Authority Nutrition

8 Reasons You Should Be Eating More Ginseng

Ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.

1. Potent Antioxidant That May Reduce Inflammation

Ginseng has beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (4).

Some test-tube studies have shown that ginseng extracts and ginsenoside compounds could inhibit inflammation and increase antioxidant capacity in cells (56).

The results are promising in humans, as well.

One study investigated the effects of having 18 young male athletes take 2 grams of Korean red ginseng extract three times per day for seven days.

The men then had levels of certain inflammatory markers tested after performing an exercise test. These levels were significantly lower than in the placebo group, lasting for up to 72 hours after testing (7).

Another study followed people with skin inflammation. It found improvements in inflammation and antioxidative activity after treatment with Korean red ginseng extract (8).

Lastly, a larger study followed 71 postmenopausal women who took 3 grams of red ginseng or a placebo daily for 12 weeks. Antioxidant activity and oxidative stress markers were then measured.

Researchers concluded that red ginseng may help reduce oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant enzyme activities (9).

SUMMARY: Ginseng has been shown to help reduce inflammatory markers and help protect against oxidative stress.
2. May Benefit Brain Function

Ginseng could help improve brain functions like memory, behavior and mood (1011).

Some test-tube and animal studies show that components in ginseng, like ginsenosides and compound K, could protect the brain against damage caused by free radicals (121314).

One study followed 30 healthy people who consumed 200 mg of Panax ginseng daily for four weeks. At the end of the study, they showed improvement in mental health, social functioning and mood.

However, these benefits stopped being significant after 8 weeks, suggesting that ginseng effects might decrease with extended use (15).

Another study examined how single doses of either 200 or 400 mg of Panax ginseng affected mental performance, mental fatigue and blood sugar levels in 30 healthy adults before and after a 10-minute mental test.

The 200-mg dose, as opposed to the 400-mg dose, was more effective at improving mental performance and fatigue during the test (16).

It is possible that ginseng assisted the uptake of blood sugar by cells, which could have enhanced performance and reduced mental fatigue. Yet it is not clear why the lower dose was more effective than the higher one.

A third study found that taking 400 mg of Panax ginseng daily for eight days improved calmness and math skills (17).

What’s more, other studies found positive effects on brain function and behavior in people with Alzheimer's disease (181920).

SUMMARY: Ginseng has been shown to benefit mental functions, feelings of calmness and mood in both healthy people and those with Alzheimer's disease.
3. Could Improve Erectile Dysfunction

Research has shown that ginseng may be a useful alternative for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED) in men (2122).

It seems that compounds in it may protect against oxidative stress in blood vessels and tissues in the penis and help restore normal function (2324).

Additionally, studies have shown that ginseng may promote the production of nitric oxide, a compound that improves muscle relaxation in the penis and increases blood circulation (2425).

One study found that men treated with Korean red ginseng had a 60% improvement in ED symptoms, compared to 30% improvement produced by a medication used to treat ED (26).

Moreover, another study showed that 86 men with ED had significant improvements in erectile function and overall satisfaction after taking 1,000 mg of aged ginseng extract for 8 weeks (27).

However, more studies are needed to draw definite conclusions about the effects of ginseng on ED (24).

SUMMARY: Ginseng may improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction by decreasing oxidative stress in tissues and enhancing blood flow in penile muscles.
4. May Boost the Immune System

Ginseng may strengthen the immune system.

Some studies exploring its effects on the immune system have focused on cancer patients undergoing surgery or chemotherapy treatment.

One study followed 39 people with stomach cancer after surgical procedures, treating them with 5,400 mg of ginseng daily for two years.

Interestingly, these people had significant improvements in immune functions and a lower recurrence of symptoms ( target="_blank"28).

Another study examined the effect of red ginseng extract on immune system markers in people with advanced stomach cancer undergoing post-surgery chemotherapy.

After three months, those taking red ginseng extract had better immune system markers than those in the control or placebo group (29).

Furthermore, a study suggested that people who take ginseng could have up to a 35% higher chance of living disease-free for five years after curative surgery and up to a 38% higher survival rate compared to those not taking it (30).

It seems that ginseng extract could enhance the effect of vaccinations against diseases like influenza, as well (31).

Even though these studies show improvements in immune system markers in people with cancer, more research is needed to demonstrate the efficacy of ginseng in boosting resistance to infections in healthy people (32).

SUMMARY: Ginseng may strengthen the immune system in people with cancer and even enhance the effects of certain vaccinations.
5. May Have Potential Benefits Against Cancer

Ginseng may be helpful in reducing the risk of certain cancers (33).

Ginsenosides in this herb have been shown to help reduce inflammation and provide antioxidant protection (3435).

The cell cycle is the process by which cells normally grow and divide. Ginsenosides could benefit this cycle by preventing abnormal cell production and growth (3435).

A review of several studies indicated that people who took ginseng had a 16% lower risk of developing cancer (35).

Moreover, an observational study suggested that people taking ginseng could be less likely to develop certain types of cancer, such as lip, mouth, esophagus, stomach, colon, liver and lung cancer, than those who do not take it (36).

Ginseng may also help improve the health of patients undergoing chemotherapy, reduce side effects and enhance the effect of some treatment drugs (34).

While studies on the role of ginseng in cancer prevention show some benefits, they remain inconclusive (37).

SUMMARY: Ginsenosides in ginseng seem to regulate inflammation, provide antioxidant protection and maintain the health of cells, which could help decrease the risk of certain kinds of cancer. Nevertheless, more research is needed.
6. May Fight Tiredness and Increase Energy Levels

Ginseng has been shown to help fight fatigue and promote energy.

Various animal studies have linked some components in ginseng, like polysaccharides and oligopeptides, with lower oxidative stress and higher energy production in cells, which could help fight fatigue (383940).

One four-week study explored the effects of giving 1 or 2 grams of Panax ginseng or a placebo to 90 people with chronic fatigue.

Those given Panax ginseng experienced less physical and mental fatigue, as well as reductions in oxidative stress, than those taking the placebo (41).

Another study gave 364 cancer survivors experiencing fatigue 2,000 mg of American ginseng or a placebo. After eight weeks, those in the ginseng group had significantly lower fatigue levels than those in the placebo group (42).

Furthermore, a review of over 155 studies suggested that ginseng supplements may not only help reduce fatigue but also enhance physical activity (43).

SUMMARY: Ginseng may help fight fatigue and enhance physical activity by lowering oxidative damage and increasing energy production in cells.
7. Could Lower Blood Sugar

Ginseng seems to be beneficial in the control of blood glucose in people both with and without diabetes (4445).

American and Asian ginseng have been shown to improve pancreatic cell function, boost insulin production and enhance the uptake of blood sugar in tissues (44).

Moreover, studies show that ginseng extracts help by providing antioxidant protection that reduce free radicals in the cells of those with diabetes (44).

One study assessed the effects of 6 grams of Korean red ginseng, along with the usual anti-diabetic medication or diet, in 19 people with type 2 diabetes.

Interestingly, they were able to maintain good blood sugar control throughout the 12-week study. They also had an 11% decrease in blood sugar levels, a 38% decrease in fasting insulin and a 33% increase in insulin sensitivity (46).

Another study showed that American ginseng helped improve blood sugar levels in 10 healthy people after they performed a sugary drink test (47).

It seems that fermented red ginseng could be even more effective at blood sugar control. Fermented ginseng is produced with the help of live bacteria that transform the ginsenosides into a more easily absorbed and potent form (48).

In fact, a study demonstrated that taking 2.7 grams of fermented red ginseng daily was effective at lowering blood sugar and increasing insulin levels after a test meal, compared to a placebo (49).

SUMMARY: Ginseng, particularly fermented red ginseng, may help increase insulin production, enhance blood sugar uptake in cells and provide antioxidant protection.
8. Easy to Add to Your Diet

Ginseng root can be consumed in many ways. It can be eaten raw or you can lightly steam it to soften it.

It can also be stewed in water to make a tea. To do this, just add hot water to freshly sliced ginseng and let it steep for several minutes.

Ginseng can be added to various recipes like soups and stir-frys, too. And the extract can be found in powder, tablet, capsule and oil forms.

How much you should take depends on the condition you want to improve. Overall, daily doses of 1–2 grams of raw ginseng root or 200–400 mg of extract are suggested. It’s best to start with lower doses and increase over time.

Look for a standard ginseng extract that contains 2–3% total ginsenosides, and consume it before meals to increase absorption and get the full benefits.

SUMMARY: Ginseng can be eaten raw, made into tea or added to various dishes. It can also be consumed as a powder, capsule or oil.
Safety and Potential Side Effects

According to research, ginseng appears to be safe and should not produce any serious adverse effects.

However, people taking diabetes medications should monitor their blood sugar levels closely when using ginseng to ensure these levels do not go too low.

Additionally, ginseng may reduce the effectiveness of anticoagulant drugs.

For these reasons, talk to your doctor before supplementing with it.

Note that due to the lack of safety studies, ginseng is not recommended for children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Lastly, there is evidence suggesting that the extended use of ginseng could decrease its effectiveness in the body.

To maximize its benefits, you should take ginseng in 2–3-week cycles with a one or two week break in between (14).

SUMMARY: While ginseng appears to be safe, people taking certain medications should pay attention to possible drug interactions.
The Bottom Line

Ginseng is an herbal supplement that has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine.

It is commonly touted for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It could also help regulate blood sugar levels and have benefits for some cancers.

What’s more, ginseng may strengthen the immune system, enhance brain function, fight fatigue and improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction.

Ginseng can be consumed raw or lightly steamed. It can also easily be added to your diet via its extract, capsule or powder form.

Whether you want to improve a certain condition or simply give your health a boost, ginseng is definitely worth a try.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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Are You a Food Addict? Here Are 8 Common Symptoms

Food addiction is a common problem in Western society.

1. You Get Cravings Despite Being Full

It is not uncommon to get cravings, even after eating a fulfilling, nutritious meal.

For example, after just downing a nice meal with steak, potatoes and veggies, you may find yourself craving some ice cream for dessert.

You see, cravings and hunger aren't the same thing.

You don't actually feel "hungry" because you just finished a healthy and nutritious meal, but yet there is an urge somewhere in your brain to eat something else.

This is pretty common and doesn't necessarily mean that you have a problem. Most people get cravings.

However, if this happens often and you have real problems controlling yourself, then it may be an indicator of something else going on (2).

This craving is not about your need for energy or nutrients — it is your brain calling for something that releases dopamine in the reward system of the brain (3).

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"631160","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"433","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"580"}}]]
SUMMARY: Cravings are obviously very common. Fewer than 13% of participants rarely or never experienced this.
2. You Eat Much More Than You Intended To

What harm is there in having a small slice of chocolate cake? A little bit ain't gonna kill you. Everything is good in moderation, right?

These are two remarks that people get to hear quite often when refusing an offering of unhealthy food for one reason or another.

Both of them are valid. One slice isn't going to do much harm and if you can eat cake in moderation then it's probably alright.

But for some people, there is no such thing as a bite of chocolate or a single piece of cake. One bite turns into 20 and one slice of cake turns into half a cake.

This is an "all or nothing" phenomenon that is common with addicts of all sorts. There is no such thing as "moderation" — it simply does not work (4).

Telling a food addict to eat junk food in moderation is almost like telling an alcoholic to drink beer in moderation. It's just not possible.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"631158","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"437","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"580"}}]]
SUMMARY: When giving in to a craving, over 54% of participants ate more than they intended to either frequently or all the time.
3. Eating Until Feeling Excessively "Stuffed"

Let's say you've given in to a craving.

Now you start eating, bite after bite, until you feel full — that is, if you weren't already full when you started (see symptom #1).

But it doesn't stop there, unfortunately.

You keep on eating, then you eat some more. When you finally stop, when your "urge" is satisfied, you realize that you have eaten so much that you feel completely stuffed.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"631157","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"436","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"580"}}]]
SUMMARY: Of the participants in the survey, about 36% tended to eat until feeling excessively stuffed, either frequently or all the time. In some cases, this may be classified as binge eating.
4. Feeling Guilty Afterwards, but Still Doing It Again Soon

When you do something you know isn't "right," something that is against your values, principles or previous decisions, you often feel bad about it.

This is called having a guilty conscience and is a very common feeling. It's a feeling that is both good and bad.

It is good, because it means that you do actually care. It is bad, because it feels incredibly unpleasant when it happens. It's a terrible feeling.

If you have been trying to exert "willpower" to control your consumption of unhealthy foods, giving in to a craving can lead to a guilty conscience.

You may feel that you are doing something wrong, even cheating on yourself. This may make you feel weak and undisciplined.

Yet, you soon do the whole thing over and over again.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"631156","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"438","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"580"}}]]
SUMMARY: This is apparently very common. Among the participants, only 19% never or rarely repeatedly ate foods that they felt guilty about.
5. Making Up Excuses in Your Head

When you have decided to abstain from junk food on a particular day but a craving shows up anyway, you can imagine two forces at play in your mind.

One is the logical, rational decision you made to abstain from junk food. Perhaps you decided to only “cheat” on Saturdays.

But the other force is the craving. Today is a Wednesday and you feel like having something sweet in the afternoon.

Right now you have an urge to have a piece of food that you had previously decided you weren't going to eat on this particular day.

The logical decision you made to abstain becomes "challenged" by the new idea that you should indulge today and eat whatever it is you’re craving.

At these moments, you start thinking about whether you should or should not indulge. You may come up with some excuse about why it would be a good idea to give in to the craving and have that piece of food.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"631155","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"436","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"580"}}]]
SUMMARY: This also appears to be very common. 30% do it frequently or all the time, while almost 40% can relate to doing it sometimes.
6. Repeated Failures at Setting Rules for Yourself

When people are struggling with self-control in one way or another, they often try to set rules for themselves.

For example, only sleep in on the weekends, always do homework right after school, never drink coffee after two in the afternoon. Sound familiar? For most people, these rules almost always fail.

There are few things that are as hopeless as setting rules about eating, especially for those who have problems with cravings.

Examples include one cheat meal per week, two cheat meals per week, one cheat day, only eat junk food at parties, birthdays or holidays, etc. I've personally tried all of these rules, along with a dozen others.

They failed, every time.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"631154","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"463","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"580"}}]]
SUMMARY: About 80% of the participants had at least some history of failures to set rules about their food consumption. For 49% of people, this happened frequently or all the time.
7. Hiding Your Eating From Others

People with a history of rule setting and repeated failures often start hiding their consumption of junk food from others.

They may prefer to eat alone, when no one else is at home, alone in the car or late at night after everyone else has gone to bed.

I used to drive to the store, buy junk food and eat it alone in the car. If I was home alone, I would eat it there, but I made sure to throw away and hide the packaging so that no one would be able to see what I had done.

I felt ashamed of it and I didn't like the idea of my loved ones realizing how weak I was and what I was doing to myself.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"631153","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"408","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"580"}}]]
SUMMARY: Apparently hiding food intake is fairly common. About 26% of participants did it frequently or all the time, while almost 25% of people admit to doing it sometimes.
8. Unable to Quit Despite Physical Problems

There is no doubt that the foods you eat have a significant effect on your health.

In the short term, junk food can lead to weight gain, acne, bad breath, fatigue, poor dental health and other common problems.

But in the long term, after years and years of continued abuse to the body, things can start to go really wrong.

A lifetime of junk food consumption can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, dementia and even some types of cancer.

Someone who experiences any of these physical problems and knows that they are directly related to their intake of unhealthy foods, but is still unable to change their habits, is in serious trouble.

Many people know that the junk foods are harming them, but are still unable to control their consumption.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"631152","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"436","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"580"}}]]
SUMMARY: Of the 870 individuals who answered this question, 54% (476 people) answered that they agreed or strongly agreed.
More Details About the Survey

Interestingly, most of the participants were women.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"631151","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"270","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"580"}}]]

However, the pattern was very similar for males and females.

The age of participants:

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"631150","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"446","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"580"}}]]

It’s important to point out that most of those who participated were looking for weight loss information when they signed up to the mailing list.

This means that the sample may not be quite representative of the general population.

The word “addiction” was not used in the survey, but it was mentioned that it was about people’s relationship with food.

Are You Addicted to Junk Food?

The DSM-IV is a guide used by health professionals to diagnose mental disorders.

If you look at the criteria for substance dependence, you can easily see that many of the 8 symptoms above fit in with medical definitions of addiction.

If you are wondering whether you have a problem with food addiction or not, then you only need to ask yourself this one question:

Have you repeatedly tried to quit eating or cut back on your consumption of junk food, but you can't?

If you can relate to that, then sure thing — you do have a problem and you better do something about it.

Whether you are a full-blown "addict" that fits in with medical definitions of addiction doesn't matter, in my opinion.

The key point here is that deep in your heart you want to quit, but you can't.

If that is the case, then it is time for action.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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Want to Reduce Your Risk of Death by 12%? Eat More Chili Peppers

Jalapeños are spicy chili peppers from the hot pepper family.

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12 Healthy Foods High in Antioxidants

Antioxidants are compounds produced in your body and found in foods. They help defend your cells from damage caused by potentially harmful molecules known as free radicals.

1. Dark Chocolate

Lucky for chocolate lovers, dark chocolate is nutritious. It has more cocoa than regular chocolate, as well as more minerals and antioxidants.

Based on the FRAP analysis, dark chocolate has up to 15 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams). This is even more than blueberries and raspberries, which contain up to 9.2 and 2.3 mmol of antioxidants in the same serving size, respectively (3).

Moreover, the antioxidants in cocoa and dark chocolate have been linked to impressive health benefits such as less inflammation and reduced risk factors for heart disease.

For example, a review of 10 studies looked at the link between cocoa intake and blood pressure in both healthy people and those with high blood pressure.

Consuming cocoa-rich products like dark chocolate reduced systolic blood pressure (the upper value) by an average of 4.5 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure (the lower value) by an average of 2.5 mmHg (4).

Another study found that dark chocolate may reduce the risk of heart disease by raising blood antioxidant levels, raising levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and preventing “bad” LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized (5).

Oxidized LDL cholesterol is harmful because it promotes inflammation in the blood vessels, which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease (6).

SUMMARY: Dark chocolate is delicious, nutritious and one of the best sources of antioxidants. Generally speaking, the higher the cocoa content, the more antioxidants the chocolate contains.
2. Pecans

Pecans are a type of nut native to Mexico and South America. They are a good source of healthy fats and minerals, plus contain a high amount of antioxidants.

Based on a FRAP analysis, pecans contain up to 10.6 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (3).

In addition, pecans can help raise antioxidant levels in the blood.

For example, a study found that people who consumed 20% of their daily calories from pecans experienced significantly increased blood antioxidant levels (7).

In another study, people who consumed pecans experienced a 26–33% fall in oxidized blood LDL levels within two to eight hours. High levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol in the blood is a risk factor for heart disease (8).

Although pecans are a great source of healthy fats, they are also high in calories. So it’s important to eat pecans in moderation to avoid consuming too many calories.

SUMMARY: Pecans are popular nuts rich in minerals, healthy fats and antioxidants. They may also help raise blood antioxidant levels and lower bad cholesterol.
3. Blueberries

Although they are low in calories, blueberries are packed with nutrients and antioxidants.

According to a FRAP analysis, blueberries have up to 9.2 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (3).

Several studies even suggest that blueberries contain the highest amount of antioxidants among all commonly consumed fruits and vegetables (910).

In addition, research from test-tube and animal studies has shown that the antioxidants in blueberries may delay the decline in brain function that tends to happen with age (11).

Researchers have suggested that the antioxidants in blueberries may be responsible for this effect. They’re thought to do this by neutralizing harmful free radicals, reducing inflammation and changing the expression of certain genes (11).

Additionally, the antioxidants in blueberries, especially a type called anthocyanins, have been shown to reduce risk factors for heart disease, lowering LDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure (12).

SUMMARY: Blueberries are among the best sources of antioxidants in the diet. They are rich in anthocyanins and other antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of heart disease and delay the decline in brain function that happens with age.
4. Strawberries

Strawberries are among the most popular berries on the planet. They are sweet, versatile and a rich source of vitamin C and antioxidants (13).

Based on a FRAP analysis, strawberries provide up to 5.4 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (3).

Moreover, strawberries contain a type of antioxidant called anthocyanins, which give them their red color. Strawberries that have a higher anthocyanin content tend to be brighter red (14).

Research has shown that anthocyanins may help reduce the risk of heart disease by reducing levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and raising “good” HDL cholesterol (1516).

A review of 10 studies found that taking an anthocyanin supplement significantly reduced LDL cholesterol among people who had either heart disease or high LDL levels (17).

SUMMARY: Like other berries, strawberries are rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins, which may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
5. Artichokes

Artichokes are a delicious and nutritious vegetable not very common in the North American diet.

But they have a long history — people in ancient times used their leaves as a remedy to treat liver conditions like jaundice (18).

Artichokes are also a great source of dietary fiber, minerals and antioxidants (19).

Based on a FRAP analysis, artichokes contain up to 4.7 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (3).

Artichokes are especially rich in the antioxidant known as chlorogenic acid. Studies suggest that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of chlorogenic acid may reduce the risk of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease (2021).

The antioxidant content of artichokes can vary, depending on how they are prepared.

Boiling artichokes may raise their antioxidant content by eight times, and steaming them may raise it by 15 times. On the other hand, frying artichokes may reduce their antioxidant content (22).

SUMMARY: Artichokes are vegetables with some of the highest levels of antioxidants, including chlorogenic acid. Their antioxidant content can vary based on how they are prepared.
6. Goji Berries

Goji berries are the dried fruits of two related plants, Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense.

They have been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years.

Goji berries are often marketed as a superfood because they are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (2324).

Based on a FRAP analysis, goji berries contain 4.3 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (3).

In addition, goji berries contain unique antioxidants known as Lycium barbarum polysaccharides. These have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, and may help combat skin aging (2526).

Moreover, goji berries may also be very effective at raising blood antioxidant levels.

In one study, healthy elderly people consumed a milk-based goji berry drink every day for 90 days. By the end of the study, their blood antioxidant levels had risen by 57% (27).

While goji berries are nutritious, they can be expensive to eat on a regular basis.

Moreover, there are only a handful of studies on the effects of goji berries in humans. Though these support their health benefits, more human-based research is needed.

SUMMARY: Goji berries are a rich source of antioxidants, including a unique type known as Lycium barbarum polysaccharides. These have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, and may help fight skin aging.
7. Raspberries

Raspberries are soft, tart berries that are often used in desserts. They are a great source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, manganese and antioxidants (28).

Based on a FRAP analysis, raspberries have up to 4 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (3).

Several studies have linked the antioxidants and other components in raspberries to lower risks of cancer and heart disease.

One test-tube study found that the antioxidants and other components in raspberries killed 90% of stomach, colon and breast cancer cells in the sample (29).

A review of five studies concluded that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of black raspberries may slow down and suppress the effects of a variety of cancers (30).

Moreover, the antioxidants in raspberries, especially anthocyanins, may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. This may reduce the risk of heart disease (313233).

That said, most of the evidence for the health benefits of raspberries is from test-tube studies. More research in humans is needed before recommendations can be made.

SUMMARY: Raspberries are nutritious, delicious and packed with antioxidants. Like blueberries, they are rich in anthocyanins and have anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
8. Kale

Kale is a cruciferous vegetable and a member of the group of vegetables cultivated from the species Brassica oleracea. Other members include broccoli and cauliflower.

Kale is one of the most nutritious greens on the planet and is rich in vitamins A, K and C. It’s also rich in antioxidants, providing up to 2.7 mmol per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (334).

However, red varieties of kale such as redbor and red Russian kale may contain nearly twice as much — up to 4.1 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (3).

This is because red varieties of kale contain more anthocyanin antioxidants as well as several other antioxidants that give them their vibrant color.

Kale is also a great plant-based source of calcium, an important mineral that helps maintain bone health and plays roles in other cellular functions (35).

SUMMARY: Kale is one of the most nutritious greens on the planet, partly because it’s rich in antioxidants. Although regular kale is high in antioxidants, red varieties may contain close to twice as much.
9. Red Cabbage

Red cabbage has an impressive nutrient profile. Also known as purple cabbage, it is rich in vitamins C, K and A, and has a high antioxidant content (36).

According to a FRAP analysis, red cabbage provides up to 2.2 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (3).

That’s more than four times the amount of antioxidants in regular cooked cabbage (3).

This is because red cabbage contains anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants that give red cabbage its color. Anthocyanins are also found in strawberries and raspberries.

These anthocyanins have been linked to several health benefits. They may reduce inflammation, protect against heart disease and reduce the risk of certain cancers (37).

What’s more, red cabbage is a rich source of vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant in the body. Vitamin C may help strengthen the immune system and keep the skin firm (3839).

Interestingly, the way red cabbage is prepared can also affect its antioxidant levels.

Boiling and stir-frying red cabbage may boost its antioxidant profile, while steaming red cabbage may reduce its antioxidant content by almost 35% (40).

SUMMARY: Red cabbage is a delicious way to increase your antioxidant intake. Its red color comes from its high content of anthocyanins, a group of antioxidants that have been linked to some impressive health benefits.
10. Beans

Beans are a diverse group of legumes that are inexpensive and healthy. They are also incredibly high in fiber, which can help keep your bowel movements regular.

Beans are also one of the best vegetable sources of antioxidants. A FRAP analysis found that green broad beans contain up to 2 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (3).

In addition, some beans such as pinto beans contain a particular antioxidant called kaempferol. This antioxidant has been linked to impressive health benefits, such as reduced chronic inflammation and suppressed cancer growth (4142).

For example, several animal studies have found that kaempferol may suppress the growth of cancers in the breast, bladder, kidneys and lungs (43444546).

However, because most of the research supporting the benefits of kaempferol has been in animals or test tubes, more human-based studies are needed.

SUMMARY: Beans are an inexpensive way to increase your antioxidant intake. They also contain the antioxidant kaempferol, which has been linked to anticancer benefits in animal and test-tube studies.
11. Beets

Beets, also known as beetroot, are the roots of a vegetable scientifically known as Beta vulgaris. They have a mild taste and are a great source of fiber, potassium, iron, folate and antioxidants (47).

Based on a FRAP analysis, beets contain up to 1.7 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (3).

They’re particularly rich in a group of antioxidants called betalains. These give beets their reddish color and have been linked to health benefits.

For example, several test-tube studies have linked betalains to a lower risk of cancers in the colon and digestive tract (4849).

Additionally, beets contain other compounds that may help suppress inflammation. For example, a study found that taking betalain capsules made from beetroot extract significantly relieved osteoarthritis pain and inflammation (50).

SUMMARY: Beets are a great source of fiber, potassium, iron, folate and antioxidants. They contain a group of antioxidants called betalains that have been linked to impressive health benefits.
12. Spinach

Spinach is one of the most nutritionally dense vegetables. It’s loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and is incredibly low in calories (51).

Based on a FRAP analysis, spinach provides up to 0.9 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (3).

Spinach is also a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that may help protect your eyes from damaging UV light and other harmful light wavelengths (525354).

These antioxidants help combat damage to the eyes that free radicals may cause over time.

