TIME Diet/Nutrition

9 Ways to Quit Sugar for Good

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Sugar out of sight is also out of mind

Here’s a shocker: the average person takes in 22 teaspoons of sugar daily—more than three times the amount suggested by the American Heart Association. And although it has never been considered a health food, new evidence shows sugar can do even more damage than previously thought, setting you up for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. But weaning yourself off sugar can be daunting. It’s tough to dodge because it hides in so many foods, and it provides an almost addictive buzz, thanks to a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine after it enters the body, says research neuroscientist Nicole Avena, PhD, author of Why Diets Fail (Because You’re Addicted to Sugar) ($19; amazon.com). Still, slashing sugar is one food trend worth trying. Find out all about sugar rehab, plus tactics to make your commitment stick.

The dangers of sweet stuff

Sugar has 16 calories per teaspoon. That doesn’t seem like much, but it can pack on hundreds of calories without offering any nutritional value, says Avena. Extra calories raise your risk of obesity, which in turn sets you up for diabetes.

A 2013 study found that for every 150 calories of added sugar consumed in a population—the equivalent of one can of soda—diabetes prevalence in the population went up 1.1%. Then there’s the research tying sugar to heart disease. A 2014 study from JAMA: Internal Medicine found that the more added sugar a person took in, the higher their odds of dying of heart disease.

Don’t forget about the way sugar plays with blood glucose levels, sending them surging, then crashing—leaving you fatigued, brain fogged, and irritable, says Brittany Kohn, RD, a New York City nutritionist.

Cut this kind of sugar

The sugar offender to steer clear of is refined white sugar, the kind spooned into coffee or added to baked goods. The bloodstream absorbs this simple sugar quickly, causing surges in blood glucose levels and insulin that can wreak havoc on the body, says Avena.

Refined sugar is also added to countless food products during processing, from ketchup to bread to salad dressing to beef jerky. Manufacturers try to trick consumers by calling it cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or some other unfamiliar name, but they’re all just fancy ways of saying sugar. Molasses, honey, and maple syrup are also added sugars, and though they’re not always processed the way refined white sugar is, they have the same harmful effect, says Avena.

Sweets you can eat

The types of sugar you don’t have to ditch are found naturally in foods, such as fructose in fruit and lactose in milk products. These get a pass as long as you consume them in their original food form. “Fruit, for instance, contains an amount of sugar that is in better proportion with the amount of fiber and other nutrients in it,” says Aveda. “These other nutrients mitigate sugar’s harmful effect.”

Artificial isn’t the answer

Swapping out sugar in favor of a chemical sweetener like aspartame or saccharin may not be the answer. “Artificial sweeteners provide sweet taste without calories, so when you consume these products, hunger isn’t satisfied, leading you to crave more afterward,” says Kohn. A 2013 study in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism lends credence to this, finding that drinking just one diet soda a day is linked to weight gain and diabetes.

Why do chemical sweeteners boost hunger? It’s not clear, but it might have to do with the intensity of the sweetness in these products. Artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than natural sugar, and that can dull your taste buds to less intensely sweet foods such as fruit, ramping up cravings for high-sugar—and high-calorie—foods, says Kohn.

Don’t go cold turkey

Because our bodies are so used to the sweet stuff, going sugar-free very abruptly can lead to crazy-intense withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, and mood swings, says Kohn. Ever gone without your usual morning latte or other caffeine fix? That’s what sugar withdrawal is like, times 10. “It’s better to ease yourself off it slowly by taking one step at a time, so your body has time to adjust,” says Kohn. Another reason to not be in a rush: slower changes tend to last, says Avena, especially when it comes to diet changes.

Give up sugary drinks

Soda, fruit juice, sports drinks, iced tea—these and other sweetened beverages are sneaky sources of added sugar. One can of cola, for example, racks up nine teaspoons, already a third more than the six teaspoon daily limit suggested by the American Heart Association.

“Sweetened beverages or drinks made from fruit juice are like liquid sugar, and they add lots of calories without satisfying hunger,” says Avena. She suggests substituting soda for seltzer, which has no added sugar and zero calories. As for fruit-flavored beverages and fruit juice, sub in fruit-infused bottled water or water with fresh fruit slices added to it.

Ditch simple-carb sweet treats

Pastries, cookies, muffins, and other white-bread, refined-flour treats offer little nutrition-wise but are dense with added sugar. And since they’re not hard to identify, it’s easy to slash them from your diet. They mess with blood sugar levels, setting up a cycle of grabbing a donut or muffin for energy that doesn’t last, says Kohn. Instead, get your carb fix with whole grains. These are converted to sugar during digestion, but because they’re the complex kind rather than the simple type, they’re absorbed more slowly and provide steady energy.

Suss out sugary restaurant food

They don’t call it sweet and sour pork for nothing. Many types of takeout or eat-in cuisine are smothered in sauces or coatings made with added sugar. Even the crust of takeout pizza is likely to pack hidden sugar, even though you may not taste it, says Avena. Glazes, condiments, and even pasta sauces are often loaded with sugar, the same sugar that is just as harmful in a prepackaged box of cookies, she adds. Read labels carefully: look for brown sugar, corn syrup, maltose, fructose, dextrose, molasses, agave, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, cane syrup, and evaporated cane juice, which are all just other ways to say “sugar.”

