How Often Do You Need To Eat To Keep Your Metabolism Running?

The weight-loss world likes to describe our metabolism as an engine we have to rev throughout the day in order to burn through as much gas (a.k.a. calories) as possible. We’ve long been told that we can keep our metabolism fired up by eating right when we roll out of bed, and then frequently throughout the rest of the day. But if you’ve been forcing down breakfast before the sun comes up or lugging five square meals around with you for the sake of burning more calories and shedding fat, know this: The two theories behind this common advice are a little flawed.

The Thermic Effect Of Food

The first concept used to justify the idea that frequent meals ignite your metabolism is the ‘thermic effect of food,’ or TEF. TEF describes the spike in heat production (a.k.a. calories burned) that occurs in the body for up to eight hours after every time you eat—because it takes calories to digest food! On a given day, TEF accounts for about 10 percent of the calories you burn, explains Rob Danoff, D.O., director of the family residency program at Jefferson Health Northeast in Philadelphia. Hypothetically, if you could boost that TEF by eating more often, you could have a pretty significant impact on the total number of calories you burn, and thus, your metabolism.

While this idea sounds legit in theory, most studies have found no link between meal frequency and increased TEF. In fact, after examining four separate studies (in which people split the same total caloric intake among anything from one to seven meals), the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that increasing the number of meals consumed per day did not improve resting metabolic rate or 24-hour energy expenditure.

Ultimately, how many calories you burn digesting your food depends on how many total calories you eat, and what macronutrients  (carbs, fat, protein) that food comes from, explains Spencer Nadolsky, M.D., diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine and author of The Fat Loss Prescription. “As long your total calories and macronutrients are equal, your body will burn the same number of calories in the digestion process,” he says. So, regardless of whether you eat three 500-calorie meals (say one-third protein, one-third carbs, and one-third fat), or six 250-calorie meals with the same macro breakdown, you’ll burn the same number of calories processing your grub in the end.

If you really want to boost your TEF, what you can do is increase how much of your total caloric intake comes from protein compared to carbs or fat, since research shows that protein has the highest TEF of the three macros.

‘Starvation Mode’

The other rational for eating frequent meals to keep your metabolism going is the idea that going too long without eating switches your body into ‘starvation mode,’ in which it stores calories it would otherwise burn.

While ‘starvation mode’ is, in fact, a real thing, it isn’t exactly an ever-present monster hiding in the pantry waiting to strike any time you go more than four hours without eating, says Wesley Delbridge, R.D., a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. “People think they’re going to go into starvation mode and halt their metabolism if they skip one meal, but that’s really not the case,” he says. “It takes longer than one day for the body to get to that point.”

Your body has plenty of fuel sources it can turn to—like the carbohydrates circulating as blood sugar or stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen, ketone bodies made from fats, and even protein from muscle tissue—when it doesn’t have any calories from food immediately available. Your body can last far longer than a few hours on these stored fuel sources before it has to start hoarding calories instead of burning them, he says.

In Defense Of Frequent Feedings

But wait, the plot thickens: Even though eating every few hours like clockwork doesn’t directly spike your metabolism, it might have indirect benefits that can still help you lean out.

First of all, one surefire way to boost your metabolism is to increase your muscle mass, since muscle requires a lot of calories every day to maintain. According to a review recently published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, optimal muscle gain requires loading up on protein a minimum of four times per day. So if eating more frequently throughout the day helps you get the protein you need to build muscle, it can ultimately help you rev your metabolism.

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But that’s not the only way eating regularly can help you change your body. For example, research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that people who ate frequent mini-meals were more likely to choose healthy foods and end up eating fewer calories overall than those who ate fewer, larger meals.

Why? “One of the biggest potential benefits of eating frequently is that it can help keep blood sugar levels stable,” explains Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D. “When your blood sugar dips, your brain sends you signals to eat more—so in theory, eating more frequently keeps those dips from happening, which then keeps you from eating more.”

In fact, when researchers at the Agricultural University of Athens had people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes eat either three or six meals—but the same number of total daily calories—per day, the more frequent eaters experienced improvements in glycated hemoglobin and glucose levels (signs of blood sugar control), had fewer blood sugar and insulin spikes, and reported feeling less hungry throughout the day.

Related: The Benefits Of Eating Frequent, Smaller, Meals—And How To Do It Right

So even if eating smaller, more frequent meals doesn’t automatically power up your metabolism, it can be a major player in your fat-loss strategy.

7 Foods That Are Good For Your Thyroid

This article was originally published in Amazing Wellness magazine.

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

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

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

1. Pumpkin Seeds

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

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

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

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

2. Seaweed

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

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

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

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

3. Brazil Nuts

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

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

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

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

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

4. Apples

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

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

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

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

5. Sardines

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

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

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

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

6. Yogurt

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

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

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

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

7. Chickpeas

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

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

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

Consider this your thyroid-friendly grocery list:

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5 Keto Dessert Recipes You Need In Your Life

As more and more research supports the benefits of a ketogenic diet for weight loss, cognitive function, and health conditions like type 2 diabetes, more and more people (understandably) jump on the bandwagon.

Thing is, this bandwagon has little room for traditional desserts, since getting your body into the state of ketosis—the Holy Grail of the keto diet—in which it uses fat for energy instead of glucose, requires all but eliminating sugar. And that’s a major heart-breaker if you have a sweet tooth.

Luckily, with a little kitchen creativity—and some help from natural sugar-free sweeteners like stevia and erythritol (a sugar alcohol), and grain-free flours like almond flour—you can totally have dessert without throwing yourself out of ketosis. Plus, even if you’re not on a ketogenic diet, high-fat/low-sugar treats can help you conquer your sweet tooth guilt-free while cutting down your overall intake of the addicting stuff.

Ready for a treat? Here are five of the keto dessert recipes that are breaking the internet right now.

photo: Keto Connect

1. Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Honestly, does a dessert combination better than chocolate and peanut butter even exist? Keto Connect’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake is basically a keto-friendly lava cake that oozes with creamy peanut butter when you dig in. The easy-to-make cake uses unsweetened chocolate and a mix of stevia and erythritol to keep sugar low, and takes less than 20 minutes from start to finish!