SUMMARY: Spinach is rich in nutrients, high in antioxidants and low in calories. It’s also one of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, which defend the eyes from free radicals.
The Bottom Line

Antioxidants are compounds that your body makes naturally. You can also get them from foods.

They protect your body from potentially harmful molecules known as free radicals, which can accumulate and promote oxidative stress. Unfortunately, oxidative stress raises the risk of heart disease, cancers, type 2 diabetes and many other chronic diseases.

Fortunately, eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help neutralize free radicals and reduce the risk of these chronic diseases.

By eating a wide variety of the foods in this article, you can boost your blood levels of antioxidants and reap their many health benefits.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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15 Incredibly Heart-Healthy Foods

Heart disease accounts for nearly one-third of all deaths worldwide (1).

Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and collard greens are well-known for their wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

In particular, they’re a great source of vitamin K, which helps protect your arteries and promote proper blood clotting (23).

They’re also high in dietary nitrates, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure, decrease arterial stiffness and improve the function of cells lining the blood vessels (4).

Some studies have also found a link between increasing your intake of leafy green vegetables and a lower risk of heart disease.

One analysis of eight studies found that increasing leafy green vegetable intake was associated with up to a 16% lower incidence of heart disease (5).

Another study in 29,689 women showed that a high intake of leafy green vegetables was linked to a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease (6).

SUMMARY: Leafy green vegetables are high in vitamin K and nitrates, which can help reduce blood pressure and improve arterial function. Studies show that a higher intake of leafy greens is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

Whole grains include all three nutrient-rich parts of the grain: germ, endosperm and bran.

Common types of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat and quinoa.

Compared to refined grains, whole grains are higher in fiber, which may help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease (789).

Multiple studies have found that including more whole grains in your diet can benefit your heart health.

One analysis of 45 studies concluded that eating three more servings of whole grains daily was associated with a 22% lower risk of heart disease (10).

Similarly, another study found that eating at least three servings of whole grains significantly decreased systolic blood pressure by 6 mmHg, which is enough to reduce the risk of stroke by about 25% (11).

When purchasing whole grains, make sure to read the ingredients label carefully. Phrases like “whole grain” or “whole wheat” indicate a whole-grain product, while words like “wheat flour” or “multigrain” may not.

SUMMARY: Studies show that eating whole grains is associated with lower cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, as well as a lower risk of heart disease.

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are jam-packed with important nutrients that play a central role in heart health.

Berries are also rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to the development of heart disease (12).

Studies show that eating lots of berries can reduce several risk factors for heart disease.

For example, one study in 27 adults with metabolic syndrome showed that drinking a beverage made of freeze-dried strawberries for eight weeks decreased “bad” LDL cholesterol by 11% (13).

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions associated with a higher risk of heart disease.

Another study found that eating blueberries daily improved the function of cells that line the blood vessels, which help control blood pressure and blood clotting (14).

Additionally, an analysis of 22 studies showed that eating berries was associated with reductions in “bad” LDL cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, body mass index and certain markers of inflammation (15).

Berries can be a satisfying snack or delicious low-calorie dessert. Try adding a few different types to your diet to take advantage of their unique health benefits.

SUMMARY: Berries are rich in antioxidants. Studies show that eating them can reduce multiple risk factors for heart disease.

Avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have been linked to reduced levels of cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease (16).

One study looked at the effects of three cholesterol-lowering diets in 45 overweight and obese people, with one of the test groups consuming one avocado per day.

The avocado group experienced reductions in “bad” LDL cholesterol, including lower levels of small, dense LDL cholesterol, which are believed to significantly raise the risk of heart disease (17).

Another study including 17,567 people showed that those who ate avocados regularly were half as likely to have metabolic syndrome (18).

Avocados are also rich in potassium, a nutrient that’s essential to heart health. In fact, just one avocado supplies 975 milligrams of potassium, or about 28% of the amount that you need in a day (19).

Getting at least 4.7 grams of potassium per day can decrease blood pressure by an average of 8.0/4.1 mmHg, which is associated with a 15% lower risk of stroke (20).

SUMMARY: Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats and potassium. They may help lower your cholesterol, blood pressure and risk of metabolic syndrome.

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been studied extensively for their heart-health benefits.

In one study in 324 people, eating salmon three times a week for eight weeks significantly decreased diastolic blood pressure (21).

Another study showed that eating fish over the long term was linked to lower levels of total cholesterol, blood triglycerides, fasting blood sugar and systolic blood pressure.

Additionally, each 3.5-ounce (100-gram) decrease in weekly fish consumption was associated with a 19% higher likelihood of having one additional risk factor for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity (22).

If you don’t eat much seafood, fish oil is another option for getting your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, improve arterial function and decrease blood pressure (23242526).

Other omega-3 supplements like krill oil or algal oil are popular alternatives.

SUMMARY: Fatty fish and fish oil are both high in omega-3 fatty acids and may help reduce heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol.

Walnuts are a great source of fiber and micronutrients like magnesium, copper and manganese (27).

Research shows that incorporating a few servings of walnuts in your diet can help protect against heart disease.

According to one review, eating walnuts can reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol by up to 16%, lower diastolic blood pressure by 2–3 mm Hg and decrease oxidative stress and inflammation (28).

Another study in 365 participants showed that diets supplemented with walnuts led to greater decreases in LDL and total cholesterol (29).

Interestingly, some studies have also found that regularly eating nuts such as walnuts is associated with a lower risk of heart disease (3031).

SUMMARY: Studies suggest that walnuts can help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure and may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

Beans contain resistant starch, which resists digestion and is fermented by the beneficial bacteria in your gut (32).

According to some animal studies, resistant starch can improve heart health by decreasing blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol (333435).

Multiple studies have also found that eating beans can reduce certain risk factors for heart disease.

In one study in 16 people, eating pinto beans reduced levels of blood triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol (36).

One review of 26 studies also found that a diet high in beans and legumes significantly decreased levels of LDL cholesterol (37).

What’s more, eating beans has been linked to reduced blood pressure and inflammation, both of which are risk factors for heart disease (38).

SUMMARY: Beans are high in resistant starch and have been shown to reduce levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation.

Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health.

Interestingly, several studies have associated eating chocolate with a lower risk of heart disease.

One large study showed that those who ate chocolate at least five times per week had a 57% lower risk of coronary heart disease than non-chocolate eaters (39).

Another study found that eating chocolate at least twice per week was associated with a 32% lower risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries (40).

Keep in mind that these studies show an association but don’t necessarily account for other factors that may be involved.

Additionally, chocolate can be high in sugar and calories, which can negate many of its health-promoting properties.

Be sure to pick a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, and moderate your intake to make the most of its heart-healthy benefits.

SUMMARY: Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants like flavonoids. It has been associated with a lower risk of developing calcified plaque in the arteries and coronary heart disease.

Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a natural plant pigment with powerful antioxidant properties (41).

Antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals, preventing oxidative damage and inflammation, both of which can contribute to heart disease.

Low blood levels of lycopene are linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke (4243).

One review of 25 studies showed that a high intake of foods rich in lycopene was associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke (44).

Another study in 50 overweight women found that eating two raw tomatoes four times per week increased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol (45).

Higher levels of HDL cholesterol can help remove excess cholesterol and plaque from the arteries to keep your heart healthy and protect against heart disease and stroke (46).

SUMMARY: Tomatoes are rich in lycopene and have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol.

Almonds are incredibly nutrient-dense, boasting a long list of vitamins and minerals that are crucial to heart health.

They’re also a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and fiber, two important nutrients that can help protect against heart disease (47).

Research suggests that eating almonds can have a powerful effect on your cholesterol levels, too.

One study in 48 people with high cholesterol showed that eating 1.5 ounces (43 grams) of almonds daily for six weeks reduced belly fat and levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, two risk factors for heart disease (48).

Another small study had similar findings, reporting that eating almonds for four weeks resulted in significant decreases in both LDL and total cholesterol (49).

Research also shows that eating almonds is associated with higher levels of HDL cholesterol, which can help reduce plaque buildup and keep your arteries clear (5051).

Remember that while almonds are very high in nutrients, they’re also high in calories. Measure your portions and moderate your intake if you’re trying to lose weight.

SUMMARY: Almonds are high in fiber and monounsaturated fats, and have been linked to reductions in cholesterol and belly fat.

Chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds are all great sources of heart-healthy nutrients, including fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.

Numerous studies have found that adding these types of seeds to your diet can improve many heart disease risk factors, including inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides.

For example, hemp seeds are high in arginine, an amino acid that has been associated with reduced blood levels of certain inflammatory markers (52).

Furthermore, flaxseed may help keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control.

One study showed that giving flax to people with high blood pressure decreased systolic blood pressure by an average of 10 mmHg and reduced diastolic blood pressure by 7 mmHg (53).

In one study of 17 people, eating bread made with flaxseed was shown to reduce total cholesterol by 7% and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 9% (54).

Although more research is needed about the effects of chia seeds on heart health in humans, one study in rats found that eating chia seeds lowered blood triglyceride levels and boosted levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol (55).

SUMMARY: Human and animal studies have found that eating seeds may improve several heart disease risk factors, including inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides.

For centuries, garlic has been used as a natural remedy to treat a variety of ailments.

In recent years, research has confirmed its potent medicinal properties and found that garlic can even help improve heart health.

This is thanks to the presence of a compound called allicin, which is believed to have a multitude of therapeutic effects (56).

In one study, taking garlic extract in doses of 600–1,500 mg daily for 24 weeks was as effective as a common prescription drug at reducing blood pressure (57).

One review compiled the results of 39 studies and found that garlic can reduce total cholesterol by an average of 17 mg/dL and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 9 mg/dL in those with high cholesterol (58).

Other studies have found that garlic extract can inhibit platelet buildup, which may reduce the risk of blood clots and stroke (5960).

Be sure to consume garlic raw, or crush it and let it sit for a few minutes before cooking. This allows for the formation of allicin, maximizing its potential health benefits.

SUMMARY: Garlic and its components have been shown to help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. They may also help inhibit blood clot formation.

A staple in the Mediterranean diet, the heart-healthy benefits of olive oil are well documented.

Olive oil is packed with antioxidants, which can relieve inflammation and decrease the risk of chronic disease (6162).

It’s also rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, and many studies have associated it with improvements in heart health.

In fact, one study in 7,216 adults at high risk for heart disease showed that those who consumed the most olive oil had a 35% lower risk of developing heart disease.

Furthermore, a higher intake of olive oil was associated with a 48% lower risk of dying from heart disease (63).

Another large study also showed that a higher intake of olive oil was associated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure (64).

Take advantage of the many benefits of olive oil by drizzling it over cooked dishes or adding it to vinaigrettes and sauces.

SUMMARY: Olive oil is high in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats. It has been associated with lower blood pressure and heart disease risk.

Edamame is an immature soybean frequently found in Asian cuisine.

Like other soy products, edamame is rich in soy isoflavones, a type of flavonoid that may help lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health.

One analysis of 11 studies showed that soy isoflavones reduced total cholesterol by 3.9 mg/dL and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 5 mg/dL (65).

Another analysis showed that 50 grams of soy protein per day decreased LDL cholesterol by an average of 3% (66).

If combined with other changes to diet and lifestyle, even slightly reducing your cholesterol levels can have a big impact on your risk of heart disease.

One study showed that decreasing total cholesterol levels by just 10% was associated with a 15% lower risk of dying from coronary heart disease (67).

In addition to its isoflavone content, edamame is a good source of other heart-healthy nutrients, including dietary fiber and antioxidants (6869).

SUMMARY: Edamame contains soy isoflavones, which have been shown to help decrease cholesterol levels. Edamame also contains fiber and antioxidants, which can also benefit heart health.

Green tea has been associated with a number of health benefits, from increased fat burning to improved insulin sensitivity (7071).

It’s also brimming with polyphenols and catechins, which can act as antioxidants to prevent cell damage, reduce inflammation and protect the health of your heart.

According to one review of 20 studies, a higher intake of green tea catechins was associated with significantly lower levels of LDL and total cholesterol (72).

What’s more, an analysis including 1,367 people showed that green tea decreased both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (73).

Another small study found that taking green tea extract for three months reduced blood pressure, triglycerides, LDL and total cholesterol, compared to a placebo (74).

Taking a green tea supplement or drinking matcha, a beverage that is similar to green tea but made with the whole tea leaf, may also benefit heart health.

SUMMARY: Green tea is high in polyphenols and catechins. It has been associated with lower cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.

As new evidence emerges, the link between diet and heart disease grows stronger.

What you put on your plate can influence just about every aspect of heart health, from blood pressure and inflammation to cholesterol levels and triglycerides.

Including these heart-healthy foods as part of a nutritious, well-balanced diet can help keep your heart in good shape and minimize your risk of heart disease.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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Top 11 Biggest Lies of the Junk Food Industry

There is no decency in the way junk food companies do their marketing.

1. Low-Fat or Fat-Free

One of the side effects of the "war" on fat was a plethora of processed products with reduced amounts of fat.

These products typically have labels saying "low-fat," "reduced fat" or "fat-free."

The problem is that most of these products are not healthy at all.

Foods that have had the fat removed from them typically do not taste as good as the full-fat versions. Few people want to eat them.

For this reason, food producers load these products with added sugar and other additives (1).

It is now known that fat has been unfairly demonized while growing evidence has been revealing the dangers of added sugar.

What this means is that "low-fat" foods are usually much worse than their "regular" counterparts.

SUMMARY: If a product has the words "low-fat" or anything similar on the label, it probably contains added sweeteners. Keep in mind that these processed foods are not necessarily a healthy choice.
2. Trans Fat-Free

Processed foods often have "trans fat-free" on the label. This doesn't necessarily have to be true.

As long as a product contains fewer than 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving, they are allowed to put this on the label (2).

Make sure to check the ingredients list. If the word "hydrogenated" appears anywhere on the label, then it contains trans fats.

It's actually not uncommon to find hydrogenated fats in products that are labeled trans fat-free.

SUMMARY: Avoid everything that contains the word "hydrogenated." Food products labeled trans fat-free may actually contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
3. Includes Whole Grains

Over the past few decades, consumers have been led to believe that whole grains are among the healthiest foods they can eat.

I agree 100% that whole grains are better than refined grains, although there is no evidence that eating whole grains is healthier than no grains at all.

That said, processed foods like cereals often claim to include whole grains. The problem is that whole grains aren't always "whole." The grains have been pulverized into very fine flour (34).

They may contain all the ingredients from the grain, but the resistance to quick digestion is lost and these grains might spike your blood sugar just as fast as their refined counterparts (5).

Plus, even if a product has small amounts of whole grains in it, chances are that it contains a ton of other very harmful ingredients like sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

SUMMARY: Most processed food products containing whole grains aren't really "whole" — they've been pulverized into very fine flour and spike blood sugar levels just as fast as their refined counterparts.
4. Gluten-Free

Eating a gluten-free diet is very trendy these days.

Around 1.5% of Americans are currently eating gluten-free or actively trying to restrict gluten. One-third of those haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease (6).

Just so we're clear, I fully support a gluten-free diet. There is evidence that in addition to full-blown celiac disease, a proportion of people may be sensitive to gluten or wheat.

However, processed products labeled as "gluten-free" and made to replace gluten-containing foods are generally not healthy. They are also much more expensive (7).

These foods are usually made from highly refined, high-glycemic starches, like corn starch, potato starch and tapioca starch, and may also be loaded with sugar.

Eating gluten-free should be about ditching the refined cereals and replacing them with real, whole foods.

SUMMARY: So-called "gluten-free" products are often loaded with unhealthy ingredients. Avoid them and eat real food instead.
5. Hidden Sugar

Unfortunately, most people don't read ingredient lists before making a purchase.

But even for those who do, food manufacturers still have ways of disguising the true contents of their products (8).

On ingredient lists, the components are listed in descending order by amount. If you see sugar in the first few spots, then you know that the product is loaded with sugar.

However, food manufacturers often put different types of sugar in their products. A food may contain sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and evaporated cane juice, which are all different names for the exact same thing — sugar.

This way, they can have some other, healthier-sounding ingredient as number one on the list. Nevertheless, if you were to add up the amounts of these three different types of sugar, sugar would be at the top.

This is a clever way to mask the true amount of refined sugar in processed foods.

Here’s an article on the 56 most common names for sugar.

SUMMARY: Make sure to check whether a product contains more than one type of sugar. If that’s the case, sugar may really be among the top ingredients.
6. Calories per Serving

The real calorie and sugar content of products is often hidden by saying that the product is more than one serving.

For example, a manufacturer can decide that a chocolate bar or soda bottle is two servings, even though most people don't stop until they have finished the whole thing.

Food producers can use this to their advantage by saying their products contain only a certain amount of calories per serving.

When reading labels, check the number of servings the product contains. If it contains two servings and there are 200 calories per serving, then the entire thing is 400 calories.

For example, a 24-ounce (.7-liter) bottle of cola may contain 100 calories and 27 grams of sugar per serving. If the entire bottle contains three servings, the total amount is 300 calories and 81 grams of sugar.

I don't know about you, but back in my cola-drinking days, I could easily down 24 ounces (or more) in one sitting.

SUMMARY: Make sure to check the number of servings on a label. Multiply the total sugar and calorie content by the number of servings to find the true total amount.
7. Fruit-Flavored

Many processed foods have a flavor that sounds natural.

For example, orange-flavored Vitaminwater tastes like oranges. However, there are no actual oranges in there.

The sweet taste is coming from sugar and the orange flavor is coming from artificial chemicals.

Just because a product has the flavor of real food doesn't mean that any of it is actually in there. Blueberry, strawberry, orange, etc. — these are often just chemicals designed to taste like the real thing.

SUMMARY: Just because a product has the taste of some natural food does not mean that there is even the slightest trace of that food in the product.
8. Small Amounts of Healthy Ingredients

Processed products often list small amounts of ingredients that are commonly considered healthy.

This is purely a marketing trick. Usually, the amounts of these nutrients are negligible and do nothing to make up for the harmful effects of the other ingredients.

This way, clever marketers can fool parents into thinking they're making healthy choices for themselves and their children.

Some examples of ingredients often added in tiny amounts and then displayed prominently on the packaging are omega-3s, antioxidants and whole grains.

SUMMARY: Food manufacturers often put small amounts of healthy ingredients in their products to fool people into thinking that the products are healthy.
9. Hiding Controversial Ingredients

Many people claim to have adverse reactions to certain food ingredients and therefore choose to avoid them.

However, food manufacturers often hide these controversial ingredients by referring to them with technical names that people don't know.

For example, in Europe MSG (monosodium glutamate) may be called E621 and carrageenan may be called E407.

The same can be said for many types of sugar, such as "evaporated cane juice" — it sounds natural, but it's really just sugar.

SUMMARY: Food manufacturers often hide the fact that their products contain controversial ingredients by calling them something else.
10. Low-Carb Junk Foods

Low-carb diets have been pretty popular for the past few decades.

Food manufacturers have caught up on the trend and started offered a variety of low-carb products.

The problem with these foods is the same as with the "low-fat" foods — that they're not necessarily healthy.

These are usually processed junk foods filled with unhealthy ingredients. Look at the ingredients list for products like Atkins low-carb bars. This isn't food!

There are also examples of low-carb breads and other replacement products that contain many more carbs than the label claims.

SUMMARY: "Low-carb" products are often highly processed and made with very unhealthy ingredients.
11. “Organic” Unhealthy Ingredients

Although organic food can have some benefits, many food manufacturers use the word “organic” to mislead people.

For example, when you see “raw organic cane sugar” on an ingredient list, this is basically the exact same thing as regular table sugar.

Just because something is organic does not mean that it is healthy.

SUMMARY: Many foods contain unhealthy ingredients that happen to be organic. This does not mean that they are any healthier than their non-organic counterparts.
The Bottom Line

Of course, it is best to just limit processed foods altogether and eat real, whole foods instead. That way, you don't have to worry about labels and ingredient lists.

Real food doesn't even need an ingredients list. Real food IS the ingredient.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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Kava Is Hailed for Being Able to Relieve Anxiety, but Is It Safe?

Kava, also often called kava kava, is a member of the nightshade family of plants and native to the South Pacific islands (1).

What Is Kava?

Kava is a tropical evergreen shrub with heart-shaped leaves and woody stems. Its scientific name is Piper methysticum.

Pacific cultures traditionally use the kava drink during rituals and social gatherings. To make it, people first grind its roots into a paste.

This grinding was traditionally performed by chewing the roots and spitting them out, but now it’s typically done by hand (2).

The paste is then mixed with water, strained and consumed.

Its active ingredients are called kavalactones, which account for 3–20% of the dry weight of the root of the plant (3).

Studies suggest kavalactones may have the following effects on the body:

  • Reduce anxiety (4)
  • Protect neurons from damage (5)
  • Reduce pain sensations (5)
  • Reduce the risk of cancer, though the evidence is limited to mice (6789)

Most of the research to date has focused on kava’s potential to reduce anxiety.

It is largely unknown how kavalactones produce these effects, but they appear to work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that nerves release to communicate with each other.

One of these neurotransmitters is gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which decreases the activity of nerves (1011).

SUMMARY: The roots of the kava plant contain compounds called kavalactones. These compounds are responsible for many of kava’s beneficial effects.
Kava Can Help Decrease Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric disorders today. They are commonly treated with talk therapy, medications or both (1213).

Many types of medications are available, but they may come with unwanted side effects and can be habit-forming (14).

This has increased the demand for presumably safe, natural remedies like kava.

The first long-term study investigating the effects of kava extract in people with anxiety was published in 1997 (15).

Compared to a placebo, it significantly decreased the severity of participants’ perceived anxiety.

The researchers also noted no side effects related to withdrawal or dependency, whereas these effects are common with other drugs often used to treat anxiety (14).

Since this study, several other studies have demonstrated the benefits of kava on anxiety. A review of 11 of these studies concluded that kava extract is an effective treatment for anxiety (16).

What’s more, another review of a specific kava extract came to a similar conclusion, reporting that it could be used as an alternative to certain anxiety drugs and other antidepressants (17).

Recent research has continued to find evidence that kava is effective for anxiety (181920).

SUMMARY: The current research supports the use of kava for treating anxiety. It tends to be as effective as certain anxiety drugs, with no evidence of dependency.
Kava May Aid Sleep

lack of sleep is linked to many medical issues, including high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, obesity and cancer (21222324).

Realizing this, many people turn to sleep medications to help them sleep better. Like drugs used to treat anxiety, sleep medications may become habit-forming, resulting in physical dependence (25).

Kava is commonly used as an alternative to these sleep medications due to its calming effects.

In one study in 24 people, kava was found to reduce stress and insomnia, compared to a placebo (26).

However, both the researchers and participants knew whether they were receiving kava or a placebo. This may have caused a bias that affected the outcome.

Despite these flaws, a subsequent, higher-quality study found kava to be more effective than a placebo at improving sleep quality and reducing anxiety (27).

Interestingly, kava’s effects on insomnia may stem from its effects on anxiety.

Stress-induced insomnia is common in those with anxiety. Therefore, in cases of insomnia, kava may be treating anxiety, which may then help people sleep better (27).

It’s unknown how kava affects sleep in those without anxiety or stress-induced insomnia.

Additionally, it can make you drowsy but doesn’t seem to affect driving ability (28).

SUMMARY: Kava is a natural alternative to prescription sleep medications. While it’s effective at treating stress-induced insomnia, its effects on otherwise healthy people are unknown.
Forms of Kava

Kava can be taken in tea, capsule, powder or liquid form.

With the exception of kava tea, these products are made from a concentrated mixture that’s prepared by extracting kavalactones from the root of the plant with ethanol or acetone (3).

Kava Tea

Tea is the most common method of taking kava for anxiety, as it’s readily available.

It’s sold alone or alongside other herbs touted to promote relaxation and brewed using hot water.

Be sure to find kava teas that list the kavalactone content, as well as other ingredients.

Avoid teas that list the ingredients as “proprietary blends.” With these products, you won’t know how much kava you’re getting.

Kava Tincture or Liquid

This is a liquid form of kava sold in small bottles ranging in size from 2–6 ounces (59–177 ml). You can take it with a dropper or mix it into juice or another drink to cover its whiskey-like taste.

It’s important to only take a small dose, as the kavalactones are concentrated, making kava tincture and kava liquid more potent than other forms.

Kava Capsules

Those who don’t like the taste of kava can take it in capsule form.

As with kava tea, look for products that list the kavalactone content. For example, one capsule may contain 100 mg of kava root extract that is standardized to contain 30% kavalactones.

Knowing this information will help you avoid consuming too much or too little kavalactones.

Dosage

Experts recommend that your daily intake of kavalactones does not exceed 250 mg (2930).

An effective dose of kavalactones is 70–250 mg (181920).

Kava supplements may list kavalactones in milligrams or as a percentage. If the content is listed as a percentage, you will need to calculate the amount of kavalactones it contains.

For example, if one capsule contains 100 mg of kava root extract and is standardized to contain 30% kavalactones, it will contain 30 mg of kavalactones (100 mg x 0.30 = 30 mg).

To reach an effective dose within the range of 70–250 mg of kavalactones, you would need to take at least three capsules of this particular supplement.

Most extracts of kava root contain 30–70% kavalactones (3).

SUMMARY: Kava is available in many forms. Avoid products with “proprietary blends.” Instead, look for products that tell you the kavalactone content per dose, or the percentage of kavalactones the product is standardized to contain.
Side Effects

While kava may be beneficial for anxiety, many people are concerned about its potential side effects.

In the early 2000s, several cases of liver toxicity were reported related to kava consumption (31).

The US Food and Drug Administration later warned about the risk of liver damage associated with products containing kava (32).

Its use has even been banned or restricted in many countries, including Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada and the UK.

However, the ban in Germany was later lifted due to poor evidence of related risks (33).

Kava is thought to harm the liver in many ways, one of which involves how it interacts with certain drugs.

The liver enzymes that break down kava also break down other drugs. Thus, kava can tie up these enzymes and prevent them from breaking down other drugs, causing them to build up and harm the liver (34).

Adulteration is another reason kava products are thought to be unsafe (3536).

To save money, some companies use other parts of the kava plant, such as the leaves or stems, instead of the roots. The leaves and stems are known to harm the liver (3738).

Still, several analyses of studies on the topic have found no evidence of liver damage in people who have taken these supplements in the short term, or about 1–24 weeks (1617).

Therefore, people without liver injuries and those who are not taking medications that affect the liver may be able to use kava safely in appropriate doses for about one to two months (3).

SUMMARY: Though kava can be used safely in the short term, it has been linked to liver problems. It’s best to consult a doctor before you start taking kava, since it may interact with certain drugs. Certain products may also be adulterated with other parts of the plant.
The Bottom Line

Kava has a long history of consumption in the South Pacific and is considered a safe and enjoyable beverage.

The roots of the plant contain compounds called kavalactones, which have been shown to help with anxiety.

Consult your doctor if you plan on taking kava, as it may interact with some medications.

Also, make sure you read the labels of the kava products you’re interested in to confirm the kavalactone content in each dose.

Lastly, check whether the kava was derived from the root, or other parts of the plant that may be more harmful to the liver.

