5 Healthy Foods You Think Are Unhealthy

5 Healthy Foods You Think Are Unhealthy

When you envision foods that wreck your diet or sabotage your health, what pops into your mind?

There’s a good chance the list of foods you imagine includes options that could actually help you reduce stress, prevent heart disease and ward off certain cancers. Unfortunately, once a food gets labeled “bad for your health,” it never seems to lose that description — even when new studies contradict previous claims.

You can buck the trend. Here are 5 foods to consider adding back to your diet.

Eggs

Old thinking: Eggs will raise cholesterol and your chances of developing heart disease.

New thinking: Eggs are loaded with antioxidants, protein and nutrients vital to good health. For example, a 2011 study found that regular egg consumption helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer due to their high antioxidant content. Additional studies have found that eggs may help reduce blood pressure. Further, new research out of Yale University has found that eggs can be incorporated into a heart healthy diet without negative effects on cholesterol, weight or endothelial function. As with all good things, though, just be sure to eat eggs, and particularly egg yolks, in moderation.

“Unfortunately, once a food gets labeled ‘bad for your health,’ it never seems to lose that description — even when new studies contradict previous claims.”

Nuts

Old thinking: Nuts are too fattening.

In truth, any food consumed in too great a quantity will cause weight gain. However, when eaten in appropriate portions — always check the serving size as a guideline — the protein and healthy fats found in nuts may actually help you lose weight. In addition to weight loss, eating nuts has been associated in several studies with reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Walnuts, which contain heart-healthy omega-3 fats, are a particularly good option.

Chocolate

Old thinking: It’s a sweet treat, so it must be bad.

New thinking:The old thinking does apply to chocolate treats with a lot of added sugar. However, dark chocolate — look for cocoa content of at least 70 percent — is loaded with flavonoids, the same beneficial compounds found in berries, red wine and tea. An ounce of chocolate a day has been shown to reduce risks for heart disease, and an ounce and a half may help reduce stress.

Potatoes

Old thinking: All potatoes are too fattening.

New thinking: Certain potatoes may play a role in reducing the risk of a silent killer — but the type of potato matters. A 2012 study found that purple potatoes helped lower blood pressure in hypertensive, obese individuals without causing weight gain. Additionally, potatoes are naturally high in fiber and contain virtually no fat. Sweet potatoes and purple potatoes are tops when it comes to nutrient density, but what you put on your potato (or don’t put on it) will make or break an attempt at a healthy meal. Forgo the sour cream, bacon bits, butter and cheese. Opt for fresh veggies and herbs instead.

Soy

Old thinking: Eating soy increases your risk of disease.

New thinking: Soy is certainly controversial, but as with some of the foods mentioned above, the type of soy you eat matters. Many concerns are associated with highly processed soy products, but numerous studies looking at isoflavones and protein in whole soy sources — think miso, tofu and edamame — demonstrate the benefits associated with this legume. Highlights include reduction in cancers of the breast (for women on certain types of therapy), prostate and colon and improvement in heart health.

Contributor: Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

How to Work Out At Home (Yes, It’s Possible!)

Woman working out at home

Whether you’re a fitness fanatic or casual gym goer, the thought of picking up a dumbbell covered in germs is enough to make anyone cringe. And with the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) becoming more prominent every day, gyms and fitness centers across the country are closing their doors to help protect members.

If staying active is an important part of your life (as it should be!) you might be wondering how you’re supposed to go about this whole at-home workout thing. Thankfully, it’s easier than you think.

“A lot of what you’ll find with at-home workouts is about maintaining your current level of fitness,” explains exercise physiologist Katie Lawton. “And with workouts, consistency is key.”

Here Lawton shares some practical advice about how to stay active at home.

