7 Foods That Are Good For Your Thyroid

This article was originally published in Amazing Wellness magazine.

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

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

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

1. Pumpkin Seeds

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

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

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

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

2. Seaweed

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

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

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

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

3. Brazil Nuts

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

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

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

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

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

4. Apples

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

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

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

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

5. Sardines

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

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

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

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

6. Yogurt

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

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

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

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

7. Chickpeas

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

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

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

Consider this your thyroid-friendly grocery list:

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4 Unexpected Benefits Of Taking Magnesium

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

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

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

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

1. Better Digestion

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

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

2. Quality Sleep

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

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

Related: Are You Getting Enough Magnesium?

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

3. Strong Bones

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

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

4. Healthy Blood Pressure

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

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

Pin this infographic for future reference:

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: 3 Physical Signs You’re Way Too Stressed

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

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

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

9 Signs You’re Vitamin B12 Deficient

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. You’re Just Plain Exhausted

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

2. Your Tongue Has Lost Its Texture

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

3. You’re Pale Or Jaundiced

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

4. Your Hair Has Been Falling Out

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

Related: 8 Possible Reasons Why Your Hair Is Falling Out

5. You Feel A Tingling Sensation

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

6. You’ve Been Tripping A Lot

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

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

7. You’re Very Forgetful

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

8. You’re Stressed Or Sad All The Time

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

9. You Take Certain Prescription Drugs

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

Getting Your B12 Back On Track

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

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

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Summer Skin Woes? This Soothing DIY Gel Can Help

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

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

Show your skin some TLC with these three simple ingredients:

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

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

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

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


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

I Tried Powering My Runs With Caffeinated Gum—Check Out My Results

One of the first things you learn when you start running long distances is how important it is to fuel your body while you’re running. Sure, you need to eat a healthy diet the rest of the time, but if you’re running for an hour or more, you’re probably going to need to gas up your engine while you’re on the go—and that’s not exactly easy.

In my three years of racing everything from 5Ks to marathons, I’ve seen runners down some pretty crazy foods, drinks, and other products, like Gatorade (of course), energy gels, Clif Bloks, Power Bars, bananas, salt tablets, and more. At the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon, aid stations handed out apple slices. At the Boston Marathon, runners grabbed orange slices and gummy bears out of kids’ grubby hands. During the half marathon portion of a half Ironman triathlon, one station even offered Red Bull and soda to runners! (The easy-to-digest simple sugars can really give you an extra boost—especially towards the end of a race—but wow).

The thing is, in order to find out what really works for you and avoid any gnarly stomach issues on race day, you have to test your race fuel during training. The only thing I eat on a run—and only during runs over 10 miles—is a sugar bomb of an energy chew, which I can down in about two bites. Still, I’m game to try anything, so when I heard The Vitamin Shoppe launched Run Gum—not just any gum, but gum that contains energy-boosting vitamins B6 and B12, caffeine, and taurine (an amino acid and antioxidant that can stimulate the muscles) to power workouts and busy days—I was all for seeing if it could give my runs an extra boost.

Here’s how it works: Every packet contains two pieces of gum—and each piece packs about 50 milligrams of caffeine. You can pop one piece for ‘moderate’ energy, or chomp on both for a bigger kick. Run Gum comes in three flavors: fruit, cinnamon, and mint. (I preferred the mint, but like most gum, after about five minutes they all taste basically the same.)

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Since I was in between races, it was the perfect time to experiment with a new type of fuel. For my first trial, I took one fruit-flavored piece right before heading out to run three miles. It was 80 degrees and super-humid—not my favorite running weather—but I didn’t notice anything majorly different about my energy levels, and my pace seemed pretty on par with my usual.

The next day, I chewed one piece of the cinnamon-flavored gum at the start of another three-mile run, and popped a second piece in at the halfway point. I had started out feeling pretty tired (it was a Sunday night and I may have closed down the bar with my friends the night before), but I did feel like I picked up the pace towards the end!

Two days later, I popped one piece of mint Run Gum halfway through my third three-mile run—and that run actually felt the easiest of the three. It was still hot out, but rain had washed away some of the humidity and I’d caught up on my sleep, so I felt like I was back to my normal self.