Ease off the table sugar

If you’re used to adding sweetener to your food and drinks, give yourself time to ease out of the habit, suggests Kohn. Typically start your day with two spoons of sugar or honey in your tea or coffee? Cut back to one sugar for a week, then slash it to zero a week later—or sweeten it with a slice of orange or a little milk. Same thing with the sugar you put on top of French toast or cereal, or the maple syrup doused on your pancakes. Gradually reducing the amount will make it less noticeable that you’re cutting back, and you’ll be less craving-crazed for a sugar hit.

Designate a sweets drawer

If the rest of your household isn’t cutting back on sugar with you, you’re likely to see sweet treats and added-sugar products all over your kitchen, inviting temptation. “Instead, make one drawer or shelf in your kitchen the place where everyone else can stash their treats, but you don’t have to see the products every time you open the cabinet or fridge,” suggests Avena. Most of us go for the food we see first, so if you don’t see sweets, you won’t crave them, and then cave in to them, she adds.

Pile protein and healthy fats onto your plate

Cutting out sugar is the perfect excuse to indulge in more healthy fats (nuts, olive oil, avocado, dairy) and lean protein (eggs, turkey, and legumes). Both keep you feeling satiated and energized, preventing the blood sugar rise and fall that can lead to hard-to-resist sugar cravings.

A protein-fat breakfast will help you start the day off right. “Have a breakfast with protein and fat as the stars, like eggs and avocado, instead of the traditional starch and sugar combo, like a muffin or sweetened cereal,” suggests Kohn.

Go with naturally sweet flavors

To satisfy a sweet tooth without resorting to the refined stuff, just look through your spice rack. Cinnamon or vanilla extract added to coffee, cereal, or baked goods offer a sweet taste without sugar’s side effects, and zero calories too, says Kohn. Other sweet spices and herbs to add to beverages and meals include chicory, ginger, nutmeg, and cardamom. Citrus zest also adds a fruity, refreshing sweetness.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

7 Things You Never Knew Were In Your Wine

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Low-alcohol wines are lighter in calories

Sulfites, tannins, resveratrol—if you’ve read anything about wine, you’ve probably come across at least one of these terms. But what does all the fancy verbiage mean for your health? We asked Jim Harbertson, PhD, associate professor of enology (that is, the science of wine) at Washington State University, to decode the lingo commonly found on bottle labels so you know exactly what you’re drinking, and how it affects you, beyond a nice buzz.

Sulfites

What it means:Sulfites are normally added to wine to protect it from oxidation or unwanted microbial growth,” Harbertson says. In other words, they keep wine fresh and prevent it from morphing into vinegar. Sulfites have developed a bad rap for causing allergic reactions like sneezing and headaches, but in reality, only a small portion of the population exhibits a sensitivity or allergy to them. There’s also some indication that they trigger symptoms for asthmatics, but the relationship between worsened asthma symptoms and sulfites isn’t totally clear, Harbertson says. You’ll spot “contains sulfites” on wine bottles because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that labeling when any food contains more than 10 parts per million of sulfites, but for most people, they’re nothing to worry about. Know for sure you’re allergic? Look for the words “sulfite-free” on labels.

Histamine

What it means: The nitrogen-based compound is a common allergen found in foods and can cause an inflammatory response. (It’s also, confusingly, the name for a substance our bodies release when they’re having an allergic reaction.) Histamines sometimes crop up in wines that undergo a second fermentation to smooth out their acidity and texture, Harbertson explains. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to tell which wines undergo this process and which don’t without checking with the winemaker, though some bottles are now labeled as not undergoing malolactic fermentation, meaning they should be histamine-free, Harbertson says). The good news: “There really isn’t any definitive research that demonstrates that the histamines in wine cause human health problems,” Harbertson says.

Tannins

What it means: You know that dry feeling you get on your tongue after sipping certain kinds of vino? That astringent sensation is caused by tannins, a type of polyphenol that get produced during the winemaking process, mostly from grapes. While these micronutrients may be disease-fighting when consumed in certain forms and foods, when imbibed in wine, “these natural compounds tend to get bound up in salivary proteins and proteins in the human digestive system, so their health benefits are somewhat limited,” Harbertson says. Tannins are most often found in big, full-bodied red wines—look for labels bearing the names Bordeaux, Shiraz, Barolo, or Barbaresco.

Resveratrol

What it means: You may have seen this buzzy antioxidant, found in the skin of grapes listed on the packaging of beauty serums and creams touting its anti-aging properties. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a wine label doing the same. “Based on current studies, it’s not clear that there’s a health benefit [of drinking it] because the resveratrol concentration in wine is low,” Harbertson says. Want to try to load up on resveratrol, just in case? Know that there’s likely a higher concentration of it in red wines versus white. But that’s still no reason to drink more than the recommended one glass a day.