With these cautions in mind, it’s possible for the majority of people to safely enjoy the benefits of kava.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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7 Foods That Drain Your Energy

It’s normal for your energy levels to rise and fall slightly during the day.

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The 7 Worst Foods for Your Brain

Your brain is the most important organ in your body. It keeps your heart beating, lungs breathing and all the systems in your body functioning. That’s why it’s essential to keep your brain working in optimum condition with a healthy diet.

1. Sugary Drinks

Sugary drinks include beverages like soda, sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit juice.

A high intake of sugary drinks not only expands your waistline and boosts your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease — it also has a negative effect on your brain (123).

An excessive intake of sugary drinks increases the odds of developing type 2 diabetes, which has been shown to increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease (4).

In addition, higher sugar levels in the blood can increase the risk of dementia, even in people without diabetes (5).

A primary component of many sugary drinks is high-fructose corn syrup, which consists of 55% fructose and 45% glucose (1).

A high intake of fructose can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, high blood fats, diabetes and arterial dysfunction. These aspects of metabolic syndrome may lead to an increase in the long-term risk of developing dementia (6).

Animal studies have shown that a high fructose intake can lead to insulin resistance in the brain, as well as a reduction in brain function, memory, learning and the formation of brain neurons (67).

One study in rats found that a diet high in sugar increased brain inflammation and impaired memory. Additionally, rats that consumed a diet consisting of 11% HFCS were worse than those whose diets consisted of 11% regular sugar (8).

Another study found that rats fed a high-fructose diet gained more weight, had worse blood sugar control and a higher risk of metabolic disorders and memory impairments (9).

While further studies in humans are needed, the results suggest that a high intake of fructose from sugary drinks may have additional negative effects on the brain, beyond the effects of sugar.

Some alternatives to sugary drinks include water, unsweetened iced tea, vegetable juice and unsweetened dairy products.

2. Refined Carbs

Refined carbohydrates include sugars and highly processed grains, such as white flour.

These types of carbs generally have a high glycemic index (GI). This means your body digests them quickly, causing a spike in your blood sugar and insulin levels.

Also, when eaten in larger quantities, these foods often have a high glycemic load (GL). The GL refers to how much a food raises your blood sugar levels, based on the serving size.

Foods that are high-GI and high-GL have been found to impair brain function.

Research has shown that just a single meal with a high glycemic load can impair memory in both children and adults (10).

Another study in healthy university students found that those who had a higher intake of fat and refined sugar also had poorer memory (10).

This effect on memory may be due to inflammation of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that affects some aspects of memory, as well as responsiveness to hunger and fullness cues (10).

Inflammation is recognized as a risk factor for degenerative diseases of the brain, including Alzheimer's disease and dementia (11).

For example, one study looked at elderly people who consumed more than 58% of their daily calories in the form of carbohydrates. The study found they had almost double the risk of mild mental impairment and dementia (12).

Carbohydrates may have other effects on the brain too. For example, one study found that children aged six to seven who consumed diets high in refined carbs also scored lower on nonverbal intelligence (13).

However, this study could not determine whether consuming refined carbs caused these lower scores, or simply whether the two factors were related.

Healthy, lower-GI carbs include foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains. You can use this database to find the GI and GL of common foods.

3. Foods High in Trans Fats

Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that can have a detrimental effect on brain health.

While trans fats occur naturally in animal products like meat and dairy, these are not a major concern. It’s industrially produced trans fats, also known as hydrogenated vegetable oils, that are a problem.

These artificial trans fats can be found in shortening, margarine, frosting, snack foods, ready-made cakes and prepackaged cookies.

Studies have found that when people consume higher amounts of trans fats, they tend to have an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, poorer memory, lower brain volume and cognitive decline (14151617).

However, some studies have not found an association between trans-fat intake and brain health. Nonetheless, trans fats should be avoided. They have a negative effect on many other aspects of health, including heart health and inflammation (18192021).

The evidence on saturated fat is mixed. Three observational studies have found a positive association between saturated fat intake and the risk of Alzheimer's disease, whereas a fourth study showed the opposite effect (14).

One cause for this may be that a subset of the test populations had a genetic susceptibility to the disease, which is caused by a gene known as ApoE4. However, more research is required on this topic (14).

One study of 38 women found that those who consumed more saturated fat relative to unsaturated fat performed worse on memory and recognition measures (15).

Thus, it may be that the relative ratios of fat in the diet are an important factor, not just the type of fat itself.

For example, diets high in omega-3 fatty acids have been found to help protect against cognitive decline. Omega-3s increase the secretion of anti-inflammatory compounds in the brain and can have a protective effect, especially in older adults (2223).

You can increase the amount of omega-3 fats in your diet by eating foods like fish, chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts.

4. Highly Processed Foods

Highly processed foods tend to be high in sugar, added fats and salt.

They include foods such as chips, sweets, instant noodles, microwave popcorn, store-bought sauces and ready-made meals.

These foods are usually high in calories and low in other nutrients. They’re exactly the kinds of foods that cause weight gain, which can have a negative effect on your brain health.

A study in 243 people found increased fat around the organs, or visceral fat, is associated with brain tissue damage. Another study in 130 people found there’s a measurable decrease in brain tissue even in the early stages of metabolic syndrome (2425).

The nutrient composition of processed foods in the Western diet can also negatively affect the brain and contribute to the development of degenerative diseases (2627).

A study including 52 people found that a diet high in unhealthy ingredients resulted in lower levels of sugar metabolism in the brain and a decrease in brain tissue. These factors are thought to be markers for Alzheimer's disease (28).

Another study including 18,080 people found that a diet high in fried foods and processed meats is associated with lower scores in learning and memory (29).

Similar results were found in another large-scale study in 5,038 people. A diet high in red meat, processed meat, baked beans and fried food was associated with inflammation and a faster decline in reasoning over 10 years (11).

In animal studies, rats fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet for eight months showed impaired learning ability and negative changes to brain plasticity. Another study found that rats fed a high-calorie diet experienced disruptions to the blood-brain barrier (303132).

The blood-brain barrier is a membrane between the brain and blood supply for the rest of the body. It helps protect the brain by preventing some substances from entering.

One of the ways processed foods may negatively impact the brain is by reducing the production of a molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (1033).

This molecule is found in various parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, and it’s important for long-term memory, learning and the growth of new neurons. Therefore, any reduction can have negative impacts on these functions (33).

You can avoid processed foods by eating mostly fresh, whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, meat and fish. Additionally, a Mediterranean-style diet has been shown to protect against cognitive decline (2834).

5. Aspartame

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used in many sugar-free products. People often choose to use it when trying to lose weight or avoid sugar when they have diabetes. It is also found in many commercial products not specifically targeted at people with diabetes.

However, this widely used sweetener has also been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems, though the research has been controversial.

Aspartame is made of phenylalanine, methanol and aspartic acid (35). Phenylalanine can cross the blood-brain barrier and might disrupt the production of neurotransmitters. Additionally, aspartame is a chemical stressor and may increase the brain's vulnerability to oxidative stress (3536).

Some scientists have suggested these factors may cause negative effects on learning and emotions, which have been observed when aspartame is consumed in excess (35).

One study looked at the effects of a high-aspartame diet. Participants consumed about 11 mg of aspartame for every pound of their body weight (25 mg per kg) for eight days.

By the end of the study, they were more irritable, had a higher rate of depression and performed worse on mental tests (37).

Another study found people who consumed artificially sweetened soft drinks had an increased risk of stroke and dementia, though the exact type of sweetener was not specified (38).

Some experimental research in mice and rats has also supported these findings. A study of repeated aspartame intake in mice found that it impaired memory and increased oxidative stress in the brain. Another found that long-term intake led to an imbalance in antioxidant status in the brain (3940).

Other animal experiments have not found any negative effects, though these were often large, single-dose experiments rather than long-term ones. Additionally, mice and rats are reportedly 60 times less sensitive to phenylalanine than humans (3541).

Despite these findings, aspartame is still considered to be a safe sweetener overall if people consume it at about 18–23 mg per pound (40–50 mg per kg) of body weight per day or less (42).

According to these guidelines, a 150-pound (68-kg) person should keep their aspartame intake under about 3,400 mg per day, at the maximum.

For reference, a packet of sweetener contains about 35 mg of aspartame, and a regular 12-ounce (340-ml) can of diet soda contains about 180 mg. Amounts may vary depending on brand (42). In addition, a number of papers have reported that aspartame has no adverse effects (42). However, if you’d prefer to avoid it, you could simply cut artificial sweeteners and excess sugar from your diet altogether.

6. Alcohol

When consumed in moderation, alcohol can be an enjoyable addition to a nice meal. However, excessive consumption can have serious effects on the brain.

Chronic alcohol use results in a reduction in brain volume, metabolic changes and disruption of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals the brain uses to communicate (43).

People with alcoholism often have a deficiency in vitamin B1. This can lead to a brain disorder called Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which in turn can develop into Korsakoff’s syndrome (44).

This syndrome is distinguished by severe damage to the brain, including memory loss, disturbances in eyesight, confusion and unsteadiness (44).

Excessive consumption of alcohol can also have negative effects in non-alcoholics. Heavy one-off drinking episodes are known as “binge drinking.” These acute episodes can cause the brain to interpret emotional cues differently than normal. For example, people have a reduced sensitivity to sad faces and an increased sensitivity to angry faces (45).

It’s thought that these changes to emotion recognition may be a cause of alcohol-related aggression (45). Furthermore, alcohol consumption during pregnancy can have devastating effects on the fetus. Given that its brain is still developing, the toxic effects of alcohol can result in developmental disorders like fetal alcohol syndrome (4647).

The effect of alcohol abuse in teenagers can also be particularly damaging, as the brain is still developing. Teenagers who drink alcohol have abnormalities in brain structure, function and behavior, compared to those who don't (48).

Particularly, alcoholic beverages mixed with energy drinks are concerning. They result in increased rates of binge drinking, impaired driving, risky behavior and an increased risk of alcohol dependence (49). An additional effect of alcohol is the disruption of sleep patterns. Drinking a large amount of alcohol before bed is associated with poor sleep quality, which can lead to chronic sleep deprivation (50).

However, moderate alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects, including improved heart health and a reduced risk of diabetes. These beneficial effects have been particularly noted in moderate wine consumption of one glass per day (515253).

Overall, you should avoid excessive alcohol consumption, especially if you’re a teenager or young adult, and avoid binge drinking entirely. If you are pregnant, it is safest to avoid drinking alcohol altogether.

7. Fish High in Mercury

Mercury is a heavy metal contaminant and neurological poison that can be stored for a long time in animal tissues (5455).

Long-lived, predatory fish are particularly susceptible to accumulating mercury and can carry amounts over 1 million times the concentration of their surrounding water (54).

For this reason, the primary food source of mercury in humans is seafood, particularly wild varieties.

After a person ingests mercury, it spreads all around their body, concentrating in the brain, liver and kidneys. In pregnant women, it also concentrates in the placenta and fetus (56).

The effects of mercury toxicity include disruption of the central nervous system and neurotransmitters and stimulation of neurotoxins, resulting in damage to the brain (56).

For developing fetuses and young children, mercury can disrupt brain development and cause the destruction of cell components. This can lead to cerebral palsy and other developmental delays and deficits (56).

However, most fish are not a significant source of mercury. In fact, fish is a high-quality protein and contains many important nutrients, such as omega-3s, vitamin B12, zinc, iron and magnesium. Therefore, it is important to include fish as part of a healthy diet.

Generally, it is recommended that adults eat two to three servings of fish per week. However, if you’re eating shark or swordfish, only consume one serving, and then no other fish that week (57).

Pregnant women and children should avoid or limit high-mercury fish, including shark, swordfish, tuna, orange roughy, king mackerel and tilefish. However, it’s still safe to have two to three servings of other low-mercury fish per week (5758).

Recommendations may differ from country to country, depending on the types of fish in your area, so it’s always best to check with your local food safety agency for the recommendations that are right for you.

Also, if you are catching your own fish, it is a good idea to check with local authorities about the levels of mercury in the water you are fishing from.

The Bottom Line

Your diet definitely has a big impact on your brain health. Inflammatory diet patterns that are high in sugar, refined carbs, unhealthy fats and processed foods can contribute to impaired memory and learning, as well as increase your risk of diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia. Alcohol can cause massive damage to the brain when consumed in large quantities, while mercury found in seafood can be neurotoxic and permanently damage developing brains.

However, this doesn't mean you must avoid all these foods completely. In fact, some foods like alcohol and fish also have health benefits. One of the best things you can do for your brain is to follow a diet rich in healthy, fresh whole foods.

You can also check out this article for 11 foods that are really good for your brain.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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20 Little Things That Make You Gain Weight

The average person gains one to two pounds (0.5 to 1 kg) every year (1).

1. Eating Quickly

In today’s world, people are busier than ever and tend to eat their meals quickly.

Unfortunately, eating quickly might be making you gain fat. Studies show that people who eat their meals quickly are more likely to be overweight or obese (234).

This is because it takes time for your body to tell your brain that it is full. Thus, people who eat quickly can easily eat more food than their body needs before feeling full (5).

If you’re a quick eater, try to consciously slow down by chewing more and taking smaller bites. You can learn more strategies to slow down your eating here.

2. Not Drinking Enough Water

Studies estimate that up to 16–28% of adults are dehydrated, with older people at an increased risk (6).

Not drinking enough water can make you thirsty. Interestingly, thirst may be mistaken as a sign of hunger or food cravings by the body (7).

In one study, scientists found that people who drank two cups of water right before breakfast ate 22% fewer calories at that meal than people who did not drink water (8).

Best of all, plain water has zero calories. Some studies have found that replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water may reduce calorie intake by up to 200 calories per day (9).

If you find plain water boring, try adding slices of cucumber, lemon or your favorite fruit to add a dash of flavor.

3. Being Too Social

Having a social life is important for maintaining a happy work-life balance.

However, being too social might be making you gain fat. Social situations often involve food or alcohol, which can easily add unwanted calories to your diet.

In addition, research shows that people tend to eat like the people they are with. So if your friends eat big portions or prefer unhealthy foods, you’re more likely to follow suit (1011).

Fortunately, there are things you can do to stay healthy without giving up your social life. You can find clever tips to eat healthy when eating out here.

4. Sitting Too Long

In Western countries, the average adult sits for 9 to 11 hours per day (12).

Although it seems harmless, studies show that people who sit longer are more likely to be overweight. In addition, they have higher risks of chronic diseases and early death (13).

For example, an analysis of six studies of nearly 600,000 people found that adults who sat for longer than 10 hours per day, such as the average office worker, had a 34% higher risk of an early death (12).

Interestingly, studies have also found that people who sit the longest don’t seem to make up for the time they spent sitting with exercise (1415).

If your work involves sitting for long intervals, make sure you exercise either before work, during lunch or after work a few times per week. You can also try using a standing desk.

5. Not Getting Enough Sleep

Over a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep (16).

Unfortunately, a lack of sleep is strongly linked to weight gain. This is due to many factors, including hormonal changes and a lack of motivation to exercise (17).

In one study, scientists analyzed the sleeping habits of over 68,000 women over 16 years. They discovered that women who slept fewer than 5 hours per night had a much higher risk of gaining weight than people who slept 7 hours or more (18).

What’s worse, people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to gain belly fat, or visceral fat. Carrying more visceral fat is linked to a higher risk of harmful diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes (1920).

If you’re struggling to fall asleep, you can find helpful tips to help you fall asleep faster here.

6. Not Having Time to Relax

Many people lead busy lives and never have time for themselves.

Sadly, not having time to relax could make you feel constantly stressed and gain some fat.

Studies show that constant stress is linked to belly fat. It seems that this stress makes people unconsciously crave unhealthy “comfort foods” to relieve stress and make them feel better (21).

Meditation is a great alternative for dealing with stress. A review of 47 studies of over 3,500 people showed that meditation helped alleviate stress and anxiety (22).

Aside from meditation, you can also try yoga, cutting back on caffeine and practicing mindfulness to help relieve stress.

7. Eating From Large Plates and Bowls

The size of your plates and bowls could have a significant impact on your waistline.

In an analysis of 72 studies, scientists found that people ate more food when it was served on larger plates and bowls than smaller plates and bowls without even realizing it. On average, people who ate from larger tableware consumed 16% more calories per meal (23).

Additionally, another study found that even nutrition experts unconsciously ate 31% more ice cream when they were provided with larger bowls (24).

This happens because larger plates can make a serving of food look smaller than it is. This tricks your brain into thinking you haven’t eaten enough food.

Simply switching to smaller tableware may help you eat less food without feeling hungry.

8. Eating in Front of the TV

People often eat while watching TV, browsing the Internet or reading the paper. However, eating while distracted could make you eat more food.

A review of 24 studies found that people ate more food during a meal when they were distracted (25).

Interestingly, those who ate while distracted also ate significantly more food later in the day. This might be because they didn’t realize how much food they ate during the meal.

While you’re eating, aim to remove all distractions and focus on your meal. This is known as mindful eating and helps make eating a more enjoyable and conscious experience (26).

9. Drinking Your Calories

Drinking fruit juices, soft drinks and other beverages might be making you gain fat.

Your brain does not register calories from beverages the same way it registers calories from foods, meaning you're likely to compensate by eating more food later on (27).

In one study, 40 people consumed 300 calories from either whole apples, applesauce or an apple with their meal at six different times. Scientists found whole apples the most filling, while apple juice was the least filling (28).

Get your calories from whole foods rather than beverages. Whole foods take more time to chew and swallow, which means your brain has more time to process hunger signals.

10. Not Eating Enough Protein

A lack of protein in your diet might be making you gain fat.

This important nutrient can help you stay fuller for longer while eating less food (29).

Protein tells the body to make more fullness hormones like peptide YY, GIP and GLP-1. It also tells the body to make fewer hunger hormones like ghrelin (3031).

Studies have also shown that a higher protein diet can help boost your metabolism and preserve muscle mass — two factors important for maintaining a healthy weight (2932).

To increase your protein intake, try eating more protein-rich foods like eggs, meats, fish, tofu and lentils. You can find more delicious protein foods here.

11. Not Eating Enough Fiber

A lack of fiber in your diet could be making you gain fat. This is because fiber helps control your appetite to keep you fuller for longer (333435).

One study showed that eating an extra 14 grams of fiber per day may decrease your calorie intake up to 10%. This could lead to a loss of up to 4.2 pounds (1.9 kg) over four months (36).

Aside from appetite, the effects of fiber on weight loss are controversial. Nonetheless, the fact that fiber is filling may help protect your waistline.

You can increase your fiber intake by eating more vegetables, especially beans and legumes. Alternatively, you can try taking a soluble fiber supplement like glucomannan.

12. Taking the Elevator Instead of the Stairs

If you take the elevator instead of the stairs at work, you’re missing out on an easy workout.

Research shows that you burn 8 calories for every 20 steps you climb. While 8 calories may seem insignificant, it can easily add up to an extra hundred calories per day if you often travel between many floors (37).

In addition, studies show that people who take the stairs have improved overall fitness and better heart and brain health (383940).

What’s more, research shows that taking the stairs may be faster than taking the elevator if you factor in waiting time (40).

13. Not Having Healthy Snacks Handy

Hunger is one of the biggest reasons why people gain weight.

When people are hungry, they are more likely to eat larger portions of food. In addition, hunger can increase your cravings for unhealthy foods (414243).

Having healthy snacks handy can help combat hunger and curb your cravings for unhealthy foods.

Just remember to keep your portion sizes at meals in check. Otherwise, eating too many healthy snacks alongside large meals can still affect your waistline.

You can find many delicious healthy snack ideas here.

14. Eating Too Many Healthy Fats

Healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil and olive oil are an important part of a healthy diet.

Unfortunately, “having too much of a good thing” also applies to healthy fats. That’s because healthy fats are also high in calories.

For example, a single tablespoon of olive oil contains 119 calories. If you add multiple spoons of oil to your meals, the calories can add up quickly (44).

Although healthy fats are high in calories, they are nutritious and should not be avoided. Instead, aim to get most of the fat in your diet from whole foods like salmon and avocado. These foods are more filling than oils alone.

In addition, aim to eat a good balance of healthy fats, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables. This should naturally balance out your diet and lower your daily calorie intake.

15. Shopping Without a Grocery List

Shopping without a grocery list might be making you gain fat.

Not only can a shopping list help you save money, but it can also stop you from making impulse purchases, which are often unhealthy.

In fact, several studies have found that people who shop with a grocery list are more likely to eat healthier, carry less weight and save more money (4546).

Here are a few tips for making a grocery list:

  • Arrange foods by category so that they are easier to locate.
  • If you’re familiar with the store, list your foods in order from closest to the entrance to furthest from the entrance. This will help save you time and avoid temptation.
  • Make sure your grocery list matches your weekly meal plan so that you don’t have to go back to the store again.
16. Drinking Too Many Milky Coffees

Over 60% of Americans drink coffee daily (47).

This popular beverage is not only energizing, but it is also loaded with antioxidants and beneficial nutrients.

However, research shows that over two-thirds of Americans add cream, sugar, milk and other additives to their coffee, which can make it unhealthy. This means your coffee habit might be contributing to fat gain (48).

For example, a tall latte from Starbucks has 204 calories. Making a switch to black coffee can provide you with the same caffeine hit without the extra calories (4950).

17. Not Eating Enough Fruits and Veggies

Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans meet the recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake (51).

This is likely a big reason why 70% of Americans are either overweight or obese (52).

Not only are fruits and vegetables loaded with beneficial nutrients, but they are also quite low in calories, which is great for your waistline (53).

Many studies have also shown that people who eat more vegetables and fruits are more likely to be at a healthier weight (5455).

If you find it hard to eat your fruits and veggies, here are a few helpful tips:

  • Add some fruit to your morning oatmeal.
  • Prepare some raw veggie sticks and take them with you to work.
  • Add plenty of chopped vegetables to your soups, stews and lasagnas.
  • Eat vegetable-rich soups and stews as it gets colder outside.
  • If you find it hard to prepare fresh veggies, try mixing it up with frozen veggies.
18. Using Too Much Dressing

A single serving of salad dressing can contain more calories than your entire salad.

For example, common salad dressings like ranch, bleu cheese and Caesar dressings contain between 130 to 180 calories per standard serving (565758).

To put this into perspective, it would take you 30 minutes of walking at a moderate pace to burn off just the salad dressing (59).

Instead, try to cut back on the salad dressings as much as possible, as they can easily add calories to your diet. Or better yet, opt for a low-calorie salad dressing like a vinaigrette.

19. Having Irregular Mealtimes

While delaying a meal every now and then isn’t harmful, constantly eating at irregular times may be harmful to your health and your waistline.

In one study of 11 people, scientists found that people who had regular mealtimes felt less hungry before a meal and more full after a meal. This means people with irregular mealtimes may often feel more hungry and eat more food (60).

Most concerning is that people who have irregular mealtimes have a higher risk of chronic diseases. This includes metabolic syndrome, heart disease, insulin resistance and poor blood sugar control (6061).

In theory, irregular mealtimes may promote these harmful effects by affecting your body’s internal clock. This internal clock helps regular processes like appetite, metabolism and digestion, so irregular eating may disrupt their rhythm (616263).

20. Not Eating Healthy on the Weekend

People often find it easier to eat healthy during the week because they typically have a daily routine with their work and life commitments.

Conversely, weekends tend to have less structure. In addition, people may be around more unhealthy temptations, which can lead to weight gain.

In one study, scientists observed the diet and exercise habits of 48 people. They found that people gained weight on weekends, as they ate more food and were less active (64).

Fortunately, you also have more time on the weekends to go outdoors and exercise. Moreover, you can avoid temptation by removing unhealthy foods from the household.

The Bottom Line

There are many little things that can make you gain fat.

However, you can make lifestyle changes today to account for them.

By following just a few of the tips in this article, you can make sure you get the most out of your healthy diet and exercise routine and avoid sabotaging it by accident.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprint with permission.

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9 Best Non-Dairy Substitutes for Milk

Cow’s milk is considered a staple in many people’s diets. It is consumed as a beverage, poured on cereal and added to smoothies, tea or coffee.

Why You Might Want a Substitute

Cow’s milk boasts an impressive nutrient profile. It’s rich in high-quality protein and important vitamins and minerals, including calcium, phosphorus and B vitamins.

In fact, 1 cup (240 ml) of whole milk provides 146 calories, 8 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein and 13 grams of carbohydrates (1).

However, cow’s milk is not a suitable option for everyone. There are several reasons you might be looking for an alternative, including:

  • Milk allergy: 2–3% of kids under the age of three are allergic to cow’s milk. This can cause a range of symptoms, including rashes, vomiting, diarrhea and severe anaphylaxis. Around 80% of kids outgrow this allergy by age 16 (23).
  • Lactose intolerance: An estimated 75% of the world's population is intolerant to lactose,the sugar found in milk. This condition happens when people have a deficiency in lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose (4).
  • Dietary restrictions: Some people choose to exclude animal products from their diets for ethical or health reasons. For example, vegans exclude all products that come from animals, including cow’s milk.
  • Potential health risks: Some people choose to avoid cow’s milk due to concerns over potential contaminants, including antibiotics, pesticides and hormones (567).

The good news is that there are many non-dairy options available if you want or need to avoid cow’s milk. Read on for a few great recommendations.

1. Soy Milk

Soy milk is made with either soybeans or soy protein isolate, and often contains thickeners and vegetable oils to improve taste and consistency.

It typically has a mild and creamy flavor. However, the taste can vary between brands. It works best as a substitute for cow’s milk in savory dishes, with coffee or on top of cereal.

One cup (240 ml) of unsweetened soy milk contains 80–90 calories, 4–4.5 grams of fat, 7–9 grams of protein and 4 grams of carbohydrates (89).

In terms of nutrition, soy milk is a close non-dairy substitute for cow’s milk. It contains a similar amount of protein, but around half the number of calories, fats and carbohydrates.

It is also one of the few plant-based sources of high-quality “complete” protein, which provides all the essential amino acids. These are the amino acids that cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from the diet (10).

On the other hand, soy has become one of the world’s most controversial foods, and people are often concerned over its effects in the body.

This is mostly because of the large amounts of isoflavones in soy. These can affect estrogen receptors in the body and affect the function of hormones (1112).

While this topic is widely debated, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that moderate amounts of soy or soy milk will cause harm in otherwise healthy adults (131415).

Lastly, soy milk made from soybeans is not recommended for people with a FODMAP intolerance or who are in the elimination phase of the low-FODMAP diet.

FODMAPs are a type of short-chain carbohydrate naturally present in some foods. They can cause digestive issues such as gas and bloating.

However, soy milk made from soy protein isolate can be consumed as an alternative.

SUMMARY: Soy milk is made from whole soybeans or soy protein isolate. It has a creamy, mild taste and is the most similar in nutrition to cow’s milk. Soy milk is often seen as controversial, though drinking soy milk in moderation is unlikely to cause harm.
2. Almond Milk

Almond milk is made with either whole almonds or almond butter and water.

It has a light texture and a slightly sweet and nutty flavor. It can be added to coffee and tea, mixed in smoothies and used as a substitute for cow’s milk in desserts and baked goods.

One cup (240 ml) of unsweetened almond milk contains 30–35 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein and 1–2 grams of carbohydrates (1617).

