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

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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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

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

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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TIME Diet/Nutrition

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

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Most Parents of Obese Children Think Their Kids Are ‘Just Right’

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Because they're compared to their peers, not to medical standards

Parents of obese kids often don’t recognize that their kids are overweight, and the vast majority think their obese children are “just right,” according to a new study.

Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center studied two groups of young children: a group of 3,839 kids from 1988-1994, and another group of 3,151 kids from 2007-2012, and published the findings in the journal Childhood Obesity. Similar findings were reported last year in the journal Pediatrics.

The NYU researchers found that even if their kids were overweight or obese, the vast majority of parents were likely to see no problem with their child’s weight. In the earlier group, 97% of parents of overweight boys and 88% of parents of overweight girls said their kids were “about the right weight.” In the more recent group, 95% of parents of overweight boys and 93% of parents of overweight girls thought so, too. The children in the later group were significantly more obese than the kids in the earlier group, but their parents were just as likely to see them as healthy.

In both groups, misperception about overweight kids being “just about the right weight” was most common among African-American and low-income parents, and the misperception decreased as family income rose. Researchers said this may be because lower-income parents are comparing their kids to their peers, who are also more likely to be overweight, rather than to medical standards.

Researchers warned that the lack of awareness of childhood obesity could contribute to the problem, because if parents don’t recognize that their children are overweight, then they won’t be able to help their kids.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

10 Foods You’re Probably Eating Wrong

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These common food prep habits may be sabotaging your efforts to eat right

Even if you eat plenty of fruits and veggies and already know about the latest and greatest superfoods on the market, that’s only half the battle. The other half: understanding how to reap the biggest benefits from all that hard work. We asked a pair of registered dietitians to pinpoint the big mistakes that are preventing you from extracting the most vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat.

Flaxseeds

These little pods have lots of health benefits locked inside of them: they’re high in fiber, heart-healthy omega-3s, and lignans, which are phytochemicals that may have cancer-protecting properties. They key word here? Locked. Your body may not be able to digest whole flaxseeds, sprinkling a handful into your morning smoothie or onto your yogurt snack won’t get you very far in the nutrient department. According to Katherine Zeratsky, RD, a registered dietitian with the Mayo Clinic, most experts actually recommend eating flaxseeds ground. Buy them pre-ground or throw them in a coffee grinder, spice mill, or a specially designed flax mill so you don’t end up flushing the health benefits away.

Black tea

Americans are drinking more tea than ever—almost 20% more than they did in 2000, according to market research. Before you pour yourself another cup, make sure you’re not also reaching for milk: Studies have shown that while the addition of dairy to black tea doesn’t affect the herbal drink’s antioxidants, it does negate any cardiovascular benefits you might have been hoping to reap. Milk proteins can bind with the catechins in tea, which can make the beneficial plant compounds more difficult for the body to absorb.

Broccoli

We totally understand: You can only eat so much raw or steamed broccoli before it gets really boring. But if you want to get the most health mileage from this cruciferous veggie, resist the urge to boil or fry it. Broccoli is loaded with vitamin C, chlorophyll, antioxidants, and anticarcinogenic compounds, and a 2009 Chinese study found that to keep those health benefits intact, steaming is the best cooking method. Boiling and stir-frying were found to cause the biggest loss in nutrients.

Strawberries

There’s nothing quite like biting into those first juicy summer strawberries, especially when you think about all the fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin C each bright-red berry holds. Here’s the catch: To get the full spectrum of health benefits, you want to avoid cutting them for as long as possible. Kristy Del Coro, senior culinary nutritionist for SPE Certified, explains that certain nutrients—especially vitamin C—are sensitive to light and oxygen. When you cut into strawberries, you’re exposing more cells to those nutrient-deteriorating elements. “That said, if the convenience of pre-cut produce makes the difference between you consuming fruits and vegetables or not, it’s still a better option than not eating them at all,” she says. “Frozen produce actually retains a lot of nutrients, and it’s better for you than eating an out-of-season fruit or vegetable that’s traveled a great distance or hasn’t been allowed to fully ripen.”

Garlic

Unlike vitamin C, allicin—the cancer-fighting enzyme found in garlic—actually benefits from exposure to air. To that end, Sara Haas, RDN, a consultant dietitian, chef, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, recommends letting chopped garlic sit out for about 10 minutes before you toss it into any dish you’re making so that the compound gets fully activated.

