8 Tips For Picking The Healthiest Packaged Foods Possible

We’ve all been told to eat lots of whole foods—like fruits, veggies, meat, poultry, and dairy—and to watch our intake of processed foods. But let’s be serious: Most of us aren’t about to blend up our own mayo. Avoiding supermarket aisles stocked with jars, bag, cans, and boxes just isn’t always doable.

When we buy food from a bag, box, or jar, it can be tricky to tell just how healthy (or unhealthy) it really is. After all, plenty of packaged foods contain terrifyingly long lists of ingredients, which often include preservatives and additives we don’t recognize and can’t pronounce. (What the heck is ‘dextrin,’ anyway?) Not to mention, many packaged foods come with a boatload of extra calories—on top of added sugars, fats, and sodium, says Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D.N.

To save you from spending 20 minutes trying to pick between two jars of tomato sauce or boxes of crackers, we asked dietitians for their supermarket navigation tips.

1. Check the sugar content.

Natural sugars that are found in whole foods like fruit and dairy have a place in a healthy diet, but sugars added to many packaged foods and drinks can lead to weight gain and health concerns, , says Amidor. So how much sugar a food contains—and whether it’s naturally-occurring or added—is something you’ll want to look at.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting added sugars to just five percent of our total daily calories, which is 100 calories or 25 grams. So if a food contains more than 10 grams (or 40 calories) of added sugar per serving, it should probably be a no-go, Amidor says.

And don’t expect that added sugar to reveal itself willingly in the ingredient list: “Added sugars can show up on food and drink labels under names like anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, sugar, syrup and white sugar,” says Amidor. Yikes.

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

That said, you don’t necessarily have to nix a food because it contains a little added sugar. If the other ingredients are simple and offer health benefits like fiber or other nutrients, you can cut yourself some slack.

2. Feel out the fat.

One of the reasons packaged snacks can be so dang addicting: They contain added fat for enhanced flavor, says Amidor.

And while fat can be healthy (think of the unsaturated fats in avocados, nuts, and olive oil), many packaged foods are higher in saturated fats and contain trans fats.

Trans, or ‘hydrogenated’ fats have been linked to heart disease and should be avoided as much as possible, says Amidor. Meanwhile, the USDA 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat to 10 percent or less of your daily calories, since excess consumption can affect cholesterol, she says.

So when you’re deciding between two packaged foods, compare the amounts of saturated fat per serving and go with the product that has less. Stay away from anything that contains 15 percent of your total daily allotment of saturated fat, Amidor suggests.

3. Beware insane amounts of salt.

The recommended daily max for sodium is 2,300 milligrams, or about one teaspoon of salt, but many packaged foods are bursting with the stuff, sometimes packing half your daily allowance in one serving.

Ideally, though, you want somewhere around 200 milligrams of sodium max per serving, says Benjamin White, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N. So look for foods labeled ‘low-sodium’ or ‘no salt added’ and add flavor with herbs and spices at home.

4. Count the ingredients.

To keep your eats as clean as possible, pick packaged foods that contain as few ingredients as possible, says White. A food with few ingredients is less processed, and often healthier, than one with a long laundry list, he says.

And, since ingredients are listed in order of the amount contained in the food (high to low), looking at the first three can tell you a lot about what you’re eating, White adds. If one of the food’s first three ingredients is a sweetener, non-whole-grain flour, or oil, it’s probably not a great choice.

5. Do some quick nutrient math.

To make our snacks and meals as filling and waistline-friendly as possible, make sure they pack two things: fiber and protein. (You generally want at least three grams of fiber and seven grams of protein, White says.)

To figure out if a packaged food has enough of this good stuff to outweigh the bad stuff that may also be lurking, add up the grams of protein and fiber on the Nutrition Facts. Then add up the grams of total fat and sugar. If the total grams of protein and fiber are higher than the total grams of fat and sugar, you’re good to go, White says.

6. Look for added nutrients.

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, there are four nutrients in particular that Americans fall short on: vitamin D, calcium, fiber, and potassium. (Vitamin D, calcium, and potassium are found in milk and many dairy products, while potassium and fiber can be found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, according to Amidor.)

Related: 9 Nutrients You May Be Short On If You Don’t Eat Dairy

But since so many of us miss out on these four nutrients, they’re often added to packaged foods (like breakfast cereal) to help us get our fill. So if a food packs a boatload of these important nutrients despite having some rather unappealing qualities—like some added sugar—it might still be worth eating, she says. Just make sure the food provides at least 10 to 19 percent of your daily value of one or more of these nutrients per serving.

7. Cut out artificial colors and flavors.

You’ll want to avoid as much artificial anything as possible, and nixing artificial colors and flavors is a good place to start. “Color additives are used for aesthetic purposes, and do not provide any nutritional value to the food,” says Amidor. The same goes for artificial flavors. So go ahead and leave that cupcake icing colored with ‘blue number whatever’ or artificially-flavored nacho chips on the shelf.

8. When in doubt, use an app.

If you just can’t decide whether to put a product in your cart or leave it on the shelf, let your phone do the thinking for you. An app like the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores, gives you quick feedback on the overall quality of a food, says White. “The app gives a rating for thousands of foods based on their nutritional value, ingredients of concern (like additives), and the extent to which they’re processed,” he says. The closer to a rating of ‘1,’ the more worthy the food.

Related: Check out a selection of packaged staples and snacks that keep your health in mind.

Weight-Loss Efforts Failing? You Might Not Be Eating Enough

You’ve heard it a million times before: Weight loss comes down to the simple equation of ‘calories in versus calories out.’ Burn more calories than you take in—usually by eating less and working out more—and watch the pounds melt off, right?

“In theory, if you consume fewer calories than you expend, you should lose weight; and if you do the opposite, you should gain weight” says David Greuner M.D., of NYC Surgical Associates. Many people, though, make a calorie-cutting mistake that actually sabotages their weight loss—and that’s restricting calories too much.

Why Eating Fewer Calories Doesn’t Mean Shedding More Pounds

We all have a unique metabolic rate (the number of calories our bodies need throughout the day), which is influenced by factors like gender, age, activity level, and muscle mass.

“The higher your metabolic rate, the more calories you’re burning,” says Leah Kaufman, M.S., R.D.N., dietitian for NYU Langone Health’s weight management program. (Even when you’re doing nothing!) When you restrict calories consistently, though, your metabolic rate drops—and the more drastic the calorie restriction, the more drastic the metabolic spiral, she says.

This incredibly frustrating cause-and-effect actually stems from our caveman days, says Deepa Iyengar, M.D., associate professor at the McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Basically, when you don’t eat enough, your brain thinks you’re starving, and your body holds onto every calorie it’s given, she says. (This came in handy when our cavemen ancestors couldn’t hunt or gather enough food.) Your metabolism slows down to a sluggish rate, and even though you’re trying to lose weight, your results screech to a halt. You may even start to break down muscle for fuel.

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism—Busted

And if your extreme calorie-cutting is also paired with lots of intense exercise, you put yourself at risk for a scary condition called rhabdomyolysis, in which your muscle breaks down so rapidly that you’re left with severe muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and confusion, and potential kidney failure, says Greuner.

How to Tell if You’re Cutting Too Many Calories

As great as losing a few pounds sounds, going in to ‘starvation mode’ or risking your health isn’t so hot. If you’re going too far with calorie-slashing, the first signs you’ll notice are low energy, headaches, and fatigue, says Kaufman. Your mood may also take a hit, so you may feel irritable or depressed, or have trouble concentrating, adds Greuner.

And, of course, you’ll probably feel hungry all the dang time, because your calorie shortage causes your body to release hormones like ghrelin, which signal to the brain that you need some nourishment, pronto.

You can start to experience these symptoms as soon as you cut anything more than 500 calories per day, Iyengar says. But if your caloric intake dips below 1,000 calories a day, you enter into a real danger zone and risk damaging organs like your heart and kidneys, she adds.

Get Your Calories Back in the Safe Zone

Understanding the base number of calories your body needs to function (even if you lie in bed all day) can help you quit your extreme calorie-cutting ways. A qualified health professional can help you calculate your exact minimum needs with a machine that measures your oxygen consumption, which indicates your metabolic rate, says Kaufman.

Otherwise, you can use an online calculator from a medical or health organization (MyFitnessPal has an easy and free one) to estimate your daily calorie needs. Just keep in mind that this is the base number of calories your body needs to stay alive and do nothing else—not how many you should eat to lose weight. You’ll need additional calories to fuel daily activities and exercise. (A dietitian or doc can help you figure out the exact number.)

Men generally need more calories than women because they have more muscle mass, and therefore higher metabolisms, says Iyengar. Active men under age 55 who exercise for about 45 minutes four times a week should start with a baseline of 2,500 calories per day, while active women under 55 should start out at 2,000, she recommends. From there, if you want to lose weight (at about one pound per week) you can reduce your daily consumption by up to 500 calories, but not more than that, says Kaufman. Keep a food journal or use a food-tracking app to make sure you’re getting what you need, she suggests.

Taking this more moderate approach will help you lose weight safely—and sustain it. “You cannot survive on 800 calories a day for the rest of your life. It’s just not possible.” Getting enough calories will keep your body nourished so that you feel strong (instead of totally drained) when you exercise—which is a key piece of any sustainable weight-loss plan, says Greuner.

And one final tip for the road: When you’re in a (healthy) calorie deficit, it’s also important to consume enough protein to support your muscles and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure you’re getting all of the vitamins and minerals you need, says Kaufman.

Related: Shop multivitamins and minerals to make sure your nutritional bases are covered.

Does Losing Weight Slow Your Metabolism?

If you’ve ever tried to drop a good 10+ pounds, you know how hard it can be—and how it seems to get even harder as the scale starts to budge.

You’re definitely not imagining this uphill weight-loss battle. The culprit: your metabolism.

Your metabolism is a series of chemical reactions that occur inside your body to break down food and turn it into energy, says David Greuner, M.D., managing director and co-founder of NYC Surgical Associates. Your body uses this energy to perform basic functions, like keeping your lungs breathing and your heart beating, and power you throughout the day.

The minimum number of calories we need every day to keep us functioning (even if we’re at rest all day and night) is known as our basal metabolic rate. For the average person, it’s usually between 1,500 and 2,200 cals per day, says Greuner. Your individual metabolic rate is determined by your body size, sex, and age, according to the Mayo Clinic.

How many calories we need on top of that base number depends on factors like our activity level and how much muscle we have. (Muscle mass requires extra energy to maintain, so it really bumps up your metabolism.)

Related: 5 Myths About Your Metabolism

When we want to lose weight, we create a caloric deficit, meaning we try to use more calories than we consume, usually by cutting calories and exercising, explains Tyler Spraul, C.S.C.S. The goal is that our body will tap into the fat we have stored for to make up for that energy deficit.

Here’s where things get tricky, though: When most people lose weight, they tend to lose some muscle mass along with fat, says Tom Holland, C.S.C.S., exercise physiologist and author of Beat the Gym. And the less muscle you have, the fewer calories your body needs to sustain itself—which means your metabolism slows down. As this occurs, whatever caloric deficit you’d created when you first started losing weight becomes less and less effective.

So, yeah, it’s sad but true: Weight loss—especially extreme calorie-cutting—does slow down your metabolism, which actually sabotages your ability to maintain that weight loss long-term.

But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed! The solution? Take a slow-and-steady approach so that you can shed fat while keeping your metabolism revved and holding onto as much precious muscle as possible. To do that, shift your focus from cutting as many calories as possible to strength training regularly (at least three days a week) and eating ample protein—both of which support muscle mass, says Holland. He recommends eating roughly half your bodyweight in grams of protein each day. By continuing to boost your metabolism, you’ll naturally burn through more calories and make losing that fat easier.

Related: Grab a protein supplement for muscle support, wherever you are.

How 3 Super-Popular Diet Trends Benefit Men And Women Differently

Put two people on a diet and they will never (let’s repeat that: never) have the exact same results.

“The more we learn about nutrition, the more we see the need for personalized nutrition, and finding the right diet for the right person,” explains Donald K. Layman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois. “One diet might be really good for one person, but really bad for someone else.”

And that’s especially true when it comes to men and women. The two sexes respond to diets quite differently—and understandably so, considering the differences in our bodies, namely in our hormones. (Read about how and why men and women experience weight loss differently here.)

This certainly applies to trendy nutrition protocols, like Paleo, intermittent fasting, and keto. We asked the experts how each might affect men and women differently, to push you one step closer to finding the diet that works for your body.