Heavy metals

What it means: Okay, this one’s not listed on any label, but you might have heard about these being linked to wine anyway. Heavy metals are metals and metal compounds that can adversely affect our health when consumed in the right (or wrong, as the case may be) doses. A study published in the Chemistry Central Journal indicated that some wines have showed concerning levels of heavy metals such as copper and manganese. However, according to Harbertson, “the FDA has been monitoring heavy metals in wine and has indicated that concentrations are lower than would require regulation.” Cheers to that!

Organic and biodynamic

What they mean: Organic winemakers refrain from using pesticides and other chemicals in their growing and production methods, and they don’t add sulfites as preservatives. Biodynamic vintners start with these same organic practices, but they also consider the whole ecosystem of the vineyard in growing their grapes, including more obscure factors such as lunar cycles. While Harbertson says he’s all for producing wine that’s environmentally sustainable, he also notes, “there’s not enough information at this point on the human health impacts of biodynamic and organic grapes and wine” to say that the practice is actually good for us.

Low-alcohol

What it means: This hot phrase has been all over wine labels lately. The benefits of low-alcohol wine include getting less drunk with each glass, lower cost per bottle, and a lighter taste. It’s lighter on calories, too: Though the relationship between booze and calorie intake is complex—“alcohol is not converted to energy like other things you consume and, therefore, doesn’t get stored as other calories will,” says Harbertson—alcohol is the primary source of calories in wine, so low-alcohol wine will have fewer of them than bottles with a higher content.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

3 Delicious Ways to Get Creative With Your Veggies

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Try homemade sweet potato fries

Bored with the same old salads and green juice? Time to get creative! Check out these fun ideas for falling in love with your vegetables all over again, from Candice Kumai, chef and author of the forthcoming book Clean Green Eats ($19; amazon.com).

Spiralize your squash

Get your pasta fix by putting yellow squash or zucchini into a spiralizer, then sautéing the “noodles” lightly in olive oil. “Just toss them with your favorite marinara and you’ve got a low-carb, high-fiber dish!” Kumai says. “If you’re still craving real pasta, you can do half and half.” Don’t have a spiralizer? Use a peeler to create squash “ribbons.”

Shave your sprouts

Cut Brussels sprouts in half, then carefully use a mandolin slicer to thinly shave them. “You can sauté them in oil and season, or drizzle on a homemade balsamic vinaigrette for a salad. I like to add blue Roquefort, walnuts and sliced pear for sweetness,” Kumai says.

“Fry” your sweet potatoes

You probably already order sweet potato fries at restaurants every chance you get. Why not make a healthy version at home? All you have to do is peel two medium sweet potatoes, then slice lengthwise. Lightly coat them in coconut oil and bake at 375°F for 40 minutes. Turn them halfway through.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

12 Reasons Why Dehydration Is Bad for Your Body

Being dehydrated can take a toll on your body and even your mind

It doesn’t take much to become dehydrated. Lose just 1.5% of the water in your body (the human body is usually about 60% H2O), and you’ve reached the tipping point of mild dehydration. It can be brought on by many things—and it can do much more to your body than just make you feel thirsty. Dehydration also brings on health effects ranging from fatigue and smelly breath to more dangerous consequences like distracted driving.

It gives you bad breath

It’s easy to forget to drink water during a busy workday, but at the end of the day you may find people standing unusually far from you when you open your mouth. “Dehydration can give you bad breath,” says Marshall Young, DDS, a dentist in Newport Beach, Calif. “Saliva has important antibacterial properties. When dehydrated, the decreased saliva in the mouth allows bacteria to thrive, resulting in bad breath.” So drink up for your own sake, and for those around you as well.

It makes you crave sugar

Dehydration can mask itself as hunger, particularly sugar cravings. This may happen particularly if you’ve been exercising, says Amy Goodson, RD, sports dietitian for the Dallas Cowboys. “When you exercise in a dehydrated state, you use glycogen (stored carbohydrate) at a faster rate, thus diminishing your stores more quickly.” So once you finish exercising, you will likely crave carbs to help you replenish those glycogen levels and get you ready for your next exercise bout.

It wrecks your workout

Even being slightly dehydrated affects your ability to put effort into your workout. “A 2% dehydration level in your body causes a 10% decrease in athletic performance,” says Goodson. “And the more dehydrated you become, the worse performance gets.” Measured by “perceived exertion,” how hard you feel you’re exercising, you might be working at a 6 but you feel like you are working at an 8, says Goodson.

It dries your skin out

Keeping skin healthy and glowing requires drinking enough water, says Anne Marie Tremain, MD, a dermatologist with Laser Skin Care Center Dermatology Associates in Long Beach, Calif. “It’s best to hydrate from the inside out,” she says. “Depending on your lifestyle you may need to adjust your water intake.” If you work out every day or are a caffeine fiend, for instance, then you’ll need to drink more., because workouts make you sweat and caffeine is a diuretic, which can dehydrate you. For smooth, moisturized skin, Dr. Tremain also suggests keeping showers short (less than five minutes) and using only lukewarm water as hot water can dry your skin out even more.