In the moment, it was hard to judge just how much the Run Gum affected my run performance, especially since the circumstances of my runs were all a little different. (Thanks a lot, rain, heat, and hangovers…) So I turned to my data—and it was a little surprising. According to my Nike Running Club app, my fastest average pace was actually during my first run, when I chewed one piece of gum at the outset and didn’t really notice any energy boost. During my second run, when I chewed two pieces, my speed actually dropped in the last mile—even though I thought I picked up the pace. Maybe all that chewing threw off my perception of my speed… However, it was during my third run, when I started chewing on Run Gum halfway through, that I hit my fastest mile. Score!

Related: 11 Caffeine-Free Ways To Power Your Workouts

With those stats in mind, I thought maybe my first run turned out to be the fastest because I wasn’t really chewing that long while I was running. (I popped the gum into my mouth before I started, chewed for the first half mile or so to get the juice out of it and tossed it.) You see, I find it hard to chew and run at the same time (I can’t drink water and run at the same time either, and usually walk through water stations when I need a drink during races). Using my mouth for something other than breathing was distracting, and I figured that not being able to breathe at full capacity slowed down my pace when I chewed.

That said, that first run was my fastest, so clearly something about using Run Gum to kick off my run worked in my favor, whether it was the caffeine, the vitamins, the taurine, or a combo of the three. Though Run Gum may not replace my go-to fuel for longer-distance races, like half and full marathons (I think I’ll still need the sugar), I’ll definitely try chewing on some Run Gum before training runs and races to jump-start my system.

Not to mention, Run Gum’s energy boost could also prove very handy when that three o’clock slump hits me at work. If I’m going to chew gum anyway, why not chew gum that has perks.

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We Asked, You Answered: Your Favorite Workouts

The secret to a sustainable (and fun!) workout routine is finding the right workout for you. After all, one person’s CrossFit could be another person’s worst nightmare.

Do you look forward to leg day, or do you loathe it? Are you the deadlift’s Number One Fan? We asked The Vitamin Shoppe Instagram followers to share their favorite workouts, and here’s what they said:

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6 Ways To Kick Your Own Butt Back Into Gear

While we all love the warm-and-fuzzy endorphin rush that comes after a good workout, some days we just don’t want to move. And, hey, when your to-do list is a mile long, or you just really need to unwind, there’s nothing wrong with taking a day off from getting your sweat on. But if you’ve been dealing with a near-constant case of ‘meh’ motivation lately, well, that’s a different story.

Often, a little movement is exactly what we need to feel our very best—and luckily, there are plenty of little things you can do every day to boost your motivation and kick your butt back into gear. Here are health and fitness experts’ go-to strategies for getting up and going.

1. Upgrade Your Mornings

First off, stop hitting the snooze button so much! Getting enough sleep is super-important if you want to power through a workout and the rest of the day, but more isn’t always better—especially if it cuts into workout time. The sweet spot, according to the National Sleep Foundation, is seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night. To prevent yourself from hitting snooze, yoga instructor and personal trainer Stephanie George recommends keeping your phone on the other side of the bedroom, so that you have to actually get out of bed to turn it off.

Sticking to a consistent routine that involves waking up around the same time every morning—even on the weekends—can also help you have healthier days. “Eventually that routine will turn into a habit and, who knows, you make even be able to wake up without an alarm,” says George.

George also recommends making time for a healthy breakfast. “Coffee won’t cut it,” she says. “You need a well-balanced meal that provides you with the energy you need to get moving.” Try eggs with spinach, peppers, and onions scrambled in, or a protein shake with frozen berries and greens.

2. Drink More Water

Could a few extra sips of H2O be the difference between staying on the couch and lacing up your sneakers? According to the CDC, as much as 43 percent of American adults drink fewer than four glasses of water a day—less than half the recommended eight glasses. Not only is dehydration dangerous, but it also significantly decreases your energy levels, leaving you feeling tired and lethargic. “Even a small depletion of water in your body can affect mental focus, energy levels, and physical performance,” says author and sports scientist Elesa Zehndorfer, Ph.D.

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One easy way to stay hydrated: Mix an electrolyte supplement into your water. Not only will these minerals help your body maintain its proper fluid balance, but flavored electrolyte powders also make drinking easier if you don’t like plain water.

3. Focus On Balanced Plates

Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals—especially magnesium, calcium, and zinc—can make you feel tired, irritable, and lethargic, warns Zehndorfer. Not only do these minerals support your mood and energy levels, but they also help your body relax for sleep. Meanwhile, processed foods—which are often high in sugar—can lead to a rollercoaster of blood sugar spikes and crashes, and leave you too sluggish to get moving.

