Want to make your New Year’s resolutions really count this year? Then think about how some of the vows you make — to lose weight, reduce stress, quit smoking, exercise more — really get to the heart of the matter.
If you stick to these goals, you may just sail into next year with a healthier heart.
Cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD, says common resolutions often come down to boosting heart health — even though that’s not necessarily the initial intention.
She recommends these five heart-healthy resolutions that will serve you well all year.
1. Resolve to lose weight
“The No. 1 goal for most Americans is to lose weight — and often that resolution is one of the first they break,” Dr. Cho says.
But think of the benefits you’d reap if you could make steady progress in that area of your life.
When you’re overweight or obese, you increase your risk of:
High cholesterol and triglycerides
To help you keep your resolution, Dr. Cho recommends focusing on lifestyle modification instead of “dieting.” If you set a goal of healthy eating and regular exercise, losing weight is often a natural byproduct. Or you can use our activity calculator to determine how much ― and what type ― of activity, you need to reach your goals.
There are many apps for your phone or tablet that can help you track your food intake and exercise. And it helps to understand your triggers so you can avoid them, she says. (Do you eat more when you’re stressed, bored or in a social setting?)
2. Resolve to get an annual physical
“Getting a checkup is a good thing,” says Dr. Cho, who sees many patients who haven’t been to a doctor in years.
Aside from ensuring that you have no major health problems, a physical allows your doctor to keep tabs on your blood pressure and glucose levels.
He or she will also likely discuss physical activity, and drinking, smoking and eating habits — they all affect your heart health, of course.
A yearly checkup is particularly important for women. They’re more likely to experience less-obvious symptoms of heart disease, Dr. Cho says. Yet many of her female patients only get “bikini medicine,” meaning they pay attention to breast and gynecologic issues but neglect the rest of their bodies.
Both men and women should get annual physicals to better focus on heart-health risk modification, she says.
3. Resolve to reduce stress in your life
“Reducing stress should be a goal for the whole country,” Dr. Cho says. “Highly anxious people tend to have more heart attacks and strokes.”
Make time in your day to do things that help you relax. Try meditation, talking with friends, getting outside for a walk, reading a book or exercising.
And while the internet can sometimes increase your stress levels, it also has the potential to be a tool for good. There are many websites and apps that will help you calm yourself or embrace reflection and relaxation. They can walk you through simple breathing exercises or facilitate meditation.
4. Resolve to get more sleep
Shorting yourself on sleep can lead to overeating, heart failure, hypertension and atrial fibrillation, Dr. Cho says.
“Having less sleep consistently can increase blood pressure and cause inflammation,” she adds. “That part of the brain that activates during sleep deprivation is near the part where hunger is, so we know that if you don’t sleep, you eat more.”
Tips for success: To get more ZZZs, Dr. Cho recommends that you:
Put your phone away long before bedtime.
Cut back on caffeine.
Sleep in a cool, darkroom.
5. Resolve to stop smoking and/or reduce alcohol and caffeine intake
Drinking in moderation is OK. But don’t start now if you don’t drink (even though you’ve heard red wine is good for you). If you do drink, Dr. Cho recommends no more than 6 to 8 ounces a day.
Drinking less alcohol and caffeinated beverages will help you sleep better and reduce stress. It may even help you lose weight, by reducing the empty calories you consume, she says.
And smoking cessation is great for your heart — it can significantly lower your blood pressure and heart rate.
If you resolve to make yourself healthier this year, talk to your doctor about ways to trim down, be more active and relax. You know in your heart those are all resolutions you can live (longer) with.
Is there something in your cupboard that could extend your life? Photo from Getty Images.
If I offered you a superfood that would make you live longer, would you be interested?
Naturally it reduces the chances of debilitating heart attacks and strokes as well as life-long diseases such as type-2 diabetes.
And it helps keep your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels down.
I should mention it’s cheap and widely available in the supermarket.
What is it?
Fibre – it’s not the sexiest thing in the world but a major study has been investigating how much fibre we really need to be eating and found there are huge health benefits.
“The evidence is now overwhelming and this is a game-changer that people have to start doing something about it,” one of the researchers, Prof John Cummings, tells BBC News.
It’s well known for stopping constipation – but its health benefits are much broader than that.
How much fibre do we need?
The researchers, at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, and the University of Dundee say people should be eating a minimum of 25g of fibre per day.
But they call this an “adequate” amount for improving health and say there are benefits for pushing past 30g (1oz).
Is that all?
Well, a banana on its own weighs about 120g but that’s not pure fibre. Strip out everything else including all the natural sugars and water, and you’re left with only about 3g of fibre.
Most people around the world are eating less than 20g of fibre a day.
And in the UK, fewer than one in 10 adults eats 30g of fibre daily.
On average, women consume about 17g, and men 21g, a day.
What other foods have more fibre in them?
You find it in fruit and vegetables, some breakfast cereals, breads and pasta that use whole-grains, pulses such as beans, lentils and chickpeas, as well as nuts and seeds.
What does 30g look like?
Elaine Rush, a professor of nutrition at Auckland University of Technology, has put together this example for getting into the 25-30g camp:
half a cup of rolled oats – 9g fibre | two Weetabix – 3g fibre | a thick slice of brown bread – 2g fibre | a cup of cooked lentils – 4g fibre | a potato cooked with the skin on – 2g fibre | half a cup of chard (or silverbeet in New Zealand) – 1g fibre | a carrot – 3g fibre | an apple with the skin on – 4g fibre
But she says: “It is not easy to increase fibre in the diet.”
Prof Cummings agrees. “It’s a big change for people,” he says. “It’s quite a challenge.”
cooking potatoes with the skin on | swapping white bread, pasta and rice for wholemeal versions | choosing high-fibre breakfast cereals such as porridge oats | chucking some chickpeas, beans or lentils in a curry or over a salad | having nuts or fresh fruit for snacks or dessert | consuming at least five portions of fruit or vegetables each day
What will the benefit be?
Well, after analysing 185 studies and 58 clinical trials, the results are in and have been published in the Lancet medical journal.
It suggests if you shifted 1,000 people from a low fibre diet (less than 15g) to a high-fibre one (25-29g), then it would prevent 13 deaths and six cases of heart disease.
That’s during the course of these studies, which tended to follow people for one to two decades.
It also showed lower levels of type-2 diabetes and bowel cancer as well as lower weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
And the more fibre people ate, the better.
What is fibre doing in the body?
There used to be a view that fibre didn’t do much at all – that the human body could not digest it and it just sailed through.
But fibre makes us feel full and affects the way fat is absorbed in the small intestine – and things really become interesting in the large intestines, when your gut bacteria get to have their dinner.
The large intestines are home to billions of bacteria – and fibre is their food.
It’s a bit like a brewery down there, admittedly one you wouldn’t want a pint from, where bacteria are fermenting fibre to make a whole load of chemicals.
This includes short-chain fatty acids, which are absorbed and have effects throughout the body.
“We have this organ set up to digest fibre, which a lot of people just don’t use very much,” says Prof Cummings.
Why is this relevant now?
The fact fibre and whole-grains and fruit and vegetables are healthy should not come as a surprise.
But there is concern people are turning their back on fibre, with the popularity of low-carb diets.
Prof Nita Forouhi, from the University of Cambridge, says: “We need to take serious note of this study.
“Its findings do imply that, though increasingly popular in the community at large, any dietary regimes that recommend very low-carbohydrate diets should consider the opportunity cost of missing out on fibre from whole-grains.
“This research confirms that fibre and whole-grain intakes are clearly important for longer term health.”
The study has been done to help the World Health Organization come up with official guidelines for how much fibre people should be eating to boost health and they are expected next year.
From the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, white bread fell while brown and wholemeal rose.
Since then, white bread sales have continued to fall, but brown and wholemeal bread sales have been falling for most of that period, although at a slower rate.
So it looks as if while overall demand for bread has been falling, a higher proportion of bread sold has been higher fibre.
Whole wheat pasta has made less of an impact on sales than higher fibre breads, with a survey for the British Journal of Nutrition finding that pasta accounted for less than 1% of the occasions on which people were consuming whole grains.
They’ve been maligned in nutrition circles for decades, with links to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. But they’re also highly satisfying and provide many essential nutrients.
So are potatoes good for you or not?
“Potatoes have gotten a bad rap because of the way they’ve been eaten and processed in the modern food system,” says Charles Mueller, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University.
Undoctored potatoes are healthy, says Mueller: They supply a good mix of nutrients. It’s when people deep-fry them in oil or smother them in butter, sour cream, or salt that spuds turn into nutritional duds.
A medium white baked potato (about 6 ounces) with skin has 159 calories, 36 grams of carbs, and nearly 4 grams of fiber. Potatoes also are packed with a healthy mixture of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and vitamins B6 and C. A medium potato, for example, supplies about 15 percent of your daily need for magnesium; and about 20 percent of your daily potassium need.
“Most people don’t get enough potassium their diet,” says Ellen Klosz, a Consumer Reports nutritionist. “It’s very important for helping to control blood pressure.”