Whole grains and beans

Whole, unrefined grains and dried beans contain antioxidant compounds called phytates, which can bind to vitamins and minerals in food and prevent them from being absorbed by the body, explains Del Coro. “Intact whole grains that still have the outer layer [the bran], such as farro, freekeh, sorghum, and wheat berries, should be soaked in water overnight to help release the phytates,” she says. “But this doesn’t apply to semi-refined or unhulled types like pearled barley or instant oats.” In addition to helping you get the maximum amount of nutrients like iron and zinc, the soaking process also means less work for your digestive tract.

Yogurt

You know that watery substance that you often find atop your Greek yogurt? The one you probably pour down the sink? That’s whey, and it contains protein and vitamin B12, along with minerals like calcium and phosphorus, says Haas. Rather than dumping the whey out, give your yogurt a quick stir so you retain all of its health benefits. Another fact to note, says Haas, is that you’re not going to get yogurt’s probiotic benefits if you’re cooking a hot dish like chicken curry or marinated lamb with it. “Live and active cultures can’t stand up to heat and will be destroyed in the cooking process,” she explains. “You’ll still be getting the protein, calcium, and vitamin D though.”

Tomatoes

Fresh, ripe tomatoes add a burst of flavor to salads and sandwiches, but if you want to absorb their lycopene—the phytonutrient responsible for the fruit’s cancer- and heart-disease-fighting properties—Haas says that you’re better off cooking them. Cornell researchers also found that tomatoes’ antioxidant content increases when they’re heated to roughly 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Try this roasted tomato and asparagus recipe.

Grilled meat

Everyone loves a summer barbecue, but be wary of those “perfectly charred” cuts of meat, says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, a registered dietitian practicing in New York City. “Grilling meat at high temperatures over an open flame may increase cancer risk,” she says. Zuckerbrot points to the National Cancer Institute, which warns that two potentially cancer-causing chemicals—heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—are formed when meats are cooked using high-temperature methods like chargrilling. “Don’t rely on the color of the cooked meat to gauge food safety,” says Zuckerbrot. “Use a food thermometer that shows that meats are cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature as recommended by the USDA.”

Asparagus

We’ve all seen those convenient microwave-safe veggie pouches, and nuking these spears in a ready-made bag seems a whole lot more convenient than busting out a steamer and pot and waiting for water to boil. But as Zuckerbrot points out, a study in the journal Acta Agroculturae Scandinavica found that this cooking method depletes this vegetable’s vitamin C content because the nutrient is water-soluble. Instead, Zuckerbrot recommends a quick steam or stir-fry on the stove, emphasizing that the important thing is to cook the vegetable so that it’s tender and crisp, rather than mushy and soft. “When steaming asparagus, save the leftover water,” she adds. “It’s rich in vitamins and minerals. You can add it to a sauce or soup.”

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

6 Foods That Can Make You Happier

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Daily consumption of dark chocolate, for one, can lower your stress level

I’m a happiness research junkie. I love reading about simple things we can do to elevate mood and boost contentment. Mindfulness meditation, adequate sleep, laughing, volunteering, and spending time with pets (as well as with happy people) all help. And believe it or not, science shows you can also eat your way happier!

If you’re in need of a little more glee, here are six research-backed “better mood foods” to build into your eating repertoire.

Probiotic-rich foods

In a recent Dutch study, 20 healthy volunteers received either a probiotic supplement or a placebo for four weeks. Those who received the real deal showed a significantly reduced reactivity to sad mood, which was largely due to a reduction in aggressive thoughts, and rumination (you know, when you over-think or obsess on the negative). The conclusion: the type and amount of bacteria in your digestive tract impacts your mood. Scientists even have a name for it: the gut-brain axis, or the communication highway between the GI tract and the brain.

In an animal study conducted at McMaster University in Ontario, gut bacteria from mice with different personalities were swapped. Fearless mice became timid after receiving gut bacteria from anxious counterparts, and the reverse was also true—fearful rodents became more expressive and less apprehensive. The researchers also found that aggressive mice became calm when scientists changed their gut microbes by making their diets more healthy. All of this means that, for all intents and purposes, your gut bacteria can literally be mind-altering. To reap the benefits, stock up on probiotic-rich fermented foods, including kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir, or consider popping a probiotic supplement.