Compared to cow’s milk, it contains less than a quarter of the calories and less than half the fat. It is also significantly lower in protein and carbohydrates.

It is one of the lowest-calorie non-dairy milks available and is a great option for those wanting or needing to lower the number of calories they’re consuming.

What’s more, almond milk is a natural source of vitamin E, a group of antioxidants that help protect the body from disease-causing substances known as free radicals.

On the other hand, almond milk is a much less concentrated source of the beneficial nutrients found in whole almonds, including protein, fiber and healthy fats.

This is because almond milk is made up of mostly water. In fact, many brands contain only 2% almonds. These are often blanched with the skin removed, which greatly reduces the fiber, protein, vitamin and mineral content.

To make the most of the nutrients and health benefits of almonds, choose brands of almond milk that contain a higher content of almonds, around 7–15%.

Almonds also contain phytic acid, a substance that binds to iron, zinc and calcium to reduce their absorption in the body. This may somewhat decrease your body’s absorption of these nutrients from almond milk (1819).

SUMMARY: Almond milk has a light, sweet, nutty flavor and is low in calories, fat and carbohydrates. On the downside, it is low in protein and contains phytic acid, a substance that limits the absorption of iron, zinc and calcium.
3. Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is made from water and the white flesh of brown coconuts.

It is sold in cartons alongside milk and is a more diluted version of the type of coconut milk commonly used in Southeast Asian and Indian cuisines, which is usually sold in cans.

Coconut milk has a creamy texture and a sweet but subtle coconut flavor. One cup (240 ml) contains 45 calories, 4 grams of fat, no protein and almost no carbohydrates (2021).

Coconut milk contains one-third the calories of cow’s milk, half the fat and significantly less protein and carbohydrates.

In fact, coconut milk has the lowest protein and carbohydrate content of the non-dairy milks. It may not be the best option for those with increased protein requirements, but it would suit those looking to reduce their carb intake.

What’s more, around 90% of the calories from coconut milk come from saturated fat, including a type of saturated fat known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

Some research suggests that MCTs may help reduce appetite, assist with weight loss and improve blood cholesterol levels more than other fats (22232425).

On the other hand, a recent review of 21 studies found that coconut oil may raise levels of total and “bad” low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol to a greater extent than unsaturated oils (26).

However, much of this research is based on poor-quality evidence and there is very little research on the effects of coconut milk specifically. At the end of the day, consuming a moderate amount of coconut milk as part of a healthy diet should not be a cause for concern.

Lastly, it is recommended that people with a FODMAP intolerance, or those who are completing the elimination phase of the FODMAP diet, limit coconut milk to a 1/2-cup (120-ml) portion at a time.

SUMMARY: Coconut milk has a creamy, milk-like consistency and a sweet, coconut taste. It contains no protein, little to no carbohydrates and is high in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a type of saturated fat.
4. Oat Milk

In its simplest form, oat milk is made from a mixture of oats and water. Nevertheless, manufacturers often add extra ingredients such as gums, oils and salt to produce a desirable taste and texture.

Oat milk is naturally sweet and mild in flavor. It can be used in cooking in the same way as cow’s milk, and tastes great with cereal or in smoothies.

One cup (240 ml) contains 140–170 calories, 4.5–5 grams of fat, 2.5–5 grams of protein and 19–29 grams of carbohydrates (2728).

Oat milk contains a similar number of calories to cow’s milk, up to double the number of carbohydrates and about half the amount of protein and fat.

Interestingly, oat milk is high in total fiber and beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that forms a thick gel as it passes through the gut.

The beta-glucan gel binds to cholesterol, reducing its absorption in the body. This helps lower cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol, the type associated with an increased risk of heart disease (293031).

One study in men with high cholesterol found that consuming 25 ounces (750 ml) of oat milk daily for five weeks lowered total cholesterol by 3% and LDL cholesterol by 5% (32).

What’s more, research has shown that beta-glucan may help increase feelings of fullness and lower blood sugar levels after a meal (333435).

Oat milk is also cheap and easy to make at home.

SUMMARY: Oat milk has a mild, sweet flavor. It is high in protein and fiber, but also high in calories and carbohydrates. Oat milk contains beta-glucan, which can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
5. Rice Milk

Rice milk is made from milled white or brown rice and water. As with other non-dairy milks, it often contains thickeners to improve texture and taste.

Rice milk is the least allergenic of the non-dairy milks. This makes it a safe option for those with allergies or intolerances to dairy, gluten, soy or nuts.

Rice milk is mild in taste and naturally sweet in flavor. It has a slightly watery consistency and is great to drink on its own as well as in smoothies, in desserts and with oatmeal.

One cup (240 ml) of rice milk contains 130–140 calories, 2–3 grams of fat, 1 gram of protein and 27–38 grams of carbohydrates (3637).

Rice milk contains a similar number of calories to cow’s milk, but almost double the carbohydrates. It also contains considerably less protein and fat.

Of all the non-dairy milk alternatives on this list, rice milk contains the most carbohydrates — around three times as many as the others.

What’s more, rice milk has a high glycemic index (GI) of 79–92, which means it is absorbed quickly in the gut and rapidly raises blood sugar levels. For this reason, it may not be the best option for people with diabetes.

Due to its low protein content, rice milk may also not be the best option for growing children, athletes and the elderly. This is because these populations have higher protein requirements.

Rice milk has also been shown to contain high levels of inorganic arsenic, a toxic chemical found naturally in the environment (38).

Long-term exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic has been associated with an increased risk of various health problems, including certain cancers and heart disease (394041).

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that people consume rice as part of a balanced diet that includes a variety of grains. Solely relying on rice and rice products is not advised, especially for infants, toddlers and pregnant women (42).

For most people, drinking rice milk should not be a cause for concern. However, if rice happens to make up a significant part of your diet, then it could be beneficial to diversify your diet by eating a variety of grains, including other non-dairy milks.

SUMMARY: Rice milk is the most hypoallergenic non-dairy milk. It is low in fat and protein yet high in carbohydrates. Rice milk contains high levels of inorganic arsenic, which may cause some potential health problems in those who consume rice as a main food source.
6. Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is made from a mixture of cashew nuts or cashew butter and water.

It is rich and creamy and has a sweet and subtle nutty flavor. It’s great for thickening smoothies, as a creamer in coffee and as a substitute for cow’s milk in desserts.

As with most nut-based milks, the nut pulp is strained from the milk. This means the fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals from the whole cashew are lost.

One cup (240 ml) of unsweetened cashew milk contains just 25–50 calories, 2–4 grams of fat, 0–1 gram of protein and 1–2 grams of carbohydrates (4344).

Cashew milk contains fewer than one third of the calories of cow’s milk, half the fat and significantly less protein and carbohydrates.

Due to its low protein content, cashew milk may not be the best option for people with increased protein requirements.

It could be worth switching to a higher-protein milk such as soy or oat if you have increased protein needs, or if you struggle to meet your daily protein requirements.

However, with only 25–50 calories per cup (240 ml), unsweetened cashew milk is a great, low-calorie option for those looking to reduce their total daily calorie intake.

The low carbohydrate and sugar content also makes it a suitable option for people who need to monitor their carb intakes, such as people with diabetes.

Lastly, cashew milk is one of the easiest milks to make at home.

SUMMARY: Cashew milk has a rich and creamy taste and is low in calories, carbohydrates and sugar. On the downside, it contains very little protein, and may not be the best option for those with higher protein requirements.
7. Macadamia Milk

Macadamia milk is made mostly of water and about 3% macadamia nuts. It’s fairly new to the market, and most brands are made in Australia using Australian macadamias.

It has a richer, smoother and creamier flavor than most non-dairy milks, and tastes great on its own or in coffee and smoothies.

One cup (240 ml) contains 50–55 calories, 4.5–5 grams of fat, 1–5 grams of protein and 1 gram of carbohydrates (4546).

Macadamia milk contains one third the calories and about half the fat of cow’s milk. It is also somewhat lower in protein and carbohydrates.

It is very low in calories, with only 50–55 calories per cup (240 ml). This makes it a great option for those trying to reduce their calorie intake.

The low carbohydrate content also makes it a suitable option for people with diabetes or those looking to reduce their carb intake.

What’s more, macadamia milk is a great source of healthy monounsaturated fats, with 3.8 grams per cup (240 ml).

Increasing your intake of monounsaturated fats may help reduce blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, especially if it replaces some saturated fat or carbohydrates in your diet (47484950).

SUMMARY: Macadamia milk is a relatively new milk to the market. It’s made from macadamia nuts and has a rich, creamy taste. Macadamia milk is high in monounsaturated fats and low in calories and carbohydrates.
8. Hemp Milk

Hemp milk is made from the seeds of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. This is the same species used to make the drug cannabis, also known as marijuana.

Unlike marijuana, hemp seeds contain only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for marijuana’s mind-altering effects (51).

Hemp milk has a slightly sweet, nutty taste and a thin, watery texture. It works best as a substitute for lighter milks such as skim milk.

One cup (240 ml) of unsweetened hemp milk contains 60–80 calories, 4.5–8 grams of fat, 2–3 grams of protein and 0–1 gram of carbohydrates (5253).

Hemp milk contains a similar amount of fat to cow’s milk, but around half the calories and protein. It also contains significantly fewer carbohydrates.

It is a good option for vegans and vegetarians, since one glass provides 2–3 grams of high quality, complete protein, with all the essential amino acids.

What’s more, hemp milk is a source of two essential fatty acids: the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid and the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid. Your body cannot make omega-3s and omega-6s, so you must obtain them from foods (54).

Lastly, unsweetened hemp milk is very low in carbohydrates, making it a great option for those who want to reduce their carb intake. If this is a priority for you, avoid sweetened varieties because they can contain up to 20 grams of carbs per cup (240 ml) (55).

SUMMARY: Hemp milk has a thin, watery texture and a sweet and nutty flavor. It is low in calories and contains little to no carbs. Hemp milk is a great option for vegetarians and vegans because it is a source of high-quality protein and two essential fatty acids.
9. Quinoa Milk

Quinoa milk is made from water and quinoa, an edible seed that is commonly prepared and consumed as a grain.

The whole quinoa grain is very nutritious, gluten-free and rich in high-quality protein.

While quinoa has become a very popular “superfood” over recent years, quinoa milk is fairly new to the market.

For this reason, it is slightly more expensive than other non-dairy milks and can be a little harder to find on supermarket shelves.

Quinoa milk is slightly sweet and nutty and has a distinct quinoa flavor. It works best poured onto cereal and in warm porridge.

One cup (240 ml) contains 70 calories, 1 gram of fat, 2 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrates (56).

Quinoa milk contains a similar number of carbohydrates to cow’s milk, but fewer than half the calories. It also contains significantly less fat and protein.

It is made up of mostly water and contains 5–10% quinoa. This means that most of the protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals from quinoa are diluted.

It has a fairly well-balanced nutrition profile compared to other non-dairy milks. It is comparatively low in fat with moderate amounts of protein, calories and carbs.

Quinoa milk is a good plant-based source of complete protein for vegetarians and vegans. If it is available at your local supermarket, then it could be worth trying.

SUMMARY: Quinoa milk has a distinct flavor and is slightly sweet and nutty. It contains a moderate number of calories, protein and carbs compared to other non-dairy milks. It’s a good option for vegetarians and vegans since it contains high-quality protein.
What to Consider When Substituting

With a wide range of non-dairy milks available on supermarket shelves, it can be difficult to know which one is best for you.

Here are a few important things to consider:

  • Added sugar: Sugar is often added to enhance flavor and texture. Stick with unsweetened varieties over flavored ones, and try to avoid brands that list sugar as one of the first three ingredients.
  • Calcium content: Cow’s milk is rich in calcium, which is vital for healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis. Most non-dairy milks are fortified with it, so choose one that contains at least 120 mg of calcium per 3.4 ounces (100 ml).
  • Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products and is essential for a healthy brain and immune system. People who limit or avoid animal products from their diets should choose milk that is fortified with B12.
  • Cost: Non-dairy milks are often more expensive than cow’s milk. To cut costs, try making plant-based milk at home. However, one downside of making your own milk is that it will not be fortified with calcium and vitamin B12.
  • Additives: Some non-dairy milks may contain additives such as carrageenan and vegetable gums to achieve a thick and smooth texture. While these additives aren't necessarily unhealthy, some people prefer to avoid them.
  • Dietary needs: Some people have allergies or intolerances to certain ingredients used in plant-based milks, such as gluten, nuts and soy. Be sure to check labels if you have an allergy or intolerance.
SUMMARY: There are a few things to consider when choosing a cow’s milk alternative, including nutrient content, added sugars and additives. Reading food labels will help you understand what’s in the milk you are buying.
The Bottom Line

For many people, cow’s milk is a dietary staple.

However, there are a number of reasons you may need or choose to forgo cow’s milk, including allergies, ethical reasons and concerns over potential health risks.

Fortunately, there are many great alternatives available, including the nine in this list.

When making your choice, be sure to stick with unsweetened varieties and avoid added sugars. In addition, make sure your non-dairy milk is fortified with calcium and vitamin B12.

There is no one milk that’s ideal for everyone. The taste, nutrition and cost of these alternatives can vary considerably, so it might take a while to find the one that’s best for you.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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19 Foods That Can Fight Sugar Cravings

Sugar cravings are extremely common, especially among women.

1. Fruit

When most people feel sugar cravings, they reach for high-fat, high-sugar foods like chocolate (1).

However, swapping out the junk food for some fruit when you feel like something sugary could give you the sweet hit you need and stop your craving in its tracks.

Fruit is naturally sweet but also contains lots of beneficial plant compounds and fiber, allowing you to have your fix and keep it healthy (3).

To make sure it hits the spot, eat fruits that are slightly higher in sugar like mangoes or grapes.

If you’re also hungry, try adding some yogurt to your fruit to make it a more satisfying snack.

SUMMARY: Fruit contains sugar, along with lots of healthy nutrients and plant compounds.
2. Berries

Berries are an excellent, nutritious choice for stopping sugar cravings.

They taste sweet, but their high fiber content means they are actually quite low in sugar.

This could make them a great choice if you think your sugar cravings are linked to habit, rather than hunger. For example, you might crave sweet foods while you’re watching TV.

Additionally, berries are rich in plant compounds and have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

This means they may help reduce risk factors for chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes (456).

SUMMARY: Berries taste sweet, but they are high in fiber and low in sugar. Regularly eating berries may also help reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
3. Dark Chocolate

Chocolate is one of the most commonly reported foods people eat when they crave sweets. This is especially true for women (7).

However, if you find yourself craving chocolate, you can make a healthier choice by choosing dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate is chocolate that contains more than 70% cocoa. It also contains healthy plant compounds known as polyphenols.

Some studies have shown that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of these polyphenols may help improve markers of heart health (89).

However, like regular chocolate, dark chocolate contains sugar and fat, so it’s best to limit yourself to a couple of squares to satisfy your craving (10).

SUMMARY: Swap regular chocolate out for a few squares of dark chocolate, which contains less sugar and higher levels of healthy polyphenols.
4. Snack Bars

Not all snack bars are healthy, and some are very high in fat and sugar.

However, if you’re craving a sweet treat, there are some good, healthier options out there.

Try looking for a snack bar made with whole oats and sweetened with fresh or dried fruit, rather than table sugar.

Also watch out for bars that contain a lot of so-called “healthy” sugar, such as honey, agave syrup or coconut sugar. These are still sugar, and they aren’t good for you.

The best bars have been made with whole foods. They are likely to be higher in fiber and contain more beneficial nutrients, even if they are still quite sweet.

Alternatively, you could try making your own healthy snack bar using a recipe like this one.

SUMMARY: Snack bars that have been made with whole foods can make a healthy sweet treat.
5. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are a good source of many important nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, soluble dietary fiber and some healthy plant compounds (1112).

In fact, soluble fiber accounts for around 40% of chia seeds.

This sort of fiber readily absorbs water and swells up to form a jelly-like substance in your gut, which may help keep you feeling fuller for longer and prevent sugar cravings (13).

Chia seeds are also versatile, so if you want a dessert to satisfy your sweet craving, you could try making a chia pudding like this one.

SUMMARY: Chia seeds are high in soluble fiber, which could help you feel fuller for longer and curb your sugar cravings.
6. Sugar-Free Chewing Gum or Mints

Chewing gum can be a great way to control your sugar cravings.

Gum or mints that are made with artificial sweeteners taste sweet but contain a minimal number of calories and no sugar.

Although results are mixed, some studies have also found that chewing gum could help control hunger, cravings and the intake of carb-heavy foods later in the day (14151617).

In addition to helping you fight the urge for sugar, chewing gum after your meals is good for your teeth (18).

SUMMARY: Chewing sugar-free gum can provide you with a sweet taste that may help curb your cravings and control your food intake.
7. Legumes

Legumes like lentils, beans and chickpeas are great plant-based sources of fiber and protein.

In fact, 1 cup (198 grams) of lentils provides you with around 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber (19).

Both these nutrients are thought to increase feelings of fullness. Thus, in theory, including legumes in your diet could help you feel fuller and reduce hunger-driven sugar cravings.

In line with this, a recent review found that eating lentils may aid weight loss (20).

This may be partly due to the short-term beneficial effects that legumes can have on your appetite (2122).

SUMMARY: Legumes like lentils, beans and chickpeas are good sources of protein and fiber. Including them in your diet could help curb hunger, leaving you less likely to get a craving.
8. Yogurt

Yogurt is a healthy snack that’s high in protein and rich in calcium.

Additionally, some studies have suggested that yogurt could be a good snack to help regulate your appetite and control your cravings (23242526).

In fact, one study found that healthy-weight women who had high-protein Greek yogurt for an afternoon snack were less hungry and ate less later in the day, compared to those who had a lower-protein snack or no snack at all (27).

The healthiest choice for yogurt is one that contains live cultures and is free of added sugar.

SUMMARY: Yogurt is a high-protein snack that could help you control your appetite and cravings.
9. Dates

Dates are the dried fruit of the date palm tree. They are highly nutritious and very sweet.

Even though they have been dried, they are a great source of fiber, potassium, iron and beneficial plant compounds.

Having a few dates instead of a soda or some candy can give you a sweet fix and also provide you with healthy nutrients.

You could even try pairing them with nuts like almonds for a sweet and crunchy treat.

However, remember that dates are very sweet, so stick to one portion at a time, or about three dates.

SUMMARY: Dates are very sweet, so they can fix your craving for sugar while providing you other beneficial nutrients too.
10. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are nutritious, sweet and very filling. They contain mostly carbs but also fiber and a number of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium.

Some people get sugar cravings because they aren’t eating enough throughout the day.

Including a carb source like sweet potatoes in your meals can combat this by adding calories to your meals and making them more balanced, all while providing you the sweet taste you’re craving.

For a delicious treat, try them roasted with cinnamon and paprika like in this recipe.

SUMMARY: Sweet potatoes can provide you with a sweet taste and may help keep you feeling full so you won’t experience sugar cravings later in the day.
11. Meat, Poultry and Fish

Including a source of protein like meat, poultry or fish in your meals may help prevent sugar cravings (2829).

In fact, if you are trying to lose weight, eating adequate amounts of protein may be very important for managing your food intake, cravings and weight (30313233).

In one study, when participants followed a weight loss diet that derived 25% of its calories from protein, their food cravings were reduced by 60% and their desire for late-night snacking was cut in half (34).

So if you’re on a diet and experiencing lots of sugar cravings, make sure you’re including a source of protein like meat, poultry or fish in your meals.

If you’re vegetarian, don’t worry — plant-based sources of protein may have the same effect (35).

SUMMARY: Good sources of protein like meat, poultry and fish may help keep you full and prevent cravings for sweets.
12. Smoothies

If you’re craving something sweet and need a snack to quickly nip it in the bud, a smoothie can be a great option.

The sweetness of the fruit combined with the filling effects of yogurt can satisfy your need for something sweet, all while providing lots of beneficial nutrients.

If you’re having a smoothie, make sure you use the whole fruit, not just the juice, so you can retain the healthy fiber.

SUMMARY: Smoothies made with whole fruits and yogurt can combat your cravings for sweets.
13. Sugar-Free Soda

Soda is extremely sweet, and drinking high amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages has been linked to a number of diseases, including heart disease and diabetes (363738).

However, going cold turkey and cutting them out completely can be difficult.

In fact, soda drinkers who cut out sugar-sweetened drinks may experience sugar cravings.

Switching to a sugar-free version can help you get a sweet fix without the added sugar and calories.

SUMMARY: Switching out your high-sugar drinks for ones made with artificial sweeteners can give you a sweet taste without all the added sugar.
14. Prunes

Prunes are dried plums.

Like dates, they’re full of fiber and nutrients and taste very sweet (39).

This means you can reach for them as a healthy alternative to candy when you just have to have some sugar.

Their high fiber content and naturally occurring sorbitol also mean they may help relieve constipation. Sorbitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol that tastes sweet but is absorbed slowly in your gut (40).

SUMMARY: Prunes are sweet, nutritious and high in fiber, so they can be a healthy food for satisfying cravings for sweets.
15. Eggs

Eggs are another high-protein food that may help keep your appetite and cravings in check.

In fact, research has shown that having a high-protein breakfast like eggs may reduce hunger and help people eat less throughout the day (414243).

This may be partly because a high-protein breakfast suppresses the hunger hormone ghrelin and increases some of the hormones that make you feel full, including peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) (444546).

This suggests that an egg breakfast could keep you feeling fuller for longer and keep the cravings at bay (4344).

SUMMARYEggs can be a good choice, especially for breakfast. They’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer and reduce the chance of sugar cravings throughout the day.
16. Trail Mix

Trail mix is the name often given to a snack containing dried fruit and nuts.

The exact combination of ingredients can vary, but trail mix can make a great choice if you're craving something sweet.

The sweetness of the dried fruit can help halt your sugar cravings, and it’s also a great way to get some nuts into your diet.

Nuts contain healthy fats, proteins, fiber and plant compounds. Eating them has been linked to a number of health benefits, including improved risk factors for heart disease and diabetes (47).

Thus, by choosing trail mix, your sweet treat isn’t only sweet, but nutritious too.

However, trail mix can be very high in calories, so stick to a serving of around one handful.

SUMMARY: Trail mix combines the sweetness of dried fruits with nuts. This gives your sweet fix some added nutritional value.
17. Fermented Foods

Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut are sources of beneficial bacteria.

The beneficial bacteria found in these foods may help maintain the balance of “good” bacteria in your gut and reduce the number of disease-causing bacteria (484950).

In fact, the bacteria in your gut are also linked to many of your body’s processes and can “talk” to your brain through the compounds and hormones they produce.

This makes it possible for your gut bacteria to influence your food intake in a number of ways. Some of these compounds may even mimic hunger or fullness hormones in your body, influencing your appetite and food cravings (5152).

Because of this, it’s been suggested that including some fermented food in your diet could contribute to maintaining a healthy gut and even help prevent food cravings.

However, no studies to date have examined the effects of eating fermented foods on food cravings, and more research is needed (53).

SUMMARY: Fermented foods can contribute to maintaining a healthy gut, which could influence your appetite and food intake.
18. Whole Grains

Whole grains are high in fiber and contain nutrients including B vitamins, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, manganese and selenium (5455).

Eating whole grains has been linked to a longer, healthier life, and their high fiber content also means they may help you feel full (56575859).

Whole grains can also promote the growth of beneficial bacteria such as BifidobacteriaLactobacilli and Bacteroidetes in your gut.

Interestingly, their filling properties cannot be explained by their fiber content alone. It has been suggested that their influence on gut bacteria may also contribute to this effect (60).

However, more studies are needed in this area.

Overall, making sure you are eating enough and including foods like whole grains in your diet will help keep you full and may help prevent sugar cravings.

SUMMARY: Whole grains are high in fiber and can help keep you feeling full.
19. Vegetables

While eating vegetables may not be satisfying when you are experiencing an acute sugar craving, including them in your diet regularly could be helpful.

Vegetables are high in fiber and low in calories. They also contain lots of beneficial nutrients and plant compounds (4).

Eating more vegetables is probably one of the best things you can do for your health and could lower your risk of diseases like heart disease and cancer (61).

Adding vegetables is also a great way to bulk up your meals, helping you feel more satisfied throughout the day (62).

SUMMARY: Adding more vegetables to your meals could help fill you up and prevent you from getting sugar cravings due to hunger.
The Bottom Line

Having the odd sweet treat is fine for most people, so you shouldn't feel guilty if you occasionally indulge.

However, if you find yourself experiencing sugar cravings regularly or feel out of control around sweet foods, then it’s worth taking a closer look at your diet.

If you need something sweet, swap some of your sugar-filled treats out for some of the healthier options in this list.

Additionally, you can try these 11 ways to stop food and sugar cravings, which take a look at your diet and lifestyle as a whole.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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The 25 Best Diet Tips to Lose Weight and Improve Health

Let’s face it—there’s an overwhelming amount of information on the Internet about how to quickly shed pounds and get in shape.

1. Fill up on Fiber

Fiber is found in healthy foods including vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains.

Some studies have shown that simply eating more fiber-rich foods may help you lose weight and keep it off (12).

Increasing your intake is as easy as adding beans to your salad, eating oats for breakfast or snacking on fiber-rich nuts and seeds.

2. Ditch Added Sugar

Added sugar, especially from sugary drinks, is a major reason for unhealthy weight gain and health problems like diabetes and heart disease (34).

Plus, foods like candy, soda and baked goods that contain lots of added sugars tend to be very low in the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy.

Cutting out foods high in added sugars is a great way to lose excess weight.

It’s important to note that even foods promoted as “healthy” or “organic” can be very high in sugar. Therefore, reading nutrition labels is a must.

3. Make Room for Healthy Fat

While fat is often the first thing that gets cut when you’re trying to slim down, healthy fats can actually help you reach your weight loss goals.

In fact, following a high-fat diet that’s rich in foods like olive oil, avocados and nuts has been shown to maximize weight loss in several studies (56).

What’s more, fats help you stay fuller for longer, decreasing cravings and helping you stay on track.

4. Minimize Distractions

While consuming meals in front of your TV or computer may not seem like diet sabotage, eating while distracted may cause you to consume more calories and gain weight (7).

Eating at the dinner table, away from potential distractions, is not only a good way to keep your weight down — it also allows you time to reconnect with loved ones.

Smartphones are another device you should set aside while you’re eating. Scrolling through emails or your Instagram or Facebook feed is just as distracting as a TV or computer.

5. Walk Your Way to Health

Many people believe they must adopt a rigorous exercise routine to jumpstart weight loss.

While different types of activity are important when you’re attempting to get in shape, walking is an excellent and easy way to burn calories.

In fact, just 30 minutes of walking per day has been shown to aid in weight loss (8).

Plus, it’s an enjoyable activity that you can do both indoors and outside at any time of day.

6. Bring out Your Inner Chef

Cooking more meals at home has been shown to promote weight loss and healthy eating (910).

Although eating meals at restaurants is enjoyable and can fit into a healthy diet plan, focusing on cooking more meals at home is a great way to keep your weight in check.

What’s more, preparing meals at home allows you to experiment with new, healthy ingredients while saving you money at the same time.