And few Americans get the daily recommended amount of fiber, which has a slew of health benefits, from helping curb cholesterol, protect against diabetes, control weight, and even lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Dietary recommendations say most adults need around 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day. If you eat a medium potato with skin, you’ll get about 4 grams. If you eat one without it, you’ll only get about 3 grams. “It’s always good to eat potatoes with the skin,” says Mueller, “because you pick up some fiber.”
Still, many diet experts advise going easy on potatoes because of their high glycemic index rating. The carbohydrates in a food with a high GI are digested quickly, leading to a rapid spike and then dip in blood sugar and insulin levels. These effects can cause people to overeat and may raise the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
But Mueller says that you can greatly minimize the boost in blood sugar from potatoes if you eat them as part of a healthy meal that includes protein.
Another way to minimize the GI effect of potatoes is to cool them after cooking and either eat them cold (as in a potato salad) or reheat them. This alters the chemical structure of the potato’s carbohydrates, and forms resistant starch, a type of fermentable fiber that may lower blood sugar levels after a meal and have other health benefits.
Additionally, Klosz says, when you compare potatoes with other some other high GI staples, such as white rice, they’re actually much lower in calories and carbs, and supply more fiber.
For most people, having potatoes a couple of times a week can be part of a healthy diet, says Mueller. But only if you watch your serving size and what you put on them.
“Potatoes are among the most popular vegetables in the American diet,” Klosz says. “But most are consumed in their processed form, such as fries and chips. Only 26 percent of the potatoes we eat are fresh or unprocessed.” And even when eaten fresh, dousing them in butter or cream might negate their health benefits.
That might at least partially explain the findings of some observational studies, such as those from Harvard researchers, which found that eating potatoes frequently may increase the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain.
In one of the studies, people who ate potatoes two to four times per week had a modest increase in type 2 diabetes risk—7 percent—compared with those who ate them less than once a week. Those who had 7 servings a week, however, had a 33 percent increased risk. While all forms of potatoes—baked, boiled, fried, and mashed—were linked to the disease, French fries were most problematic.
That was also the case in the other Harvard studies. For instance, people who ate four or more servings of baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes had an 11 percent increased risk of high blood pressure compared to those who ate them less than once a month. For French fries, the risk was 17 percent higher.
People often make the mistake of counting potatoes as a vegetable in their meals. “While it is a tuber and it’s in the vegetable family,” says Mueller, “it is a starch, and should be considered equivalent to eating pasta, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, or brown rice.” The Harvard studies suggest that if you replace potatoes with a nonstarchy vegetable or a whole grain in your meals, it helps protect against chronic health problems.
A Range of Colors
In addition to white potatoes, you can find yellow, purple, and red-fleshed varieties. The colors come from compounds in the plants called phytochemicals such as anthocyanins, carotenoids, and flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties and may protect against cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Red- and purple-fleshed potatoes have nearly twice the flavonoids as white ones.
What about sweet potatoes? Technically, they’re not really potatoes—they aren’t part of the same plant family—and they may be a little healthier. A medium sweet potato is just slightly lower in calories and carbs (147 calories; 35 grams of carbs) than a same-sized white version, but has about one more gram of fiber. And it provides enough carotenoids to supply more than five times your daily recommended dose of vitamin A. Purple sweet potatoes offer the highest levels of anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid linked to heart and liver benefits, compared with white, yellow, and orange-fleshed types.
How to Prepare Potatoes Healthfully
It’s pretty simple: Go easy on the potato toppings and add-ins. Just one pat of butter and two tablespoons of sour cream adds about 100 calories and 9 grams of fat. “When you add a lot of cream and butter and salt,” says Mueller, “you can increase the caloric value of them and you’re more likely to overeat.” Why? Because they taste good.
The same goes for sweet potatoes. Adding marshmallows, butter, and brown sugar ups the fat and sugar load significantly. There are 14 grams of sugars, and 9 grams of fat in a half-cup of sweet potato casserole vs. about 7 grams of sugars and no fat in a medium sweet potato. Avoid canned varieties packed in heavy syrup.
Fortunately, potatoes—whether sweet or regular—don’t need much to make them tasty. Cut them into cubes and roast with a little rosemary, olive oil, and salt and pepper; or boil or microwave them whole. When eating them baked or mashed, keep the condiments to a minimum.
You’d think that, with all the information at our fingertips today, nutrition myths would have become less pervasive than in our grandparents’ time.
Unfortunately, the internet is rife with misinformation, and it can be really difficult to tell what’s evidence-based without reading the original research yourself. Myths that were previously passed through word-of-mouth now spread like wildfire through social media, blogs, and even established media. Between a 24-hour news cycle, studies that are both long and difficult to read, and journalists scrambling for the latest viral hit, information often gets published without being verified. And once we’ve assimilated a piece of information, we seldom think to challenge it — we treat it as fact.
As an educational organization that looks only at the evidence, we’ve taken the time to identify 20 nutrition myths that just won’t die. At the end of each section, you’ll find a link to pages that further explore the section’s topic with extensive references.
Myth 1: Protein is bad for you
Carbs and fats often take the blame for various health issues, but the third macronutrient isn’t always spared by the media. Protein has often been accused of harming bones and kidneys.
Let’s tackle those two claims one at a time.
More protein in the diet has been linked to more calcium in the urine. Two reasons have been suggested to explain this phenomenon:
Your body draws from its calcium stores (in bones) to buffer the acid load caused by dietary protein. This has led researchers to suggest that higher protein intake could cause greater bone loss.
Most studies that looked at protein intake and calcium excretion list dairy products as a protein source, so higher urinary calcium could simply be the result of higher calcium intake (i.e., more calcium in, more calcium out).
Therefore, looking only at calcium excretion wasn’t enough. Subsequent studies showed that dietary protein promotes dietary-calcium absorption and that high protein intake “promotes bone growth and retards bone loss (whereas) low-protein diet is associated with higher risk of hip fractures.”
What happens is that when you ingest more protein, you absorb more of the calcium in your food, so less calcium ends up in your feces. Later, your body gets rid of the calcium it doesn’t need, so more calcium ends up in your urine, but not as much as would have otherwise ended in your feces. Therefore, an increase in protein intake leads to an overall decrease in calcium excretion, which points to an increase in calcium retention.
All in all, current evidence suggests that protein actually has a neutral or even protective effect on bones.
Other studies determined that high protein diets increased glomerular filtration rate (GFR), a marker for waste filtration in the kidneys. It was argued that increased GFR was a sign that undue stress was put on the kidneys, but later research has shown that kidney damage does not occur as a result of diets high in protein.
In conclusion, randomized trials thus far have not shown high-protein diets to harm the bones or kidneys of otherwise healthy adults.
The Truth: Protein, even in large amounts, isn’t harmful to your bones or kidneys (unless you suffer from a pre-existing condition).
Myth 2: Carbs are bad for you
For decades, fat was the enemy; today, there’s a new scapegoat: carbs. Vilifying carbs and insulin seems to get more popular by the year.
Many people believe that the popular glycemic index and the lesser-known insulin index rank foods by their “unhealthiness”. Yet the available research shows that low-glycemic diets, when compared to higher-glycemic diets, have either no effect or only modest beneficial effects on metabolic syndrome factors, even in diabetics. Furthermore, a low-glycemic diet doesn’t always lead to better glycemic control than do other diet patterns.
Similarly, the carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity, which theorizes that obesity is caused by carbs and the insulin response they evoke, is not well-supported by the evidence.
In 2017, a meta-analysis of 32 controlled feeding studies was published. Some of those studies were metabolic ward studies and some were free-living studies, but in each case, meals were provided by the researchers, who wished to ensure that each diet would provide specific amounts of calories and nutrients (within each study, the diets were equal in calories and protein but not in fat and carbs).
So what were the results? Low-fat diets resulted in greater fat loss (by an average of 16 grams per day) and greater energy expenditure (by an average of 26 Calories per day). This would give low-fat diets a fat-loss advantage, though one “so small as to be physiologically meaningless”.
These results are consistent with those of long-term, free-living, randomized controlled trials designed to test a diet’s real-world effectiveness (meaning that the participants were given instructions but left to prepare their own meals). Meta-analyses show that keto, low-carb, and higher-carb diets lead to similar weight loss.
Eating less carbohydrate (especially processed carbs) can be helpful if it helps you eat healthier. But if cutting carbs makes you eat worse or feel worse, or if you can’t stick with the diet, you should consider other options. If you wish to lose weight, what matters is not to replace fat by carbs or carbs by fat, but to end most days on a caloric deficit.
The Truth: As long as you do not overindulge, there is nothing inherently harmful about carbohydrates.
At the end of the day, trans fat is the only kind of fat that has been shown to be categorically detrimental to health. Naturally occurring trans fat and industrially produced trans fat seem to have a similar effect on blood lipids, but you don’t need to worry about the minute amounts of trans fat naturally occurring in whole foods (notably dairy products). The trans fat you need to shun is a byproduct of partially hydrogenated oils: this type of trans fat was once a common ingredient of processed foods — so common that trans fat consumption was linked to more than half a million coronary heart disease (CHD) deaths worldwide … just in 2010.