  1. Find workouts through online videos and apps. The internet is choked full of free workout videos. From yoga, to Zumba, to circuit training that you can do in your backyard. Test out a few workouts to find a series, program or instructor that you like. (Bonus points if you can get other members of your household to join you!)
  2. Walk, run or bike outside. Everyone could use a little fresh air. Hit the pavement in your neighborhood and challenge yourself to walk, run or bike a certain number of minutes or miles. If you’re an experienced fitness buff and you’re really looking to ramp up your heart rate, opt for hills or try a running based HIIT workout.
  3. Focus on body weight movements. Now’s the time to incorporate body weight exercises into your workouts. These tried and true movements include things like pushups, squats, lunges, planks and burpees. They’re convenient, efficient and inexpensive (AKA free). Pick a few different movements and create a circuit workout by completing as many reps of that one movement as possible in one minute. Then rest for a minute and continue on to the next movement and do the same thing. Repeat this for 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Order inexpensive fitness equipment online. Things like jump ropes, pull up bars that attach to door frames, suspension trainers and resistance bands are inexpensive items that can pack a punch when it comes to your workouts. Lawton recommends choosing a heavier resistance band and suggests tying the suspension trainer to a tree outside. You could also ask around if other family members or neighbors have old dumbbells or barbells that they no longer use.
  5. Utilize items around your house. Lawton encourages creativity when it comes to working out at home. Run up and down your basement stairs, use a chair for triceps dips or grab cans of soup or a gallon of water as a weight. Even jumping over a shoebox a few times can be a quick burst of cardio.
  6. Get your household involved. If you have kids, chances are they have more energy to burn off than you know what to do with and they’d be thrilled to be involved. Try to incorporate them into your plans to stay active – whether it’s encouraging them to do pushups with you or organizing a backyard obstacle course. Try to walk your dog every day, play tag with your kids or get your whole family involved in a backyard soccer game. Also never underestimate the power of a good dance party! It’s a great way to make memories with your family and burn off some stress and anxiety.

How to Maintain Healthy Diets for Kids While Schools Are Closed

Little girl eating breakfast

If you’re a kid, there are few things better than an after-school snack. Whether it’s salty or sweet, it always hits the spot after the long school day ends and you wait on dinner.

But with kids stuck at home thanks to coronavirus-related school closures, there’s a chance that, just like their parents, their diets could get a bit out of whack.

Previous research has shown children tend to gain weight during the summer months when they’re not at school. So how can parents keep kids from putting on excess weight while school’s out?

Set a meal plan

Dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, says setting a family’s meal plan for the day can go get everyone off to a good start.

“Make sure that you feed the kids breakfast within the first couple of hours of waking up,” she suggests. “Normally, we’re rushing out the door, trying to get to school. That’s not the case anymore, so while you can be a little flexible with the timing, you’ll want to have some form of breakfast within 2 or 3 hours of waking up.”

Keep a meal schedule

It’s also a good idea to keep track of when everyone is eating during the day, including adults. It’s best to make sure kids have something to eat every four to five hours, Dr. Zumpano says, as this will help cut down on all-day grazing.

“Make a note of what time you ate breakfast, make a note of what time you had the snack,” she says. “If you find you’re snacking all day, maybe just go ahead and have a meal. Maybe you’re hungrier than you realized and you’re just snacking throughout the day, because you’re not actually eating a meal.”

Keep an eye on what you eat

It’s easy to fall back on comfort foods when we’re feeling stressed and out of sorts.

And while it’s okay to indulge in a comfort snack here or there, Dr. Zumpano notes we want to make sure kids are getting balanced meals, with plenty of vegetables, at meal time.

“Really focus on the core of meals being a protein source, a fruit and a vegetable,” she says. “And the vegetable portion should exceed the portion of meat and fruit or starch.”

Have some healthy snack options available, too, and portion them out into bowls so kids aren’t eating right out of the box or bag.

Stay healthy through bedtime

If you’ve kept it healthy throughout the day, keep it going all the way. Dr. Zumpano reminds us it’s best to avoid snacks too close to bedtime, as night snacking is typically done out of habit, not out of hunger.

Instead, offer kids a healthy snack like an apple, celery sticks with natural peanut butte or an eight ounce glass of milk an hour or two before bedtime.

Why You Shouldn’t Wear Gloves to the Grocery Store

Man at grocery store with mask and no gloves

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, so do tips and advice on how you can protect yourself.  Plus with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommending face masks during essential trips (like going to the grocery store or pharmacy), you might be wondering if wearing gloves is a logical precaution.

“We’re seeing a lot of people out in public wearing gloves, which isn’t wrong so to say,” says infectious disease specialist Patricia Dandache, MD. “But unfortunately most people aren’t wearing or disposing of their gloves correctly, which defeats the whole purpose.”

There are many factors that play into why gloves aren’t always an effective protection measure outside of direct patient care. There could be a tear or rip in the gloves, you could put them on or take them off incorrectly, but most importantly,  the gloves could give you a false sense of security – and you end up touching everything you please, including your face, leading to self-contamination.

