What Can Tea Really Do for Your Health? 3 Myths, Debunked

What Can Tea Really Do for Your Health? 3 Myths, Debunked

Makers of detoxifying teas tout the amazing weight-loss benefits and awesome antioxidant cleansing power of their products. But do they really work and are they safe to use? Before you run to your local health food store, you should know the truth behind three myths about detox teas.

Myth No. 1: Detox teas are healthier than green or black teas

The facts: Although there is some conflicting research, specialty detoxifying tea products likely do not offer any more true health benefits than plain green tea or black tea, says dietitian Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD.

Green and black teas are both made from a shrub called Camellia sinensis. For black tea, the leaves oxidize before they’re dried.

To produce green tea, tea makers halt the oxidation process, so the leaves retain their color. “Both green and black teas offer health benefits,” says Ms. Taylor. “However, green tea touts more phytonutrient and antioxidant content than black tea.”

Detox tea products, on the other hand, contain other ingredients in addition to black or green tea leaves and claim to help the body’s natural detoxification processes.

Makers of many detox teas target those who want to lose weight, so the products contain ingredients that are diuretics (such as nettle leaf or dandelion leaf) or laxatives (such as senna leaf).

“This does not facilitate increased fat burning, just temporary decreased weight due to loss of body waste and water weight,” Ms. Taylor says.

Myth No. 2: Detox teas can help you lose weight

The facts: Marketers of detoxifying tea target those who want to lose weight or inches, but these products typically lead to short-term, non-sustainable weight loss.

“No tea, no matter what it contains, can counteract the damage of a poor diet,” says Ms. Taylor.

The best ways to boost your body’s natural detox capabilities?

  • Eat plenty of fiber (at least 25-35 grams per day) to support regular bowel movements.
  • Drink plenty of fluid (at least 64-80 ounces per day).
  • Include at least between five and nine handfuls of fruits and vegetables each day in your diet , especially cruciferous veggies (such as broccoli, bok choy and cabbage), and vividly colored produce (such as berries and green leafy vegetables).
  • Exercise regularly (since the body flushes out toxins via sweat as well as through urine and bowel movements).

Myth No. 3: Detox teas can cleanse your body

The question remains: Do detox teas actually do what they say they’ll do — flush toxins out of your system?

The facts: “We don’t have any evidence they actually help flush toxins out of the body more so than green tea alone,” Ms. Taylor says. “Your organs — kidneys, liver and GI tract — as well as your immune system comprise your body’s own natural detoxification center; research fails to prove any added benefits from detox teas.”

As an alternative, Ms. Taylor suggests drinking green tea over black tea and detox tea.

“Green tea is typically lower in caffeine and higher in antioxidants,” she says. “Antioxidants protect cells from free radical damage, helping your body continue to function normally. This includes fortifying the organs and immune system that are in charge of detoxification.”

The bottom-line truth about tea

Like most things that seem too good to be true, specialty tea products don’t have miracle weight loss properties. And you can count on your body to detoxify naturally.

But green tea is a healthy addition to your diet. And drinking black tea likely doesn’t hurt either.

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The Best Foods to Help Relieve Your Joint Pain

The Best Food to Help Relieve Your Joint Pain

You may already be taking medicines — either prescription or over-the-counter — to relieve morning stiffness, inflammation and pain in your joints. But many studies show that certain foods, spices and supplements may help in addition to medicines.

We talked with registered dietitians Kylene Bogden MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN  and Liz DeJulius, RDN, LDN about which healthy foods may help ease your joint pain. Here’s their recommendations on what to eat.

The Mediterranean diet

Many studies have found that the Mediterranean diet has various health benefits, some of which seem to overlap those attributed to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

A Mediterranean diet consists of a high level of low-glycemic fruit, vegetables and legumes; a high level of unsaturated fats, especially olive oil, complemented by a modest amount of alcohol, mainly in the form of wine; a moderate to high level of wild fish; and a low level of dairy products and red meat.

A 2015 Michigan study showed correlations between a whole-foods, plant-based diet and significantly improved self-assessed functional status and reduction in pain among adult patients with osteoarthritis, Ms. DeJulius says. A whole-foods, plant-based diet consisted of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains and is free of refined foods, which follows the Mediterranean approach.

Fish oil

The beneficial effects of fish oils are attributed to their omega-3 fatty acid content. Studies of fish oil consumption show that it has anti-inflammatory benefits and is particularly helpful for joint pain.

Natural sources of fish oil include cold-water fish, such as wild salmon, trout and sardines. Vegan and vegetarian sources included flax seed, chia seeds and organic soybeans.