Industrially produced trans fat was banned in the US in 2015, and all products were supposed to be phased out by June 2018, but manufacturers received an extension until July 2019. That means that a lot of products with this type of trans fat are still on the shelves today.
And you might not even know it by looking at food labels, because the FDA used to allow for a product to be labeled as having 0 grams of trans fat as long as a serving of the product had less than 0.5 grams. However, even today, the manufacturer usually gets to decide what a “serving” is, which means that, while a 5-gram serving (maybe a small treat the size of your thumbnail) may have officially 0 grams of trans fat, 100 grams of the product may have 8 grams (if 5 grams of the product contains in fact 0.4 grams of trans fat).
The Truth: If you stay in a caloric surplus, a low-fat diet won’t make you lose weight. You need some omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and saturated fat won’t necessarily give you a heart attack (but too much trans fat may).
Myth 4: Egg yolks are bad for you
If there’s one thing the media is good at, it’s scaring you away from perfectly healthy foods.
Yes, foods high in cholesterol can increase LDL cholesterol in most people, but to a fairly small extent on average. Moreover, some of the micronutrients and other bioactive compounds in egg yolks could interfere with cholesterol absorption, which may help explain why many studies have failed to find an increase in cholesterol in egg eaters.
More to the point, while a review of cohort studies (a type of observational studies) associated higher consumption of cholesterol or eggs with higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and all-cause mortality in a dose-response manner, clinical trials (a more rigorous type of study) found no association between eggs and CVD, except in some people who “hyper-respond” to dietary cholesterol.
The Truth: Eggs are a great source of protein, fats, and other nutrients. Their association with high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease has been severely overblown.
Absolute statements are why we have so many nutrition myths. Cancer is particularly difficult to discuss in absolutes. After all, almost everything we eat has the potential to be involved in cancer development Yet, red meat has been fingered as a likely culprit.
Some compounds — such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), found in smoked meats — have been found to damage the genome, and damaging the genome is the first step to potential cancer. Current evidence suggests that processed red meats, particularly those that are more charred during cooking, can pose a greater cancer risk for people with poor diets and lifestyles.
There is some evidence that eating a lot of red meat or processed meat might increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and of various other cardiometabolic diseases, but that evidence is of lower quality. Still, if you want to be especially cautious, you can limit your intake to three servings per week (1 serving of beef = 3 oz = 85 grams).
The Truth: Fears about red meat causing cancer are vastly exaggerated. Making healthy lifestyle choices (such as eating a balanced diet rich in whole foods, staying at a healthy weight, exercising, and not smoking) is overall more important than micromanaging your intake of red meat. Still, if you plan to eat less red meat, start with the kind that has been cured, smoked, or highly processed.
Myth 6: Salt is bad for you
Some myths contain a grain of truth. Studies have associated excess salt with hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney damage, and an increased risk of cognitive decline.
Another issue is the source of all that salt. The average North American eats an incredible amount of salty processed foods — which means that people who consume a lot of salt tend to consume a lot of foods that are generally unhealthy. That makes it hard to tease apart sodium’s effects from overall dietary effects. Except for individuals with salt-sensitive hypertension, the evidence in support of low sodium intakes is less conclusive than most people would imagine. As it stands, both very high and very low intakes are associated with cardiovascular disease.
The Truth: Salt reduction is important for people with salt-sensitive hypertension, and excessive salt intake is associated with harm. But a drastic decrease in salt intake has not shown uniform benefit in clinical trials. Most people will benefit more from a diet of mostly unprocessed foods than from micromanaging their salt intake.
Myth 7: Bread is bad for you
Bread has taken a beating over the past few years (especially white bread). The bread detractors generally make two arguments against its consumption:
Bread will make you fat.
Bread contains lots of gluten, which is bad for you.
Bread will not inherently make you fat, but it tends to be dense in calories and therefore easy to overeat. And of course, most people will eat bread with other high-calorie foods, such as butter, peanut butter, jam, or honey. This can lead to a caloric surplus and thus to weight gain over time. Moreover, while bread can be part of a healthful diet, a bread-centric diet can crowd out more nutrient-rich foods, notably fruits and vegetables.
Also, some people choose to avoid bread entirely because of its gluten content. Gluten critics claim that any amount of gluten (a protein, ironically, not a carb) is a danger to all. While “all” is an exaggeration, it is indeed possible to suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity. However, it is also possible for your wheat sensitivity to be caused by other compounds, such as FODMAPS (short-chain carbohydrates known to promote intestinal distress by fermenting and producing gas), which are present in wheat, yes, but also in many other foods, such as legumes, apples, and milk (and other dairy products containing lactose).
White bread vs. whole-wheat bread
You may have heard that eating bread is all right as long as it’s whole-wheat bread. While white bread (made from wheat flour) and whole-wheat bread provide a similar number of calories, whole-wheat bread has a lower glycemic index and insulin index, and so its consumption results in a lower insulin release. For that reason, and because of its higher fiber and micronutrient content, whole-wheat bread is claimed to be healthier than white bread.
What the media frequently fails to mention is that the actual differences between white bread and whole-wheat bread are relatively small. Yes, whole-wheat bread has a higher fiber content — but this content pales compared to that of many fruits and vegetables. You most definitely don’t have to eat whole-wheat products to get enough fiber in your diet! And yes, white bread does lose more micronutrients during processing — but those micronutrients are often reintroduced later (the bread is then called “enriched”).
The Truth: While some people are sensitive to wheat, the gluten content isn’t necessarily to blame, and other foods may also be implicated. Bread, nor any other food, will inherently cause weight gain unless its consumption puts you in a caloric surplus. Though whole-wheat bread is claimed to be far healthier than white bread, they aren’t that different, and neither contains high levels of fiber or micronutrients.
Myth 8: HFCS is far worse than sugar
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a blend of glucose and fructose commonly used to sweeten food products.
Early evidence led to the belief that fructose could cause fatty-liver disease, as well as insulin resistance and obesity. By extension, HFCS is frequently said to be unhealthy, since it is high in fructose.
The Truth: HFCS and table sugar are very similar from a health perspective. Though HFCS may sometimes contain more fructose, the difference is negligible.
Myth 9: Dietary supplements are necessary
This is a favored line of thinking by supplement companies and health gurus. One argument is that crops are becoming poorer in nutrients due to intensive agriculture and increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Another argument is that foods are a mess of unknown compounds, in addition to known “poisons” such as the dreaded saturated fat, cholesterol, gluten, and FODMAPs.
Fact is, multis are seldom well formulated. Due to cost and space considerations (people willing to take one pill a day may balk at taking ten), multis are often rich in micronutrients abundant in a healthy diet and poor in others you are more likely to need. Try to focus on what you actually need by tweaking your diet and, in special cases, by supplementing with specific micronutrients — such as vitamin B12 if you are vegan or a senior, or vitamin D if your bare skin seldom gets enough sun exposure.
In fact, many foods you’ll find at the supermarket are already fortified with the micronutrients you’re most likely to lack. Milk, for instance, is frequently fortified with vitamin D, whereas salt is iodized, and enough foods are fortified with folic acid that you’re as likely to get too much as not enough.
In that light, it may be tempting to take the next step and live on meal replacements, with all the necessary nutrients added in and none of the aforementioned “poisons”. That could work — if we actually knew the optimal intakes for all nutrients.
We learn a little more each day, but there’s still much we don’t understand about food components and their interactions with different systems in our bodies, especially since those interactions can differ between individuals. So, until we reach a perfect understanding of the human body and its nutritional needs, you’re safer eating a varied diet of little-processed foods than ingesting the same meal replacement day after day after day. And it’ll taste better.
The Truth: Supplements have their use. Some people may benefit from supplementing specific vitamins or minerals. But supplements should complete a healthy diet — not replace it.
Myth 10: Food nutrients > supplemental nutrients
How often have you heard the claim that natural, whole foods are always better than synthetic supplements? In general, the word “natural” has a positive connotation, whereas “synthetic” or “chemical” has a negative one.
The truth, of course, isn’t so clear-cut. Some compounds are more effective in supplemental form. One example is the curcumin in turmeric. On its own, your body cannot absorb it well; but taken in liposomal form or supplemented with piperine, a black pepper extract, curcumin sees its bioavailability increase dramatically.
The Truth: With regard notably to vitamins, foods are not always superior to supplements.
Myth 11: Fresh is more nutritious
Fresh produce has a natural appeal to many people. “Fresh” just sounds better than “canned” or “frozen”, doesn’t it? But just because a food is fresh doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more nutritious.
Fresh produce is defined as anything that is “postharvest ripened” (if it ripens during transport) or “vine-ripened” (if it is picked and sold ripe: at a farmer’s fresh market or at a farmer’s roadside fruit stand, for instance).
Frozen produce is generally vine ripened before undergoing minimal processing prior to freezing. Most vegetables and some fruits undergo blanching in hot water for a few minutes prior to freezing, in order to inactivate enzymes that may cause unfavorable changes in color, flavor, smell, and nutritional value. While there are some differences between fresh and frozen for select nutrients in select fruits and vegetables, overall the nutritional content is very similar.