Your goal: Focus on lots of green vegetables, fruits, complex carbs (like whole grains and starchy veggies), and high-quality protein.

Related: 7 Protein-Packed Breakfasts Trainers Love

4. Write Down Your Goals

It’s a whole lot easier to make workouts happen when you have a clear reason for working out, which is why Chris Ryan, C.S.C.S and founder of Chris Ryan Fitness recommends writing down specific yet attainable goals and literally signing a contract with yourself to see them through. Do you want to shed a few pounds, run a race, or finally touch your toes? Write that down. What’s your plan for getting there? Maybe you’ll run four times a week or make it to yoga class every other evening. Write that down, too.

5. Find A Cause Worth Sweating For

When you need a kick in the pants that’s bigger than just you, find a fitness-focused charitable organization—like Team in Training, Cycle for Survival, or The D10—in your area to inspire you to get moving. “Not only do they make fitness fun, but they present the opportunity for fundraising and the chance to hear amazing stories that will motivate you to celebrate your body each and every day,” says Ryan. You get to reward your body and have a positive impact on the world around you—that’s a win-win!

6. Call Your Workout Buddy

Research from the University of Aberdeen shows that having an exercise companion increases how much exercise we do on a consistent basis. Having someone to hold us accountable and talk to during workouts can be just the game-changer we need to make that gym routine stick. “If you surround yourself with people who think healthy, think fun and think positive, you will be well on your way to meeting your fitness goals,” Ryan says.

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How I Finally Stopped Yo-Yo Dieting And Became A Celebrity Weight Loss Coach

For most of my life, struggling with weight was my identity. As early as fifth grade, I noticed I didn’t look like the rest of my peers, and at 14, I attended my first weight loss meeting. I was by far the youngest person there. The then-trendy weight loss program, called Diet Center, involved weekly weigh-ins and an extremely restrictive eating plan of bland lean proteins and vegetables. And so began my life of dieting and fearing food.

Throughout my teens, 20s, and early 30s, I lost and gained the same 35 pounds over and over and over again. I tried every plan imaginable, from the Grapefruit Diet to the Soup Diet, and read as many diet books as I could get my hands on. While I could always lose the weight, I could never keep it off.

I thought I had to follow a strict eating plan, and that if I wavered it even slightly, I was failing. So when I did waver, I became so distressed that I ate everything in sight. I fell into a cycle of restricting food, breaking down, overeating, and punishing myself by restricting all over again.

My relationship with food and my body only grew worse when I started a career as a Broadway actress and singer after finishing my Master’s degree. I knew every extra pound could be the difference between landing a gig or losing it—because agents and casting directors thought nothing of telling me I was too heavy for a role. Food, exercise, and my weight took over my life. I felt great when my weight was down and terrible when it was up. I was either eating plain grilled chicken with salad and exercising for hours a day, or chowing down on anything I felt like and not exercising at all. Healthy balance felt impossible.

After 10 years in theater, I’d had enough. As I walked away from that career, I finally felt free from the constant pressure to be as thin as possible. So what did I do? I completely abandoned exercise and gave in to every temptation, binging on all the food I’d spent a decade trying to deprive myself of. I gained 35 pounds—fast.

Again, I was desperate—but I realized I would never live a healthy, fulfilled life, or maintain a weight I felt good about, with my extreme approach to food and exercise. So, after reading about their flexible, realistic eating plan, I decided to give Weight Watchers a try. Throughout the next five months, I finally shared my insecurities, unhealthy behaviors, and fears at support meetings, which was a huge weight off of my shoulders. I enjoyed pizza, occasional desserts, and wine (all workable in the Weight Watchers program), and shed the weight I’d gained.

I felt like I’d found a family of other people who had struggled the way I did, and the positive environment helped me maintain my weight loss for the first time in my life. When a receptionist job opened up at the company, I applied, thinking it would be a temporary gig. Quickly, though, I became a meeting leader, running 17 group support meetings a week, and found myself helping launch the Weight Watchers website.