A 2008 Australian study is one of many that showed fish oil reduced joint pain, increased cardiovascular health and reduced the need for NSAIDs.

“Just one serving of cold-water fish twice a week is enough,” Ms. Bogden says. She recommends a high-quality daily fish oil supplement in addition to consuming natural dietary sources.

Cruciferous vegetables

“In addition to other vegetables, you should try to eat a half cup of a cruciferous vegetable every day, such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts or kale,” Ms. Bogden says. “These are all nutritional powerhouses, chock full of antioxidants, vitamins and fiber.”

In 2005, a team of researchers in Maryland studied the effects of sulphoraphane, an antioxidant compound found in cruciferous vegetables, and found that it blocks an enzyme that causes joint pain and inflammation. In addition to aiding arthritis patients, it may be helpful for athletes who put a lot of pressure on their joints.

Spices and herbs

Turmeric and ginger are spices noted for their anti-inflammatory benefit. Often used in Indian cuisine, turmeric also is used in traditional Asian medicine for its anti-inflammatory properties.

A 2006 Arizona study showed promising research linking turmeric to the prevention of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.

Add turmeric and ginger to smoothies, eggs, or sauces for an anti-inflammatory punch, Ms. DeJulius says.

Green tea

Green tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and its effects on health is the subject of much research.

A 2008 study in Maryland showed that green tea induced changes in arthritis-related immune responses.

Long-term use of NSAIDs can have adverse effects and cause discomfort; the polyphenolic compounds from green tea possess anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to be an effective complement to nutritional therapy.

Ms. DeJulius recommends choosing organic green tea to reduce exposure to pesticides.

Foods to avoid

Ms. Bogden recommends avoiding certain foods if you’re trying to lessen joint pain.

“Sugars and refined grains, including white rice, pasta and white bread, are the worst food culprits when it comes to reducing or relieving joint inflammation,” she says.

Ms. DeJulius recommends limiting daily added sugar to six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men. When using sugar, choose natural sources like honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar.

“Red meat such as beef, lamb, pork — anything from an animal with four legs — also will increase inflammation. Another big no-no, for many health reasons, is trans fat or partially hydrogenated oil,” she says.

Ms. DeJulius recommends avoiding omega-6 fatty acids. The American diet is generally higher in omega-6s due to the high consumption of processed foods. The extra consumption of omega-6s can promote inflammation. Sources include corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil and vegetable oil. Check the ingredients lists for condiments such as mayonnaise and salad dressing.

If you feel that you’ve cleaned up your diet and are still experiencing food-related joint pain, Ms. DeJulius recommends meeting with a registered dietitian who is proficient in identifying food sensitivities for a personalized approach.

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The fast-acting Sweet Defeat spray, made from the herb Gymnema, is designed for an instant block of cravings. Just apply 3-4 sprays on the tongue and enjoy a minty refresher while putting up a wall against sugar indulgences.

Trash It or Eat It? The Truth About Expiration Dates

The label on the eggs in your fridge says “best by” yesterday’s date. Is it safe to make one last omelet? You hate to waste the eggs, but you also don’t want to get sick.

Registered dietitian Anna Kippen, MS, RDN, LD, offers up some food safety guidance for all your food groups.

Navigating food expiration dates

You’ll see dates on many perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. But you might be surprised to learn that they aren’t usually about food safety.

According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, manufacturers put “best by” or “best if used by” dates on their products to let retail stores and consumers know how long their products are expected to maintain their best taste and texture.

These dates aren’t required by federal law (though some states require them) and don’t necessarily indicate a product’s safety (with the exception of baby formula). In fact, perishable products are usually safe to consume beyond their “best by” date if they’ve been handled and stored properly.

But there’s no hard and fast rule here — it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether it’s a good idea to go ahead and make that omelet du jour, or to toss the eggs and opt for a bowl of oatmeal instead.

Check your food for these surefire signs of spoilage:

  • Smells “off.”
  • Is moldy.
  • Has a different texture than you would expect.
  • Has an unpleasant taste.

General guidelines for freshness

These items should be safe in the fridge or pantry for the following amount of time:

  • Milk: 7 days (Tip: Keep milk in the back of the fridge, where temperature is typically coldest.)
  • Eggs: 3-5 weeks (Tip: Also store eggs in the back of the fridge, where the temperature is coldest.)
  • Ground meat/poultry: 1-2 days.
  • Cooked meat/poultry: 3-4 days.
  • Lunch meat: 2 weeks unopened, or 3-5 days opened.
  • Dry pasta: 1-2 years.
  • Steaks: 3-5 days.
  • Fresh poultry: 1-2 days.
  • Canned fruit: 12 to 18 months, or 5 to 7 days in the fridge after opening.
  • Rice and dried pasta: 2 years, or 3 to 4 days in the fridge after cooking.