The glove itself is only good protection if the person wearing it follows good protective measures, but unfortunately most people will not.

Instead, Dr. Dandache recommends that your best bet is to go to the store without gloves and follow these steps:

  • Do not touch your face.
  • Do not touch your phone.
  • Practice social distancing while in the store. (Stay at least six feet away from others at all times.)
  • Limit the items or surfaces that you need to touch. (Now isn’t the time to scavenge through the entire apple pile.)
  • Wear a face mask – and do not touch the mask once it’s on your face.
  • Sanitize your hands (if possible) when you transition to your car and immediately wash your hands when you get home after unloading.

“Social distancing, not touching your face, sanitizing your hands after you’re done shopping, followed by washing your hands is a reasonable approach to avoid acquiring the virus in the store,” explains Dr. Dandache.

Gloves do not give you immunity nor permission to touch everything within reach either. Any germs that might be on your gloves can be transferred to all other surfaces and items you touch. This is why it’s counterproductive to wear gloves, yet continue to rummage through your purse or text on your phone while in the store.

The coronavirus can enter your body through mucous membranes, like in your nose and mouth. It does not enter your body through your hands, but the hands can transport the viral particles to the mucus membranes. There’s even the possibility that the virus could stick to the latex in gloves better than it could adhere to your own skin.

Still, for those who swear by gloves, it’s important to avoid cross-contamination when wearing them, otherwise they offer you no protection. It’s also critical to follow the CDC’s recommendation on how to correctly remove them.

“Many people don’t take off their gloves the right way, further contaminating themselves and others around them,” says Dr. Dandache. “And you should never, ever reuse gloves.”

In case you’re unfamiliar, here’s a quick recap of how to safely remove your gloves:

  • Grasp the outside of one glove at the wrist, but be careful not touch your skin.
  • Peel the glove away from your body, pulling it inside out.
  • Hold the glove you just removed in your other gloved hand.
  • Peel off the second glove by putting your fingers inside the glove at the top of your wrist.
  • Turn the second glove inside out while pulling it away from your body, leaving the first glove inside the second.
  • Throw the gloves into the trash immediately. (Don’t leave them in the store parking lot outside of your vehicle or try to reuse them later.)
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer directly after you’ve removed the gloves.

Can Too Many Soft Drinks Shorten Your Life?

Study links all soda to early death
Young woman sipping soda through a straw

Once again, soft drinks are getting linked with negative effects on your health.

And this time, it’s not just the consequences on your waistline and scale. Instead, one study found that consuming any type of soft drink contributes to an early death.

Let’s say that louder for the people in the back.

According to the study – drinking soda shortens your lifespan. Period.

The study looked at data on 451,743 people with an average age of 50. And the results showed that it didn’t matter whether the people were drinking soft drinks with real or artificially added sugar.

“The striking finding was in nearly half a million people, there was an increased risk of death from all causes, including heart disease, with people that consumed sugar-sweetened beverages, sodas, and artificial sweeteners,” says Mark Hyman, MD, who did not take part in the study. Results showed that people who consumed two or more glasses a day of soft drinks, sugar-sweetened or artificially-sweetened beverages had an increased risk of death from cardiovascular or digestive diseases.

Nothing but bad news

Dr. Hyman says that diet soda is not a “free pass” to consume soda without the negatives.

When it comes to artificial sweeteners, other studies have shown they are linked to obesity, diabetes, increased hunger, and can impact your metabolism.

“Diet drinks have artificial sweeteners in them that affect your brain chemistry, make you hungry, and can slow your metabolism,” says Dr. Hyman. “They affect your gut microbiome in ways that are not good.”

Instead of soda, or sugar-sweetened drinks, Dr. Hyman recommends looking for sparkling water or water with a small amount of fresh fruit added to it. “The key message here is – soda, sugar-sweetened beverages, and artificial sweeteners are not good for you,” says Dr. Hyman. “They contribute to death from all causes and heart disease, so we should not be consuming them.”

5 Best Exercises for People with Diabetes

woman smiling near tree

If you have diabetes, exercise offers surprising benefits. As it lowers your stress levels, it lowers your blood sugar level.