7. Have a Protein-Rich Breakfast

Including protein-rich foods like eggs in your breakfast has been shown to benefit weight loss (11).

Simply swapping your daily bowl of cereal for a protein-packed scramble made with eggs and sauteed veggies can help you shed pounds.

Increasing protein intake in the morning may also help you avoid unhealthy snacking and improve appetite control throughout the day (12).

8. Don’t Drink Your Calories

While most people know they should avoid sodas and milkshakes, many people don’t realize that even drinks advertised to boost athletic performance or improve health can be loaded with unwanted ingredients.

Sports drinks, coffee beverages and flavored waters tend to be very high in calories, artificial colorings and added sugar.

Even juice, which is often promoted as a healthy beverage, can lead to weight gain if you consume too much.

Focus on hydrating with water to minimize the number of calories you drink throughout the day.

9. Shop Smart

Creating a shopping list and sticking to it is a great way to avoid buying unhealthy foods impulsively.

Plus, making a shopping list has been shown to lead to healthier eating and promote weight loss (1314).

Another way to limit unhealthy purchases at the grocery store is to have a healthy meal or snack before you go shopping.

Studies have shown that hungry shoppers tend to reach for higher-calorie, unhealthy foods (15).

10. Stay Hydrated

Drinking enough water throughout the day is good for overall health and can even help you maintain a healthy weight.

One study of over 9,500 people found that those who were not adequately hydrated had higher body mass indexes (BMIs) and were more likely to be obese than those who were properly hydrated (16).

What’s more, people who drink water before meals have been shown to eat fewer calories (17).

11. Practice Mindful Eating

Rushing through meals or eating on the go may lead you to consume too much, too quickly.

Instead, be mindful of your food, focusing on how each bite tastes. It may lead you to be more aware of when you are full, decreasing your chances of overeating (18).

Focusing on eating slowly and enjoying your meal, even if you have limited time, is a great way to reduce overeating.

12. Cut Back on Refined Carbs

Refined carbs include sugars and grains that have had their fiber and other nutrients removed. Examples include white flour, pasta and bread.

These types of foods are low in fiber, are digested quickly and only keep you full for a short period of time (19).

Instead, choose sources of complex carbohydrates like oats, ancient grains like quinoa and barley, or veggies like carrots and potatoes.

They’ll help keep you fuller for longer and contain many more nutrients than refined sources of carbohydrates.

13. Lift Heavier to Get Lighter

Although aerobic exercise like brisk walking, running and biking is excellent for weight loss, many people tend to focus solely on cardio and don’t add strength training to their routines.

Adding weight lifting to your gym routine can help you build more muscle and tone your entire body.

What’s more, studies have shown that weight lifting gives your metabolism a small boost, helping you burn more calories throughout the day, even when you are at rest (20).

14. Set Meaningful Goals

Fitting into jeans from high school or looking better in a swimsuit are popular reasons why people want to lose weight.

However, it’s much more meaningful to truly understand why you want to lose weight and the ways that weight loss may positively affect your life. Having these goals in mind may help you stick to your plan.

Being able to play tag with your children or having the stamina to dance all night at a loved one’s wedding are examples of goals that can keep you committed to a positive change.

15. Avoid Fad Diets

Fad diets are promoted for their ability to help people lose weight fast.

However, these diets tend to be very restrictive and not easy to maintain. This leads to yo-yo dieting, where people lose pounds, only to gain them back.

While this cycle is common in those trying to shape up quickly, yo-yo dieting has been linked to a greater increase in body weight over time (2122).

Additionally, studies have shown that yo-yo dieting can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome (23).

These diets may be tempting, but finding a sustainable, healthy eating plan that nourishes your body instead of depriving it is a much better choice.

16. Eat Whole Foods

Keeping track of exactly what is going into your body is a great way to get healthy.

Eating whole foods that don’t come with an ingredient list ensures that you are nourishing your body with natural, nutrient-dense foods.

When purchasing foods with ingredient lists, less is more.

If a product has lots of ingredients that you are unfamiliar with, chances are it is not the healthiest option.

17. Buddy Up

If you are having trouble sticking to a workout routine or healthy eating plan, invite a friend to join you and help you stay on track.

Studies show that people who slim down with a friend are more likely to stick with weight loss and exercise programs. They also tend to lose more weight than those who go it alone (242526).

Plus, having a friend or family member with the same health and wellness goals can help you stay motivated while having fun at the same time.

18. Don’t Deprive Yourself

Telling yourself that you will never have your favorite foods again is not only unrealistic, but it may also set you up for failure.

Depriving yourself will only make you want the forbidden food more and may cause you to binge when you finally cave in.

Making room for appropriate indulgences here and there will teach you self-control and keep you from feeling resentful of your new, healthy lifestyle.

Being able to enjoy a small portion of a homemade dessert or indulging in a favorite holiday dish is part of having a healthy relationship with food.

19. Be Realistic

Comparing yourself to models in magazines or celebrities on TV is not only unrealistic — it can also be unhealthy.

While having a healthy role model can be a great way to stay motivated, being overly critical of yourself can set you back and may lead to unhealthy behaviors.

Try focusing on how you feel rather than concentrating on how you look. Your main motivations should be to get happier, fitter and healthier.

20. Veg Out

Vegetables are loaded with fiber and the nutrients your body craves.

What’s more, increasing your vegetable intake can help you lose weight.

In fact, studies show that simply eating a salad before a meal can help you feel full, causing you to eat less (27).

Additionally, filling up on veggies throughout the day can help you maintain a healthy weight and may decrease your risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes (282930).

21. Snack Smart

Snacking on unhealthy foods can cause weight gain.

An easy way to help shed pounds or maintain a healthy weight is to make an effort to have healthy snacks available at home, in your car and at your place of work.

For example, stashing pre-portioned servings of mixed nuts in your car or having cut-up veggies and hummus ready in your fridge can help you stay on track when a craving strikes.

22. Fill the Void

Boredom may lead you to reach for unhealthy foods.

Studies have shown that being bored contributes to an increase in overall calorie consumption because it influences people to eat more food, healthy and unhealthy (31).

Finding new activities or hobbies that you enjoy is an excellent way to avoid overeating caused by boredom.

Simply going for a walk and enjoying nature can help get you in a better mindset to stay motivated and stick to your wellness goals.

23. Make Time for Yourself

Creating a healthier lifestyle means finding the time to put yourself first, even if you don’t think it’s possible.

Life often gets in the way of weight loss and fitness goals, so it is important to create a plan that includes personal time, and stick to it.

Responsibilities like work and parenting are some of the most important things in life, but your health should be one of your top priorities.

Whether that means preparing a healthy lunch to bring to work, going for a run or attending a fitness class, setting aside time to take care of yourself can do wonders for both your physical and mental health.

24. Find Workouts You Actually Enjoy

The great thing about choosing a workout routine is that there are endless possibilities.

While sweating through a spin class might not be your cup of tea, mountain biking in a park might be more up your alley.

Certain activities burn more calories than others. However, you shouldn't choose a workoutbased solely on the results you think you’ll get from it.

It’s important to find activities that you look forward to doing and that make you happy. That way you are more likely to stick with them.

25. Support Is Everything

Having a group of friends or family members that supports you in your weight and wellness goals is critical for successful weight loss.

Surrounding yourself with positive people who make you feel good about creating a healthy lifestyle will help you stay motivated and on track.

In fact, studies have shown that attending support groups and having a strong social network helps people lose weight and keep it off (32).

Sharing your goals with trustworthy and encouraging friends and family can help you stay accountable and set you up for success.

If you don’t have a supportive family or group of friends, try joining a support group. There are a large number of groups that meet in person or online.

The Bottom Line

While there are many ways to lose weight, finding a healthy eating and exercise plan that you can follow for life is the best way to ensure successful, long-term weight loss.

Although fad diets may offer a quick fix, they are often unhealthy and deprive the body of the nutrients and calories it needs, leading most people to return to unhealthy habits after they hit their weight loss goal.

Being more active, focusing on whole foods, cutting back on added sugar and making time for yourself are just a few ways to get healthier and happier.

Remember, weight loss is not one-size-fits-all. To be successful, it is important to find a plan that works for you and fits well with your lifestyle.

It’s not an all-or-nothing process, either. If you can’t commit to all the suggestions in this article, try starting with just a few that you think will work for you. They’ll help you reach your health and wellness goals in a safe and sustainable way.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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Want to Avoid Migraines? Changing Your Diet Might Help

Millions of people worldwide experience migraines.

What Is a Migraine?

A migraine is a common disorder characterized by recurrent, throbbing headaches that can last up to three days.

Several symptoms distinguish migraines from normal headaches. They typically involve only one side of the head and are accompanied by other signs.

These include nausea and hypersensitivity to light, sounds and smells. Some people also experience visual disturbances, known as auras, before getting a migraine (1).

In 2001, an estimated 28 million Americans experienced migraines. Research has shown greater frequency in women than men (23).

The underlying cause of migraines is unknown, but hormones, stress and dietary factors may play a role (456).

About 27–30% of those with migraines believe that certain foods trigger their migraines (67).

Given that evidence is usually based on personal accounts, the role of most dietary triggers is controversial.

However, studies suggest some people with migraines may be susceptible to certain foods.

Below are 11 of the most frequently reported dietary migraine triggers.

1. Coffee

Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages.

It is high in caffeine, a stimulant also found in tea, soda and energy drinks.

Caffeine’s connection to headaches is complex. It may affect headaches or migraines in the following ways:

  • Migraine trigger: High caffeine intake seems to trigger migraines in certain people (8).
  • Migraine treatment: Combined with aspirin and Tylenol (paracetamol), caffeine is an effective migraine treatment (910).
  • Caffeine withdrawal headache: If you regularly drink coffee, skipping your daily dose may cause withdrawal symptoms. These include headache, nausea, low mood and poor concentration (1112).

Caffeine withdrawal headaches are often described as throbbing and associated with nausea — symptoms similar to those of a migraine (13).

An estimated 47% of habitual coffee consumers experience a headache after abstaining from coffee for 12–24 hours. It gradually becomes worse, peaking between 20–51 hours of abstinence. This may last for 2–9 days (14).

The likelihood of caffeine withdrawal headaches increases as daily caffeine intake increases. Still, as little as 100 mg of caffeine per day, or about one cup of coffee, is enough to cause headaches upon withdrawal (1215).

If you get headaches because of caffeine withdrawal, you should try to maintain your coffee schedule or gradually lower your caffeine intake over the course of a few weeks (11).

Limiting caffeine intake or quitting high-caffeine beverages altogether may be the best option for some (8).

SUMMARY: Caffeine withdrawal is a well-known headache trigger. Those with migraines who regularly drink coffee or other highly caffeinated beverages should try to keep their intake regular or gradually reduce their intake.
2. Aged Cheese

About 9–18% of people with migraines report sensitivity to aged cheese (1617).

Scientists believe this may be because of its high tyramine content. Tyramine is a compound that forms when bacteria break down the amino acid tyrosine during the aging process.

Tyramine is also found in wine, yeast extract, chocolate and processed meat products, but aged cheese is one of its richest sources (18).

Levels of tyramine appear higher in people with chronic migraines, compared to healthy people or those with other headache disorders (19).

However, the role of tyramine and other biogenic amines in migraines is debated, as studies have provided mixed results (1120).

Aged cheese may also contain histamine, another potential culprit, which is discussed in the next chapter (21).

SUMMARY: Aged cheese may contain relatively high amounts of tyramine, a compound that might cause headaches in some people.
3. Alcoholic Beverages

Most people are familiar with hangover headaches after drinking excessive amounts of alcohol (22).

In certain people, alcoholic beverages may trigger a migraine within three hours of consumption.

In fact, roughly 29–36% of those with migraines believe that alcohol may trigger a migraine attack (1123).

However, not all alcoholic beverages act in the same way. Studies in people with migraines found that red wine was much more likely to trigger a migraine than other alcoholic beverages, especially among women (2425).

Some evidence indicates that the histamine content of red wine may play a role. Histamine is also found in processed meat, some fish, cheese and fermented foods (1126).

Histamine is produced in the body, too. It is involved in immune responses and functions as a neurotransmitter (2728).

Dietary histamine intolerance is a recognized health disorder. Apart from headaches, other symptoms include flushing, wheezing, sneezing, skin itching, skin rashes and fatigue (29).

It is caused by a reduced activity of diamine oxidase (DAO), an enzyme responsible for breaking down histamine in the digestive system (3031).

Interestingly, reduced activity of DAO appears to be common in people with migraines.

One study found that 87% of those with migraines had reduced DAO activity. The same applied to only 44% of those without migraines (32).

Another study showed that taking an antihistamine before drinking red wine significantly reduced the frequency of headaches among people who experience headaches after drinking (33).

SUMMARY: Some alcoholic beverages, such as red wine, may trigger migraines. Researchers believe histamine may be to blame.
4. Processed Meat

Around 5% of people with migraines may develop a headache hours or even minutes after consuming processed meat products. This type of headache has been dubbed a “hot dog headache” (3435).

Researchers believe that nitrites, a group of preservatives that includes potassium nitrite and sodium nitrite, may be the reason why (36).

These preservatives are often found in processed meat. They prevent the growth of harmful microbes like Clostridium botulinum. They also help preserve the color of processed meats and contribute to their flavor.

Processed meats that contain nitrites include sausages, ham, bacon and lunch meats like salami and bologna.

Hard-cured sausages may also contain relatively high amounts of histamine, which could trigger migraines in people with histamine intolerance (21).

If you get migraines after eating processed meat, consider eliminating them from your diet. In any case, eating less processed meat is a step toward a healthier lifestyle.

SUMMARY: Some people with migraines may be sensitive to nitrates or histamine in processed meat products.
5-11. Other Possible Migraine Triggers

People have reported other migraine triggers, although the evidence is rarely solid.

Below are a few notable examples:

5. Monosodium glutamate (MSG): This common flavor enhancer has been implicated as a headache trigger, but little evidence supports this idea (3738).

6. Aspartame: A few studies have associated the artificial sweetener aspartame with an increased frequency of migraine headaches, but the evidence is mixed (394041).

7. Sucralose: Several case reports suggest that the artificial sweetener sucralose may cause migraines in some groups (4243).

8. Citrus fruits: In one study, about 11% of those with migraines reported citrus fruits to be a migraine trigger (44).

9. Chocolate: Anywhere from 2–22% of people with migraines report being sensitive to chocolate. However, studies on the effect of chocolate remain inconclusive (1144).

10. Gluten: Wheat, barley and rye contain gluten. These cereals, as well as products made from them, may trigger migraines in gluten-intolerant people (45).

11. Fasting or skipping meals: While fasting and skipping meals may have benefits, some may experience migraines as a side effect. Between 39–66% of those with migraines associate their symptoms with fasting (464748).

Studies also suggest that migraines may be an allergic response or hypersensitivity to certain compounds in foods, but scientists haven’t reached a consensus on this yet (4849).

SUMMARY: Various dietary factors have been associated with migraines or headaches, but the evidence behind them is often limited or mixed.
How to Treat a Migraine

If you experience migraines, visit your doctor to rule out any underlying conditions.

Your doctor can also recommend and prescribe painkillers or other medications that might work for you.

If you suspect that certain foods trigger your migraines, try eliminating them from your diet to see if that makes any difference.

For detailed information on how to follow an elimination diet, see this article. Also, consider keeping a detailed food diary.

Some research supports the use of supplements for treating migraines, but the evidence on their effectiveness is limited. Below are summaries of the main ones.

Butterbur

Some people use an herbal supplement known as butterbur to alleviate migraines.

A few controlled studies have shown that 50–75 mg of butterbur may significantly reduce the frequency of migraines in children, adolescents and adults (505152).

The effectiveness seems to be dose-dependent. One study showed that 75 mg was significantly more effective than a placebo, whereas 50 mg was not found to be effective (52).

Keep in mind that unprocessed butterbur can be toxic, as it contains compounds that may increase the risk of cancer and liver damage. These compounds are removed from commercial varieties.

SUMMARY: Butterbur is an herbal supplement proven to reduce the frequency of migraines.

Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant that plays an essential role in energy metabolism.

It is both produced by your body and found in various foods. These include meat, fish, liver, broccoli and parsley. It is also sold as a supplement.

One study found that CoQ10 deficiency may be more common in children and adolescents with migraines. It also showed that CoQ10 supplements significantly reduced headache frequency (53).

The effectiveness of CoQ10 supplements has been confirmed by other studies as well.

In one study, taking 150 mg of CoQ10 for three months reduced the number of migraine days by 61% in over half of participants (54).

Another study showed that taking 100 mg of CoQ10 three times a day for three months had similar results. However, the supplements caused digestive and skin problems in some people (55).

SUMMARY: Coenzyme Q10 supplements may be an effective way to reduce migraine frequency.

Vitamins and minerals

A few studies have reported that vitamin or mineral supplements may affect the frequency of migraine attacks.

These include the following:

  • Folate: Several studies have associated low folate intake with an increased frequency of migraines (5657).
  • Magnesium: Inadequate intake of magnesium may increase the risk of menstrual migraines (585960).
  • Riboflavin: One study showed that taking 400 mg of riboflavin a day for three months reduced the frequency of migraine attacks by half in 59% of participants (61).

More evidence is needed before any strong claims can be made about the role of these vitamins in migraines.

SUMMARY: Inadequate intake of folate, riboflavin or magnesium may increase the risk of migraines. However, the evidence is limited and more studies are needed.
The Bottom Line

Scientists are not entirely sure what causes migraines.

Studies show that certain foods and beverages may trigger them. However, their relevance is debated, and the evidence not entirely consistent.

Commonly reported dietary migraine triggers include alcoholic beverages, processed meat and aged cheese. Caffeine withdrawal, fasting and some nutrient deficiencies are also suspected to play a role.

If you get migraines, a health professional can recommend treatment, including prescription medications.

Supplements like coenzyme Q10 and butterbur may also reduce the frequency of migraines in some people.

Additionally, a food diary might help you discover if any of the foods you eat are linked to migraine attacks. After identifying potential triggers, you should see if eliminating them from your diet makes a difference.

Most importantly, you should try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, avoid stress, get good sleep and eat a balanced diet.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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13 Foods That Could Lower Your Risk of Cancer

What you eat can drastically affect many aspects of your health, including your risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

1. Broccoli

Broccoli contains sulforaphane, a plant compound found in cruciferous vegetables that may have potent anticancer properties.

One test-tube study showed that sulforaphane reduced the size and number of breast cancer cells by up to 75% (1).

Similarly, an animal study found that treating mice with sulforaphane helped kill off prostate cancer cells and reduced tumor volume by more than 50% (2).

Some studies have also found that a higher intake of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli may be linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer.

One analysis of 35 studies showed that eating more cruciferous vegetables was associated with a lower risk of colorectal and colon cancer (3).

Including broccoli with a few meals per week may come with some cancer-fighting benefits.

However, keep in mind that the available research hasn’t looked directly at how broccoli may affect cancer in humans.

Instead, it has been limited to test-tube, animal and observational studies that either investigated the effects of cruciferous vegetables, or the effects of a specific compound in broccoli. Thus, more studies are needed.

SUMMARY: Broccoli contains sulforaphane, a compound that has been shown to cause tumor cell death and reduce tumor size in test-tube and animal studies. A higher intake of cruciferous vegetables may also be associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
2. Carrots

Several studies have found that eating more carrots is linked to a decreased risk of certain types of cancer.

For example, an analysis looked at the results of five studies and concluded that eating carrots may reduce the risk of stomach cancer by up to 26% (4).

Another study found that a higher intake of carrots was associated with 18% lower odds of developing prostate cancer (5).

One study analyzed the diets of 1,266 participants with and without lung cancer. It found that current smokers who did not eat carrots were three times as likely to develop lung cancer, compared to those who ate carrots more than once per week (6).

Try incorporating carrots into your diet as a healthy snack or delicious side dish just a few times per week to increase your intake and potentially reduce your risk of cancer.

Still, remember that these studies show an association between carrot consumption and cancer, but don’t account for other factors that may play a role.

SUMMARY: Some studies have found an association between carrot consumption and a decreased risk of prostate, lung and stomach cancer.
3. Beans

Beans are high in fiber, which some studies have found may help protect against colorectal cancer (789).

In fact, several studies have found that an increased intake of beans may reduce the risk of the disease.

One study followed 1,905 people with a history of colorectal tumors, and found that those who consumed more cooked, dried beans tended to have a decreased risk of tumor recurrence (10).

An animal study also found that feeding rats black beans or navy beans and then inducing colon cancer blocked the development of cancer cells by up to 75% (11).

According to these results, eating a few servings of beans each week may increase your fiber intake and help lower the risk of developing cancer.

However, the current research is limited to animal studies and studies that show association but not causation. More studies are needed to examine this in humans, specifically.

SUMMARY: Beans are high in fiber, which may be protective against colorectal cancer. Human and animal studies have found that a higher intake of beans could reduce the risk of colorectal tumors and colon cancer.
4. Berries

Berries are high in anthocyanins, plant pigments that have antioxidant properties and may be associated with a reduced risk of cancer.

In one human study, 25 people with colorectal cancer were treated with bilberry extract for seven days, which was found to reduce the growth of cancer cells by 7% (12).

Another small study gave freeze-dried black raspberries to patients with oral cancer and showed that it decreased levels of certain markers associated with cancer progression (13).

One animal study found that giving rats freeze-dried black raspberries reduced esophageal tumor incidence by up to 54% and decreased the number of tumors by up to 62% (14).

Similarly, another animal study showed that giving rats a berry extract was found to inhibit several biomarkers of cancer (15).

Based on these findings, including a serving or two of berries in your diet each day may help inhibit the development of cancer.

Keep in mind that these are animal and observational studies looking at the effects of a concentrated dose of berry extract, and more human research is needed.

SUMMARY: Some test-tube and animal studies have found that the compounds in berries may decrease the growth and spread of certain types of cancer.
5. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is well-known for its health benefits, including its ability to reduce blood sugar and ease inflammation (1617).

In addition, some test-tube and animal studies have found that cinnamon may help block the spread of cancer cells.

A test-tube study found that cinnamon extract was able to decrease the spread of cancer cells and induce their death (18).

Another test-tube study showed that cinnamon essential oil suppressed the growth of head and neck cancer cells, and also significantly reduced tumor size (19).

An animal study also showed that cinnamon extract induced cell death in tumor cells, and also decreased how much tumors grew and spread (20).

Including 1/2–1 teaspoon (2–4 grams) of cinnamon in your diet per day may be beneficial in cancer prevention, and may come with other benefits as well, such as reduced blood sugar and decreased inflammation.

However, more studies are needed to understand how cinnamon may affect cancer development in humans.

SUMMARY: Test-tube and animal studies have found that cinnamon extract may have anticancer properties and may help decrease the growth and spread of tumors. More research in humans is needed.
6. Nuts

Research has found that eating nuts may be linked to a lower risk of certain types of cancer.

For instance, a study looked at the diets of 19,386 people and found that eating a greater amount of nuts was associated with a decreased risk of dying from cancer (21).

Another study followed 30,708 participants for up to 30 years and found that eating nuts regularly was associated with a decreased risk of colorectal, pancreatic and endometrial cancers (22).

Other studies have found that specific types of nuts may be linked to a lower cancer risk.

For example, Brazil nuts are high in selenium, which may help protect against lung cancer in those with a low selenium status (23).

Similarly, one animal study showed that feeding mice walnuts decreased the growth rate of breast cancer cells by 80% and reduced the number of tumors by 60% (24).

These results suggest that adding a serving of nuts to your diet each day may reduce your risk of developing cancer in the future.

Still, more studies in humans are needed to determine whether nuts are responsible for this association, or whether other factors are involved.

SUMMARY: Some studies have found that an increased intake of nuts may decrease the risk of cancer. Research shows that some specific types like Brazil nuts and walnuts may also be linked to a lower risk of cancer.
7. Olive Oil

Olive oil is loaded with health benefits, so it’s no wonder it’s one of the staples of the Mediterranean diet.

Several studies have even found that a higher intake of olive oil may help protect against cancer.

One massive review made up of 19 studies showed that people who consumed the greatest amount of olive oil had a lower risk of developing breast cancer and cancer of the digestive system than those with the lowest intake (25).

Another study looked at the cancer rates in 28 countries around the world and found that areas with a higher intake of olive oil had decreased rates of colorectal cancer (26).

Swapping out other oils in your diet for olive oil is a simple way to take advantage of its health benefits. You can drizzle it over salads and cooked vegetables, or try using it in your marinades for meat, fish or poultry.

Though these studies show that there may be an association between olive oil intake and cancer, there are likely other factors involved as well. More studies are needed to look at the direct effects of olive oil on cancer in people.

SUMMARY: Several studies have shown that a higher intake of olive oil may be associated with a reduced risk of certain types of cancer.
8. Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice well-known for its health-promoting properties. Curcumin, its active ingredient, is a chemical with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and even anticancer effects.

One study looked at the effects of curcumin on 44 patients with lesions in the colon that could have become cancerous. After 30 days, 4 grams of curcumin daily reduced the number of lesions present by 40% (27).

In a test-tube study, curcumin was also found to decrease the spread of colon cancer cells by targeting a specific enzyme related to cancer growth (28).

Another test-tube study showed that curcumin helped kill off head and neck cancer cells (29).

Curcumin has also been shown to be effective in slowing the growth of lung, breast and prostate cancer cells in other test-tube studies (303132).

For the best results, aim for at least 1/2–3 teaspoons (1–3 grams) of ground turmeric per day. Use it as a ground spice to add flavor to foods, and pair it with black pepper to help boost its absorption.

SUMMARY: Turmeric contains curcumin, a chemical that has been shown to reduce the growth of many types of cancer and lesions in test-tube and human studies.
9. Citrus Fruits

Eating citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges has been associated with a lower risk of cancer in some studies.

One large study found that participants who ate a higher amount of citrus fruits had a lower risk of developing cancers of the digestive and upper respiratory tracts (33).

A review looking at nine studies also found that a greater intake of citrus fruits was linked to a reduced risk of pancreatic cancer (34).

Finally, a review of 14 studies showed that a high intake, or at least three servings per week, of citrus fruit reduced the risk of stomach cancer by 28% (35).

These studies suggest that including a few servings of citrus fruits in your diet each week may lower your risk of developing certain types of cancer.

Keep in mind that these studies don’t account for other factors that may be involved. More studies are needed on how citrus fruits specifically affect cancer development.

SUMMARY: Studies have found that a higher intake of citrus fruits could decrease the risk of certain types of cancers, including pancreatic and stomach cancers, along with cancers of the digestive and upper respiratory tracts.
10. Flaxseed

High in fiber as well as heart-healthy fats, flaxseed can be a healthy addition to your diet.

Some research has shown that it may even help decrease cancer growth and help kill off cancer cells.

In one study, 32 women with breast cancer received either a flaxseed muffin daily or a placebo for over a month.

At the end of the study, the flaxseed group had decreased levels of specific markers that measure tumor growth, as well as an increase in cancer cell death (36).

In another study, 161 men with prostate cancer were treated with flaxseed, which was found to reduce the growth and spread of cancer cells (37).

Flaxseed is high in fiber, which other studies have found to be protective against colorectal cancer (789).