It may affect your ability to drive safely

Few things are more uncomfortable than being stuck in traffic or on a long drive when you need to use the restroom. Logically, it makes sense to simply not drink water before hitting the road. But new research published in Physiology and Behavior shows that the number of driving errors doubled during a two-hour drive when drivers were dehydrated versus hydrated—an effect similar to driving while drunk (defined by most states as .08% blood alcohol). Since often people purposely avoid drinking prior to a long road trip to prevent bathroom stops, dehydration could increase the risk of traffic accidents.

It makes you tired

A mid-afternoon slump may have more to do with hydration than you think. “When you’re dehydrated your blood pressure drops, heart rate increases, blood flow to the brain slows – all of which can make you tired,” says Luga Podesta, MD, sports medicine specialist at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, Calif. A lack of water to muscles also makes physical tasks feel more difficult and tiring.

It sours your mood

Cranky much? Drink a glass of water and your mood may change. “Neurological effects of dehydration can cause irritability,” says Dr. Podesta. A small study published in the Journal of Nutrition tested mood and concentration in 25 young women who were either given enough fluids to remain properly hydrated, or who became mildly dehydrated by taking diuretics and exercising. The dehydrated women—who were at a level that was just 1% lower than optimal—reported headaches, loss of focus, and irritability.

It can give you the chills

It may seem counterintuitive, but dehydration can bring on chills. “This occurs because your body starts to limit blood flow to the skin,” says Dr. Podesta. In addition, water holds heat, so if you become hydrated it can be more difficult to regulate your body temperature, which can make you become chilled faster, even when you’re not in a cold environment.

It can cause muscle cramps

A lack of water causes less blood circulation, which can make muscles cramp up, says Ray Casciari, MD, medical director of the La Amistad Family Health Center in Orange, Calif. “The body will protect its vital organs, so it shifts fluid away from muscles and anything that’s not vital,” he says. Muscle cramps can be extremely painful, making muscles feel harder than normal to the touch. Changes in sodium and potassium through sweat loss can also contribute to cramping.

It makes you feel dizzy and foggy

Along with muscles, your brain also gets less blood circulation when you’re low on water, which can make you dizzy, says Dr. Casciari. Additionally, mild dehydration may affect your ability to take on mental tasks and cause you to feel foggy headed, according to a study from the British Journal of Nutrition. Interestingly, a study that appeared in the Journal of Nutrition showed greater mood changes in women than in men, both at rest and during exercise.

It can give you a headache

Dehydration can cause headaches in a couple of different ways. “Lack of water affects your body’s serotonin levels, which can give you headaches,” says Dr. Casciari. In addition, small blood vessels in the brain respond quickly to hydration levels (which is also behind hangover headaches), leading to dull aches and even full-blown migraines. Try downing a glass or two of water the next time you have a headache and you may discover it disappears. You could also eat fruit, which contains a high percentage of water, Dr. Casciari suggests.

It constipates you

Your body needs water to keep things moving through your colon. When you’re not getting enough H2O, your body compensates by withdrawing more fluid from stool, making it harder and more difficult to pass. That said, it’s worth noting that drinking more water when you’re already properly hydrated won’t necessarily relieve constipation caused by other factors, like the medications you’re taking, medical conditions, or a lack of fiber in your diet.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: 12 Mental Tricks to Beat Cravings and Lose Weight

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TIME Research

The Scientific Reason Why Airplane Food Tastes Bad

It has to do with the dry cabin air

Why does airline food taste so lousy? A new study from Cornell University has come up with an answer, and it ain’t bad cookin’.

Turns out, the noisy environment inside a claustrophobic airplane cabin may actually change the way food tastes.

In the study, 48 people were handed a variety of solutions that were spiked with the five basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (basically, a Japanese word for the savory flavor found in foods like bacon, tomatoes, cheese, and soy sauce). First, the testers sipped in silence, then again, while wearing headsets that played about 85 decibels of noise, designed to mimic the hum of jet engines onboard a plane.

What the researchers found: While there wasn’t that much of a change in how the salty, sour, and bitter stuff tasted, the noisy surroundings dulled the sweet taste, while intensifying the savory one—which might explain why a meal eaten on a plane will usually seem a little, well, off.

“Our study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised. Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced,” said Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science. “The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat.”

This isn’t the first time airlines have tried to figure out the reason behind funky in-flight food. The Fraunhofer Institute, a research institute based in Germany, did a study on why a dish that would taste just fine on the ground would taste, “so dull in the air,” as Grant Mickles, the executive chef for culinary development of Lufthansa’s LSG Ski Chefs, put it to Conde Nast Traveler.

German researchers tried taste tests at both sea level and in a pressurized condition. The tests revealed that the cabin atmosphere—pressurized at 8,000 feet—combined with cool, dry cabin air numbed the taste buds (kind of like when you’ve got a bad cold). In fact, the perception of saltiness and sweetness dropped by around 30% at high altitude. Multiplying the misery: The stagnant cabin dries out the mucus membranes in the nose, thus dulling the olfactory sensors that affect taste. All of which adds up to a less-than-fine dining experience.