Canned produce is usually vine ripened, like frozen produce, but it tends to undergo a lot more processing, several forms of which can break down some essential nutrients, such as nitrates, almost entirely. However, \ remember that cooking is also a form of processing, and that different ways of cooking can affect the produce’s nutrient content and bioavailability more than its being fresh, frozen, or canned. An additional issue with canned produce, though, is that salt and sugar are often added as preservatives to vegetables and fruits respectively — so look at the label.
The Truth: There’s little difference between fresh and frozen produce, nutrient-wise. Canned produce tends to undergo a lot more processing, but remember that cooking is a form of processing too. Overall, fresh and frozen produce might be more nutritious than canned produce, but eating enough whole-food fruits and vegetables is more important than how they were processed.
It is natural to think that foods labelled “natural”, “all natural”, or “100% natural” are healthier, but what do those labels actually mean?
The answer isn’t as simple as it should be. To begin with, we need to divide foods into two categories. In the first, we have meat. In the second, everything else.
In the United States, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) must approve label claims for meat, including the “natural”, “no hormones” and “no antibiotics” claims. However, what the “natural” claim means is just that the product is no more than “minimally processed” and does not contain any artificial ingredients (including chemical preservatives and artificial flavoring or coloring). It doesn’t necessarily mean that the cow wasn’t given antibiotics and hormones before it became a food product (as milk or meat, though the USDA only concerns itself with the latter).
Now, if hormones or antibiotics were given to a cow, they might be found in its meat, which would then contain artificial ingredients. But is the meat actually tested, or can it be labelled “natural” simply if nothing was added to it? (Which is to say, if nothing was added to the meat after the cow was killed and thus became beef.)
Considering that (1) the “no hormones” and “no antibiotics” claims require special documentation and (2) the “natural” claim only covers product processing and ingredient addition, the answer seems to be that a piece of beef can be labelled “natural” even if the originating cow was given hormones or antibiotics.
Meanwhile, the FDA considers “natural” any food to which nothing artificial or synthetic was added “that would not normally be expected to be there / in that food”. Yes, that’s awfully vague. A little more precisely, the FDA states that a product without colorants (regardless of source) or synthetic substances (including artificial flavoring) can be labelled “natural”.
Note that, for the FDA, the label “natural” doesn’t reflect “food processing or manufacturing methods” or “food production methods, such as the use of genetic engineering or other forms of genetic modification, the use of pesticides, or the use of specific animal husbandry practices”.
The Truth: Overall, the “natural” label isn’t tightly regulated. Importantly, neither the USDA nor the FDA defines “natural” in relation to the healthfulness of the food. In other words, a “natural” label doesn’t guarantee the product is healthful (though it might be).
Myth 13: You should eat “clean”
This statement is not so much a myth as a jumble of misconceptions. First of all, people seldom agree on what “eating clean” actually means. For some, it means shunning specific foods for religious or ethical reasons (animal products, for instance). For others, it means eating only fresh, raw, natural, organic foods. For others still, it means making sure their fruits and veggies are free of pesticides. One common point of clean diets is their focus on exclusion: they tell you what clean eating is by telling you what not to eat.
Only plant-based food
Veganism can be considered a prototypical clean diet, as it shuns all animal products both for ethical reasons and for better health. But although vegans and vegetarians do tend to be healthier on average, this may be due to reasons unrelated to food. For instance, people who stick to a vegetarian diet are more likely to also stick to an exercise regimen and neither drink in excess nor smoke.
Some “clean eating” gurus recommend that you only eat your food raw, so as not to “denature” its nutrients. As an absolute, this rule is a myth. Raw milk can contain harmful bacteria. Raw eggs contain avidin, a protein that can bind biotin and thus lead to biotin deficiency if consumed frequently, and you’ll digest more protein from cooked than raw eggs. Cooking can reduce the nitrate content of vegetables (bad) but also their oxalate content (good). You can’t generalize.
Only organic food
“Organic is better.” This is presented as self-evident, on the principle that “natural” is good whereas “synthetic” is bad. So far, however, what few studies have investigated the effect of organic food on clinical health outcomes have failed to consistently link organic foods (from plants or animals) to better health.
It doesn’t mean that organic foods and better health are definitely not linked, but the issue is complex, and in some cases you’ll be trading one health risk for another. For instance, a 2018 test of protein powders revealed that the organic ones had about half the amount of BPA (an industrial chemical) but twice the amount of heavy metals.
One misconception is that no synthetic substance can be used to grow organic crops, whereas the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances makes some exceptions. Another misconception is that no pesticide can be used to grow organic crops. But while organic produce (notably fruit) less often has synthetic pesticide residue than do conventional produce, natural (organic) pesticides exist, are used to grow organic crops, and are not always better for the consumer or the environment.
Only pesticide-free produce
Pesticide residues in food are a valid concern, though it should be noted that the Pesticide Data Program (PDP) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has consistently found that the vast majority of the food on the market contains either no detectable residues or residues below the tolerable limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
When found, pesticide residues were similarly low in organic and conventional produce, but there is some evidence that even very low doses of pesticides might still elicit physiological effects. These effects, be they beneficial, neutral, or harmful, and be they from organic or conventional pesticides, are not well studied.
So what is a consumer to do? The practical solution is quite simple: rinsing, peeling when possible, and cooking can reduce the amount of pesticide left on your produce, whether this produce is organic or not.
The Truth: “Clean eating” is tough to define, as gurus don’t even agree on which foods are clean and which are not. Stick to the basics. Favor whole foods (but don’t feel like any small amount of processed foods will kill you), eat organic if you wish to and can afford it, and peel or wash all your vegetables and fruits.
Myth 14: You should “detox” regularly
“Detox diets” are the ultimate manifestation of the “clean eating” obsession. Such diets commonly limit foods to plant-based juices, sometimes seasoned with a supplement. After a few days of that regimen, you’re supposed to be cleansed of …
Well, detox-diet companies don’t really know. A 2009 investigation of ten companies found they couldn’t name a single “toxin” eliminated by any of their fifteen products — let alone prove that their products worked. Strictly speaking, toxins are plant- or animal-based substances poisonous to humans; but for many detox gurus, “toxins” also include heavy metals … and everything synthetic: not just toxicants (man-made poisons, such as pollutants or pesticides), but also preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), etc.
Alas, even when a substance really is noxious, a “detox diet” won’t help. Acute toxicity would likely constitute a medical emergency, whereas chronic toxicity can be handled better by a well-fed body — not one weakened by a severely hypocaloric diet. Your liver, kidneys, lungs, and other organs work around the clock to remove harmful substances and excrete the waste products of metabolism. By reducing your intake of the nutrients they need to perform these functions, a detox diet can hinder your body’s natural detoxification process! If you wish to promote this process, your best bet is to load up with various foods that can help these organs work optimally, such as cruciferous and other fibrous veggies.
Detox diets are not necessarily safe, either. Every now and then a case report emerges about potential risks, such as kidney damage from green smoothies or liver failure from detox teas.
But if detox diets are more likely to harm than help, what explains their current popularity? One answer is: quick weight loss. Deprive your body from carbs and you can exhaust its glycogen stores in as little as 24 hours. The resulting loss of several pounds can convince you that the diet had a positive effect. When the diet ends and you resume your regular eating habits, however, the glycogen and associated water come rushing back in, and with them the pounds you’d shed.
So when people feel better from a detox diet, is it just a placebo effect? Not always. People on a detox diet might eat fewer calories yet more fruits and vegetables, thus more micronutrients. They may also stop consuming foods that don’t agree with them (in other words, detox diets work as de facto elimination diets).
The Truth: Focus on sustainable health habits, such as eating nutritious foods. Ample protein, leafy greens, and foods chock-full of vitamins and minerals are not just tastier than anything a “detox diet” has to offer, they’re also way better for you (and your liver detoxification pathways, ironically). A detox diet might make you feel better, but that’s usually because of the increased whole-food intake, not because any form of detoxification is taking place.
Myth 15: Eating often will boost your metabolism
It’s easy to trace this myth back to its origin. Digestion does raise your metabolism a little, so many people believe that eating less food more often keeps your metabolism elevated.
However, the size of the meal matters, too: fewer but larger meals means fewer but larger spikes in metabolism. Moreover, some studies suggest that having smaller meals more often makes it harder to feel full, potentially leading to increased food intake.
More to the point, the evidence shows that, given an equal amount of daily calories, the number of meals makes no difference in fat loss.
The Truth: Digestion does slightly increase your metabolic rate, but your meals’ frequency will have less effect on your weight than their total caloric content at the end of the day.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is something we have all heard before from parents, doctors, health bloggers, and ad campaigns. But the health perks of consuming a regular breakfast have been overhyped.
People on #TeamBreakfast mention observational studies showing that, on average, breakfast skippers have a higher BMI. However, clinical trials have shown that personal preference is a critical factor. Some people will subconsciously compensate for all the calories they skipped at breakfast, while others won’t feel cravings of the same magnitude. In one trial, women who didn’t habitually eat breakfast were made to consume it; they gained nearly 2 pounds over four weeks. Individual responses do vary, so don’t try to force yourself into an eating pattern that doesn’t sit well with you or that you can’t sustain — it may end up backfiring.
