, like your overall health, your personal fitness goals, and your schedule, says Harris-Pincus. As a general guideline, she recommends following the 80/20 rule, meaning 80 percent of your calories should come from nutritious foods that fuel your body and are packed with protein, healthy fats and carbs, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. (Think fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean poultry, and fish.) The other 20 percent of your daily calories are saved for guilt-free treats. So if you eat roughly 2,000 calories per day, for example, 400 of those calories can be more indulgent.

Go Ahead, Treat Yourself

If you’re trying to lose weight, Harris-Pincus recommends adjusting your ratio to 90/10, so you can reach your goals while still having some wiggle room to enjoy yourself on special occasions.

Beyond your general eating habits, ‘moderation’ is especially important for a few specific foods and ingredients, says Andrews. At the top of the list: added sugar, which has been linked to various health issues, like heart disease. “The average American adult eats 23 teaspoons of added sugar per day, but from a health perspective ‘moderation’ would be more like six to nine teaspoons per day,” he says.

Meat is another food we may need to adjust our definition of ‘moderation’ for. “The average American adult eats eight ounces of meat per day, but ‘moderation’ would be more like three ounces per day,” says Andrews. (Andrews recommends limiting red meat, like beef, to two ounces a day, and getting the rest from other sources, like poultry.) Why? Red meat consumption has been linked to cancer risk in some research, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified it as ‘possibly carcinogenic’ to humans.

On top of moderating meat intake for health’s sake, there are plenty of other good reasons—like environmental sustainability. Get this: Livestock production accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.)

Boozing In Moderation

Moderation may be nuanced when it comes to food, but it’s pretty cut and dry when it comes to alcohol. According to the CDC, moderate alcohol intake is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink means 12 ounces of beer, eight ounces of malt liquor, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor, says Harris-Pincus. More often than not, though, we pour ourselves more than this.

Alcohol has been linked to serious health risks, like high blood pressure and various cancers, so consider the CDC’s daily drink recommendation an acceptable upper limit of moderation, not the ideal, she says. Drinking less than that—or not at all—will better benefit your health.

We get it—sometimes you want to unwind after a long day with a glass of vino or a cocktail. When you do drink, avoid as many excess calories as possible by using unsweetened flavored seltzer or club soda as mixers instead of sodas or syrups, she says. Acknowledge that drinking doesn’t fuel or nourish your body, and sip slowly so you really enjoy the treat, she recommends.

Sweating In Moderation

You know exercise is important: It can help you maintain a healthy weight, keep your energy levels up, and even boost your mood—but moderation applies here, too! Striking a balance between couch potato and gym junkie will help you get the most mind-body benefit from exercise.

When it comes to the type of workouts you’re doing, moderation means balancing strength training and cardio, says Baltimore-based strength coach Erica Suter, C.S.C.S. They’re both great for fat loss, but strength training will help you build muscle, so you can eventually burn more calories at rest. Ideally, you’d strength train around three days per week, she says, and opt for cardio two to three days per week.

Moderation applies to your intensity, too. Three of your weekly workouts should be high-intensity, meaning they keep your heart pumping and involve little rest, says California-based trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., C.P.T. For strength training that means lifting heavy enough that your last few reps are very challenging. For cardio, that means doing sprints or another form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Schedule two or three ‘moderate’ days in between your two or three high-intensity days, in which you’ll lift lighter loads for more reps or do some steady-state cardio, says Suter. Play around with how many all-out and moderate workouts you do to find your personal sweet spot. Ideally, you’ll exercise four to six days a week.

There is a such thing as too much exercise. “If you notice your energy levels starting to wane, that you’re not sleeping well, or that you’re just not looking forward to your workouts, you’re not practicing exercise in moderation and might be going a little too hard,” says Suter. Listening to your body and not going overboard is crucial.

Related: 5 Signs You Need A Day Off From The Gym

That’s where rest days come in. If you’re just beginning an exercise routine, start with two full rest days per week. As you get more comfortable, you may be able to bump it down to one. Rest helps you come back stronger, motivated to work out, and ready to take on new challenges, says Donavanik.