The good news: This research may help airlines find a way to make in-the-air meals more palatable. (That is, for flights and airlines that still offer any food at all!)

The key, according to Mickles, may be using ingredients or foods that contain a lot of umami to enhance the other flavors. He may be on to something: The folks at the Lufthansa have found that passengers guzzle as much tomato juice as beer (to the tune of about 425,000 gallons a year). Turns out, cabin pressure brings out the savory taste of the red stuff.

Good to know. Now pass the earplugs—and bring on the Bloody Marys.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

15 Eating Habits That Make You Live Longer

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The secrets to living long (and well) from the world's healthiest people

For more than a decade, I’ve been working with a team of experts to study hot spots of longevity—regions we call Blue Zones, where many people live to 100 and beyond. They are the Greek island of Ikaria; the highlands of Sardinia; the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, Calif., home of the highest concentration of Seventh-day Adventists in the U.S. Remarkably, we’ve learned that folks in all these places share similar rituals and practices surrounding food. (Hint: They don’t count calories, take vitamins or weigh protein grams!) After analyzing more than 150 dietary studies conducted in Blue Zones over the past century, we came up with a global average of what centenarians really eat. Here are 15 age-old diet tips to borrow from the longest-living people on the planet.

Get 95% of your food from plants

Produce, whole grains and beans dominate meals all year long in each of the Blue Zones. People eat an impressive variety of vegetables when they are in season, and then pickle or dry the surplus. The best of the best longevity foods are leafy greens. In Ikaria, more than 75 varieties grow like weeds. Studies found that middle-aged people who consumed the equivalent of a cup of cooked greens daily were half as likely to die in the next four years as those who ate no greens.

Consume meat no more than twice a week

Families in most of the Blue Zones enjoy meat sparingly, as a side or a way to flavor other dishes. Aim to limit your intake to 2 ounces or less of cooked meat (an amount smaller than a deck of cards) five times a month. And favor chicken, lamb or pork from family farms. The meat in the Blue Zones comes from animals that graze or forage freely, which likely leads to higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Eat up to 3 ounces of fish daily

The Adventist Health Study 2, which has been following 96,000 Americans since 2002, discovered that people who ate a plant-based diet and included a small portion of fish up to once a day were the ones who lived the longest. In the Blue Zones overseas, fish is a common part of everyday meals. For the most part, the best fish choices are middle-of-the-food-chain species such as sardines, anchovies and cod, which aren’t exposed to high levels of mercury or other chemicals.

Cut back on dairy

The human digestive system isn’t optimized for cow’s milk, which happens to be high in fat and sugar. People in the Blue Zones get their calcium from plants. (A cup of cooked kale, for instance, gives you as much calcium as a cup of milk.) However, goat’s- and sheep’s-milk products like yogurt and cheese are common in the traditional diets of Ikaria and Sardinia. We don’t know if it’s the milk that makes folks healthier or the fact that they climb the same hilly terrain as their goats.

Enjoy up to three eggs per week

In the Blue Zones, people tend to eat just one egg at a time: For example, Nicoyans fry an egg to fold into a corn tortilla and Okinawans boil an egg in soup. Try filling out a one-egg breakfast with fruit or other plant-based foods such as whole-grain porridge or bread. When baking, use 1/4 cup of applesauce, 1/4 cup of mashed potatoes or a small banana to sub in for one egg.

Add a half cup of cooked beans every day

Black beans in Nicoya, soybeans in Okinawa, lentils, garbanzo and white beans in the Mediterranean: Beans are the cornerstone of Blue Zones diets. On average, beans are made up of 21 percent protein, 77 percent complex carbohydrates and only a little fat. They’re also an excellent source of fiber and are packed with more nutrients per gram than any other food on earth. The Blue Zones dietary average—at least 1/2 cup per day—provides most of the vitamins and minerals that you need.

Switch to sourdough or whole-wheat

In three of the five Blue Zones, bread is a staple. But it’s an altogether different food from the loaves most of us buy. Breads in Ikaria and Sardinia, for example, are made from a variety of 100 percent whole grains, including wheat, rye and barley—each of which offers a wide spectrum of nutrients and high levels of fiber. Other traditional Blue Zones breads are made with bacteria that “digest” the starches and glutens while helping the bread rise. This process creates an acid that lends the sour flavor to sourdough. The result is bread that actually lowers the glycemic load of meals. (It also has less gluten than some other breads.) To find true sourdough, visit a bakery and ask about their starter. If they can’t give you an answer, they’re probably not making their sourdough in the traditional way.

Slash your sugar consumption

Blue Zones dwellers consume about a fifth as much added sugar as we do. Centenarians typically put honey in their tea and enjoy dessert only at celebrations. The lesson to us: Try not to add more than 4 teaspoons of sugar a day to your drinks and foods. Have cookies, candy and bakery items only a few times a week. And avoid processed foods with sweeteners—especially when sugar is listed among the first five ingredients.

Snack on two handfuls of nuts per day

This appears to be the average amount that Blue Zones centenarians are eating. A recent 30-year Harvard study found that nut eaters have a 20% lower mortality rate than those who don’t eat nuts. Other studies show that diets with nuts reduce LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels by up to 20%.