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You’ll mix the cake ingredients, which also include coconut flour, eggs, butter, and cream, in a microwave-safe bowl and warm the mixture until you get a smooth, thick batter. Then you’ll pour half into a greased pan, add the peanut butter in the very center of the pan, pour in the rest of the batter, and bake at 400 degrees for 13 to 15 minutes.

Calories: 366 Fat: 32g Fiber: 6.5g  Net Carbs: 3.5g  Protein: 10g

photo: Ruled.Me

2. Easy Keto Strawberry Shortcakes

When berries—which are low in sugar and pretty much the only fruit allowed on keto—are in season, you’ve got to whip up this guilt-free dessert! Fans of the OG strawberry shortcake will love Ruled.Me’s keto-friendly recipe. The cakes themselves call for just five ingredients: eggs, cream cheese, baking powder, vanilla, and erythritol, while the filling is a simple mixture of strawberries and whipped cream. The key is to beat the egg whites until they’re nice and fluffy before mixing in the rest of your ingredients. From there, you’ll bake up 10 mini puff cakes and layer in those berries and cream.

Calories: 273 Fat: 26g Fiber: 0.5g Net Carbs: 3.9g Protein: 6.6g

photo: Sugar-Free Mom

3. Keto Butter Pecan Ice Cream

Sugar-free ice cream that’s actually satisfying (and doesn’t taste like chemicals) is hard to come by. Luckily, it’s actually pretty easy to just make your own! Sugar-Free Mom’s butter pecan ice cream recipe is low in carbs and stands up surprisingly well against your childhood favorite. You’ll need an ice cream machine or stand mixer (like a KitchenAid) to really master this recipe, which calls for butter, heavy cream, Swerve confectioner’s sweetener (a blend of erythritol and prebiotic fiber), salt, egg yolks, maple extract, sugar-free maple syrup, MCT oil, and pecans. Making the ice cream is a bit of a process—it takes about 4 hours from start to finish—but that maple-y, nutty goodness is well worth the wait.

Calories: 302 Fat: 32g Carbs: 2g Protein: 2g 

photo: The Big Man’s World

4. Coconut Chocolate Bars

Candy bars are pretty taboo on keto, but you can still get your fix with The Big Man’s World’s killer chocolate coconut crack bar recipe. (In addition to being keto-friendly, it also happens to be Paleo and vegan.) You’ll need just four ingredients: unsweetened shredded coconut, coconut oil, monk fruit-sweetened maple syrup, and stevia-sweetened chocolate chips. First, you’ll mix the shredded coconut, syrup, and coconut oil, press the mixture firmly into a parchment paper-lined pan, and stash the pan in the fridge. Once the mixture has firmed up, you’ll cut it into bars, melt your chocolate chips, and coat each bar in chocolate for a treat that rivals any sugar-laden bar out there.

Calories: 106 Fat: 11g Fiber: 2g Net Carbs: 1g Protein: 2g

photo: The Mom’s Menu

5. Keto Carrot Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

Though it features one of our favorite veggies, carrot cake doesn’t typically fall into the ‘health food’ category—unless it’s this recipe from This Mom’s Menu. (Don’t worry, there’s still cream cheese frosting.) The recipe swaps sugar for erythritol and also calls for butter, eggs, unsweetened almond milk, vanilla extract, almond flour, coconut flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ground allspice, and (of course!) carrots. First, preheat the oven to 350°F and line the bottom of a cake pan with parchment paper. While the cake cooks (about 20 minutes at 350 degrees), you’ll whip up a too-good-to-be-true frosting made with cream cheese, butter, vanilla, heavy cream, and erythritol. Just don’t forget to let the cake cool before frosting it up!

Calories: 148 Fat: 14g Fiber: 1g Net Carbs: 1g Protein: 4g

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

8 Upgrades Your Sports Nutrition Stack Is Calling For

This article was originally published by Muscle & Performance.

Many of the tried-and-true sports supplements out there can not only boost your workouts, but support your progress and results over time. And as the research on these specific nutrients—and the other nutrients they tag-team with—has evolved, so have the supplements on the market, ensuring you get the biggest bang for your buck. Here are eight of the most popular supplements in fitness enthusiasts’ regimens—and how you can upgrade them to make the most of your routine.

1. Vitamin D

This fat-soluble vitamin is known for supporting health in many different ways. Research shows that diabetics often have low levels of vitamin D, which can support insulin function. “It also helps calcium concentrations in muscle for strong contractions,” says Luke R. Bucci, Ph.D. C.C.N., C.N.S., author of Nutrients as Ergogenic Aids for Sports and Exercise.

Upgrade: Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) in softgel form

Vitamin D3 is particularly beneficial for supporting strength, testosterone levels, immunity, and recovery.  “Vitamin D3 controls calcium, which is used as an intracellular messenger, and makes sure there is enough to go around for what cells normally do,” Bucci says. This includes making sure that calcium is available for muscle-contraction cycles. D3 has been shown to be somewhat more effective than D2, and taking it in softgel form helps with absorption.

Dosing: Doses up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day are safe, but higher doses aren’t necessarily any better than doses between 4,000 and 5,000 IU. “You can check your body status by getting a doctor to order a 25(OH)D blood test,” Bucci says. “You want high-normal ranges to keep vitamin D3 and calcium working for you.”

Try: Nordic Naturals Vitamin D3 is cholecalciferol, the natural, most easily-absorbed and used form of vitamin D. Each softgel provides 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 in organic, extra-virgin olive oil.

2. Whey Protein

Whey protein is a fast-digesting protein source that gets to work almost immediately and provides your body with the amino acids it needs to perform physiological processes and maintain the muscle tissue you’re training. After workouts, whey quickly supplies aminos to start the muscle repair process triggered by intense training.