That rest day shouldn’t be an all-day Netflix binge, though: Both Suter and Donavanik believe in active recovery, meaning you still move on your day off. Going for a walk or a hike, taking a yoga class, or even spending some time stretching can help keep your blood flowing and help your body recover from previous workouts, Donavanik says.

Ultimately, when you find your ideal ‘moderation’ for exercise, you’ll enjoy working out and get excited about your routine, he says. You may need to try a few different things to get there, whether it’s spin classes, running, weight lifting, or even an intramural sport—but the best thing you can do for yourself is to get up and move your body, however works best for you, he says.

I Had A Heart Attack At 38—And It Inspired Me To Become A Dietitian

I was at the movies with friends when it happened. I felt tightness in my chest, I started sweating, and my left arm felt like dead weight—all the classic symptoms I knew men have during a heart attack. I kept trying to put my arm on the armrest, but it wouldn’t stay there—it just felt so heavy.

I thought about getting up and going to the rest room, but I was scared to isolate myself. I had recently come back from a work conference, where a woman had stepped away from dinner because she didn’t feel well, had a heart attack, and died. In total denial—and in silent fear—I decided to ignore the problem and hoped it’d go away; I didn’t even tell my friends what was happening.

I felt disoriented, but I sat through the rest of the movie. By the time it ended I felt pretty okay, so I did something that seems unbelievable now: I went to Wendy’s for a spicy chicken sandwich and fries and called it a night. Later that weekend, though, I had two or three more episodes where I’d get completely exhausted doing everyday tasks. I couldn’t even vacuum without having to take breaks.

Even though I recognized the signs, I told myself I couldn’t have had a heart attack. I was only 38, didn’t have any major risk factors or family history of heart issues, and had worked as a group fitness instructor at one point. But the reality was, even though I didn’t have any issues with blood sugar, blood pressure, or cholesterol, my lifestyle wasn’t healthy. I was working a very stressful job in research administration, where I was busy helping university faculty members get grants, I was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, and I was about 20 pounds overweight. I’d eat well and exercise regularly for six months, but then spend the next six months on the couch eating pizza.

I did something that seems unbelievable now: I went to Wendy’s for a spicy chicken sandwich and fries and called it a night.

It wasn’t until the following Monday that I started to take what was happening to me seriously. I was telling a friend over the phone about my weird episodes and the concern in his voice hit me hard. I thought of how another good friend of ours had died suddenly from a brain aneurysm earlier that year, and here I was with the power to go get checked out. I had to go, I had to take advantage of the opportunity others didn’t have. So I went to the ER.

When my blood work came back, the doctor confirmed my fears: I’d had a heart attack. One of my arteries was blocked, so I was immediately admitted to the hospital and needed surgery to have a small stent (a small mesh wire tube) put into it. To say I was shocked—and horrified—would be an understatement.

A few days later, they told me I was very lucky that I didn’t have any heart muscle damage, gave me a ridiculous number of medications—one for my blood pressure, one for my cholesterol, one to regulate my heart’s rhythm, a blood thinner, and aspirin—and sent me home.

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I’m lucky my heart attack wasn’t fatal, but it (and my surgery) really did wipe me out. I couldn’t believe how weak I was—I’d take a shower and be too tired to do anything for the rest of the day.

And no matter how many questions I asked, no one had a clear-cut answer for what caused my heart attack. But of course I knew that the combination of stress and smoking didn’t help, and I was so overcome with fear that I quit cigarettes for good the day I left the hospital. (When my mom started having cardiac issues three months later, I realized genetics may have been more involved that I’d previously thought.)

I couldn’t believe how weak I was—I’d take a shower and be too tired to do anything for the rest of the day.

About two weeks after my surgery, I started attending cardio rehab three times a week—and it seriously restored my faith that I would be okay. I walked on a treadmill, rode a stationary bike, and lifted one- or two-pound weights. Slowly, I started feeling stronger. Once in a while, a pharmacist would come in to talk about medications and a dietitian would come in to talk about eating a heart-healthy diet, and I really took that nutrition advice to heart.