How much exercise is right for you? For people with diabetes, The National Institutes of Health  (NIH) recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week. Exercise is so important for people with diabetes that the American Diabetes Association recommends that these patients miss no more than two days of aerobic exercise in a row.

5 exercises for people with diabetes

There are many exercises that will benefit people with diabetes. Here are five we recommend:

  1. Walking — Because anyone can do it almost anywhere, walking is the most popular exercise and one we highly recommend for people with diabetes. Thirty minutes to one hour of brisk walking, three times each week is a great, easy way to increase your physical activity.
  1. Tai Chi —This Chinese form of exercise uses slow, smooth body movements to relax the mind and body. In 2009, researchers at the University of Florida studied 62 Korean women assigned to one of two groups—a control group and an exercise group that began a regular practice of Tai Chi. Those who completed the tai chi sessions showed significant improvement in blood sugar control. They also reported increased vitality, energy and mental health.
  1. Yoga — A traditional form of exercise, yoga incorporates fluid movements that build flexibility, strength and balance. It is helpful for people with a variety of chronic conditions, including diabetes. It lowers stress and improves nerve function, which leads to an increased state of mental health and wellness. According to the ADA, yoga may improve blood glucose levels due to improved muscle mass.
  1. Dancing —Dancing is not only great for your body. The mental work to remember dance steps and sequences actually boosts brain power and improves memory.  For those with diabetes, it is a fun and exciting way to increase physical activity, promote weight loss, improve flexibility, lower blood sugar and reduce stress. Chair dancing, which incorporates the use of a chair to support people with limited physical abilities, makes dancing an option for many people. In just 30 minutes, a 150-pound adult can burn up to 150 calories.
  1. Swimming — Swimming stretches and relaxes your muscles and doesn’t put pressure on your joints, which is great for people with diabetes. For those with diabetes or at risk for developing diabetes, studies show it improves cholesterol levels, burns calories and lowers stress levels. To get the most benefit from swimming, we recommend that you swim at least three times a week for at least ten minutes and gradually increase the length of the workout. Make sure to have a snack and monitor blood sugars. Lastly, let the lifeguard know that you have diabetes before you get in the pool.

 

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Exercise safety

Before starting an exercise program, talk to your doctor to be sure the exercise you choose is safe and appropriate for your type of diabetes. Remember to start slowly, especially if you have not been physically active for a while.

Below, find other safety tips:

  • Check your blood sugar before and after exercise until you are aware of how your body responds to exercise.
  • Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, make sure your blood sugar is less than 250 mg/dl before exercising. For people with Type 1 diabetes, exercising with a blood sugar higher than 250 mg/dl may cause ketoacidosis, which can be a life threatening condition resulting from a lack of insulin in the blood.
  • Do a five-minute warm-up before and a five-minute cool down after exercising.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to prevent dehydration.
  • Be prepared for any episodes of low blood sugar.  Have something available that can bring sugar levels up, such as hard candy, glucose tablets or 4 oz. of juice.
  • Wear a medical alert ID band. If an emergency occurs, EMS will know how to treat you properly.
  • Always carry a cell phone.
  • Avoid exercising in extremely hot or cold temperatures.
  • Wear proper shoes and socks to protect your feet.

Listen to your body. If you become short of breath, dizzy or lightheaded, stop exercising. Report any unusual problems you experience to your doctor.

3 Vitamins That Are Best for Boosting Your Immunity

Older woman prepares healthy drink with immune boosting ingredients

The old saying, “An apple a day can keep the doctor away,” may have truth behind it after all. Eating nourishing foods rich in certain vitamins can help your immune system fight off illness.

We talked to registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, for a closer look at these vitamins, what foods you can find them in and how they can help keep you healthy. Here’s what she had to say:

  • Vitamin C is one of the biggest immune system boosters of all. In fact, a lack of vitamin C can even make you more prone to getting sick. Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, kale and broccoli. Daily intake of vitamin C is essential for good health because your body doesn’t produce or store it. The good news is that vitamin C is in so many foods that most people don’t need to take a vitamin C supplement unless a doctor advises it.
  • Vitamin B6 is vital to supporting biochemical reactions in the immune system. Vitamin B6-rich foods include chicken and cold water fish such as salmon and tuna. Vitamin B6 also is found in green vegetables and in chickpeas, which is the main ingredient in hummus.
  • Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight off infection. Foods rich in vitamin E include nuts, seeds and spinach.