Upgrade: Casein protein

Your body needs protein before and after workouts, and science has long supported whey’s effectiveness in this regard. Recent research, though, shows that casein, the slow-digesting fraction of milk protein, delivers results equivalent to whey when taken after workouts. Because casein releases amino acids for longer than whey, it continues to stimulate the muscle growth process for longer. Research also shows that a combination of whey and casein consumed after workouts is better than either alone, because it offers the benefits of both immediate and sustained delivery.

Dosing:  Take a mix of whey and casein proteins before and after workouts in an amount that serves your protein needs based on what you’ve recently ingested, the intensity of your training, and your body weight. As a rule of thumb, aim for about 0.25 grams of protein for every pound of body weight before and after working out, split evenly between whey and casein. In other words, a 180-pound person would take about 45 grams of protein before and after training, which works out to about one scoop of whey and one scoop of casein.

Try: Dymatize Elite Casein delivers 25 grams of sustained-release protein, with more than 10 grams of critical branched-chain amino acids per serving.

3. Whey Protein Concentrate

Among the least expensive forms of whey protein, whey protein concentrate is processed so that of the carbs and fats remain in the supplement. (Generally, concentrated forms of whey are about 70 percent protein.) In addition, the protein molecules in concentrates tend to retain their longer amino configurations, so they must be broken down and reconfigured to be utilized for muscle-building.

Upgrade: Whey hydrolysate

“Hydrolysates are proteins broken down into much smaller units of two to three amino acids,” Bucci says. (About 90 percent of the calories in whey hydrolysates come from protein.) These small molecules are able to be transferred directly into your intestinal cells—more quickly even than single, free-form amino acids—so they’re available to support muscle tissue and recovery as quickly as possible. Plus, hydrolysates spur a stronger insulin response, an effect many athletes seek to help shuttle nutrients into the muscles post-workout, but may want to avoid at other times of day.

Dosing:  Use whey hydrolysate around your workouts and other forms of whey at other times of day.

Try: Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydro Whey is made with hydrolyzed whey protein isolates for fast delivery. Each scoop contains 30 grams of protein with just 1 gram of fat and 2 grams of carbs.

4. Multivitamin And Multi-Mineral

A daily multivitamin and multi-mineral provides a range of nutrients to help make sure you don’t have any deficits in your nutrition program. In doing so, it supports immunity, helps you recover from training, and supports muscle growth.

Upgrade : ZMA (zinc magnesium aspartate)

Many athletes and bodybuilders have low levels of some minerals, like zinc and magnesium, even if they take a multi, because those minerals are used during intense exercise. So, while you may take a multivitamin and multi-mineral, it may not necessarily help boost the levels of these minerals—especially if it contains calcium. “Your body preferentially takes in calcium over magnesium and zinc, reducing your absorption of these other minerals,” Bucci says. (Even when you’re already low in them!) ZMA was designed to help you overcome this physiological quirk, while also supporting better sleep, exercise recovery, and performance.

Dosing: Take your multivitamin and multi-mineral in the morning or earlier in the day with a meal, and take a dose of ZMA (usually about 450 milligrams of magnesium and 30 milligrams of zinc) on an empty stomach before bed. If you’re having a bedtime snack, take your ZMA about 30 minutes before eating or drinking your protein shake (which may be high in calcium), so the zinc and magnesium have time to absorb.

Try: BodyTech ZMA Tech contains 30 milligrams of zinc, 450 milligrams of magnesium, and 10 milligrams of vitamin B6, which has been shown to support muscle strength, size, and recovery when used in conjunction with intense weight training.

5. Fish oil

Fish oil is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats that are scarce in the diets of most Americans, since many of the foods we eat are high in omega-6s. (Omega-3s help support heart health, brain health, and provide numerous athletic and physique benefits, such as supporting muscle and joint health.) Because our omega-6 intake is so high, eating foods high in healthy omega-3s often isn’t enough to correct our imbalance, which is where supplements come in.

Upgrade: Krill oil

Krill oil is derived from tiny crustaceans that reside at the bottom of the food chain, which is important for ecological and health reasons. You see, the krill harvested from Antarctic waters contain fewer contaminants because their food supply and environment are far less tainted than those of other aquatic sources of omega-3s. In addition, “krill oil is more bioavailable, allowing your body to absorb more omega-3s because krill oil mixes easily with water,” Bucci says. “The phosphatidyl form of omega-3s, which is more plentiful in krill than other fish sources, is the precise type of omega-3 molecules our bodies use in cell membranes.”

Dosing: Take up to one gram of krill oil at meals throughout the day, aiming for a total of up to two grams per day.

Try: Natrol Omega-3 Krill Oil is a unique source of cardio-protective omega-3 fatty acids that supports heart, joint, and brain health.

6. Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine monohydrate has long been the most popular sports supplement for those seeking increases in strength, performance, and muscle mass, and works in a few different ways. First, it donates phosphate to the process that produces ATP, the form of energy that helps your muscles fire. Second, it pulls fluid into muscle cells, which helps them function properly so they can grow stronger. And third, it supports our production of insulin-like growth factor-1, a hormone that supports anabolism, the state in which the body grows and builds.

Upgrade: Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine is an amino acid-like compound that enhances creatine’s benefits. Beta-alanine combines with the amino acid histidine to form carnosine, which reduces the buildup of hydrogen ions in cells to ward of muscle fatigue and boost performance and endurance. “Carnosine is a reservoir for zinc and also a buffer to soak up excess acid produced during intense exercise,” Bucci states.  Research shows the combination of creatine and beta-alanine is more effective than either alone.

Dosing: Take three to five grams of creatine monohydrate before and after workouts for a total of up to 10 grams per day. Combine these doses with one to two grams of beta-alanine for a total of up to four grams per day.

Try: AllMax Nutrition Beta Alanine helps ward off muscular fatigue, so you can increase your performance output.

7. Arginine

Arginine is an amino acid that’s necessary for the production of nitric oxide, a gas molecule that allows blood vessels to relax so more blood, oxygen, and nutrients can be delivered to working muscle tissue. Arginine also supports growth hormone levels and the release of insulin, both of which also support your results.