Another popular claim is that skipping breakfast can crash your metabolism. But studies in both lean and overweight individuals have shown that skipping breakfast does not inherently slow your resting metabolic rate (RMR).
However, the “don’t skip breakfast” mantra might hold true for people with impaired glucose regulation.
The Truth: You don’t need to eat breakfast to be healthy or lose weight. You should base your breakfast consumption on your preferences and personal goals. Feel free to experiment to see if you want to make skipping breakfast a habit.
Myth 17: To lose fat, don’t eat before bed
Some studies show a fat-loss advantage in early eaters, others in late eaters. Overall, early eaters seem to have a slight advantage — nothing impressive. Trials, however, imperfectly reflect real life. In real life, there are two main reasons why eating at night might hinder fat loss, and both are linked to an increase in your daily caloric intake.
The first reason is the simplest: if, instead of going directly to bed, we first indulge in a snack, then the calories from that snack are calories we might have done without.
The second reason is that, when we get tired, we tend to eat to keep going, with a predilection for snack foods or tasty treats. So if we stay awake at night — especially to work or study, but even just to watch TV — we’re more likely to eat, not out of hunger, but to help fight sleepiness.
The Truth: Eating late won’t make you gain weight, unless it drives you to eat more. Resisting tasty, high-calorie snacks can also be harder after a long day.
Myth 18: To lose fat, do cardio on an empty stomach
Let’s get one thing out of the way. If you exercise near maximal capacity (HIIT, sprints, heavy lifting …), eat one or two hours before, or you’re likely to underperform. Most people who choose to exercise on an empty stomach, however, opt for some moderate form of cardio (aerobic exercise), such as jogging, and then performance and energy expenditure are about the same in the fed state and the fasted state.
If you exercise in the fasted state, you’ll burn more body fat, of course, but that won’t make it easier for you to use body fat as fuel during the rest of the day (when you’re fed). You’ll also burn a tiny bit more muscle, but you’ll grow it back faster afterward too — it seems to balance out, as long as you get enough protein after your workout and over the whole day. Finally, cardio suppresses appetite less in the fasted state than in the fed state, but that doesn’t translate into a significant difference in daily caloric intake.
People with impaired glucose regulation may wish to avoid exercising on an empty stomach, and might want to avoid skipping breakfast even when they don’t exercise.
The Truth: There’s very little difference between cardio in the fed or fasted state with regard to fat loss, muscle preservation, daily caloric intake, or metabolic rate. What really matters, then, is you. Some people feel lighter and energized when they do cardio on an empty stomach, while others feel light-headed and sluggish. Fed or fasted state: pick whichever makes you feel better.
Myth 19: You need protein right after your workout
When you exercise, you damage your muscles, which your body then needs to repair, often making them more resilient (bigger) in the process. The raw material for this repair is the protein you ingest, and yes, after exercising, your muscles are more sensitive to the anabolic effect of protein, thus creating a (still controversial) window of opportunity — the “anabolic window”.
“You need protein right after your workout” may not be a myth so much as an exaggeration. What matters most is your daily protein intake, but yes, ideally, you’ll want a postworkout dose of protein in the range of your desirable minimum protein intake per meal (0.24–0.60 grams per kilogram of body weight, so 0.11–0.27 g/lb). If you’ve been exercising on an empty stomach, you’ll be in negative protein balance, so take this dose as soon as possible. Otherwise, try to take it within the next couple of hours — the exact size of your “anabolic window” depends on how much protein you’re still digesting.
The Truth: Unless you’ve been exercising on an empty stomach, you don’t need protein immediately after your workout, but you might benefit from 0.24–0.60 grams per kilogram of body weight (0.11–0.27 g/lb) within the next couple of hours. What matters most, however, is how much protein you get over the course of the day.
Myth 20: Creatine will increase your testosterone but cause hair loss and kidney damage
No, unlikely, and no. Being one of the most widely used supplements, creatine has been subjected to a whole host of spurious claims. Let’s tackle these three common ones.
Creatine helps you exercise harder by making it easier for your cells to regenerate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a source of energy. To this day, there is not strong evidence that creatine can raise testosterone levels.
Three randomized controlled trials (RCTs), totalling 60 male participants, reported small yet statistically significant increases in either testosterone or dihydrotestosterone (DHT) from doses ranging from 5 to 25 grams of supplemental creatine. However, ten other RCTs, totalling 218 male participants, reported no effect on testosterone from doses ranging from 3 to 25 grams of supplemental creatine.
People wishing to optimize their testosterone levels should focus on better-proven options. Suboptimal levels of sleep, exercise, calories, vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc can decrease testosterone production.
The idea that creatine might increase hair loss stems from a single RCT whose participants (20 healthy young male rugby players) saw a small but statistically significant increase in DHT after supplementing with creatine for 21 days. When DHT, a potent metabolite of testosterone, binds to DHT receptors on the hair follicles of the scalp, those follicles may shrink and stop producing hair.
To date, this RCT is the only one to have tested creatine’s effect on DHT. However, twelve others have tested creatine’s effect on testosterone: two reported a small increase, but ten reported no effect. Of those twelve RCTs, five also tested creatine’s effect on free testosterone, the form that gets converted into DHT, and all reported no effect (no statistically significant increase or decrease was detected).
Now, creatine could nonsignificantly increase free testosterone yet significantly increase DHT, because a small percent increase in free testosterone, which can convert into DHT, could lead to a much greater percent increase in total DHT. So it’s technically possible that creatine might have some effect on hair loss — but current evidence and mechanistic data indicate it’s quite unlikely.
Blood levels of creatinine (a byproduct of energy production) are used as an indicator of kidney function, but elevated levels caused by supplemental creatine are not a sign that your kidneys underperform.
No adverse effects on kidney function were found in …
People with healthy kidneys taking more than 10 grams of creatine per day. Long-term trials are few, however, so caution is warranted.
People with suboptimal kidney function taking up to 5 grams of creatine per day. Trials in this population are scarce, however, so caution is warranted.
If you plan to have your creatinine levels tested, stop taking creatine at least 3 weeks before the test to avoid a false positive.
The Truth: Out of all the supplements out there, creatine is one of the most extensively researched. The vast majority of the evidence indicates that this supplement is safe for long-term use and is unlikely to harm your kidneys, cause hair loss, or increase your testosterone.
Misinformation in the mainstream media
You’ve likely heard most of these 20 myths repeated at one time or another — by a friend, on a blog, or somewhere in the media. Misinformation is rampant and difficult to identify, and unfortunately spreads much faster than facts.
You’ve no doubt heard this advice for keeping your mouth healthy your entire life: Brush, floss, and see your dentist for regular checkups.”These are things that all of us should be doing,” says Robert A. Gabbay, MD, PhD, chief medical officer at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. “But it’s even more important for people with diabetes because the stakes are a lot higher.”
Why? When you have diabetes, you’re at greater risk for dental problems, including gum disease, Gabbay says. And if you don’t keep your blood sugar in check, that makes you “more likely to get infections of the mouth,” Gabbay says. “And infections of the mouth making it more likely that blood sugars are poorly controlled.”
Diabetes can also lead to dry mouth, caused by having less saliva, which can make you more prone to cavities. And high blood sugar raises your chances of getting thrush, an often painful fungal infection that causes white or red patches in your mouth, according to the American Diabetes Association.
What are some warning signs that you should see your dentist immediately? Tooth pain, bleeding when brushing, gums pulling away from your teeth, or dentures that start to fit poorly, Gabbay says. “And of course infection — painful, red, swollen, tender gums or pus. Even persistent bad breath can be a sign of poor oral hygiene that should be cared for.”
Some people may not have any warning signs of gum disease, so be sure to see your dentist twice a year for checkups.
Here are questions to ask at your next appointment:
How does having diabetes affect my teeth and gums?
What kinds of mouth symptoms should I watch out for?
What can I do to prevent dry mouth?
Could medications be causing dry mouth?
How often should I get my teeth checked?
Practice good habits to keep your mouth healthy. Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss daily, and remove and clean dentures if you wear them.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking increases your risk of getting gum disease and makes it harder to treat. Ask your dentist or doctor if you should use mouthwash.
How else can you avoid mouth problems when you have diabetes? Control your blood sugar.”When we think about better control of blood sugar, there are four key things we keep in mind,” Gabbay says. “Diet, which includes eating the right foods and having the right portion size; exercise; medication; and monitoring [regularly testing your blood sugar] to be able to tell whether things are working or not.”
Another reason to brush up when you have diabetes? There seems to be a link between gum disease and heart and blood vessel disease, Gabbay says. While the cause-and-effect connection isn’t clear, one recent study found that people who had a stroke were more likely to have an oral infection than those in a control group, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.
Just one more reason to take care of your pearly whites.