How to grocery shop to boost your immunity

A simple rule can help you when choosing fruits and vegetables at the grocery store or farmers market: The more colorful the fruits and vegetables are, the better.

“Try to eat a wide variety foods, and aim to eat fruit and vegetables from every color of the rainbow,” Zumpano says. “Your plate be more enticing to look at, and you will ensure that you’re getting as many health-boosting vitamins and nutrients as possible.”

It’s also important to know that you build a strong immune system by maintaining healthy eating habits over time. You can’t eat four oranges at breakfast and expect to be protected that day against catching a cold.

Can supplements help your immunity?

While vitamins and supplements can help fill in the gaps in your diet, the best way to load up on essential nutrients is to get them straight from food.

Your body absorbs and uses vitamins and nutrients better when they come from a dietary source. When it’s a vitamin or supplement,  it’s often questionable how much you’re actually getting. Because supplements are regulated as foods, not as drugs, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t evaluate the quality of supplements or assess their effects on the body.

Some supplements may have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. Supplements can also cause problems if you have certain health conditions. And the effects of many supplements haven’t been tested in children, pregnant women and other groups.

It’s especially important to avoid taking vitamin E supplements. Not only is there little clinical research showing that vitamin E supplements benefit your health, they may be harmful in some situations.

For these reasons, experts say it’s best to get vitamins through food rather than supplements.

“Talk with your healthcare provider if you’re thinking about taking dietary supplements,” Zumpano says.

Staying hydrated can boost your immune health too, Zumpano says. Water helps your body produce lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune system cells. Try to avoid overdoing beverages that can made you dehydrated, like coffee. Or try eating more hydrating foods, such as cucumbers, celery or watermelon.

Are Artificial Sweeteners OK for Kids?

Mother spoon-feeding yogurt to toddler

Diet soda. Low-sugar ketchup. Light yogurt.

What do these foods all have in common? They’re all common items on grocery shelves, and they all probably contain some form of artificial sweeteners.

These are substances that give foods and beverages a sweet taste with minimal calories and no sugar. And in one recent study, more than one in four children reported eating or drinking something that contained an artificial sweetener on a given day.

While some people think that swapping sugar for artificial sweeteners is an easy way to reduce their kids’ sugar consumption, a lot of questions about them still remain. Are artificial sweeteners safe for kids to consume? And do they actually help with weight loss? Unfortunately, the answers aren’t exactly straightforward.

The sticky situation with sugar

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 17% of calories in kids’ diets comes from sugar — and half of that comes from drinks with added sugar. (For reference, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10% of anyone’s daily calories come from added sugar.)

“Excessive sugar consumption, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages, contributes to childhood obesity,” says pediatric dietitian Hanna Freeman, MS, RD, CSP, LD. Sugar is digested quickly in the body, which can cause rapid blood sugar spikes that can leave a child feeling hungry after eating — or make them crave even more sugar, she says.

For a child who needs between 1,300 to 1,500 calories a day, just one 12 oz. can of soda alone can push them past the recommended 10% added sugar limit.

“I have found that many children with obesity may drink up to three to four sugar-sweetened beverages per day, which far exceeds the daily allowance for added sugar,” Freeman adds.

Sugar also lacks nutrition from fiber, vitamins or minerals, Freeman explains. So if children consume a large percentage of their calories from sugar, they’re likely missing out on other foods that provide essential nutrients needed for growth and development.

The scoop on sweeteners

Because artificial sweeteners contain minimal calories and no sugar, they don’t cause those troublesome blood sugar spikes, and some people assume they are healthier than sugar.

Some of the most recognizable ones are:

  • Sucralose (Splenda®).
  • Saccharin (Sweet’N Low®).
  • Stevia (Truvia®).
  • Acesulfame potassium, or Ace-K (Sweet One®).
  • Monk fruit extract.
  • Aspartame (Equal®).

But whether artificially sweetened foods and beverages are healthier options than sugary foods and beverages isn’t exactly clear. When it comes to weight, Freeman notes that some studies have shown an association between artificial sweeteners and short-term weight loss or weight stability, but studies on their long-term effects are lacking.

There’s also still a lot to learn about other ways that artificial sweeteners may affect people’s health. Some studies have shown that certain ones may alter the makeup of important bacteria in the gut. Early animal studies also linked certain sweeteners to increased risk for cancer, but newer studies have not found this association.