I focused on reducing my intake of sodium and saturated fat— I even started baking my own bread—and eating more vegetables and fewer processed foods. Over the next six months, I lost close to 20 pounds, and reached my lowest adult weight.

After a month or so, I started to feel like myself again. The fitter I got—and the more I learned about healthy eating—the more I wanted to make health a part of my career. The dietitian at cardio rehab had encouraged me so much, so I did some research and decided to go into nutrition as a career.

I’m not going to lie: Changing my career was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I quit my full-time job and spent two years on a second bachelor’s degree, and then had to follow that up with a combined two-year master’s degree and 1,200-hour dietetic internship. My heart attack actually helped me get through it without stressing like crazy, though. It forced me to change my attitude, put less pressure on myself, and let things roll off my back more easily.

After a month or so, I started to feel like myself again. The fitter I got—and the more I learned about healthy eating—the more I wanted to make health a part of my career.

People think nutrition is so easy (and maybe I did, too) because we all eat food, and food is fairly simple at face value—but as I started learning about the chemistry of it all, I realized how complex it really is.

At first I was really interested in working in a hospital so I could help people like me, but I wanted to have relationships with my patients and work with them for long enough to see them progress over time, so I started my own business. Now I’m a registered dietitian and a health coach. I host regular meal prep workshops on everything from Mason jar salads to healthy afternoon snacks, and am developing in-person and online classes to help people take control of their health, improve their nutrition and relationship with food, and become more active.

Of course, heart health is one of my biggest focuses. I want other people to know that it’s never too late to change their health and that they can make decisions today that will make a difference in their lives. Though I was very lucky my heart attack wasn’t worse, I don’t want other people to have to go through something like that. As a dietitian, I can help educate others about the dietary factors involved in heart health, like eating enough soluble fiber and healthy unsaturated fats, and watching out for salt.

Now I see my cardiologist once a year for a follow-up, still take more medications than most people, and never put off going to the doctor when I don’t feel well. Over the years, I’ve struck a balance between eating for my health and enjoying delicious food. I may not eat a strictly plant-based diet, but I definitely eat more vegetables than the average person and I try to keep my sodium low.

I want other people to know that it’s never too late to change their health and that they can make decisions today that will make a difference in their lives.

I’ll admit, I’m still a little inconsistent with exercise, but I’ve fostered a love for hot yoga, running, and strength training—and my two energetic dogs keep both my husband and I moving! The fact that I feel so much more fulfilled in my new career has been a huge game-changer for my stress levels and overall well-being.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from my experience, it’s that if something feels off with your health, it’s worth getting it checked out. A lot of the time people don’t want to be a bother—but trust me, it’s better to go to the doctor 10 times just in case than to stay home and have your health—and life—change in the blink of an eye.

6 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Calories

When we want to shed pounds, we usually think in terms of calories. After all, the many calorie-counting apps out there would have us believe that slashing our intake is the only way to make weight loss happen. But cutting too many calories can actually have some dire consequences—and going overboard is easier to do than you might think.

Eating too few calories can make you feel sluggish, shaky, and anxious—and it can actually make you gain weight in the long run, says Megan Casper, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Megan Casper Nutrition.

If you’re eating too few calories for your body and lifestyle, though, your body will send you some major signals that you need more fuel, says sports dietitian Kimberly Feeney M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D., C.S.C.S. The following six signs indicate your body is undernourished and begging for more calories.

1. You Feel Like A Sloth

If you notice a slip in your overall energy level and declining performance during your workouts, it could mean your metabolism is slowing down because you’re not eating enough calories, says Jenny Mahoney, R.D., L.D., of Nutriformance. We all have a baseline number of calories our body needs in order to maintain basic functions like making our heart beat, brain work, and lungs pump oxygen. (This is known as our ‘basal metabolic rate.’)

To do anything beyond just staying alive—like move or work out—our body needs additional calories. So when we cut calories too close to that baseline, our metabolism slows down so we can survive off the little energy we do get, Mahoney explains. “Even if cutting calories is a choice we make in an effort to lose weight, our body still treats it as a famine and begins slowing down metabolic processes to preserve fuel,” she says. And so we feel tired and slow.