As the months and years passed, and I was able to consistently wear the same size clothing, my confidence grew, and my yo-yo ways of the past finally faded. I realized that one slip-up did not have to lead to days or weeks of binging, and that I could return to my healthy eating patterns at my next meal. My life fell into a balance: Instead of thinking of workouts as erasers of bad food choices, I exercised joyfully, savoring walks outside, jogs, and kickboxing. I packed healthy snacks (like nuts or hummus and veggies) for work, and discovered my go-to recipes (like ground turkey and tomato sauce over spaghetti squash). The more consistent my routine became, the easier it was to sprinkle in indulgences without going overboard. Finally, I realized what it meant to be healthy.

After nearly eight years with Weight Watchers—during which I had two beautiful sons and successfully lost 50-plus pounds of pregnancy weight, twice—I became their Director of Brand Advocacy and National Spokesperson, appearing on programs like Dr. Oz, Oprah, and Good Morning America and collecting success stories from members across the country to be featured on our website and in our magazine. I flew from New York to Los Angeles every week to lead meetings for Jessica Simpson and a dozen of her friends and relatives, helped Katie Couric negotiate a healthier on-set buffet table as a newly-minted news anchor, and assured Jennifer Hudson that she could indeed fit Buffalo wings into her meal plan.

It was a rush, and forced me to really step up my own weight maintenance skills as I navigated constant travel, jet lag, time zone changes, and new stress. I learned I couldn’t always be perfect, but I could be consistent. I packed snacks for long flights, turned down alcohol, kept workout gear with me at all times, used hotel gyms, and stocked mini fridges with my own healthy food. No challenge could derail my healthy lifestyle!

After 11 years with Weight Watchers, I decided to take everything I’d learned about balanced living, self-love, and long-term weight loss success and go out on my own to help others get healthy and stay that way. I studied to become a certified personal trainer and nutrition exercise specialist, and have since consulted for weight loss and wellness companies all over the world, and helped all kinds of clients—from celebrities and CEOs to stay-at-home parents—achieve their health and fitness goals.

I think my personal weight loss journey has helped me better understand and support others—and just as my career develops, so does my personal health journey. As I learn and grow, I am constantly fine-tuning my strategy for maintaining a healthy weight and attitude. Maintenance is an active process, and if you want to continue to see success long-term, you have to keep your eyes open to the ever-changing landscape of your life! Sure, as I get older I may not be able to drink as much wine as I used to, or have as much for dinner as my growing sons, but these days I’m excited to find out where my next chapter will take me, and I know that health will be a part of who I am forever.

Liz Josefsberg is a weight loss and wellness expert with over 15 years in the industry, as well as a member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. A mom, author, fitness enthusiast, and weight loss success story herself (65 pounds lost!), Liz consults all over the world. She loves testing every diet, exercise regimen, device, and piece of gear she can get her hands on. 

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 Took Collagen ‘Beauty Shots’ For A Month—Here’s What Happened

With my 30th birthday approaching sooner than I’d like, I’ve spent a lot of time recently looking into how to switch up my beauty routine in order to stave off the inevitable wrinkles. I tried Botox about eight months ago, and while I liked how smooth it made my forehead, it’s not exactly the most cost-effective method to keep lines at bay. So when I heard about Reserveage Nutrition’s Watermelon Mint Beauty Shotsantioxidant and collagen protein-packed beauty drinks that can be taken daily to support healthy, youthful skin—I knew I had to give them a, well, shot. I decided to down one every day for a month in hope of more youthful skin on the horizon.

What’s In A ‘Beauty Shot,’ Exactly?

The star of Reserveage’s beauty shots is the ever-trending collagen protein. “Collagen, an essential building block of healthy skin, is the protein matrix that keeps skin firm and strong,” says Bobby Buka, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and contributing founder and chief science officer of First Aid Beauty. “This collagen can become easily damaged as a result of our daily exposure to environmental factors such as sunlight and pollutants.” And when collagen breaks down, you can say hello to wrinkles.

Each beauty shot (three ounces) contains five grams of hydrolyzed collagen, along with a few other skin-loving ingredients like 90 milligrams of vitamin C (which protects against environmental damage that causes aging), 15 milligrams of biotin (the B vitamin that supports strong skin, hair, and nails), and hydrators like hyaluronic acid, cucumber extract, and aloe vera extract. The label references a study that found that 2.5 grams of collagen per day increased skin elasticity after just four weeks, so considering the beauty shots contained twice that amount of collagen, I was optimistic!