The Food and Drug Administration has established acceptable daily intake levels for sweeteners, which is the amount thought to be safe to consume based on someone’s body weight. But because manufacturers aren’t required to disclose exactly how much sweetener they put in products, it’s not easy for parents to know how much their child is consuming.

Freeman offers this general guidance: “A child with obesity who is drinking multiple sugar-sweetened beverages per day may benefit from replacing these drinks with sugar-free alternatives to reduce sugar and calorie intake. But I generally recommend no more than one or two 8 oz. cups of beverages that contain non-nutritive sweeteners per day.”

Strategies for less sugar

It’s important to remember that “sugar-free” is not the same thing as healthy. The best option overall is to set kids up for long-term success by helping them establish healthy eating habits centered on whole foods and minimal added sugar.

“There is strong evidence showing that lower intake of added sugars is associated with reduced risk for cardiovascular disease in adults and moderate evidence for reduced risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancers in adults,” Freeman says.

She offers these tips for minimizing added sugar intake in the household:

  1. Make water and cow’s milk your No. 1 beverages of choice for kids.
  2. Read food labels and choose items that contain less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.
  3. Add fruit to whole grain cereal or oatmeal for natural sweetness, instead of buying sugary cereals.
  4. Swap out white sugar in baked goods for honey, which contains antioxidants; maple syrup, which provides potassium; or agave, which contains trace amounts of iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium.

A Beginner’s Guide to Healthy Meal Prep

meal prepping for healthy lunches and dinners

If your plan to churn out healthy homemade dinners all week tends to come completely unraveled by Thursday (thank goodness for that box of macaroni and cheese you found in the back of the cupboard), you’re not alone. Healthy eating can easily fall by the wayside when you’re juggling a busy schedule and lots of responsibilities.

One trick that many healthy eaters swear by to save time and keep them on track? Meal prepping.

If what immediately comes to mind is an image of bland chicken breast, rice and green beans perfectly portioned out into a week’s worth of containers, try not to give up on the idea just yet.

While that’s one way to meal prep, it certainly isn’t the only way. In fact, there’s no one magic formula for meal prep — and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a strategy that can be adapted to each person’s unique schedule and lifestyle to help you become more efficient in the kitchen.

How meal prep helps

Meal prepping simply means preparing or batch-cooking meals, snacks or ingredients ahead of time, to make healthy eating easier during your busier days.

For one person that might mean making a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches that they can reheat at work. For another, it might mean just chopping up some extra veggies and making a homemade salad dressing to use throughout the week.

“You can quickly make multiple days’ worth of food and then not worry about meals the rest of the week,” explains registered dietitian Anna Kippen, MS, RDN, LD.

And, knowing you have something waiting in the fridge might make you less likely to swing through the drive-thru for an emergency lunch or dinner.

It’s also a fantastic way to mix things up and get more variety in your diet, Kippen says, because it forces you to plan ahead and brainstorm your meals in advance, rather than relying on your tried-and-true meals in a pinch.

Whatever your meal prep style or reason, here’s how to get started.

Step 1: Think storage

Before you even start thinking about what you’re going to make, it’s important think about how you’re going to keep everything fresh and organized.

“My best recommendation is to get good-quality, airtight, microwave- and dishwasher-safe containers,” Kippen says. “Good-quality containers will not have to be replaced for a long time, so it’s worth the money to get a good set you will love.”

Make sure that whatever you get includes a variety of sized containers, including some small ones to store sauces and dressing separately (because no one likes a soggy salad).

Step 2: Make a game plan

Next, Kippen suggests picking a day and time that you will dedicate to preparing meals so that it becomes routine.

“Make sure it’s a day where you have a few hours to spend,” she says. “Most of my patients love Sunday for this.”

If you’re grimacing at the thought of giving up a good chunk of your precious weekend to this cause, Kippen recommends choosing a day earlier in the week to plan and do your grocery shopping.

Step 3: Pick your recipes

Now it’s time to choose what you’re going to make and write up a shopping list. Your meals can be specific recipes or just combinations of simple proteins, whole grains and vegetables.