2. You Can’t Focus

If you find yourself zoning out even outside of boring meetings, insufficient calories may be to blame. That’s because your brain demands a constant supply of fuel—particularly glucose (a.k.a. sugar), says Casper. In fact, up to 20 percent of our daily calories and half our available sugar goes to our brains, according to Harvard Medical School.

If you don’t take in enough calories, your blood sugar drops, impacting your brain function and messing with your memory and ability to pay attention, according to Casper. A surefire way to tell if your brain fog is because of low blood sugar: Drink a small glass of orange juice, which contains easily-digestible sugars, and note whether your brain power perks up. Feel more awake and productive? You’re likely not eating often enough, not eating enough overall, or both.

3. You’re Sore ALL The Time

In addition to feeling sluggish during your workouts, you may also find it harder to recover from exercise if your calorie consumption is too low. While some soreness is normal after a tough workout, consider it a red flag if it persists for close to a week, says Feeney. Same goes if you’re a regular exerciser and feel sore when you normally wouldn’t.

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“When we consume too few calories below our total daily needs, our body prioritizes what it uses that energy for,” Feeney says. And healing is one of the first things to get the boot. Long-term, exercising regularly while falling short on fuel puts you at greater risk for injury—particularly for stress fractures.

4. You’re Not Making Muscle Gains

If you notice your muscle tone stall or even start to decline, consider it yet another sign that you may not be eating enough calories to fuel your workouts and build muscle—even if you’re strength training, says dietitian and personal trainer Lauren Manganiello M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., C.P.T. “When we don’t get enough calories, muscle begins to break down because our body is looking for sources of energy,” Manganiello explains. Our body stores carbs as glycogen in our muscles to use as energy later—but when we don’t have enough glycogen stored, our body may break down the protein in our muscles for fuel. So if you’re not getting stronger, struggling through your strength training, or even feeling a little flabbier than usual, there’s a chance you’re not eating the calories your body needs to make progress.

5. You’re Eternally Grouchy

It’s probably no shock that eating too few calories can leave you ‘hangry.’ In fact, mood swings are one of the top signs you’re not taking in enough calories, says Manganiello. Mood swings—like brain fog—are caused by dips in blood sugar. Get this: research out of Florida State University found that our self-control literally requires energy, and that we’re more likely to snap or lash our when our blood sugar is low.

Plus, even just monitoring our calories spikes how stressed we feel, while restricting them boosts our production of the stress hormone cortisol, according to research published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

6. You Can’t Sleep

A whacked-out sleep schedule is another major red flag that you’re not eating enough calories. If you feel hungry enough at bedtime or overnight that you have trouble sleeping, your calories are too low, says Manganiello. “Hunger is our body’s way of telling us that we need energy,” she says.

Related: Try adding a casein supplement to your routine to fuel muscle gains in your sleep.

How To Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Calories

If any (or all) of these struggles hits close to home, it’s time to up how many calories you’re eating each day. Your caloric needs depend on your height, weight, activity level, and body composition (how much of your weight is lean mass, like muscle, versus fat), so meeting with a dietitian is one of the most accurate ways to figure out your daily calorie target. But you can also use a reputable online tool, like the USDA’s MyPlate Super Tracker, or do some quick math to estimate how many calories you need. Try this simple formula: Multiply your weight in kilograms (one kilogram is 2.2 pounds) by 20 to estimate the low end of your calorie range and by 25 to estimate the high end, says Casper.

How many calories you can cut healthily depends on how many calories total you’re starting with, but the average person can safely lose about a pound a week by cutting 500 calories per day, says Feeney.  And as a general rule, women should never eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day, while men should never eat fewer than 1,800.

If you’re too deep in the calorie-cutting trenches, you’ll need to gradually up your calorie intake until you’re meeting your calorie needs. If you need to up your intake by hundreds of calories, add about 100 calories to your total intake every few days to ease your body into consuming more energy, Mahoney recommends. If you only need to add about 200 calories or so, though, just go for it. Just remember that the quality of the calories you’re adding matters, and focus on eating more produce and whole-grain carbs instead of processed foods, Mahoney says.