The Ketogenic Diet

The purpose of a ketogenic diet is to force the body to run on fat, rather than carbs, for energy. How do you do this? By getting about 80 percent of your daily calories from fat. You’ll eat a moderate amount of protein, but limit carbs as much as possible—about 20 grams a day, which is less than you’ll find in a banana. Eating this way shifts your body into a state of ketosis, in which the body breaks fat down into ketone bodies, a sort of stand-in for carbs.

Related: What You Need To Know About The Ketogenic Diet Trend

It can take anywhere from weeks to months to shift into ketosis and burn fat for fuel, and you’ll need to test your urine or blood to know for sure. Once the body makes the shift, though, increases in satiety hormones and fat metabolism may contribute to weight loss, according to a review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

As you can imagine, this diet is hard for anyone to follow long-term, though men may have better luck. According to Layman, research has shown that a diet’s carb content is a large predictor of whether or not women will stick with it, he says. The more carbs women are allowed, the more sustainable the diet—as any gal who’s scarfed down half a pizza after going low-carb can tell you.

However, there may be worthwhile benefits for women struggling with hormonal issues, namely polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which is often marked by insulin resistance and can lead to a snowball weight gain, infertility, and diabetes. In one study of obese women with PCOS, following a ketogenic diet for 24 weeks led to significant improvement in both weight and fasting insulin levels. “Because PCOS is driven by an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, and higher insulin levels, a lower carbohydrate diet may help to create a more insulin-sensitive environment and allow the body to use fats and proteins for fuel,” Smith-Ryan says.

According to the researchers, though, the results of this study were similar to those of previous studies in which women consumed up to 100 grams of carbohydrates per day, which qualifies as low-carb but not ketogenic—suggesting women with PCOS can improve their symptoms without having to cut fruit out of their lives. A low-carb—but not severely low-carb—diet is often recommended (and successful), says Layman.

Intermittent Fasting

By dividing days and weeks up into “fasting” and “feasting” periods, intermittent fasting protocols (which exist in a variety of forms, including high and low-calorie days or only eating during certain hours, like 12 to six P.M.), may promote weight loss by making it easier for some dieters to cut calories.

While more research is needed to know exactly how it works, studies suggest that there may be advantages to intermittent fasting beyond cutting calories, Layman says. For instance, a 2017 review from the National Institute on Aging notes that fasting triggers physiological stress pathways that enhance DNA repair and metabolic health. Additionally, a review out of Brazil notes that intermittent fasting can improve the blood lipid profile (lower triglyceride levels, specifically) and inflammatory responses of men.

It’s worth noting, though, that despite fasting’s potential health benefits, a 2017 JAMA Internal Medicine study concluded that it’s no better for weight loss than typical calorie-counting.

Though intermittent fasting can help some people lose weight, it’s not exactly easy to sustain. Case in point: A third of the participants in that JAMA Internal Medicine study we just mentioned dropped out.

And while throwing in the towel is an issue for both men and women, the psychology involved in fasting may pose a different, more serious threat to women. When it comes down to it, intermittent fasting is about “saving up” calories for later, a behavior that can lead to or worsen disordered eating. “Many women will penalize themselves so they can indulge later,” says Layman—a behavior that’s much less common in men. For that reason, he doesn’t recommend anyone—male or female—with a history of body image and eating disorders attempt intermittent fasting. Considering 20 million American women and 10 million men will deal with an eating disorder at some point in their life, fasting may not be a risk worth taking—especially for women.

Paleo

Rich in meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds—and devoid of dairy, legumes, processed foods, and refined sugars—Paleo is all about eating as closely as possible to how our ancestors supposedly did. But because the diet doesn’t address calories or how much of each macronutrient (protein, fat, and carbs) you’re eating, the results are largely contingent on what you do eat while following the diet, Layman says. (Eating a Paleo diet that’s all fruit and nuts will affect your body differently than one full of lean protein and vegetables, for example.) However, Paleo does offer one big benefit: a diet free of refined and processed sugars.

“Fifty-five percent of Americans’ calories come from carbs and roughly 90 percent of the carb calories come from grains. So if you stop eating grains, you likely lose weight,” Layman says. And since most of the processed foods people eat—like crackers, pretzels, pasta, and mac and cheese—are made from refined grains, which offer little nutritional value, nixing processed foods may be a good idea.

For many people, the Paleo diet tends to be pretty meat-heavy, and that may make it more mouth-watering to men, Layman says. After all, data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that the average man eats significantly more meat, poultry, and fish than the average woman.

That said, Paleo can be successful for men and women alike, as long as you can maintain a balanced diet after eliminating dairy, legumes, salt, processed foods, and refined sugars. However, it’s important to make sure that you don’t miss out on the calcium and vitamin D that dairy supplies. This is especially big for women, who are at an increased risk of osteoporosis and tend to require higher intakes to keep their bones strong, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. (You can get calcium elsewhere, like in dark leafy greens or sardines. Vitamin D can also be found in mushrooms, especially those treated with UV lights.) Women should meet with their doctor or a dietitian to make sure their intake of these two nutrients is still adequate while following Paleo.

Related: 5 Mistakes People Make When Going Paleo

8 Snacks That Make Perfect Hiking Partners

Sure, hiking may offer up a great workout (the average person burns more than 400 calories per hour), but it is so, so much more than that. While you’re moving, you’re surrounded by trees, natural scents, and the calm of a quiet trail—so it’s no wonder we feel so good after a hike. In fact, the euphoria we experience after hiking is so powerful it’s even been shown to help reduce feelings of hopelessness in people with severe depression, according to an Austrian study.

So lace up your shoes, grab a backpack, and go get lost in the woods for a little while. Just make sure you’ve got the fuel you need to enjoy every step.

“When I plan a hiking trip, I bring snacks that contain mostly fats and carbs,” says Michael Wolfe, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.N., dietitian for The Vitamin Shoppe. These two macronutrients provide the energy your body needs to keep going—especially if you’re hitting a challenging trail. And though protein isn’t your body’s go-to for fuel, it will help your body recover after longer day hikes or multi-day trips, he says.

The following snacks are easy to stuff in your pockets or pack in your backpack the next time you head off the grid:

1. RXBARs

Bars are all-star hiking snacks because they’re usually small and can pack a ton of fuel. RXBARs, which are made from whole ingredients like egg whites, dates, and nuts, provide a balanced dose of carbs, fats, and protein.

2. DIY Granola

Kathleen Jones, M.S.A.C.N., C.N.S., nutritionist for The Vitamin Shoppe likes to bring homemade granola on hikes because it provides the fat and carbs your body needs for fuel and is a lightweight way to get calories in. Check out her naturally-sweet recipe:

Ingredients:
1/8 tsp pure Himalayan sea salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. MCT oil
2 Tbsp. amber maple syrup
¼ cup seedless golden raisins
¼ cup hemp seeds
½ cup sliced almonds
2 cups gluten-free rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly so everything is well-combined and coated with the wet ingredients. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or just until very lightly toasted. (Keep an eye on the oven.) Let cool before storing in bags or an air-tight container. (Makes six servings.)

3. Health Warrior Chia Bars

These plant-based bars are just about 100 calories and great for shorter hikes. You’ll get both healthy fats (omega-3s for the win!) and filling fiber from the chia seeds—and, bonus perk: Each bar has only four grams of sugar.

4. Jerky

When you’re taking a break on the trail or heading home from a day hike, it’s time for protein! Wolfe packs jerky because it provides protein and doesn’t spoil easy. Ostrim’s beef and elk sticks pack 14 grams of protein in just 90 calories—and their shape makes them super portable. To keep your taste buds happy when you’re off the grid, you can also find jerkies in fun flavors, like Three Jerks’ filet mignon hamburger jerky.

Related: How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

5. DIY Trail Mix

The ultimate outdoorsy snack, trail mix is easy to customize and offers the perfect combo of carbs and fat. We don’t completely hate that many store-bought trail mixes are roughly 50 percent M&MS, but you can keep your mix more wholesome by bagging it at home.

Wolfe likes this combo: half a cup each of peanuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, dried cranberries, dried pineapple, and semi-sweet chocolate chips. In a third of a cup (about a big handful), you’ll get about 42 grams of carbs and 16 grams of fat to keep you climbing.

6. BHU Fit Protein Bars

In flavors like salted caramel pecan and peanut butter white chocolate, BHU Fit bars are a delicious, guilt-free snack to take out on the trails with you. “They have very clean ingredients, tend to be higher in fat, and are very small and lightweight,” says Jones. You’ll get 13 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbs, and 14 grams of protein per bar.

7. Electrolyte Mix

Okay, what’s in your water bottle may not technically be a snack, but it’s just as important (if not more so!). Kick up your hydration by stirring in an electrolyte mix. These minerals (magnesium, potassium, and sodium) help your body balance fluids and keep your muscles firing properly, says Wolfe. Add grape or raspberry electrolyte power to your H2O with Ultima Refresher’s electrolyte powder, or go for lemon lime with BodyTech’s electrolyte fizz.

8. Barnana Organic Peanut Butter Chewy Banana Bites

Bananas provide just the carbs you need for an energy boost, but they’re easily smush-able in a backpack. Barnana’s chewy banana bites make the fruit more hiking-friendly, and the peanut butter flavor adds a bit of fat for a more satiating and fueling snack.

Related: Check out a ton of guilt-free snacks for on-the-go.

5 Things To Look For In A Meal-Kit Delivery Service

Though our kitchens haven’t quite gone full Jetsons on us, we can thank technology for the slew of meal and food delivery services helping us make our trips to the grocery store a thing of the past. The meal kit business is now a $2.2 billion industry, and people across the country are getting their groceries or ready-to-make recipes and ingredients sent straight to their doorsteps.

And each of these services offers their own unique twist on the meal. For example, Purple Carrot boasts all plant-based dishes, Blue Apron recently rolled out wine pairings to go along your meals, and HelloFresh lets you choose the difficulty of the recipes you want to prepare. Plated lets you add dessert to your orders, Chef’d offers meals that comply with popular weight loss programs like Atkins and Weight Watchers, and retail behemoth Amazon is also getting in on the action with its Amazon Fresh meal kits, which you can buy without even logging out of your Prime account.

The perks? Meal kit services can help you squash the constant debate about what to have for dinner, while expanding your food horizons and offering healthy options. “Using these services can make cooking fun and easy,” says Martha McKittrick, R.D. “You’ll try new flavors and seasonings that you may never have used on your own.”

Plus, portion sizes seem to be fairly average across the board, so meal kits can help eliminate guesswork about how much to put on your plate, says plant-based dietitian Alex Caspero, M.A. And since many meal kit recipes include plenty of produce, they can benefit the many Americans who are lacking in vegetable and fiber intake, she adds.

But which service is right for you? Here’s what the experts recommend keeping in mind as you sift through the many meal kit delivery services out there.

1. Make sure it fits your general lifestyle.

First, ask yourself why you’re interested in using a meal kit service. Perhaps you just don’t have time to grocery shop, want to clean up your eating habits but don’t know how, or want to work on your kitchen skills. “If your number one goal is easy, healthy meals, that might look different than if you’re interested in learning to cook or expanding your recipe knowledge,” says Caspero. Most companies will have a sampling of recipes available on their website, so scan through nutrition information, look at ingredients, and check on recipe difficulty to make sure that service fits with your lifestyle, Caspero recommends. And if time is of the essence, take note of the time required for a service’s recipes. “While not complicated, some can take up to an hour to make or cook,” says McKittrick.

From there, you’ll also want to check how many portions the service delivers (to make sure you’ll have enough, but not too much) and make sure it fits in with your dietary preferences or offers vegan, gluten-free, Paleo, dairy-free, or organic customization. For example, a service that doesn’t let you swap out meat-centric dishes wouldn’t be a fit for a pescatarian, while a service that features pasta with each might not be appreciated by anyone trying to cut back on carbs.

Lastly, make sure you’re paying attention to the delivery schedule and quantity before signing up. “If you have plans to go out several nights that week, you’ll be stuck with a backload of meals, some of which may not keep well or be freezer-friendly” McKittrick says.

2. Don’t overdo it on sodium.

One potential downfall of a meal kit delivery service: Recipes that are jam-packed with salt, says nutritionist and culinary specialist Sara Haas, R.D.N., L.D.N. The CDC recommends keeping sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams per day, so stay away from meals that pack more than about 700 milligrams per serving, she says.

3. Make sure you’re getting enough vegetables.

If you’re going to pay for a meal kit service, you want it to deliver as much health-promoting produce as possible! “Some of these services go heavy on carbs and skimp on vegetables, which can lead to eating a lot more calories than you realize without feeling satisfied,” says Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., I.N.H.C. A good rule of thumb: Make sure half your plate is filled with non-starchy vegetables, like Brussels sprouts, kale, or asparagus, and split the other half between a quarter protein and a quarter carbs, Cording says. When necessary, she suggests bulking up dishes with extra vegetables of your own, and saving any leftovers for another day.