Kippen offers these tips for making good picks:

  1. Make sure any recipes you pick are well-rounded and include vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.
  2. If any of your recipes contain excessive amounts of fat, sugar and salt, plan to make substitutions or reduce the amount of salt, sugar or oil in the recipe.
  3. Start simple. Choose meals that are easy to prepare and don’t contain a ton of ingredients. (Now’s not the time to attempt Boeuf Bourguignon.) “Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed with complicated recipes when you’re just getting started,” Kippen says.
  4. Choose ingredients with a variety of colors and textures. Different textures will keep your palate interested, and different colors will give you a variety of micronutrients that will benefit your body.
  5. Consider meals where you can reuse ingredients. For example, make a batch of baked chicken, and then serve it one day with steamed broccoli and a sweet potato, and another day over greens with some whole-grain crackers.
  6. Look for recipes that can be cooked in a slow cooker or pressure cooker to save even more time.
  7. Avoid making the same meal two weeks in a row. Even your favorite recipe will get old if you eat it too often.

Some healthy meal prep ideas for the week include:

  • Peanut butter sandwich on 100% whole grain bread with a small bag of baby carrots.
  • Chicken vegetable stir fry over brown rice.
  • Burrito bowl with brown rice or cauliflower rice; black beans; tomatoes; sautéed peppers and onions; a few thin slice of avocado and a sprinkle of cheese.
  • Lentil vegetable soup.
  • Roasted chicken, sweet potato and cauliflower or Brussels sprouts.

Step 4: Ready, set, go!

Ready to get to work? Make your time in the kitchen as enjoyable as possible by cranking up some tunes, or putting on an audiobook or podcast. Or, invite a family member or friend to join you.

Once your food is made, cooled and transferred into an airtight containers, it should last about three to four days in the refrigerator.

But if a recipe makes more than you can eat in that time – or if you get sick of eating one of the meals you prepped – just pop the remaining servings into the freezer. “In a week or two, it’ll be a quick option when you don’t feel like cooking,” Kippen says.

Speaking of the freezer, Kippen recommends keeping frozen berries and a variety of frozen vegetables on hand, too. They’re pre-washed, pre-chopped and can be microwave-steamed in a pinch.

Remember, meal prep isn’t all-or-nothing, and there’s no definitive right or wrong way to do it. So find what works for you, and don’t worry about being perfect. A few small steps done in advance can go a long way.

11 Best High-Fiber Foods

A bowl of high fiber lentil salad

You may not think much about fiber — until you find yourself dealing with an, er, irregular situation.

Indeed, dietary fiber is a magic ingredient that keeps you regular. But thwarting constipation is not its only job. “Fiber does lots of cool stuff in the body,” says registered dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDCES.

Here’s why you need it — and where to get it.

Benefits of a high-fiber diet

Fiber is an unsung hero. Among its claims to fame, a high-fiber diet can:

  • Soften stool and prevent constipation.
  • Lower cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease.
  • Reduce the risk of diseases such as colorectal cancer.
  • Keep blood sugar levels from spiking.
  • Make you feel full longer, which can help you lose weight.

There are two types of fiber, both of which are good for you:

  • Soluble fiber pulls in water. It slows digestion and lowers cholesterol. Soluble fiber is found in foods such as beans, seeds, peas, barley, oat bran and some fruits and vegetables.
  • Insoluble fiber is your classic roughage. It helps stool speed through the intestines. You’ll find it in foods such as whole grains, wheat bran and the peels and seeds of fruits and veggies.

Aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day, Taylor says — and a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber is ideal.

What foods are high in fiber?

Fiber comes from plants, so don’t bother looking for it in your chicken dinner. But the plant kingdom has a lot to offer, and the best sources of dietary fiber might surprise you. Here are Taylor’s top 11.

1. Whole-wheat pasta

Carbs get a bad rap, but whole grains are a great source of fiber and are also rich in healthy phytonutrients, Taylor says. Skip the white pasta (which has been stripped of all the good stuff), and go for whole-wheat instead.

Nutrition information: 1 cup cooked = 7g fiber, 180 calories, 38g carbs, 8g protein.

2. Barley

“Barley is a delicious grain that’s often overlooked,” Taylor says. Try tossing it in soups or mix up a grain bowl with your favorite meat and veggies.

Nutrition information: 1 cup cooked = 6g fiber, 190 calories, 44g carbs, 4g protein.

3. Chickpeas

“Legumes are star players. They’re some of the best sources of protein and fiber, they help keep you full, and they have amazing nutrient composition,” Taylor says. Chickpeas are a fiber-full favorite from the legume list. Add them to soups or salads, snack on chickpea hummus or roast them whole for a crunchy, shelf-stable snack.