Tips for freezing

If you aren’t going to be able to eat something in your fridge before it goes bad, consider tossing it in the freezer. You can safely freeze almost any food at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, with the exception of canned food and eggs in their shell, and it will not significantly reduce the amount of nutrients in that food.

“Freezing food can be a wonderful way to extend shelf life and keep quick, easy, healthy options on hand,” Kippen says.

To preserve the food’s quality as much as possible, wrap it in heavy-duty aluminum foil or airtight freezer bags. If your food becomes freezer burned, that doesn’t mean it’s unsafe to eat. Simply cut the freezer-burned portions away before you cook the food.

For the best quality, recommended freezer shelf life is:

  • Hamburger and other ground meats: 3-4 months.
  • Chicken or turkey (whole): 1 year.
  • Soups and stews: 2-3 months.
  • Lunch meat: 1-2 months.

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Natural Spray to cut your Sweet Cravings

The fast-acting Sweet Defeat spray, made from the herb Gymnema, is designed for an instant block of cravings. Just apply 3-4 sprays on the tongue and enjoy a minty refresher while putting up a wall against sugar indulgences.

5 Foods You Should Always Have in Your Fridge

5 Foods You Should Always Have in Your Fridge

One secret to preparing healthy meals is having the right ingredients on hand. Here are five basics our dietitians believe no fridge should be without:

1. Eggs

“Eggs really are the perfect food — especially local eggs that come from chickens you know,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD.

Conveniently packaged, eggs are rich in nutrients, low in calories and packed with high-quality protein.

“In moderation, eggs are an affordable, easy protein source for breakfast (in veggie omelets), snacks, salads and dinner (in stir-fries),” says Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDE.

Although you can eat unlimited egg whites, egg yolks are high in cholesterol.

“If you have, or are at risk for, heart disease, limit yourself to two to four egg yolks per week, depending on your risk factors,” advises Julia Zumpano, RD, LD.

“For general health, limit yourself to six or seven egg yolks per week (about one a day).”

She recommends keeping half a dozen hard-boiled eggs on hand for snacks or salads. They’ll keep in your fridge for one week.

2. Fresh veggies

“I keep a variety of fresh veggies in my fridge at all times: broccoli, bell peppers, carrots and other basics, plus fun veggies like sugar snap peas or asparagus,” says Ms. Taylor.

Think produce is expensive? “It should make up one-third of your diet, so it should take up one-third of your grocery budget,” she says.

For faster prep, buy veggies prewashed and precut (or do this yourself on weekends). Add veggies to your favorite recipes, dip them in hummus, saute them or roast them.

For Ms. Zumpano, it’s all about the leafy greens: They’re packed with vitamins (A, B2, B6, C, E and K, and folate) and minerals (calcium, copper, fiber, magnesium, potassium and zinc).

“I keep a large container of organic spinach, arugula, mixed baby greens or spring mix in my fridge at all times to add to soups, salads, rice, pasta, smoothies and protein shakes,” she says.

Love salads, but hate the prep? Buy salad kits in the produce section. “They allow you to make restaurant-quality salads in minutes,” says Hillary Sullivan, RDN, LD. Complete with crunchy toppings and dressing, just add a lean protein to your salad kit to make a meal.

“But beware of the high-calorie dressings,” she cautions. “I recommend using half the packaged dressing and half balsamic vinegar.”

3. Berries

“Berries are low in sugar, compared to other fruits, and quite versatile,” says Ms. Zumpano. They’re rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals (specifically vitamin C, folate, potassium and fiber).

She adds berries to cooked grains and dry whole-grain cereal, yogurt, smoothies and protein shakes.

Ms. Kirkpatrick is partial to blueberries. “I always have them on hand. You can take a handful for a quick snack, and blueberries are an easy add-on for oatmeal and salads,” she says.

4. Low-fat Greek yogurt

Plain, non-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt is a good source of probiotics and protein.

“It has twice the protein of regular yogurt, with none of the added sugar in flavored yogurts,” says Ms. Taylor. “Greek yogurt is definitely a staple in my home.”

Top yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit (and cinnamon) for breakfast or snacks.