4. Watch your fat content.

Meal services can be a great way to get fresh ingredients daily without much planning, but because companies need to keep customers coming back, they load their meals with fat, warns nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. “People may automatically assume that the vegetarian or low-carb option is healthy, but a lot of times these meals are loaded with excess fat and therefore excess calories, making it not healthy at all,” she says.

Related: Are There Any Benefits To Eating Salt?

Look for recipes that are higher in unsaturated fat and low in saturated fat, and use add-ons like cheese and salad dressing sparingly. Rissetto recommends keeping your fat intake to 25 percent of your daily calories. Take 25 percent of your daily calories and divide that number by nine (the number of calories per gram of fat) to figure out how many grams of fat total you should consume per day. So if you’re eating a 2,000-calorie diet, that’d be 500 calories of fat, or 55 grams per day—so you’d want to limit meals to about 18 grams of fat each.

Of course, calories are important—but so is where those calories come from, says Haas. “If many of them are coming from saturated fat, skip that meal,” she says, also mentioning that while we all have different calorie needs, a meal with between 500 and 800 calories is a good goal to shoot for.

5. Look for protein.

Protein, which helps build cells and tissues and slows your digestion, helps support your weight management goals and keeps you feeling satiated after a meal. “Otherwise you’ll be left feeling hungry and more likely to overeat later,” says Rissetto.

Rissetto recommends shooting for about 0.8 to one gram of protein per kilogram of weight every day. (That’s about 0.45 grams per pound.) So a 150-pound person would need about 68 grams per day, or about 22 grams per meal.

Related: Shop the Protein Pantry for easy ways to add extra protein to your diet.

4 No-Bake Desserts That Are Packed With Protein

Newsflash: Cookies and shakes are NOT the only treat you can make with your favorite protein powder. You don’t even need to fire up the oven to transform that protein into a cheesecake, piece of fudge, or, yes, even truffle.

These mind-blowingly-good treats from Andréa Marchese of Andréa’s Protein Cakery are decadent but macro-friendly—and incredibly easy to make. Seriously, if you have a habit of burning everything, these recipes will change your life.

Whether you’re in the mood for fudgy chocolate, strawberries and crème, snickerdoodle, or birthday cake, there’s a treat here for you.

No-Bake Protein Brownie Bites

*makes nine pieces (one serving is three pieces)

Calories:  203 • Carbohydrate: 12g • Fat: 8g  • Protein: 21g • Sugar: 5g • Fiber: 5g

Ingredients:
¼ cup natural applesauce (62.5g)
2 Tbsp. almond butter (32g)
4 scoops Vital Proteins Collagen Whey Protein (82g)
2 Tbsp. coconut flour (14g)
1 tsp cacao powder (or cocoa powder) (1.87g)
sprinkle of stevia powder, to taste
pinch of sea salt

In a large bowl, mix applesauce and almond butter. Add remaining ingredients and mix well, using your hands to combine fully. Line a square baking pan or sheet with parchment paper. Transfer dough to pan or sheet and shape into a square about an inch thick. Wrap the parchment paper around the dough and refrigerate for a few hours. Cut into nine pieces and enjoy! Store any extras in the fridge.

Note: You can substitute other nut butters in for almond butter, but protein-infused nut butters may make the dough stickier.

Birthday Cake Protein Truffles

*makes four pieces (one serving is two pieces)

Calories:  182 • Carbohydrate: 9g • Fat: 10g  • Protein: 16g • Sugar: 5g • Fiber: 2g

Ingredients:
1 scoop Dymatize Iso 100 Birthday Cake whey protein (30g)
¼ cup almond flour (28g)
1 ½ Tbsp. water
¾ tsp natural sprinkles (3g)
½ oz. white chocolate (14g)

In a large bowl, mix protein powder and almond flour. Then add water and continue to mix. Add half a teaspoon of sprinkles (the rest will be used for decoration) and use your hands to fully combine the dough. Divide the dough into four pieces, roll each into a ball, and place them on a parchment-lined plate or silicone mat. Microwave white chocolate for about 20 seconds to melt it. Drizzle the chocolate over the truffles. Top with the remaining sprinkles and enjoy! Store any extras in the fridge.

Note: Almond flour gives these truffles nice texture and flavor. Other nutmeal flours will yield a similar result but grain or coconut flours are not recommended. 

Related: 4 Protein Cookies That Taste Just Like Grandma’s Classics

Strawberry Protein Fudge

*makes six pieces (one serving is three pieces)

Calories:  174 • Carbohydrate: 10g • Fat: 13g  • Protein: 12g • Sugar: 1g • Fiber: 0g

Fudge Ingredients:
1 scoop BodyTech Whey Tech Pro 24 Strawberries & Cream whey protein (31g)
1 Tbsp. confectioners erythritol (15g) or sweetener of choice
1 ½ Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. palm oil shortening (24g)

Topping Ingredients:
1 medium strawberry, chopped (25g)
1 tsp calorie-free strawberry syrup

In a bowl, mix protein and confectioner’s erythritol. Add water, and mix until smooth. Then add palm shortening and mix well. Line a mini loaf pan with parchment paper and spoon fudge mixture into the pan. Refrigerate for several hours so the fudge can set. Top with calorie-free syrup and chopped strawberry and cut into six pieces. Stash any leftovers in the fridge.

No-Bake Snickerdoodle Protein Cheesecake

*makes three servings

Calories:  272 • Carbohydrate: 11g • Fat: 18g  • Protein: 19g • Sugar: 4g • Fiber: 1g

Crust Ingredients:
1 bag (1oz) Cinnamon Ips Chips 

Cheesecake Ingredients:

1 package Neufchâtel cheese (or low-fat cream cheese)
4 oz. plain non-fat Greek yogurt
1 scoop PEScience Snickerdoodle Select Protein

Topping Ingredients:
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
½ Tbsp. erythritol

Crush the Ips Chips, distribute into three individual serving cups, and set aside. In a bowl, mix the Neufchâtel and Greek yogurt until smooth. Then add the protein powder and mix well. Spoon cheesecake mixture into the serving cups and set aside. Mix the erythritol and cinnamon, and sprinkle onto the cheesecake cups. Refrigerate for several hours so the cheesecake can firm up, then enjoy! Store in the refrigerator.

Notes: The cheesecake ingredients mix best at room temperature. You can substitute regular fat-free cream cheese for the Neufchâtel, but the cheesecake may not set as firmly.

Related: Grab a pre-made protein treat when you don’t have time to make your own.

14 Guilt-Free Game Day Snacks That Put Nachos To Shame

Five-layer dip, napkins stained with buffalo wing sauce, and far too many beers—that’s what football season looks like for a lot of people. But this season, you can arm yourself with better-for-you eats in hopes of making it to Super Bowl time with your jeans still buttoned.

We took one for the team and chowed down on tons of snacks to identify the MVPs. (It’s hard work, but somebody’s gotta do it…) Here are the ones that made the cut—and why we liked them so much:

1. Chocolate Almond Butter Pretzel Dunkers

For the perfect combination of salty and sweet, go right ahead and dunk your favorite pretzels (we like Glutino’s gluten-free pretzel twists) in some nut butter. We kicked the snack up a notch by dunking our pretzels in Angry Mills’ Chocolate Chaos caffeinated almond butter.

“This combo tastes like the chocolate-covered pretzels you’d get at the candy store.”—Jessica Prinzi, international regulatory specialist

“This almond butter is really chocolatey, and the caffeine and extra protein are major bonuses!”—Thomas Li, product development specialist

2. Kettle Brand Moscow Mule Potato Chips

Who needs booze when you can enjoy cocktail-flavored potato chips! These thick, crinkle-cut chips are also flavored naturally with ingredients like ginger, lemon, and lime oil.

“Literally a Moscow mule drink in a chip! So good!”—Jennifer Peña, video editor and producer

“These are really flavorful, with a nice hint of spice.”—Nick Marinelli, Director of Regulatory Affairs

3. Epic Bar Sesame BBQ Chicken Jerky Bites

These chicken jerky bites are totally swappable for fat-loaded sesame BBQ wings. And for just 90 calories, you’ll still enjoy a filling eight grams of protein (and just two grams of fat).

“Nice smoky barbecue flavor that’s perfect for summer!”—Jessica Prinzi, international regulatory specialist

“Very soft with a great mouth feel, and very easy to chew. A good light barbecue flavor.”—Dustin Elliott, senior brand manager

4. Three Jerks Maple Bourbon Churro Filet Mignon Jerky

Filet mignon beef jerky is a real thing—and if that alone isn’t tempting enough to your taste buds, a flavor like ‘maple bacon churro’ should be! Three Jerks describes it as “sweet and boozy.” Are you sold yet?

“You can definitely taste the bourbon in here! It has an interesting sweetness to it.”—Lauren Del Turco, associate editor

5. Krave Chili Lime Beef Jerky

Yes, a third jerky option is necessary when you’re opting out of fried wings and hot dogs galore. Krave’s chili lime jerky is so zesty and tender you’ll forget every piece of tough jerky in your past.

“A great combination of spicy and sweet—with a serious kick.”—Andres Arce, international relationships analyst

“This is the perfect spicy, high-protein snack!”—Jessica Prinzi, international regulatory specialist

6. All-Natural Chips and Salsa

Steer clear of sketchy ingredients in chips and dips and go for the more natural ones with Garden of Eatin’s Sesame Blues tortilla chips and Green Mountain Gringo’s medium salsa.

“One of the best salsas I’ve ever tasted.”—Brian Tanzer, Manager of Scientific Affairs

“The chips have a nice crunchy texture that feels really hearty.”—Lauren Del Turco, associate editor

7. Toffee Nut Butter-Dipped Dark Chocolate

Indulge your sweet tooth with clean ingredients and zero guilt by slathering protein-packed Nuts ‘N More Toffee Crunch high-protein peanut butter onto a piece of Endangered Species Chocolate Co.’s Supreme dark chocolate.

“This is a beautiful, luscious combination.” – Lauren Del Turco, associate editor

“A bonfire essential.” –Andres Arce, international relationships analyst

8. Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop Cheddar White Cheddar Popcorn

There’s something really satisfying about licking cheesy goodness off your fingers after a snack. Angie’s white cheddar popcorn lets you do just that—without any of the usual artificial colors and flavors.

“I will sneak this into the movie theater.” – Carl Borman, social media specialist

“Light and tasty, with a nice natural flavor.”—Nick Marinelli, Director of Regulatory Affairs

9. LIFEAID PARTYAID Drink

When you’ve been up late watching the game (or feeling groggy after a few beers), a can of PARTYAID is just what you need. The drink provides electrolytes to keep you hydrated and a whole slew of vitamins (including a bunch of Bs, C, and D) to help you bounce back.

“Tastes like a light-sugar version of my favorite energy drink. So yummy.”—Jennifer Peña, video editor and producer

10. Quest Sour Cream and Onion Protein Chips

Quest’s protein chips satisfy crunch cravings and pack all the intoxicating flavor of sour cream and onion without sacrificing your nutrition. At just 120 calories a bag, they’re fat-free and contain just five grams of carbs—with a whopping 21 grams of whey protein.

“These have that super-pungent but amazing odor of regular sour cream and onion chips—so satisfying.”—Lauren Del Turco, associate editor

11. Icon Meals Canadian Maple Protein Popcorn

If you’re going to treat yourself to some candied popcorn, you might as well get some protein out of it, right? With three grams of fat, 22 grams of carbs, and 10 grams of protein, Icon Meal’s maple popcorn is a more balanced sweet tooth-satisfier than your average treat. Good luck stopping after one serving!

“Breakfast waffle meets popcorn! HEART EYES.”—Carl Borman, social media specialist

“Perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth.”—Brian Tanzer, Manager of Scientific Affairs

12. Enlightened Crispy Marshmallow Treats

Our favorite childhood treat just got a healthier makeover. With nine grams of sugar and 15 grams of protein, they’ll satisfy your sweet tooth and keep you full.

“I could bring these to a party and people would think they’re the original rice cereal marshmallow treats. They’re definitely a good alternative.” –Andres Arce, international relationships analyst

“This is like a marshmallow bar and a rice cake had a child. I love it.” –Thomas Li, product development specialist

13. Zenify Zero Sugar Natural Stress Relief Drink

Any true fan knows that watching their team can be downright stressful. Zenify’s stress-relief drink is loaded with antioxidants (more than 15 cups of green tea’s-worth, to be exact) to help your body fight that final quarter freak-out. It also offers tons of B vitamins and vitamin C.