Upgrade: Citrulline

You do need arginine to support nitric oxide production, but the amino acid citrulline may be even more crucial because it converts into arginine. In fact, recent research indicates that citrulline supplementation actually boosts arginine and nitric oxide levels more effectively than arginine supplementation. However, research also shows that taking a combination of arginine and citrulline may be even more effective in boosting nitric oxide levels than taking either on its own.

Dosing: To enhance muscle pumps, take three to five grams of arginine and three grams of citrulline about 30 minutes before strength training to support arginine production and nitric oxide conversion.

Try: Kaged Muscle Citrulline powder is designed to support muscle pumps and growth. Each serving contains two grams of pure L-citrulline, which has been shown to be more effective than the commonly used L-citrulline malate.

8. Caffeine

This stimulant heightens your central nervous system response (think faster heart rate and higher blood pressure) to support mental and physical performance, and support your metabolism.

Upgrade: Green tea extract

Green tea extract is another option for supporting your metabolism. “It does so because it contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a thermogenic catechin that helps prevent norepinephrine—a stimulating brain hormone that signals cells to utilize fat—from being broken down,” Bucci says. While caffeine encourages the release of fat from storage, green tea extract helps assure that the fat will be utilized as fuel.

Dosing: Take up to 200 to 400 milligrams of caffeine, whether by drinking coffee, strong tea, or a pre-workout supplement, along with 500 milligrams of green-tea extract standardized for EGCG within two hours of your workouts. “Note that caffeine blocks and reduces creatine uptake into muscles,” Bucci says, so separate your caffeine and creatine intake by an hour to dodge this effect.

Try: The Vitamin Shoppe Green Tea Extract contains 250 milligrams of green tea extract (from 30 percent EGCG) per capsule.

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

8 Foods That Can Boost Your Mood

If you’ve ever felt the need to eat your feelings, there’s actually a much better approach: Eat to beat those feelings. The nutrients (or lack thereof) we put in our bodies can have a major effect on our emotions, and the foods we choose when we’re feeling stressed, anxious, or downright depressed can either help pick us up or keep dragging us down.

Next time you’re in a rut, trade the Ben & Jerry’s for one of these eight proven mood-boosters.

1. Dark Chocolate

The oft-touted benefits of dark chocolate as the ultimate pick-me-up are legit. Dark chocolate is full of polyphenols, “micronutrients with antioxidant and immune-boosting properties that may help manage anxiety and promote overall calmness,” says Keri Gans, R.D.N, author of The Small Change Diet. Research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology backs this up, suggesting that polyphenols can actually decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety—a feat  Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, credits to their contributions to your gut and immune health. “Research shows that gut health is closely linked to mental health and cognitive function,” he says. “In fact, the beneficial bacteria in your gut play a key role in the metabolism of several amino acids and neurotransmitters involved in mood, like tryptophan and serotonin.” (The amino acid tryptophan helps synthesize the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is often called the ‘feel good hormone.’) So not only does eating polyphenol-rich foods like dark chocolate support gut health, but it influences your overall sense of well-being, too.

2. Wild Salmon

Fatty fish like wild salmon, trout, and sardines are full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which one scientific review suggests may help protect us from mood and anxiety issues. Like polyphenols, omega-3s in salmon have anti-inflammatory properties—and while more research is needed, inflammation seems to be a component of conditions like depression and mood disorders, says Axe. In fact, low levels of omega-3s have been linked to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

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

3. Avocado

Basic as it may be, avocado toast can truly brighten your day. “Avocado is a good source of folate, which may help to lower levels of homocysteine in our bodies,” explains Gans. (Too-high levels of this amino acid—common in meat- and animal protein-laden diets—can affect our mood by interfering with our production of serotonin.) Folate helps convert homocysteine into the amino acid methionine, which can then be used to create several of the neurotransmitters involved in brain function and mood regulation, including dopamine and serotonin, says Axe. “Studies also suggest that a deficiency in folate may be associated with a higher risk of depression and other mood disorders,” he adds.

4. Wholesome Carbs

We like to demonize carbs, but one study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people on low-carb diets reported more depression, anger, and anxiety throughout the course of a year than those on higher-carb diets. “Carbohydrates help to boost levels of tryptophan, the key ingredient for making serotonin,” says Gans.

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Not just any carbs will do, though: “While whole grains have been associated with a variety of health benefits, refined carbs may actually trigger inflammation, which can contribute to mood disturbances,” says Axe. You see, refined carbs lack fiber and trigger your body’s production of insulin, which has been linked to inflammation. Whole grains, though, contain fiber to save you from that insulin spike and provide a wealth of other micronutrients. If you’re craving sweet carby goodness, try a bowl of homemade oatmeal made with milk and topped with peanut butter, banana, and chia seeds. For something savory, try quinoa or buckwheat tossed with diced red onion, cucumbers, tomatoes, olive oil, and fresh lemon juice.

5. Reishi Mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms, known as ‘the mushroom of immortality,’ have been used in holistic medicine for over 4,000 years. Often touted as a superfood, these ‘shrooms have adaptogenic properties, “which means that they help combat the negative effects of stress, such as decreased energy,” says Axe. “Although clinical studies about the effects of reishi mushrooms on mood are limited, one animal study did show it to exhibit mood-boosting effects.” You won’t find these mushrooms in the produce aisle of your grocery store, but you can enjoy their benefits by sipping on a reishi tea, like Four Sigmatic’s Reishi Mushroom Elixir.

6. Swiss Chard

This leafy green is packed with magnesium—a nutrient that’s essential for increasing your energy levels and well-known for its mood-boosting abilities, but one that most Americans are deficient in. “Magnesium helps relax the muscles and support brain function. Plus, it plays a vital role in nerve transmission, insulin metabolism, and blood pressure regulation,” says Axe. One study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry identified an association between higher magnesium intake and lower depression scores—while other research has linked low magnesium intake with up to a 22-percent higher risk of developing depression. Other quality sources of the mineral include spinach, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, and almonds.