Fruits and veggies

In a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, nearly 300 young adults kept daily food journals for three consecutive weeks, in addition to completing psychological and mood-related ratings. Researchers found that a higher intake of produce resulted in more energy, calm, and a greater sense of happiness. They also noted that the effects were seen not only on the days more veggies and fruits were consumed, but also throughout the following day. Another study, published in the journal Social Indicators Research, which tracked 80,000 adults, found that consuming a higher amount of produce boosted mental well-being, with the magic number for happiness being seven daily servings. To use produce to elevate your mood, choose fruits and veggies first, and build each meal around them. For tips on how, check out my previous posts 5 Veggies That Make Perfect Pasta Alternatives and 5 Reasons to Eat More Fruit.

Coffee

Coffee drinkers can be thought of as curmudgeons, but research has actually linked regular java consumption to positivity. In one study, researchers found that coffee consumed in the morning was linked to energy, kindness, and pleasure. Coffee enjoyed socially was tied to affection, friendship, satisfaction, and good nature, and when sipped leisurely, cups of Joe induced calm, happiness, and tranquility. Another study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that women who drank two to three cups of coffee a day were 15% less likely to develop depression over a 10-year span, compared to those who consumed one cup or less each day. Now that doesn’t mean a pot a day is a recipe for bliss, but if you enjoy coffee there are other health benefits to making it a daily habit. Check out my previous posts 6 Reasons to Keep Loving Coffee and 5 Reasons to Drink Coffee Before a Workout.

Dark chocolate

Even thinking about dark chocolate brings a smile to my face, but research backs its happiness benefits. The antioxidants in dark chocolate can trigger the walls of your blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure and improving circulation. That may be why one study found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate daily for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in people who rated themselves as highly stressed. Dark chocolate also contains magnesium, a mineral that has been shown to help alleviate PMS symptoms, including fatigue, depression, and irritability. Finally, dark chocolate’s unique natural substances trigger a sense of euphoria that’s similar in to the feeling of being in love! For more check out my 5 Healthy Ways to Eat More Chocolate.

Mushrooms

I adore mushrooms. In a previous post I wrote about five surprising benefits of this underrated superfood, and due to their unique nutrients, mood regulation may be a sixth. Shrooms are rich in selenium and research has linked a deficiency of this mineral (which doubles as an antioxidant) to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Mushrooms are also the only plant source of natural vitamin D, a key nutrient of us aren’t getting enough of. In a study of people with seasonal affective disorder, which affects 11 million Americans, scientists found that those who upped their vitamin D intake experienced an enhanced mood. To bolster your intake, incorporate mushrooms into omelets or quiche at breakfast, salads at lunch, and sauté, grill, or oven roast them at dinner.

Green tea

A Japanese study, conducted with more than 40,000 people, found that levels of psychological stress were 20% lower in people who drank five or more cups of green tea per day compared to those who drank less than one. The results held true even after other factors were accounted for, including age, sex, medical history, body mass index, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and diet. Reach for green tea as a beverage, or incorporate loose tea leaves or brewed green tea into cooking. It’s fantastic in smoothies, marinades, soups, and sauces. For info about a currently trendy form of green tea, check out my previous post 7 Things You Should Know About Matcha.

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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TIME Diet/Nutrition

Kids Overeat When They’re Stressed, Study Says

Especially if their parents use food as a reward

Next time you watch Bambi with your kids, you may want to hide the ice cream: A new study shows that 5-to-7-year-old children tend to eat more when they’re sad.

According to a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, kids are more likely to overeat when they are upset, especially if their parents have used food as a reward in the past. The study notes that stress eating is a learned and unnatural behavior, since stress and emotional turmoil usually reduce appetite, rather than increasing it. The fact that children were found to have stress eating tendencies at this age suggests that emotional overeating is something children learn in early childhood, perhaps because of the way their parents feed them.

The researchers divided the kids into two groups, asked them to color a picture, and then told them they would get a toy once the coloring was done. With one group of kids, the researchers withheld a crayon that was needed to complete the drawing, which meant the kids couldn’t get their prize. This was a “stressful situation” for the children. While the researchers pretended to look for the crayon so the kids could complete the drawing, kids snacked on a few different items around the room. Afterwards, the researchers found that the kids in the “stressful” situation ate more than the kids who were able to finish their drawing and get the toy, especially if their parents said they had used food as a reward in the past.

The study found that children were much more likely to stress eat if their parents over-controlled their eating, by doing things like using food as a reward or withholding food for health reasons. According to the researchers, these practices can override children’s natural hunger instincts, instead making food into a reward or an emotional comfort.

But because the sample size is relatively small (41 parent-child duos) more research is needed before we’ll get a clearer picture of how exactly parents’ feeding practices affect the way kids think about stress eating.

 

 

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