“If this helps with stress, I wouldn’t mind being stressed out. It’s sweet but not too sweet, and sugar-free! Perfect.”—Carl Borman, social media specialist

“Good flavor with a clean finish and zero aftertaste.”—Dustin Elliott, senior brand manager

14. Protes Tangy Southern BBQ Protein Chips

More macro-friendly than your average barbecue munchies, Protes’ chips are sweet and spicy, with just four grams of fat and 15 grams of protein.

“Great barbecue flavor and very crunchy!” –Jennifer Peña, video editor and producer

How To Finally Strengthen Your Weakest Muscle Groups

We all have a muscle group (or two) that just doesn’t want to pop (lookin’ at you, calves…), and they totally put a damper on our gym selfies. But even if you have genetically-challenged calves—or stubbornly small triceps—you do have some power to help them finally grow.

All it takes is a little strategy, courtesy of Kaged Muscle‘s Kris Gethin. Put Gethin’s advice to work as you train to balance out your bod and make the gains you crave.

 

Related: Fuel your workouts and your muscles with Kaged Muscle supps. 

16 Snacks That Will Help You Survive The Whole30

Could you cut out alcohol, grains, dairy, sugar, soy, legumes, and all things processed for 30 days? That’s the premise of the ever-popular Whole30, a 30-day elimination diet plan that claims to reset your relationship with food, improve energy levels and body composition, ease digestive struggles, and help manage health issues, among a number of other benefits.

Let’s be real: Eating that clean for a month is no easy task—especially if you’re coming off a diet that involved a lot of food out of bags and boxes (think frozen dinners, tortilla chips). And perhaps one of the biggest challenges of the Whole30 is snacking. After all, 99 percent of the goodies in the vending machine or convenience store are a no-go under Whole30’s rules. Honey-wheat pretzel twists? Nope. Granola bars? Nah-uh. Even snacks that seem healthy, like whole-grain crackers and hummus are off-limits.

Arm yourself with Whole30-compliant snacks, though (yes, they exist!) and you just might survive your month-long food experiment without turning into the cookie monster. Here are 15 yummy options, so you can snack your heart out, Whole30-style:

Apple (Or Banana) With Almond Butter

Since peanut butter is off the menu on Whole30 (sob), you’ll have to explore other nut butter options for spreading on fruit. If you’re not a fan of almond butter, try sunflower seed or the incredibly-creamy cashew butter instead.

Frozen Grapes

Fruit will be your sugar craving savior throughout the Whole30, and frozen grapes in particular may rock your taste buds so hard that they’ll be a staple even when your 30 days are up. Every single frozen grape is like a mini sorbet—super sweet and fun to eat.

RXBars

The label says it all: “No B.S.” RXBARs are made with a handful of whole ingredients, without added sugar or anything artificial. Just egg whites, dates, nuts, a few natural spices and flavors—and sometimes unsweetened cocoa or cacao. Bonus: They pack a solid 12 grams of protein. (Just stay away from any of the flavors that involve peanuts.)

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

Veggie Sticks And Guacamole

Because, yes, guacamole is allowed on Whole30 (just check your ingredients if it’s pre-made), and there are plenty of things you can dip with besides chips. Baby carrots, zucchini sticks, or even green beans in a pinch, all get the dipping job done—for far fewer calories and much more nutrition than chips.

Epic Bar Beef Habanero Cherry Bar

When making yourself a snack just isn’t happening—or if you’re traveling—Epic Bar’s protein-packed snacks are perfect for stashing in your purse or gym bag. With just a few whole ingredients like organic beef, walnuts, dried cherries, and seasoning, these bars are some of very few official Whole30-approved packaged eats.

Salted Mixed Nuts

When you cut out pretty much all processed snacks and meals, there’s a good chance you’ve also cut out a ton of salt. Lightly salted nuts make for a satisfying and hunger-squashing snack. Just make sure your mix is peanut-free! Cashews, Brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans, almonds, and all of the seeds under the sun are still fair game.

Hard-Boiled Eggs

Protein lovers, this snack is for you. Hard-boiled eggs are an easy way to squeeze in some protein when you’re on the run and can’t turn to a protein bar or shake. Two large hard-boiled eggs pack about 12 grams of protein.

Related: An Ode To Egg Yolks (Yes, They’re Good For You!)

Zucchini, Beet, Sweet Potato, or Kale Chips

Sometimes you just need crunch—and with a mandolin slicer, an oven, and a little patience, you can make chips from pretty much any vegetable you have in the kitchen. Sprinkle your veggie slices (or kale leaves) with a little olive oil and sea salt, pop them in the oven at 350 degrees until crisp, and enjoy every crunchy bite.

LaCroix Blackberry Cucumber Sparkling Water

Okay, this may not quite be a snack, but if fizzy sips get you through the day, LaCroix naturally-flavored sparkling waters can help you survive soda cravings and ward off snacking out of boredom.

DIY Trail Mix

When tons of store-bought trail mixes involve candy pieces, added sugar, and things like yogurt balls (there’s no way they’re actually yogurt), enjoying this staple snack on Whole30 may mean throwing together your own. All you really need are some nuts, seeds, and dried fruit—but you can also add unsweetened coconut flakes if you want a little extra sweetness. If you’re feeling extra tropical, try a mix of Brazil nuts, cashews, dried pineapple, and coconut flakes.

Sunfoods Superfoods Berry Adventure Mix

There is some hope for store-bought trail mixes though—just hit up a health food store and look for a mix with just a few whole ingredients. Sunfoods Superfoods’ berry mix has a short and sweet ingredient list, containing just cashews, goji berries, and golden berries.

Chia Pudding

The small-but-mighty chia seed packs protein, fiber, and healthy fats—but they can be tricky to eat. To make chia pudding, combine three tablespoons of chia seeds with a cup of coconut milk in a jar and let soak overnight. The chia seeds absorb some of the liquid to form that satisfying pudding texture. You can add unsweetened cocoa powder, chopped nuts, or fresh fruit into the mix for extra flavor.

Veggie Slices And Salsa

Going without hummus is hard for many a Whole30-er—so finding other ways to satisfy the need to dip is essential. Plenty of pre-made salsas are a-okay on Whole30—and super useful for spicing up eggs, ground turkey, and more. Slice up your favorite veggies (we love cucumbers or jicama) and dip away! (And since salsa is lower in calories than guac, you can dip your heart out without going overboard.)

Melon And Prosciutto

When you’re feeling fancy, a few strips of prosciutto wrapped around slices of cantaloupe makes for a great salty-sweet snack. Plus, you can even trick people into eating a Whole30-compliant appetizer at your next barbecue or dinner party.

Collagen Smoothie

Grab your blender and whip yourself up a satisfying and refreshing smoothie—complete with a boost of protein from Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides, which, yep, is Whole30-approved. Just add water, frozen fruit, a scoop of collagen peptides, and a spoonful of nut or seed butter and blend. Frozen mixed berries and almond butter make for a good go-to smoothie—and you can always throw some spinach into the mix for extra veggies.

Related: How To Make The Best Smoothie For Your Goals

Chicken Avocado Lettuce Wraps

This snack feels like a mini meal—and is a great way to clear leftovers out of the fridge. Just grab a few romaine leaves, leftover chicken breast (or whatever other protein you have), a few avocado slices, and wrap it all up. Protein and veggies, all in one! You can add some Whole30-compliant hot sauce or mustard in there, too.

Related: Check out a number of spices, seasonings, and sauces for health-conscious cooking.

5 Healthier Noodles (That Aren’t Zoodles) For When You’re Craving Pasta

Some nights you just really need a comforting, hearty bowl of pasta. We’re talking about that good sauce, fresh basil, and a hefty grating of Parmesan. But when you’re cutting back on carbs or watching your weight, those heavenly noodles can really add up.

A two-ounce serving of regular pasta is about 200 calories, with 42 grams of carbohydrates, seven grams of protein, and just two grams of fiber, says Ashlee Wright, R.D. Even whole-wheat pasta still comes in at around 180 calories, with 39 grams of carbohydrates, and (a more impressive) eight grams of protein and seven grams of fiber.

Luckily, there are tons of healthier pasta alternatives to choose from to satisfy your pasta cravings while saving you a boatload of calories—and we’re not just talking about zoodles. These dietitian-approved noodles are versatile, nutritious, and less calorie-dense than your average spaghetti, so you can treat yourself without a shred of guilt.

1. Shirataki Noodles

These Japanese, noodles, which translate to ‘white waterfall’, are pretty much calorie-less, so it’s no wonder they’re such a popular pasta swap. They’re made with an Asian Yam (a root) called konjac, or konnyaku, and water, explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.

These noodles are thin, translucent, and gelatinous, and have a glossy, white appearance. A serving of regular shirataki noodles has zero calories and under a gram of carbs, Harris-Pincus says. (You can also find tofu shirataki noodles, made of konnyaku and tofu, which have about 10 calories, three grams of carbs, and two grams of fiber per serving.)

Shirataki noodles come in several varieties, so you can have fettuccine one night and spaghetti another. The best part? No prep necessary! Shirataki is pre-cooked, so you just have to drain the water out of the package, rinse, microwave briefly, and pat the noodles dry.

Shirataki noodles make the perfect healthier Pad Thai. Just toss them with peanut sauce, shrimp, and a bunch of vegetables (like broccoli, bok choy, mushrooms, and asparagus), suggests Kelly R. Jones M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.N.

2. Edamame Noodles

Made from green soybeans, a serving of edamame noodles is about 210 calories. But for those calories you get 22 grams of carbs, 25 grams of protein, and 11 grams of fiber, says Jones. Yep, that’s the same amount of protein as a serving of chicken breast. And all that fiber is sure to keep you feeling full!

“Edamame noodles are a fabulous source of plant-based protein,” says Harris-Pincus. Because the noodles contain so much protein, you don’t even need to add extra to the meal. What’s more, they also supply a quarter of your daily potassium needs and a third of your daily iron needs.

You’ll prepare edamame noodles just like you would regular pasta. Jones recommends tossing them with a no-sugar added tomato sauce and a serving of vegetables for a quick weeknight meal. (Harris-Pincus likes hers with a garlicky pesto sauce.)

Related: 7 Vegetarian Protein Sources

3. Chickpea Pasta

Chickpeas can do so much more than hummus. A serving of chickpea pasta is about 190 calories, with 32 grams of carbs, 14 grams of protein, and eight grams of fiber, says Jones. They’re also a good source of iron.

The flavor and texture of chickpea pasta is similar to whole-wheat pasta. It’s available in a bunch of pasta shapes and cooks up just like normal pasta. The ingredient list is pretty slim, too, typically just chickpea flour, tapioca, pea protein, and xanthan gum (for binding purposes), says Wright. Jones likes to use shell or elbow-shaped chickpea pasta for homemade macaroni and cheese or summer pasta salads.

4. Black Bean Pasta

Black bean pasta is made from just black bean flour, and offers 14 grams of protein, a whopping 15 grams of fiber, and 35 grams of carbs per 200-calorie serving, says Wright.  Like edamame noodles, black bean pasta is higher in calories—but those calories are more balanced with protein and fiber than plain old pasta. Plus, it provides about a quarter of your daily iron needs, says Wright.

Black bean pasta is perfect for a quick weeknight Mexican dish. “While the pasta is cooking, sauté garlic, onions, some frozen corn, and spinach in a sauce pan,” suggests Jones. Toss your veggies into the pasta and top with salsa and avocado.

5. Buckwheat Pasta

You’ll often hear buckwheat noodles referred to as Japanese soba noodles, says Jones. And despite its name, buckwheat doesn’t actually contain wheat—it’s a seed! (Many mainstream soba noodle brands do contain traces of wheat flour, though, so check your labels. Look for a brand that’s made from just buckwheat flour and water, suggests Jones.)

At 200 calories, with 43 grams of carbs, six grams of protein, and three grams of protein per serving, soba noodles are the closest to regular pasta calorie-wise, says Jones. But because buckwheat is naturally high in phosphorus (important for our bones) and zinc (important for our immune and nervous systems), it has a bit of a nutritional edge over the other stuff, says Jones.

Soba noodles work well in Asian-inspired dishes like stir-fries. “Add your favorite stir-fry sauce, vegetables like broccoli and peppers, and a protein like shrimp, chicken, or tofu,” says Jones.

Related: Shop a full selection of healthy kitchen ingredients.

5 Protein Myths—Debunked

Of the three macronutrients that make up our diet (carbs, protein, and fats), protein often gets all the glory.