“Or use 2% reduced-fat plain Greek yogurt to add instant tang, like sour cream or cream cheese would, to any meal,” says Ms. Sullivan.

Both dietitians suggest using Greek yogurt:

  • As a base for creamy dressings, dips and sauces
  • To replace mayonnaise in egg or tuna salad
  • As a substitute for sour cream on chili and tacos
  • To add protein to baked goods (like oatmeal banana pancakes)
  • To add protein to oatmeal

5. Other lean proteins

Cooked chicken breast. Grilled turkey burgers. Beans. Quinoa. “These ready-to-eat lean proteins make prepping dinner quick and easy at the end of a long day,” says Ms. Sullivan.

Ms. Kirkpatrick would add tempeh to that list. She uses it in a variety of meals and snacks.

“I love tempeh for two reasons,” she says. “First, because it’s made from soybeans, it provides wonderful isoflavones that help fight disease. Second, it’s fermented, which helps provide more good bacteria for my gut.”

So put these items on your grocery list, and keep your fridge well-stocked with them. You’ll find yourself enjoying healthy, amazing meals all week long

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7 Tips for Taking Turmeric

While a great addition to foods needing that golden hue, turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties that benefit your health. Registered dietitian Nicole Hopsecger, RD, shares advice on how to safely incorporate turmeric into your daily life.

What is turmeric?

brown gingers

Turmeric is a spice that comes from the turmeric plant. Its major active ingredient is curcumin. “Curcumin gives turmeric that yellowish color,” Hopsecger says. “But beware: It stains easily. Try not to get it on your clothing!”

Turmeric’s treasure lies in curcumin’s benefits. Curcumin has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Researchers are investigating whether it may help diseases in which inflammation plays a role — from arthritis to ulcerative colitis.

For example, in one study of patients with ulcerative colitis, those who took 2 grams of curcumin a day along with prescription medication were more likely to stay in remission than those who took the medicine alone. “It won’t necessarily help during an active flare-up, but it may help prolong remission,” Hopsecger explains.

Another clinical trial showed that 90 milligrams of curcumin taken twice a day for 18 months helped improve memory performance in adults without dementia. “Researchers thought that the reduction in brain inflammation and curcumin’s antioxidant properties led to less decline in neurocognition,” Hopsecger says. “Curcumin may also have a role in preventing the development of Alzheimer’s disease – however, that’s an area where we need more research.”

Turmeric has also been connected with less arthritis pain and lower cholesterol. “But I wouldn’t rely on a curcumin supplement alone,” Hopsecger notes. “Medical management and dietary changes should come first.”

How should you consume turmeric?

You can take turmeric as a supplement or use it as a spice. “Curcumin is more potent in a supplement because they’ve extracted it from the turmeric,” Hopsecger says. “If you are buying turmeric in the store, it does have some antioxidant properties. While using it as a spice may not have significant impact, it is a great way to season food without salt.”

Always talk to your doctor before starting a dietary supplement, since they could potentially interact with other medications you’re taking, Hopsecger recommends.

If you and your doctor agree, follow these seven tips:

1. Look for “phytosome technology”

Check the label for a product manufactured with “phytosome technology” (or Meriva® turmeric). This type of curcumin has 29 times greater absorption in the body compared to standard curcumin extracts.

2. Check your dose

While doctors commonly recommend taking 500 milligrams twice daily with food, the dose that’s right for you depends on your overall health. More isn’t always better, so talk to your doctor.

“It’s safe to take up to 8 grams per day, but my recommendation would be somewhere on the lighter side: 500 to 1,000 milligrams a day for the general population,” says Hopsecger.

For optimal absorption, try taking with heart healthy fats like oils, avocado, nuts and seeds, she adds.

3. Start low and build up

While most people tolerate turmeric very well, allergy or intolerance is possible, as is a bit of stomach upset. If you have a target dose in mind, start at the lowest dose and work your way up.

4. Being picky pays off

The quality of the raw materials makes a difference. Look for authentic Indian turmeric for cooking. For supplements, find a product with as few inactive ingredients and fillers as possible.

“Make sure it’s marked as USP verified. You’ll see a little silver stamp on the label, which means that it’s gone through rigorous testing to ensure quality and purity,” Hopsecger says.

5. Don’t stock up

With both supplements and spices, buy just enough, then replenish your supply. Their quality is depleted by being repeatedly exposed to air. Store them in a cool, dark place.

6. Don’t stop your medicines

Turmeric can help supplement your conventional care, but it’s not a substitute for medicine.