Try adding one tablespoon (10 grams) of ground flaxseed into your diet each day by mixing it into smoothies, sprinkling it over cereal and yogurt, or adding it to your favorite baked goods.

SUMMARY: Some studies have found that flaxseed may reduce cancer growth in breast and prostate cancers. It is also high in fiber, which may decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.
11. Tomatoes

Lycopene is a compound found in tomatoes that is responsible for its vibrant red color as well as its anticancer properties.

Several studies have found that an increased intake of lycopene and tomatoes could lead to a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

A review of 17 studies also found that a higher intake of raw tomatoes, cooked tomatoes and lycopene were all associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer (38).

Another study of 47,365 people found that a greater intake of tomato sauce, in particular, was linked to a lower risk of developing prostate cancer (39).

To help increase your intake, include a serving or two of tomatoes in your diet each day by adding them to sandwiches, salads, sauces or pasta dishes.

Still, remember that these studies show there may be an association between eating tomatoes and a reduced risk of prostate cancer, but they don’t account for other factors that could be involved.

SUMMARY: Some studies have found that a higher intake of tomatoes and lycopene could reduce the risk of prostate cancer. However, more studies are needed.
12. Garlic

The active component in garlic is allicin, a compound that has been shown to kill off cancer cells in multiple test-tube studies (404142).

Several studies have found an association between garlic intake and a lower risk of certain types of cancer.

One study of 543,220 participants found that those who ate lots of Allium vegetables, such as garlic, onions, leeks and shallots, had a lower risk of stomach cancer than those who rarely consumed them (43).

A study of 471 men showed that a higher intake of garlic was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer (44).

Another study found that participants who ate lots of garlic, as well as fruit, deep yellow vegetables, dark green vegetables and onions, were less likely to develop colorectal tumors. However, this study did not isolate the effects of garlic (45).

Based on these findings, including 2–5 grams (approximately one clove) of fresh garlic into your diet per day can help you take advantage of its health-promoting properties.

However, despite the promising results showing an association between garlic and a reduced risk of cancer, more studies are needed to examine whether other factors play a role.

SUMMARY: Garlic contains allicin, a compound that has been shown to kill cancer cells in test-tube studies. Studies have found that eating more garlic could lead to decreased risks of stomach, prostate and colorectal cancers.
13. Fatty Fish

Some research suggests that including a few servings of fish in your diet each week may reduce your risk of cancer.

One large study showed that a higher intake of fish was associated with a lower risk of digestive tract cancer (46).

Another study that followed 478,040 adults found that eating more fish decreased the risk of developing colorectal cancer, while red and processed meats actually increased the risk (47).

In particular, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and anchovies contain important nutrients such as vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids that have been linked to a lower risk of cancer.

For example, having adequate levels of vitamin D is believed to protect against and reduce the risk of cancer (48).

In addition, omega-3 fatty acids are thought to block the development of the disease (49).

Aim for two servings of fatty fish per week to get a hearty dose of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, and to maximize the potential health benefits of these nutrients.

Still, more research is needed to determine how fatty fish consumption may directly influence the risk of cancer in humans.

SUMMARY: Fish consumption may decrease the risk of cancer. Fatty fish contains vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, two nutrients that are believed to protect against cancer.
The Bottom Line

As new research continues to emerge, it has become increasingly clear that your diet can have a major impact on your risk of cancer.

Although there are many foods that have potential to reduce the spread and growth of cancer cells, current research is limited to test-tube, animal and observational studies.

More studies are needed to understand how these foods may directly affect cancer development in humans.

In the meantime, it’s a safe bet that a diet rich in whole foods, paired with a healthy lifestyle, will improve many aspects of your health.

This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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10 Natural Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol is made in your liver and has many important functions. For example, it helps keep the walls of your cells flexible and is needed to make several hormones.

The Link Between Dietary and Blood Cholesterol

The liver produces as much cholesterol as the body needs. It packages cholesterol with fat in very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL).

As VLDL delivers fat to cells throughout the body, it changes into the more dense LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, which carries cholesterol wherever it is needed.

The liver also releases high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which carries unused cholesterol back to the liver. This process is called reverse cholesterol transport, and protects against clogged arteries and other types of heart disease.

Some lipoproteins, especially LDL and VLDL, are prone to damage by free radicals in a process called oxidation. Oxidized LDL and VLDL are even more harmful to heart health (3).

Although food companies often advertise products as low in cholesterol, dietary cholesterol actually only has a small influence on the amount of cholesterol in the body.

This is because the liver changes the amount of cholesterol it makes depending on how much you eat. When your body absorbs more cholesterol from your diet, it makes less in the liver.

For example, a study randomly assigned 45 adults to eat more cholesterol in the form of two eggs daily. In the end, those eating more cholesterol did not have higher total cholesterol levels or changes in lipoproteins, compared to those eating less cholesterol (4).

While dietary cholesterol has little influence on cholesterol levels, other foods in your diet can worsen them, as can family history, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle.

Likewise, several other lifestyle choices can help increase the beneficial HDL and decrease the harmful LDL. Below are 10 natural ways to improve your cholesterol levels.

1. Focus on Monounsaturated Fats

As opposed to saturated fats, unsaturated fats have at least one double chemical bond that changes the way they are used in the body. Monounsaturated fats have only one double bond.

Although some recommend a low-fat diet for weight loss, a study of 10 men found a 6-week, low-fat diet reduced levels of harmful LDL, but also reduced beneficial HDL (5).

In contrast, a diet high in monounsaturated fats reduced harmful LDL, but also protected higher levels of healthy HDL.

A study of 24 adults with high blood cholesterol came to the same conclusion, where eating a diet high in monounsaturated fat increased beneficial HDL by 12%, compared to a diet low in saturated fat (6).

Monounsaturated fats may also reduce the oxidation of lipoproteins, which contributes to clogged arteries. A study of 26 people found that replacing polyunsaturated fats with monounsaturated fats in the diet reduced the oxidation of fats and cholesterol (78).

Overall, monounsaturated fats are healthy because they decrease harmful LDL cholesterol, increase good HDL cholesterol and reduce harmful oxidation (9).

Here are a few great sources of monounsaturated fats. Some are also good sources of polyunsaturated fat:

  • Olives and olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Tree nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and cashews
  • Avocados
SUMMARY: Monounsaturated fats like those in olive oil, canola oil, tree nuts and avocados reduce the “bad” LDL, increase the “good” HDL and reduce the oxidation that contributes to clogged arteries.
2. Use Polyunsaturated Fats, Especially Omega-3s

Polyunsaturated fats have multiple double bonds that make them behave differently in the body than saturated fats. Research shows that polyunsaturated fats reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease.

For example, one study replaced saturated fats in 115 adults’ diets with polyunsaturated fats for eight weeks. By the end, total and LDL cholesterol levels were reduced by about 10% (10).

Another study included 13,614 adults. They replaced dietary saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat, providing about 15% of total calories. Their risk of coronary artery disease dropped by nearly 20% (11).

Polyunsaturated fats also seem to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Another study changed the diets of 4,220 adults, replacing 5% of their calories from carbohydrates with polyunsaturated fats. Their blood glucose and fasting insulin levels decreased, indicating a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes (12).

Omega-3 fatty acids are an especially heart-healthy type of polyunsaturated fat. They’re found in seafood and fish oil supplements (1314).

Omega-3 fats are found in high amounts in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and deep sea tuna like bluefin or albacore, and to a lesser degree in shellfish including shrimp (15).

Other sources of omega-3s include seeds and tree nuts, but not peanuts.

SUMMARY: All polyunsaturated fats are heart-healthy and may reduce the risk of diabetes. Omega-3 fats are a type of polyunsaturated fat with extra heart benefits.
3. Avoid Trans Fats

Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been modified by a process called hydrogenation.

This is done to make the unsaturated fats in vegetable oils more stable as an ingredient. Many margarines and shortenings are made of partially hydrogenated oils.

The resulting trans fats are not fully saturated, but are solid at room temperatures. This is why food companies have used trans fats in products like spreads, pastries and cookies — they provide more texture than unsaturated, liquid oils.

Unfortunately, partially hydrogenated trans fats are handled differently in the body than other fats, and not in a good way. Trans fats increase total cholesterol and LDL, but decrease beneficial HDL by as much as 20% (1617).

A study of global health patterns estimated trans fats may be responsible for 8% of deaths from heart disease worldwide. Another study estimated a law restricting trans fats in New York will reduce heart disease deaths by 4.5% (1819).

In the United States and an increasing number of other countries, food companies are required to list the amount of trans fats in their products on nutrition labels.

However, these labels can be misleading, because they are allowed to round down when the amount of trans fat per serving is less than 0.5 grams. This means some foods contain trans fats even though their labels say “0 grams of trans fat per serving.”

To avoid this trick, read the ingredients in addition to the nutrition label. If a product contains “partially hydrogenated” oil, it has trans fats and should be avoided.

SUMMARY: Foods with “partially hydrogenated” oil in the ingredients contain trans fats and are harmful, even if the label claims the product has “0 grams of trans fat per serving.”
4. Eat Soluble Fiber

Soluble fiber is a group of different compounds in plants that dissolve in water and that humans can’t digest.

However, the beneficial bacteria that live in your intestines can digest soluble fiber. In fact, they require it for their own nutrition. These good bacteria, also called probiotics, reduce both harmful kinds of lipoproteins, LDL and VLDL (2021).

In a study of 30 adults, taking 3 grams of soluble fiber supplements daily for 12 weeks decreased LDL by 18% (22).

A different study of fortified breakfast cereal found that added soluble fiber from pectin reduced LDL by 4% and fiber from psyllium reduced LDL by 6% (23).

Soluble fiber can also help increase the cholesterol benefits of taking a statin medication.

One 12-week study had 68 adults add 15 grams of the psyllium product Metamucil to their daily 10-mg dose of the lipid-lowering medication simvastatin. This was found to be as effective as taking a larger 20-mg dose of the statin without fiber (24).

Soluble fiber’s benefits reduce the risk of disease. A large review of several studies found high fiber intakes of both soluble and insoluble fiber reduced the risk of death over 17 years by nearly 15% (25).

Another study of over 350,000 adults found those eating the most fiber from grains and cereals lived longer, and they were 15–20% less likely to die during the 14-year study (26).

Some of the best sources of soluble fiber include beans, peas and lentils, fruit, oats and whole grains. Fiber supplements like psyllium are also safe and inexpensive sources.

SUMMARY: Soluble fiber nourishes healthy probiotic gut bacteria and removes cholesterol from the body, reducing LDL and VLDL. Good sources include beans, peas, lentils, fruit, psyllium and whole grains including oats.
5. Exercise

Exercise is a win-win for heart health. Not only does it improve physical fitness and help combat obesity, but it also reduces harmful LDL and increases beneficial HDL (2728).

In one study, twelve weeks of combined aerobic and resistance exercise reduced the especially harmful oxidized LDL in 20 overweight women (29).

These women exercised three days per week with 15 minutes each of aerobic activity including walking and jumping jacks, resistance-band training and low-intensity Korean dance.

While even low-intensity exercise like walking increases HDL, making your exercise longer and more intense increases the benefit (3031).

Based on a review of 13 studies, 30 minutes of activity five days a week is enough to improve cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Ideally, aerobic activity should raise the heart rate to about 75% of its maximum. Resistance training should be 50% of maximum effort.

Activity that elevates the heart rate to 85% of its maximum increases HDL and also decreases LDL. The longer the duration, the greater the effects (32).

Resistance exercise can decrease LDL even at modest intensity. At maximum effort it also increases HDL. Increasing the number of sets or repetitions increases the benefit (32).

SUMMARY: Any type of exercise improves cholesterol and promotes heart health. The longer and more intense the exercise, the greater the benefit.
6. Lose Weight

Dieting influences the way your body absorbs and produces cholesterol.

A two-year study of 90 adults on one of three randomly assigned weight loss diets found weight loss on any of the diets increased the absorption of cholesterol from the diet and decreased the creation of new cholesterol in the body (33).

Over these two years, “good” HDL increased while “bad” LDL did not change, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.

In another similar study of 14 older men, “bad” LDL decreased as well, providing even more heart protection (34).

A study of 35 young women showed decreased creation of new cholesterol in the body during weight loss over six months (35).

Overall, weight loss has a double benefit on cholesterol by increasing beneficial HDL and decreasing harmful LDL.

SUMMARYWeight loss reduces total cholesterol, in part by decreasing the creation of new cholesterol in the liver. Weight loss has had different, though generally beneficial, effects on HDL and LDL in different studies.
7. Don’t Smoke

Smoking increases the risk of heart disease in several ways. One of these is by changing how the body handles cholesterol.

The immune cells in smokers are unable to return cholesterol from vessel walls to the blood for transport to the liver. This damage is related to tobacco tar, rather than nicotine (36).

These dysfunctional immune cells may contribute to the faster development of clogged arteries in smokers.

In a large study of several thousand adults in Pacific Asia, smoking was associated with decreased HDL levels and increased total cholesterol (37).

Fortunately, giving up smoking can reverse these harmful effects (3638).

SUMMARY: Smoking appears to increase bad lipoproteins, decrease “good” HDL and hinder the body’s ability to send cholesterol back to the liver to be stored or broken down. Quitting smoking can reverse these effects.
8. Use Alcohol in Moderation

When used in moderation, the ethanol in alcoholic drinks increases HDL and reduces the risk of heart disease.

A study of 18 adult women found that drinking 24 grams of alcohol from white wine daily improved HDL by 5%, compared to drinking equal amounts of white grape juice (39).

Alcohol also improves “reverse cholesterol transport,” meaning cholesterol is removed from blood and vessel walls and taken back to the liver. This reduces the risk of clogged arteries and heart disease (40).

While moderate alcohol intake reduces heart disease risk, too much alcohol harms the liver and increases the risk of dependence. The recommended limit is two drinks daily for men and one for women (41).

SUMMARY: 1–2 drinks per day may improve HDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of clogged arteries. However, heavier alcohol use increases heart disease risk and harms the liver.
9. Consider Plant Sterols and Stanols

Multiple types of supplements show promise for managing cholesterol.

Plant stanols and sterols are plant versions of cholesterol. Because they resemble cholesterol, they are absorbed from the diet like cholesterol.

However, because parts of their chemistry are different from human cholesterol, they do not contribute to clogged arteries.

Instead, they reduce cholesterol levels by competing with human cholesterol. When plant sterols are absorbed from the diet, this replaces the absorption of cholesterol.

Small amounts of plant stanols and sterols are naturally found in vegetable oils, and are also added to certain oils and butter substitutes.

One study of 60 men and women found consuming yogurt with one gram of plant stanols reduced LDL by about 15%, compared to a placebo. Another study showed they decreased LDL by 20% (4243).

In spite of these benefits to cholesterol, available studies have not proven that stanols or sterols decrease the risk of heart disease. The higher doses in supplements are not as well tested as the small doses in vegetable oils (44).

SUMMARY: Plant stanols and sterols in vegetable oil or margarines compete with cholesterol absorption and reduce LDL by up to 20%. They are not proven to reduce heart disease.
10. Try Supplements

There is strong evidence that fish oil and soluble fiber improve cholesterol and promote heart health. Another supplement, coenzyme Q10, is showing promise in improving cholesterol, although its long-term benefits are not yet known.

Fish Oil

Fish oil is rich in the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

One study of 42 adults found that taking 4 grams of fish oil daily reduced the total amount of fat being carried in blood. In another study, taking 6 grams of fish oil daily increased HDL (4546).

A study of over 15,000 adults also found that omega-3 fatty acids, including from fish oil supplements, reduced the risk of heart disease and prolonged life expectancy (47).

Psyllium

Psyllium is a form of soluble fiber available as a supplement.

A four-week study of 33 adults found that cookies enriched with 8 grams of psyllium reduced total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol by nearly 10% (48).

Another study found similar results using a 5-gram psyllium supplement twice daily. LDL and total cholesterol decreased by about 5% over a longer, 26-week period (49).

Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 is a food chemical that helps cells produce energy. It is similar to a vitamin, except that the body can produce its own Q10, preventing deficiency.

Even if there is no deficiency, extra Q10 in the form of supplements may have benefits in some situations.

Several studies with a total of 409 participants found coenzyme Q10 supplements reduced total cholesterol. In these studies, LDL and HDL did not change (50).

Coenzyme Q10 supplements may also be beneficial in treating heart failure, though it’s unclear whether they reduce the risk of developing heart failure or heart attacks (51).

SUMMARY: Fish oil supplements and soluble fiber supplements like psyllium improve cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Coenzyme Q10 supplements reduce total cholesterol levels, but it’s unclear whether this prevents heart disease.
The Bottom Line

Cholesterol has important functions in the body, but can cause clogged arteries and heart disease when it gets out of control.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is prone to free radical damage and contributes most to heart disease. In contrast, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) protects against heart disease by carrying cholesterol away from vessel walls and back to the liver.

If your cholesterol is out of balance, lifestyle interventions are the first line of treatment.

Unsaturated fats, soluble fiber and plant sterols and stanols can increase good HDL and decrease bad LDL. Exercise and weight loss can also help.

Eating trans fats and smoking is harmful and should be avoided.

If you’re concerned about your cholesterol levels, have them checked by your doctor. A simple blood draw, taken after an overnight fast, is all that’s required.

This article was originally published by Healthline.

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Why Fried Foods Are Bad for You - and Some Healthier Alternatives

Deep frying is a common cooking method used across the globe. It’s often used by restaurants and fast food chains as a quick and inexpensive way to prepare foods.

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10 Herbal Teas That Have Health-Promoting Properties, Backed by Science

Herbal teas have been around for centuries.

1. Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea is most commonly known for its calming effects and is frequently used as a sleep aid.

Two studies have examined the effects of chamomile tea or extract on sleep problems in humans.

In one study of 80 postpartum women experiencing sleep issues, drinking chamomile tea for two weeks led to improved sleep quality and fewer symptoms of depression (1).

Another study in 34 patients with insomnia found marginal improvements in waking up during the night, time to falling asleep and daytime functioning after taking chamomile extract twice a day (2).

What’s more, chamomile may not just be useful as a sleep aid. It is also believed to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and liver-protecting effects (3).

Studies in mice and rats have found preliminary evidence that chamomile may help fight diarrhea and stomach ulcers (34).

One study also found that chamomile tea reduced symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, while another study in people with type 2 diabetes saw improvements in blood glucose, insulin and blood lipid levels (56).

While more research is needed to confirm these effects, preliminary evidence suggests that chamomile tea may offer a range of health benefits.

SUMMARY: Chamomile is well known for its calming properties, and preliminary evidence supports this. It may also help relieve premenstrual symptoms and high blood lipid, blood sugar and insulin levels.
2. Peppermint Tea

Peppermint tea is one of the most commonly used herbal teas in the world (7).

While it’s most popularly used to support digestive tract health, it also has antioxidant, anticancer, antibacterial and antiviral properties (7).

Most of these effects have not been studied in humans, so it’s not possible to know if they might lead to health benefits. However, several studies have confirmed peppermint’s beneficial effects on the digestive tract.

Several studies have shown that preparations of peppermint oil, which often included other herbs as well, can help relieve indigestion, nausea and stomach pain (891011).

Evidence also shows that peppermint oil is effective at relaxing spasms in the intestines, esophagus and colon (12131415).

Lastly, studies have repeatedly found that peppermint oil is effective at relieving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (16).

Therefore, when you experience digestive discomfort, whether it be from cramping, nausea or indigestion, peppermint tea is a great natural remedy to try.

SUMMARY: Peppermint tea is traditionally used to relieve discomfort of the digestive tract. Studies have found that peppermint oil can help relieve nausea, cramping, spasms and stomach pain.
3. Ginger Tea

Ginger tea is a spicy and flavorful drink that packs a punch of healthy, disease-fighting antioxidants (17).

It also helps fight inflammation and stimulates the immune system, but it’s most well known for being an effective remedy for nausea (18).

Studies consistently find that ginger is effective at relieving nausea, especially in early pregnancy, although it may also relieve nausea caused by cancer treatments and motion sickness (1920).

Evidence also suggests that ginger may help prevent stomach ulcers and relieve indigestion or constipation (20).

Ginger may also help relieve dysmenorrhea, or period pain. A number of studies have found that ginger capsules reduced pain associated with menstruation (2122).

In fact, two studies found ginger to be as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen at relieving period pain (2324).

Finally, some studies suggest that ginger may offer health benefits for people with diabetes, though the evidence has not been consistent. These studies have found that ginger supplements helped with blood sugar control and blood lipid levels (252627).

SUMMARY: Ginger tea is best known as a remedy for nausea, and studies have repeatedly found it to be effective for this use. However, several studies have also found that ginger can help relieve period pain, and it may offer benefits for people with diabetes.
4. Hibiscus Tea

Hibiscus tea is made from the colorful flowers of the hibiscus plant. It has a pink-red color and refreshing, tart flavor. It can be enjoyed hot or iced.

In addition to its bold color and unique flavor, hibiscus tea offers healthful properties.

For example, hibiscus tea has antiviral properties, and test-tube studies have shown its extract to be highly effective against strains of the bird flu. However, no evidence has shown that drinking hibiscus tea could help you fight off viruses like the flu (28).

A number of studies have investigated the effects of hibiscus tea on high blood lipid levels. A few studies have found it to be effective, though a large review study found that it did not have a significant effect on blood lipid levels (29).

Nevertheless, hibiscus tea has been shown to have a positive effect on high blood pressure.

In fact, many studies have found that hibiscus tea reduced high blood pressure, although most studies were not high quality (3031).

What’s more, another study found that taking hibiscus tea extract for six weeks significantly decreased oxidative stress in male soccer players (32).

Be sure to avoid drinking hibiscus tea if you’re taking hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic medication, as the two may interact with each other. Hibiscus tea may also shorten the effects of aspirin, so it’s best to take them 3–4 hours apart (30).

SUMMARY: Hibiscus tea may help lower high blood pressure and fight oxidative stress. However, it shouldn’t be taken with a certain diuretic medication or at the same time as aspirin.
5. Echinacea Tea

Echinacea tea is an extremely popular remedy that’s said to prevent and shorten the common cold.

Evidence has shown that echinacea may help boost the immune system, which could help the body fight off viruses or infections (33).

Many studies have found that echinacea can shorten the duration of the common cold, lessen the severity of its symptoms or even prevent it (33).

However, results are conflicting, and most studies have not been well designed. This makes it difficult to tell if positive results are due to echinacea or random chance.

Therefore, it’s not possible to say definitively that taking echinacea will help with the common cold.

At the very least, this warm herbal drink may help soothe your sore throat or clear up your stuffy nose if you do feel a cold coming on (34).

SUMMARY: Echinacea tea is commonly used to prevent or shorten the duration of the common cold. While several studies have found it to be effective for this use, the evidence on the matter is conflicting.
6. Rooibos Tea

Rooibos is an herbal tea that comes from South Africa. It is made from the leaves of the rooibos or red bush plant.

South Africans have historically used it for medicinal purposes, but there is very little scientific research on the topic.

Nevertheless, a few animal and human studies have been conducted. So far, studies have failed to show that it’s effective for allergies and kidney stones (3536).

However, one study has shown that rooibos tea may benefit bone health. One test-tube study suggests that rooibos tea, along with green and black tea, might stimulate the cells involved in bone growth and density (37).

The same study found that the teas also lowered markers of inflammation and cell toxicity. The researchers suggested that this might be why drinking tea is associated with higher bone density.

Moreover, preliminary evidence shows that rooibos tea may help prevent heart disease.

One study found that rooibos tea inhibited an enzyme that causes blood vessels to constrict, similarly to how a common blood pressure medication does (38).

Also, another study found that drinking six cups of rooibos tea daily for six weeks lowered blood levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and fat, while increasing “good” HDL cholesterol (39).

Much more research is needed to confirm these effects and discover any further benefits. However, the preliminary evidence shows promise.

SUMMARY: Rooibos tea has just recently begun to be studied by scientists. Preliminary evidence suggests that rooibos tea may help improve bone health and reduce heart disease risk, but more studies are needed.
7. Sage Tea

Sage tea is well known for its medicinal properties, and scientific research has begun to support several of its health benefits, especially for brain health.

A number of test-tube, animal and human studies have shown that sage is beneficial for cognitive function, as well as potentially effective against the effects of the plaques involved in Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact, two studies on oral sage drops or sage oil found improvements in the cognitive function of those with Alzheimer’s disease, although the studies had limitations (404142).

Moreover, sage appears to provide cognitive benefits for healthy adults as well.

A number of studies found improvements in mood, mental function and memory in healthy adults after they took one of several different types of sage extract (40434445).

What’s more, one small human study found that sage tea improved blood lipid levels, while another study in rats found that sage tea protected against the development of colon cancer (4647).

Sage tea appears to be a healthy choice, offering benefits for cognitive health and potentially heart and colon health. More studies are needed to find out more about these effects.

SUMMARY: Several studies have found that sage improves cognitive function and memory. It may also benefit colon and heart health.
8. Lemon Balm Tea

Lemon balm tea has a light, lemony flavor and seems to have health-promoting properties.

In a small study in 28 people who drank either barley tea or lemon balm tea for six weeks, the lemon balm tea group had improved elasticity of the arteries. Arterial stiffness is considered a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and mental decline (48).

In the same study, those who drank lemon balm tea also had increased skin elasticity, which typically tends to decline with age. However, the study was of poor quality.

Another small study in radiology workers found that drinking lemon balm tea twice a day for one month increased the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, which help protect the body from oxidative damage to cells and DNA (49).

As a result, participants also showed improved markers of lipid and DNA damage.

Preliminary evidence has also suggested that lemon balm may improve high blood lipid levels (50).

Furthermore, a number of studies have shown that lemon balm improved mood and mental performance.

Two studies including 20 participants evaluated the effects of different dosages of lemon balm extract. They found improvements in both calmness and memory (5152).

Another small study found that lemon balm extract helped reduce stress and improve math processing skills (53).

Finally, another small study found that lemon balm tea reduced the frequency of heart palpitations and anxiety (54).

Lemon balm tea may offer a number of potential health benefits and would make a good addition to any herbal tea collection.

SUMMARY: Preliminary studies have found that lemon balm tea may improve antioxidant levels, heart and skin health and even aid in relieving anxiety.
9. Rose Hip Tea

Rose hip tea is made from the fruit of the rose plant.

It is high in vitamin C and beneficial plant compounds. These plant compounds, in addition to certain fats found in rose hips, result in anti-inflammatory properties (55).

Several studies have looked into the ability of rose hip powder to reduce inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Many of these studies found it effective at reducing inflammation and its related symptoms, including pain (565758).

Rose hips may also be beneficial for weight management, as one 12-week study in 32 overweight people found that taking rose hip extract resulted in decreased BMI and belly fat (59).

Rose hip’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects may also help fight skin aging.

One preliminary study found that taking rose hip powder for eight weeks reduced the depth of wrinkles around the eyes and improved moisture and skin elasticity of the face (60).

These properties may result in other health benefits as well, though more studies will be needed to confirm these effects and investigate any new ones.

SUMMARY: Rose hip tea is high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Its anti-inflammatory properties may reduce inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. Studies have also found rose hips effective at fighting aging of the skin and reducing stomach fat.
10. Passionflower Tea

The leaves, stems and flowers of the passionflower plant are used to make passionflower tea.