And, yeah, it’s pretty magical. Protein is a part of all cell structures (like our organs and muscles), and it helps us build enzymes and hormones, support our immune system, and feel full, says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. All important things—especially if you’re physically active!

But that doesn’t mean you need to eat chicken breast for every meal of the day. Get your head straight about these protein myths to make sure you’re getting the most benefit out of this muscle-building macro.

Myth #1: More protein is always better.

Exactly how much protein you need per day depends on a few things, like your size, sex, and activity level. But generally, the most you really need is about a gram per pound of lean body mass per day (if you’re working out really hard), says Albert Matheny, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab. The key here is lean body mass. So if you weigh 200 pounds and 175 of that is lean mass, you’d need 175 grams of protein per day. (Most gyms or trainers can help you estimate your lean body mass.)

When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into molecules called amino acids, which are then sent to your muscles and tissues where needed. “The body can use about 25 to 30 grams of protein at a time for things like muscle growth and repair,” says Harris-Pincus. For example, a smaller woman who trains a few times can probably utilize about 20 grams at a time, while a larger, active guy may tap out around 35 grams per sitting, says Matheny. Once you’ve fulfilled your body’s needs, any protein you consume is just extra calories.

“Too much of anything can be a problem,” says Matheny. So eating tons of processed foods like bacon just because they contain protein isn’t a great idea. Look at the food as a whole, not just its protein content. “Get your protein from whole foods instead of processed stuff that comes along with additional calories but few nutrients,” says Harris-Pincus.

Myth #2: Protein automatically goes to your muscles.

So now you know that your body can only use about 25 to 30 grams of protein for your muscles and tissues at a time. Anything beyond that is a different story…

Protein is great and all, but it does still have calories—four calories per gram, to be exact. The protein your body can’t use for its primary purpose basically gets broken down like a carb, says Matheny. That means it’s either used for energy or stored as fat. So, hate to burst your bubble, but more protein doesn’t automatically equal more muscle.

It’s all about balance: Too much protein (and calories) and you can still gain weight, says Harris-Pincus. Meanwhile, too few calories (even if they’re all protein) and you won’t build an ounce of muscle, says Matheny. “If you’re not meeting your calorie needs, your body focuses on maintaining the muscle it already has, not building more,” he says.

Myth #3: Plant proteins aren’t as good as animal proteins.

No two proteins are created equal—but that doesn’t mean they don’t all deserve a spot in your diet. Different protein sources contain different types and amounts of amino acids, and there are nine ‘essential’ amino acids we can only get from food, says Matheny.

“Animal proteins have higher amounts of branched-chain amino acids in amounts that have been shown to support muscle synthesis and growth,” he says. Meanwhile, plant proteins are often lower in branched-chain amino acids or other essential amino acids.

As long as you eat a balanced diet, though, chances are you’re getting all of the aminos you need. The full nutritional picture of a food is more important than how much protein (and how many of which amino acids) it contains, says Harris-Pincus. “Your body needs a variety of foods for a variety of nutrients to prevent disease and keep you healthy all life-long,” she says. Harris-Pincus recommends mixing up your protein sources and incorporating plant proteins (like beans and whole grains) and animal proteins (like chicken and whey supplements).

Related: 7 Protein Sources For Vegetarians

Just because those plant proteins don’t pack as mean an amino acid punch, doesn’t mean they’re not valuable: Plant-based diets not only help protect the body from oxidative stress and inflammation, but also help ward off issues common later in life, like metabolic syndrome and neurodegenerative diseases, according to a review published in Trends in Food Science and Technology.

Myth #4: Eating too much protein is bad for your kidneys and bones.

Yes, protein gets processed through your kidneys. But if you have healthy kidneys and eat a balanced diet that includes a sane amount of protein, you’re not going to damage them, says Harris-Pincus. (And by ‘sane amount’, we mean Matheny’s recommendation of one gram of protein per pound of lean body weight per day, or less. Not 300 grams of protein a day.)

And what about your bones? The theory here is that eating too much protein increases the amount of acid in your body, so you pull calcium from your bones to neutralize that acid, says Harris-Pincus. But not to worry, a high-protein diet hasn’t been clearly shown to harm bone health, according to a review and meta-analysis published in Current Opinions in Lipidology. The paper’s authors suggest that a high-protein diet may actually support bone health and that healthy people should not limit their protein intake for fear of leaching calcium from their bones.

Myth #5: Protein Supplements Are The Same As Whole Food Proteins.

If you’re eating just plain, skinless chicken breast, yeah, you’re getting mostly protein—but whole food protein sources are typically a package deal, and provide protein along with other nutrients, says Matheny. (The additional vitamins and minerals are often accompanied by some fat or carbs, adding some calories to many whole food proteins.)

Protein supplements, though, are all about getting as much protein per calorie, says Matheny. And while they’re a more calorie-efficient source of protein than most animal sources (25 grams of protein from whey is about 120 calories, while 25 grams of protein from sirloin steak is up around 245), supplements shouldn’t be your only source of protein. “If you’re just getting your protein from supplements, you’re missing out on a lot of vitamins and minerals and losing the balance needed in your diet for general health,” says Matheny.

That being said, protein supplements can be hugely helpful tools. “Protein powder is great for augmenting foods that otherwise don’t provide much protein, like oatmeal,” says Harris-Pincus. A protein shake is also a portable alternative to skipping breakfast or making a desperate stop at a drive-thru.

And, since that protein shake is digested quickly, it can be especially beneficial before or after exercise, when your body needs protein quickly in order to rebuild the protein in your muscles that break down during training.

Related: Find the best whey or plant-based protein supplement for your lifestyle.

 

 

What A Day Of Sugar-Free Eating Looks Like

There’s no getting around it—eating too much sugar can be really bad for your health.

High consumption of the sweet stuff is associated with type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Recent research published by the AHA even found a connection between drinking sweetened beverages and higher risks of dementia and stroke.

While the AHA recommends that women consume no more than six teaspoons (or 24 grams) of added sugar per day, and men consume no more than nine teaspoons (or 36 grams), the average American takes in a whopping 22 teaspoons of added sugar in a single day.

Considering sugar is hiding in tons of packaged foods and drinks under names like malt, molasses, fruit juice concentrates, corn syrup, and anything ending in “ose,” it’s no wonder we’re taking in so much of the stuff. Take a look at your ingredient labels and you’ll often find added sugar in everything from flavored yogurt to granola to cereal to bread to condiments like sriracha and barbecue sauce.

Related: 8 Foods That Pack A Surprising Amount Of Sugar

The best way to slash added sugar is to stick to a diet of whole, fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and meat, says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D.N., author of The MIND Diet. We know that’s easier said than done, so we asked a few nutrition experts to walk us through a day of sugar-free eating—and it’s much simpler (and tastier) than you might think.

Breakfast

With sugary cereals, instant oatmeal packets, and coffee shop pastries dominating the standard American breakfast, the best way to start the day off added-sugar-free is to whip up something quick at home.

Try this option: Make a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal (you can prep it in bulk for the week), and stir in a spoonful of peanut butter. Then top with strawberries and a sprinkle of hemp hearts. “It’s a hearty breakfast that supplies whole grains, healthy fats, naturally sweet berries, some protein, and heart and brain-healthy omega-3s,” Moon says.

And, if you’re not in the mood for oatmeal, go for yogurt or eggs, which are both high in protein to keep cravings at bay.

Rizzo likes to mix a cup of fruit (like papaya or berries) into a cup of plain Greek yogurt and top it all with a teaspoon of unsweetened shredded coconut for healthy fats. Not only does yogurt pack protein, but it also contains probiotics to improve digestion and keep you regular.

If you’re making eggs, just add some veggies and extra protein (like low-fat cheese, avocado, black beans, or smoked salmon) to the mix, Rizzo says.

Related: 8 Breakfasts That Pack Between 20 And 30 Grams Of Protein

A.M. Snack

When you’re stomach starts growling mid-morning, don’t reach for a sweetened granola bar to hold you over. If you usually go on a coffee run before lunch, have a latte made with just unsweetened almond milk to avoid sipping on added sugars, suggests Moon. And for your mid-morning snack, grab a piece of fruit (like a nectarine) and an ounce of almonds, pistachios, or walnuts. The sweetness of the fruit satisfies any sugar cravings, while the nuts provide protein and heart-healthy fats to fill you up, Moon says.

Lunch

A green, nutrient-rich salad is a favorite lunch for many nutrition experts. The key is to make your own dressing and choose toppings wisely to avoid added sugar.

Start out with a mixture of romaine, kale, and spinach, and top it with a serving of quality protein, like grilled chicken breast or salmon, recommends Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D. Then add in a serving of avocado (a third of a medium fruit) which adds creaminess and helps your salad fill you up for just about 80 calories. Top your salad with a drizzle of olive oil and your favorite vinegar for a dose of healthy fats and a punch of acidity to tie everything together.

You can even make a satisfying salad without the meat by topping mixed baby greens with quinoa or farro for fiber and edamame for plant-based protein, suggests Moon. From there, add your favorite colorful veggies, like red bell peppers, avocados, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, and more. Then drizzle with olive oil, your favorite vinegar, and a small pinch of salt and pepper. Tons of flavor, zero added sugar.

P.M. Snack                           

Afternoon cravings are often the undoing of our sugar-free eating efforts. Trade the trip to the vending machine for a nutritionist-approved snack like air-popped popcorn with a dash of sea salt, suggests Rizzo.

If you need something a little more substantial, munch on a handful of unsalted peanuts and a few raisins. The combo tastes just like peanut butter and jelly, says Rizzo. Or, munch on a cup of steamed edamame or roasted crunchy chickpeas. Both are packed with fiber and sugar, she says.

And if you typically reach for a soda in the afternoon, go for a refreshing naturally-flavored sparkling water instead, says Moon. Just avoid any sparkling beverages that use artificial sweeteners and flavors. (We love LaCroix’s fun flavors.)

Dinner

A mix of whole-food complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and protein at dinner is all you need at your evening meal.

To keep things simple, you might have a serving of grilled fish (like salmon or halibut) with a side of green vegetables (like green beans or Brussels sprouts) and a serving of either brown rice or beans, says Rizzo.

When you’re in the mood for something heartier, toss whole-wheat pasta with shrimp and sautéed broccoli florets and top with a fresh tomato and white wine sauce, suggests Moon. (Make the sauce yourself, since the canned stuff often packs added sugar.)

Dessert

If you feel like you need some sweetness at the end of the day (hey, we all do!), it is possible to get your dessert in without added sugar coming along to the party.

Try this: Drizzle a tablespoon of warmed all-natural peanut butter and a teaspoon of sliced almonds over frozen banana slices—it’s a favorite of Elizabeth Ann Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T.

Or, top a plain rice cake with a third-cup of plain cottage cheese (mix in cinnamon or vanilla extract for extra flavor) and a teaspoon each of dried blueberries and chopped walnuts, Shaw recommends. This sweet and texture-filled dessert provides protein and heart-healthy fats, she says.

Related: Shop a number of pantry staples for a healthier kitchen.

Consider this infographic your sugar-free menu: 

9 Nutrients You May Be Short On If You Don’t Eat Dairy

Just about everyone has dietary restrictions these days—in fact, many people cut out entire food groups, like dairy. Whether you have a milk allergy, are lactose intolerant, or just aren’t a fan, it’s important to be aware that ditching dairy may mean potentially missing out on a number of key nutrients.

Thing is, dairy foods are pretty jam-packed with the good stuff. Cow’s milk contains nine essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin B2 (riboflavin). Cheese also provides protein, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B2, and vitamin B12. And yogurt (especially Greek yogurt) packs a good dose of protein, plus calcium and ever-important probiotics.

Don’t worry, though, you can find these nutrients in non-dairy sources. Just know that you may need to eat several different types of those foods to reach the amount of the nutrients in dairy.

1. Protein

We’ve put protein on a pedestal because of its ability to squash hunger and support and repair tissues and muscles. A cup of dairy milk contains eight grams of protein—but this is one nutrient you’ll have no problem making up for elsewhere. (Men need a bare minimum of 56 grams per day and women need at least 46 grams—but most of us get much more.)

Just one ounce of most animal proteins like meat, poultry, and fish provides as much (if not more) protein as that glass of milk. (A three-ounce chicken breast gets you about 26 grams.) Eggs come close with six grams of protein per egg. Plus, plenty of plants also provide similar levels of protein as milk. Tofu comes in around 10 grams of protein per four ounces, beans provide about six  grams per half-cup, nuts provide about six grams per ounce, and whole grains contain about three grams per quarter-cup serving.