“No dietary supplement can replace medications or even a well-rounded diet,” Hopsecger cautions. “If your diet is poor, taking a curcumin supplement isn’t going to do anything miraculous.”

7. Listen to your body

While the risk of side effects is low and drug interactions are unlikely, stop taking turmeric if you notice ill effects. Turmeric may cause bloating, and there is a theoretical concern that it may interact with blood-clotting medications. Also avoid it if you have gallbladder disease.

How to cook with turmeric

Not ready to commit to a supplement? While cooking with turmeric doesn’t give you as big of a health boost, you can still benefit by adding it to:

  • Smoothies.
  • Soups.
  • Scrambled eggs.
  • Muffins.
  • Rice.
  • Roasted veggies.

“It’s one of the main ingredients in a curry sauce — it’s potent, pungent, bitter and very earthy,” says Hopsecger. “I always think of that curry smell as being what turmeric tastes like. If you buy the whole, dried turmeric seed and grind it into powder, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.”

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Convenient and discrete to use in any situation. The lozenge dissolves on the tongue in 2-3 minutes and works instantly.

6 Ways to Fight Your Sweet Cravings

6 Ways to Fight Your Sweet and Salty Cravings

Are you forever trying to give up sweets or salty snacks? If you think cravings are the reason the number on your scale won’t budge, take heart.

It is possible to lose your cravings. If you’re like most people, you’re just not going about it the right way. These tips for success from our dietitians should help:

1. Keep your body well-fueled all day

Forget about dieting. “Focus on building healthy, portion-controlled meals from foods bursting with nutrients, then taper your calories throughout the day,” advises Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD.  “And never, ever skip meals.”

Eating regularly throughout the day helps control cravings. “Keep meal and snack times consistent,” advises Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD. “Eat breakfast within one or two hours of waking up, and allow no more than four to six hours between meals.”

Adds Jennifer Willoughby, RD, CSP, LD, “Include a protein source in every meal and snack. This helps aid satiety to curb your cravings.”

Crave something sweet or salty? Choose foods with nutritional value: whole grain crackers, nuts, fresh fruit, plain yogurt topped with fruit, dark chocolate that’s over 70 percent cacao.

And be prepared:

  • Stash healthy snacks in your purse, desk or messenger bag.
  • Plan dinners ahead of time so your mind, and not your stomach, decides the menu.

Finally, avoid being too restrictive. “Enjoying appropriate portions of sweet treats from time to time can help keep you on track,” says Ms. Willoughby.

2. Don’t rely on diet soda

Are you trying to satisfy your sweet tooth with diet soda? Drinking artificially sweetened beverages has no effect on weight, studies show. If anything, diet beverages are more likely to expand your waistline.

“Artificial sweeteners tend to make us overeat,” explains Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD. “Eventually, they encourage many of us to turn to the real thing: sugar.”

Some animal studies also suggest that artificial sweeteners make our bodies resist insulin. This may increase the likelihood that we’ll develop prediabetes or diabetes, and could increase the risk of heart disease.

Want to quench your thirst? “Try seltzer water with natural flavoring or add lemon, cucumber or berries to your water,” she advises.

3. Reprogram your taste buds

How do you retrain your taste buds? “Crowd out the addictive sweet and salty foods with real foods. It’s difficult to overeat foods that come from the earth,” says Brigid Titgemeier, MS, RDN, LD.

Instead of pretzels and chips, enjoy air-popped popcorn, popcorn made with extra virgin olive oil, or unsalted mixed nuts.

Try replacing sugary treats with berries and dark chocolate (over 70 percent). Add a bit of nut butter for protein and healthy fat. “I like to snack on a piece of dark chocolate with cashew butter. The fat from the cashew butter helps turn off some of those sweet cravings,” she says.

Other options include berry herbal teas, frozen berries, and homemade nut balls sweetened with two to three medjool dates.

Adds Ms. Taylor, “With patience and practice, what used to taste sweet to you will start tasting too sweet. Juicy, fresh blueberries can be enough to satisfy a sweet tooth once you stop bombarding your taste buds with candy, sweet drinks and foods sweetened with hidden sugars.”

Similarly, after eating less salt for several weeks — by cutting down on processed foods, convenience foods, restaurant foods and the salt shaker — a little salt will start tasting like a lot of salt. And you’ll need less to satisfy your salt craving.

4. Find support for the cause

A strong support system is one of the secrets to controlling cravings. Adults often find support from fellow participants in a weight-loss program.