Casper also recommends adding light snacks in between meals, or eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar and energy stable. And make sure to include protein, fiber, and some healthy fats in every meal or snack to keep your belly satisfied, which can help you maintain or lose weight over time.

Related: 6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

The 5 Biggest Health Issues Affecting Men Today

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the top two causes of death for men in the U.S. include heart disease and cancer (with prostate, lung, and colorectal cancer being in the lead). But leading up to those chronic, potentially fatal issues might be a few seemingly more minor—yet still insidious—health concerns.

While there are plenty of variables at play, like genetics, some of the below issues may result from an unhealthy lifestyle. The good news: You can take back some control over your health by getting a grip on your diet, quitting smoking, ramping up your exercise habits, and more.

Here, the five main health issues that American men should not only be aware of—but deal with head-on.

1. Weight gain caused by not exercising or eating properly

Although this is an issue that affects the whole nation—including women and children—it’s one that experts say is particularly hitting home for men (especially minority men). And that’s because weight-loss programs have traditionally targeted women.

“A poor diet and physical inactivity are the two main factors that lead to weight gain,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, NYC-based dietician, bestselling author, and founder of The F-Factor Diet. “[Men should] implement a high-fiber, high-protein, and low-net carbohydrate diet” to help them lose weight in a quick and healthy manner, Zuckerbrot says.

In addition to eating healthy foods, the CDC recommends getting 60-90 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week. This might look like swimming, jogging, or weight training at about 50-60 percent of your max capacity about five-six days per week.

2. Inflammation caused by poor diet

Men may be putting themselves at risk for not only obesity but disease by eating what is called ‘inflammatory foods,’ like refined carbohydrates, fried foods, red meat, salts, margarine, shortening, lard, and soda, along with other beverages loaded with added sugars. And inflammation, if you didn’t know already, is the body’s response to injury—which, when chronic (i.e. not fighting a disease or illness), can cause a whole slew of health issues.

Barry Sears, PhD, author of the Zone Diet book series, blames this style of eating when it comes to “disturbances in hormone levels, constant fatigue, and increased accumulation of body fat” in men. Inflammatory foods have also been linked to an increased risk for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

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To support your health, go for an anti-inflammatory diet, which Sears describes as “calorie-restricted, with adequate protein, moderate carbs—but rich in non-starchy vegetables—and low in fat, especially saturated and omega-6 fats.”

Following the parameters of the Mediterranean diet (healthy oils, fish like salmon and tuna, and loads of greens) can also prevent inflammation, according to the Mayo Clinic. In fact, according to the Proceedings of Nutrition Society, several epidemiological and clinical studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet improves cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure, improving lipids (fats in the blood), and decreasing insulin resistance.

3. Kidney stones caused by lifestyle or genetic factors

One in 11 people in the U.S. are affected by kidney stones (pain-causing hard mineral and salt deposits within your kidneys), with men suffering more frequently than women. (The prevalence of kidney stones for men is 10.6 percent, while for women it’s 7.1 percent.) Though research published in JAMA concluded that obesity and weight gain increase the risk of kidney stones, other factors—from genetics to dehydration—may also spark their formation.

In fact, the Mayo Clinic says that diets high in sodium can increase the risk—all the more reason to cut back on salt.

4. Poor semen quality caused by an unhealthy lifestyle

A study published in the journal Human Reproduction found a link between a man’s waist circumference, BMI, and semen quality, with researchers drawing the conclusion that being overweight can negatively influence sperm production. Maintaining a healthy weight via exercise and diet can also play a role in the quality of sperm.

Related: 4 Types Of Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

According to the Mayo Clinic, normal sperm densities are somewhere around 15 million to greater than 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen. Poor sperm quality is somewhere around 15 million sperm per million sperm per milliliter.

5. Low testosterone caused by an Overall unhealthy lifestyle

Though we tend to think of low-T as an issue that mainly effects older men, younger men are contending with it as well, and obesity is often to blame.