Related: 7 Vegetarian Protein Sources

2. Calcium and Vitamin D

I’m putting these two together because the pair is crucial for your bones—and many Americans fall short on both nutrients. (Vitamin D also plays an important role in your immune function.) Adults need about 600 IUs of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.

One cup of milk contains about 305 mg of calcium, while an ounce of hard cheese contains about around 200. Most milk is fortified to provide about 120 IUs of vitamin D, while that cheese supplies about six IUs. Many almond milks are also fortified with enough calcium and vitamin D to be a fair replacement for cow’s milk.

Other sources of calcium include canned salmon (including the soft bones), which offers 180mg per three ounces, firm tofu (320 mg per half a block), almonds (80mg per ounce), spinach (240mg per cup), and broccoli (180mg per cup).

Vitamin D, which is pretty darn tough to get from food, can be found in sockeye salmon (440 IUs in three ounces) and eggs (40 IUs per whole egg).

Related: Find a vitamin D supplement to help you fill nutritional (and sunshine) gaps.

3. Phosphorus

This mineral tag-teams with calcium to keep bones and teeth strong, and also helps strengthen your immune system. You’ll get 224mg phosphorus in a cup of milk, and adults need 700mg per day.

You’ll find phosphorus in other animal proteins like turkey (131 mg per three ounces), and sardines (215mg per three ounces, canned), and scallops (340mg per three and a half ounces). It’s also found in plant sources like quinoa (149mg per half -up), almonds (880mg per ounce), Brazil nuts (885mg per ounce) and in chia (265mg per tablespoon) and sesame seeds (21mg per tablespoon).

4. Potassium

This electrolyte (a type of mineral) is a key player in establishing normal heart rhythm and stable blood pressure levels. Milk provides around 342 mg potassium per cup, and adults need about 4,700mg a day.

When dairy is off the table, turn to produce for your potassium—it’s pretty easy to find! Fruits and veggies like bananas (422mg per banana), white potato (1626mg per baked tater with skin), apricots (650mg per two ounces, dried) and kidney beans (655mg per cup) are some of the richest sources out there.

5. Vitamin A

Vitamin A protects your skin and promotes good vision. Most milk is fortified with vitamin A, providing around 499 IUs per cup. We need about 10,000 IUs a day.

Our bodies convert beta-carotene, which gives plants their orangey color, into vitamin A. Sweet potatoes (a whopping 11,916IU per three ounces), carrots (10,691IU per half-cup, chopped), cantaloupe (5987IU per cup), and winter squash (22,869IU per cup) all provide some. You can also get vitamin A from spinach (2,183IU per cup).

6. Riboflavin

Also known as vitamin B2, this vitamin impacts energy production at a cellular level and generally helps keep cells in good shape. A cup of milk provides about 0.5mg, which is half of an adult’s daily B2 needs.

Beef liver (2.9mg per three ounces), clams (0.4mg per three ounces), and mushrooms (0.3mg per half-cup) all supply some riboflavin. This is another one that’s found in fortified cereals (1.7mg per serving).

7. Magnesium

The most abundant mineral in our body, magnesium plays a role in hundreds of different processes. (A few: blood sugar function, cardiovascular function, and digestion.) You’ll find 28mg of magnesium in a cup of milk. While women need about 320mg per day, men need about 420mg.

Plant foods like almonds (105mg per quarter cup) and sunflower seeds (128mg per ounceounce) contain magnesium. You can also find it in shrimp (36 mg per three ounces).

8. Zinc

Zinc is important for proper wound healing and actually impacts your perception of taste and smell—fun fact! Milk has 1.1mg of zinc. Guys need about 11mg a day, while women need about eight.

Get your fill of zinc from non-dairy foods like oysters (74mg per three ounces), crab (6.5 mg per three ounces), beef (7mg per three ounces), and baked beans (2.9mg per half-cup).

9. Probiotics

Last but not least are probiotics. These beneficial bacteria help your gut take better care of you; they boost immunity and can help ward off digestive woes. When you think probiotics, you probably think yogurt or kefir—and although the amounts and strains of probiotics in yogurts vary, varieties labeled “contains active, live cultures” are sure to provide some of the good stuff.

Luckily, probiotics are also pretty easy to find in non-dairy foods. Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and pickles are natural sources of probiotics. You can also find it in super-trendy kombucha, a drink made from fermented tea.

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

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 HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

Stop Letting These 4 Carb Myths Run Your Life

Carbohydrates have been the enemy of the diet world for pretty much forever. They’ve been long accused of making us gain weight, and it seems like every trendy diet out there recommends we slash them from our daily eats.

But if you’ve ever tried a low-carb diet, you probably know the feeling of being absolutely drained that comes along with it. And that’s not surprising: Carbs are a powerful source of energy for our body. They’re composed of strings of glucose molecules, which our body breaks down into sugar molecules, says nutritionist Kara Landau, founder of The Traveling Dietitian. These sugar molecules are used as energy or stored to be used later, she says.

“Carbs are the preferred fuel source for our brain and our muscles,” she says. “They help us concentrate, perform optimally, and stay energized.” Sounds pretty important, right?

Still, misunderstandings about carbs are everywhere, so we’re busting some of the most popular myths out there in hopes of convincing you that carbs can be part of your life.

Myth #1: Carbs Make You Fat

We know you’ve heard this one before. But the connection between carbs and weight gain is a little more complicated than “carbs equal fat,” says Keri Gans, R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. Whether or not carbs affect the scale comes down to quantity and quality, she says.  

Eat too many carbs—or too much of anything, for that matter—and you may take in too many calories, which leads to weight gain, Gans explains. You don’t have to completely break up with pasta and bread if you’re watching your weight—but you do need to control your portion sizes, she says. Just fill half of your plate with veggies, a quarter with protein, and the other quarter with high-fiber carbs. Choose carbs like legumes, beans, and whole-wheat pasta to get a dose of that filling fiber, she says.

Related: How To Eat Carbs And Still Lose Weight

When these carbs are just a portion of a healthy, balanced meal—and not the focus—you’ll feel satisfied without going overboard. Gans recommends serving pasta with sautéed vegetables and olive oil instead of dousing it in cheese, and making sandwiches with grilled chicken breast and avocado instead of processed deli meats.

Myth #2: All Carbs Are The Same

If a serving of soda and a serving of fruit contain the same amount of carbs, they’re pretty similar, right? Wrong.

Foods and drinks that contain refined carbs (like white flour and added sugar) do a pretty poor job of keeping you full and providing nutrition, says Landau. “When you eat cookies, cake, or candy, your blood sugar spikes and then nose dives quickly,” Gans says. And when your blood sugar dips back down, you’ll want to eat again to bring it up a bit—explaining the vicious cycle of all-day cravings. Plus, refined carbs are often pretty devoid of valuable vitamins and minerals, hence why they’re often called ‘empty calories,’ says Landau.

That’s not the case with natural, whole sources of carbs, like fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and beans, says Landau. These wholesome carbs provide micronutrients our body needs, along with fiber. Dietary fiber is critical for slowing your digestion, making you feel full, and supporting your metabolism, Landau says. Some whole-food carbs even contain an indigestible type of fiber called ‘prebiotic fiber,’ which works to keep your gut healthy by supporting your digestion, immune system, and ability to absorb nutrients, she says.

So, yeah, go ahead and bit into that apple. The soda can go, though.

Myth #3: You Should Cut Carbs To Lose Weight And Be Healthier

When it comes to your daily diet, no food group should be ‘off limits,’ Gans says. If you swear off carbs, you’re practically guaranteed to go overboard when you do eventually eat them, she says.

Yes, cutting certain carbs can benefit your waistline and your overall health. If you’re going to slash carbs, just slash refined carbs and added sugars, says Landau. By now, you already know that whole-food carbs are better for your waistline—and they may also be better for your brain. You know that joke we’ve all made about being addicted to carbs? According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a super-high-carb meal activates the part of the brain associated with cravings, reward, and addiction.

Related: Is Sugar Really All That Bad For You?

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Just swap out white pasta for pasta made from legumes (chickpea pasta is a good option) and ditch side dishes like white rice for sweet potatoes. This way, the carbs you eat provide fiber and nutrients to support your health and keep you from going overboard, says Landau.

Myth #4: You Should Only Eat Carbs At Certain Times Of Day 

Only eat carbs after you work out? No carbs after lunchtime? There are plenty of ‘rules’ about when you should eat carbs floating around out there. But ultimately, the quality of the carbs you eat—and how much total you consume—throughout the day is what really matters, says Landau.

Sure, if you’re snacking in front of the TV or computer after dinner, you might be more inclined to munch on foods that are high in refined carbs and sugar, like snack mixes or sleeves of cookies, says Landau. And because these foods don’t keep you full, you end up overeating. Instead, reach for a filling snack bar that’s made from nuts and contains fiber (like KIND’s Madagascar Vanilla Almond bar) or a serving of your favorite fruit. It’s all about eating healthy carbs in the proper portions—and pairing them with quality protein or fat, Gans says. We’ll have a spoonful of peanut butter on our evening apple, please!

Related: Check out fiber supplements to keep your gut—and waistline—happy.

What Does ‘Alkaline’ Really Mean?

The word ‘alkaline’ is all over Instagram and health food labels—but as trendy as it is (and cool as it sounds), do you know what it actually means?

Let’s take a trip back to high school chem class. Remember the pH scale? In case you forgot, it’s a way of measuring how acidic or basic (a.k.a. alkaline) something is. Lemon juice, for example? Pretty darn acidic. Bleach? That’d be a base.

The pH scale ranges from zero to 14. Anything below 7.0 is considered acidic, while anything above 7.0 is considered alkaline, explains Jennifer Stagg, naturopathic physician and author of Unzip Your Genes: 5 Choices to Reveal a Radically Radiant You. (A pH of seven is considered neutral.)

Depending on their function, certain parts of your body are more acidic or alkaline. Think of it like how your body maintains a certain temperature to work properly. For example, your blood has a slightly alkaline pH of around 7.4, says nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto, R.D. (This helps your body carry out all of the metabolic reactions and processes necessary for it to function properly, says Stagg.) Meanwhile, your stomach is very acidic (anywhere from 1.5 to 3.5) because it has to break down food, says Rissetto.

Should The pH Scale Influence Your diet?

That’s where the concept of the alkaline diet comes in. The fad, beloved by celebs, is based on the idea that eating certain foods and avoiding others can help your body (specifically your blood) maintain a health-promoting pH.

Here’s the thing: The logic falls flat. The theory that chowing down on high-alkaline foods to help regulate your blood’s pH is totally incorrect, says Rissetto. “Food can’t change the acidity or alkalinity of your blood,” she says. Why? Just like your body works to maintain a proper body temperature, it also regulates the pH of your blood. (Remember the term ‘homeostasis?’ If not, it’s the state of balance in which your body functions at its best.)

What your diet can determine, however, is the pH of your urine, she says. There may be some benefit to having urine that’s slightly alkaline, such as a potentially lower risk for kidney stones, according to Stagg. But that whole homeostasis thing applies here, too: Highly acidic urine can be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes, while highly alkaline urine can indicate a UTI or kidney failure, says Rissetto.

The Alkaline Diet Menu

Still, the alkaline diet is pretty dang popular—and can be pretty dang healthy, too. On the diet, you eat tons of fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds that have high pHs. Spinach, kale, leafy greens, broccoli, avocado, celery, and cucumber are some of the most alkaline foods out there, says Stagg. Meanwhile, foods like artichokes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, leeks, peas, pumpkins, onions, watercress, and summer squash, are more mildly alkaline, says Rissetto.

Off the menu are acidic foods like eggs, dairy, meat, most grains, alcohol, and caffeine. (Soy, which is high alkaline, is one of the main protein sources on this diet.) The alkaline diet is similar to a vegan diet in that it’s plant-based and pretty restrictive, says Stagg.

Related: 7 Plant-Based Protein Sources

Alkaline Foods And Your Health

Alkaline diet advocates have suggested that the benefits of eating this way include everything from weight loss to less chronic pain to a lower risk of high blood pressure. The thing is, though, it’s not the foods’ high pHs that are responsible for these health benefits. It’s the fact that they’re plants.

Plant foods are generally packed with important nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. “Large-scale studies on plant-based diets have shown improved outcomes on most measures of chronic disease like cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer,” says Stagg.

And the weight loss? Also credited to the fact that the foods allowed on the alkaline diet are incredibly healthy, says Rissetto. (They also tend to pack a lot of fiber, which helps you feel fuller for longer.)