Several studies in England have looked at the effects of a very low-calorie diet on diabetes. Two had people follow a mostly liquid diet of 625-850 calories a day for 2-5 months, followed by a less restricted diet designed to help them keep off the weight they lost. Both studies found that nearly half the people who took part reversed their diabetes and kept their blood glucose near the normal range for at least 6 months to a year.
This type of diet is extreme. It means working with a professional and being very controlled with how many calories you eat. But the chance that it could send you into remission may give you strong motivation to stick to it.
Most of the people who reversed their type 2 diabetes lost 30 pounds or more. They also hadn’t had diabetes as long as those who weren’t as successful. So it’s important to get started on a weight loss plan as soon as possible after you’re diagnosed.
When you have type 2 diabetes, cells that help your body control your blood sugar stop working right. Doctors used to think they were shut down for good, but research shows that certain cells may come back. People who lost weight had lower levels of fat in their liver and pancreas, and for some of them, that helped the beta cells in their pancreas that release insulin and control blood sugar start working again.
The odds of rescuing those cells are best early on. That suggests it may be better for doctors to help people lose a lot of weight after a diagnosis, rather than make small lifestyle changes and manage symptoms with medication.
More physical activity is a way to improve diabetes, but it may be tough to lose enough weight to go into remission with workouts alone. When combined with changes to your eating, though, exercise helps. A modest, lower-calorie diet plus a big step-up in burning calories could put you on the path to remission.
A study that had people aim for 10,000 steps a day and at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise a week — along with cutting 500-750 calories a day and following a specific insulin and medication routine — saw more than half of them reach near-normal blood sugar without medication. Some were able to keep those levels long-term, too.
The bottom line: It’s the weight loss that really matters. Exercise can help you get there, but expect to change your diet as well.
This type of surgery helps you lose weight by changing your stomach and digestive system to limit how much you can eat. Aside from helping you lose weight, it may help reverse diabetes in other ways, although scientists don’t yet know exactly why. One theory is that it affects the hormones in your gut to help your body control blood glucose.
Bariatric surgery is generally an option only when your BMI is 35 or higher. It works best for people who’ve had the disease for 5 years or less and don’t use insulin.
If you’re obese and recently diagnosed, it’s something to talk about with your doctor. Because it’s surgery, there are serious risks. But most people who have it done end up reversing their diabetes.
Fasting can be a practical way to lose weight because it’s fairly straightforward, but it’s not a mainstream treatment for type 2 diabetes.
A very small study found therapeutic fasting — going without food and drink with calories for a set amount of time — can help reverse type 2 diabetes. Three people with diabetes followed a diet program of three 24-hour fasts each week for several months. They would eat only dinner on days they fasted, and lunch and dinner on days they didn’t fast, focusing on low-carbohydrate meals.
Two of the people in the study were able to stop taking all diabetes medication, and the third stopped three of his four medications. Within 1-3 weeks, all three of them could stop taking insulin. They lost between 10% and 18% of their body weight, or 20-23 pounds.Another study showed that eating very few calories (500-600) 2 days a week and a normal diet the other days helped people with type 2 diabetes lose weight and lower their blood sugar levels just as much as limiting calories to 1,200-1,500 every day.If you want to try fasting, you should work with your doctor so you get the right information and support to do it safely.
What Doesn’t Work
When it comes to reversing diabetes, there’s no magic pill. If you see a product that claims to cure diabetes or replace your prescribed diabetes medication, beware. The FDA cautions that many illegally marketed things are unproven and possibly dangerous, including:
They found some products that claimed to be “all natural” had prescription drugs that weren’t listed as ingredients. Those could change the way other medications you’re taking work or cause you to take too much of a drug without realizing it.
Transverse abdominis. The transverse abdominis, which wraps around the front and side of your trunk, stabilizes your pelvis.
Multifidus. The multifidus in your back supports your spine.
Keeping these muscles strong helps stabilize your body, support your spine, and enhance your overall fitness.
Read on for the best core-strengthening moves for every fitness level.
If you’re new to exercise or if you haven’t exercised in a long time, start with these beginner moves.
This pose activates your glutes to lift your hips. This trains your core while toning your butt and thighs.
Start on your back. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor at hip width. Place your hands at your sides, palms down.
Tighten your core and glutes.
Raise your hips until your knees are in line with your shoulders.
Hold for 10–30 seconds.
Crunches are a classic core-strengthening move. The act of lifting your upper body works your abdominal muscles.
If you have low back pain, do crunches with care. Move slowly and start with just a few reps.
Start on your back. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor at hip width. Line up your head and spine. Cross your arms across your chest.
Tighten your core and relax your neck and shoulders. Tuck in your chin and lift your upper back, keeping your lower back, pelvis, and feet on the floor. Pause.
Slowly lower your upper back to return to the starting position.
Start with 1 set of 8–12 reps.
The plank is a full-body exercise that targets your core. It also strengthens your arms, shoulders, back, glutes, and legs.
Start on all fours, with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
Straighten your legs behind you, keeping your feet hip-width apart. Tighten your core.
Hold for 10–30 seconds.
To make this exercise easier, place your knees on the floor.
Supine Toe Tap
The Supine Toe Tap is a basic Pilates exercise. It engages your core muscles while working your glutes, hips, and legs.
Toe taps also place minimal pressure on your spine. If you have back pain, toe taps may be an ideal alternative to crunches.
Start on your back. Lift your legs, knees bent to 90 degrees. Place your hands at your sides, palms down.
Tighten your core. Lower your right foot and gently tap the floor, keeping your left leg still and your back flat.
Raise your right leg to return to the starting position. Repeat with your left leg.
Start with 1 set of 8–12 reps.
As you get stronger, take it up a notch with these intermediate exercises.
The bird dog engages both your abdominal and back muscles, so it’s an ideal core-strengthening move. It also challenges your coordination, balance, and stability.
Start on all fours, hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips.
Tighten your core. Lift and straighten your right leg to hip level. Simultaneously lift and extend your left arm to shoulder level, palm down. Pause.
Repeat with your left leg and right arm.
Start with 1 set of 8–12 reps.
This intermediate exercise combines a plank with knee movements, so it’s an excellent move for balance and core strength.
Start in a plank with your hands below your shoulders. Tighten your core.
Lift your right knee toward your chest, keeping your back straight and hips down.
Return your right leg to the starting position as you simultaneously lift your left knee toward your chest.
Continue alternating legs. Start with 1 set of 8–12 reps.
This crunch variation works your core and lower body, including your thighs, glutes, and quads.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and your toes turned outward. Put your hands behind your head and open your chest.
Tighten your core and glutes. Bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Bend your torso to the side, moving your right elbow toward your right thigh. Repeat on the left side.
Start with 1 set of 8–12 reps.
Once you’ve mastered intermediate moves, challenge yourself to an advanced core routine. These exercises will further build core strength by engaging your muscles in more complex ways.
Side plank with rotation
This exercise is an advanced version of the basic plank. It strengthens the arms, shoulders, and obliques by combining a side plank with arm movements.
Lie on your right side with your right forearm below your shoulder. Extend your legs, left foot on top of right. Tighten your core.
Lift your hips to form a straight line with your body. Raise your left arm straight up.
Rotate your torso toward the floor and bring your left arm under your body.
Rotate your torso and straighten your left arm to return to the starting position.
Start with 1 set of 8–12 reps.
Repeat on the other side.
Bird dog with elbow to knee
This variation on the basic bird dog incorporates fluid movement to engage your abs and back while improving core mobility.
Start on all fours, hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips.
Tighten your core. Lift and straighten your right leg to hip level. Simultaneously lift and extend your left arm to shoulder level, palm down.
Bring your right knee and left elbow toward each other. Return to the starting position.
Start with 1 set of 8–12 reps.
Repeat on the other side.
This classic exercise strengthens your abs by placing them under constant tension.
Start on your back. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor at hip width. Line up your head and spine. Place your hands behind your head, elbows pointing out to the sides.
Tighten your core and move your shoulders back and down. Bend your right knee toward your chest and extend your left leg, lifting it a few inches off the floor.
Lift your left shoulder and upper back, bringing your left elbow toward your right knee.
Tap your left shoulder on the floor and simultaneously switch your legs.
Continue alternating elbows and knees, starting with 1 set of 8–12 reps.
The bottom line
Whether you’re looking to kick-start a regular exercise routine or add an extra push to your existing one, core-strengthening moves are a great starting place.
Talk to your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise routine. If you have a past or current back injury, consult a personal trainer. They can show you how to safely tone and train your core.
Your body rapidly breaks these foods down into small sugar molecules, which are absorbed into your bloodstream.
The resulting rise in blood sugar stimulates your pancreas to produce insulin, a hormone that helps sugar get out of the bloodstream and into your body’s cells.
In people with prediabetes, the body’s cells are resistant to insulin’s action, so sugar remains high in the blood. To compensate, the pancreas produces more insulin, attempting to bring blood sugar down to a healthy level.
Over time, this can lead to progressively higher blood sugar and insulin levels, until the condition eventually turns into type 2 diabetes.