Stick with foods that are recognizable for what they are

Throughout the world’s Blue Zones, people eat foods in their entirety: They don’t throw away the egg yolk or juice the pulp out of their fruits. They also don’t take supplements. They get everything they need from whole foods that are often grown locally. The takeaway? Avoid products with long lists of ingredients and shop at your farmers market when you can. Scientists are only beginning to understand how the elements in whole plants work together synergistically to bring forth ultimate health.

Up your water intake

Adventists recommend having seven glasses daily, pointing to studies that show that being hydrated lessens the chance of a blood clot. Plus, if you’re drinking water, you’re not drinking a sugar-laden or artificially sweetened beverage.

When you drink alcohol, make it red wine

People in most Blue Zones have one to three glasses per day. Wine has been found to help the system absorb plant-based antioxidants. But it may also be that a little alcohol at the end of the day reduces stress, which is good for overall health.

Drink this kind of tea

Okinawans nurse green tea all day long, and green tea has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and several cancers. Ikarians drink brews of rosemary, wild sage and dandelion—all herbs with anti-inflammatory properties.

Get your caffeine fix from coffee

People who live on the Nicoya Peninsula and the islands of Sardinia and Ikaria all down copious amounts of coffee. Research findings associate coffee drinking with lower rates of dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Perfect protein pairings

Worried about getting enough protein on a plant-based diet? The trick is to partner legumes, grains, nuts and veggies that supply all nine of the essential amino acids your body can’t make on its own. Try these match-ups in the ratios described below.

1 1/3 parts chopped red peppers to 3 parts cooked cauliflower

1 part cooked chickpeas to 3 parts cooked mustard greens

1 part lima beans to 2 parts cooked carrots

1 1/2 parts cooked broccoli rabe to 1 1/3 parts cooked wild rice

1/2 part firm tofu to 1 1/4 parts cooked soba noodles

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6 Simple Ways to Boost Your Metabolism

Forget the "calories in, calories out" equation

Throughout my years counseling clients I’ve seen many achieve fantastic weight loss results, including those who had not had success with other approaches, or thought they couldn’t possibly lose weight due to various circumstances, like being injured and unable to exercise, or being post-menopausal.

Based on my experience, I always believe that results are possible, but I’ve also learned that weight loss isn’t predictable or easy—and it certainly isn’t as simple as a “calories in versus calories out” equation. A new study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) illustrated this and backs what I’ve seen in my own practice—one person’s metabolic response to eating less may not mimic another’s, due to biological differences.

NIH researchers studied a dozen obese men and women in a metabolic unit. The study measured the subjects’ calorie expenditures, both before and after a day of fasting, followed by a six-week phase during which they reduced their calorie intakes by 50%. After accounting for factors including age, sex, and starting weight, scientists found that those who lost the least weight during the reduced calorie period were those whose metabolisms decreased most during the one day fast. These people have what scientists refer to as a “thrifty” metabolism. The opposite results were also found: those with “spendthrift” metabolisms, which decreased the least during the fast, lost the most weight.

In a nutshell, the theory behind “thrifty” metabolism is that when faced with a sudden shortfall of food, some people’s bodies quickly compensate to conserve energy, by burning fewer calories. So if, for example, you went from eating 3,000 calories a day to 1,500, a thrifty metabolism would trigger a conservation mode, designed to shrink the calorie deficit. Historically, people with this adaptation were better able to survive during times of famine; but today, it presents a challenge for those trying to shed excess pounds. It’s also one of the reasons why simply slashing your intake by 500 calories a day isn’t a guarantee that you’ll shed one pound in a week (for more check out my previous post Why You Can’t Rely on Calorie Counts and Why Dieting Makes You Fat).

If you think you may be in this group, and your biology is making it tough for you to see results, don’t give up. Here are six things you can do to maximize your metabolism, and counter the effects of possible “thriftiness.” While your results may be slower than a “spendthrift” counterpart, losing weight isn’t an impossibility.

Become a tea drinker

Natural substances in green tea—antioxidants called catechins, and caffeine—have been shown to help boost metabolism, and trigger increased fat burning. Aim for about five cups a day, the amount tied to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease. Based on the research on how green tea impacts metabolism, this quantity could also translate into the loss of eight pounds over a year’s time.

Drink more water

In addition to naturally curbing calorie intake, water has been shown to positively affect metabolism. One German study found that drinking two cups (16 ounces) of water upped calorie burning by 30% within 10 minutes, and the effect was sustained for more than an hour. Shoot for a solid eight cups (64 ounces) daily, and if you dislike the taste, spruce it up with healthy add-ins like sliced cucumber, fresh grated ginger, mashed fruit, lemon, lime, basil, or mint.