There are even alkaline-branded waters, which often add minerals like potassium and magnesium (which are high-alkaline) added, says Stagg. Again, the pH levels of these minerals don’t matter, but our body does need the minerals for optimal function, especially after losing them through sweat during exercise, she explains

Plus, the restriction of processed foods (and the added sugars in them) on the alkaline diet also benefits our health. Case in point: A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those who got more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar had a higher risk of dying from heart disease than those kept their consumption of the sweet stuff low. So, alkaline diet or not, passing on candy bars and soda is just a good idea.

The Bottom Line

Your body can take care of its various pH levels perfectly fine on its own, thank you very much, but incorporating aspects of an alkaline diet—like loading up on fresh fruits and greens—into your daily life certainly can’t hurt.

Related: Finds a greens supplement to up your intake of the good stuff.

10 Protein-Packed Meals In Mason Jars

Healthy work lunches can be a struggle—if you’re not a master meal prepper (…yet), you either end up spending 15 dollars at an overpriced salad bar, or eating the same mixed greens day after day (or snagging yet another bagel leftover from a morning meeting).

Grab a six-pack of Mason jars, though, and you’ve got the perfect vehicle for healthy—and beautiful!—work lunches all week long. Yes, a lot of Mason jar recipes out there are salads—but they’re anything but boring.

What better motivation do you need to kick your meal-prep game into high gear?

We rounded up some of the most enchanting Mason jar recipes on the world wide web so you’ll never have to wonder about what to bring for lunch again. And, since each of these meals packs a solid dose of protein, you’ll be satisfied straight through quitting time.

photo: Comfortably Domestic

Chef Salad

This classic salad is the perfect starter Mason jar lunch. With a variety of flavors, textures, and cheesy goodness, Comfortably Domestic’s recipe is easy to prep and enjoy all week long. Cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, hard-boiled eggs, lean turkey, and lean ham all provide protein, for a total of about 13 grams total per jar.

photo: Savoring the Thyme

Shrimp and Feta Cobb Salad

Something about Savoring the Thyme’s recipe feels like summer. The shrimp puts a fun spin on your usual Cobb salad—but all of the other usual flavors (like red onion, cucumber, and tomato) are there, too! With the combo of feta cheese, shrimp, egg, and bacon, this salad comes in around 30 grams of protein.

photo: Cookie+Kate

Chickpea, Farro, and Greens Salad

Cookie+Kate’s meat-free Mason jar salad recipe is perfect for #MeatlessMonday—and every other day of the week. Plus, it packs the protein you need, plant-style, providing about 19 grams of protein per serving.

Related: 7 Vegetarian Protein Sources

photo: Foxes Love Lemons

Asian Noodle Salad

This is not your average Mason jar meal. Foxes Love Lemons puts a twist on the usual jarred salad with this Asian-inspired noodle dish. And, there’s spicy peanut dressing—need we say more? This flavor-packed meal contains about eight grams of protein from the edamame, noodles, and good ol’ PB.

photo: The Seasoned Mom

Chicken Taco Salad

Tacos are pretty much impossible to eat at your desk—otherwise we’d do it all the time. But swap the taco shell for a jar and throw in some extra lettuce, and you can make a salad that tastes just as good. This recipe from The Seasoned Mom uses Greek yogurt for a lightened-up dressing, and packs additional protein from black beans, cheddar cheese, and chicken breast, for about 38 grams (oh yeah!) of protein a pop.

photo: Hungry Girl

Cup o’ Zucchini Noodles and Chicken

Nothing is as comforting (or bloat-inducing) as a nice cup of noodles. But Hungry Girl gives this quick lunch a healthy makeover (sans-bloat, since the noodles are replaced with zucchini) with her chicken and zoodle soup jar recipe. It provides all the yummies from your favorite chicken noodle soup—like mushrooms, peas, and carrots—and packs 30 grams of protein per serving.

photo: Food Faith Fitness

Turkey Burger Salad

Pack all the flavor of a burger into a portable lunch with this recipe from Food Faith Fitness. Caramelized onions and a tomato sauce dressing kick up the flavor of often-bland turkey for a meal that contains 28 grams of protein.

photo: The Girl on Bloor

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

Another plant-based meal, The Girl on Bloor’s chickpea-based recipe is aromatic and bursting with fresh ingredients. Sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, red onion, and plenty of herbs make for a taste bud party that also provides about seven grams of protein (if you divide the recipe into three portions). You can always bump up the protein by adding tuna or another type of bean into the mix.

photo: Eating Bird Food

Strawberry Spinach Salad

If your sweet tooth is in full swing all day long (no judgment!), this is the Mason jar recipe you need in your life. Eating Bird Food’s salad sweetens up lunchtime with fresh strawberries and a citrusy poppy seed dressing. You’ll get your dose of veggies from asparagus, cucumbers, and avocado—plus a good 30 grams of protein from the chicken and spinach.

Related: 8 Nutritionists Share How They Satisfy Their Sweet Cravings

photo: The Healthy Maven

Tropical Sriracha Chicken Salad

Were you sold at sriracha? Us too. The Healthy Maven’s recipe definitely provides the funky flair you need after weeks and weeks of lame work lunches. The chicken marinade and dressing are both full of big flavors, like sriracha and lime, that blend perfectly with the avocado and pineapple in the salad. Each sweet and spicy serving packs upwards of 30 grams of protein.

Related: Mason jars not your thing? Check out a number of other meal-prep containers.

Is Your Fitness Routine Missing This Key Component?

You might think it’s enough to make it to that 6 o’clock spin class (because, let’s face it, sometimes that’s tough), but the truth is, what you do in the hours and days following that workout are just as important for maintaining your fitness.

Without adequate recovery time, your body might not be able to properly rebound from a workout—essentially stealing the benefits of working out in the first place! And if you’re too sore or tired to make it out the door, you may not even make it to that next workout.

To keep your fitness performance—and results—going strong, your recovery plan needs to be just as much a part of your routine as your gym sessions themselves. Here, experts share the key components for effective recovery, so your body can bounce back post-workout and better prepare for the next one.

Cool Down

As tempting as it is to plop right down on the couch immediately after finishing a run or to get right into the car after nailing your last rep at the gym, spending a few minutes to cool down really will do your body good. Cool-downs help keep oxygen and nutrients flowing to your just-worked muscles to start the recovery process and ease your body back into normal everyday movement, says Ngo Okafor, personal trainer, NIKE+NYC coach, and creator of FitMatch.

When you finish up a workout, your heart rate is elevated, your body temperature is higher than usual, and your blood vessels are dilated—so if you stop moving too quickly you might end up feeling dizzy or sick to your stomach, according to the American Heart Association.

Related: Are You Doing Too Much HIIT?

Try to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes cooling down by walking or moving through a few drills, like planks or lunges, which still engage the muscles while allowing the heart rate to come down after high-intensity work, Okafor says.

Get Your Fluids In

Your body needs ample water to maintain even its most basic functions, so you’ll want to drink up after a workout—especially if you got super sweaty.

Make sure you’ve got a full bottle handy before and after you exercise, and that you’re hydrating regularly throughout the rest of the day. Okafor recommends that active men shoot for close to four liters of water a day, and active women shoot for close to three liters.

To really replenish after a grueling workout, you can also add some electrolytes or adaptogenic herbs to your drink, suggests CrossFit coach and nutritional therapy practitioner at Reebok, Emily Schromm, C.P.T. You’ve heard about electrolytes a hundred times, but in case you need a refresher, electrolytes are minerals like potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium, found in your bodily fluids (like sweat) that help to maintain your blood and muscle function.

Meanwhile, adaptogens are compounds found in a number of plants that help your body react and adapt to stress, supporting energy and vitality both in the short-term and over time. (You can find adaptogens and electrolytes in a few forms, including powders, capsule, and liquids.)

Massage It Out

Okay, you probably won’t need much convincing to get behind this recovery technique—but massages are as helpful for recovery as they are wonderful. When you directly stimulate the muscles, you boost circulation and promote relaxation, which can help ward off soreness and risk for injury, says Okafor.

Sure, you can book yourself a full-body massage (you’ve earned it!)—but you can also get the job done on your own. Here’s what to do: Gently roll a lacrosse ball, massage stick, or foam roller, over your major muscle groups. Pay special attention to big muscles, like your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lats, says Schromm. Because these muscle groups do so much of the work when you exercise, they really tend to tighten up after an intense workout.

If you find a trigger point or ‘knot,’ which is essentially an extra-taut band of muscle, apply direct pressure until the discomfort fades away, Okafor says. Continue to work on that spot until the intensity of the discomfort lessens.

Although it may be uncomfortable at times, especially if you’re tense, Schromm recommends performing self-massage daily—especially both before and after tough workouts.

Refuel Right

After a workout, there are two nutrients you definitely want to stock up on: protein and carbohydrates. Without them, your body won’t have the tools it needs to bounce back and grow stronger.

Carbs restore the energy stored in your muscles (called ‘glycogen’) that you burn through when you work out. Research shows that when carbs are consumed immediately after exercise, they’re more effectively stored in muscle as glycogen, where they help prevent muscle breakdown and set the body up for optimal performance, according to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine.

Meanwhile, protein provides the body with the amino acids it needs to rebuild muscle in the process of protein synthesis—which is crucial for ensuring you benefit from your workouts and build muscle, instead of lose it.

Both Okafor and Schromm recommend consuming both carbs and protein within an hour after finishing your workout in a ratio of about four parts carbs to one part protein.

There are plenty of ways to refuel with this carb-protein combo: A banana with nut butter, Greek yogurt topped with chopped nuts and berries, lean grilled chicken with some rice or beans, or crackers with hummus all make great post-workout snacks. And in a pinch, you can always slug back a protein shake or blend up a smoothie with a scoop of protein powder, frozen fruit, and water.

Related: Find a protein supplement to keep your body well-fueled.

Once you nail your post-workout grub, just keep in mind that getting ample protein throughout the entire day also helps your muscles stay in tip-top shape, says Okafor. He recommends aiming for between one and 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day if you exercise frequently.

Sleep It Off

This one seems like a no-brainer, but considering so many people get just six hours (or less) of shuteye per night, it’s worth driving home yet again, says Okafor.

Sleep is your body’s opportunity to restore itself. During this time, your body produces more anabolic (a.k.a. muscle-building) hormones and fewer catabolic (a.k.a muscle-wasting hormones), says Okafor. One of these catabolic hormones is the stress hormone cortisol, which spikes after a workout. Without ample sleep to help bring cortisol levels down, they can stay elevated and lead to a host of issues, like higher-than-usual blood pressure and weight gain.

Not to mention, regularly missing out on sleep can crush your mental drive to train, Okafor adds.

We all have slightly different sleep needs, but Okafor recommends shooting for between seven and nine hours a night. To set yourself up for better shut-eye, power down at least a half-hour before bed, keep screens out of the bedroom, and try to stick to a regular sleep schedule, Okafor says. You can even try eating a bedtime snack that’s high in magnesium, a mineral that has a soothing effect on the body, he says. (A handful of nuts or anything with peanut butter are two of our favorite magnesium-packed snacks.)

Take Actual Recovery Days

When you go hard day after day without adequate rest and recovery, you end up in a state of overtraining in which your body enters breakdown mode. At that point, you may lose muscle mass, risk serious injury, and feel so depleted that you’re zonked out all day long, Okafor says. On top of all that, your workout performance tanks—which totally defeats the purpose of training, right?

Related: 6 Ways Building Muscle Benefits Your Health And Wellness

Remember: When you work out, you are breaking down muscle and depleting the energy your body has stored up. So, sometimes a full day off is necessary. Schromm recommends dedicating one day each week to recovering. Some people may be able to go for a walk or leisurely hike that day—but others may need a day of complete chill time, she says. If you start to notice any of the warning signs of overtraining (like chronic muscle soreness, elevated resting heart rate, irritability, and insomnia), pump the brakes and make sure you’re getting in one full rest day a week.

11 Meat-Free Meals That Still Pack Plenty Of Protein

The buzz around plant-based eating is growing faster than the weeds in our backyards this summer—but you’re not alone if you’re not quite sure what it all means. Allow me to clarify: Plant-based eating doesn’t mean placing your 16-ounce veal chop on a bed of greens, nor does it mean that you have to become a strict vegan or vegetarian. This style of eating basically means that meat (and other animal products) takes a step to the side while letting plants play the starring role on your dinner table.

A diet rich in vegetables and other produce has been shown to reduce risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And, besides keeping people healthy, plant-based eating can also benefit our planet by decreasing global greenhouse gas emissions caused by food production practices, according to research published in Nature.