7. Greek Yogurt

Calcium plays a major role in in releasing feel-good neurotransmitters from your brain, and it can have far-reaching effects on mood and brain function. “In fact, some of the hallmark signs of a severe calcium deficiency include depression, mood swings, anxiety, and irritability,” says Axe, who recommends regularly eating plenty of foods high in calcium, like Greek yogurt, sardines with bones, kale, and almonds. Craving something calcium-filled and comforting? Axe recommends blending Greek yogurt into a delicious berry smoothie or a smoothie bowl topped with healthy ingredients like berries, nuts, and seeds, or whipping up his dark chocolate almond butter cookies or crunchy seasoned kale chips.


8. Asparagus

These green stalks are a great plant-based source of the amino acid tryptophan (which you now know helps produce serotonin, the neurotransmitter that helps stabilize mood and regulate sleeping patterns). “Studies show that following a diet low in tryptophan can decrease levels of serotonin, which may play a part in the development of depression and anxiety,” says Axe. Not only does asparagus provide this amino acid, but it’s also high in folate, the same mood-supporting B vitamin found in avocado.

Use this infographic to choose your mood-busting grub the next time you’re in a rut: 

 

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

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

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

Coconut Oil

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

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

MCT Oil

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

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

When To Use What

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

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

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

Related: 12 Health And Beauty Uses For Coconut Oil

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

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

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

Shopping Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jumpstart Your Mornings (And Metabolism!) With This Tummy Tonic

Sluggish steps and belly bloat keeping you from starting your day off right? This tummy tonic from The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council member Sophia Roe is just what you need to jumpstart your metabolism and digestion for an energized morning. Made with health-promoting ingredients like fennel tea (which can ease bloating and gas), apple cider vinegar (a vitamin-, mineral-, and antioxidant-loaded all-star), ginger (another gut health booster), and green tea extract (which is high in antioxidants and supports metabolism), along with goji berries and raw honey, it’s a delicious power-up that’s great for your gut health and your waistline.

Here’s what you’ll need to whip up this day-brightening beverage:
– 1 bag fennel seed tea
– 2 Tbsp chopped ginger
– 1/2 cup Sunfood Superfoods goji berries
– 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 1 lemon
– 3 drops The Vitamin Shoppe brand green tea extract
raw manuka honey, to taste

Drink hot upon waking or pour over ice for a punch of refreshment, anytime.

 

A veritable ball of energy, Sophia Roe is a wildly talented yet relatable holistic chef, wellness expert, empowerment architect, and beauty bandit whose candid videos and posts on health and mindfulness light up social media.

 

Here’s How To Make Plant Protein Powder From Scratch

This article originally appeared in Amazing Wellness magazine. 

“Making your own protein powders at home helps you control what goes inside, and allows you to have a wider variety of nutrients,” says Carina Wolff, author of Plant-Protein Recipes That You’ll Love. For healthy fats plus plant protein, try her seed-based recipe. It works best when added to hearty dishes, such as soups, sauces, and baked goods.

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9 Surprising Signs You Need To Cut Down On Sugar

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you need to shake your sugar habit.

According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three out of four Americans consume too much added sugar, with high-fructose corn syrup and other refined sugars making up more than 10 percent of their daily calorie intake. (The government’s current dietary guidelines recommend capping added sugar intake at 10 percent of daily calories.)

Thing is, most people just aren’t aware of how much sugar they’re consuming—or that many of the health-related downers we deal with regularly are actually sugar-related, says neuroscientist Nicole Avena, Ph.D., author of Why Diet’s Fail: Because You’re Addicted to Sugar. And we’re talking issues as serious as life-threatening disease, not just fat gain.

Here are nine surprising signs you’re eating too much sugar—and how to cut back.

1. You Look Older Than You Are

Emerging research shows that the sugar in your bloodstream naturally attaches to proteins or lipids (fats) to form molecules called ‘advanced glycation end products’ or AGEs. These molecules, among other things, are believed to contribute to premature aging, says Rob Danoff, D.O., director of the family residency program at Jefferson Health Northeast in Philadelphia. These aptly-named AGEs can damage skin proteins and break down collagen and elastin, all of which contributes to wrinkles. A 2016 review published in Scientific Reports suggests that AGEs may also contribute to the development of skin spots through the years.

2. Your Cholesterol Is Out Of Control

Excess sugar contributes to inflammation within artery walls and negatively impacts cholesterol and triglyceride levels (both of which are risk factors for heart disease), Danoff says. One 2014 JAMA Internal Medicine study shoes that a diet high in sugar may raise your risk of dying of heart disease, no matter your weight and exercise levels.

3. Your Sleep Stinks

Stop putting sugar in your sleepy-time tea! In one Columbia University study, the people who consumed the most sugar throughout the day experienced the most arousals (periods in which you move out of the deeper stages of sleep) throughout the night. Those who ate less sugar? Fewer sleep disturbances.

4. You’re Constantly Thirsty (And Peeing)

The constant ‘fluids-in, fluids-out’ routine is a hallmark of a chronically high sugar intake, says Danoff. When there is too much sugar floating around in your bloodstream, your kidneys produce extra urine in attempts to flush it out, and you pee more than usual. When that happens, your hydration levels drop, which drives you to then chug more water, starting the cycle all over again. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, Danoff recommends talking to your doctor about testing your blood sugar levels, since excessive thirst and urination can be signs of diabetes.

5. You’re ALWAYS Hungry

Filling up on sugar stokes your appetite. After all, the body digests sugar quickly and churns out the hormone insulin to shuttle that sugar out of the blood stream and into the body’s cells. The quick spike—and drop—in blood sugar can leave you low in energy and hungry enough to snack and snack and snack.

6. You See Your Dentist Far Too Often

You’ve probably heard the ‘sugar rots your teeth’ argument (a dozen times) before. But get this: Research suggests sugar may truly be the number-one driver of tooth decay. One BMC Public Health study notes that about 92 percent of U.S. adults experience tooth decay, while just two percent of Nigerians—who consume an average of two grams of sugar per day—deal with the issue.

7. You’re Anxious Or Depressed

Managing your mental health isn’t as simple as cutting back on sugar, but science suggests the sweet stuff does play a role. For example, one 2017 study out of University College London found that men who ate the most sugar had a 23 percent higher risk of suffering from mental disorders. “People often use foods, including those that have added sugars, to self-medicate or make themselves feel better when something isn’t going well for them,” Avena says. Similar to drugs and alcohol, sugar activates areas of the brain associated with reward and can “lead to changes in the brain that make us want to eat more sugar, and can cause a vicious cycle of overeating, feeling depressed, and overeating.”

8. You Get Sick Often

Throwing back sugar may make it tougher for your body to fight off invaders, with one 2014 National Institutes of Health review linking high sugar intake to poor immunity. Researchers note that a meal’s overall glycemic load (a.k.a. its ability to spike your blood sugar levels) is what seems to suppress immune function, putting meals dominated by carbs or sugar in the hot seat. That’s why Danoff always asks his patients who complain of frequent illness about their diets.

9. Your Brain Feels Like Mush

You know those blood sugar highs and lows that eating a lot of sugary foods causes? Those lows basically deprive your brain of energy, Avena says. But the link between sugar and cognitive issues may go even beyond that. One Nutrients review suggests that, long term, high sugar intake may impair the function of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates memory.

What To Do About It

Do any (or all) of these symptoms sound familiar? Avena’s advice is simple: Just try to cut back. “I know that seems like obvious advice, but most people try to quit cold-turkey and sugar-free, and that just isn’t realistic.”

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

Instead, take a step-by-step approach to reducing sugar intake by swapping out just one major source of sugar in your diet (like fruit juice) for a lower-sugar alternative (like water or tea). “Once that change sticks, make another small substitution,” she says.

If you’re not sure where you’re getting your sugar, chances are it’s from a box, bottle, or jar. Research shows that ultra-processed foods—foods like frozen pizza and soda—are responsible for 90 percent of Americans’ added sugar intake. Fortunately, food manufacturers will soon (well, in 2020…) have to include added sugars on their nutritional labels, which should make finding—and avoiding—it much easier.

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Until then, though, look at foods’ ingredient lists for words like high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, agave, evaporated cane juice, honey, turbinado, rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, or anything that ends in ‘-ose,’ and avoiding those ingredients as much as possible, says Avena.

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

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

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

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

Why Potassium Matters

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

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

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

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough

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

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

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

How To Tell If You’re Low

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

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

How To Pack In More Potassium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience The Reishi Magic For Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 1, Fasting Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 1, Fasting Day 2

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

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

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

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

Tweaking My Approach

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

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

Weeks Two And Three

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

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

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

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

Making It Through The Month

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

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

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

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What’s For Dinner? Self-Love

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

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

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

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

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

The Logistics

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

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

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

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Breakfast

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

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

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

Dinner & Lunch

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

Base Ingredients

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

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

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

Salads

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

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

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

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

Veggies and Peppers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are six important updates to look out for:

1. Calories

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

2. Calories from Fat

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

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

3. Serving Size

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

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

4. Sugar

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

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

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

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

5. New Nutrients

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

Use this infographic to keep your nutrition facts straight:

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

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Could You Be Eating Too Many Avocados?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: 4 Types Of Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

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

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Should You Cut Out FODMAPs?

Whether it’s fat, carbs, sugar, gluten, or even lectins, we’re always labeling some type of food ‘diet enemy number one.’ These days, it’s FODMAPs that are taking a hit.

Now, you might be thinking: A FODMAP is, what, exactly? Trust us—there’s a reason for the acronym.

FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (how’s that for a tongue twister?), and refers to various types of carbohydrates our body may have a hard time digesting, explains Emily Rubin, R.D., L.D.N., clinical dietitian for the celiac, fatty liver, and weight management centers at Thomas Jefferson University. Because these various sugars are hard to absorb, they tend to sit in our digestive tract, drawing in water and fermenting, and leading to unpleasant symptoms like stomach pain, gas, bloating, or diarrhea.

The list of foods that contain FODMAPs is long—and, sadly, most of the foods on it are pretty nutritious. In fact, it’s mostly fruits and veggies! The biggest offenders include grains, beans, chickpeas, onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, mangoes, watermelon, apples, artichokes, mushrooms, milk, and yogurt.

So just how worried should you be about FODMAPs? Unless you’re regularly plagued by digestive issues, you’re probably in the clear. In fact, some research suggests cutting FODMAPs from your diet could cause you to fall short on certain nutrients or even develop disordered eating behaviors.

However, if you’re constantly dealing with mysterious GI issues or have a digestive condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—which affects about 12 percent of Americans (twice as many women as men) and is marked by issues like constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, and gas—then cutting out FODMAPs can be a game-changer. In fact, a low-FODMAP diet has benefited close to 90 percent of Rubin’s IBS patients.

Related: How To Move On With Your Life When You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome

If you regularly experience GI issues after eating, you might be dealing with IBS that’s being triggered by something in your diet, says Rubin. Your first step is to talk to your doc and rule out other digestive issues, like lactose intolerance and celiac disease, which have remarkably similar symptoms to IBS but may require a slightly different approach than cutting out FODMAPs.

From there, your doctor will guide you through a FODMAP elimination diet. You’ll steer clear of any foods that fall under the FODMAP umbrella until your symptoms ease up, and then reintroduce each food one by one to identify the culprits behind your GI woes. Sticking to the one-by-one reintroduction is key, because even foods that seem similar—like broccoli and cauliflower—actually contain different FODMAPs, explains Rubin. (Broccoli contains oligosaccharides, while cauliflower contains polyols.) As you identify which foods upset your digestive system, you’ll know what to steer clear of in the future.

Since dairy, many grains, and some fruits and vegetables are off the table during a FODMAP elimination diet, Rubin recommends working closely with your gastroenterologist or a nutritionist to make sure you’re still meeting your needs for nutrients we often rely on those foods for—like the calcium in dairy and fiber in grains and produce.