For kids, “parents can help by not buying sweet and salty snacks on a regular basis,” says Ms. Willoughby. “And grandparents can encourage whole, natural foods instead of desserts.”

“Also, most children (and adults) benefit from seeing a dietitian to learn how to make appropriate yet satisfying food substitutions.”

If emotional eating is involved, a behavioral health specialist or psychologist can help develop strategies to keep weight loss on track. 

5. Consider intermittent fasting

“Intermittent fasting can help with the overall reduction of hunger and cravings,” says Ms. Kirkpatrick.

You won’t starve on a fasting diet. Instead, you’ll cut back on calories, eating only 500 to 600 on fast days and the normal amount on “off days.” Over time, you’ll find yourself feeling satisfied with smaller portions.

The intermittent rhythm will also lessen your sweet and salty cravings. Best of all, “intermittent fasting has helped lots of people lose a significant amount of weight,” she says. 

6. Pay attention to your body

Are you overeating because of stress? That’s often when cravings for sugar or salt surface. “Try meditation, exercise or reading to settle yourself,” says Ms. Patton.

She also recommends keeping a water bottle at your desk, in your car or in your purse to avoid dehydration.

If you have diabetes, you may crave something sweet even when your blood sugar is normal.

“Add a small amount of whip cream or dairy-free whip to berries or fruit,” advises Dawn Noe, RD, LD, CDE. “For a quick, healthy, warm dessert, mix ½ cup steel cut oats, 1 small apple, diced, and some cinnamon. Heat in the microwave for a minute or so, and you have a healthy, tasty alternative to apple crisp.”

If you have diabetes and your blood sugar is low when cravings hit, eat 15 grams of carbohydrate (three to four glucose tablets or 4 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice) to normalize it. “But avoid chocolate; it takes too long to digest and won’t raise blood sugar as quickly,” she cautions.

These tips should help you find success in controlling the cravings that lead to weight gain. They’ll also help you lower your risk for health problems like diabetes and hypertension.

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5 Strategies to Help You Stop Emotional Eating

You stand at the freezer, steaming over a fight with your spouse and searching for some ice cream to cool your emotions. You sit on the couch and mindlessly munch through a whole bag of chips after a stressful day.

This is emotional eating. You might have heard it called “stress eating,” but “emotional” is more accurate, says registered dietitian Anna Kippen, MS, RDN, LD. Many negative emotions — including anger, sadness and stress — can trigger bad eating habits.

Here’s the problem: The feel-good foods you reach for can actually make you feel worse. Fortunately, there are strategies to help make sure your emotions don’t turn into diet damage in the long term.

1. Get down to the root cause

A bad day at work or a fight with a friend are short-term issues. But emotional eating can stem from bigger issues, too. These include chronic stress, long-term anger, depression and other concerns. If these apply to you, you may benefit from counseling, stress management, exercise and other techniques.

The strategies outlined here can help. But ultimately, you need to identify and address the true source of your emotional eating.

2. Ask why you’re eating

When you walk to the refrigerator, pantry or vending machine, pause and ask a simple question: “Am I really hungry?”

Kippen suggests rating your hunger on a scale from 1 to 5, with one being you’re not hungry at all, and five being you’re so hungry that you would eat the food you hate most in the world.

“It’s too easy to just dive into mindless eating, but by asking yourself this question, you at least recognize your motivation,” she says.

If your hunger clocks in at a level three or four, she suggests grabbing a healthy, balanced snack within 15 minutes or a healthy, balanced meal within 30 minutes. If your physical hunger is lower than that, she recommends trying an alternative activity like drinking a cup of fruity herbal tea or going for a walk.

“Becoming more aware of your hunger level can help you to curb excessive snacking and make better choices,” she says.

3. Swap out your worst snacks

If you don’t have a giant bag of greasy chips at your fingertips, you can’t eat the whole bag. That’s good, because overeating processed snacks can raise your levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

If you need a salty snack, stock popcorn (with salt and oil only) instead. You’ll get the whole grains that are one important source of the feel-good hormone serotonin. You’ll also get antioxidants to boost your immune system and far fewer calories than chips. Roasted chickpeas are another great crunchy option with protein and fiber to fill you up.

If stress, anger or sadness trigger your sweet tooth, remember this: The sugar high comes with a low afterward. This low can lead to increased cravings later. And, sweets and processed foods can even make certain mental concerns, including symptoms of depression, worse.

As an alternative to your favorite candy, cake or pies, Kippen recommends keeping a bowl of sweet fruit out in the open. (Studies show you’re more likely to eat fruits and veggies when they are easy to access).