Passionflower tea is traditionally used to relieve anxiety and improve sleep, and studies have begun to support these uses.

For example, one study found that drinking passionflower tea for one week significantly improved sleep quality scores (6162).

What’s more, two human studies found that passionflower was effective at reducing anxiety. In fact, one of these studies found that passionflower was as effective as an anxiety-relieving medication (63).

Yet, another study found that passionflower helped relieve the mental symptoms of opioid withdrawal, such as anxiety, irritability and agitation, when taken in addition to clonidine, the medication usually used for opioid detoxification treatment (64).

Passionflower tea seems to be a good choice when it comes to relieving anxiety and promoting calmness.

SUMMARY: Studies have found that passionflower tea may help improve sleep and reduce anxiety.
The Bottom Line

Herbal teas come in a variety of delicious flavors and are naturally free of sugar and calories.

Many herbal teas also offer health-promoting effects, and modern science has begun to validate some of their traditional uses.

Whether you’re a tea lover or novice, don’t be afraid to give these 10 herbal teas a try.

This article was originally published by Healthline.

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Having a Hard Time Sleeping? Here Are the 9 Best Foods to Eat Before Bed

Getting good sleep is incredibly important for your overall health.

1. Tart Cherry Juice

Tart cherry juice has some impressive health benefits.

First, it’s high in a few important nutrients. An 8-ounce (240-ml) serving contains 62% of your daily needs for vitamin A, 40% for vitamin C and 14% for manganese (7).

Additionally, it is a rich source of antioxidants, including anthocyanins and flavonols. Antioxidants may protect your cells from harmful inflammation that can lead to chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease (8910).

Tart cherry juice is also known to promote sleepiness, and it has even been studied for its role in relieving insomnia. For these reasons, drinking tart cherry juice before bed may improve your sleep quality (611).

The sleep-promoting effects of tart cherry juice are due to its high content of melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates your internal clock and signals your body to prepare for sleep (61112).

In two studies, adults with insomnia who drank 8 ounces (237 ml) of tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks slept about an hour and a half longer and reported better sleep quality, compared to when they did not drink the juice (1314).

Although these results are promising, more extensive research is necessary to confirm the role tart cherry juice has in improving sleep and preventing insomnia.

Nevertheless, drinking some tart cherry juice before bed is certainly worth a try if you struggle with falling or staying asleep at night.

SUMMARY: Due to its content of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, tart cherry juice may help induce a good night’s sleep.
2. Turkey

Turkey is delicious and nutritious.

It is high in protein, providing 4 grams per ounce (28 grams). Protein is important for keeping your muscles strong and regulating your appetite (1516).

Additionally, turkey is a good source of a few vitamins and minerals. A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving contains 5% of your daily needs for riboflavin, 5% for phosphorus and 9% for selenium (15).

Many people claim turkey is a great food to eat before bed due to its ability to promote sleepiness, although no studies have examined its role in sleep, specifically.

However, turkey does have a few properties that explain why some people may become tired after eating it. Most notably, it contains the amino acid tryptophan, which increases the production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin (1117).

The protein in turkey may also contribute to its ability to promote tiredness. There is evidence that consuming moderate amounts of protein before bed is associated with better sleep quality, including less waking up throughout the night (18).

More research is necessary to confirm turkey’s potential role in improving sleep.

However, eating some turkey before bed may be worth trying, especially if you have trouble falling asleep.

SUMMARY: Turkey may be a great food to eat before bed due to its high content of protein and tryptophan, both of which may induce tiredness.
3. Kiwi

Kiwis are a low-calorie and very nutritious fruit.

One medium kiwi contains only 50 calories and a significant amount of nutrients, including 117% of your daily needs for vitamin C and 38% for vitamin K.

It also contains a decent amount of folate and potassium, as well as several trace minerals (19).

Furthermore, eating kiwis may benefit your digestive health, reduce inflammation and lower your cholesterol. These effects are due to the high amount of fiber and carotenoid antioxidants that they provide (2021).

According to studies on their potential to improve sleep quality, kiwis may also be one of the best foods to eat before bed (22).

In a four-week study, 24 adults consumed two kiwifruits one hour before going to bed each night. At the end of the study, participants fell asleep 42% more quickly than when they didn’t eat anything before bedtime.

Additionally, their ability to sleep through the night without waking improved by 5%, while their total sleep time increased by 13% (23).

The sleep-promoting effects of kiwis are thought to be due to their content of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate your sleep cycle (24232526).

It has also been suggested that the antioxidants in kiwis, such as vitamin C and carotenoids, may be partly responsible for their sleep-promoting effects. This is thought to be due to their role in reducing inflammation (242327).

More scientific evidence is needed to determine the effects that kiwis may have in improving sleep. Nevertheless, eating 1–2 medium kiwis before bed may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

SUMMARY: Kiwis are rich in serotonin and antioxidants, both of which may improve sleep quality when eaten before bed.
4. Almonds

Almonds are a type of tree nut with many health benefits.

They are an excellent source of many nutrients, as one ounce contains 14% of your daily needs for phosphorus, 32% for manganese and 17% for riboflavin (28).

Also, eating almonds regularly has been associated with lower risks of a few chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. This is attributed to their content of healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber and antioxidants (2930).

It has been claimed that almonds may also help boost sleep quality.

This is because almonds, along with several other types of nuts, are a source of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin (31).

Almonds are also an excellent source of magnesium, providing 19% of your daily needs in only 1 ounce. Consuming adequate amounts of magnesium may help improve sleep quality, especially for those who have insomnia (63233).

Magnesium’s role in promoting sleep is thought to be due to its ability to reduce inflammation. Additionally, it may help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to interrupt sleep (634).

Yet despite this, research on almonds and sleep is sparse.

One study examined the effects of feeding rats 400 mg of almond extract. It found that the rats slept longer and more deeply than they did without consuming almond extract (35).

The potential sleep-promoting effects of almonds are promising, but more extensive human studies are needed.

If you want to eat almonds before bed to determine if they impact your sleep quality, a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving, or about a handful, should be adequate.

SUMMARY: Almonds are a source of melatonin and the sleep-promoting mineral magnesium, two properties that make them a great food to eat before bed.
5. Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea is a popular herbal tea that may offer a variety of health benefits.

It is well known for its content of flavones, a class of antioxidants that reduce inflammation that often leads to chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease (36373839).

There is also some evidence that drinking chamomile tea may boost your immune system, reduce anxiety and depression and improve skin health. In addition, chamomile tea has some unique properties that may improve sleep quality (36).

Specifically, chamomile tea contains apigenin, an antioxidant that binds to certain receptors in your brain that may promote sleepiness and reduce insomnia (3640).

One study in 34 adults found those who consumed 270 mg of chamomile extract twice daily for 28 days fell asleep 15 minutes faster and experienced less nighttime wakening, compared to those who did not consume the extract (41).

Another study found that women who drank chamomile tea for two weeks reported improved sleep quality, compared to non-tea drinkers.

Those who drank chamomile tea also had fewer symptoms of depression, which is commonly associated with sleep problems (42).

Drinking chamomile tea before going to bed is certainly worth trying if you want to improve the quality of your sleep.

SUMMARY: Chamomile tea contains antioxidants that may promote sleepiness, and drinking it has been shown to improve overall sleep quality.
6. Fatty Fish

Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout and mackerel, are incredibly healthy.

What makes them unique is their exceptional vitamin D content. For example, a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of salmon contains 525–990 IU of vitamin D, which is over 50% of your daily needs (43).

Additionally, fatty fish are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA, both of which are known for reducing inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids may also protect against heart disease and boost brain health (44454647).

The combination of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D in fatty fish have the potential to enhance sleep quality, as both have been shown to increase the production of serotonin, a sleep-promoting brain chemical (484950).

In one study, men who ate 300 grams of Atlantic salmon three times a week for six months fell asleep about 10 minutes faster than men who ate chicken, beef or pork (51).

This effect was thought to be due to the vitamin D content of the salmon. Those in the fish group had higher levels of vitamin D, which was linked to a significant improvement in sleep quality (51).

Eating a few ounces of fatty fish before bed may help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply, but more studies are needed to make a definite conclusion about the ability of fatty fish to improve sleep.

SUMMARY: Fatty fish are a great source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which have properties that may improve the quality of your sleep.
7. Walnuts

Walnuts are a popular type of tree nut.

They are abundant in many nutrients, providing over 19 vitamins and minerals, in addition to 2 grams of fiber, in a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving. Walnuts are particularly rich in magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese (52).

Additionally, walnuts are a great source of healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids and linoleic acid. They also provide 4 grams of protein per ounce, which may be beneficial for reducing appetite (525354).

Walnuts may also boost heart health. They have been studied for their ability to reduce high cholesterol levels, which are a major risk factor for heart disease (30).

What’s more, eating walnuts has been claimed to improve sleep quality, as they are one of the best food sources of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin (305556).

The fatty acid makeup of walnuts may also contribute to better sleep. They provide ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid that’s converted to DHA in the body. DHA may increase production of serotonin, a sleep-enhancing brain chemical (505758).

Unfortunately, the claims about walnuts improving sleep are not supported by much evidence. In fact, there have not been any studies that focus specifically on walnut’s role in promoting sleep.

Regardless, if you struggle with sleep, eating some walnuts before bed may help. About a handful of walnuts is an adequate portion.

SUMMARY: Walnuts have a few properties that may promote better sleep, including their content of melatonin and healthy fats.
8. Passionflower Tea

Passionflower tea is another herbal tea that has been used traditionally for many years to treat a number of health ailments.

It is a rich source of flavonoid antioxidants, which are known for their role in reducing inflammation, boosting immune health and reducing heart disease risk (5960).

Additionally, passionflower tea has been studied for its potential to reduce anxiety.

This is attributed to its content of apigenin, an antioxidant that produces a calming effect by binding to certain receptors in your brain (60).

There is also some evidence that drinking passionflower tea increases the production of GABA, a brain chemical that works to inhibit other brain chemicals that induce stress, such as glutamate (61).

The calming properties of passionflower tea may promote sleepiness, so it may be beneficial to drink it before going to bed.

In a seven-day study, 41 adults drank a cup of passionflower tea before bed. They rated their sleep quality significantly better when they drank the tea, compared to when they did not drink the tea (62).

More research is needed to determine the ability of passionflower tea to promote sleep, but it is certainly worth trying if you want to improve your sleep quality.

SUMMARY: Passionflower tea may influence sleep due to its content of the antioxidant apigenin, as well as its ability to increase GABA production.
9. White Rice

White rice is a grain that is widely consumed as a staple food in many countries.

The major difference between white and brown rice is that white rice has had its bran and germ removed, which makes it lower in fiber, nutrients and antioxidants.

Nevertheless, white rice still contains a decent amount of a few vitamins and minerals. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of white rice provides 14% of your daily needs for folate, 11% for thiamin and 24% for manganese (63).

Also, white rice is high in carbs, providing 28 grams in a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving. Its carb content and lack of fiber contribute to its high glycemic index, which is a measure of how quickly a food increases your blood sugar (6465).

It has been suggested that eating foods with a high glycemic index, such as white rice, a few hours before bed may help improve sleep quality (1166).

In one study, the sleep habits of 1,848 people were compared based on their intake of white rice, bread or noodles. Higher rice intake was associated with better sleep, including longer sleep duration (67).

It has also been reported that white rice may be most effective at improving sleep if it is consumed at least one hour before bedtime (11).

Despite the potential role that eating white rice may have in promoting sleep, it is best consumed in moderation due to its lack of fiber and nutrients.

SUMMARY: White rice may be beneficial to eat before bed due to its high glycemic index, which may promote better sleep.
Other Foods That May Promote Sleep

Several other foods have sleep-promoting properties, but they have not been studied specifically for their effects on sleep.

  • Milk: Another known source of tryptophan, milk has been shown to improve sleep in the elderly, especially when taken along with melatonin and paired with exercise (176869).
  • Bananas: Bananas contain tryptophan and are a good source of magnesium. Both of these properties may help you get a good night’s sleep (1770).
  • Oatmeal: Similar to rice, oatmeal is high in carbs and has been reported to induce drowsiness when consumed before bed. Additionally, oats are a known source of melatonin (31).
  • Cottage cheese: Contains a significant amount of casein, which is a milk protein that is well known to sustain overnight muscle repair and growth when consumed before bed (7172).
SUMMARY: Many foods have characteristics known to improve sleep quality, but their specific role in sleep is not supported by scientific evidence.
The Bottom Line

Getting enough sleep is very important for your health.

Fortunately, several foods may help, thanks to their content of sleep-regulating hormones and brain chemicals, including melatonin and serotonin.

Additionally, some foods contain high amounts of specific antioxidants and nutrients, such as magnesium, that are known to enhance sleep by helping you fall asleep faster or stay asleep longer.

To reap the benefits of sleep-enhancing foods, it may be best to consume them 2–3 hours before bed. This is because eating immediately before going to sleep may cause digestive issues, such as acid reflux.

Overall, more research is necessary to conclude the specific role that foods have in promoting sleep, but their known effects are very promising.

Always consult your physician before making changes to your diet. This article was originally published by Healthline. Reprinted with permission.

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13 Health Benefits of Coffee, Based on Science

Coffee is actually very healthy.

Coffee can help people feel less tired and increase energy levels (12).

This is because it contains a stimulant called caffeine, which is actually the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world (3).

After you drink coffee, the caffeine is absorbed into the bloodstream. From there, it travels into the brain (4).

In the brain, caffeine blocks an inhibitory neurotransmitter called Adenosine.

When that happens, the amount of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine actually increases, leading to enhanced firing of neurons (56).

Many controlled trials in humans show that coffee improves various aspects of brain function. This includes memory, mood, vigilance, energy levels, reaction times and general cognitive function (789).

BOTTOM LINE: Caffeine blocks an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, which leads to a stimulant effect. This improves energy levels, mood and various aspects of brain function.

2. Coffee Can Help You Burn Fat

Did you know that caffeine is found in almost every commercial fat burning supplement?

There's a good reason for that... caffeine is one of the very few natural substances that have actually been proven to aid fat burning.

Several studies show that caffeine can boost the metabolic rate by 3-11% (1011).

Other studies show that caffeine can specifically increase the burning of fat, by as much as 10% in obese individuals and 29% in lean people (12).

However, it is possible that these effects will diminish in long-term coffee drinkers.

BOTTOM LINE: Several studies show that caffeine can increase fat burning in the body and boost the metabolic rate.

3. The Caffeine Can Drastically Improve Physical Performance

Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, causing it to send signals to the fat cells to break down body fat (1314).

But caffeine also increases Epinephrine (Adrenaline) levels in the blood (1516).

This is the "fight or flight" hormone, designed to make our bodies ready for intense physical exertion.

Caffeine makes the fat cells break down body fat, releasing them into the blood as free fatty acids and making them available as fuel (1718).

Given these effects, it is not surprising to see that caffeine can improve physical performance by 11-12%, on average (2029).

Because of this, it makes sense to have a strong cup of coffee about a half an hour before you head to the gym.

BOTTOM LINE: Caffeine can increase adrenaline levels and release fatty acids from the fat tissues. It also leads to significant improvements in physical performance.

4. There Are Essential Nutrients in Coffee

Coffee is more than just black water. Many of the nutrients in the coffee beans do make it into the final drink.

A single cup of coffee contains (21):
  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): 11% of the RDA.
  • Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5): 6% of the RDA.
  • Manganese and Potassium: 3% of the RDA.
  • Magnesium and Niacin (B3): 2% of the RDA.

Although this may not seem like a big deal, most people are drinking more than one cup per day. If you drink 3-4, then these amounts quickly add up.

BOTTOM LINE: Coffee contains several important nutrients, including Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Manganese, Potassium, Magnesium and Niacin.

5. Coffee May Lower Your Risk of Type II Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a gigantic health problem, currently afflicting about 300 million people worldwide.

It is characterized by elevated blood sugars in the context of insulin resistance or an inability to secrete insulin.

For some reason, coffee drinkers have a significantly reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The studies show that people who drink the most coffee have a 23-50% lower risk of getting this disease, one study showing a reduction as high as 67% (2223242526).

According to a massive review that looked at data from 18 studies with a total of 457,922 individuals, each daily cup of coffee was associated with a 7% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes (27).

BOTTOM LINE: Several observational studies show that coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of getting type II diabetes, a serious disease that currently afflicts about 300 million people worldwide.

6. Coffee May Protect You From Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

Alzheimer's disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease and the leading cause of dementia worldwide.

This disease usually affects people over 65 years of age.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Alzheimer's.

However, there are several things you can do to prevent the disease from showing up in the first place.

This includes the usual suspects like eating healthy and exercising, but drinking coffee may be incredibly effective as well.

Several studies show that coffee drinkers have up to a 65% lower risk of getting Alzheimer's disease (2829).

BOTTOM LINE: Coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of getting Alzheimer's disease, which is a leading cause of dementia worldwide.

7. Caffeine May Lower The Risk of Parkinson's

Parkinson's disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease, right after Alzheimer's.

It is caused by death of dopamine-generating neurons in the brain.

Same as with Alzheimer's, there is no known cure, which makes it that much more important to focus on prevention.

In studies, coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease, with a reduction in risk ranging from 32-60% (30313233).

In this case, it appears to be the caffeine itself that is causing the effect. People who drink decaf don't have a lower risk of Parkinson's (34).

BOTTOM LINE: Coffee drinkers have up to a 60% lower risk of getting Parkinson's disease, the second most common neurodegenerative disorder.

8. Coffee Appears to Have Protective Effects on The Liver

The liver is an amazing organ that carries out hundreds of important functions in the body.

Several common diseases primarily affect the liver, including hepatitis, fatty liver disease and others.

Many of these diseases can lead to a condition called cirrhosis, in which the liver has been largely replaced by scar tissue.

It turns out that coffee may protect against cirrhosis. People who drink 4 or more cups per day have up to an 80% lower risk (353637).

BOTTOM LINE: Coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of developing cirrhosis, which can be caused by several diseases that affect the liver.

9. Coffee Can Fight Depression and Make You Happier

Depression is a serious mental disorder that causes a significantly reduced quality of life.

It is incredibly common and about 4.1% of people in the U.S. currently meet the criteria for clinical depression.

In a Harvard study published in 2011, women who drank 4 or more cups per day had a 20% lower risk of becoming depressed (38).

Another study with 208,424 individuals found that those who drank 4 or more cups per day were 53% less likely to commit suicide (39).

BOTTOM LINE: Coffee appears to lower the risk of developing depression and may dramatically reduce the risk of suicide.

10. Coffee Drinkers Have a Lower Risk of Some Types of Cancer

Cancer is one of the world's leading causes of death and is characterized by uncontrolled growth of cells in the body.

Coffee appears to be protective against two types of cancer... liver cancer and colorectal cancer.

Liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the world, while colorectal cancer ranks fourth (40).

Studies show that coffee drinkers have up to a 40% lower risk of liver cancer (4142).

One study of 489,706 individuals found that those who drank 4-5 cups of coffee per day had a 15% lower risk of colorectal cancer (43).

BOTTOM LINE: Liver and colorectal cancer are the 3rd and 4th leading causes of cancer death worldwide. Coffee drinkers have a lower risk of both.

11. Coffee Does Not Cause Heart Disease and May Lower The Risk of Stroke

It is often claimed that caffeine can increase blood pressure.

This is true, but the effect is small (3-4 mm/Hg) and usually goes away if you drink coffee regularly (4445).

However, the effect may persist in some people, so keep that in mind if you have elevated blood pressure (4647).

That being said, the studies do NOT support the myth that coffee raises the risk of heart disease (4849).

In fact, there is some evidence that women who drink coffee have a reduced risk of heart disease (50).

Some studies also show that coffee drinkers have a 20% lower risk of stroke (5152).

BOTTOM LINE: Coffee may cause mild increases in blood pressure, which usually diminish over time. Coffee drinkers do not have an increased risk of heart disease, but a slightly lower risk of stroke.

12. Coffee May Help You Live Longer

Given that coffee drinkers are less likely to get many diseases, it makes sense that coffee could help you live longer.

There are actually several observational studies showing that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of death.

In two very large studies, drinking coffee was associated with a 20% lower risk of death in men and a 26% lower risk of death in women, over a period of 18-24 years (53).

This effect appears to be particularly strong in type II diabetics. In one study, diabetics who drank coffee had a 30% lower risk of death during a 20 year study period (54).

BOTTOM LINE: Several studies show that coffee drinkers live longer and have a lower risk of premature death.

13. Coffee is The Biggest Source of Antioxidants in The Western Diet

For people who eat a standard Western diet, coffee may actually be the healthiest aspect of the diet.

That's because coffee contains a massive amount of antioxidants.

In fact, studies show that most people get more antioxidants from coffee than both fruits and vegetables... combined (555657).

Coffee is one of the healthiest beverages on the planet. Period.

This article was originally published by Healthline.

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8 Fermented Foods to Boost Digestion and Health

Fermentation is a process that involves the breakdown of sugars by bacteria and yeast.

Kefir is a type of cultured dairy product.

It is made by adding kefir grains, which are made up of a combination of yeast and bacteria, to milk. This results in a thick and tangy beverage with a taste that is often compared to yogurt.

Studies have shown that kefir may come with many benefits, affecting everything from digestion to inflammation to bone health.

In one small study, kefir was shown to improve the digestion of lactose in 15 people with lactose intolerance. Those who are lactose intolerant are unable to digest the sugars in dairy products, resulting in symptoms like cramps, bloating and diarrhea (4).

Another study found that consuming 6.7 ounces (200 ml) of kefir daily for six weeks decreased markers of inflammation, a known contributor to the development of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer (56)

Kefir may also help enhance bone health. One study looked at the effects of kefir on 40 people with osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak, porous bones.

After six months, the group consuming kefir was found to have improved bone mineral density, compared to a control group (7).

Enjoy kefir on its own or use it to give your smoothies and blended drinks a boost.

SUMMARY: Kefir is a fermented dairy product that may improve lactose digestion, decrease inflammation and boost bone health.

2. Tempeh

Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans that have been pressed into a compact cake.

This high-protein meat substitute is firm but chewy and can be baked, steamed or sautéed before being added to dishes.

In addition to its impressive probiotic content, tempeh is rich in many nutrients that may better your health. For example, soy protein has been shown to reduce certain risk factors for heart disease.

One study in 42 people with high cholesterol looked at the effects of eating either soy protein or animal protein. Those eating soy protein had a 5.7% decrease in “bad” LDL cholesterol, a 4.4% reduction in total cholesterol and a 13.3% reduction in blood triglycerides (8).

Additionally, a test-tube study found that certain plant compounds in tempeh could act as antioxidants, helping reduce the buildup of free radicals, which are harmful compounds that can contribute to chronic disease (9).

Tempeh is perfect for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Use it for anything from sandwiches to stir-fries to take advantage of its many health benefits.

SUMMARY: Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. It is high in probiotics and contains compounds that may act as antioxidants and improve heart health.
3. Natto
Natto is a staple probiotic food in traditional Japanese cuisine and, like tempeh, made from fermented soybeans.

It contains a good amount of fiber, providing 5 grams per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving (10).

Fiber may help support digestive health. It moves through the body undigested, adding bulk to stool to help promote regularity and alleviate constipation (11).

Natto is also high in vitamin K, an important nutrient that’s involved in the metabolism of calcium and plays a major role in bone health. In one study of 944 women, natto intake was associated with reduced bone loss in those who were postmenopausal (12).

The fermentation of natto also produces an enzyme called nattokinase. One study in 12 people showed that supplementing with nattokinase helped prevent and dissolve blood clots (13).

Another study also found that supplementing with this enzyme helped reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 5.5 and 2.84 mmHg, respectively (14).

Natto has a very strong flavor and slippery texture. It is often paired with rice and served as part of a digestion-boosting breakfast.

SUMMARY: Natto is a fermented soybean product. Its high fiber content may promote regularity and help prevent bone loss. It also produces an enzyme that can reduce blood pressure and help dissolve blood clots.

4. Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented tea that is fizzy, tart and flavorful. It is made from either black or green tea and contains their potent health-promoting properties.

Animal studies show that drinking kombucha could help prevent liver toxicity and damage caused by exposure to harmful chemicals (151617).

Test-tube studies have also found that kombucha could help induce cancer cell death and block the spread of cancer cells (1819).

One animal study even found that kombucha helped reduce blood sugar, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (20).

Although most of the current research is limited to test-tube and animal studies, the benefits of kombucha and its components are promising. Nevertheless, further studies are needed to determine how kombucha may affect humans.

Thanks to its rising popularity, kombucha can be found at most major grocery stores. It can also be made at home, though it should be prepared carefully to prevent contamination or over-fermentation.

SUMMARY: Kombucha is a fermented tea. Although more research is needed, animal and test-tube studies have found that it could help protect the liver, decrease blood sugar and reduce levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.

5. Miso

Miso is a common seasoning in Japanese cuisine. It’s made by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji, a type of fungus.

It is most often found in miso soup, a flavorful dish made up of miso paste and stock that is traditionally served for breakfast.

In addition to its probiotic content, several studies have found health benefits tied to miso.

In one study including 21,852 women, consuming miso soup was linked to a lower risk of breast cancer (21).

Miso may also help lower blood pressure and protect heart health. In fact, a study in rats found that the long-term consumption of miso soup helped normalize blood pressure (22).

Another study in over 40,000 people showed that a higher intake of miso soup was associated with a lower risk of stroke (23).

Remember that many of these studies show an association, but they don’t take other factors into consideration. More studies are needed to evaluate miso’s health effects.

Besides stirring miso into soup, you can try using it to glaze cooked vegetables, spice up salad dressings or marinate meat.

SUMMARY: Miso is a seasoning made from fermented soybeans. It has been associated with a reduced risk of cancer and improved heart health, though more human studies are needed.
6. Kimchi

Kimchi is a popular Korean side dish that is usually made from fermented cabbage, although it can also be made from other fermented vegetables like radishes.

It boasts an extensive array of health benefits and may be especially effective when it comes to lowering cholesterol and reducing insulin resistance.

Insulin is responsible for transporting glucose from the blood to the tissues. When you sustain high levels of insulin for long periods, your body stops responding to it normally, resulting in high blood sugar and insulin resistance.

In one study, 21 people with prediabetes consumed either fresh or fermented kimchi for eight weeks. By the end of the study, those consuming fermented kimchi had decreased insulin resistance, blood pressure and body weight (24).

In another study, people were given a diet with either a high or low amount of kimchi for seven days. Interestingly, a higher intake of kimchi led to greater decreases in blood sugar, blood cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol (25).

Kimchi is easy to make and can be added to everything from noodle bowls to sandwiches.

SUMMARY: Kimchi is made from fermented vegetables such as cabbage or radishes. Studies have found that it may help reduce insulin resistance and blood cholesterol.

7. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is a popular condiment consisting of shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria. It is low in calories but contains plenty of fiber, vitamin C and vitamin K (26).

It also contains a good amount of lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that help promote eye health and reduce the risk of eye disease (27).

The antioxidant content of sauerkraut may also have promising effects on cancer prevention.