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The good news is that there are still lots of nutritious foods you can eat on a low-FODMAP diet. Protein and healthy fats are fair game, as are many non-FODMAP fruits and vegetables, like blueberries, strawberries, oranges, green beans, potatoes, lettuce, and spinach. Brown rice, quinoa, and hard cheeses are okay, too!

The bottom line: Occasional gas or stomach upset after eating doesn’t mean you need to kiss FODMAPs goodbye. But if you’re consistently curled up on the couch or stuck in the bathroom, give your doc a call—FODMAPs may not be a friend to your sensitive system.

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4 Types Of Supplements Keto Dieters Should Look Into

Lately it seems everyone is bidding farewell to grains, starchy vegetables, and sugar, and loading up on quality fats like coconut, olive oil, and avocado.

The keto diet, which is all about shifting your body into ‘ketosis’—a state in which a complete lack of carbs forces you to utilize fat (including body fat) for energy—takes careful planning, but promises to eliminate cravings, stabilize blood sugar levels, increase energy levels, and support weight loss.

There’s a catch, though: Cutting out so many foods to keep carb intake low enough to get into (and stay in) ketosis can come with consequences. “The reduction of [starchy] veggies and near-elimination of fruits and grains can lead to problems getting some essential vitamins and minerals,” says Mike Israetel, Ph.D., chief sport scientist and co-founder of Renaissance Periodization, sports nutrition consultant for U.S. Olympic Sports and Team USA Weightlifting.

Of course, you’re more likely to fall short on important nutrients if your version of keto consists of just buttery Bulletproof coffee, bacon, and cheese. However, even the healthiest keto diet (think meals like salmon with asparagus and spinach sautéed in olive oil, and lots of leafy greens and the cruciferous veggies) can leave your body wanting.

So what’s a keto convert to do? Supplement their diet, which is likely lacking in four areas: fiber, electrolytes, omega-3s, and phytochemicals.

1. Fiber

With grains and starchy vegetables off the table, many keto dieters end up falling short on their fiber needs, says dietitian Kristen Mancinelli, M.S., R.D.N., who specializes in low-carb diets and recommends keto eaters aim for 30 grams of fiber per day from vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Veggies like spinach, collard greens, cauliflower, and broccoli are great choices because they provide fiber without the extra carbs. Not only does fiber support healthy digestion, cholesterol, and blood sugar, but it’s also key for your immune function.

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

If you find yourself constipated, you have two tasks: First, make sure you’re staying adequately hydrated: Men should start with a baseline of 3.7 liters a day and women with 2.7 litersore if you exercise or sweat throughout the day. Second, try a fiber supplement. Most provide about five grams of fiber per serving; just look for one with fewer than two grams of net carbs (carbs minus fiber), like The Vitamin Shoppe brand Miracle Fiber.

2. Electrolytes

Ketosis causes excess urination, because your body releases water as you slash carbs. Without carbs in your diet, you burn through your body’s stores of glycogen (a form of sugar we make from carbs). Since that glycogen also stores water, you’ll pee out extra water—along with some of your electrolyte (sodium, potassium, and magnesium) stores—as you transition into ketosis.

Your body needs electrolytes for everything from cellular function, heart muscle contractions, and neurological impulses, so it’s essential that you maintain the proper levels. If you notice issues like muscle cramps, fatigue and nausea—especially in the beginning stages of your keto journey—you could be dealing with an electrolyte imbalance and may need to add a supplement.

Sodium: Keto eaters need to consume more sodium than the average person, so Mancinelli recommends upping your sodium intake to between 2.5 and three grams per day. (The usual allowance is up to 2.3 grams per day.) Fill your trusty salt shaker with pink Himalayan sea salt, which contains minerals and trace elements, and sprinkle away!

Magnesium: Most people don’t eat the recommended amount of magnesium per day (about 400 milligrams for men and 300 for women), and keto eaters are certainly no exception. Mancinelli recommends supplementing with between 200 and 400 milligrams per day.

Potassium: This is another mineral most people fall short on (we need 4,700 milligrams per day), and going keto makes that even more likely by pretty much banning potassium-rich foods like bananas, sweet potatoes, and beans.

Supplementing with potassium can potentially be dangerous, so Mancinelli recommends keto eaters show their electrolyte levels some love with a combo supplement that provides more moderate amounts of each mineral, like Country Life’s Calcium Magnesium Potassium tablets, which provides 500 milligrams of magnesium and 99 milligrams of potassium. Electrolyte drink mixes—like BodyTech’s Electrolyte Fizz—are another convenient way to add more of these important minerals to your day.

3. Omega-3s

A ketogenic diet that’s heavy in animal products (and the saturated fat they contain) can have a negative impact on cholesterol, according to Mancinelli. That’s why she recommends keto dieters supplement with omega-3s—especially if you’re not a big fish eater. The two most important omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), support heart health and healthy cholesterol. Most supplements come in the form of fish oil and provide about 1,000 milligrams per serving. Nordic Naturals’ Ultimate Omega provides 1,280 milligrams and tastes like lemons.

4. Phytochemicals

While there aren’t set recommendations for our daily intake of phytochemicals (the health-boosting compounds found in plant foods), there are recommendations for fruits and veggies: A cup and a half of fruit plus two cups of veggies a day for women, and two cups of fruit plus two and a half cups of veggies a day for men.

No, there’s no true replacement for fruits and veggies, but fruit and greens powders, which are made from a variety of fruits and/or vegetables that are dried and ground—can help you increase your phytochemical intake and round out your overall nutrition, says Israetel. You can add them to keto-friendly smoothies or just mix them with water or protein for a boost of plant-based nutrition throughout the day. Two popular options: Garden of Life’s Raw Organic Perfect Food Green Superfood in Chocolate Cacao and plnt’s Organic BioGreens.

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

7 Protein-Packed Breakfasts Trainers Love

If you want to fuel your day, workouts, and results, you’ve really got to start eating breakfast—and, no, a bowl of sugary cereal isn’t going to cut it.