“I also suggest keeping frozen berries on hand that can quickly be thrown into a blender to make a healthy sorbet,” she says.

4. Choose foods that fight stress

Have you ever wondered why people offer hot tea in emotional situations? It turns out there’s more to it than soothing steam. Tea often contains helpful antioxidants. And green tea, matcha tea and white tea contain an amino acid called L-theanine that may help reduce stress levels.

If you tend to snack late at night, try dark cherries. Not only do they offer a sweet treat, but they also help increase natural levels of melatonin to help you sleep. Likewise, salmon and other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help with sleep.

The list goes on: Dark chocolate (at least 72% cacao), whole grains, nuts, legumes, and fruits and vegetables all have a part to play in maintaining a healthy mind. “The key is stocking up on foods that help with your stress or emotions, and avoiding processed junk that might make you feel worse,” Kippen says.

5. Make emergency packages

If you’re prone to stress-related snacking, prepare for it.

For example, don’t eat any food straight from the package. Grabbing snacks from the package is a recipe for binge eating and overindulgence.

Instead, pre-portion snacks such as nuts, popcorn or sliced veggies into baggies or containers. Consider these your emergency snack packages — or just your healthy snack options on an ongoing basis.

Beyond these tips, it bears repeating: If you need medical help to address emotional issues, ask for it. A doctor can help you tackle stress, depression, anger or any other negative emotions with a full treatment plan.

Can ‘Healthy’ Ice Creams Help You Lose Weight?

healthy ice cream

Who can resist ice cream? It’s a dessert that reminds us of childhood and is perfect on a hot summer day. But if you’re trying to lose weight (or make healthier decisions in general), you might be searching for an ice cream alternative that will satisfy your craving, but won’t leave you feeling guilty.

Enter ice cream brands like Halo Top®, Arctic Zero® and Breyer’s Delights®. These products are advertised as “healthy ice cream” and claim to be low in calories and sugar, but high in protein.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Registered dietitian, Anna Taylor, RD discusses if ice cream can actually be healthy for you.

Is low calorie ice cream healthy?

“Healthy foods — like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains — actually improve your health,” says Taylor. “But because these low calorie ice cream products don’t actually better your health, I wouldn’t call them healthy by any means.”

That said, if you regularly eat ice cream, then replacing it with a product that is lower in calories, lower in saturated fat and lower in sugar would likely improve your diet, but it’s not a magic wand.

Taylor suggest keeping two major things in mind when indulging in these ice cream alternatives:

  1. GI distress. These products often contain ingredients such as sugar alcohols, chicory root or inulin, which can cause bloating, gas and even diarrhea in some people.
  2. Portions matter. The recommended portion for these lower calorie ice cream products is typically 2/3 cup, not one pint (2 cups). If you eat a pint a day, which contains 150 to 360 calories, you could gain as much as 15 to 36 pounds in one year! Also, one pint contains up to 20 to 40 grams of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily added sugars to 25 grams for women and 36 grams for men. Stick to 2/3 cup as a serving size for these products.

Also, before you top your ice cream with caramel sauce, fudge, whipped cream or candy bits, remember that sundae toppings also pile on loads of extra calories on top of the actual ice cream itself. Skip the toppings altogether, but if you absolutely must, consider topping your treat with fiber-rich fresh fruit slices, berries or protein-packed nuts instead.

The bottom line

If eating a lower calorie ice cream product helps you decrease the excess calories, saturated fat and added sugar in your diet, then it’s fine to enjoy in moderation — meaning occasionally! (And hey, we get it. Many of us have eaten an entire pint of ice cream before, but moderation is key when it comes to these products.)

Another option for fighting off your sweet tooth is to control the portion of another sweet treat that you already enjoy, says Taylor. Maybe you decide that you’ll have a piece of dark chocolate or a small slice of cake at your friend’s birthday party. Allowing yourself a small treat can motivate you to continue on your weight-loss journey or inspire you to keep making small, healthier decisions.

As always, reading the nutrition label on each product before you buy it will guide you in making healthier choices – and help you understand how much you can consume in moderation.

7 Reasons to Start Your Day With Lemon Water

Even the smallest changes in your routine can have a big impact on your health. Take starting your day with lemon water, for instance.

Internal medicine specialist Roxanne B. Sukol, MD, MS, discusses seven reasons why you should consider adopting this super simple habit.