Eat more produce

We all know that veggies and fruits are nutrient rich, but research shows they may also impact leanness, due to their ability to help preserve metabolism-boosting muscle. In one study, University of Florida researchers found that when two groups consumed the same number of daily calories, those who ate more plant-based foods had smaller waist circumferences, and lower body fat percentages. Aim to eat produce at every meal. One simple formula is to include one serving of fruit in every breakfast and snack, and two serving of veggies in each lunch and dinner. For more about how to build meals around veggies check out my previous post 5 Perfect Pasta Alternatives.

Eat more whole versus processed foods

More proof that a calorie isn’t a calorie came from research conducted at Pomona College. Researchers found that when healthy women consumed meals that were similar in terms of carb, protein, and fat content, they burned about 50% more calories eating whole foods versus highly processed foods. To reap this metabolism-boosting benefit, stick with foods as close to their natural state as possible. For example, rather than a turkey sub on a processed roll and a bag of baked chips for lunch, order a chopped salad made with greens and veggies, topped with lean protein and avocado. At snack time trade anything that comes from a package with a tennis ball sized portion of fresh fruit and a golf ball sized serving of nuts.

Eat more pulses

You know about beans—black, red, white…well, pulses are a unique food group that includes beans, as well as peas, like chickpeas, and split peas, and lentils. I made a daily dose of pulses a key strategy in the weight loss plan in my new book Slim Down Now, in part because they’re so filling, nutrient rich, and gluten free, but also because of their impact on metabolism. A review published in the British Journal of Nutrition concluded that pulses increase calorie and fat burning, and help reduce visceral fat, the deep internal belly fat known to up the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. To bolster your metabolism, include a half cup of a pulse in one of your daily meals, like a side of black beans with your veggie avocado omelet, lentils in your lunch salad, oven-roasted chickpeas or hummus in a snack, or white bean and kale soup at dinner. You can even incorporate pulses into desserts! For more about pulses check out How to Keep the Carbs and Still Lose the Pounds.

Drink coffee pre-exercise

Exercise itself can help boost metabolism, but according to a study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism drinking java before you get your heart rate up may further up your metabolic rate. Researchers found that compared to those who took in a placebo, athletes who consumed caffeine pre-exercise torched about 15% more calories for three hours post-exercise. The dose used in the study was 4.5 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. That’s about 300 mg of caffeine for a 150-pound woman (68 kg), the amount in about 12 ounces of brewed coffee. For more about the benefits of coffee for exercisers, check out my previous post.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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3 Things You Should Know About Natural Sugar

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How to enjoy sweets without disrupting your appetite

As a nutritionist, I advise my clients to avoid soda, eat fruits and veggies, and sweeten recipes conservatively with natural options, like organic honey or maple syrup. They’re less processed than refined sugar and they contain other beneficial substances, including antioxidants. Some new research, however, has left people wondering if these better-for-you sweet foods are actually okay to consume, particularly for weight loss.

Here’s a summary of the study and my bottom-line tips on how to sweeten up your life a little, without wreaking havoc on your waistline.

University of Southern California researchers looked at the responses of 24 volunteers who consumed flavored beverages that were sweetened with fructose one day, and glucose another. Brain scans revealed that when subjects looked at images of food after consuming fructose, there was greater activity in the area of the brain tied to reward. The participants were also asked if they’d rather eat the food immediately, or forgo it for a monetary bonus. When drinking fructose, more of the men and women chose the immediate food reward. The researchers said the results indicate that, relative to glucose, fructose has less of an appetite-suppressing effect, and may be more likely to trigger eating.

Why the difference between the two sweeteners? When you consume glucose, your pancreas secretes insulin, which allows cells to use it for energy. Insulin also tells your brain that you’ve received fuel, which curbs appetite. Since fructose doesn’t stimulate insulin secretion, you brain may not be getting an “I’m good, stop eating now” message.

So how does all of this relate to honey and produce? Well, honey, maple syrup, molasses, fresh fruit, and even some veggies (like sugar snap peas), all contain fructose. But in my opinion the aforementioned study doesn’t mean you should eliminate the lot.

To reap the rewards without disrupting your appetite—or derailing your weight—follow these three tips.

With fruit, fresh is best

While fruit is a natural source of fructose, the sweetener is also bundled with fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And in fresh fruit the fructose isn’t concentrated. For example, one cup of blueberries naturally contains about 7 grams of fructose, along with 3.5 grams of fiber and several key nutrients. By contrast, a 12-ounce can of soda sweetened with high fructose corn syrup contains about 22.5 grams of fructose, with no fiber or nutrients. The fluid and fiber in fresh fruit (in addition to the volume and chewing involved) also positively impact fullness and satiety.

In other words, the amount and form of the fructose you consume matter. If you’re concerned about fructose and appetite, stick with fresh fruit. If you eat dried fruit, remember that the portion shrinks by about three quarters, so you should eat a serving no larger than the size of a golf ball. The same holds true for juice. Some of my clients love fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice at breakfast, but I advise them to drink a shot, not a tall glass, and capture as much pulp as possible.