“Too many Americans eat soft and doughy fake food in the morning,” says celebrity fitness and nutrition coach Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S., founder of FIT 365, who, by the way, eats breakfast every single day. His non-negotiables: protein, healthy fats, whole carbs, and lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to prime his brain and body for all-day energy and performance. After all, when you spend all day programming workouts, coaching and pumping up clients, and squeezing in your own sweat sessions, you have to be on your A game!

To help you fuel up like an expert, we asked seven top trainers to snap photos of their go-to morning meals.

1. Breakfast Protein Cookie Dough

Go ahead, lick the bowl clean. “I love that this breakfast tastes like dessert and packs a protein punch for under 500 calories,” says Josh Hillis, C.P.T., author of Fat Loss Happens on Monday. The granola provides plenty of carbs for energy, which are balanced out by the protein and healthy fats for better blood-sugar control. Hillis recommends using more protein powder on super-active mornings.

Ingredients:
– 1½ to 2 scoops protein powder of choice
– ½ cup granola
– 1 Tbsp chocolate chips
– 1 Tbsp almond butter
– Water to taste

Combine all ingredients except for the water in a bowl. Stir and add water gradually, until mixture reaches a cookie dough-like consistency.

2. Sourdough Veggie Sausage Breakfast Sandwich

Baltimore-based strength and conditioning coach Erica Suter, M.S., C.S.C.S., loves to refuel with this super-easy and vegetarian-friendly sandwich after her morning workouts. “The bread helps me to replenish my glycogen stores, which were depleted during exercise, and the eggs promote muscle growth and recovery,” she says. By combining two whole eggs with one egg white, you can increase protein content without increasing fat content.

Ingredients:
– 2 eggs
– 1 egg white
– 1 serving veggie sausage (links or patties)
– 2 pieces Sourdough toast

Toast your bread while cooking your eggs (Suter likes them scrambled) and sausage. Then, add the eggs and sausage to your bread and voila!

3. 6-Minute Check-Every-Box Breakfast

“Because my days start at 4:30 a.m., breakfast is a huge priority for getting me up and keeping me energized,” says physical therapist and strength coach Laura Miranda, D.P.T., C.S.C.S. “I choose this combo of food because it checks all of the boxes for health: It has avocado for fiber, potassium, and blood-sugar regulation, eggs for protein and omega-3s, kale for everything (and especially fiber), and plantains for resistant starch that keeps me fuller, longer, and has a prebiotic effect to make my gut happy.”

Ingredients:
– 2 handfuls kale
– 2 eggs
– 1 green plantain
– ½ avocado
– Red pepper flakes

Cut the plantain into half-inch cubes and sauté, then sauté the kale until wilted and bright green, and cook your eggs however you prefer. Combine your ingredients on a plate and top with sliced avocado and red pepper flakes to taste.

4. Greek Yogurt with Berries

“My go-to breakfast is Greek yogurt with fruit and cereal,” says Silicon Valley-based trainer Jaime Mcfaden, C.P.T. “I love that it is protein-packed, full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and the crunch of the cereal gives it an extra-special taste and texture,” she says. “Growing up in a Greek family, we used Greek yogurt in pretty much every meal. Now, as a working mom, it’s so nice to grab something I can make in two minutes or less and know that I am getting all the nutrients, protein, and fat I need to get me ready for my busy day ahead.”

Ingredients:
– 6 to 8 ounces of plain Greek yogurt
– Handful of berries
– Handful of cereal

Simply spoon your Greek yogurt into a bowl and top with a handful each of berries and cereal for crunchy, sweet deliciousness.

5. Protein-Packed Rolled Oats

This breakfast might have a lot going on, but it’s still quick and easy to pull together. “For my first meal of the day, I always want something powerful in both experience and nutritional density,” says Lisa Niren, C.P.T., head instructor and director of content and programming for the Studio running app. Her go-to includes a dose of caffeine from coffee, probiotics from kombucha, and lots of filling fiber and protein from protein powder and oats.

Ingredients:
– ½ cup gluten-free rolled oats
– ½ cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
– ½ cup cashew milk
– 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
– Blueberries, flax or chia seeds, dried cranberries, or cacao nibs to taste
– 1 GT’s Gingerade Kombucha, on the side
– 1 almond milk cappuccino (coffee, cashew milk, and unsweetened almond milk), on the side

Cook rolled oats in almond milk until the mixture reaches your desired thickness. Then, stir in protein powder and desired toppings. Serve with the kombucha (over ice) and almond milk cappuccino.

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

6. Chunky Monkey Bowl

“The way I see it, every time I have this breakfast, I’m winning my morning,” says celebrity fitness and nutrition coach Kyle Brown, C.S.C.S., founder of FIT 365. “It provides me with complete nutrition.” While the grass-fed whey protein supports muscle growth, the healthy fats from coconut milk (think: MCTs) and almond butter help to promote brain function. Meanwhile, the banana’s carbs and fiber help perk you up with energy that lasts, he says.

Ingredients:
– 1 cup coconut milk
– 2 scoops chocolate protein powder
– 5 ice cubes
– 1 small banana
– 1 Tbsp almond butter
Chocolate chips or shavings to taste

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend to a thick, smoothie bowl-worthy consistency. Top with chocolate shavings or chips, if desired.

7. Stacked Smoothie

“I call this the ‘stacked smoothie’ because it’s stacked with all the right things to start my day off,” says Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., founder of Training2xl. Specifically, it provides heaps of protein, vitamins, antioxidants, unsaturated fats, whole carbs, and fiber. “I always work out early, so it’s vital that I incorporate all of this into my breakfast,” she says.

Ingredients:
– 1 cup cashew or almond milk
– 1 scoop protein powder
– 1 cup leafy greens (spinach or kale)
– 1 cup frozen cauliflower
– 1 scoop nut butter
– 1 to 2 Tbsp maca root, spirulina, or elderberry powder
– dash of cinnamon

Add all ingredients to blender, blend to a smooth consistency, and enjoy!

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