  1. Aids in digestion
    Acid helps break down food. That’s why there’s so much of it in our stomachs. The acid in lemons may be especially helpful in supplementing stomach acid levels, which tend to decline as we age.
  2. Helps you stay hydrated
    Most of us don’t drink enough water. A daily lemon water habit is an easy way to get your day off on the right foot. How do you know if you’re drinking enough? Your urine is almost clear.
  3. Weight-loss friendly
    We’re creatures of habit. Ponder the impact of replacing your morning OJ or latte with lemon water. Not just once, but perhaps 20 times a month — and multiply that by 10 years. Your waist line will thank you.
  4. Prevents oxidation
    Like all produce, lemons contain phytonutrients, which protect your body against disease. These phytonutrients have powerful antioxidant properties, which prevent cell damage from oxidation, the same mechanism that causes rust.
  5. Supplies a healthy dose of vitamin C  
    Juice half a lemon into your water and you’ll add a mere 6 calories to your diet. Plus you’ll get more than a sixth of your daily vitamin C, which is needed to protect us from cell damage and repair injury.
  6. Provides a potassium boost
    Your body can’t function without potassium. It’s necessary for nerve-muscle communication, transporting nutrients and waste and blood pressure regulation. Fruits and vegetables are important sources of potassium.
  7. Helps prevent kidney stones
    Lemon water helps prevent painful stones in those deficient in urinary citrate (a form of citric acid). More importantly, increased fluids help prevent dehydration — a common cause of kidney stones.

How to enjoy lemon water

Simply squeeze half of a lemon into a glass of water. How much? When? It really doesn’t matter. Any way you do it, it’s a big plus for your health.

Don’t forget the peel

Capture the rich nutrients by zesting your lemon (organic, please) and using in baking or cooking.

Will it hurt my teeth?

Theoretically, lemon acid can be harmful to your enamel, but you’re diluting it here. As long as you don’t make a habit of sucking on lemons all the time, you should be fine.

What’s the Deal With Nightshade Vegetables?

Gluten, FODMAPs, dairy … it’s hard to keep track of what foods people are avoiding these days. And here’s another to add to the list: nightshade vegetables.

Nightshades are a botanical family of foods and spices that contain chemical compounds called alkaloids, explains registered dietitian Ryanne Lachman. Common edible nightshades include:

  • Tomatoes.
  • Potatoes (but not sweet potatoes).
  • Eggplant.
  • Bell peppers.
  • Spices sourced from peppers, such as cayenne and paprika.

These vegetables (some of which are actually fruits) are highly nutritious diet staples in many cultures.

A single bell pepper, for example, contains well over the recommended daily amount of vitamin C, and tomatoes are a major source of the antioxidant lycopene, which some studies have associated with decreased risk of certain types of cancer.

So why do people avoid them?

Remember how nightshades contain small amounts of alkaloids? Alkaloids can be dangerous in large doses. In fact, there are many other plants in the nightshade family that are poisonous to humans (like, ahem, tobacco).

Even though they contain low levels of alkaloids, edible nightshades might, to some people, seem guilty by association. But some people also seem to think they promote inflammation — the root of many health problems.

While there haven’t been any large-scale studies demonstrating this (at least not yet), some diet plans exclude nightshades, claiming that people report feeling better when they don’t eat them.

But that doesn’t mean everyone should be cutting them out of their diet.

“A food sensitivity is very patient-specific and can often be a symptom of another imbalance rather than a permanent problem with that food,” Lachman says.

“If nightshades are a trigger for inflammation, it’s typically a message that there is an underlying imbalance perpetuating chronic, low levels of inflammation, and nightshades are just fuel for the fire.”

Lachman explains that if there does turn out to be any benefit in reducing nightshades, it would most likely be for those with inflammatory or autoimmune conditions like arthritis, psoriasis and possibly inflammatory bowel disease.

The takeaway

For most people, there’s no need to avoid nightshades, as studies haven’t linked them to negative health consequences. “These foods are incredibly healthy and offer more health benefits than costs,” Lachman says.

However, just like any food, it is possible to be intolerant to them. If you think you have a sensitivity to nightshades, Lachman recommends cutting them out for a few weeks while keeping a close eye on symptoms to test for tolerance.

“If avoiding nightshades improves symptoms, then we work with the patient to determine the root cause of inflammation and likely improve tolerance to nightshade foods over time,” she says.

And, in the end, if you prefer to eliminate them, it’s important to make sure you’re still getting important vitamins and antioxidants from other sources.

Lachman recommends using beets to make a “no-mato” sauce, swapping white potatoes for sweet, and using Italian spices like basil, thyme and rosemary instead of cayenne or paprika

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