Don’t drink your sugar

The USC study was done with beverages. Previous research has shown that sugar in the form of a thin liquid isn’t as filling as solid forms, so you won’t compensate by eating less food when you drink a soda, lemonade, or sweet tea. That means the extra calories just add to your overall intake, and if you don’t burn them off, you’ll either prevent weight loss or further fill up your fat cells. For this reason, I advise clients to choose solid sweet treats, preferably made with ingredients that offer some nutritional value (check out my dark chocolate superfood pudding, which can also be made into a smoothie).

Other studies have shown that thickness also prompts eaters to perceive foods as more filling. In a University of Sussex study, researchers asked volunteers to rate how filling they expected various thick, creamy drinks to be. The subjects did this by identifying how much solid food they thought they would need to eat to experience the same level of fullness. The conclusion: thickness, not creaminess, impacted the expectation that a drink would better suppress hunger. In two additional studies, thicker drinks were found to suppress actual hunger (not just anticipated hunger, as in the Sussex study) more than thinner versions of beverages with the same calorie levels. This is one reason I’m a big fan of chia seeds—they soak up water to form a thick, gel-like texture, which adds a satisfaction factor to sweetened puddings, smoothies, and parfaits.

Limit sweets overall, from all sources

I’ve had many clients over the years who have tried to eliminate sugar completely only to experience intense cravings, and eventually break down, and binge eat sweets. If all or nothing doesn’t work for you, you’ll be happy to know that even the strictest recommendations on sugar, from organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA), don’t recommend banishing it completely.

According to the AHA, the daily target for added sugar (e.g. forms like honey and sweetened foods) should be no more than the equivalent of 6 level teaspoons for women, and 9 for men. That means adding a teaspoon of organic honey or maple syrup to Greek yogurt, having a few squares of dark chocolate each day, or enjoying an occasional dessert is well within the limits. It’s also far less the 22 daily teaspoons the average American takes in each day.

For more about sugar, including where it may be hiding, and how to limit your intake sanely and sustainably, check out my article The 4 Most Confusing Things About Sugar.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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A Magic Formula for Healthier Eating

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The newest way to make good food choices

If you’re looking to eat healthier, think C.A.N. Not as in willpower, but as in these three critical food musts: Convenient (easy to reach), Attractive (enticingly displayed), and Normal (an obvious choice).

That’s the conclusion of a recent study from Cornell University, which analyzed 112 studies that gathered information about healthy eating behaviors. People who ate healthiest did so when a grocery store, restaurant, or partner offered up food following this formula. Think about a bowl of fruit displayed on a countertop versus fruit buried in a drawer in your fridge and you get the idea.

The study, published in the journal Psychology and Marketing, also offers hints about what to avoid: Watch out for specials at restaurants that have a tempting name, like Creamy Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo; are highlighted on the menu; and that your waitress is touting.

“With these three principles, there are endless changes that can be made to lead people…to eat healthier,” promises Brian Wansink, PhD, Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

And they couldn’t be easier to remember. As in, you C.A.N. do it.

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Cornell Food and Brand Lab

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Stretches for People Who Are Stuck at a Desk All Day

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Time to take a screen break

In our quest to make life easier and more automated through the influence of technology, we sometimes forget how the gadgets we love so much can negatively affect our lives as well, specifically when it comes to our bodies. Studies show that we spend an average of 3-4 hours per day staring down at our cell phones or tablets. This isn’t only straining to the eyes, but it also causes our bodies to be hunched over for prolonged periods of time. Between that and sitting at a desk all day, our bodies are no doubt screaming for relief!

We know we should take time away from the office or computer daily to get outside, go for a run, or hit the gym. However, for busy professionals who are just lucky enough to have a moment to step away from their desk to scarf down lunch in between meetings and deadlines, sometimes those things just aren’t a realistic possibility.

Sitting in these static positions all day can leave your neck, shoulders, back, and hips feeling tight and most likely out of their proper alignment. In light of that fact, here are 5 stretches you can do every day (and anywhere) to combat these stubborn aches and pains.

Chest Opener

You need this one if you spend a lot of time hunched over a keyboard. Rest your chin onto your neck and reach your arms behind you until your hands meet. Interlace your fingers and lift your arms up until you feel a stretch in your chest and front shoulders. Hold for 10 seconds, release, and repeat.

Hip Release

Tight hip flexors are a common problem for people who sit in a chair all day. Kneel on the floor and step your left leg out in front of you at a 90-degree angle, placing your left foot flat on the floor. Press your hips forward until you start feeling a stretch. For an added stretch, raise your right hand above your head. Hold for 10-15 seconds and then switch sides.

Trunk Rotation

Lie on your back with your arms and legs open and relaxed. Bring your knees to your chest, and then let them both slowly fall to one side of your body, while keeping your upper torso neutral and your arms on the floor. Hold for 10-15 seconds and then move to the other side. Repeat 2-3 times.

Shoulder Rolls

Practice rolling your shoulders forward and backward several times to loosen up your upper body. Do 10 reps each way, rest and repeat 2-3 times.

Head-to-Toe Stretch

Stand up and reach your arms high over your head until you feel a stretch. Hold for about 8-10 seconds and then reach your hands down to your toes. Hold for 8-10 seconds and repeat.

For more soothing stretches, check out 5 Stretches To Help Improve Your Posture.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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