A study in the journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism tested 1,667 men ages 40 and older and found that each one-point increase in body mass index (BMI) was associated with a two percent decrease in testosterone. Additional research done by Harvard University found waist circumference was an even stronger predictor of low testosterone levels. In fact, a four-inch increase in waist size increased a man’s odds of having a low testosterone level by 75 percent.

Low-T is at the root of various downstream health challenges for men, such as reduced sex drive, increased breast size, erectile dysfunction or impotence, lowered sperm count, hot flashes, depression/irritability, shrunken or softened testes, loss of muscle mass or hair, and bones becoming more prone to fracture, according to Mayo Clinic.

“In order to increase testosterone levels, it is recommended to exercise, lift weights, de-stress, and increase protein intake,” Zuckerbrot notes. “Taking a multivitamin may also help.”

Link: Attention All Men Over 30: You’re Leaking Testosterone

 

The Right Way To Drink Kombucha

Move over, matchakombucha is now taking the lead as the “It” tea in town.

The bubbly brew is made of four ingredients: black tea, water, sugar, and SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), a collection of microbes that help turn the tea into a fermented beverage. From there, fruit juices, herbs, and spices can be added to give kombucha extra flavor. The resulting drink is bubbly and slightly sour.

Like many fermented foods, kombucha is rich in beneficial probiotics and antioxidants, says dietitian Keri Glassman, R.D., founder of Nutritious Life. According to a report in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, fermented foods have digestive, immune, and energy-related benefits. Kombucha specifically, though? Popular brands like GT’s Organic Kombucha and Health-Ade say it promotes healthy digestive and immune systems and detoxification—and a review recently published in the Journal of Medicinal Food supports the brew’s believed detoxification, antioxidant, energy, and immune-benefiting properties.

If you’re not into yogurt, kombucha is a great dairy-free, low-calorie way to get your fix of fermented foods, says Glassman. It’s no wonder so many of us are drinking the kombucha Kool-Aid!

If you’ve never tried kombucha before, start with just four ounces (half a serving) per day to gauge how your body reacts, since fermented foods can upset some people’s digestive systems, especially at first, says dietitian Kelly Kennedy, M.S., R.D. If all is a-okay after a few days, you can start to sip more until you hit a full serving size, which is eight ounces. (Keep in mind that most bottles you buy at the store contain 16 ounces. That’s two servings, not one!)

Featured Sips

While there’s no scientifically-proven limit for how much kombucha you can drink in a day, there are a few things you should be conscious of, says Glassman.

First, added sugar. While there’s some sugar in all kombucha— bacteria and yeast need to feed on sugar in order for fermentation to occur—some brands add extra sugar to their drinks after fermenting to sweeten them up. A serving of kombucha should have five grams of sugar or less per eight-ounce serving, says Kennedy. If you drink two servings of a super-sweet kombucha per day, you can easily rack upwards of 17 grams of sugar.

Second, gas. As delicious as kombucha may be, too much can cause gas and upset your belly, says Glassman. The bubbles from fermentation (and any added sugar) may contribute to increased flatulence, burping, or even diarrhea, says Kennedy. If your kombucha habit has been bothering your stomach, limit your daily sips to one eight-ounce serving and make sure to drink slowly, she suggests.

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

And, third, alcohol. Technically speaking, kombucha is alcoholic—though barely. You see, during the fermentation process, the SCOBY (bacteria) feeds off the sugar also added to the pre-kombucha tea, and produces some alcohol. Most brands contain about 0.5 percent alcohol per serving, says Kennedy. To put that in perspective, to consume the amount of alcohol in a standard lite beer, you’d have to drink eight servings (or 64 ounces) of kombucha. That said, it is possible for that alcohol percentage to sneak slightly upward as the kombucha continues to ferment in the bottle, according to Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. So if at any point you feel woozy or unusually giddy after guzzling your kombucha, consider cutting your serving size.

The Vitamin Shoppe now sells kombucha in select stores—call your local store to see if they’ve got it!