One test-tube study showed that treating breast cancer cells with cabbage juice decreased the activity of certain enzymes related to cancer formation (28).

However, the current evidence is limited and more research is needed to look at how these findings may translate to humans.

You can use sauerkraut in just about anything. Throw it in your next casserole, add it to a hearty bowl of soup or use it to top off a satisfying sandwich.

To get the most health benefits, be sure to choose unpasteurized sauerkraut, as the process of pasteurization kills off beneficial bacteria.

SUMMARY: Sauerkraut is made from shredded cabbage that has been fermented. It is high in antioxidants that are important for eye health, and it’s easy to add to many dishes.

8. Probiotic Yogurt

Yogurt is produced from milk that has been fermented, most commonly with lactic acid bacteria.

It is high in many important nutrients, including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin and vitamin B12 (29).

Yogurt has also been associated with a wide variety of health benefits.

One review of 14 studies showed that fermented milk products like probiotic yogurt could help reduce blood pressure, especially in those with high blood pressure (30).

Another study found that a higher intake of yogurt was linked to improvements in bone mineral density and physical function in older adults (31).

It may also help keep your waistline in check. A recent review showed that eating yogurt was associated with a lower body weight, less body fat and a smaller waist circumference (32).

Remember that not all yogurt varieties contain probiotics, as these beneficial bacteria are often killed during processing.

Look for yogurts that contain live cultures to make sure you’re getting your dose of probiotics. Additionally, make sure to opt for yogurts with minimal added sugar.

SUMMARY: Probiotic yogurt is made from fermented milk. It is high in nutrients and could help reduce body weight, lower blood pressure and improve bone health.

The Bottom Line

Fermentation can help increase both the shelf life and health benefits of many different foods.

The probiotics found in fermented foods have been associated with improvements in digestion, immunity, weight loss and more (123).

In addition to containing these beneficial probiotics, fermented foods can positively impact many other aspects of health and are an excellent addition to your diet.

This article was originally published by Healthline.

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No, You Can't Drink Unlimited Amounts of Green Tea Without Consequences

Green tea is a popular beverage consumed worldwide. 

Green tea is loaded with nutrients and plant compounds that can have positive health effects.

This includes potent antioxidants called catechins, which may help protect against cancer. 

In fact, multiple studies show that people who drink green tea are significantly less likely to get many types of cancer, compared to those who don’t drink it (12).

The cancers that green tea may help protect against include prostate and breast cancer, which are the two most common cancers in men and women, respectively (34).

What's more, several studies indicate that green tea may lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease (5678).

And drinking green tea may even help you lose weight.

The caffeine and catechins it contains have been shown to boost your metabolism and increase fat burning (910).

Overall, studies indicate that consuming green tea can help you burn an additional 75–100 calories per day (11).

Although this may seem like a small amount, it can contribute to significant weight loss over the long term.

Other possible benefits of drinking green tea include immune system support, improved brain function, improved dental health and a lower risk of arthritis, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease (121314).

SUMMARY: The compounds in green tea can have powerful effects on health, including a decreased risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. 

How Much Green Tea Is Optimal?

Studies that explore the benefits of green tea show conflicting evidence about exactly how much you should drink each day.

Some studies show health benefits in people who drink as little as one cup per day, while other studies deem five or more cups per day to be optimal (1516).

Green tea may help lower the risk of several diseases. However, the optimal amount to drink may depend on the disease.

  • Oral cancer: In a large observational study, women who drank three to four cups of green tea daily were the least likely to develop oral cancer (17).
  • Prostate cancer: A large observational study found that men who drank five or more cups of green tea daily had a lower risk of developing prostate cancer, compared to those who drank less than one cup per day (18). 
  • Stomach cancer: Another large observational study showed a reduced risk of stomach cancer in women who consumed five or more cups of green tea per day (19). 
  • Breast cancer: Two observational studies showed reduced recurrences of breast cancer in women who drank more than three cups of green tea daily (2021).
  • Pancreatic cancer: One observational study found that drinking five or more cups of green tea per day was linked to a decreased risk of pancreatic cancer (22).
  • Diabetes: In a retrospective observational study, people who consumed six or more cups of green tea daily had a 33% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, compared to those who consumed less than one cup per week (23).
  • Heart disease: An analysis of nine studies found that people who consumed one to three cups of green tea daily had a lower risk of heart attack and stroke, compared to those who drank less than one cup (24).

Based on the above studies, it’s optimal to drink three to five cups of green tea per day.

However, it's important to note that some studies did not find any association between drinking green tea and disease risk, so these effects may vary from person to person (2526).

One thing most studies have found is that green tea drinkers are in better health than those who do not drink tea at all.

SUMMARY:T he amount of tea required for health benefits varies greatly among studies. Drinking a minimum of three to five cups of green tea per day seems to work well, but the optimal amount may vary from one person to the next. 

Possible Side Effects of Drinking Green Tea

The caffeine and catechins in green tea are well known for their health benefits, but they can also cause side effects for some people, especially in large doses.

Effects of Caffeine

Consuming too much caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety, interfere with sleep and cause stomach upset and headaches in some people (2728293031).

Consuming large amounts of caffeine while pregnant may even increase the risk of birth defects and miscarriage (32).

Based on current research, everyone, including pregnant women, should not consume more than 300 mg of caffeine daily (33).

However, one review looked at over 400 studies and found that healthy adults who consumed up to 400 mg of caffeine per day did not experience adverse effects (34).

The amount of caffeine in one cup of green tea varies depending on the amount of tea used and the length of time the leaves steep.

One study found that the caffeine content of 1 gram of green tea ranged from 11–20 mg (12).

A single serving is usually measured at 1 tablespoon (2 grams) of tea leaves per 1 cup (240 ml) of water. Assuming each cup of tea is approximately 1 cup (240 ml), this means the average cup of green tea contains about 22–40 mg of caffeine.

Catechins May Reduce Iron Absorption

The catechins in green tea may reduce your ability to absorb iron from foods (35).

In fact, consuming catechins in large quantities may lead to iron deficiency anemia (36).

While regularly drinking green tea isn't a concern for most healthy individuals, those at risk of iron deficiency should consider drinking tea in between meals and waiting at least one hour after eating before drinking tea (37).

Infants, young children, women who are pregnant or menstruating and individuals who have internal bleeding or are undergoing dialysis are all at an increased risk of iron deficiency.

The catechins in green tea can also interfere with certain medications and decrease their effectiveness.

For example, studies indicate that green tea may inhibit the effectiveness of certain heart and blood pressure medications (12).

Drinking green tea may also decrease the effects of certain medications used to treat anxiety and depression (3839).

Toxic effects are most common when people take green tea supplements, which have a much higher concentration of catechins than green tea itself (40).

SUMMARY: When consumed in moderation, green tea is safe for most people. You may want to limit or avoid it if you have iron deficiency or are pregnant, nursing or taking medications for anxiety disorders or heart conditions. 
The Bottom Line

Green tea is packed full of health-promoting compounds.

Regularly drinking green tea can help you lose weight and reduce your risk of several diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Drinking three to five cups of green tea per day seems to be optimal to reap the most health benefits.

Very high doses may be problematic for some, but generally, green tea's benefits far outweigh its risks.

In fact, drinking more green tea may greatly improve your health.

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5 Reasons Monounsaturated Fats Are Incredibly Healthy

Monounsaturated fats are healthy fats found in olive oil, avocados and certain nuts.

There are a number of different types of fat in your diet, which vary in their chemical structure.

Unsaturated fats are those that have double bonds in their chemical structure.

Monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs, are a type of unsaturated fat. “Mono,” meaning one, signifies that monounsaturated fats have only one double bond.

There are many different types of MUFAs. Oleic acid is the most common type, comprising around 90% of those found in the diet (1).

Other MUFAs include palmitoleic acid and vaccenic acid.

Many foods are high in MUFAs, but most consist of a combination of different fats. There are very few foods that contain only one type of fat.

For example, olive oil is very high in MUFAs and other types of fat.

Foods that are high in unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, are usually liquid at room temperature, whereas foods that are high in saturated fats, such as butter and coconut oil, are usually solid at room temperature.

These different fats affect health and disease differently. Monounsaturated fats, in particular, have been shown to have a number of health benefits (2).

SUMMARY: Monounsaturated fats contain one double bond in their chemical structure and may have various health benefits. 

1. Monounsaturated Fats May Help You Lose Weight

All fats provide the same amount of energy — 9 calories per gram — while carbs and protein provide 4 calories per gram.

Therefore, reducing the amount of fat in your diet can be an effective way to reduce your calorie intake and lose weight.

However, a diet with moderate-to-high amounts of monounsaturated fats can also help with weight loss, as long as you aren’t eating more calories than you’re burning (3).

A couple of studies have shown that when calorie intake remained the same, diets high in MUFAs led to weight loss similar to that of low-fat diets (45).

For example, one study of 124 people who were overweight or obese found that eating either a high-MUFA diet (20% of total calories) or a high-carb diet for one year led to comparable weight loss of around 8.8 pounds (4 kg) (6).

A larger study that combined the results of 24 other studies showed that high-MUFA diets are slightly more effective than high-carb diets for weight loss (7).

Therefore, high-MUFA diets can be an effective way to lose weight when replacing other calories, rather than adding extra calories to the diet.

SUMMARY: High-MUFA diets can help with weight loss and may be more effective than low-fat, high-carb diets. 

2. They May Help Reduce Risk Factors for Heart Disease

There is a big debate in nutrition about whether excessive saturated fats increase the risk of heart disease.

However, there is good evidence that increasing MUFAs in your diet can reduce risk factors for heart disease, especially if you’re replacing saturated fat.

Too much cholesterol in the blood is a risk factor for heart disease, as it can clog arteries and lead to heart attacks or stroke. Various studies have shown that a high intake of monounsaturated fats can reduce blood cholesterol and triglycerides (8910).

For example, one study of 162 healthy people compared three months of a high-MUFA diet with a high-saturated fat diet to see the effects on blood cholesterol.

This study found that the diet high in saturated fat increased unhealthy LDL cholesterol by 4%, while the high-MUFA diet reduced LDL cholesterol by 5% (11).

Other smaller studies have found similar results of MUFAs reducing LDL cholesterol and also increasing “good” HDL cholesterol (121314).

High-MUFA diets can help lower blood pressure, too. A large study of 164 people with high blood pressure found that a high-MUFA diet lowered blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, compared to a high-carb diet (15).

Similar beneficial results in blood pressure have also been found in people with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (1617).

However, it is important to note that the beneficial effects of high-MUFA diets only are seen when they replace saturated fat or carbs in the diet.

Furthermore, in each of these studies, the high-MUFA diets were part of calorie-controlled diets, meaning that adding extra calories to your diet through high-MUFA foods may not have the same benefits.

SUMMARY:High-MUFA diets may help reduce blood cholesterol, blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors, particularly if they replace some saturated fats in the diet. 

3. They May Help Reduce Cancer Risk

There is also some evidence that diets rich in MUFAs may help reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Prostate cancer, for example, is one of the most common types of cancer in men, especially older men.

Many studies have examined whether men who eat a good amount of MUFAs have reduced or increased rates of prostate cancer, but the evidence remains unclear.

Each of the studies examining the role of high-MUFA diets in prostate cancer has found different results. Some show a protective effect, some show no effect and others show a harmful effect (181920).

One of these studies suggested that other components of high-MUFA foods may cause the protective effect rather than the MUFAs themselves. Therefore, it is unclear how MUFAs affect prostate cancer.

High-MUFA diets have also been studied in relation to breast cancer risk (212223).

One large study of 642 women found that those with the highest amounts of oleic acid (a type of MUFA found in olive oil) in their fat tissue had the lowest rates of breast cancer (24).

However, this was only seen in women in Spain — where olive oil is widely consumed — and not in women from other countries. This suggests it may be another component of olive oil that has a protective effect.

In fact, a number of studies have examined olive oil specifically and found that people who eat more olive oil have lower rates of breast cancer (252627).

Moreover, all of these studies were observational, meaning they can’t prove cause and effect. Thus, other components of diet and lifestyle may be contributing to this beneficial effect.

SUMMARY:People with high MUFA intakes have lower rates of breast cancer. However, this may due to other components of MUFA-containing foods, rather than MUFAs themselves. 

4. Monounsaturated Fats May Help Improve Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin is a hormone that controls your blood sugar by moving it from the blood into your cells. The production of insulin is important for preventing high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes.

Studies have shown that high-MUFA diets can improve insulin sensitivity in both those with and without high blood sugar.

One study of 162 healthy people found that eating a high-MUFA diet for three months improved insulin sensitivity by 9% (28).

A similar, separate study of 472 people with metabolic syndrome found that those who ate a high-MUFA diet for 12 weeks had significantly reduced insulin resistance (29).

Other studies have found similar beneficial effects of high-MUFA diets on insulin and blood sugar control (303132).

SUMMARY:High-MUFA diets may be beneficial for improving insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control in those with and without high blood sugar. 

5. They May Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is a normal immune system process that helps your body fight infection.

But sometimes inflammation happens slowly over a long period of time, which can contribute to chronic diseases like obesity and heart disease.

Compared to other diets, such as high-saturated fat diets and Western diets, high-MUFA diets can reduce inflammation.

One study found that high-MUFA diets reduced inflammation in patients with metabolic syndrome, compared to high-saturated fat diets (33).

Other studies have shown that people who eat a Mediterranean diet high in MUFAs have significantly lower inflammatory chemicals in their blood, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) (343536).

High-MUFA diets can also reduce the expression of inflammatory genes in fat tissue compared to high-saturated fat diets. This may be one of the ways that MUFAs are helpful for weight loss (37).

By reducing inflammation, high-MUFA diets may help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

SUMMARY: High-MUFA diets may help to reduce inflammation, a process that can contribute to chronic disease. 

Which Foods Contain These Fats?

The best sources of MUFAs are plant-based foods, including nuts, seeds and olive oil. They can be found in meat and animal-based foods, as well.

In fact, some evidence suggests that plant-based sources of MUFAs, particularly olive oil, are more desirable than animal-based sources (38).

This may be due to the additional beneficial components in olive oil.

Here is a list of foods high in MUFAs, along with the amount found in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of the food:

  • Olive oil: 73.1 grams
  • Almonds: 33.6 grams
  • Cashews: 27.3 grams
  • Peanuts: 24.7 grams
  • Pistachios: 24.2 grams
  • Olives: 15 grams
  • Pumpkin seeds: 13.1 grams
  • Pork: 10.7 grams
  • Avocados: 9.8 grams
  • Sunflower seeds: 9.5 grams
  • Eggs: 4 grams
SUMMARY: MUFAs are found in animal- and plant-based foods. The best sources are olive oil, nuts and seeds. 

The Bottom Line

Monounsaturated fats are healthy fats most commonly found in olive oil, nuts, seeds and some animal-based foods.

Diets high in monounsaturated fats can help with weight loss and may reduce risk factors for heart disease, as long as they don’t add extra calories to your diet.

Foods that contain MUFAs, especially olive oil, may also help reduce cancer risk, inflammation and insulin resistance.

Although it is also important to eat other types of fat, replacing unhealthy fats with MUFAs can provide a number of health benefits.

This article was originally published by Healthline.

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Coffee and tea are incredibly healthy beverages.

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Can’t Lose Weight No Matter What? Read This Now

You may be watching your calories and carbs, eating enough protein, exercising regularly and doing all of the other things known to support weight loss, yet the scale won’t budge.

Weight Loss Is a Billion-Dollar Industry

Losing weight is big business on a global scale.

It’s estimated that weight loss programs and products generate more than $150 billion in annual profits in the US and Europe alone (1).

Programs that require you to purchase special food, supplements and other products tend to be the costliest.

Though “fat burners” and other diet pills are popular, they often aren’t regulated and may be downright dangerous (23).

Unfortunately, even those who aren’t very overweight appear willing to risk the potentially harmful consequences of taking diet pills.

A study including more than 16,000 adults found that about one-third of those who took weight loss pills weren’t obese before they started taking the pills (3).

Clearly, many people spend a great deal of effort and money trying to lose weight.

And even if you don’t join a weight loss program or buy diet pills or products, you may end up devoting much of your free time and energy to the pursuit of being thin.

SUMMARY: The weight loss industry generates billions of dollars a year by capitalizing on many people’s desire to be thin at any cost.

Why Many Women Can’t Reach Their Goal Weight

Many women spend a significant amount of money, time and effort on trying to lose weight.

Nevertheless, some seem to make little progress.

Several factors influence your ability to lose weight.

Health Conditions

Certain diseases or disorders can make weight loss extremely difficult, including:

  • Lipedema: Believed to affect nearly one in nine women worldwide, this condition causes a woman’s hips and legs to accumulate excess fat that is extremely difficult to lose. It often also causes easy bruising and pain (4).
  • Hypothyroidism: Low levels of thyroid hormone lead to a slowdown in metabolism that can impede weight loss efforts (5).
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This condition is characterized by insulin resistance and hormonally driven fat accumulation in the abdomen. It’s believed to affect up to 21% of reproductive-aged women (6).

Dieting and Weight Loss History

If you’ve lost and regained weight several times in the past, or yo-yo dieted, you’ve likely found it more challenging to lose weight with each subsequent attempt.

In fact, a woman with a long history of yo-yo dieting will tend to have greater difficulty losing weight than one whose weight has remained relatively constant.

Research has shown that this is mainly due to changes in fat storage that occur after periods of calorie deprivation.

Essentially, your body stores more fat when you begin eating more after a period of deprivation, so that it has a reserve available if calorie intake decreases again (7).

In addition, a recent animal study suggests that yo-yo dieting may cause an immune response in fat tissue that makes fat loss more difficult (8).

Gut bacteria may play a role too. Repeated cycles of losing and regaining weight seem to promote changes in gut bacteria that lead to increased weight gain over the long term (9).

Age

Aging presents many challenges for women, including making it harder than ever to lose weight.

Moreover, women who have never been heavy in the past may struggle to maintain their usual weight as they get older, even if they eat a healthy diet.

Most women gain about 5–15 pounds (2.3–6.8 kg) during the aging process due to a reduction in muscle mass and physical activity, which result in a slower metabolism.

Additionally, weight gain during menopause is extremely common due to the many hormonal changes that occur. Trying to lose weight during and after menopause can be incredibly difficult (10).

Gestational Influences

Unfortunately, your tendency to carry excess weight may be partly due to factors you have no control over.

One of these is genetics, but other, lesser-known factors include the conditions you were exposed to in the womb.

These include your mother’s diet and the amount of weight she gained during pregnancy.

Research has shown that women who gain excessive weight during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to large babies who become overweight or obese during childhood or as adults (1112).

What’s more, a pregnant woman’s dietary choices may affect whether her child develops a weight problem in the future.

A recent animal study found that rats that were fed a “Western” diet while pregnant gave birth to babies that had slower metabolisms and that became obese at several points during their lifetimes (13).

SUMMARY: Many factors can affect your ability to lose weight, including certain health conditions, your dieting and weight loss history, age-related changes and your mother’s diet and weight changes during pregnancy.

“Ideal” Body Sizes Throughout History

Although your diet and exercise habits play a role in determining your weight, your basic shape and size are largely determined by your genes.

In fact, research suggests that both how much you weigh and where you tend to store fat are strongly influenced by your unique genetic pattern (14).

Taking steps to reduce belly fat is a healthy and worthwhile goal. On the other hand, if you try to force your body to conform to whatever size is currently in vogue, you’re working against nature, and your efforts may ultimately lead to frustration.

Throughout history, different body types and sizes have been considered “ideal.”

As recently as 100 years ago, being somewhat plump was a desirable, feminine trait in women. Thin women even tried to gain weight to become more appealing.

However, it is just as difficult for a naturally thin person to put on weight as it is for a naturally larger person to lose it.

During the Renaissance, Dutch artist Peter Paul Rubens became well known for his nude paintings of full-figured women, whom he believed were the epitome of beauty.

To this day, the term “Rubenesque” is used to describe a beautiful, full-figured person.

In the 1800s, the French Impressionists, including Monet, Renoir and Cézann, painted women of the day who were considered beautiful.

Looking at these paintings, you can easily see that many of the women were much larger than today’s runway models.

There’s no denying that the “ideal” female body has changed considerably over the past 60 years, becoming slim and toned as opposed to rounded and soft.

However, women of the past weren’t bombarded with often unattainable images on the Internet and TV.

Today’s women are also faced with an overwhelming number of ads for programs and products that promise to help them achieve today’s “ideal” body.

SUMMARY:During many periods in history, larger women were considered feminine and attractive. However, the modern “ideal” body is smaller, thin and toned, which may not be attainable for everyone.

Different Cultural Views of Weight

Although people across the U.S. and most of Europe consider a slim body to be attractive, people in various parts of the world prefer a larger, more rounded shape.

In many cultures, carrying some extra weight is associated with fertility, kindness, happiness, vitality and social harmony.

Interestingly, the wealthiest countries tend to value thinness, whereas the opposite is true in less wealthy countries (15).

For instance, researchers who studied data from several non-Western societies reported that 81% preferred plump or moderately fat women, while 90% preferred women with large hips and legs (16).

However, even among developed countries, what is considered the “perfect” body seems to vary greatly based on personal and regional preferences.

When 18 graphic designers from around the world were asked to modify a plus-size model’s body into the “ideal” body, the range of results was somewhat surprising.

The modified versions had body mass indexes (BMIs) ranging from only 17 in China to 25.5 in Spain, which is consistent with weights between 102–153 pounds (about 46–69 kg) for a woman who is 5’5″ (165 cm) tall.

With the exception of the BMI of 17, which is considered underweight, this shows that a wide range of body sizes and shapes are viewed as attractive and desirable, regardless of how closely they resemble what is often considered “ideal.”

SUMMARY: The “ideal” body varies greatly from country to country and is often influenced by a society’s wealth and the diversity of its residents.

Although people across the US and most of Europe consider a slim body to be attractive, people in various parts of the world prefer a larger, more rounded shape.

In many cultures, carrying some extra weight is associated with fertility, kindness, happiness, vitality and social harmony.

Interestingly, the wealthiest countries tend to value thinness, whereas the opposite is true in less wealthy countries (15).

For instance, researchers who studied data from several non-Western societies reported that 81% preferred plump or moderately fat women, while 90% preferred women with large hips and legs (16).

However, even among developed countries, what is considered the “perfect” body seems to vary greatly based on personal and regional preferences.

When 18 graphic designers from around the world were asked to modify a plus-size model’s body into the “ideal” body, the range of results was somewhat surprising.

The modified versions had body mass indexes (BMIs) ranging from only 17 in China to 25.5 in Spain, which is consistent with weights between 102–153 pounds (about 46–69 kg) for a woman who is 5’5″ (165 cm) tall.

With the exception of the BMI of 17, which is considered underweight, this shows that a wide range of body sizes and shapes are viewed as attractive and desirable, regardless of how closely they resemble what is often considered “ideal.”

SUMMARY: The “ideal” body varies greatly from country to country and is often influenced by a society’s wealth and the diversity of its residents.

If You Truly Need to Lose Weight

If your size is affecting your health, continuing to pursue weight loss makes sense.

Obesity, especially morbid obesity, may increase the risk of disease and lower life expectancy. Even further, it can make day-to-day living difficult due to decreased mobility, low energy levels and social stigma.

Research shows some of the best ways to boost weight loss include eating protein at breakfast and avoiding processed carbs, along with other strategies in this article.

Here are a few additional practices that may help you take some weight off:

  • Support groups: Joining one can provide encouragement, accountability and motivation. In addition to general weight loss groups offline, online and on Facebook, you can find online communities for lipedema and PCOS.
  • Recognize progress, even if slow: Realize that you will likely lose weight slowly and experience some weight loss plateaus. Losing even a couple of pounds a month is still an impressive accomplishment.
  • Be realistic when setting a goal weight: Don’t strive to reach your “ideal” weight. Losing as little as 5% of your body weight has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, and further loss can lead to additional benefits (17).
  • Celebrate non-scale victories: Focusing on improvements in mobility, energy, lab values and other beneficial health changes is important, especially when weight loss seems maddeningly slow.

Although incorporating these strategies into your life can’t guarantee that you will lose weight, they can help improve your chances.

SUMMARY: If being obese is affecting your health, mobility and quality of life, taking steps to lose weight is a good idea. Joining a support group, setting realistic goals and celebrating your progress may be helpful.

Shift Focus to Optimal Health—Not Weight Loss

For many women, weight loss goals have less to do with health than wanting to look better.

Perhaps you have already lost some weight, but haven’t been able to lose “that last 10–20 pounds.”

Or maybe you have always been a bit larger than average, but have been trying to slim down to a smaller dress size.

You’re not alone if you feel that you have tried every diet and weight loss recommendation, yet still haven’t been able to achieve results, despite your best efforts.

If that’s the case, it may be best to shift your focus to being as healthy, strong and vibrant as you can be.

  • Focus on fitness: When it comes to health, studies have shown that being fit is more important than being thin. What’s more, working out regularly can provide many other benefits (18).
  • Develop a better relationship with food: Rather than dieting, work on choosing nourishing foods, paying attention to hunger and fullness cues and learning to eat intuitively (1920).
  • Consider the results of your previous dieting attempts: Remember that losing and regaining weight often leads to increased fat storage and weight gain over time (1721).

Aside from reducing stress and frustration, shifting your focus to make optimal health your primary goal might even potentially lead to natural weight loss over time.

SUMMARY: If you want to lose weight to look better, but haven’t had success despite doing all of the “right” things, it may be best to shift your focus. Instead of trying to achieve a certain weight, aim to be as healthy as possible.

Learn to Love and Accept Your Body

Developing an appreciation for your body can be beneficial for your health, happiness and outlook on life.

Research suggests that repeated weight loss attempts may not only lead to weight gain, but they may also cause mood changes and increase the risk of developing unhealthy behaviors like binge eating (22).

On the other hand, there’s evidence that being happy with your weight may result in healthier behaviors and better overall health, regardless of your size (23).

Here are some tips for learning how to love and accept your body:

  • Stop letting numbers define you: Instead of fixating on your weight, measurements or clothing size, think about how you feel, who you are and your purpose in life.
  • Avoid comparing yourself to others: Never compare your own body to someone else’s. You are unique and have many great qualities. Focus on being the best you can be.
  • Exercise to feel and perform better: Rather than working out frantically trying to burn calories, engage in physical activity because of the way it makes you feel. You deserve to feel your best now and in the years to come.

Realize that it may take some time to learn to appreciate your body after years of trying to change it. That’s understandable. Just take it one day at a time and do your best to focus on the positive.

SUMMARY: Rather than continuing to prioritize losing weight, learn to love and accept your body so you can stay healthy and highly functional throughout your lifetime.

The Bottom Line

In a modern-day society that values being thin, the inability to lose weight can be a source of frustration for many women.

And it’s true that losing excess weight is important when it jeopardizes your health and well-being.

But trying to achieve an unrealistic size can do more harm than good.

Learn to love and accept your body, exercise and adopt lifestyle behaviors to keep yourself as healthy as possible and avoid comparing yourself.

Doing so may greatly improve your overall health, self-esteem and quality of life.

This article was originally published by Healthline.

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