Many studies have shown a link between the frequent consumption of sugar or refined carbs and the risk of diabetes. What’s more, replacing them with foods that have less of an effect on blood sugar may help reduce your risk (2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
A detailed analysis of 37 studies found that people with the highest intakes of fast-digesting carbs were 40% more likely to develop diabetes than those with the lowest intakes (7).
SUMMARY:Eating foods high in refined carbs and sugar increases blood sugar and insulin levels, which may lead to diabetes over time. Avoiding these foods may help reduce your risk.
Exercise increases the insulin sensitivity of your cells. So when you exercise, less insulin is required to keep your blood sugar levels under control.
One study in people with prediabetes found that moderate-intensity exercise increased insulin sensitivity by 51% and high-intensity exercise increased it by 85%. However, this effect only occurred on workout days (8).
Many types of physical activity have been shown to reduce insulin resistance and blood sugar in overweight, obese and prediabetic adults. These include aerobic exercise, high-intensity interval training and strength training (9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14).
Working out more frequently seems to lead to improvements in insulin response and function. One study in people at risk of diabetes found that burning more than 2,000 calories weekly via exercise was required to achieve these benefits (14).
Therefore, it’s best to choose physical activity that you enjoy, can engage in regularly and feel you can stick with long-term.
SUMMARY:Performing physical activity on a regular basis can increase insulin secretion and sensitivity, which may help prevent the progression from prediabetes to diabetes.
3. Drink Water as Your Primary Beverage
Water is by far the most natural beverage you can drink.
What’s more, sticking with water most of the time helps you avoid beverages that are high in sugar, preservatives and other questionable ingredients.
Sugary beverages like soda and punch have been linked to an increased risk of both type 2 diabetes and latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (LADA).
LADA is a form of type 1 diabetes that occurs in people over 18 years of age. Unlike the acute symptoms seen with type 1 diabetes in childhood, LADA develops slowly, requiring more treatment as the disease progresses (15).
One large observational study looked at the diabetes risk of 2,800 people.
Those who consumed more than two servings of sugar-sweetened beverages per day had a 99% increased risk of developing LADA and a 20% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes (16).
Researchers of one study on the effects of sweet drinks on diabetes stated that neither artificially sweetened beverages nor fruit juice were good beverages for diabetes prevention (17).
By contrast, consuming water may provide benefits. Some studies have found that increased water consumption may lead to better blood sugar control and insulin response (18, 19).
One 24-week study showed that overweight adults who replaced diet sodas with water while following a weight loss program experienced a decrease in insulin resistance and lower fasting blood sugar and insulin levels (19).
SUMMARY:Drinking water instead of other beverages may help control blood sugar and insulin levels, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes.
4. Lose Weight If You’re Overweight or Obese
Although not everyone who develops type 2 diabetes is overweight or obese, the majority are.
What’s more, those with prediabetes tend to carry excess weight in their midsection and around abdominal organs like the liver. This is known as visceral fat.
Excess visceral fat promotes inflammation and insulin resistance, which significantly increase the risk of diabetes (20, 21, 22, 23).
Although losing even a small amount of weight can help reduce this risk, studies show that the more you lose, the more benefits you’ll experience (24, 25).
One study of more than 1,000 people with prediabetes found that for every kilogram (2.2 lbs) of weight participants lost, their risk of diabetes reduced by 16%, up to a maximum reduction of 96% (25).
There are many healthy options for losing weight, including low-carb, Mediterranean, paleo and vegetarian diets. However, choosing a way of eating you can stick with long-term is key to helping you maintain the weight loss.
One study found that obese people whose blood sugar and insulin levels decreased after losing weight experienced elevations in these values after gaining back all or a portion of the weight they lost (26).
SUMMARY:Carrying excess weight, particularly in the abdominal area, increases the likelihood of developing diabetes. Losing weight may significantly reduce the risk of diabetes.
5. Quit Smoking
Smoking has been shown to cause or contribute to many serious health conditions, including heart disease, emphysema and cancers of the lung, breast, prostate and digestive tract (27).
There’s also research linking smoking and second-hand smoke exposure to type 2 diabetes (28, 29, 30, 31).
In an analysis of several studies totaling over one million people, smoking was found to increase the risk of diabetes by 44% in average smokers and 61% in people who smoked more than 20 cigarettes daily (30).
One study followed the risk of diabetes in middle-aged male smokers after they quit. After five years their risk had reduced by 13%, and after 20 years they had the same risk as people who had never smoked (31).
Researchers stated that even though many of the men gained weight after quitting, after several smoke-free years, their risk of diabetes was lower than if they’d continued smoking.
SUMMARY:Smoking is strongly linked to the risk of diabetes, especially in heavy smokers. Quitting has been shown to reduce this risk over time.
6. Follow a Very-Low-Carb Diet
Following a ketogenic or very-low-carb diet can help you avoid diabetes.
Although there are a number of ways of eating that promote weight loss, very-low-carb diets have strong evidence behind them.
They have consistently been shown to lower blood sugar and insulin levels, increase insulin sensitivity and reduce other diabetes risk factors (32, 33, 34, 35, 36).
In a 12-week study, prediabetic individuals consumed either a low-fat or low-carb diet. Blood sugar dropped by 12% and insulin dropped by 50% in the low-carb group.
In the low-fat group, meanwhile, blood sugar dropped by only 1% and insulin dropped by 19%. Thus, the low-carb diet had better results on both counts (35).
If you minimize your carb intake, your blood sugar levels won’t rise very much after you eat. Therefore, your body needs less insulin to maintain your blood sugar within healthy levels.
What’s more, very-low-carb or ketogenic diets may also reduce fasting blood sugar.
In a study of obese men with prediabetes who followed a ketogenic diet, average fasting blood sugar decreased from 118 to 92 mg/dl, which is within the normal range. Participants also lost weight and improved several other health markers (36).
SUMMARY:Following a ketogenic or very-low-carb diet can help keep blood sugar and insulin levels under control, which may protect against diabetes.
7. Watch Portion Sizes
Whether or not you decide to follow a low-carb diet, it’s important to avoid large portions of food to reduce the risk of diabetes, especially if you are overweight.
Eating too much food at one time has been shown to cause higher blood sugar and insulin levels in people at risk of diabetes (37).
On the other hand, decreasing portion sizes may help prevent this type of response.
A two-year study in prediabetic men found that those who reduced food portion sizes and practiced other healthful nutrition behaviors had a 46% lower risk of developing diabetes than the men who made no lifestyle changes (38).
Another study looking at weight loss methods in people with prediabetes reported that the group practicing portion control lowered their blood sugar and insulin levels significantly after 12 weeks (39).
SUMMARY:Avoiding large portion sizes can help reduce insulin and blood sugar levels and decrease the risk of diabetes.
8. Avoid Sedentary Behaviors
It’s important to avoid being sedentary if you want to prevent diabetes.
If you get no or very little physical activity, and you sit during most of your day, then you lead a sedentary lifestyle.
Observational studies have shown a consistent link between sedentary behavior and the risk of diabetes (40, 41).
A large analysis of 47 studies found that people who spent the highest amount of time per day engaged in sedentary behavior had a 91% increased risk of developing diabetes (41).
Changing sedentary behavior can be as simple as standing up from your desk and walking around for a few minutes every hour.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to reverse firmly entrenched habits.
One study gave young adults at risk of diabetes a 12-month program designed to change sedentary behavior. Sadly, after the program ended, the researchers found that participants hadn’t reduced how much time they sat (42).
Set realistic and achievable goals, such as standing while talking on the phone or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Committing to these easy, concrete actions may be the best way to reverse sedentary tendencies.
SUMMARY:Avoiding sedentary behaviors like excessive sitting has been shown to reduce your risk of getting diabetes.
9. Eat a High-Fiber Diet
Getting plenty of fiber is beneficial for gut health and weight management.
Studies in obese, elderly and prediabetic individuals have shown that it helps keep blood sugar and insulin levels low (43, 44, 45, 46).
Fiber can be divided into two broad categories: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water, whereas insoluble fiber does not.
In the digestive tract, soluble fiber and water form a gel that slows down the rate at which food is absorbed. This leads to a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels (47).
However, insoluble fiber has also been linked to reductions in blood sugar levels and a decreased risk of diabetes, although exactly how it works is not clear (4, 47, 48).
Most unprocessed plant foods contain fiber, although some have more than others. Check out this list of 22 high-fiber foods for many excellent sources of fiber.
SUMMARY:Consuming a good fiber source at each meal can help prevent spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, which may help reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
10. Optimize Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D is important for blood sugar control.
Indeed, studies have found that people who don’t get enough vitamin D, or whose blood levels are too low, have a greater risk of all types of diabetes (49, 50, 51, 52).
Most health organizations recommend maintaining a vitamin D blood level of at least 30 ng/ml (75 nmol/l).
One study found that people with the highest blood levels of vitamin D were 43% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with the lowest blood levels (49).
Another observational study looked at Finnish children who received supplements containing adequate levels of vitamin D.
Children who took the vitamin D supplements had a 78% lower risk of developing type 1 diabetes than children who received less than the recommended amount of vitamin D (50).