Nutrition information: ½ cup cooked = 6g fiber, 140 calories, 23g carbs, 7g protein.

4. Edamame

Edamame, or immature soybeans, have a mild flavor and pleasing texture. They’re also one of the few plant sources that contain all the amino acids your body needs, so they’re a great choice for vegans and vegetarians. You can find them in the frozen food section, still in the pod or already shelled. Add edamame to salads and stir-fries, Taylor suggests. (Edamame is often a big hit for kids to snack on, too.)

Nutrition information: ½ cup boiled and shelled = 4g fiber, 100 calories, 7g carbs, 9g protein.

5. Lentils and split peas

These two legumes have similar nutrition profiles and are used in similar ways. “Lentils and split peas are nutritional powerhouses,” says Taylor. They cook quickly and are great in soups. Try swapping lentils for some of the meat in your chili to boost the plant-powered goodness, she recommends.

Nutrition information:

Lentils, ½ cup cooked = 8g fiber, 120 calories, 20g carbs, 9g protein.

Split peas, ½ cup boiled = 8g fiber, 120 calories, 20g carbs, 8g protein.

6. Berries

“All berries are good for you, but blackberries and raspberries have the most fiber,” Taylor says. They’re also delicious. Fresh berries can be expensive, but frozen are often more economical. If you don’t love the mushy texture of thawed berries, blend them into a smoothie or stir them into your oatmeal, she suggests. “You can also cook them down and put them on waffles in place of syrup.”

Nutrition information: 1 cup = 8g fiber, 70 calories, 15g carbs, 5g sugar.

7. Pears

Another fruit, pears, are a fantastic source of fiber, Taylor says. And compared to many other fruits, they’re particularly high in soluble fiber.

Nutrition information: 1 medium pear = 6g fiber, 100 calories, 28g carbs, 17g sugar.

8. Artichokes hearts

Artichoke hearts are packed with fiber. Add them to salads or pile them on pizza. If dealing with these spiky veggies is too daunting, try the canned kind, Taylor says. (But if you’re eating canned, keep an eye on sodium levels so you don’t go overboard.)

Nutrition information: ½ cup cooked = 7g fiber, 45 calories, 9g carbs, 2g protein, 1g sugar.

9. Brussels sprouts

If you’ve been avoiding Brussels sprouts since you were a kid, they’re worth a second look. “Brussels sprouts are awesome,” Taylor says. They’re delicious roasted or sautéed. (Plus, they’re cute.)

Nutrition information: 1 cup cooked = 5g fiber, 60 calories, 12g carbs, 3g sugars, 5g protein.

10. Chia seeds

A spoonful of chia seeds can go a long way. “They’re incredibly rich in fiber, contain omega-3 fatty acids and have a nice protein punch, too,” Taylor says. “You can throw them in oatmeal, yogurt, pudding, cereal, salads and smoothies.”

Many people love the jelly-like texture. If you aren’t one of them, try mixing them into a smoothie or yogurt right before you eat it, so they don’t have as much time to absorb water and plump up.

Nutrition information: 2 tablespoons = 10g fiber, 140 calories, 12g carbs, 5g protein.

11. Haas avocados

Haas avocados are a great source of healthy fats. And unlike most fiber-rich foods, you can use them like a condiment, Taylor says. “You can spread avocado on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise, or put it on your toast if you’re a true millennial.” Guacamole (with whole-grain crackers or paired with raw veggies) is another delicious way to get your daily fiber.

Nutrition information: ½ avocado = 5 g fiber, 120 calories, 6g carbs, 1g protein.

Eating more fiber? Read this first!

Before you jump on the fiber bandwagon, a word of caution: “Add fiber to your diet slowly,” Taylor says. If you aren’t used to a lot of fiber, eating too much can cause bloating and cramping. Increase high-fiber foods gradually over a few weeks to avoid that inflated feeling.

Another important tip: “When adding fiber to your diet, be sure to drink enough water,” she says. Fiber pulls in water. That’s a good thing, but if you aren’t drinking enough, it can make constipation worse. To keep things moving, drink at least 2 liters of fluids each day.

“If you increase your fiber slowly and steadily, and drink lots of fluid, your body will adjust,” Taylor says. And you’ll be glad it did.