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“When we take collagen, it gets broken down into amino acids by our digestive system,” says Monique Chheda, M.D., board-certified dermatologist. “These amino acids are then absorbed through the gut.” Once absorbed, collagen can be utilized throughout our entire body—not just our skin—so there’s no guarantee where it’ll end up, she explains. (Collagen is also important for gut and joint health.) Though more research is needed on collagen’s skin benefits, both docs I spoke with said there certainly wouldn’t be any downsides to getting more of it!

Shots, Anyone?

As a beauty writer, I have access to the best skin-care products (#workperks) and know I have to be very diligent with sunscreen, so my skin started off in pretty good shape. That said, though, I have started to notice itty-bitty lines forming at the corners of my eyes, and that my face looks more tired and dull than it did in my early and mid-20s.

So given how important collagen is for skin health—and how much pollution I’m exposed to living in New York City—I was pumped to add these beauty shots to my daily routine and see whether I’d notice any differences after a month.

Related: Which Type Of Collagen Is Right For You?

I kept the rest of my relatively low-maintenance beauty routine exactly the same so I could measure whether or not the collagen shots were doing anything: I used a gentle facial cleanser morning and night, applied sunscreen in the morning, and continued my usual retinol serum before bed (retinol is the gold standard wrinkle-fighting ingredient). Once a week, I slathered on a brightening face mask.

I’m always in a rush to get to the office on time in the morning, so I stashed my shots in my bag the night before so I wouldn’t forget to take them. Still, I got home from work most days that first week only to find the shot still in my bag—so I had my first few shots for dessert. Once I started taking them out of my bag as soon as I sat down at my desk, though, getting into the routine grew easier. On crazy-busy days, I often didn’t get around to imbibing until the afternoon, so instead of going out for my usual iced hibiscus tea at three o’clock, I made the beauty shots my afternoon treat. (I consider the four bucks a day I saved a major perk of the experiment.) I even packed a few shots with me on a long weekend of traveling for a friend’s wedding, and knocked them back before moving onto more traditional celebratory beverages (a.k.a. actual shots).

I expected the shots’ watermelon mint flavor to be overly sweet and artificial (when I hear anything is watermelon-flavored, I automatically assume it’s going to taste like a Jolly Rancher), but it was really delicious! Nice and subtle with no weird aftertaste. And despite all of the ingredients in there, the shots went down like water. I worried they’d be goopy or chalky, but they had a thin, pleasant texture. I came to really enjoy drinking my shot every afternoon, and was sad when my 30 days were up.

My Complexion, A Month Later

After 30 days of dutifully downing my shots, I didn’t notice a change in the wrinkles around my eyes—but I did, however, notice that my complexion looked all-around glowier than usual. Prior to the beauty shot experiment, my entire face had been looking pretty lackluster, but the area underneath my eyes had really been riding struggle bus (which probably has something to do with the fact that I don’t always get a full eight hours of sleep) and I often sported dark circles.

By the time my month-long shot habit came to a close, though, not only did my entire face look brighter, but my under-eye area looked much more, well, alive. I even stopped applying under-eye concealer! Since dullness was something I was looking to address, I was really happy to see that these shots had some effect.

Plus, there was another surprising benefit from taking the shots: My nails suddenly felt harder and stronger. (Chheda told me that research suggests biotin may be helpful for strengthening nails, so I credited the biotin in the shots for the unexpected perk.) I bite my nails and they normally break very easily, but by the end of the 30 days, I realized I hadn’t dealt with a cracked nail since before I started guzzling the shots.

Glowy skin aside, I’d continue drinking the shots just to keep my nails strong year-round!

Want to try Reserveage’s Beauty Shots for yourself? Treat yourself to a six pack or two.

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.

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

I Tried Using Vitamin B3 To Calm My Nerves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results

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

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

By the third week, things only got better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Potassium Matters

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

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

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

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough

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

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

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

How To Tell If You’re Low

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

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

How To Pack In More Potassium

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Never Miss A Day Of Taking These 4 Supplements

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

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

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

1. Probiotics

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

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

2. Bone Broth

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

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

3. Greens Powder

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

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

4. Digestive Enzymes

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

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

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

Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S., is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, author, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. Dr. Axe operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites, sharing healthy recipes, herbal remedies, nutrition and fitness advice, and information on essential oils and natural supplements. Dr. Axe founded one of the largest functional medicine clinics in the world, in Nashville, TN, and has served as a physician for many professional athletes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience The Reishi Magic For Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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