Controlled studies have shown that when people who are deficient take vitamin D supplements, the function of their insulin-producing cells improves, their blood sugar levels normalize and their risk of diabetes reduces significantly (51, 52).
Good food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish and cod liver oil. In addition, sun exposure can increase vitamin D levels in the blood.
However, for many people, supplementing with 2,000–4,000 IU of vitamin D daily may be necessary to achieve and maintain optimal levels.
SUMMARY:Consuming foods high in vitamin D or taking supplements can help optimize vitamin D blood levels, which can reduce your risk of diabetes.
11. Minimize Your Intake of Processed and Junk Foods
One clear step you can take to improve your health is to minimize your consumption of processed foods.
They’re linked to all sorts of health problems, including heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Studies suggest that cutting back on packaged foods that are high in vegetable oils, refined grains and additives may help reduce the risk of diabetes (53, 54, 55).
This may be partly due to the protective effects of whole foods like nuts, vegetables, fruits and other plant foods.
One study found that poor-quality diets that were high in processed foods increased the risk of diabetes by 30%. However, including nutritious whole foods helped reduce this risk (55).
SUMMARY:Minimizing processed foods and focusing on whole foods with protective effects on health may help decrease the risk of diabetes.
12. Drink Coffee or Tea
Although water should be your primary beverage, research suggests that including coffee or tea in your diet may help you avoid diabetes.
Another review of several studies that included caffeinated tea and coffee found similar results, with the largest risk reduction in women and overweight men (62).
Coffee and tea have antioxidants known as polyphenols that may help protect against diabetes (63).
In addition, green tea contains a unique antioxidant compound called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that has been shown to reduce blood sugar release from the liver and increase insulin sensitivity (64, 65).
SUMMARY:Drinking coffee or tea may help reduce blood sugar levels, increase insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of diabetes.
13. Consider Taking These Natural Herbs
There are a few herbs that may help increase insulin sensitivity and reduce the likelihood of diabetes progression.
Curcumin is a component of the bright gold spice turmeric, which is one of the main ingredients in curries.
It has strong anti-inflammatory properties and has been used in India for centuries as part of Ayurvedic medicine.
Research has shown it can be very effective against arthritis and may help reduce inflammatory markers in people with prediabetes (66, 67).
There’s also impressive evidence that it may decrease insulin resistance and reduce the risk of diabetes progression (68, 69).
In a controlled nine-month study of 240 prediabetic adults, among the group who took 750 mg of curcumin daily, no one developed diabetes. However, 16.4% of the control group did (69).
In addition, the curcumin group experienced an increase in insulin sensitivity and improved functioning of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
Berberine is found in several herbs and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
Studies have shown that it fights inflammation and lowers cholesterol and other heart disease markers (70).
In addition, several studies in people with type 2 diabetes have found that berberine has strong blood-sugar-lowering properties (71, 72, 73, 74).
In fact, a large analysis of 14 studies found that berberine is as effective at lowering blood sugar levels as metformin, one of the oldest and most widely used diabetes medications (74).
Because berberine works by increasing insulin sensitivity and reducing the release of sugar by the liver, it might theoretically help people with prediabetes avoid diabetes.
However, at this point there are no studies that have looked at this.
In addition, since its effects on blood sugar are so strong, it should not be used in conjunction with other diabetes medications unless authorized by a doctor.
SUMMARY:The herbs curcumin and berberine increase insulin sensitivity, reduce blood sugar levels and may help prevent diabetes.
The Bottom Line
You have control over many of the factors that influence diabetes.
Rather than viewing prediabetes as a stepping stone to diabetes, it may be helpful to see it as a motivator for making changes that can help reduce your risk.
Eating the right foods and adopting other lifestyle behaviors that promote healthy blood sugar and insulin levels will give you the best chance at avoiding diabetes.
Having diabetes means that you have to be aware of everything you eat or drink. Knowing the amount of carbohydrates that you ingest and how they may affect your blood sugar is crucial.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends zero-calorie or low-calorie drinks. The main reason is to prevent a spike in blood sugar.
Choosing the right drinks can help you:
avoid unpleasant side effects
manage your symptoms
maintain a healthy weight
The 5 best drinks
Safe to drink:
Tomato or V-8 juice
Zero- or low-calorie drinks are typically your best bet when choosing a drink. Squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice into your drink for a refreshing, low-calorie kick.
Keep in mind that even low-sugar options such as vegetable juice or milk should be consumed in moderation. Whether you’re at home or at a restaurant, here are the most diabetes-friendly beverage options.
When it comes to hydration, water is the best option for people with diabetes. That’s because it won’t raise your blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels can cause dehydration.
Drinking enough water can help your body eliminate excess glucose through urine. The Institute of Medicine recommends men drink about 13 cups of day and women drink about 9 cups.
If plain water doesn’t appeal to you, create some variety by:
adding slices of lemon, lime, or orange
adding sprigs of flavorful herbs, such as mint, basil, or lemon balm
crushing a couple of fresh or frozen raspberries into your drink
Research has shown that green tea has a positive effect on your general health. It can also help reduce your blood pressure and lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels.
Whether you choose green, black, or herbal tea, you should avoid sweeteners. For a refreshing taste, make your own iced tea using a chilled fragrant tea, such as rooibos, and add a few slices of lemon.
If you don’t mind caffeine, Earl Grey and jasmine green tea are also great options.
A 2012 study found that drinking coffee might help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Researchers found that the level of risk dropped even lower for people who drank 2 to 3 cups per day. This also held true for people who drank 4 or more cups per day.
This applied to both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees, so if caffeine makes you jittery, feel free to grab a cup of decaf.
As with tea, it’s important that your coffee remain unsweetened. Adding milk, cream, or sugar to your coffee increases the overall calorie count and may affect your blood sugar levels.
4. Vegetable juice
While most fruit juice has too much sugar, you can try tomato juice or a vegetable juice alternative. Blend a mix of green leafy vegetables, celery, or cucumbers with a handful of berries for a flavorful supply of vitamins and minerals.
5. Low-fat milk
Dairy products should be included in your diet each day. Dairy products contain helpful minerals, but they add carbohydrates to your diet. Always choose unsweetened, low-fat, or skim versions of your preferred milk.
You should limit yourself to 1 or 2 glasses a day. You can also try dairy-free, low-sugar options, such as fortified nut or coconut milk. Be aware that soy and rice milk contain carbohydrates, so check the packaging.
The 5 worst drinks
Drinks to avoid
Sweetened fruit juices
Avoid sugary drinks whenever possible. Not only can they raise your blood sugar levels, but they can also account for a significant portion of your daily recommended caloric intake.
1. Regular soda
Soda takes the top spot on the list of drinks to avoid. On average, one can has a whopping 40 grams of carbohydrates and 150 calories.
This sugary drink has also been linked to weight gain and tooth decay, so it’s best to leave it on the store shelf. Instead, reach for fruit-infused water or tea.
2. Energy drinks
Energy drinks are also high in both caffeine and carbohydrates. Research has shown that energy drinks not only spike your blood sugar, but they may also cause insulin resistance. This can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes.
Too much caffeine can cause nervousness, increase your blood pressure, and lead to insomnia. All of these can affect your overall health.
3. Diet soda
Artificial sweeteners, such as those found in diet soda, may negatively affectTrusted Source the bacteria in your gut. In turn, this may increase insulin resistance, which can cause or worsen diabetes. More research is urgently needed.
A 2009 study linked increased diet soda intake with a risk for metabolic syndrome. This syndrome refers to a cluster of conditions, including:
A 2016 study confirmed that those drinking diet sodas had increased blood sugar levels and waist circumference.
4. Sweetened fruit juices
Although fruit juice is fine in moderation, sweetened fruit juices can add a high amount of carbohydrates to your diet. This can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and increase your risk for weight gain.
If you have a fruit juice craving that won’t fade, be sure you pick up a juice that’s 100 percent pure and contains no added sugars. You can also consider adding a splash or two of your favorite juice to sparkling water.
5. Alcoholic beverages
If you have high blood pressure or nerve damage from your diabetes, drinking alcohol worsens these conditions.
You should check with your healthcare provider to determine whether alcoholic beverages are safe for you to drink. Alcohol breaks down to sugar, so it’ll spike your blood sugar.
However, the results for women varied depending on high consumption showing an increased risk for prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, while a moderate intake of wine had a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes.
Some studies have shown a beneficial effect of red wine on diabetes, though the evidence remains uncertain. If you’re planning to drink an alcoholic beverage, red wine may be a good choice as it has some antioxidant properties and is low in carbohydrates.
Moderate consumption of red wine as part of a healthy diet didn’t promote weight gain and didn’t increase any harmful metabolic effect in persons with type 2 diabetes.
More research is needed to understand the potential relationship between diabetes risk and alcohol consumption.
The bottom line
When it comes to selecting a drink, keep it simple. Choose water whenever possible. Unsweetened tea and skim milk are also good options. Natural juices are generally fine in moderation.
If you’re craving a little sweetness in your drinks, try adding natural sources like fragrant herbs, slices of citrus fruit, or a couple of crushed berries.