I know what you’re thinking: How can I possibly get enough protein in a meal without meat? It can be done! Combine a couple of plant-based protein sources into your meal and you can rack up more protein than you think. And considering the Institute of Medicine recommends a baseline of 56 grams of protein per day for men and 46 grams for women, you may not need to eat quite as much as you think. Of course, personal protein needs may vary depending on your goals, height, weight, and activity level, but many of us tend to go overboard on animal protein, eating steaks and burgers the size of our heads on the reg.

That said, a meal without meat doesn’t have to leave you lacking the macronutrient you need to build muscle and keep your body strong. These veggie-focused recipes pack between eight and 26 (yes, really!) grams of protein—and are guaranteed to win you over to the plant-based team.

1. Avocado Mini Muffins

My avocado mini egg muffins are a great portable way to sneak extra protein and veggies into your day. The eggs, egg whites, and feta cheese are our main protein contributors here, providing about eight grams of protein per two mini muffins.

These muffins are bursting with color from the tomatoes and spinach in the recipe—both of which are good sources of vitamin C! And, last but not least, heart-healthy avocado supplies a creamy texture while its fiber helps you feel full longer. Make my recipe your own by adding anything you have sitting in your fridge—like peppers, mushrooms or beets.

2. Sunflower Caesar Salad

Throw together this quick but satisfying salad from Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N., author of The Superfood Swap, for a hefty dose of plant-based protein. It packs more than 15 grams of protein (from the chickpeas, sunflower seed butter, and sprouted bread) and about as much fiber.

First, toss as much romaine lettuce as you’d like with grape tomatoes, sliced red onion, and a half-cup of canned chickpeas. Then, toast two slices of sprouted whole-grain bread and cut them into croutons. Make your own dressing by whisking together two tablespoons of water, a tablespoon of sunflower seed butter, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, half a clove of minced garlic, and a sprinkle of sea salt.

photo: Mandy Enright

3. Freekeh Sunflower Burger

This one’s for all you burger lovers out there! This freekeh sunflower burger combines protein from several seeds (sunflower, pepita, chia, and hemp) and the freekeh (a whole grain also known as ‘farik’) to provide 16 grams of protein per patty. You can boost protein further by topping your burger with soy cheese (three grams per slice) or regular cheese (six grams per slice). Serve with lettuce and tomato on a whole grain bun. Mandy Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., loves that this burger has a dense texture—much like your regular ‘ole meaty burger.

photo: Brittany Sparks

4. Vegetarian Split Pea Sweet Potato Soup

This veggie-lovers comfort food is budget friendly and loaded with nutrients. Thanks to the split peas and lentils, just a half-cup bowl of this soup provides around 15 grams of protein. The lentils and split peas also offer fiber, folate, iron, zinc, and potassium, according to Brittany Sparks, R.D.N., C.S.R. This soup is delish hot or cold, and makes for a great main meal or vegetable-packed side.

photo: Sharon Palmer

5. Savory Steel-Cut Oats With Spinach, Mushrooms, And Tofu

The thought of oats combined with spinach, mushrooms, and tofu may feel a little strange, but hear us out. This vegan, gluten-free dish will make you rethink your favorite breakfast staple. Herbs and spices like black pepper, salt, and basil, along with aromatic garlic and tasty sun-dried tomatoes, give this bowl all of the flavor it needs. In a serving, you’ll load up on a whopping 26 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber, plus iron and folic acid (from the spinach), says Sharon Palmer, R.D.N. Steel-cut oats have a chewy texture and mild flavor, so you can swap them in for other whole grains, like brown rice, whenever you feel like mixing it up.

Related: 7 Vegetarian Protein Sources

photo: Whitney English

6. Vegan “Egg” Salad Sandwich

This breakfast-inspired sandwich is easy to whip up and makes for the perfect take-to-work meal. Mashed tofu combines with nutritional yeast, avocado oil, and a few spices (paprika, turmeric, garlic powder, salt, and pepper) to form an animal-free scramble that’ll satisfy even the biggest egg lover. The scramble packs 15 grams of protein and comes together in just five minutes, says Whitney English, M.S., R.D.N., C.P.T. Nosh on it as is, on top of a bed of greens, or between two slices of sprouted whole-grain bread.

photo: Jennifer Hunt

7. Quinoa Edamame Salad With Citrus Vinaigrette

This fresh and flavorful meal is a great lunch or light dinner option. The salad, from Jennifer Hunt, R.D.N., L.D., combines quinoa, edamame, and a touch of feta for a meal that supplies 20 grams of protein per serving. The DIY citrus vinaigrette uses flavors like orange juice, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and honey, for a bright burst of goodness. It’s a great balance of complex carbs for energy, plant protein to keep you satisfied, and fat to help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins, Hunt says.

photo: Judy Barbe

8. Walnut Mushroom Lasagna Rolls

Sometimes the soul just needs pasta. And who are we to deny the soul? This lasagna recipe from Judy Barbe, R.D., author of Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being, still offers about 20 grams of protein per serving, without a touch of meat. Here, the protein comes from walnuts, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, and egg. Barbe loves ricotta cheese because it’s rich in calcium and has a mild flavor that plays well with other ingredients. Meanwhile, walnuts provide healthy fats and fiber, while mushrooms provide rich, savory flavor and valuable vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D.

9. Lemony Mint Quinoa

A cold quinoa salad is a great make-ahead meal to stash in the fridge and spoon out throughout the week. Quinoa, which is one of very few complete plant proteins, is also high in fiber and provides iron and calcium—helping this summery-tasting salad hit about eight grams of protein and eight grams of fiber per cup, says Cheryl Harris, M.P.H., R.D. Harris likes to add halved grape tomatoes to her salad, but you can pump up the veggie power with any other additions, like cucumbers or peppers. Add a half-cup of red beans or edamame to boost the protein count to 15 grams.

photo: Julie Harrington

10. Chickpea Walnut Sandwich

Give your usual tuna or chicken salad a plant-based makeover with this recipe from culinary nutritionist consultant Julie Harrington, R.D. Because they have a firm texture, chickpeas are the perfect pulse for a veggie-based salad. You’ll combine plain Greek yogurt, chickpeas, walnuts, and a few extra flavors to create a sandwich-ready salad complete with plenty of crunch. Layer your salad between two pieces of sprouted whole-grain bread with some lettuce, tomato, and onion, and you’ve got an all-star sammie that provides almost 20 grams of protein.

11. Mix-And-Match Power Bowl

Looking for an easy, throw-together dish? A bowl full of veggies, whole grains, and legumes or pulses—with a dollop of flavorful dressing—is a quick formula for a balanced meal. Try combining a cup of greens, a half-cup of cooked farro, a half-cup of cooked lentils, and a half-cup of roasted veggies. Top your mixture with a drizzle of sriracha, two tablespoons of garlic hummus, and a sprinkle of hemp seeds. Kelly Jones M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D. likes this meal because it’s filled with a medley of flavor and textures and provides more than 20 grams of protein, plus plenty of fiber and healthy fats to keep you feeling satisfied for hours.

Related: Find a plant-based protein supplement to fuel your body.

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 HealthBetter Homes & GardensWomen’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.

Here’s What A Day Of Clean Eating Actually Looks Like

On any given day, a casual scroll through Instagram will lead you through picturesque snacks, meals, and tabelscapes labeled #cleaneating. But what exactly falls into that category? And do you need to shell out hundreds of dollars at a health food store or create a three-page recipe to eat that way?

In the broadest sense, clean eating is all about eating ‘whole foods’ that have not been processed, says Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.S.D., assistant professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Think produce, lean proteins, plain Greek yogurt, nuts, beans, and whole grains, and no conventional frozen meals or packaged snacks. Some people may choose to buy organic and non-GMO whole foods, but that’s not a requirement of eating clean, Pritchett says.

By ditching processed foods, you cut back on sodium, added sugar, and saturated fat, which can contribute to chronic disease in large quantities, Pritchett explains. That doesn’t mean any food that comes in a package is off the table, though. Frozen fruit, for example, is just as nutrient-dense as fresh fruit. Just take a look at your ingredient labels. A few whole-food ingredients? You’re good to go. Long lists or obscure words? Leave it on the shelf.

To take all of the guesswork out of clean eating, we worked with a few healthy-eating experts to map out an entire day of clean eating for you. Snacks are included, of course!

Breakfast

Our morning meal is often the trickiest when it comes to eating clean. With sugary flavored yogurt, processed cereals, and refined carbs off the table, the options seem slim. But that’s not the case!

If you’re a novice in the kitchen—or just crunched for time—whip up a quick egg-veggie scramble recommends Stacey Mattinson, M.S., R.D.N., L.D. (Mattinson likes adding spinach, mushroom, onion, asparagus, and/or bell peppers to her scrambles—but any leftover veggies you have in the fridge will do!)

Related: Stock your kitchen with staple ingredients for clean cooking.

If you like your breakfast on the sweeter side, top plain Greek yogurt with your favorite fresh fruit and a sprinkle of nuts for crunch. You could also prep some overnight oats the night before. Just mix equal parts old-fashioned oats and milk or Greek yogurt along with your favorite toppings (think cinnamon, honey, peanut butter, chia seeds, and/or fruit) in a jar and stash in the fridge overnight. Mattinson likes these breakfast options because they’re high in protein and fiber, which help keep you feeling full all morning long.

If you have a little extra time to spend in the kitchen, try this gluten-free shakshuka recipe from Abbey Sharp, R.D. Shakshuka is basically tomato stew with eggs baked into it—and makes for a warm and comforting breakfast. Sharp’s recipe also adds spinach and zucchini into the mix for an extra dose of vegetables.

Lunch

If you’re ready to ditch the sodium-heavy deli sandwich for a clean, feel-good lunch, your main objective is to strike a balance of protein, vegetables, whole grains, and maybe some fruit, recommends Marisa Moore, R.D.N. That way you’re more likely to get all the nutrients you need throughout the day.

If you didn’t have eggs for breakfast, they’re a great option for a clean midday meal. Moore likes to make omelets filled with sautéed seasonal veggies (like peppers, onions, and spinach) and topped with a few slices of avocado.

A simple tuna bowl is another easy-to-make lunch, suggests Michelle Dudash, R.D.N., author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. Mix a can of tuna, olives, diced tomatoes, chickpeas or cannellini beans, and toasted pistachios or almonds into a bowl of greens. Top it with a drizzle of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and a sprinkle of seasoning—like smoked paprika. Dudash likes this meal because it includes two sources of protein and some omega-3s.

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

Have leftovers to get rid of? Try a veggie-packed wrap. Grab some leftover protein like chicken or salmon and wrap it into a whole-grain wrap with a healthy helping of spinach or arugula, avocado slices, and drizzle of vinaigrette, recommends Dudash. Serve with a side of crunchy sugar snap peas and you’ve got a meal with lean protein, whole grains, fiber, and antioxidants, she says.

Dinner

Dinner is your last opportunity to squeeze in some nutrition before bed, but it doesn’t have to be a high-maintenance meal. For a simple, clean eating meal, try roasting a bunch of veggies and a lean protein on one pan, says Dudash. This way you have less prep work and cleanup to worry about. Dudash likes seasoning salmon with fresh dill and lemon zest and roasting it alongside some asparagus—but you can mix and match whatever protein and produce you like! (Check out our favorite one-pan recipes here.)

Make clean eating flavorful and fun by upping the health-factor in some of your favorite meals. Mattison recommends trying meatballs with no-sugar-added sauce over spaghetti squash, or making homemade fajitas with whole-wheat tortillas, lean beef, plain beans, grilled onions and peppers, tomato, and avocado.

Another quick-but-tasty meal: Shrimp and veggie kebabs served over brown rice, says Mattison. Zucchini, red onion, and bell peppers all make for delicious kebabs.

If you have a slow-cooker handy, Dudash recommends making a batch of pulled turkey or chicken breast, which can be served atop a salad or wrapped into a whole-wheat wrap with lettuce, salsa, and avocado.

Snacks

When you start to feel hangry between meals, having a few clean eating snacks prepared can keep you from falling off the deep end. Pritchett recommends grabbing a hard-boiled egg, or carrot sticks or apple slices and almond butter, which provide more nutritional bang for their buck calorie-wise.

A perk of eating whole-food snacks is that they’ll satisfy you for a lot longer than a processed snack out of the vending machine—often because they pack more protein and fiber, without refined grains or high levels of sodium, says Mattinson. She likes plain Greek yogurt topped with chopped pecans or veggie sticks (like carrots, cucumber, or zucchini) with hummus.

If sweets are your thing, swap candy for frozen grapes, adds Moore. “They are a sweet treat and natural source of antioxidants and other polyphenols” she says. Plus, they take longer to eat when frozen, helping you satisfy your sweet tooth without downing a whole bag.

Consider this infographic your quick and easy guide to eating clean all day long: